Thursday, August 30, 2012

Blainletter # 55, August 30, 2012

As usual, I’m scrambling to get out this Blainletter the day before a gig. It never fails...

Upcoming Shows

Friday, Aug 31 8pm Musideum at 401 Richmond. I'll be sitting in with guitarist Bob Cohen for his monthly "Bobpalooza." This is a gem of a venue, a tiny place full of musical instruments and a beautiful grand piano. $10 (or PWYC)i

Friday, Sept 7 8pm Moonshine Café, Kerr St, Oakville Brian’s Blues Campfire comes to Oakville. Robert Davis will be joining me and hopefully a few locals. All musicians welcome. $5 for non-players

Wednesday Sept 12, 5-8pm Gate 403, 403 Roncesvales. Toronto The Blain-Davis-Gould Blues Trio (also playing Oct 10) PWYC

Thursday, September 20, The Record Vault, Queen St East. Brian’s Blues Campfire. This new vinyl emporium wants to inject some live music into those walls and they’ve got the perfect back room for it. I’ll be bringing along a few friends and maybe a few Beaches musicians will come sit in. PWYC

Saturday, October 27, Maison de La Culture, 441, rue de la Cour, Waterloo, Quebec (450) 539-4764. This is the annual reunion concert for my old band in the Townships, Oliver Klaus. It will also be a Halloween Party (dress like you did in the 70s) $29 (tax included). Here I am with the Klaus at last year's reunion

So what else is going on?

Just back from Cape Cod where I had a wonderful time. There were some big ticket shows in the area (including the Newport Jazz Festival) but I just haven't been motivated enough to get out, even though I would have loved to see Tedeschi-Trucks again (btw, everywhere you go in Mass, there’s a Tedeschi grocery store or gas station). I did get to a couple of free park concerts by some locals. There was a top-notch bluegrass/country group called Toast & Jam and one was a trio of old geezers singing songs like “Roll Out the Doobie” (to the tune of “Roll Out the Barrel”) and “Why did they bust Willie Nelson?”

Musical highlight was jamming with my old buddy Scott Billington and a genuine guitar hero, Bill Kirchen (aka the Titan of the Telecaster). He plays with Nick Lowe and Elvis Costello and reacoded with many greats like Maria Muldaur. If you remember Commander Cody and the Lost Planet Airmen, that was Bill). Scott, a great harmonica player as well as a prolific record producer led us in a version of "Baby Elephant Walk" by Henry Mancini (it's not that removed from a 12-bar blues).

The “lowlight” (if such a word exists) was a very rocky ride on the fast-boat from Boston harbour to P-town which immediately followed a bowl of “iffy” clam chowder – not a good combo. Now I’ve got a new blues moniker, “Seasick Blain.”

With my borrowed Gibson, I actually played for an hour or so outside one of the shops on Commercial Street in Provincetown (I hope this admission doesn’t get me in trouble with the US Homeland Security police). I believe that’s the first time in my nearly fifty-years of playing that I have ever “busked.” Hell, I spent ten years being a judge for the TTC Subway Musician Auditions and I’ve got the swag to prove it, but now I know what it feels like. It’s hard work. You can’t walk 100 feet down Commercial Street without running into a busker or a barker (the rule for buskers is that your sound must not travel more than 50 feet). Cops patrol on Segways. Oh yeah, I made 14 bucks – not enough to pay for the lobster dinner but it covered the appetizer.

The Cape Cod Blues

Here’s a little tune I wrote during my last couple of days on the Cape on a borrowed guitar (thank-you Jennifer). I made this clip in the backyard on a Sony Bloggie that they were giving away to guests at the casino. I started to write about the shark attack in Truro near Provincetown (It was headline news in Toronto) but I think I got a little carried away. I don’t think the Cape Cod tourism bureau will be using it in their marketing, but maybe it will become an anti-tourism anthem for the residents who wish people would stay away – Their narrow little Route 6 (which starts here and ends in California) is mostly clogged to gridlock and the main street in Provincetown is a crush of people with cars and bikes trying to snake their way through. There's a very different vibe in a town like this, where originally the only way to get there was by boat. There were no roads up the Cape all the way to Provincetown until long after it was settled. I just learned that Provincetown was the real landing place of the pilgrims, but when they got a closer look they just got back on the boat and continued across the bay to Plymouth Rock.

I had hoped to check out the Farnham Blues Festival in the Townships and then I found myself driving past Kingston on the opening night of the Limestone Blues Festival, but alas I wasn’t able to take in either of them.

Out and About

Upon my return to Toronto, I was intent on seeing the band that won the Blues Society’s Talent Search, Irene Torres and the Sugar Devils so Tuesday night I made it down to Lou Dawgs and I was not disappointed (well, I was a little disappointed in the fries!). This band is going places. I’ve played with drummer Andrew Austin a couple of times and he’s got the groove. Kudos to them and also to the musicians chosen to represent the Toronto Blues Society at the International Blues Challenge in Memphis, Suzie Vinnick and Paul Reddick (two folks I’ve enjoyed playing with in the past).

Just before heading to Mass, I took in the Beaches Jazz fest. I never miss this event (though this is the first time I missed the media launch) but I got down to Woodbine Park on the first week-end - it's just a short walk from my place. I didn't see a whole lot but David Rotundo with Enrico and Alberto, two killer Italian guitarists. Also caught Treasa Levasseur's set and was glad I did because I missed her when she opened for George Benson at Toronto Jazz (apparently she sold more CDs than anyone in the HMV tent). On the Thursday night, I took in the Streetfest - I do not usually venture onto the streetfest on the week-end when it's too much of a crush, but I did go back Saturday and stayed at the east end of Queen St. to hang out with the soulful Terry Gillespie and a solid stripped-down trio but with two very slick acts on either side of him. One was Sultans of String who have a great show and have now broken into the soft-seater market. On the other side was Jeannie Mackie (Sp?) who I never see out on the circuit but who had a first class production and an A-list of sidemen including Rob Gusevs and Gary Taylor. Their material was kinda generic but they played great. Terry on the other hand always takes you on a unique musical journey.

It seemed like there was an army of cops on the street, with four at every intersection, one or two at every stage and many more circulating. I was thinking the bill for off-duty cops must have been staggering but then I noticed that most of them had the uniform and lots of stuff on their belt - but no gun. Then I looked more carefully and saw that they had an "Auxiliary Police" badge on their shoulder - and many of them looked like they were still in high-school. I suppose their hourly rate is considerably less than off-duty cops with guns.

I had they feeling that there was some belt tightening at the Beaches: you could tell from the line-up - mostly local bands - and the hospitality backstage was not what it used to be. No more chicken...but I enjoyed a sausage and a slice of watermelon.

As I walked towards Queen and Woodbine I was hearing a caucophony of drums but when I got close up I realized it was Rick Lazar's Samba Squad and it was a trip to watch them. A real cross-section of society banging on drums, tambourines and cowbells with some pretty intricate arrangements. As I walked a little further there was a bigger crowd for a violinist and I figured out right away that this was the local legend, Dr Draw (??) who I had been told would consistently pack the street to the extent that it was impossible to get through his crowd. Further down I saw more of David Rotudo where I shot a little video clip of Enrico Crivallero playing on his back on the street - hope he didn't wreck that nice shirt.

There was a great photo exhibit in a tent and I'm happy to report that my friend "Dawk" McCarthy won first prize in the competition for his photo of Shrimp Daddy. Dawk has taken some great pics of me over the years and he's got a keen eye.

Sherrie Williams closed out the Saturday mainstage and I have to say I was kinda underwhelmed - maybe it's because her piano player didn't make it across the border and I imagine he was a big part of the show, especially the gospel-flavoured numbers where she starts to testify a bit. You needed that piano/organ noodling in the backgroud to really get the feeling that you're in church. She showed her irritation when she commented cynically "You Canadians can feel well protected from anyone who might have had a DUI conviction in his youth or got behind in his child-support payments"

On the other hand, Johnny Rawls, who closed out the Sunday show, was the consumate pro - grabbing the audience from the moment he hit the stage and right through to the end where he had to introduce the band members and obviously didn't know the names of the two Toronto ringers, Gary Kendall and Michael Fonfara who may or may not have been there because of border hassles. Once he figured out their first names, he introduced "Gary from Mobile, Alabama" and Mike from some place in Mississippi. Pretty funny but very professional, now that I think about it. He didn't want his audience to know they were getting anything less than the full blown Johnny Rawls show. And, of course, Gary and Michael pulled it off great. Very solid, entertaining set. I started out the Saturday afternoon in the beer area but with a PA that seemed a little underpowered, I couldn't hear a word that Bill King was saying as he talked about his guest vocalist.

Friday I missed the action because I played a solo gig at the Hockley Resort. I've played there a couple of times with Larry Kurtz and now I was subbing for him. My experience there has never been very fulfilling because you drive a long way to play for people who couldn't care less. This time it was a little better because most of the audience consisted of a huge family reunion and a few of them were right into the music. Once they had left, though, I had one table left at the back for the last half hour and I was getting pretty tired. There was a nice comfy couch right next to where I was playing and I toyed with the idea of moving over and playing from the couch but then I remembered this is the place where I got in trouble with the gal who booked me because one of the staff had reported to management that I had fallen asleep on stage :-) I tried to explain that I play with my eyes closed and I guess I might have been just noodling along with my looper because as I recall there was only one couple who were not remotely interested in the music and a bartender that just wanted to go home. Anyway, I wasn't about to stretch back on that couch and take a chance that I might get too comfortable...

Brian’s “Living Album” update

I know it’s moving pretty slowly, but we got into the studio last month (the wonderful Canterbury Sound). Clayton Doley (now back in Australia, boo-hoo) did some beautiful Hammond organ overdubs on a few tracks and next month we’ll be giving a couple of tunes the “bluesgrass” treatment. New Folk Blues 2.0 should be out for Christmas. You’ll be the first to know.

Thanks for reading this far, and a special thanks to those of you who come up to me on the street and say how much you enjoy the Blainletter. If it weren’t for you I probably wouldn’t bother. As I’ve whined previously, I am now semi-retired, which means I’ll come out and play if invited but I’m through groveling for gigs. That’s for the youngsters whose career is mostly ahead of them.