BLOGGING AND VLOGGING FROM CANADA'S BEST KNOWN UNDISCOVERED OLD WHITE BLUESMAN

Wednesday, June 27, 2012

Toronto Jazz Festival – Day 3,4,5

OK, it’s all starting to blur into a solid stream of music with musicians playing at the highest level. Some world-renowned and others are total unknowns (in this town, anyway) but when you see them in full flight you know right away that you are witnessing something special. Some have that extra connection with the audience (George Benson last night was positively chatty with the crowd, finally stopping himself “hey, I came here to play guitar” and he played it beautifully). I made my way out halfway through his set but ended up talking with the Treasa Levasseur gang outside the tent (she opened the show) so I heard him changing gears into a more acoustic sound but I was trying to get down to the Opera House for Soul Rebels, a New Orleans horn band produced by my friend Scott Billington. They did great and made lots of new fans in Toronto. They’re getting the big push so you’ll be hearing more of them. Before Benson I was at the sold out show for guitar god Bill Frisell at Harbourfront and what grabbed my attention right away was the immense respect for him that the audience was radiating. Almost religious. Everybody felt like it was a privilege for them to be in this space about to be transported into another realm, and they were. It started out with spacey guitar sounds and special effects – not unlike some new-age mood music that jazz fans would typically dismiss – but then a Beatles melody would appear in the mix and he would take it to another place and of course the guitar playing was exquisite. Many years ago I walked out of a Bill Frisell show because it was just so atonal (and so loud) that I couldn’t take it. All is forgiven now, Bill.

Monday morning, I was dealing with some Internet connection issues on site but when I was talking to Patti, our Director of Operations, she was predicting this was going to be a day from hell, and she was right. Nothing was flying out of New York and we had at least 20 artists and crew left stranded in NYC including Roberta Gambarini’s pianist (the amazing Dave Restivo filled in and saved the day) and Natalie Cole and her band (nobody could sub for her!). Black Monday in jazzland. Transport volunteers spent the whole day at the airport waiting (and hoping). I got to see two artists that had huge followings and yet I personally had never heard of either of them: Robert Glasper and Los Amigos Invisibles. Both had sold out shows (Glasper had a second show added and that was a good example of social media in action – they packed the house for a last-minute midnight show at the Wrongbar). Los Amigos Invisibles had a huge crowd at the Horseshoe and I think it was mostly Venezuelans. They were singing along with the band who gave a very spirited performance). And then there was my man, Roy Hargrove. I was right next to him as he was getting his horns out to jump on stage and I wanted to say “Hey remember the time we jammed the blues together at the Rex?” but I restrained myself. He is always amazing and surrounds himself with the top players on the planet. I dropped in to the after hours jam at the Now lounge but there was no one there except myself and Clayton and one other table. Hosting the jam was Ken Skinner and he played a bit then got the two fellows that were sitting there to play a couple of tunes. I asked the piano player his name but of course I’ve forgotten it – Patrick Hewen, maybe. I think they were from Montreal and they played some pretty “official” jazz. Ken is a helluva player – I hadn’t seen him play in a long time. He invited me to come back with my guitar and I did put my guitar in the car next day but haven’t been back.

Sunday I made a point of seeing that extraordinary pianist Hiromi. Last time I saw her she was with bass guru Stanley Clarke and I remember him walking over to the piano with his electric bass guitar and trading riffs with her with their faces just inches apart. The intensity was unbelievable. The intensity was still there this time, but did not get to the level I remember with Stanley (mind you, she had a wonderful 6-string bassist this time). I raced out to see nearly a whole show of Mike Stern – I’d only seen a song here and there and I was determined to get the whole experience this time. I was not disappointed – he is a guitar wizard, and like so many bands I’ve seen this week, he had a drummer that was phenomenal. I usually make my exit when there’s a long drum solo – you know it’s going to be a long one when all the other players leave the stage – but these drummers this week are so musical, you are captivated. You can’t go anywhere.
I started the day with a couple of matinees in clubs up north. Saw my old bandmate Roberta Hunt doing a great New Orleans tribute (with my new favourite female sax player, Alison Young) then up to Chalkers to hear Fern Linzdon, who I have met a couple of times but never seen. Rob Fogle was in the audience and said “don’t you get a nosebleed coming this far north?” It’s true, I don’t make my way past Eglinton very often (though I will be doing a gig at the Mad Bean on Eglinton on Saturday afternoon, July 7, 2-4pm)

Sunday, June 24, 2012

Toronto Jazz Festival – Day Two

Lots of stuff going on Saturday afternoon but I opted to do my laundry and other household necessities. Missed my buddy Clayton Doley at Don Mills stage but we caught up later at the Bettye Lavette show. Bettye is fabulous – when she sang George Harrison’s “Isn’t It a Pity” the whole tent was dead silent with rapt attention. Riveting. But I remember going to see her last time at the Phoenix and I was showing around some visiting musician and we were enjoying Bettye but at a certain point he turned to me and said “she’s done three ballads in a row and if the next tune is a slow song, I’m outa here.” And sure enough it was another slow-burner so we cut out and went to hear Tony Monaco, or maybe it was Mike Stern). Bettye sort of did the same thing this year but she can pull it off in a setting like this where she’s got the audience in the palm of her hand.

After Bettye, Clayton was anxious to hear Texas keyboard guy Bobby Sparks at the Rex but alas Bobby had to sub out to an equally amazing keyboard genius, Caleb McCampbell who joined Snarky Puppy's Michael League on bass and Jason “J.T.” Thomas, who will be playing drums with Roy Hargrove on Monday night in the tent. They were one powerful trio and the audience at the Rex loved it. I didn’t hear anybody complaining “Where’s Bobby,” (and he too will be playing with Roy on Monday night)

I cannot end without a mention of the Motown tribute band, “Big Sound” who opened for Bettye. Eight singers, many of who could sound just like the artist who did the original recording, backed up by 17 musicians who made the rest sound just like the original recording – I kid you not. All the smallest details of the arrangements of those Motown hits were covered – much more attention to detail than the Funk Brothers and no less soul.

It was great to see Paula Shear is getting back to performing and I have to say the Trane is not only establishing itself as a premiere jazz venue but they’ve got a great kitchen. I’ve never been disappointed at that place and they just have a way of putting together a meal that leaves you totally satisfied and ready for some serious listening. There was a solemn moment when Paula refered to her bass player, Louis Botos, of the near-legendary Botos brothers (how many of them are there, anyway? Enough to make an entire band, I think). Anyway there was some talk of a petition so I guess their immigration troubles are not over. They’ve certainly provided a great contribution to the jazz scene here so let’s cherish them …even though I have to say that Robi Botos is one of two musicians in this town who have declined to play with me…I remember it well, I was hosting a blues jam at the Rex during the jazz festival a few years back and all the heavy hitters like Roy Hargrove, Russell Malone and Antonio Hart were all lovin’ sitting in on my 12-bar blues but Robi left the stage, I guess in the hopes he would have a chance to play some “serious” jazz with RH a little later. But Roy and the boys just wanted to play blues all night long. Probably a nice change for them. Anyway, I don’t hold it against you, Robi. I hope you and your family can stay here forever.

Friday, June 22, 2012

Toronto Jazz Festival - Day 1

As many of you know, I work for the jazz festival but you could only call it a "full time" job for these ten or eleven days. Yesterday, Day 0, was the real killer - trying to get all these computers online is always a challenge. This time it was exasperated by the fact that all the logins and passwords started with the same name and the provider dropped the "i" in one of the logins but you had to look real carefully to see that an "i" was missing (between a "t" and a "1"). Anyway I finally noticed tha, typed it in that way and "Halleluya!" the Box Office was open for business (and great business was done). In addition, the website crashed from more volume than it was used to and we had to get that back online. Musically I heard a bit of Brian Barlow's tribute to Duke Ellington - a lot of the crowd were members of the "Duke Ellington Society." Jannele Monae was the headliner today and she is a real buzz act (she sings on a Number One record by a group called Fun) and she delivered a terrific show - people loved it but it was a real torture test for the sound system. I never heard so much kick drum coming out of these speakers. Lots of bass (just the way my sone the DJ likes it) - I went for ear plugs, which I rarely do (I rarely remember to bring them) - but this time I needed them if I was going to be standing in front of those speakers. She had her own guy doing the sound and he loved his kick drum. He made it the centrepiece of the sound. I think I saw a slightly pained look on our in-house, front-of-house engineer, who has been with the festival for many years and has a global reputation. I don't think I'll go looking for more music tonight, but I think this day cost me more than some of the patrons. I arrived in the morning with the intention of getting a printer up and running and put $3.50 in the meter (for 1 hour!) and things took longer than I expected so when I got back to the car I had a ticket. So I figured I might as well leave the car where it is and wouldn't you know I get a second ticket three hours later. Then I put the car in the parking lot. Between the tickets and the paid parking it's nearly 80 bucks. Painful.



Janelle actually created a painting on stage (I wondered what an easel was doing in the production trailer) and at the end of the show asked who was having a birthday and when a young woman's ID was verified she became the proud and delighted owner of a Janelle Monae canvas. Now that's how you nurture fans.

Monday, June 18, 2012

Blainletter #53, June 17, 2012

Greetings Blainreaders. I don’t have much in the way of gigs but I want to let you know about something special happening tomorrow (Tuesday) night: My oldest musical buddy Allan Fraser is in town to play a rare performance at the Musideum, 401 Richmond at 8pm and what is more rare, I dare say historic, he will be joined by Ian Guenther, who was such an important part of that first Fraser & DeBolt album. Allan and Ian haven’t played together in 40 years but they got together last night and picked up right where they left off. Also in the band are David Woodhead, Bob Cohen and Joel Axler. Allan and some of these folks will be playing live on Heather Fielding’s Acoustic Workshop on ciut.fm at 7pm tonight

I’m about to dive into full-tilt jazzfest mode. Now off to the last meeting with the entire team and a BBQ, I think. It’s been an untypical week, full of musical memorials - Kate McGarrigle, Oliver Schroer, and last night Frazier Mohawk. I did not attend the first two but heard great reports. The Frazier memorial was a more intimate affair but quite special – where else would you ever find the two lead singers of the legendary 60s super-group Rhinocoros in the same room (if not on stage together). I got up to do a solemn version of “Wonderful World” but then some guys at the front started shouting “Play ‘Don’t Forget Your Mother.’ ” I didn’t recognize them right away but then I said “Are you guys Jackson Hawke?” and sure enough it was Tim Ryan and Bob Yeomans – they were recording an album with Frazier at the same time as we were recording Mother…and they still remembered it…they were even singing along! Sitting with them was renowned film composer Jonathan Goldsmith who I hadn’t seen in 40 years, but I sure have seen his name in film credits many times. Frazier had played him “Mother” – probably more than once, and I found out in the course of the afternoon that that production was one that Frazier was most proud of. Jonathan was kind enough to sit in on piano for a couple of gospel tunes along with my old campfire pal, Bela Ray. My previous Blainletter talks about how I met Frazier and some of the stuff we did together. It includes a link to “Don’t Forget Your Mother” if you care to hear it for yourself. Adieu, Frazier.

Out and About


Day One of North by Northeast (aka nxne). Actually this was not day one of this festival – it’s been going for a couple of days but I just got my pass today. Yesterday I was working at home till I headed out to see the world premiere of a documentary film about Jane Bunnett. Jane herself invited me the night before as we were both in Pecaut Square grooving to the sounds of AfroCubism at the Luminato Festival. What a beautiful setup they had – staging on a grand scale where they actually enclosed the Square into a giant blue cozy enclave.

It was a great documentary on Jane – I think I heard the expression “warts and all” on more than one occasion but it was a revelation and just shows what a dedicated artist she is. After the film screening I had so many musical choices…go to the after-party and listen to Hilario Duran plus Jane & band of course. Or I could head over to Hugh’s Room where they Occhippinti brothers were launching a CD of jazzified John Lennon. Then there was the usual bluegrass night at the Silver Dollar…and the one I SHOULD have gone to, Noah Zacharin’s regular Wednesday night open stage & jam. They’re always happy to see me there. But I did none of the above – just came home to hang out a bit with my housesguest, Bill.

Speaking of “happy to see me,” I have to say that despite all the great talent they bring to our town, they are so full of attitude it has even trickled down to the media interns. I didn’t bother getting media accreditation from Luminato this year because even though they gave me a media laminate last year, they turned down pretty well all of my requests for shows to see (admittedly, they weren’t jazz or blues). So never mind! But now, just for the fun of it, I walk into the media tent to see if I can do a last-minute guerilla accreditation and get a pass. This is something that is “above and beyond” but some festivals would bend over backwards to accommodate media but not these gals. “What do you need a media pass for, it’s a free show” Okay.... I think I might have had the same reply for some media mooches who walked in to the Jazz Festival media trailer looking for a laminate which would allow them access to the shows.

NXNE, on the other hand, was quite happy to have me covering their festival. I attended a few panel discussions at NXNE and heard experts on “fuid grid” design to make sure your content displays properly on websites and hand-held devices. Then I skipped out to a movie about the last days of Woodie Guthrie and Cisco Houston. After that I walked back to the hotel where I heard a “celebrity interview” with Bernie Finkelstein. After taking care of some business at home, I headed back down to the Gladstone Hotel to hear an artist I had met in Memphis and was anxious to see, but it was a different artist with a similar name (that’s what happens when you have 500 artists playing at the same time). And this gal was not my cup of tea – all style and no substance. The next band up was called “God Made Me Funky” but I call them God Made Me Funky Made Me Deaf. When the singers shrieked into the mic, it was pain threshold, but I liked what they were doing. They put on a Show – with a capital “S” and that’s what it takes to get noticed in this town. I took in a couple more NXNE sessions and everything was about social networking – no sessions on touring or conventional promotion – just social networking.

Then I noticed an invitation to attend a “Hackathon” at the MARS centre – a place they call an “incubator” for new tech businesses and this was a gathering of over a hundred programmers and developers. I thought maybe this is a chance to find a programmer who can help me get the Blues Society event calendar working on mobile devices and maybe even help create the generic calendar engine that would pull event info and share it with other online calendars. I made my 60 second pitch in front of an auditorium full of developers but there was not exactly a stampede to my table. At the networking session that followed I collared a couple of young guys with blue tags (they were the back-end coders) but I don’t think any of these guys saw the value of an app that would pull all the event information that’s on the internet and organize and display it. I suppose by value I mean “Where’s the Money?” I’ve never thought of this as a money-making project, only a way to spread the word about who’s playing where. But maybe this will never get to second base until I can demonstrate how it will make money. It was a week of rejection because just a few days before I was pitching to have a “Blues Campfire” at a couple of upcoming music conferences and was told there is no value in that. Well it’s not like a showcase where you play your three best songs and get heard by the tastemakers who book you for their festival but it has proven to be a great networking opportunity and I have testimonials from musicians who went on to collaborate or tour with artists they met and jammed with at the campfire. Or even watching the thrill of a young artist who gets to jam with one of his heroes…that’s value, if not career development. Then I did a little coffee shop gig – got there only to find an empty room – just me and the barista. I had a nice iced latte and we chatted until a few folks trickled in, including one genuine fan (thanks, Dan) but none of this gets me down. I’m not going to stop playing guitar or hosting campfires but I’m through twisting people’s arms – especially when they’re friends who know exactly what I do and have decided that it’s not for them.

The jazz festival begins next week. I had a bird’s eye view of the site – Nathan Phillips Square – and it’s not pretty. The area where we would normally have the media trailer and artists’ tour buses is a construction site. Argh! I was looking down from the 35th floor of the Eaton Centre – in the Ontario Ministry of Trade suites where I was invited to a reception for a delegation of French music producers, mostly from Martinique. I saw a few people I know and I got to hear some presentations on the state of the Canadian music market but it’s mostly stuff I knew. The $7.50 I spent for parking was not justified by the egg salad sandwich. I thought there would be a great taste of French Cuisine – and I hoped my friend Didier would be catering it because he does a lot of that sort of thing for the French Embassy. Anyway I was happy to see a coffee machine – hadn’t had a coffee all day. Now that I think about it, an event like this in the past would always have had wine flowing freely – and no coffee in sight! But times have changed.

Got a call on Saturday afternoon from Dr Ric at the Delta Chelsea telling me Lucky Peterson was doing a matinee and had Shawn Kellerman playing in his band. I saw Shawn a little while ago – also at the Delta and he knocked me out with his playing. Now he was opening the show with a couple of tunes and a burning slow blues. Nobody puts on a show like Lucky – He gives it his all even if there’s only 20 people (and at the start there may have been only 20 people). I have to wear a bit of responsibility because I got the time wrong in the MapleBlues and Mike the booker even reminded me on the way out that a bunch of people had arrived at 9 o’clock expecting an evening show. Well, now we know people are reading our newsletter. Actually they’re not reading it that well because the correct time was indicated in the ad on the back page. You always hurt the ones you love…and I love Lucky - ever since he pulled that stunt at the Jzz Festival in the mid-nineties with his wireless guitar and walked all the way down the King Street and jumped into a rickshaw. It was a great photo op – and ran on the front of the entertainment section if I recall correctly. It takes a confident guitar player to follow the phenomenal Shawn Kellerman but if anybody can do it, Lucky can. He ripped it up – and did it while walking through the club and even out the back door. A real showman – but a musician first. His wife (new wife?) was an important part of the show and she deserved every minute of stage time. And she had the same sense of adventure as Lucky – no wonder he married her.

Thursday night I went to the Gladstone to a media launch for Afrofest. They’re moving their festival to Woodbine Park, just down the road from me. The organizers are a little bummed about being relocated from Queen’s Park, which is a wonderful space, but I think they’ll like it at Woodbine Park. We’ll see. Njacko Backo, master kalimba plater did a set – makes me want to get out my authentic African kalimba (aka lekembe). Before the Afrofest Party had wound down, the TBS Blues Thursday had started up with Robin Banks accompanied by Ken Whiteley. I watched very carefully because I accompanied Robin once before and I hope I’ll get a chance to do it again. Ken did a masterful job and did not shy away from tearing into a guitar solo even though he didn’t have the benefit of any other back-up…or (God forbid) a looper. Robin charmed the whole place as always. She is the consummate entertainer.

Then I took off to take in some of J-W Jones’ CD launch and what a great set I heard. Another Whiteley, Jesse, did a great job on the organ and all the band members got their moment in the spotlight and I rarely comment on a drum solo but the young fellow playing with JW really kept us on the edge of our seats. I even remarked to drummer Lindsay Beaver on the way out. I think most, if not all, of the 24th Street Wailers were in the audience and they couldn’t have picked a better example of a textbook perfect blues set. JW is a terrific guitar player but you can see that he spent a lot of time watching the masters at work. I reminded him of how I would always enjoy the worked-out sets of some American roadhouse bands – at least the ones who got to the point in their career that they were touring out of the country, I still remember the Rochester-based Big Dave and the Ultrasonics and then there’s Sugar Ray Norcia and the Bluetones, Little Charlie (now Rick Estrin) and the Nightcats and the incomparable Duke Robillard, although he was a little looser the last couple of times I’ve seen him. I remember seeing Luther Guitar Junior Johnson, too, playing one tune after another in machine-gun precision. They’d be into the next song before the applause had died down. You don’t see that much anymore. JW wasn’t trying for the machine-gun approach but the set was perfectly paced and his presentation of the Magic Sam classic “Lookin Good” was as good as it gets.

I’m outa here. Thanks for reading and I hope you’re having a great summer.

BrianB, aka Colorblind Brian, The Sringbuster

www.brianblain.ca
www.facebook.com/brianblain.musician
@brianblain on twitter.com

Wednesday, June 6, 2012

Remembering Frazier Mohawk

This weekend I played the Orangeville Blues and Jazz Festival and on my last night I played "See That My Grave is Kept Clean" in rememberance of my old buddy Frazier Mohawk who passed away on Saturday. Then I did a short reprise of the song in the last set because Frazier was never satisfied with the first take. On Saturday afternoon, I had a nice long coffee with Alan Gerber and all we talked about was Frazier and all he had done to help us out at crtical times in our lives/careers. I hadn't seen Alan since this time last year (also at Orangeville - he is a staple at that festival and now they've made him an honorary citizen of Orangeville). Then we both got the news that Fraz had passed away during the night.


I had gone to see Frazier in the hospital on the previous Wednesday and Alan had dropped in on his way to Orangeville on the Thursday. We both just wanted to hold his hand and say a final thank you. Both of us had our gripes with Fraz over the years but it's easy to put aside the little tiffs when you consider all that he did to enrich our musical journeys. I almost wrote "help and encouragement" but the fact is he was never big on encouragement. Maybe he encouraged some others I don't know about but in my case I always felt he was always working around whatever intrinsic talent I may have brought to the table. For a music producer, he never got really excited about any music. I thought it was just me, but Brad Spurgeon mentions the same thing in his blog. You never heard him say "come in here, you've got to hear this". Actually, I do remember one time now that I think about it. It was in Montreal where he (and I) had been taken under the wing of the legendary Andre Perry and Fraz came in with this old vinyl recording of the Swan Silvertones and played me a track called "Saviour Pass Me Not". That track lit him up but I don't even know how he felt about the rest of the tracks on the album but I can imagine him dissecting the harmonies or the choice of microphones.

Alan talked about meeting Frazier (then Barry) in Paul Rothschild's office at Elektra Records and how later in California he took him around to meet Joni Mitchell, Neil Young and Carole King, where Alan spent an afternoon at the piano swapping songs with her. Barry pops up in Carole's recent autobiography and also get's name-checked in many recently released bios where the backdrop in the LA music scene of the 60s.

When he arrived in Toronto in 73, there seemed to be an element of intrigue in his exit from LA and though he sometimes referred to some unsavory characters, I never got the real story. I think there may have been many reasons for him the change his name, I made his acquaintance when I came to work one morning at a brand new studio in Toronto (Manta Sound) where I was producing an album for Fraser & DeBolt on behalf of Columbia Records in New York. Frazier had dropped in to the studio earlier that day and left behind an album he had produced on the recording console. I don't think we listened to the album but when I picked it up I couldn't quite make out the abstract artwork until I held it back and could see it was a close up of two naked intertwined bodies. It was called "Primordial Lovers" and the artist was ex-wife Essra Mohawk, formerly known as "Uncle Meat" when she was in the Mothers of Invention. It was only a matter of a couple of days later when I was introduced to Frazier in the kitchen of 127 Hazelton, a legendary hang-out/crash pad in Toronto's Yorkville district and I said "You're the guy that left behind that album at Manta." I'm not sure how much time elapsed but at a certain moment he said he needed an "assistant" (nowadays we'd call that an intern because there wasn't any money changing hands though he may have uttered some variation of that old Ronnie Hawkins pitch "...but you'll get more pussy than Frank Sinatra"). We certainly got more drugs than Frank Sinatra and there were a few liasons the last of which ended when one young lady's older brother, who was a police officer, came from Nova Scotia to fetch his little sister from this den of iniquity.

Frazier had rented a huge space on Richmond Street, an old house that had been completely gutted and painted black inside. It had previously been a photographer's studio. Fraz built himself a sleeping loft with a wobbly ladder that would discourage any curious visitors and the main project was a group called the "Blackstone Rangers" which was essentially a reincarnation of Rhinoceros minus Alan Gerber (who had been the sole American in Rhino). This was a pretty glamorous bunch of rock stars and they made a big impression on this kid from hills of Quebec. The band was set up in the middle of this big room with a huge concert PA ("Voice of the Theatre" speakers) and they rehearsed a bit and partied a lot. Frazier wanted me to "supervise" a second group that he was going to produce. They were called "Flying Circus" and had just arrived from Australia where I think they were a pretty big deal. I don't think I had more than a couple of sessions with the band when I had to extricate myself from that crazy scene. I don't think they ever made a record and only one of those Aussies stayed in Canada but he has been a profound influence on the Toronto music scene and that is bassist Terry Wilkins.

Then we fast forward a couple of years to Montreal where Frazier introduced himself to another recording studio and this time he hit the jackpot. The studio was built by Andre Perry (a Quebec music industry titan but best known outside Quebec as the man who recorded "Give Peace A Chance") and - as luck would have it - André had just sold the studio for big bucks and now had plans to start a record label and break out of the Quebec market. When he saw Frazier's credentials and connections he immediately set him up in a cute little apartment in Old Montreal and gave him free reign of the studio (where he still had thousands of hours of credit as part of the sale). Frazier immediately showed him how to set up a big-time record label, starting with a succession of full-page teaser ads in Billboard magazine announcing the birth of "Good Noise" Records. They printed oversized/overpriced stationary and business cards, hired the most expensive publicist in the music business, Connie deNave and started flying people in from New York and LA. I'm not sure that they had signed a single artist at that point but around that time, Andre heard me sing a song called "Don't Forget Your Mother" with a country-rock group I was playing with that included Sue Lothrop, Russ Kelley, Wayne Rose and I think a couple of brothers from Wilmington Delaware. I can't remember Frazier's initial involvement but André was totally smitten with that song if not with the group. He convinced me to go into the studio with Frazier producing. First we did a demo with a lot of local players including Sue, Ronney Abramson, Ron Dann and many others. Then for the "real" recording, he brought in John Lissauer as music director, Laurel Masse and Jance Siegel from Manhattan Transfer for vocals, and top-session players like Tom "Bones" Malone (later of Blues Brothers fame and much more) on horns and Jim Gordon on drums. At the time Malone and Gordon were part of Frank Zappa's Mothers so Andre was seeing this as a great "tie-in" - The Mothers recording "Don't Forget Your Mother". The Mothers were performing at the Montreal Forum as part of their "Petit Wazoo" tour and most of the other members of the band came to the studio - some played and some just hung out, but try as they might, they couldn't get Zappa himself to participate. I believe the quote was "Frank doesn't help other people make their rock and roll records". As a further aside, drummer Jim Gordon, hot off a Derek and the Dominoes tour, ended up in an institution for the criminally insane for killing his own mother in a psychotic rage. I think I noticed he was not having a good time when he was laying down that drum track. I wondered if it was just that I might have not been laying down the most confident guitar track - after all this was probably the third or fourth song I had written and I had never sung on my own till then. I hardly sang any vocals with the group but "Mother" was my little "feature spot." And I had my doubts about my performance on that track but I was surrounded by so many brilliant players it had to be OK.

Well many months were spent mixing and remixing and overdubbing - they hired a whole string section from the Montreal Symphony under the direction of Otto Armin, then a boys choir from an elite private school. Everything but the proverbial kitchen sink. You can hear it for yourself here.

Up to this point thousands of dollars had been spent on this recording (as well as a daily allowance for me) and yet nothing had been signed. Alas, when I was called in to a meeting, I sat down with Frazier across this beautiful antique pine table with nothing on it but a big fat (unsigned) recording contract. I was humming and hawing about how I wasn't really happy with my performance on that recording when Frazier lurched across the table grabbing me by the throat and screaming "Sign the contract, motherfucker!). I think anyone who has since tried to produce Brian Blain has had the same impulse. Anyway I hastily scribbled in a short rider that offered me some guarantees and I signed. This was old Hollywood-style negotiations. I think if he'd had a gun he would have pulled it out.

This story goes on, but to wrap up this chapter of my adventures with Frazier, suffice it to say the "Mother" was never released, though the B-side, "The Story of the Magic Pick" did get released on Good Noise/Polydor but had the misfortune of being released in the same week and on the same label as that monster hit "Spiders and Snakes" and there was not room for two "novelty" releases in the Polydor promo man's bag of tricks that week. Despite some choice gigs (mostly arranged by Frazier) like opening for Lou Reed and Seals & Crofts, a hi-profile benefit show with Joni Mitchell and Loudon Wainright and a tour with April Wine, I disbanded the Blainettes and went on the road for five years as a "bassman-for-hire". Well I didn't really disband the Blainettes, because another Frazier prodigé, Lewis Furey, scooped 2 of them to be in his band but in a delicious turn of karmic retribution, they were soon hijacked from Lewis by his friend Leonard Cohen who decided he wanted to try having female back-up singers,

After being on the road for 3 or 4 years I settled back in Toronto briefly and Frazier hired me to be part of his "Rent-A-Fool" clown troupe. I would wear a sequinned tuxedo and play incidental music as Mark Parr, Brad Spurgeon and the lovely Lynne Cavanaugh frolicked around. At one point, he was taking "contracts" to attack people with cream pies. We were a pie-hit-squad. I think that's about the time I went back on the road. But it was a great diversion, as was every adventure I had with Frazier.

Fast forward another decade or two and I land in Toronto, not quite on my feet, and one of the first people I look up is Frazier - who is back in Toronto, living a in a caboose on a farm in Kleinberg. He gives me $200 and says he's sure we can find a way for me to work it off. Well first he wanted me to be a "wrangler," shuttling ponies to rich kids' birthday parties. I managed to get out of that but ultimately became an occasional "sub" for Anthony, the Singing Cowboy. I'll always remember trying to play guitar on very bumpy hayride where I would sometimes get airborne with nothing to hold onto except my guitar. I also helped with some desktop publishing projects and mailing promotional material - I remember one time that I was running a little late and had him screaming at me "You just lost me twenty-thousand dollars! You owe me twenty-thousand dollars!" but he never fired me. In the end I did him one great favour when I noticed that several recordings he had produced were now being sold on CD and I asked him if he was getting any royalties. He hadn't thought of that and when he contacted Warner Brothers they sent him a big fat cheque (and apologized for the delay because they couldn't find his address (??). Since that money came from his musical endeavours he decided to put it back into music and that was the beginning of the Studio at Puck's Farm. And once it was operational, he offered me some complimentary studio time that provided me with my first CD, "Who Paid You To Give Me The Blues?" For that and more I will always be grateful to Fraz.

So what else happened in Orangeville?


This is the first time in recent memory that I played 4 nights in a row. The first night was a noisy club where I was trying to put out as much sound as I could. I was playing solo but then Harpdog Brown showed up and sat in for a set. He is such a bear of a guy but when you play with him is is one sensitive, tasteful musician. The Larry Kurtz arrived from the Festivalk kick-off event and I had a double harp accompanyment - Nelson Sleno also sat in for a couple of tunes. I decided to stay over in Orangeville and checked in to the Orangeville Motel where they Indian couple tried to accomodate this starving musician with a bowl of oatmeal and a glass of milk. I was most grateful. The accommodations might have seemed a little rough by modern hotel standards but for someone who's toured in Eastern Europe it was just fine. Then I had two nights at an upscale Italian Restaurant, Il Corso, where the food is delicious. The owner expected a big crowd because the main stage was rained out but it was not to be. Th second night was packed but I think I preferred playing to a small crowd that was listeninbg than to a big crowd who weren't.. I dropped in on Alana Gerber's show and was invited to sit in with him for the last tune and he pointed out that this was the first time we had actually played together - though we had shared the bill in Quebec many times. Then I swung by some of the other clubs where I saw Erin McCallum, who was celebrating the release of a great new CD, and Charlie A'Court - who was playing the same club I played on Thurs - also solo but with a PA ten times the size of my little set-up. And even without a PA, he's ten times as loud as me. He was doing a lot covers that I used to do - Knock on Wood, Into the Mystic , Stevie Wonder but then when I saw him next day on the mainstage with a band he was killing it with some burning Stratocaster solos. I have to admit when I first heard Charlie (which was the same night I first heard Matt Andersen) I thought there's a couple of big guys, singing at the top of their lungs and strumming that guitar as hard as they can...not my style. But then both of them have mellowed out considerably. Hell Matt Andersen became the darling of the CBC by singing sweet Christmas carols. I guess the idea is that you come on hard and heavy and once you have their attention you can start to lighten up and find your own voice.

I should have a few upcoming dates or choice quotes or career development tips for my musician friends reading this but I just wanted to get the word out about Frazier. I might have morphed a few events in my foggy memory and I hope I haven't said anything to tarnish his memory. If you were there and I got something wrong, please let me know. There's an obituary in today's New York Times and Facebook Friends can drop by his Facebook Page.

A Celebration of Barry's Life will be held on Saturday June 16th in the Crest Theatre Green Room at the Performing Arts Lodge, 110 The Esplanade, Toronto, from 5pm to 9:30pm. Bob Segarini, who I met while we were recording "Don't Forget Your Mother" (and he's got a great story about that night but it will be for him to tell it) Anyway, he has put together a lengthy blog of Frazier's life along with excerpts from recent books by Jac Holtzman and Neil Young.