Monday, January 20, 2014
Thursday, January 16, 2014
Out and About
Best show of the year (of course, it's only been 2 weeks). Shorty uses every musical and stagecraft trick in the book. As I walked in to the cavernous Phoenix along a winding hallway Already was thinking I should have brought earplugs but it's just that the hallway ends right at the stage so when you got back in the room a bit, the volume was fine (not that you could have a conversation). The band was already going full tilt - as if it was the last tune of the night. stretching out the endings with wide arm gestures to the drummer, high on a riser in center stage, leading to s drum solo or a quick modulation into the next tune. The drum solo had saxes playing punches egging him on. He did the obligatory one-note solo but he held it longer than you've ever heard (more than 3 minutes by ny count) and by the time he released the tension, the audience exploded. Later he pulled out the classic Maynard Ferguson high note. At the end of one tune he would cue multiple hits from the band. Not the typical "two times" but over and over speeding up until everybody was blowing and strumming and hitting as fast as they could - ending abruptly with a sharp wave from Shorty. He has a tenor/bari sax section pumping away throughout - just the way I like it, then he had them stretch out by trading off on 8-bars "in the round". At one point, the horns were playing harmonies to Shorty's vocal. When it was time for (another) drum solo, the saxes punched it up. They also did some vocals, and I can't remember if they had tambourines but it reminds me that the next time I do a gig with the Blainettes I'm going to have them shaking the tams when they're not playing. When they did a wacked out version of St. James Infirmary, Josh G. leaned over and said "This must be the ballad of the set."
Before I got to Trombone Shorty I wanted to drop in at the inaugural event for the Blues Society's "Third Thursday" at the Dominion on Queen. As it turned out, there was another event happening the same night, "The Wee Folk Club" which I had previously attended when it was located in the back room at a bar in Dundas Square. And once again they were in the back room, but the Dominion has a very nice back room, but I don't think they use it enough. The back of the back room, where I was sitting had a bit of a dank odour. Banjomeister Chris Coole played a few tunes - including a great original called "A Hundred Dollars" which harkens back to the day to the days when a musician would never get less than a hundred a night and the gigs typically lasted more than one night - sometimes six! He was followed by a woman I had never heard, Anne Walker, but everyone in the room seemed to know her. A near operatic voice singing trad folk songs, or originals that sound like trad folk.
Host of the Wee Folk Club, Scottish trad singer Enoch Kent, did the intros and reminded the artists that they were expected to share some stories too. I had previously inquired about playing the series but was told you needed songs that told stories - now anyone who knows my music will tell you that my songs all have stories - it's all I write. But I think they meant stories that resemble Chaucer more than Randy Newman. Enoch took delight in announcing that the "jazz" group in the front room would be starting later because all the microphones were in the back room. In fact, there were other mikes in the front room, though the direct box wasn't working. Chris Antonik was the artist selected to kick off the first night and he had the Jesse Whiteley on piano. They played mostly blues standards, which I suppose is what most blues fans want to hear, but considering there was at least one important music journalist in the house, I would have tried to pull out a few originals.
Jesse told me off stage that he would be joining the 24th Street Wailers and I had to laugh because back when that band was starting out I put something in the blues newsletter suggesting that Jesse was leader of the band and I was promptly corrected that he was just a sideman.
I still had one more stop, my friend Dr Ric was playing at Monarch's Pub and I thought they would be playing till 1am but was told that they were going to finish at midnight so I slipped out of the Phoenix before Shorty finished so I could catch a couple of tunes from the Melony Jade Band (Melony was the lead singer of the Trailblazers back when I met Lily Sazz - that's a long time ago...). Melony looked quite stunning and the band was tight but once again, it was tunes that you've heard a million times and if you're going to cover a standard you need to give it your own twist, like the way Shorty totally deconstructed "St. James Infirmary," though I'm not sure I liked where he took it. Anyway that was 5 acts in one evening and it's not even Jazz Festival season! And I was home just a little after midnight.
I had thought to hang around the Phoenix and maybe have a chance to give one of my CDs to Shorty (or anybody from New Orleans, for that matter). New Folk Blues 2.0 kicks off with my "homage" to the Crescent City and one time I'd love to present it someone from that town. I've always kicked myself that I didn't speak to Allan Toussaint when he walked right by me after his performance at the Jazz Festival. I wanted to stop him and hand him the CD and tell him I wrote a song about his town called "Forgotten". But I was too shy then and I was too shy last night too. Maybe they'll hear it one way or the other - I ran into one of the interns from last year's jazz festival who mentioned she heard Brad Barker playing my CD on jazz FM last week. The music will make its way out there, one way or the other.
Thursday, January 9, 2014
I'd like to wish a Happy and Healthy 2014 to all Mapleposters and Maplebluzers who might be reading this. This is what my (mostly)monthly Blainletter and blog looks like. I started it back in 1990 when I first arrived in Toronto to break into the music business. I have managed to break in to the music business but more business than music and I've been chronicling my ups and downs ever since. If you care to subscribe, just reply to this with "subscribe" in the subject line. Or you can view the blog at www.torontobluesdiary.com
I spend a lot more time behind the scenes than on the big stage but I love being around music any way I can. You could call me Canada's best known undiscovered blues artist.
Undiscovered, you say? Even David Farrell, a genuine “influencer“ on the mainstream music industry since the 70s was surprised when I told him I played guitar. I gave him a copy of the new CD and he wrote back that he was enjoying “what is clearly not a rank and file blues album.“
The following week he wrote a nice review on www.newcanadianmusic.ca and that website provides much more than a review. It actually tracks all your activity on the web. Everytime somebody streams one of your tunes, watches one of your songs on YouTube or likes your Facebook page, it gets calculated on a graph on your NCM page. So now it's downright embarrassing if a week goes by and I don't have any new likes or plays. or other fan activity. So, if you haven't already, please “Like“ me on Facebook or play me on Spotify or Rdio.
And I don't know if they count physical sales but you can order it here or download it on iTunes. No pressure, eh? Lord knows, I'm done with twisting the arms of my friends to give me a gig at their festival or play me on their radio show. I was trying to get a Christmas party gig for my band (it's been a while since I got out with the Blainettes) and the club booker actually said “but is it going to be blues enough?" I should have responded that it would not be “rank and file“ blues. Anyway when I saw the band who got the gig, I had to admit I would not have been putting out like they did, playing fast and loud and practically standing on their heads to get people on that dance floor. I sure ain't blues enough for that.
I hope I can continue to keep you all amused and informed in the coming year (and I will try to avoid the long late-night ramblings). I had a good lesson in keeping things short and snappy from my interview with Danny. He played a couple of tracks from the album and we talked a bit about Penny Lang. Danny did not know very much about her but had a great “first impression“ after meeting her at a festival in Nova Scotia. I told Danny about the time I saw Penny on the second stage at a Harbourfront Soul & Blues Festival where the PA died halfway through her set and she used what could have been a disaster for another artist and turned it into an opportunity to connect on a deeper level with her audience. I don't know if she changed her set list but she had that audience in the palm of her hand and you could hear the proverbial pin drop.
We never got around to talking about my guitar (we talk a lot about guitars) but as I was driving home I heard that today was the 50th anniversary of the Beatles appearance on The Ed Sullivan Show. I've often told the story of how I was immediately drawn to the Gibson acoustics that John and George were playing because they had a pick-up. Brilliant! Those must have been the original acoustic-electric guitars but when I went to order one at my local music store I was told the J160-E was back-ordered but that they had a similar guitar (an Epiphone Texan) and they would install a pickup on it for me. $310 (without case) and that's the guitar I've been playing ever since. Interesting to note that Paul McCartney's acoustic of choice is an Epiphone Texan.
(Apologies to all the non-guitar geeks for all this shop-talk but it's also interesting to note that I never got so many Facebook comments as the time I posted a picture of my beloved Epiphone with the headstock broken off. I don't think I would have attracted as much sympathy if my own head had been knocked off. )
Sorry to say I still haven't had a chance to put together a proper CD launch with full band although it would be a beautiful thing to gather together all or most of the musicians who played on the record. Maybe in February. Meanwhile I was just offered a gig in the Townships for the springtime and maybe that will be the anchor date for a Quebec tour.
Speaking of Quebec, I want to share with you a quickie youTube I just created for my French tune “Ramene Moi Demain“ with beautiful photos of Townships landscapes by Daniel Racine, who wrote the beautiful French lyrics to that song. And let me also mention that the beautiful slide guitar playing is by Harry Manx.
I haven't mailed the CD to Media yet, either, but I have handed out a few to media folk when I ran into them. When I gave one to John Valenteyn or Eric Thom (or anyone who had already reviewed New Folk Blues 1.0), I was quick to mention that I hardly expected another revue for what was essentially the same album. Anyway, JV must have deemed it worthy because he wrote about it in the current issue of MapleBlues and you and you can read it here.
We lost our power for a couple of days here at the old homestead but it came back and it was quite a novelty to be able to sit around the gas stove playing chess by candlelight with my son and no digital distractions.
Last week I came upon an old demo cassette of a group I played with briefly back in the 70s. Slim Chance was the name of the band. We were a country-rock and I recently came upon an old cassette demo and digitized a couple of the tunes and sent them to Sue Lothrop (who was the lead singer - she asked me to send the rest but now I can't find that damn cassette – sorry Sue) Sue sent me back this picture which I don't remember at all. But I do remember those embroidered cowboy pants (Dan Kershaw owns them now). I don't think I ever looked so thin in my whole life. Must have been the drugs (that would explain why I can't remember the picture)
I always like to start out a new year by consulting my runes and I'm always amazed that year after year they give me the same advice, with some slight variation or glimmer of hope for the future. But mostly it's “sow the seeds and wait for the harvest“ or “this is a period of gestation.“ This time my situation is described as “gradual development and steady progress, slow growth and moral effort will be required.“ Argh! The advice was “Do not rely on others for help or support“ and “Watch for signs of spring“. It ended with some encouragement for the new year: “you now have the strength to achieve completion.“ So now I just have decide what I want to complete.
Thanks for reading this far and I wish you all the strength to achieve completion this year (whatever you need to complete).
And let me leave you with a little history lesson that came my way from Jean-Nil, an old friend from the Townships. Check it out
Click image to see the full interactive music graphic(via Concert Hotels).