Saturday, April 4, 2015

Blainletter #74 Happy Easter

Here's a big THANK YOU to all who contributed to the Indiegogo Campaign to fix my old guitar. I knew she had more life in her...Here's a big THANK YOU to all who contributed to the Indiegogo Campaign to fix my old guitar. I knew she had more life in her... I shot a quickie thank-you video on the iPad:

Special thanks to Gord at the 12th Fret who did a great job. It was ready sooner than they said and the repair cost less than they estimated,. How often does that happen. $967 was the bill. Seems like a lot of $$$, eh? I don't know if that beat up old guitar is worth a thousand bucks on the open market but it is sure worth it to me. I wish I could say I was "back in business" but the truth is that the business is kinda slow right now. Maybe it's just as well because I'm going to have a lot of non-music stuff on my hands with The Crescendo deadline yesterday and the jazz festival website going live on the 14th. I'd still rather be playing guitar but I figure if I just hang around long enough I'll qualify to be part of some tour package of Canadian blues old-timers :-)

Speaking of old Canadian blues guys, King Biscuit Boy, who would be seventy this year if he had lived this long, has gotten a lot of props in the last week, a two hour radio documentary hosted by Rob Bowman on CIUT and a "jam" at the JUNO Awards with the hottest blues players on the scene today. The song was "Corrina," a bit of a signature tune for Biscuit. I posted an iPhone video on my Facebook and got over a thousand views. You can see it here

Other JUNO highlights:

Hanging out with my old bandmate Lily Sazz and the Linden brotrhers after the "Blame it on Hamilton" event. Colin is working on the TV show "Nashville" and will be going on the road this summer with some of the stars of the show. 

The first JUNO event I attended was Thursday night -  a French-Canadian "soiree" that included some Quebecois delicacies (which were mostly gone when I got there) and a craft-beer sampling (of which I did not partake) but I did see the show by Marco et les Torvis - a bit reminiscent of "La Bottine Souriante" and that's a good thing. Maybe a little over the top with the schtick and mugging for applause. Before the band were a couple of septuagenarians, a gentleman playing jigs on a harmonica and a blue-haired lady with some rather blue jokes which she read from crib notes. Her humour went over great with the Quebecois crowd but there were a few afro-franco's in the crowd who looked a little aghast.

I didn't get to any of the exclusive private parties but Gibson Guitar put on a big shindig after the Gala in the former Hamilton train station where I ran into a few old friends including Phillip Sayce, who just signed to Warner Bros. and I bet will be a Blues nominee next year. He said he'd enjoyed my You Tube videos. The sound was great, even for a big ole train station. Steve Marriner introduced me to one of the most respected audio engineers in the country. He's the house mixer at many big events and we commiserated how more headline artists insist on using their own soundman - sometimes to their detriment. I joked that there should be an App that would allow the resident soundman to sit off to the side and "override" the mix being done at the console by the visiting soundman. And I must admit, a lot of them would not even notice... He thought that was a pretty good idea and I'm sure many others would, too.

I was in Hamilton for three and a half days as part of the army of media weasels covering the JUNOs. We get to watch the awards but not in the big hall. We are sequestered into a room backstage with a couple of big-screen TV's where you watch the show until the sound gets turned off for a Q & A with the winners. I didn't have any questions and just wanted to enjoy the musical performances so when it came time for the blues jam, I snuck into the main hall and shot the aforementioned video.

I looked over and saw my pal Blues Doctor Julie Hill - a staunch vegetarian - and was thinking I would have swapped the vegetarian lasagna in the media room for the big fat steak that was being served at the $450-a-plate gala dinner. The reporter next to me thought they were "rubbing it in" too much, when our media co-ordinator read off the menu from the gala dinner.

Really, we should be happy that they're feeding us at all - how often does that happen? In the media room I found myself chatting with David Farrell. I guess you could say he was the senior music industry journalist in attendance and I had a chance to thank him for his nice review of "New Folk Blues 2.0" on the New Canadian Music website. David was very encouraging and said NFB2 was "clearly not a rank and file blues album." He said that like it was a good thing :-)

If I sound "whiney" about the JUNOs, I guess I'm still smarting from their rejection of my album because it had the same base tracks as a previously released album...yeah, that's why I called it "2.0" I couldn't dispute their argument that you can't just add some horns and strings to an album and then re-submit for a JUNO the next year. 

Sunday was the big broadcast with the red carpet and celebrities but I woke up with a cold, coughing and sneezing. I made it to the noontime "Songwriter Circle" but after that I just made my way home to watch the JUNOs on TV with a nice cup of tea. The "Songwriter Circle" was at Hamilton Place's "Great Hall" - a beautiful facility but I think there's a big design flaw to that room. I noticed right away that there was a small army of ushers and flashlights were being turned on at any sign of movement - and now I know why. Twice I tripped on their steps and I wasn't the only one as I observed someone in the First-Aid room. You'd think they'd try to accommodate the geriatric crowd that come out for the classical concerts. Anyway, I've still got a sore ankle - I can't say the performances did much for me, considering this was the "creme-de-la-creme" of Canadian songwriters - Lights was my favourite - but like I said, I was a bit under the weather.

Two things I noticed at the JUNO's:  I don't think I saw a single CD hand-off in the whole week-end. The only band that mentioned CDs from the stage was the band from Quebec, Marco et les Torvis who entertained at the "soiree francophone." CDs have not only ceased to be the main delivery system for music, but they are no longer even a "calling card."

Winterfolkin':The month before JUNOs was the Winterfolk Festival where I did get to play a set and even did a bit of an electronica mash-up with Joel as a finale! I also did a songwriting workshop with the inimitable Wendell Ferguson, who I got to know a little better and here's where we discovered our mutual admiration for guitarist Lenny Breau. I sing "Last Time I Saw Lenny" and Wendell plays those beautiful harmonics just like Lenny. After the song, Wendell has a couple of funny stories about a recording session with Lenny.

Fraser & DeBolt on vinyl:  Actually, F & DeB have only ever been on vinyl, and one of those albums was produced by yours truly.  Two of the out-takes from those sessions are part of an upcoming double album (LP) release on the audiophile label, Roaratorio. I have been involved in the restoration of many old tapes for this project and a couple of nights ago I finally got to sit back and listen to the sequenced and mastered songs by F & DeB, the original acid-folk duo.  And it is going to be a feast for their die-hard fans (40+ years without anything new).  Daisy passed away but you can still hear Allan performing with Marianne Girard, and they do some fine reworkings of some Fraser classics like "Dance Hall Girls."  Watch for a CD from them this year.

Columbia Records loved Fraser & DeBolt  - well, for as long as any label could love an artist - It was a revolving door at head offices in New York (aka "The Black Rock"). I think we went trough 4 A&R Directors in the course of this project. We had a big budget (huge by Canadian standards) to make a second album but we tried to record with some Townships players and what we really needed were studio cats. After a week of messing around in Toronto's newest studio, Manta, the band and my co-producer Jesse Winchester went back to Quebec. We might have all gone back to Quebec but Rick Capriole, the assistant engineer (we called them tape jockeys back then)  said he had a band that could walk right in and make it happen. And they did! The band was Simon Caine and included Dennis Pendrith, Pat Godfrey and other great players. Tuck Fox stayed on and played  some guitar and piano as did the Americans, Cal Hand and Joe Ferguson. Joe Mendelson also played on a track. Other tracks on this new release are from live recordings and radio shows. It's worth the wait.

Out and About: Harry Manx came to town for the first time in a long time. It was a great show with Steve Marriner sitting in on harp in that most elegant venue, the historic Winter Garden Theatre. What an amazing space, built in 1913. My seatmate Greg Vandall remembered that he had taken part in the restoration project by helping collect the branches that adorned the ceiling. On Sunday, I decided to finally check out Ken Whiteley's Gospel Brunch at Hugh's Room, especially since he had a great sacred steel player as his guest, "Big Ben" from Rochester. It was quite uplifting.

I slipped out of Hugh's to catch the end of the the Lazy Cat Cafe at the Bain Co-op. This was the scene of my guitar tragedy when the Epiphone took a fall and broke its head off. It was only fitting that I should come back to the "scene of the crime" and I wanted to show the guitar to David Shilman who had suggested I start a crowdfunding campaign to get it repaired. The 12th Fret did a beautiful job, but the strings had not really settled yet and when I was asked to sit in for the big finale, I just grabbed it out of the case as they were starting to sing "Jambalaya." I noticed right away that I was way out of tune, but I just tried to strum discretely until I was called to do a solo. Well that caught me off guard and it sounded like shit but I guess they were not too concerned because this morning I got an email inviting me to be the "feature" next month.

Overheard on the Street: Number 9 Studio owner George Rondina is looking for a partner. A lot of fine music has come out of that studio, much of it shepherded by George Koller. It could be a marriage made in heaven but you know what they say, "If you want to make a million, you better start with two" (actually it was me that said that in my "Entrepreneurial Blues" :-)

The buzz about the "Cobalt Prize" and the article we published in MapleBlues has generated some comments from some distinguished musicians in the blues community who are wondering out loud if the blues really needs a "saviour". I'm thinking a thousand bucks and a whack of publicity is a nice windfall for a songwriter who the Cobalt jury considers has the best contemporary approach to the blues idiom.  Maybe I should have submitted "The Day Coke Saved The Blues," my tune about how one songwriter's tune got picked up for a Coca-Cola commercial and literally saved the record label who owned the publishing (gave it a second wind, anyway). But I never entered a song contest yet, so I'm not going to start now. Besides, this tune is a little too inside, since I know the folks on the jury and the creator of the Cobalt Prize figures prominently in the song. The winning song was from two great friends who are most deserving, Raven and ShoShona (aka, Digging Roots). It's not your typical blues song, but that's the whole idea, isn't it?

I found a great blog post called 9-things-you-must-know-before-choosing-a-music-venue from an L.A. musician who has a great DIY blog for indie musicians. There are some new live-music showcase venues materializing in Toronto. Thanks to Richard Flohil's First Thursday Series, the Painted Lady on Ossington might become a music destination. And there's a new venue in the west end called Fat City Blues.  I like the name and I like the pictures I've seen (yes, there's a real piano). Then again I heard of a restaurant that was gearing up as a live music venue but cancelled the whole idea when they were told they would have to pay SOCAN thousands of dollars for a license. It was a deal-buster for this small business.

Sorry if this got a little long.  There's even more stuff on my blog,  Have a great Easter and see you out there!

Your pal, BrianB aka The Stringbuster, Colorblind Blain, Buddha of the Blues

PS: I have recently received spam from both my addresses (blain & editorial) They have subject lines like "Start Your Career with us"  or "Please Look it"  I'm told I can't do anything about it - it's the perils of having the same address for so long. Do not click on the links in these messages and please do not hesitate to contact me if I can be of any assistance

My old high school pals from St. Pat's started a Facebook group and one of them sent me some pictures I hadn't seen since then (if ever). Check out Brian as teen-age bass player with attitude:

Preview my new website,  BrianBlain.coma portal to everything Blain.  My blog, is linked, there's an EPK, a slideshow of pics, tips on blues shows in town and I've even put a widget that plays my favourite YouTube videos by other artists. Feedback welcome.