Saturday, June 10, 2017

Blainletter #91 - June 2017

Still Giggin'

June 10 will be the final "Second Saturday" Campfire Jam at the Old Mill but it looks like we'll be back in September. Mark "Bird" Stafford has been a mainstay on the Toronto blues scene since I got to town in the early 90s. A great harp player of the "fat tone" school and now doing double duty on drums and percussion.  He's bringing along one of his favourite piano players, Geoff Daye and I took this opportunity to invite a guitarist who has made a big impression on me every time I heard him (blues and otherwise) and his name is Mike Daley.  He's also a respected academic, teaching ethno-musicology at York University. He's teaching a credit course on Bob Dylan - now that's something that would have kept me in college. As usual, we'll be swapping songs and stories and I'm sure a good time will be had by all.

I'm happy to report that the Southside Shuffle has given me a date and the Toronto Jazz Festival invited me to play this year. I'll be seizing the moment to gather up some friends and have a little celebration of my 25 years on staff at the jazz festival as (barely)managing editor and intermittent IT guy. They even consulted with me occasionally on Blues acts...until I got them to bring in one of my favourite artists, Mighty Sam McClain and then had to watch as he played to a half-empty tent.  Oh well, there's a reason I'm not a promoter. And the first lesson you learn as a promoter is don't book someone just because you like them.

I didn't get to play the Orangeville bluesfest for the first time but I saw a lot on Facebook Live and looks like they had a great festival. I remember last year - I must have had 4 plays and if it hadn't been for Joel coming with me to drive and shlepp the gear, it would have near killed me. I remember I was pretty wiped when I got back home.

I guess I'm just feeling my age...Last week for the first time in my career I went to a venue, took down the posters and told the bartender I wouldn't be back. It wasn't because last time we were greeted by the club owner complaining that our jam would interfere with the Raptors game on TV, or even that they shortchanged me on my fee. It was just way too exhausting to bring in a PA, two amps and three guitars and play all night long (we don't take many breaks at the Campfire Jam). I was totally wiped out the next day.

If we're going to be doing any more touring, it'll have to be a "Blues Elders" package with roadies to carry the gear and pass out the Metamucil. And if there's any groupies coming around they better bring the Viagra :-)

I still think there's room for me in the Blues landscape. How often do you get to hear the slow-cooked grooves of a guitar player who's been perfecting the same riffs (on the same guitar) for fifty years without ever having the benefit of a guitar lesson or the burden of a rehearsal.

My Roots Revealed

I was told very early in life that I was adopted and never gave it much thought.  I remember at some point when I was still very young I said to my mother that I would like to search for my "real" mother and I saw from the expression on her face that I had crossed some kind of line and I never brought it up again - and put that thought out of my head.  A couple of years before she died she pulled me to her beside and told me the story of how the adoption happened and that she thought my name had been Robert.  I wrote that story into my song, Enfant Choisi, but still never gave it a lot of thought.

Then along came AncestryDNA and when they had a sale on St Patrick's Day I sent in my spit and $109. and the results are in... Some of you Blainreaders might have noticed last month I tried to have an "office pool" of sorts to guess what is my ancestry but I guess I didn't offer an attractive enough prize because nobody took me up on it.  Anyway, I made my guess just before I opened the results: "Irish,"  I said, and wouldn't you know I'm 61% Irish and 14% Iberian Peninsula...and for John Robshaw and anyone else who wanted to know the rest, its 11% Great Britain, 8% Europe West and 4% Italy/Greece.  Not very exotic, eh?  I'm about as WASP as you can get.  But now the real fun begins.  I've had three relatives come out of the woodwork and we think I'm a McGoldrick.  More to come on all this...

Out and About

I was thrilled to be invited to do an opening set for Terry Gillespie's CD launch - and doubly excited to play the legendary Dakota Tavern for the first time.  I don't know if you can call a venue "legendary" when they haven't been around forever but the Dakota has made quite a rep for itself in the roots music scene and I can see why people like to play there.  The sound was great and the sound person was downright helpful and friendly - even brought me a guitar stand.

Richard Flohil, who called me to do the gig, had suggested I bring a bass player but I rarely do that for this sort of gig so I was going to do it alone but just a couple of days before the gig I saw Terry Wilkins' name pop up on my Facebook and I thought "I haven't played with him in a long time".  I was sure he'd be booked on a Saturday night, and in fact he had two gigs on that Saturday, but the last one finished about the same time we had to start and it was right across the street so he came right over and played with me and it was a delight.  He actually did some homework (a concept which is alien to me) and had every tune nailed right from the start. A consummate pro.

I had a great visit with Sherman Lee Dillon last month as he came through our town for a bunch of dates.  He's a genuine Mississippi bluesman though he's white and Catholic.  He came up in Jackson Mississippi and his son now operates an after-hours juke joint on Farish Street in a building which once housed the offices and studio of Trumpet Records where "Dust My Broom" and many blues classics were recorded.  I spent a little time at his place in Jackson and was glad to return the favour and put him up in Toronto and show him around a bit.

As I was heading down to the Blue Goose to see him play I got a call from "The Prof", Scott Cushnie and I offered to pick him up and take him along.  He had a great reunion with Michael Fonfara and some other players and it would have been great to get Sherman and Prof together to share stories (they've both got a whack of them) but it was not to be.  Just driving to the Goose I was hearing these amazing stories of his early days with Ronnie Hawkins pre-Band.  In fact, it was Prof who brought Robbie Robertson to the Hawk because they were playing together in a band called The Suedes.  Scott hasn't been playing much lately but I'm intent on getting him out for a gig one of these days.

I tagged along with Sherman Lee to the Moonshine Cafe where he was doing a double bill with New Brunswick bluesman Keith Hallett.  Keith is a local hero in Fredericton and I remember hearing just a couple of tunes from him when I was down there playing the Harvest Jazz & Blues Festival.  What I heard at the Moonshine was not what I remembered from Fredericton but he has cultivated a sound all his own - accentuated by a vocal mic that he plugs into a guitar amp.  For a guy playing without any accompaniment he did not hesitate to take long guitar solos - as opposed to Sherman Lee who kept his tunes slim and trim. Here's an Instagram clip I posted.

I had a little session with SLD in my studio and learned a few of the essential bass lines of classic blues tunes - Sherman insisting that any bass player that took to the stage in his town would know these bass lines inside out - although you never play them inside out. I'm a pretty loose bass player myself, but it was great to get a bass "primer" on what SLD calls the "language" - You either speak the language or you don't. I went to Carrie Chesnutt's Birthday Party with Michelle Josef and met a bunch of musicians and got to hear Carrie with her all-time favourite band, Fat Lucy.  She  had assembled these guys who she played with 9 years ago and who are all pretty busy musicians these days.  She did a little walk-about into the crowd and mugged for the camera which I captured in this little video clip:

Coming Up

I'll be heading over to Hugh's Room Live on June 8th for Kim Doolittle's CD launch.  She's put together a great band headed by Ken Whiteley and the show will have most of the guys who played on the album.  It's called "Into The Blue" and the tracks I've heard have been very sweet.

Lots more great blues coming up in the next few weeks.  Sean Pinchin will be playing the Toronto Blues Society Birthday Party on Friday June 16 (6pm) at the Island Cafe on Ward's Island.  You may have heard that the island is swamped but the ferrys are running and you just have to say when you get your ticket that you've got a reservation at the Island Cafe.

The same night, Gary Kendall has organized a big bash to celebrate that venerable blues shrine of the 90s, The Silver Dollar Room.  The gang from his band, Downchild, will all be there and many more.

And don't forget the Toronto Jazz Festival starting June much great music.  Get out and hear someone you've never heard of - it's all good!  On the 24th (at noon) you can hear 6 up-and-coming blues bands at the TBS Talent Search on the OLG Stage (Cumberland St.)

Thanks for reading this far.  Feel free to forward this to any friend you think might enjoy my occasional ramblings (and maybe my music, too)  I've got a few new tunes in the works so stand by, stay well and see you out there,

BrianB, aka Butch, Nappy, Shaker Blain, Colorblind Brian, Stringbuster, Buddha of the Blues