Friday, March 29, 1991

The Bermuda Onion

The Toronto Blue’s Society’s “Blues with a Feeling” Award dinner and show at the Bermuda Onion, one of the classiest blues venues in town. It’s in a fancy complex call the “Colonade” and serves pricey meals and weak cocktails but presents some world-class artists one would not see otherwise. This evening the Toronto Blues Society was honoring Jodie Drake (with a heartfelt tribute by Jani Lauzon) and they tied it in with the appearance of Otis Rush. Jodie played a few tunes backed up by Gordie Johnson and Big Sugar followed by a slightly disappointing show by the “Legendary Otis Rush”. You know he’s legendary because all the members of his band wear satin jackets imprinted with “The Legendary Otis Rush Blues Band”. And if his legend is to let his band play most of the show, play a few great leads and even fewer vocals, then he lived up to it. The trouble with these “legends” is that they think all they have to do is show up. But there were some great moments. The drummer was all over his kit, but oh so musical, with the hi-hat almost ripping over and sticks flying. And when Otis was bending those strings in a way that is hard to duplicate unless you play a normally strung guitar left-handed like he does, I couldn’t help but notice Big Sugar guitarist Gordie Johnson watching oh-so-carefully and trying to figure how to re-create those bends.

Monday, March 18, 1991

Those lights don’t make me nervous

Back at Albert’s Hall, Danny Marks had invited me to do some of my own tunes on Stormy Monday. But when he came around to my table he said there were a lot of people waiting to go on and since I had already been on the show with Blue Willow, it wasn’t fair to put me on again. But he put my name at the bottom of the list and even though it was my inclination to leave right then and there, I stuck around till the bitter end, and was rewarded for my persistence. He called me up to the stage saying I would nag him to death if he didn’t. I played my “TV Blues” and he got a kick out of it and invited me to come back for the taping.

The next Monday, I came back to play. As the song goes “Those lights don’t make me nervous, I can really take the heat. . .”, but I was getting a little anxious by the time Danny called me to the stage. The talent that night was pretty hot, even the harp player (and I don’t mean harmonica, or even a Celtic Harp. This was a lady playing the blues on an orchestral harp). Anyway, I had this bright idea that I would get some audience participation at the end of my song. Ever try to get participation from a blues-jam audience? I saw the TV director for Rogers at a party a few weeks later and he said “Sorry, we weren’t able to use your song. . . it sort of fell apart in the middle”. Oh well. I saw my appearance with Blue Willow from the previous week and the production values are fine. Interesting to note that the night we were on TV was the first Friday night we didn’t have a gig. We got fired because some regular at the club (probably one with a big tab) complained that he was sick of hearing the same songs.

Sunday, March 17, 1991

Down Town Browne’s

Dropped in on another jam and heard the end of the acoustic jam which is run by Eddie Baltimore. He played great guitar and his jam was followed by the electric jam hosted by Doreen Smith, a powerhouse singer. Didn’t participate but I ran into Danny Marks and dropped by across the street to hear him at Crooks. Danny was doing a set of obscure 60’s tunes (“Pipeline”, “These Boots Are Made For Walkin”???). Anyway, I ran into “The Balls” again and we all headed to Grossmans to catch the end of the jam over there. This band looks like a bunch of Norse Gods escorting a princess and Timo, the leader of the group, complimented me on my guitar playing and rode with me to Grossmans. When we walked in, they were received like European Royalty. . . kisses and hugs and the next time I looked at Timo, he had a girl on each arm. He asked me to sit with them, but they were called to the stage almost immediately and I guess I got lost in the shuffle. But he was most apologetic afterwards – a real gentleman in caveman’s clothing. Maybe that what the ladies found so appealing. As I left the club, I could hear the crowd chanting “More Balls, More Balls”.

Monday, March 11, 1991

Songwriter’s Workshop at Clinton’s

Well, maybe breaking a string at Albert's Hall wasn’t such a disaster, after all. Danny didn’t want me to use the Fender guitar that was displayed on the stage (it’s going to be some kind of prize, I guess). He says “you don’t want to use that guitar – it’s not set up, it’s not in tune. . .” Well, what the hell is it doing on the stage??? Anyway, Gayle Ackroyd had been sitting next to me in the audience and she offers me her Telecaster so I managed with that – I haven’t seen the video yet, but I hope the camera wasn’t on me when I took a solo on the Tele, because when I flicked the switch to the treble position and start to play, there was no sound so I missed the first part of the solo. Anyway, back to Gayle Ackroyd. The following night I was going to see Pinetop Perkins, but the show was cancelled and I remembered Gayle saying that she conducted a songwriter’s workshop so I popped in there and found a small room with a dozen middle-aged bearded guys with their guitar cases and Gayle. She didn’t recognize me from Albert’s Hall but she did invite me to sing a couple of songs and when I did it went over very well (one guy came up and said “Where the hell have you been?” But the reality came striking home when the waitress came around collecting the $3.00 cover charge. I said “but I’m performing. . .” and she says “It’s still three dollars!” I think I have just climbed aboard the “pay-to-play” circuit. Then Gayle invites me to be the featured performer in two weeks. “Great” I say, “and, uh. . . how much would one be paid for that?”. . . She looks slightly embarrassed and says there’s no money. “Do I still have to pay the three dollars?” I ask. And she’s relieved to tell me that I won’t have to pay that. I may even try to wrangle a free beer. Big Time.

This town has Blues Jams happening every night in one bar or the other, and now I know why. The club only has to pay one person and they get ten others playing for free. Not only that, they charge you admission and expect you to pay the full rate for beer. Actually, I was told that at Grossmans, if you do a good set the host will bring around a tray of beers (but you don’t get to say what kind you want – in fact, I bet they just collect the beers that are left on tables, top them up, and then pass them out to the musicians).

Real life Blues Vignette: On the first warm day in a while, I look out my window to see a little local colour. Some fifty-year old fart has taken out his big white convertible (with the top down) and put on his Florida outfit (white shoes & pants – I don’t think he was wearing an ascot but it looked like he should). Anyway, he has parked his big boat right at the streetcar stop – everyone knows that’s an instant ticket. I see his lady friend coming out of the Shamrock Tavern. She is young, blonde and busty and as she is getting in the passenger seat, she sees the ticket on the windshield (I told you so). She gets out of the car, tears the ticket in half with a great flourish and throws it on the ground. Then she thinks better of it and picks up the two halves, looks at them this time, then throws them into the back seat as her fella comes back to the car and they drive off. Do you think they paid the ticket?