Monday, April 20, 1992

A message from the grave

It’s Wednesday night and I’m listening to Dr. Feelgood’s Blues Emporium, a radio show on CKLN with David Barnard, whom I met at the “Blues With A Feeling” event, and he’s interviewing Mark “Bird” Stafford. Bird is a real friendly fellow, and he booked Blue Willow into Chicago’s – the first blues bar I ever played at in Toronto. That was when I came through town five or six years ago. At that time I was hired by a guy called Robin Harp, who is considered a bit of a flake around town these days, but I went in on a Monday Night in the middle of a beer strike and played to an almost empty house. That was the first and only time I played in Toronto with my “one-man-blues-band” set-up and it came off OK even though I realized then that I was still not ready for prime time. That was the background for a truly “mystical” experience.
It seems that in the few days that transpired from the time I got the gig to the day I appeared, Robin had asked a girl that worked behind the bar to make a poster. I hadn’t left a picture and I don’t imagine he had given her a description of me because when I arrived for the gig there was a hand-drawn poster of a “Colorblind” that looked nothing like me, but looked exactly like my recently deceased father. The same chin, moustache wearing a cap just like he always wore. I was floored. I could only assume it was my father sending me a message from the grave that it was OK for my to play music (he never approved while he was living).

Thursday, April 2, 1992

Southern Comfort Discover the Blues Festival

An unprecedented publicity blitz for a blues event and great media coverage seemed to generate the self-fulfilling prophecy that the blues was undergoing another revival. Unfortunately, it was happening on the same weekend as Daisy DeBolt’s gig at the Free Times and I had promised to be her roadie/soundman. I wasn’t planning to go to the big-ticket concerts (little did I know that the Blues Society had put me on the list for a special pass). On Friday night I set up Daisy at the club and listened to her first set (which she belted out with reckless abandon – and paid for with a hoarse voice on the Saturday night). Then I made a run over to the El Mocambo which was just around the corner because I wanted to hear Jimmy Rodgers, the legendary guitarist that worked with Muddy for many years. At the gate I asked if I was on the guest list and I wasn’t, but I talked my way in and the band was already on stage. Unfortunately, Jimmy was not and it was one of those scenes where the band plays an interminable opening set before the “star” appears. After the third song (and still no Jimmy) I figured I better check on Daisy, and was it lucky that I did! Just as I walked into the Free Times I heard my name being called from the stage. They were having trouble with the amp and Daisy was calling “Brian, Brian!” I fixed it and listened to another great set by Daisy. Then I went back to catch Jimmy’s last set and heard some terrific tunes even though Jimmy himself didn’t play enough guitar to suit me. He’s not a young man and as he walked by me to take the stage he chugged half a snifter of cognac and on the way off joined some hyperactive groupies in a little two-step. My friend Sandra who is working on an autobiography of Muddy Waters wanted to be sure he would live long enough to give her interview. I reckon he will. On the Saturday night, I slipped away and hear the remarkable Solomon Burke. They call him the King of Rock ‘n Soul and you can see why. He sang his own hits (”If You Want Me, Call Me. . .”) and did entirely authentic versions of songs by Otis Redding and Sam Cooke. He had his 19-year old son at his side throughout the performance, wiping his brow and handing him roses to throw into the audience. The band that had been assembled here in Toronto was the cream of white Canadian kids who came up on R&B (Michael Fonfara on piano trading off with a terrific organist). The horns were great, and Solomon obviously enjoyed their playing, pulling them out to the front of the stage and sticking his vocal mike into the bell. When he asked the guitar player to step forward in the middle of his solo, he began tugging at this left sleeve until he had pulled of the guy’s jacket. It’s incredible that the kid was able to keep playing, but he kept up a good sense of humour about it.