Monday, October 30, 2000

October happenings

Looking back at October it's been a busy and enjoyable time. The month ended with a great weekend in Barrie at the Ontario Council of Folk Festivals Conference and Showcase. I was invited to participate in a seminar on the internet - kind of a free ride - so I brought my guitar and sure enough, I had the opportunity to jam with some great musicians like the legendary Stephen Barry, Jordan Officer, the young Montreal guitar phenom and an indisputible future star, Tannis Slimmon.

At about 3am, I walked through one area where a musician whom I had not seen at the conference was sitting at the head of a group of players. Someone said "you do one, Wendell" and I knew I was seeing for the first time the locally-revered Wendell Ferguson and when he launched into an original tune with hilarious lyrics and very fast picking, he lived up to his reputation. In fact, I guess I was a little intimidated because I just kept on moving down the hallway where I sat in with Dan and Jenny Whiteley and the festival director from Home County Festival leading the session on mandolin. I just started playing along and got a suspicious glance when I threw in a bent note. I didn't get a solo. This was the first time that I brought out my guitar at one of these music conferences - though I've attended many in my editor capacity.

There's a few tips I would note:
1) Always have a tune or three that you can pull out - something everyone will know or can learn right away - preferably with a vocal chorus that will get everybody singing. This is also not the moment to pull out a tune you've just written.

I also wondered aout the etiquette of doing a second song - but there was a long silence after I did one tune so I said "Can I sing a ballad?" I did "The Big Fire" and someone standing in the doorway asked "who wrote that song?" and I said me. He was sure he had heard it someplace and I said "Bill Garrett and Sue Lothrop?" and he said yes that must be it. I figured out later that he was the owner of a club in Ottawa where they had just done two nights. (Note to myself: Get a booking at Rasputin's)

The internet workshop went great but I have to chuckle when I think that the first thing I saw when I walked into the room I noticed that Gene Wilburn, my collaborator, had written my email address on the white board and it was wrong? I pointed that out and he said "I just took it out of the newsletter". Well, I made the newsletter! ...Just call me the (barely)managing editor.

I did a couple of "special guest" appearances last month - trying to "get a profile." I guess my career is still at the "early stages," though I made my first recording with a folk group called the BAK trio back in 64-65 (on an ampex 3-track, I recall). I did my third guest shot with Dylan Wickens at the Black Swan. That's always a rockin time. The drummer this time was someone who has a lot of big-time credentials but who was a very down-to-earth guy - John Bouvette

A few days later, I was a "tweener". This is someone who plays between the opening act and the main attraction. I asked Richard Flohil, the promoter, for a slot and he graciously provided one - between Nancy White and Susan Werner. He wanted me to do something "special" - and I said I would sing my rarely-performed song "The Story of the Magic Pick", which I recorded in 1973. I wouldn't usually take the time to ramble on about behind the scenes stories of how this or that came about, but I think a web page is a perfect place for rambling - you can stop, scroll forward, or quit - you've got all the basic information at this point. But to ramble on...I was in the studio recording a song called "Don't Forget Your Mother" back in 1973. It was one of the first songs I ever wrote and it caught the attention of a famous producer in Montreal, Andre Perry - the man who recorded "Give Peace a Chance" with John & Yoko.

The producer of the sessions was Frazier Mohawk who brought in an all-star cast of American sidemen including Tom Malone (Blues Brothers, Letterman), John Lissauer (Leonard Cohen) and the legendary drummer Jim Gordon (Derek and the Dominoes) who was arrested and convicted of murdering his mother not long after recording "Don't Forget Your Mother." The back-up vocals were provided by Laurel Masse and Janice Siegal from the (then) up and coming group Manhattan Transfer.

As an up-and-coming new artist signed to a major label, I was expected to make some appearances, and I put together a back-up vocal group and called them "The Blainettes" We only did a few gigs together, opening for Lou Reed was the highlight. It was the peak of his popularity but the people enjoyed our set - one audience member said he liked our performance better than Lou's.

My first impression of Lou was not so friendly, we arrived at the theatre and were shown to some dressing rooms - One was full of people, the Lou reed Band, and the other had just one small bag on the counter. We moved in to the only available room, but within a few moments, Lou was standing in the door way. I said something like "Er, is this *your* dressing room and he said "Yes." End of conversation. We found another place to get changed.

Back to last week, I decided to perform this old chesnut for a very attentive and influential group of folk afficionados and, wouldn't you know, I forgot the words. One song to do and I forget the words! It's not the first time - when my drummer/friend Mike Fitzpatrick encouraged me to get the song out of mothballs, I found myself having to re-learn the lyrics from the original 45-rpm jacket where they were printed.

I should have had them prominently displayed when I performed the song at my "tweener". I jumbled up some words so bad that the only saving grace was to find that nothing unruly had happened in the audience and people applauded. (tip of the day: An amateur practises until he can do it right. A professional practices until he can't do it wrong)

Another big "up" for my local profile, at least, was being invited to perform on Steve Gash's fundraising show. The two other guests were Paul Reddick of the Sidemen and Michael Pickett. Reddick was late and arrived about the same time as me. Then Pickett walked in, took his guitar out of the case (something he's doing a lot more of) and started pacing. I knew that I was going to be delayed for a newsletter meeting and sure enough, I didn't go on until after Pickett - but Paul Reddick, who was not feeling very well, stuck around long enough to play a tune with me (Computer Club Queen). What a treat, and what a gentleman he was to stick around.

On the 26th, I went to David Wilcox CD launch - he's an Ontario legend, but coming up in Quebec, I hadn't heard of him at all. It turns out Michelle played drums on his first album, though uncredited. He is a great guitar player and was accompanied by Richard Bell on piano for a media preview. I saw that after that short set, Colin Linden arrived and as I left the club I saw him setting up - I wanted to try coming back but ended up at the Cash Brothers CD launch at Ted's Wrecking Yard. My neighbour Andrew and his brother have a very special blend and they create a real "mood" in the room. They got three encores and there couldn't have been a better time to get 3 encores than when all the US record company brass has come to see you for the first time. Downstairs in BarCode, Michelle was hosting an impromptu ambient jam, since the usual Hey Stella lineup was unavailable.

I think I owe myself an apology for not including my Oct. 15 Mezzrow's gig in the MapleBlues listings. I don't suppose it's any consolation to any other artists' whose listings I have screwed up in my capacity as (barely) managing editor, but it shows that it can happen to anyone...

A special welcome to Jan, John, Glenn, Helen, Duncan, Jay and several others who have signed up on my personal mailing list. You will receive a message like this once or twice a month and for those who may not yet have received the CD they paid for, sorry for delay - the mail order system is being upgraded (we have to buy some stamps). And for that list member who finds my group messages too impersonal, I want you to know that you *are* special!

October started with a birthday party at the Silver Dollar on Monday, October 2. It was Michele's birthday - she's that tall. blonde, animated waitress who floats around the Dollar. Since it was happening at the same time as Danny Marks Stormy Monday jam session I thought I might be able to sing a tune for Michele but there was no way Danny was going to let me use his guitar (TIP: if you're planning to jam, bring your axe). I thought of a fun song I could do with Danny accompanying me so I shouted it out to him, and he said "Oh yeah, I know that song" and that he had just performed it on his CBC show - and then proceeded to sing half the tune!!! Steal my thunder, will ya? Anyway, I slipped out after listening to a couple more jammers but I'm told that Danny was calling for me long after I was gone. I'm sure I haven't heard the last of this.

On the 3rd, Prime Minister Chretien annouced there would be no federal election until at least November 27th. I'm playing the Montreal Bistro on the 27th and if the election is called for that night, it will be the third time I've played the Bistro on an election night at the end of November. Last time, we promoted the gig as "Sherbrooke Night at the Montreal Bistro" in honour of then-opposition leader Jean Charest who hails from my home town, Sherbrooke, Quebec.

On the 4th, I went to Colin Linden's tribute to Rick Danko at the Horseshoe. There were a lot of musicians I didn't know playing Rick Danko songs including a Woodstock group led by Professor Louie - who produced the last two band albums. Got to chat with reknowned musicologist Rob Bowman for a while - he's been writing the voluminous liner notes for the the newly released Band box sets and mentions there are lots of great unreleased tracks on them. Colin was playing great, as ever, and did a long set with Blackie and the Rodeo Kings. Bonus.

On the 6th, I had the pleasure of hanging out with Japan's leading jazz star - Sadao Watanabe, who my client Downtown Jazz presented at the Winter Garden Theatre. What an amazing venue - now I know why they call it that! The decor dates back to the turn of the century when it was a vaudeville house. The ceiling is covered with phony leaves and you feel like you're sitting in a forrest. Surreal! After the show and an after-show reception with Japanese dignitaries we retreated to a Chinese restaurant where I heard hilarious stories of touring with Dizzy Gillespie and Sadao's hobby - collecting old golf clubs.
Konichi, the guitarist, asked me if I knew of any blues bars in the area and I told him there were two within a block, so we slipped out and visted Grossman's. When we walked in, guitarist Ermest Lee was playing a burning solo, standing on a chair in the middle of the room - Buddy Guy-style. Konichi needed to use the washroom and I reluctantly directed him to the downstairs men's washroom which is pretty raunchy and I looked at him apologetically when he came back but he shrugged like "I've seen worse than this". I'm sure he has, he's played all over the world, though this was his first time in Toronto. I wanted him to see the Silver Dollar as well, but by the time we got there, the music had just ended. We looked at Eddy B's photo exhibit. I had paid the admission because it turned out there was no media comps for that evening since it was a fundraiser for Eddy's litigation with CIUT and the University of Toronto. Eddy took great relish in taking seven dollars from me - who he considers in the "enemy" camp. Well , despite his ornery, cantankerous nature, he is a great photographer and his show will be on display through November in the back room at the Silver Dollar

The following evening, back at the Dollar, the legendary Sonny Rhodes (with trademark turban and lap steel) stretched the limits of how long a back-up band should play before bringing on the star. An interminable twenty-minute instrumental version of "The Thrill is Gone" opened the second show but it ended fine when Sonny was joined on stage by Michael Pickett and Johnny V. Sonny seemed to be moving pretty slow, getting on in years but sounding great.