Monday, December 31, 2001

Looking back at 2001

December 31, 2001: Time for some profound thoughts, revelations and determinations. Hmmmm. Firstly, best wishes to the few hearty souls who occasionally drop in to this site - I know you're out there. But I'm always surprised when someone comes up to me at a gig or otherwise to say they were "checking up" on me. Mostlty, I hear from regular visitors inquiring when I will dump the "little drummer boy". Well, the good news is that I will be moving and re-vamping my site this year. I'm going to do away with the frames and try to have a search function to make it easier for people to see if I'm taking about them...
The big determination for the new year is to get a new album recorded and even though I've been focused on this for many months, the more mundane aspects of my work life have been interrupting the process (while keeping a roof over my head). Last month we were looking at a May release, next month...who knows?
We resume the Acoustic Blues Thursdays at the Tranzac on January 3rd with my very special guest, bassist extraordinaire, Victor Bateman. I can hardly wait to see what he will pull out of his hat for his feature set. (see the complete lineup on the left). Victor was a nominee for a Maple Blues Award a couple of years back and, in fact, all my guests in January are Maple Blues Award nominees and winners. I am humbled that musicians of such stature are willing to come and play with me in this casual, intimate setting. I continue to invite people I've never played with before and it's been a great experience for all concerned - the guest, the audience and myself.
There's a new addition to our Thursdays, we now start off with a "blues and gospel picking session" from 8:30-930. Everybody sits around in the proverbial "song circle" and each participants gets the chance to do a tune or two, or simply play/sing along. It's open to all musicians and singers and moderated by my friends Jeremy and Josee.
November 22, 2001 - The Tranzac:When I sent out the last-minute announcement about my guest for tonite's show, Eric Thom wrote back: "Julian Fauth plays like AJ Casson paints (okay...painted). He is a treat to behold and a more than worthy soul-mate to Brian's warm blues stylings." Then there were even a few more messages back and forth about whether AJ Casson referred to *Jim* Casson, former drummer for Downchild and a very talented person in his own right - I don't know about his painting but he can build a mean website.
Julian did a feature set of original material and made a great impression on a certain record executive in the audience ;-)
We finished off the night with surprise guest appearances from Zoe Chilco and Brian Neller of Blue Room. The Tip Box was better than last week but not as good as the week before. Here's hoping the club hangs in. Where else can you find a house gig where there's a real piano, a PA with someone to set up and run it, an easy load-in, a place to park and an easy-going attitude about when you start and when you stop.
Today Northern Blues mastered their next sampler and I must say that I felt a small victory in convincing Fred Litwin and Bill Garrett (who mastered it) to use a song of my choice - though it's still an old recording. You can tell it's dated from the lyric: "That girl's got a giga, she's got forty meg of RAM". Remember when forty meg of RAM was a big deal? When I tried to claim "creative control" I was told I have creative control over my own CD, not the Sampler!
I must sound like a big whiner - any blues artist in the country would be happy to be in my place, making a CD for release on Northern Blues. It reminds of a harp-player friend who ran into Colin James just after he had his big hit "Why You Lied" and Colin was complaining that he was feeling a certain pressure. It's hard to sympathize too much when you're struggling from one gig to the next. (We could all use a little of that pressure)
November 16, 2001 - The Siver Dollar: It was the CD release for Montreal artist Dawn Tyler Watson - one of the hardest working blueswomen in the country. She gets on that stage and takes charge. Downstairs in the Comfort Zone there was a very large, very young band doing funk music with very contemporary vibe.
November 12, 2001 - The Siver Dollar: Following a great session of drumming (my first attempt at playing a djembe and I did fine - my fingers haven't fallen off), I dropped in to the Silver Dollar because I heard that James Brown's Band, and possibly James himself were going to be using the club for a dress reheasal for a Jackie Chan movie they were filming in town. This conflicted with Danny Marks Stormy Monday Jam and Danny was a little out of joint - he doesn't hide it when he's steamed.
The JB band played a powerhouse 45 minute set - during which Danny was at home awaiting the go-ahead from his drummer Ed White. When he finally did make it to the stage, he said he spent that time listening to James Brown records!). Regarding the JB band, they were great, but it was interesting to hear how much better they got as the set unfolded. This is the most worked-out show I've ever seen with horn shots all over the place, modulations, etc.
Different sidemen (at first I thought they were roadies) took the front and covered the vocals so the band could run through their (very complex) arrangements. I bet anything those charts were the work of the young-looking unassuming rhythm guitarist, who was doing a lot of cuing of the others. It was probably a good thing that they ran through the set before playing it with "the man". They were only supposed to play 45 minutes, but they took a break and came back for a second set - most of which I missed because I went out for something to eat.
The place was overflowing but Danny took his time getting the jam going. He even commented from the stage about how the owner was trying to get him up right away to "hold the crowd". Tip of the Day: There's no way to "hold" the crowd when they've just experienced the James Brown Band.
Danny was obviously miffed - kept referring to "what a great opening band we had for you tonight" and then he launched into a hillarious parody of James Brown classics. "I Feel Good" a la Johnny Cash, "Poppa 's Got A Brand New Bag" in reggae and a Dylanesque "Please, Please, Please". Danny was in a dark mood and even referred to this morning's plane crash with his version of "Gimme A Ticket For an Airplane", whooshing jet sound effects and all.
But it's supposed to be a jam and the one time I finally get it together to bring my guitar to a Stormy Monday Jam, I never get to play (the story of my life). Maybe I should have waited for the bitter end, that's been my slot more than once. Worse yet, I don't think Diana Braithwaite got to play, either. I haven't seen Diana for a long time - she was looking fabulous and had a new air of confidence. Not that she needed it, she's the most natural blues singer you'll ever find. She wasn't going to stay for the end either and I think if I'd asked Danny if I could play he would have said something "Why don't you just take the whole gig - *you* come back here next Monday!"

November 1, 2001 - The Tranzac: I've resumed my Thursday residency at The Tranzac. My first guest was Rick Zolkower (pictured with me above) and this week I played with Daisy DeBolt and Marg Stowe. It's been great so far and for upcoming guests see the list of performances to the left of this page.
Guess what, Diary, I've bought a new guitar! A Johnson resophonic - $350 from the Twelfth Fret (I didn't think they sold guitars that cheap). Made in Korea or Taiwan or someplace like that, it plays great, stays in tune...and if I ever lose it or get it stolen, I know I can get another one just like it. For the un-initiated, a resophonic guitar has a metal cone in it to make it louder, and the rest of it is just plywood because you don't need expensive, good sounding woods since the resonator is making all the sound.I've been using it at the Tranzac and some recording sessions.
Also did a little recording at Puck's Farm, helping them test out their new digital recording facility. In the past we've had "exchange of services" when I've done some PR stuff for them and I casually mentioned the other day that the ad they were running on Danny Marks' Bluz.FM show would not have much appeal to people making blues records when all they talked about was the "crystal clear" sound. Next thing I know, Danny's calling me, asking *me* to write a script! Lesson of the Day: Keep Your Opinions To Yourself. In fact, even when people ask for your opinion, half of them don't want to know, really.
Also seen in my brief sweep through the Folkmeet: A preview showcase at Hugh's room I saw Katherine Wheatley perform a great set - I had never seen her this solo (she had some guests, including Suzie Vinnick). Katherine turned me on to the miracle of a good nail technician (a block away from Hugh's Room, too) - and my guitar playing has never been the same again. Tip of the Day: Try getting the nails on your picking hand coated with acrylic (it's a many-step process involving a whole chemical reaction right there on your nails) but it will make them virtually indestructible - in fact, be sure to take home one of the special emery boards they use because a standard nail file can barely file them. Ask for Lee or Amy 416-588-7270.
Hugh's Room has been presenting some great shows, though they couldn't support the regular weekly evenings (with Rick Fielding and Chris Whiteley). People only come out to see specific shows, it would seem. But it won't be long before people start frequenting it as a "hang-out" - the food is great, for sure.
November 8th, 2001: My guest at the Tranzac was Daisy DeBolt - a long-time musical friend. I have hardly ever played with Daisy except for a short stint when she was part of Fraser & DeBolt. I played the very first Winnipeg Folk Festival with them (and I think the first Sudbury festival as well). Daisy doesn't remember me playing with them at all but she did remember the time in Winnipeg when she asked Bruce Cockburn to sit in on the finale, but he didn't have his guitar so Daisy tried to convince me to let him use my guitar rather than hers (because mine had a pick-up). Anyway, I played my own guitar and Bruce played Daisy's and it all sounded great, I'm sure. I must be the only person on the planet who wouldn't let BC play his guitar! Daisy has a new album due soon - a masterpiece, for sure. Allan Fraser, now living in Montreal, is getting out once in a while with his guitar, usually performing with his wife, Donna. He's mostly been sitting back and enjoying the musical development of their kids.
November 4th, 2001: Montreal Night! with a double CD launch from Michael Jerome Brown and Penny Lang. Penny's CD is a collection of tracks she's recorded all the way back to 1963 - which is when I first hear her on CKTS Radio in Sherbrooke Quebec. It was a live recording of her and Roma Baran on second guitar and I even remember the song: There But For Fortune...or maybe it was some Phil Ochs' song. Anyway it was great to see Penny in action and she had the audience in the palm of her hand, as always. Michael Jerome Brown is a great player - he opened with a set of his own then accompanied Penny. What a great evening. They did it again in Montreal and Ottawa, too.
November 2, 2001: Saw some great guitarists at the Dollar this month! Junior Watson was a must-see. And Duke Robillard was back in town on Nov 2nd - the night of some important Canada Council Jazz ID showcases at the Jazz Convention. My old musical buddy and now CC music section head Russ Kelley was the master of ceremonies for the event but as soon as it was over we headed up to the Dollar to hear Duke. He was in fine form, and by the third song, I had turned to Russ to say that the last solo had done it for me so perfectly that I didn't really need to hear any more. Meanwhile, I wish I'd made a greater effort to stay on the music side instead of getting drawn into a discussion with Russ and Richard Flohil about the demise of Sam the Record Man, border crossing and other stuff.
October 26, 2001: I had a busy week-end at the end of October and it was very nice travelling light. The Friday night I was opening for Brian Gladstone at the Silver Dollar and the Saturday Night I opened the Toronto Blues Society Halloween Party, did a few songs myself then played with the band - the Voodoo Kings and the Blues Butcher. Dylan Wickens was on the bill too, though I didn't get to stick around and see him or Kieron Lafferty.
October 21: Here I am again, that last-minute man, plugging my gig tomorrow night (Mon, Oct 22) at the Montreal Bistro. I'll be performing a batch of new songs which we are recording for the upcoming CD (due for release Feb 2002). I'll be playing with Julian Fauth on piano and Paul Reddick on harmonica.
I will also be doing an opening set at the Toronto Blues Society Halloween Party at the Black Swan on Saturday, October 27. The Voodoo Kings is the band and other special guests are Dylan Wickens and Kieran Lafferty.
October 13 - Silver Dollar: Junior Watson is the "guitarist's guitarist" and when you see him you'll understand why. He knows a million licks and often uses "quotes" in the middle of a solo (ie, in the middle of a searing solo, he'll play 'Mary Had a Little Lamb") I Talked with him a bit on the break - he should have had a full house after the buzz he created a couple of months back, but it was not a full house. He was resigned to this and said many of the venues he had been playing since September 11 were down at least one-third in attendance.
October 10 - Ted's Wrecking Yard: Dan Kershaw's band, Brothers Cosmoline was having their CD launch in the midst of the "FolkMeet" conference and they had a great crowd and played some kick-ass bluegrass.
October 9 - Borealis/NorthernBlues HQ: It was a housewarming and going-away party for office manager Eve Goldberg as well as a "Welcome Aboard" party for new office manager Linda Turu. mmmm... great little fancy sandwiches. I met Harry Manx for the second time and many of us made our way to the Dollar to see his set - opening for Alvin Youngblood Hart. Harry is a phenomenal player - on a variety of instruments including the 20-string Mohan Veena which sounds like a Sitar sometimes. Even when he plays the standard lap slide guitar, you can hear the Indian influence. He studied and toured with V. M. Bhatt for nine years in India. The folowing evening I heard Harry doing a showcase set at a conference called "FolkMeet" and happened to be sitting behind Fred Litwin (pres of NorthernBlues) and Ken Whiteley. I leaned over to Fred and said "wouldn't it be great to have Harry guest on my CD" and he agreed wholeheartedly and said Harry would be around the following Monday. I asked Ken if his studio was available and he said it could be arranged. Harry was ammenable and voila! we had a session happening. You can hear one of the tunes "The Ghost of Clinton's Tavern" at
October 6 - Silver Dollar: It was another fundraiser for the Eddy B Legal Fund (the 17th, I think) and the one time my media-mooch status does not provide free entry. Nevertheless, I wanted to see Eddie Baltimore (who played at the beginning so I missed him) but I did get to enjoy Kenny Brown, who I see more often doing the sound at the Dollar, but who has been a well-repected player on the scene for many years. As Eddy began to rant about another (third) party that he wanted to bring to court I told him I was going to write a tune with the line "I'm just another battle in Eddy's War"
October 5 - Hugh's Room: Cindy Church is performing with Joe Sealy and George Koller in a tribute to Hoagy Carmichael. Gorgeous music and Cindy has a voice that worked perfectly with it. Joe and George also sang and there was a bass tour-de-force that showed Koller as "the man" on bass in this town. He does it all!
So I had a pretty quiet September - that's what happens when you tell everybody you're going to be gone for a couple of weeks!
Sept 18 - The Rex: I've come to see my bass-playing buddy Victor Bateman's revival of his historic group from the 80's called Vektor. It's supposed to be the official launch of a retrospective CD called "The Story of Vektor" - according to the blurb I wrote in the Downtown Jazz newsletter. Except I had it wrong, the actual date was *October* 18. This is not the first time I have been steered wrong by my own misinformation - some kind of karmic retribution, I guess.
September 29 - Revival: The Toronto Blues Society has a big event called "The Blues Gospel Shout Out" and there's a great turn-out. I listen to the high-spirited Danny Brooks, Alana Bridgewater (who has matured considerably since I first saw her in the Women's Blues Revue a few years back) and Ken Whiteley before slipping out to the Silver Dollar to catch a few tunes from Michelle Willson from Boston. Her organist, Ken Clarke is a phenomenal musican and a real showman and she is teriffic. There wasn't a huge crowd at the Dollar this time. I headed back to revival hoping to catch the finale with Jackie Richardson and was lucky enough to see her entire set - she started pretty late. Jackie is simply incomparable. What she brings to the stage far transcends her singing - which was pretty amazing, as always. She is in a whole other league from other blues divas and you could tell something special was going to happen just watch the expressions of joy and anticipation on the faces of the backup singers. Then as she completed her last song, you couldn't help but notice the first personin the audience to leap to her feet was Alana Bridgewater. You couldn's miss her because Alana Bridgewater is at least a foot taller than anyone else in the audience. Jackie said something great between songs, that we should "get closer to our spirituality and thus closer to each other."
September 30 - Siver Dollar: Guitarist Shawn Kellerman was having a CD release and he played up a storm. I invited Sandra Tooze to come along with me and after hearing Shawn (who is now the official guitarist with the Sidemen) , we headed down to the Montreal Bistro where Jim Galloway was playing with clarinet master Allan Vache. They played some great trad blues sounds to close off the evening - after annoucing that a bluesman was "in the house."
September 11, 2001: A day of infamy - and it also happens top be my birthday. And it's the day I was to get on a plane to Europe but alas it was not to be, and I didn't fret at all about missing the trip though I was relieved to finally receive my ticket refund.

In the weeks preceeding September 11, I was working on a song called "Peace in The World". Paul Reddick (shown at far left in the photo above- that's me in the middle and Carrie Chesnutt at the other end of the stage. If you look real hard, you may see a part of Lily Sazz in that pic too - it was taken at the Markham Jazz festival)
Anyway, Paul played me an old field recording of some work song and suggested I give the lyric a more general approach, rather than specifically about the Irish troubles as I had it. We cut it with Harry Manx on lap slide guitar and Julian Fauth on piano. My life was altered a bit that day, insignificant compared to lots of other people. But did you notice in my last entry I slipped in a little "last will and testament"??? It's because I had a deep sense of foreboding about that trip. Perhaps my premonition was not about me, but about thousands of other souls. Freaky!

If you'd like a little preview of the song, you can download an mp3 - it's about 3 meg.
As a special Halloween treat, I've also posted a new song called "The Ghost of Clinton's Tavern"
Clinton's Tavern is a long standing live music venue in Toronto and I guess has a history long before that. I'm not pre-occupied with the supernatural by any stretch but I did get a "weird feeling" at that place one time and when I inquired, I was told a vague story of a gambler who had been shot dead in the place back in the 30s. I made a note on a scrap of paper and I came upon it recently and was inspired (channelled?) to write this song.
The sessions were at Ken Whiteley's studio - he played some bass, too. It was a bit of a spontaneous session, I was sitting behind Ken and Fred Litwin, president of NorthernBlues, listening to Harry at the FolkMeet showcase. I leaned over to Fred and said "wouldn't it be great if we could get Harry to play on my new CD" and he said "Well, he's around for a couple of days" then I leaned over to Ken and asked if the studio was available, he said it was and next day we were recording! Voila.