Wednesday, March 26, 2003


Today we started mixing - I shouldn't say "we", I wasn't even there - There was a lot of housekeeping to be done first so I didn't expect to get into the actual mixing so soon, alas, I am surrounded by people who crave completion - something I've never been acused of. Anyway, today was the last day of production for MapleBlues, so the only song I could mix would be "I Ain't Goin' Nowhere". But we got it together by eight at which time I got a call from Fred, boss man of Northern Blues, and I said I would meet him at the Silver Dollar to hear a bit of label-mate J-W Jones backing up the amazing Kim Wilson. Well, that was not a set you could walk out of. The band played like they've been backing him for years and JW must have been in "Blues Heaven" playing with blues royalty (and rising to the occasion). As I was watching the show, I realized I was surrounded by harp players, so on the break I got a photographer to shoot Kim posing with most of the great Toronto harp players who were in attendance: David Rotundo, Dr Nick, Lil Bobby Chorney, Mark "Bird Stafford" and Bob Adams. Carlos del Junco was the first player I approached about it but he said "can we talk on the break" and I got a little deflated about the idea but we rounded up them all up (except Carlos who slipped out for a slice of pizza). I don't think he wanted to be in that picture - maybe he was having a bad hair day...

On the break we slip out to Fred's car to hear the final (Sterling) mastered Johnny Cash tribute album with amazing renditions by Mavis Staples, Gatemouth Brown, my buddy Paul Reddick and some great playing from Colin Linden on several of the tracks. He sure puts the pedal to the metal. Fred is going to come by tomorrow to hear how we're coming along and this will be the first he's heard of the Brian Blain album. I hope it's up to his rigorous standards.

This album came together the week before Christmas when I realized I had to finally deliver an album before year end (or at least have one started). Michelle Josef (drums) and Victor Bateman (bass) are two musician friends I played with quite a bit, though not recently, so I called in some favours. Paul Reddick joined us for part of the first day and Richard Bell sat in for most of the second day. The running gag at the studio was that I took two days to record the album and spent the next three months trying to wreck it by adding more stuff, but the sweetening we did adds a lot. Harry Manx plays on a track and 19 year-old Mark Roy added some mandolin. After that we had some fun adding back-up vocals from Garth Logan, Sue Lothrop, Lily Sazz and Rebecca Campbell.

Sunday, March 9, 2003

Mar 5 - Back in the studio after long diversion. I hadn't listened to the material for a couple of weeks - come to think of it, I haven't touched my guitar for a couple of weeks, but then, that's my life cycle - a couple of weeks of music, then a couple of weeks of desktop publishing and webwork.

On Thursday, Michelle came to add a few more percussion tracks. As usual, I was totally unprepared and didn't really know which tunes to work on - I had a feeling the faster tunes needed a little something extra. We got a couple of tracks down but then everybody was getting hungry (that was my cue to be a leader a get a pizza happening or something, which I did finally but by then Michelle had left). *Then* I look at my notes and see that I've flagged a couple of tunes for percussion but of course it's too late. I'm the only one in this crew taking anything resembling notes and then I forget to use them!

Now David has made a list of what's left to do on each song and has stuck it up on the wall and takes great pleasure in crossing off each item as it's done. I can't blame him for "craving completion" - this was going to be a quick and dirty, almost live, album and now here we are, two months later, adding shit.

Friday was scheduled for my vocals and guess what, I wake up at 7:30 in the a.m all stuffed up, sniffling and sneezing. I've got a cold. I go take a Contact-C and go back to sleep in the hopes that I will be unplugged by noon.

This is just like when we started the project - the first day we had to lay the tracks down I had some kind of rash on my thumb and couldn't really fingerpick without some discomfort - so I used a flat pick on some songs that I normally don't. Oh well, they dig in a little more now.

Now I've got both producer and engineer feeling a little impatient with me. They wanted this finished last month and I've been the stalling factor. Paul, the engineer, is convinced that I have a "fear of completion" disorder and is now using "tough love" to get me to finish this album.

I redid the vocal on a tune that might yet be "fired" from the album, but it was a good one to see if this is going to work. This is a tune I've only sung in public one time and I've changed the lyrics a million times - and, of course, I came to the session with *no* lyric sheets.

TIP: If you're doing vocals, bring lyric sheets. In nice big type. Even if you know the song, it's one less thing to go wrong if you have those lyrics right in front of you, and it can be a big help to the engineer and musicians - especially if it's the closest thing you've got to a chart.

I redid the vocals on one tune where there was a little problem and it went better than I thought. I said something to the boys about re-doing *all* the vocals and that brought forth some moans and groans. I continued on to a second tune, "Ghost of Clinton's Tavern" and by then my voice is going and the first note I sang came out very coarse - kind of "bluesy" I thought, so I kept it up for the whole take. I never sounded like that in my whole singing life (and probably never will again) but I rather liked it - I started thinking maybe it was the ghost himself chanelling through me. Anyway, nobody wants to use that take, so I guess we'll live with the original (live) vocal.

Saw Kelly Joe Phelps performing with Zubot & Dawson the other night and got some good ideas how to treat some of my tunes. After having toured with Harry Manx, who is often compared to Kelly Joe, I could see the importance of having the best and biggest guitar sound - especially when you are playing solo. Harry had insisted the club bring in a subwoofer (maybe it was 2) to augment their already very good sound system and it sure made a difference.

(TIP: if you're playing solo guitar, do not be satisfied with a thin, pick-up-into-PA sound. Get a decent preamp that puts out the sound you want. Stephen fearing has a description of his rig on his website and Harry uses a TC "Gold Channel" which is really a mic preamp, but which allows him tio optimize EQ and compression for each instrument and call it up with a MIDI pedal.