Friday, May 23, 2003

Just recorded two new tunes for the album - I hope the fact that we recorded a couple of tracks with different players and no producer (same engineer, though) will not give the impression that we were unhappy with what we had achieved already. When we started this project, I told everybody I wanted to make a "quiet" album and that's what they delivered. I have a few issues about my own performance but I'll skip the self-flaggelation for now. My first album is so raucus that I would rarely have an occasion to put it on, so I was intent on producing an album that I will be able to listen to and enjoy for years to come. Well, now it's *too* quiet - so we're adding a couple of electric tracks...but as it turns out, they're not that "electric" after all, but they will pick up the energy of the album. We remade the computer song as a blues shuffle and I was delighted to have my old buddy Mike Fitzpatrick at the kit. He is the shuffle meister and I seem to recall when we were making the first album he said "this is the first blues album I've ever made without a single shuffle". Well, this one will have a shuffle!

I would still like to record a solo instrumental for this album, but that's looking less likely because I haven't even started to write that. That was another item I had on my "wish list." I was fortified being around Harry Manx last year when he was going through the same sort of thing - going over the album with a fine-tooth comb, tightening it up and making it as good as it can possibly be. We are surrounded by people who just want to put out the first thing you record - "It perfect just like that." I was actually relieved to have the record company come back and ask for some things to be improved because there were a few things I wanted to add, including a song I just wrote. Even though the timing wasn't the greatest, we did get Harry Manx on one track (overdubbed in my home studio) and we did send some tracks to Germany so my buddy Butch Coulter could overdub some tracks.

I found it great to work at home and even if I did not record there, at least to edit the tracks so that when they go to be mixed - or, in this case, remixed, I will have removed anything I didn't ever want to hear again. Fred has asked for a remix and he would like to hear some of the vocals re-done. I'm very curious to hear somebody else try to make something out of this album. We recorded is right off the floor with everybody playing in the same room - just like blues albums should be recorded, and now we're stuck with sound leakage in all the mics - Any mixing will be quite challenging as it is mostly about getting a sound while compensating for the leakage.

I don't have the budget to re-mix anyway, I will be cutting into the mastering budget and then into the design budget. One of the songs we just did is a remake of the computer song on my last album. Fred had asked for this song to be re-recorded all along, but nobody paid him any heed. Finally when the opportunity presented itself at a gig with Gary Kendall, I did another spontaneous thing and booked the Downchild rhythm section (Kendall, Fonfara and Fitzpatrick) for a session the following Monday. We'll I still hadn't decided on a new groove for the computer song (now called Hi-Tech Blues 2.0) and I wasn't nearly finished the other song I wanted to record. So here I am in the same boat again - I'm going to record a song I just wrote the night before (which is the opposite of what I know I should do, which is play the tunes with the people who are going to record them - preferably at live gigs (consider it getting paid to rehearse). So that song wasn't ready but we worked on it together and got something. The lyrics were not right, though I spent another 24 hours trying to make them sound OK - especially since they described the triumphs and tragedy of Loreena McKennitt's life. I hope she doesn't hate me for writing this.

When will I get to make a record when they do more than put a mic in front of me and get me sounding exactly like I do? I guess I was looking to sound *better* (different?) than I do...but who can fault an acoustic solo recording where you close your eyes and it's like the singer is sitting across from you? We had the songs sounding *that* good on the first round before we brought in any producer. We were recording at my place on my old beige G3 Mac. But Fred was underwhelmed with the solo acoustic effort and wanted something a little more produced. I chose my first producer because he had a reputation as a song-fixer. He did have some ideas for improving the songs and even tried to show me some more appropriate chord changes, and pasing chords, etc. Anyway, I couldn't play hardly anything that he suggested. I would try, but it just didn't come naturally. Other things like repeating a little tag in one tune, I remember long enough to record that way, but playing live I bet you anything I will revert to the original arrangement.

Speaking of reverting, my engineer had suggested that one of the tunes was dragging at the beginning so we should cut the first verse in half to get to chorus quicker. I was able to remember the change and we recorded it that way. Then a few weeks later I arrive at the studio and engineer and producetr are working on that same song - and they have edited back a long double verse at the beginning because it "sets the narrative." ?!?!! I was speechless but made a mental note to just stick to my arrangements the way I first write them.

I started this project with the intention of doing it in my own studio. Paul Benedict sold me some converters and got me set up and we spent about six months trying stuff at my place. We ended up recording most of the album at his place but we did the most recent stuff here and I hope that at least some of the next album will be done here, too. Both producer David Baxter and myself received a valuable crash-course in Cubase because Paul was very generous in taking time to explain stuff and even letting us get "hands-on" (though he lived to regret that).

Quote of the day: "An amateur practices until he gets it right. A professional practices until he can't get it wrong."

Seen about town: The Toronto Blues Society had a special evening at Hugh's Room and I decided to go "all out" and have a nice meal there - the most expensive piece of chicken I've had in a long time - but worth it.

The first performer up was was the wonderful Morgan Davis - he got us immediately into the blues zone. I love the sound he gets with his solid body guitar and small amp. He keeps getting nominated as "Acoustic Artist of the Year" but I've never yet seen him playing an acoustic guitar. On the other hand...

Jack De Keyzer had his trusty Yamaha flat-top to finish off the evening with Al Lerman. It has no pick-up so must be mic'd. He was using that guitar when He played a short set for the media launch of the new Toronto Star Bluesfest taking place at the CNE. They have mega stars and an very reasonable ticket price. I met Mark Monahan and some other luminaries of the Ottawa Bluesfest but do you think I would have thought to bring a package to pitch some gigs for myself? Naw! Consequently I have no festival gigs this summer - except for Downtown Jazz who found me a spot in a little sports bar called Brass Taps. Well it really is a "sports bar". When I went to check it out I was shoved back out the entrance by two guys with hockey sticks and equipments bags who were coming the other way.

Anyway, I've decided that if they're going to be a loud inattentive audience I'm going to play some even louder music that doesn't require attention and to this end I have engaged Caspar Project to collaborate with me on these shows. This will mark my first foray into MIDI since I arrived in Toronto over ten years ago.

I was one of the first people (in my area) who ever heard of MIDI - and see how it's been integrated into the larget musical world now. I'm going to pull out my old MIDI guitar controller and my MIDI pedalboard and see how much information I can throw at Caspar Project (ak Peter Hasek), because he's got amazing tools to manipulate the sound. Hey, maybe we'll play a little modern jazz!

Friday, May 16, 2003

Hey Russ, I hope you enjoyed hearing the first mixes of my new CD. Some people hate it and some people love it - that's always a good sign. I'm still trying to address all the coments from "Make the vocal louder" to "Put the vocal back in the track". Andrew, my next door neighbour said he really enjoyed the "spare" guitar playing. It is plenty spacious - maybe because I was planning on overdubbing more guitar but in fact we took off most of what we had overdubbed, so it's still quite spare and understated. That's me!

The gig with Gary went great - I played the new arrangement (upgrade) of my computer song and tried a new one out of the blue. We had some killer grooves goin. So I end up asking him to get together with his Downchild rhythm section, Michael Fonafara (whom I've never played with) and Mike Fitzpatrick who played drums on my first CD. Fonfara was the producer for a band I played with, Blue Willow. I'll always remember when they brought in Carlos del Junco to do some harmonica parts and at first they played him the track with the guitar solo, then they just pulled out the guitar so it wouldn't distract him. Well Carlos nailed a solo and that was the end of my guitar solo. Anyway, I'm going to lay down a couple of electric blues numbers with these boys so we can liven up the album.

Monday, May 12, 2003

Well, Gary, last night when I should have been rehearsing for our gig, I decided at the last minute to head over to the Silver Dollar and catch the first set of Junior Watson. Larry Garner was down at Healey's too, so I though maybe I'd end up there, but Junior was irresistible. I had to stay till the final encore (at 1:30 or so). Junior put on a great show, better, I thought, than when I saw him at the BBQ Festival last summer. Beyond his playing though, there was the wonderful Sax Gordon Beadle playing with him - my favourite all time sax player! I've seen him with Luther Guitar Junior, then many times with Duke Robillard - He tells me he's playing on the new Toni Lynn Washington album which Duke produced. Another pleasant surprise was to see Tom Bona on the drums - it seems their regular drummer couldn't get across the border. Tom did an amazing job - it was something to watch as he tried to feel his way into the groove within a bar or two - but he does it no problem. He is a groove-meister. Raoul and Terry got up to do a couple of tunes - I was amazewd to hear Terry speaking positively about the amplified bass sound - something he usually hates! We chatted a bit - he is a good mentor. As we talked about digital versus analogue recording he kept saying there was no "aya" in the digital recording. After he said it a few times I figured out he meant "air". The city's cruelest reviewer was in the house, I'll be interested to see what he writes about the evening. I remember one time you wanted to bring me over and introduce me to him and I said "I don't think I need to meet a guy who, one day, is going to have to say some bad things about me."

Sunday, May 4, 2003

More feedback from the label and I guess we're going to go back into the studio! Yea! Well, conseidering it's not my favourite thing to do, I think I'm looking forward to adding something a little more "peppy" to the album. Fred has always wanted me to re-record Computer Club Queen, which is a track off my last album which he put on last summer's sampler (because I hadn't yet finished anything from the new album - in fact, I hadn't even started the new album). So I've got a new version of that - I had to upgrade the song - the original line was "That girl's got a giga - she's got 40 meg of RAM" - (seemed like a lot back then...) I've also got a new tune that I'm going to lay down - it's really a pretty sad story but I'm going to give it an upbeat treatment - because I want it on this album and because this album can't handle another slow song.

Then we have to remix several tunes to get them sounding as good as the best ones. Interesting to note that the best sounding one is the last one we mixed. I had been bugging Paul to refer back to previous mixes to make sure we had some continuity in the sound but both he and Bax go on on on about how they need to treat each tune separately and get the best they can out of each. Well now they're going to have to go back anyway - I wish there was a way to load up each song into the same mixer but we can't do that easily because we used different inputs/tracks from one session to the next. Part of me would like to have the whole album all lined up in the same file, with all the vocals on the same track so that (presumable) the vocal would sound the same from one tune to another - though I'm sure I'd be proven wrong again.

I worked a little on the new tune last night. I had intended to go to Mark Stafford's CD Launch at RD's, then I was going to try to drop by at Hugh's and catch the last set of the Jesse Winchester show. I haven't seen Jesse since that day that day in 1972 when he told me he was going back to Montreal and leaving me to produce the Fraser and DeBolt album (to be called "With Pleasure"). on my own. He was the only reason I was on the gig, because Columbia records didn't want some unknown kid from an ad agency producing the follow up to a ground breaking critically acclaimed (really) album. They had wanted a guy called Todd Rundgren to produce it but none of us had ever heard of him but we all agreed on Jesse since he had just made an album with Todd. In fact, I think they both had the same manager, Albert Grossman, and I think it was Albert on the other end of the line when Jesse yelled at me from a phone booth that he was packing it in and going home.

I have to admit it was not great chemistry. Jesse was into the cognac and everybody else was tripping on mescaline. He must have felt a little out of place. We did preproduction for a week or so at F & deB's farm in the Eastern Townships with a bunch of local musicians. It sounded pretty good on mescaline but when we got to Toronto it fell apart. One of the engineers knew a Toronto band that could jump in and pull it all together so we decided to try it with them - Simon Caine was there name. Dennis Pendrith, John Savage, Bruce Pennycook and Patrick Godfrey - and Joe Medelson came by and played some harp. In fact, that's they day I went back with him and auditioned to be Mainline's bass player. I think I told this story in another blog. If I find it, I'll link it.

So I didn't go see Mark, and I didn't go see Jesse, but by 12:30, I had worked enough on the song, and also taken care of a little business so I shot down to the Silver Dollar to hear Mem Shannon and am I glad I did! This was funk heaven, not a real blues show but this is what the people in New Orleans were coming out to hear and it was great playing - fabulous drummer, very young - keyboard player using losts of that chunk clavinet sound. And Mem playing all those classic funk guitar rhythms. I got to hear the last 45 minutes and I wish I'd been there all night. This man belongs on the big stage.

Tonight I stayeg home again (all week end I've been organizing my CDs - somebody gave me a big shelving unit so I've been gathering them from various stacks and boxes and putting the all in one place, alphabetically. Very enjoyable doing that (feeding my Virgo nature, I guess). I've got over 600 CDs and I'd be hard presssed to find any that I've bought for myself. There's one Japanese import of Gatemouth Brown and that was a big mistake! These are all promo copies I've received in my capacity as editor or MapleBlues & Downtown Jazz. You only have to gaze through my collection to get a quick idea of which blues artists are good at promoting themselves or have someone to do it for them. Also being a judge for JUNO's and INDIES really builds up the collection with the best of Canadian releases. Now I see that I've got some doubles and I think I'll go down to some CD trader and pick out some new music. I've never sold or traded promo copies before, that's illegal isn't it?

Tonight I worked on the new tune for a while and then tuned in Saturday Night Blues where they played a live concert by Savoy Brown. Just a couple of months ago, I dropped by the Dollar on my "rounds" and I arrive just in time to hear the very loud ending of the last song of their first set. The audience was very different than the usual Dollar crowd, obvious all old fans of the band in the Seventies. I didn't know much about them but at that moment I decided I wasn't going to hang around for a long break and then probably too-loud blues rock, so I didn't stay. After hearing this live recording I sure wish I had. It's the real deal.

Thursday, May 1, 2003

Just back from seeing an old musical buddy (I use the term advisedly, he came to stay with me in Montreal thirty years ago and seduced one of my back-up singers - the one I was seducing!) His name is Alan Gerber, he's opening for Jesse Winchester at Hugh's tomorrow night. Real high energy - puts on a great show, multi-instrumentalist. I haven't seen him in 30 years and I don't think the show has changed a whole lot. They love him in Quebec.

He was saying he get's a lot of work from the Folk Alliance Conferences. Maybe I'll break down and invest in the next one. I have been to a few, usually on my Media Credentials - once when I was on a panel on creating a web presence for yourself. I'm sure Alan is successful because he is such a good "salesman". Meanwhile I haven't gotten a single festival invitation for this summer (not counting Downtown Jazz who I work for). The Downtown Jazz gig is in a noisy bar on the Danforth so no wait I'm going to take in my laid back country blues. I'm going in with a guy called Caspar Project, doing electronic ambient/groove sounds on synths, sequencers and a MIDI wind controller. We only had one rehearsal so far but I can tell already this is going to be a lot of fun. And I won't have to worry about the audience being more noisy than me!

No matter, the CD won't be out till September - Street Date September 9, Fred says. And in order to do it right, he needs finished product reday to go by mid-June. Yikes! I just gave him the final mixes last night. He called this morning with some feedback... loved the last song... move the first song...Harry Manx is not loud enough...more comments to come, I'm sure. I told him it was going to be laid back and it is - this is an album I'm going to enjoy putting on for many years to come - something I couldn't say about the last one.

Now we have to decide about mastering. I have heard so many comments about mastering voodoo and you would not believe the extremes...from "there's nobody in all Toronto that has the toys or the ears" to "so-and-so" will do a great job for $300. The producer recomends one place then somebody tells me their equipment is fucked - that they took all the transformers out of their Neve board and put in ICs (thus eliminating that elusive "warmth".

I always thought the trick to mastering was to not lose what you got in the mix (come to think of it, the trick to mixing is not to lose what you got in the tracks). This will be the album that took TWO DAYS to record, TWO MONTHS to all all kinds of shit and another TWO WEEKS to take it all off again - most of it anyway. Less is more, eh?

What do you think of the title "Cold Country Blues" instead of "Overqualified for the Blues"? Or Frazier says I should just call it "Brian Blain".

Fred wants me to make a CD Launch Party but I've been a little negative on that idea. It's so hard to get people out in Toronto - not to mention getting any attention from the media... anyway I'm going to give it some thought. Considering I know so many of the media and "industry" types, I think I am living proof that it's *not* "who" you know...Bye for now