Sunday, September 28, 2003

September is winding down fast and I had promised the overdubs would be done by the end of the month. But it's been an incredible flurry of musical activity for me to cover as the resident media mooch. I just got in from sitting in with a great musician from England, Steve Payne. Michael Pickett did a feature set as did a young woman called Sara. And, considering my luck at jams, I should be thankful that I got on at all. but I grabbed my guitar as the evening was winding down and did a couple of tunes with Steve.

I was trying to make up my mind which tune I would sing, but after we were into it for a little bit, i got the feeling that the only way I was going to sing is if I jump right in. Lucky for me, I had some lyrics that fit with the groove we were playing so I just started singing "Girlfriend Blues". I don't know if Steve was planning to launch into a vocal himself, after all, it was him that started playing that groove. Anyway, he seemed cool about it. I was glad that I made it down for his last appearance in Canada, but it reminded me why I don't go to these jams. This time I had been invited by Steve himself and I barely got to play. It is the assertive ones who get to play in these jams. But, on the other hand, I must be prepared. This time, I couldn't even decide which song(s) I should play. I should at least have a few tunes at hand, hopefully something people can play-along - maybe even sing along. That will come in handy since I just made arrangements to attend the Ontario Council of Folk Fetivals conference in Sudbury. I had a great time last time I attended one of these - non-stop jammin in the hallways of the hotel (on dedicated "music" floors)

One more obstacle between me and a finished album - but a wise move for the career. Too bad I'll have to pass on opening for Harry Manx at Readers Cafe in Dunville. I will be opening some other dates for him, though. Well, we'll press up some "preview" CDs to hand out to artisitic directors and whoever else. I hope I get invited to a couple of folk festivals next summer. It's always great to see someone who didn't think they would like the blues, but after hearing my version of the blues, they now loved the blues.

Wednesday, September 17, 2003

Saturday Afternoon: When I left off on the last post, I was hoping I might schmooze my way into the film, "Festival Express" and at the last minute it worked out and I headed downtown at 2:30 in the afternoon. I was trying to think of the cheapest way to park but as I cruised along Shuter St, I saw the point where the free street parkling ended and the metered street parking began - Jarvis Street! So I walked 4 or 5 blocks then at the theatre, there's a huge lineup. I go to the front of the line to get my ticket from media gal Jane Harbury, but then I have to go back to the end of the line to wait. As I'm walking back I say hi to Ray Blake who I had chatted with at the party the previous night. He was part of Mashmakhan, a very big band in Montreal in the 70s - less known in Toronto. At the party, I had introduced him to Toronto music historian/musicologist/archivist Bill Munson who surprised him by telling him he owned several obscure 45s that Ray appeared on.

When the movie starts up, the first band to play is Mashmakhan, and there is Ray in his 70's glory. Looking very dapper. It must have been a great moment for him. I wonder how it was for some of the other "stakeholders" at that premiere. At one point in his remarks, the director said "To the guy that put it all together, wherever you are, Ken Walker...." and just then several people a few rows in front of me stand up and shout "He's right here" pointing to Ken Walker in the aisle seat. He takes a little bow, but as the producers walk back upo the aisle, I notice there is no contact as they walk right by him. No "hi-fives" here. I hear later from Rob Bowman that it's been a lot of struggles getting it out - all the footage for the Toronto concert had been stolen, and I just had the feeling that there was a lot of sour grapes still - after 30 years. Maybe some of them will recover the money they lost 30 years ago. The other partner, Thor Eaton, probably doesn't need the money.

The performances by Janis Joplin in the film are close-up, gritty, full-tilt Janis. The Band casts their spell and the look like they just drove up from Big Pink. The Grateful Dead are stars of the show - especially when they agree to put a couple of flat-bed trucks together outside the stadium and give a free concert to quell a riot. But where were Bonnie & Delaney? We see them jammin' on the train, but was the stage performance too rough? Traffic was also cut out because their songs were way too long and they wouldn't allow them to be edited.

Tuesday 5:30, The Rivoli: It's the CD Launch for the Gordon Lightfoot tribute album, and the house is stunned when Gordon himself is introduced from the stage by Grit Laskin. Word is he's not well, and he looks a little gaunt but he hung in right to the end - even going up to the stage to shake hands with Aengus Finnan who performed an original composition about Lightfoot and told how it helped him understand Canada (he came from U.K) James Keelaghan played a live rendition of the Canadian Railroad Trilogy - imagine doing that with Lightfoot himself in the audience. He pulled it off great. Interespersed between the live performances they played tracks from the album. It's hard enough to get the attention of a media schmooze audience when you're playing live - it's even harder to get them to shut up and listen to recorded music, even if it's a first like the Cowboy Junkies or Bruce Cockburn doing a Lightfoot song.

10:30 After attending two board meetings (my co-op and the end of the Blues Society meeting) I still have enough steam head up to the Iridescent Music Anniversary party. There's sure to be some great folks playing. I drive up with Lily Sazz and Matt, the new TBS admin guy. When I walk in, Blue Willow is playing. They're the only band that ever fired me - but I deserved it. I was so overcomitted doing all these newsletters that I would miss rehearsals and often be late for gigs. Five years later, the girls are still at it and sounding great!

I start talking to London sax player Chris Murphy about the last discussion at the board meeting - the dying blues venmues in Toronto. He travels a lot and sees this happening in many other towns. He said something interesting, though. In his travels in ther States, he founf the really succesful blues bars had a few things in common: They were in the suburbs with lost of free parking, a safe clean environment, good food - establishmenst that did very well all day as restaurants. And the audience was well-heeled professionals who livbed in the area. Well, yuppies deserve the blues, too.

The stage changes over and we're listening to Johnny Wright, one of the finest R&B singers to come out of this town. Michael Fonfara is playing keyboards and Joe Mavety is on guitar. There's another guitar player, short blond hair, very youthful looking - turns out it's the legendary Danny Weiss, moved back to Toronto. Gary Kendall says to me me "That's the guy who's supposed to play on your album" - and I remembered telling him that Frazier M. had offered to remake my album for $1500. and the first thing he said was he was going to get Danny Weiss to play guitar. That was a deal buster. No reflection on Danny - he's a phenomenal musician - but the guitar star on my album has got to be *me*. Producer David Baxter saiud "you hire a guitar player to produce your album then you don't let him play!" Maybe it was a big mistake, Davis is a real creative guita4r player, probably more suited to my songs than a Danny Weiss. But it's up to me now, time to get back to those overdubs.

Saturday, September 13, 2003

It's the day after my birthday and even though I know I should be home overdubbing guitar parts on my forthcoming CD (see previous posts) I'm at big party at the Palais Royale. It's a movie release party, a much bigger deal than the CD release parties I'm used to. Little food stations all around the place. A couple of guys shucking oysters here, smoked salmon there, another area serving jambalaya and cornbread, outside they had corn-on-the-cob and turkey. Lots of other goodies, all dished out by fresh-faced servers in cute uniforms - cruise ship might have been the motif.

And there on stage, fronting the Full-Tilt Boogie Band - mostly original members - was Bonnie Bramlett, invoking the spirit of Janis as she tore into a searing version of "Piece of My Heart." Then she did a tune that she wrote especially for Janis - she said Janis asked for a shuffle, but never lived long enough to perform it. Bonnie is nothing short of a spectacular vocalist. It was great hearing John Till play - the last time I saw him play was at the Coq D'Or in the sixties. Richard Bell was doing double duty - stretched between the organ and piano - he said afterwards he was glad that Lou Pomanti was able to jump in on some of the tunes. Ken Pearson couldn't make it. Sylvia Tyson and Lorraine Segatto joined in for a rousing jam of CC Rider.

Bernie Leadon of the Flying Burrito Brothers was flown up for the occasion and did a great set but when Bill King tried to get him up for the big finale, Bernie waved off the invitation. I wouldn't be surprised if he was a little miffed that the crowd never shut up for the three tunes he did solo. Sylvia, who was in Great Speckled Bird with then-hubby Ian, had also been part of the Festival Express, sang an a capella tune to kick off the proceedings. Garth Hudson played a couple of Band classics with his wife Maud doing the vocals.

You had to be close to the stage hear the music. As the evening progressed, it seems that the crowd got more attentive. It was such a beautifully managed party, it might have been managed a bit more in favour of the musicians if they had asked people who insisted on carrying on a conversation to step out to the patio. Who am I to talk? - I was blabbing away with lots of people - most of them asking when the hell I'm going to release that CD of mine. And then I found myself face to face with David Baxter who is the producer-of-record for this album but who doesn't ask that question anymore.

As soon as I've done two more CD release parties in the next week, I will start to spend all-day (yikes) working on the CD. I promised the label I'd have therse overdubs done by the end of the month. David's eyes rolled when I told him i've been adding some MIDI tracks. This may just be another waste of time diversion, but I'm going to record MIDI as well as the regular guitar sound and then decide - keep them both, or one of them or none.

Oh, did I mention the film is called "Festival Express." I may yet get to see it, but for now all I can say is they give a great party. I comisserated with other (younger) bachelors how these film festival parties attract large numbers of stunning women. I guess they're all actresses and models. And also some not-so-young but equally attractive ladies of a certain age - the ones that were there for the original Festival Express

The Dexters started off the evening and closed it out with some special guests, Jeff Martin of Tea Party played some very credible blues. The Dexters horn section was Perry White and Steve Donald - tenor and trombone. What a great honkin sound. Amazing evening.

Wednesday, September 10, 2003

September allready and I didn't make a single post in August. I aplogize to the two or three of you who were looking for more chapters in my ongoing saga. Since we advertised the release of my CD for September 03 September, and since it's September now and it's still not released, I guess I owe an explanation.

It all started a couple of years ago when Fred Litwin of Northern Blues offered me a contract to lease my indie CD (made five years ago at Puck's Farm). With Bill Garret in my corner, we convinced Fred to let me record a new album. I spent a few months recording my new tunes in my home-studio, set up and operated by Paul Benedict.

The solo acoustic thang did not get them very excited but we had a straict deadline so I called in a couple of players I knew well and we laid down some solid tracks, but I still wanted a "quiet" album - because I find the first one too raucus.

Well, now I find it *too* quiet and now I'm at the stage where I'm overdubbing some gritty electric guitar on some of the tracks. I may re-do a couple of vocals then we're gonna mix the sucker and get it out there. I've got the old Strat out and I'm even using a pick!

Had a nice break visiting the Eastern Townships and Cape Cod. I was happy to visit the Singfield Brothers who I played with in the Seventies. I played them the track I recorded called "Terrace Inn", named after the club we worked at every summer when I was playing bass in their band, Oliver Klaus. Then in Provincetown, I found myself having dinner at Alice Brock's - this is the Alice who has been immortalized in the song "Alice's Restaurant". I was playing a few tunes at the dining-room table and Alice told me that was the table where Arlo wrote that folk classic. I can only imagine some of the other formidable musicians who sat around that table. It's a round oak dining table and looks almost new, but Alice explained that it's quite old but that it is a "self-healing" table. Many a cigarette had burned a mark at the edge but they all faded away - not to mention a lot of spilled red wine, I'm sure. She showed me a crack in the table that had been a major gash where a knife had been plunged into it, but it was now practically closed up. On the drive back to Toronto, we stopped at the original Alice's Restaurant in upper Mass - it's now called the Guthrie Center and presents music regularly.

I haven't been hustling for gigs during the summer - I guess I thought I'd get invited back to a few festivals as I was last year, but ...wrong! Time to get on the phone. Harry Manx was in town for a couple of gigs and invited me to open for him at Hugh's Room but when I got there, it turns out that another opening act had been booked, unbeknownst to anyone. Her name was Heather Horak and she had driven all the way from Ottawa so we worked out a way for both of us to play. I did a couple of tunes then brought her up for a short set. I got to be the M.C for the evening and that was a lot of fun. I was up with Harry till 4:30 the next morning putzing around with my MIDI guitar setup.

I love bass players (maybe that's because I started as a bass player) and this month I played with a couple of greats. Terry Wilkins played with me at Chicago's (along with Michelle Josef on drums and Lily Sazz on piano) and although I generally prefer string bass, he played electric on that gig and it was the same solid groove that I'm usewd toi from his gut-bucket bass. Then a few days later I played with Ka-Cheung Liu, who is making a name for himself on the jazz scene but who really kicks ass with the blues - hope I get to play with him again.

Meanwhile, I've been totally distracted by lots of "other people's music." The Toronto Star Bluesfest brought an incredible array of talent. I was out of town but made it for the Saturday night and Sunday performances. My highlight was David Lindley. I've heard lots of great lap slide lately, and he had that "low-end" that is an essential part of Harry manx' sound, but he brought something else - funny lyrics, for one thing. The site was great, three stages in close proximity. Based, I'm told, on a floor plan developed when the CNE was being considered as a venue for the jazz festival. I didn't even take advantage of my media pass to get into the backstage or VIP area (Gary Kendall thought it was the best backstage buffet of any festival he's attended).

I only had one media pass but Jacquie Houston and I walked right through the gate and straight to the stage area where Rick Fines was playing (playing great, I might add). Then a very earnest volunteer tapped me on the shoulder and said "We saw your pass but we didn't see hers," Busted! Jacquie had a couple of tickets in her purse anyway, but it shows they had pretty good security. At one point, a security person signalled that I should be leaning on the barricade. I heard the volunteers were very well treated, except for the transportation co-ordinator who quit halfway through the festival (another thing I heard behind the scenes).

I got to see Anson Funderburgh - my man on guitar. But this week-end featured a procession of great guitarists - Tommy Castro, Robert Cray, Kelley Joe Phelps, John Mooney, even Richard Thomson. I saw Big Ben Richardson pulling a double shift playing with Tony D then playing with John Mooney. Later David GoGo was ragging on him that he had wanted him for his set, too.

There was one off-the-wall performer named Howard Gelb (sp) who I never "got." He would stop in the middle of a song to play a clip of Ellington on a CD player. Go figure. Somebody even called the Blues Society office complaining about him - not that we had anything to do with it.

The Bluesfest was put on by the same group that does the Ottawa Bluesfest, a phenomenally successful event in Ottawa, and I hope their coffers were filled because they lost their shirt in Toronto.

A few weeks later, it's the Southside Shuffle in Port Credit - a very different kettle of fish. They've got the audience - the streets were packed with throngs of people, I bet most of whom never get out to a blues show. But no big bucks for talent here - mostly local bands playing and no signs of big sponsors. The closest I got to the main stage was looking through the chain-link fence by the porta-potties with a generator blasting. On the street I got to hear some bands I've never heard - Wayne Buttery and the Groove Project, a big 8-piece classic R&B unit. Nice to meet someone in person after you've been reading their emails for years. And The Livin Blues Band had a special guest, Maria Aurigema, a great singer-guitarist from upper state NY. And there was a great young singer called Larissa, I think, playing on the street. (She also had a fine bass player, there I go again about bass players) Who was that young woman playing bass? If anybody has contact info for her, write me at - and I'll know that there's somebody out there reading these rambling blogs.