Saturday, February 21, 2004

This week was the last gasp for getting out my pitch to festivals so that I might have a little work this summer and maybe see a bit of the country. But wouldn't you know, everything went wrong. Alyson, who was helping to pitch me took a fall and broke her arm (her typing/pitching arm, of course)

What a week - crazy life & death computer adventures, hi stress but adrenalin flowing. Lots of slippery driving, too. That could be life and death on the country roads I used to travel. The sloped on either side so if you got too close to the edge of a slippery road you might slide right off the side. Last night I missed Robert Randolph. That is one act I wanted to see again - even though I did plan ofn earplugs. I was going to take the repaired computer to the office, reconfigure it on the network then catch the tail end of the show, but my car wouldn't budge. It was parked on glare ice pointed downhill and well wedged between two cars. I know when to "pack it in" (hey, that's the theme of the new song).

I feel good writing to you at this moment though because tonight after this intense period of no guitar playing I came up with a new tune tonight. I wrote the idea on a napkin at the greasy spoon where I had breakfast, then I came home, watched part of a movie then went downstairs and wrote a song. I wish I had the disciplin to stay down there till it was written, but I'm going to bed. Tomorrow I'll mess with it - I'm hoping I can use this tune with this new hyper-instrument I've been working on with Joel. And maybe I finally have a solo tune for the album that demonstrates my guitar style (it's all in the right hand, my producer tells me).

Monday night was Lance Anderson's CD launch at the Orbit Room. I was so broke I had to borrow a few bucks from my son to motivate me to get to Lance's event. He laughed and said "you never have to pay, dad...ha ha", but the time I'm made to pay will be the time I won't have enough $$$. As it turns out Lance was thoughtful enough to leave my name at the door (as well as a CD and a beer ticket - who could ask for more?)

It was a delight to see Lance's organ pedal work - It brought back some long-forgotten childhood memories - I remembered seeing a black organist named Gene something, I think, who played every summer at a lakeside resort on Little Lake Magog.

Later in the evening it was time for "Sisters Euclid", Kevin Breit's band and who should be in the audience but his main employer, Norah Jones. At 10:30 and we noticed the bar was staring to fill music industry scene-makers, Scott Morin, Sam Feldman, and then I heard the buzz..."Norah Jone is in the house" RF tells me Norah is sitting in the front row but I'm staring at a short gal at the bar looking more like a U of T student with thick-rim glasses's Norah! I looked at the front table again. I had been talking with CB, a gal who is close to some of the biggest stars in the business, and she ends up talking to Norah's road crew. At the same time, I hear that there is going to be an exclusive showcase at the Lula Lounge the next night and whispered it in CB's ear, and I guess after that she got invited. She even sent me a note the next day saying I could come, but I didn't really get it till too late. Anyway, that night we dropped in to see the North-Mississippi All Stars at the Horseshoe and and an ambient electronic music double-bill at C'est What. Lots of music. The ambient stuff was surprisingly interesting. The NMAS were surprisingly "normal" What happened to that youthful energy they had the first time I saw them? I think the problem is that the drummer has learned how to play and we've lost that Missisippi hill "thrashing around". Maybe it got wilder as the night went on, but by then I was listening to ambient pop. It's nice to have a change once in a while. G'night gramps.

Sunday, February 15, 2004

Dear Grandfather, it's Sunday morning and I woke up to a radio broadcast of a documentary on an American GI called Mike Boranowski who brought a reel-to-reel tape recorder with him to Viet Nam and sent home tapes he made - trying to sound like a war correspondent though he was probably just a kid with a dream. He never made it back, but in 1997 the tapes were discovered by one of his war buddies who created this award winning documentary. Very moving.

I got my first reel-to-reel tape recorder about the same time he was recording his war stories. My mom bought this bulky Phillips tape recorder from a guy she met at A.A. Yes, your daughter went to A.A. after you were long gone. I never thought she or my dad were very supportive of my musical ambitions but that machine certainly was life altering for me. For one thing, I must have been one of the few kids in Sherbrooke who had a tape recorder and I think it's one of the reasons I got to know Allan Fraser when he moved to town - that, and his interest in my sister.

Allan and I started a little folk trio with my cousin Karolyn - we called it Trio BAK (Brian, Allan, Karo...get it?) In 1963 or so a local entrepreneur heard us and brought us up to the big city (Montreal) for a recording session. The session was its own reward, as it were, along with the trip and the steak dinnner in a fancy restaurant. We recorded our 3-part harmonies on a bandtrack that had been recorded in France. The song was in French, of course ("moi, je construis des marionettes...") and was part of a series of 45s that were given out as premiums by the local bread delivery man. Now *that's* distribution - everybody needs bread.

One other story about the tape recorder came back to me lately and I'll relate it before I get down to my current adventures. I had been studying classical string bass for about six months with Mr. Horace Boux, who was the first violinist for the Sherbrooke Symphony Orchestra. I always brag that I've never had a guitar lesson in my life nor did I practice but I certainly practiced that bass and as a reward for my diligent practice I was invited to sit in with the bass section of the Symphony for their annual performance of Medellsohn's Midsummer Night Dream. The symphony always broughy it some ringers from the Montreal and Quebec City orchestras and at the first rehearsal I found myself playing bass next to the first black person I'd ever met in my life. Wish I could remember his name - I think he had a long illustrious carrer in classical music. He was very friendly and giving me some bow-handling tips and when the lunch break came I invited him to come over to my folks house for lunch.

He was happy to oblige and we had a nice dinner and afterwards I invited him upstairs to see my new tape recorder. The only tape I had that wasn't just me fooling around was a recording of Rev Gary Davis so I played that for him. You could tell he'd never heard anything quite like that in his life. It was pretty raw and might have offended his sensibilities and trained ear at first but at the same time it was quite a revelation for him. I'll never forget that moment - a 15 year-old white kid in a small town introducing a French-speaking classically trained black musician to the blues. Look at that! Even then, I was promoting and preserving the blues.

Enough about the tape recorder (well, one more thing I just thought of - I still have a box of tapes from those days...hmm, maybe someday someone will make a radio documentary out of them - or not!)

Let me try to recall what's been happening since my last post. I did a couple of gigs at the Winterfolk festival. What a treat to play two days in a row - I should do that more often. The first was a Delta Guitar Workshop with Mo Kauffey, who has just been forced to move back to the US even though he married a Canadian gal), Rick Zolkower and a guy I just heard fro the first time, Manitoba Hal. I met him at the OCFF conference in October but didn't get to hear his showcase. He even gave me a CD but when I went looking for it the other day, I saw that I had filed it and the shrink wrap was still on it. Shameful. I'm as bad - worse, really - than all the other media mooches who get all kinds of CDs and never even give them a listen. I must try to be more conscientious but I can't be blamed for trying to use what little music time I have to make my own CD. Anyway, I was very impressed with Manitoba Hal and disappointed to find that he didn't have a showcase set in the whole festival. I would have been so there!

On Wednesday I got to play with Lance Anderson at a meet & greet party for the Jazz festival. He provided the backgroud piano sounds on the old upright in the office - it was like a New Orleans rent party. I got up and did a few tunes with him then got Jim Galloway to join me on Saab Story, a tune that Jim plays on on my upcoming CD (....yes, the ever-upcoming CD). That was a real treat!

Anyway the CD is progressing. On Monday I'm heading up to Inception Sound, on of the best studios in the city, to do some mixing with engineer Mike Haas. It was quite reassuring when I was at the announcements of the JUNO nominees and saw his name flash by on the big screen as a nominee for Engineer of the Year.

Enough chit chat. I think I better get back to exporting the tracks off my computer so that I have something to bring him on Monday. Lots of other stuff happened in the last week, but I'll have to relate it another time.

Tuesday, February 10, 2004

Winterfolk week-end and other stuff

Hello Grandfather. I've been putting off this update because every night more interesting stuff is happening - nothing that speeds along my own recording project. But it's good for me to write up my progress, even when it's slow, to reassure myself that I am moving forward in one general direction. I picked up a carved turtle at the Pow-Wow and I've nbeen wearing it. I actually had a vision of myself as a turtle and you would probably agree that it's a good fit for my personality.

The new album is underway. Now we're making plans for mixing and renowned mixer MH came to the house the other day and listened to some of the tracks on my computer. He showed me how he wants the files exported and we're going to do a dry run. At least that's the plan.

Meanwhile, last night - just when I was about to start exporting a tune, I was checking email and found a message from TQ telling me he was backing up a great singer at the Senator and this would be the last night to check it out. His initials are DK. He sang some pretty bluesy stuff and he really pulled off Etta James' "At Last" with just the piano accompanyment (but why he didn't use the whole band on that one is a mystery to me). He's planning a release in May, the same time as me, so it will be interesting to watch his progress. He's got the big push happening - and some serious $$$ behind him (I only hope I will have some serious $$$ *ahead* of me)

The night before that, my buddy RK was in town and we did a little jammin' and also had a night out at the Lula Lounge - a venue he'd never seen and it was a good night to get a feeling for the place - the big stage was filled to capacity with a Cuban-style "Orchestre" - strings, flute and three male singer/perccussionists out front.

But back to Winterfolk, grandfather. This was the second year for this festival and they did it again without any private or public support. BG risks his fortune every time - but then he gets to play as much as he wants. Not a bad trade off, because lots of other people get to play.

Some joked that this was the folk festival for artists who can't get booked at the major Ontario folk festivals. Well I haven't played too many folk fetivals, and none last season so I guess I qualify. But there was a good mix of talent, forks who've played hundreds of festivals, and others who haven't played a single one - many of them were the winners of the showcase slots and some travelled from quite far (Colorado?).

If the best showcase is a festival apperance, I hope I'll be able to snag one or two this summer. I did not send out a single package this year but I've still got a few days to get through to someone. The shows at Winterfolk went great - good audiences for both.

I didn't have a watch so some people around might have thought I was being a little niggly, always asking the time and fretting. Well, no wonder! The festival turnaround times had been calculated from the time it took to swith from one guitar player to another. Essentially no changeover time. When the changes started taking half-an-hour, things got backed up. But when the stage manager said to me "we're running late" I was a bit shocked. I work for the jazz festival, and you live by the clock. If for some reason your start time is delayed you do not under any circumstance run into the next artists's performnace time.

That's kind of what happened to me. I was hosting a Delta Blues Guitar Workshop and we were to come on at 11pm. Well, at 10:30, the previous band should have been winding down, but they played right up to 11 and beyond. (Mind you MR & TB were great!) Still, I knew I'd try to be off in time for the headliner to start at his appointed time. JdeK arrived at the club just as we were going on. He thought he had timed it so he would walk in at just the right moment to set up but I told one of his guys that we'd be doing two songs each and then they could have the stage. He seemed quite relieved and as it turned out we finished just after midnight. It was probably another half hour before he started...probably closer to one, when I thought it would be closed down. It would not be a good thing to be the artist that went overtime and caused a very short set by the headliner.

On the second night I did a feature set (also at the Dollar) and it went great considering I decided to play without getting smashed. The Friday night I was smashed (well, not smashed but not sharp, either). I forgot the second verse to Girlfriend Blues, one of my oldest and most popular songs. Then to add insult to injury, I came back at the second verse again after the guitar solo thinking I can't possibly blank out again...and I did! So the second night I play it straight and I had as much fun as you can imagine, but wouldn't you know, I still forgot some words. That was my lesson of the day.

What do you think of that radio station that fired their program director because of improprieties only to have him proven innocent by a forensic audit. Then he fires all the staff that "conspired" to remove him. Then...are you following this??? he's proven guilty of something or other and fired and the fired people are brought back. And as far as I know, the station is still rudderless.