Thursday, September 30, 2004

Cat Stevens

after all the discussussion about the "Cat Stevens incident" at the US

border, this arrived in my box - I didn't have the courage to post it

to the list where this discussion went on for a few days, but this is a

whole new perspective...

Cat Stevens

Hours after being refused entry into the US, Recording star Cat Stevens lashed out at the government on Wednesday, vowing to resume his recording career "immediately" as the ultimate act of revenge.

Appearing on the Arabic-language TV channel Al Jazeera, a visibly angry Stevens--now known by the name Yusuf Islam--threatened to attack the United States with the full force of his insipid folk-rock music. Brandishing an acoustic guitar, the erstwhile pop star warned that "no one in America would be safe from my insidious melodies" before launching into a spirited rendition of his 1971 hit "Peace Train".

A spokesman for the CIA said experts needed more time to study the chilling video but that it appeared to be authentic: "We do not believe that anyone but the real Cat Stevens remembers the lyrics to 'Peace Train. "On the campaign trail, Democratic presidential nominee Sen. John Kerry blasted President Bush for the Cat Stevens incident, saying Bush's reckless actions had resuscitated an irritating singer's long-dormant recording career. "When George Bush took office, Cat Stevens was not a threat," Kerry told a rally in Akron, Ohio. "Through a successful policy of containment, his music had mainly been limited to classic rock stations. But now, thanks to George Bush's misguided decision to provoke Cat Stevens, we may be subjected to renditions of 'Morning Has Broken' and 'Moonshadow' and 'Wild World' for years to come." Aides to Kerry passed out lyrics of songs by Stevens including this one from1970:

I wish I knew

I wish I knew

What makes me, me

And what makes you, you

It's just another point of view, oooh

A state of mind I'm going through

For his part, Bush defended the decision, telling a Denver audience, "Cat Stevens is the first front in the war on terror with Seals and Croft a close second."

another milestone

let me put aside the desktop publishing for a minute to note another
milestone in my struggling music career. A lot of musicians will
remember the thrill they felt the first time they heard their recording
on the radio or when some fan came up to them on the street, but
tonight I had another first. I heard myself doing one of those radio
station know "Hi this is Brian Blain and you're listening
to "Back to the Sugar Camp". Now I'm sure most of the people listening
are wondering who the hell Brian Blain is, but I got a kick out of it

Then back to my media-mooch life. Got to a couple of shows that are
part of the Small World festival - a great band called Tricycle - a
jazzy/world ensemble with a banjo up front. I'm really starting to get
into that bluegrass groove. Tonite I had to let them know I won't be
coming to the Afro-Nubians show...I'll be in Provincetown, Mass. Oh
yeah, I also got to see a screening of the the Ray Charles biopic,
"Ray", and it was phenomenal. Not to be missed.

Saturday, September 25, 2004

One Small Step

Just handed over my third version of a mix of "Saab Story" to be

included on the next NorthernBlues sampler CD. I had a track on the

last sampler and it did get me a little attention...still there's no

substitute for having an actual album out there. Got to finish up these

tracks from Montreal and get the whole thing mixed. Wouldn't mind going

back to Montreal to mix it...somehow getting out of Toronto seems to

make me more productive...less distractions, that's for sure. I'm also

going to have to make some tough decisions about which tracks we're

going to drop from the album to make room for the new ones. These

Montreal sessions will give the whole album a new flavour - not

necessarily more blues, either. And the track for the sampler is the

least blues of the bunch. Some of the new tunes with fiddle & mandolin

might be called "bluesgrass". And "Saab Story" is as jazzy as I ever


Distractions of the day: A pleasant little gathering put on by SOCAN to

celebrate Lenny Solomon's "Fernanda" topping Canadian Music Network's

Bravo! Video Countdown chart on September 29, 2003. The single was

recorded by Lenny's group Trio Norte. Guitarist Bill Bridges was part

of that group and I hadn't seen him in years. After that I heard

Abdelli, an Algerian Berber now based in Brussels, who plays a

guitar/lute thang and has a group that really rocks - amazing female

multi-instrumentalist and the percussionist was quite amazing. On the

way home I stopped in to hear the last bit of the Soulive show at the

Opera House. They were playing their encore and it was like walking

into a Sly and The Family Stone shows in the seventies. It was pretty

intense, but chatting afterwards with my friend, Dr. Rick, he said

"that was the 'cool-down' song". How am I supposed to work on my own

music when all this great shit is going on all around me?

Thursday, September 23, 2004

Apologies of the Day

well I've done it again to poor Eddy B - I ran one of his pictures
without a photo credit in the MapleBlues. To Eddy and all the
photographers I've done this to (and I've done it to all of them) my
sincere apology and appreciation for your tolerance and good-natured
acceptance of the foibles of the last-minute (barely)managing editor.
This is getting harder and harder to deal with because now that we
receive most of our photos digitally, there is no way to look on the
back for a rubber stamp "photo by". Hopefully someday there will be a
way of fingerprinting/watermarking/whatever that will make it easy to
identify the photographer. Meanwhile, we make our best efforts...

and for members of the Toronto Musicians Association, you will be
deprived of your Christmas Greetings in the current issue of Crescendo,
because even though we had a nice box planned...I went and forgot about
it! I guess I just couldn't get my head around a Christmas greeting in
the middle of July (which is when I was preparing it). Please note that
the TMA office will be closed at 1:00 PM Thurs. Dec. 23rd, 2004 until
Tues. Jan. 4th, 2005 for the Christmas holidays.

so that's why we have this apology page. But back to the music...

I had the gig of a lifetime on Sunday. The true essence of music. Three
guys who never played together, standing on a little patch of grass in
front of the huge Woodbine racetrack. People walking by, and some even
stopped for a while, but for the most part it was just us three guys
jammin. Once in a while I would pull out an original and sing a few
lyrics but for the most part we just started a groove and played our
hearts out - just for each other. I was on cloud nine - I don't know
about the other guys but I have the feeling that we all were aglow in
musical bliss and all thinking the same thing... "I can't believe we're
getting *paid* for this!" Oh yeah, who were those fabulous musicians?
Henry Heillig on string bass and Andrew Collins on mandolin. Both
overflowing with ideas. Hope we get to do that again sometime.

Monday, September 20, 2004

a good day for music

As I stood picking on my Johnson resophonic with two fabulous musicians
on either side of me - Andrew Collins on mandolin and Henry Heillig on
string bass, I was thinking we're pretty lucky guys to be having so
much fun *and* getting paid for it. We were doing a strolling string
band gig at the Woodbine racetrack though we found a nice spot on
little grassy area under big tree. Every once in while the racehorses
would be led by in a little parade to or from their big race at the
track. It was a big race, too. A million dollar purse I was told. The
music was a real treat - never played with either of these guys before
but I sure hope I get to play with them again.

On the way home, I dropped in at the Rex and heard a phenomenal
old-school boogie woogie piano player from Michigan, Bob Seeley. He was
doing a two-pianos thang with Bob Baldori. I haven't heard it done that
well since I saw Ralph Sutton and Dick Hyman going head-to-head a
couple of years ago.

Wednesday, September 15, 2004

August Notes

Just in from playing the Southside Shuffle in Port Credit. What a great

festival. I played outside the "Second Cup", alternating with a band

called Blueshound. I think i made a few new fans - plus the Second Cup

manager said he'd like to hire me to play there again sometime.

The people that were interested in hearing songs with lyrics and

stories stayed close to the stage and we had a great connection. Last

month I played the Markham Jazz Festival where it was a different

challenge: The audience were there for dinner and conversation, not to

listen to a show but by the end of the night they were right into it.

Well, to cover off the first few days in September, I can report that I

had three days of recording in Montreal with the mega-talented

multi-instrumentalist Michael Jerome Browne. I had a couple of new

tunes and was looking for somebody who could play some blues fiddle and

it turned out that Michael could do that and much more. On the tune No

More meetings he's got us sounding like a black string band from the

20s. Here's the lyrics (I sang this at my final meeting as Secretary of

my housing co-op)

No more meetings - no more committees

No more agendas - no more assemblies

No more protocol - no more decorum

No more worries - 'bout making quorum

No more deadlines - no more time limits

No more notes to take - no more minutes

No more discussions - no more proceedings

Just one more motion - no more meetings

Sat Sept 11 - Had a small house concert at the Downtown Jazz office. I

was joined by Ed Vokurka, a Czech jazz violinist, and Michelle Josef

joined in on drums and it rocked. Forgot to run over the one tune that

I'm getting Michelle to overdub drums on this week-end. It's one we

recorded in the last batch but which I was not entirely happy with. I

was ready to dump it but my beloved label president, Fred, said it was

one of his favourites and had to be included. So what else to do but

re-record it, and I'm glad we did. I just did it with two guitars but

once it's got bass & drums, it will rock as much as the band track and

I will feel much better about the arrangement.

For the entire recording session, engineer Rob Heaney had me singing

through an old vintage mic - a Neumann 47 which had been stripped of

all the internal switching, pads, patterns, etc but when it came to

this tune, he was not satisfied and kept pulling out different vocal

mics until he finally settled on â?|an SM 57. Go figure. Still, it's

running through a 1940s McCurdy mic preamp, a Pultec equalizer and a

Universal limiter - all vintage gear.

It took me 4 days to clean off enough space on my hard drive to load up

the tracks from Montreal and then I spent a whole night listening to

them over an over. They sound pretty damn good to meâ?|this is going to

be one of those times when you just hope that you don't lose the magic

when you do the mix.

A big thank you to Rob, Barney at Fast Forward Studio and especially

Michael Jerome Browne - an impeccable player with a great instinct. And

a friendly nod to Derek Andrews who was the matchmaker in this little

affair (returning the favour, as it were).

I don't know if it was being in Montreal or just being away from the

house, but I got a lot more done than I ever would have at home with

the never-ending distractions. It was the same when I wrote most of

these tunes - they all came together when I was camped out at the

Rounder "mansion" in Newburyport, Mass. (Note to self: I am definitely

more productive when I'm away from home)

I scouted out the studio in August when I was in Quebec for a birthday

party for an old friend. The party was at the Glen Mountain Ski Chalet

in Knowlton - where I spent a winter playing string bass with the folk

duo of Allan Fraser (later of Fraser & DeBolt) and Sue Lothrop (now of

Bill Garrett and Sue Lothrop). I think I was about 17 at the time and

that was the first time I ever became aware of the "wacky tabaccy" -

and I never tried it (then) but walking around that old resort was

flashing a lot of memories. At the party I played with a young woman

called Athena - maybe 15 years old. She was learning sax and still

preferred playing along with a Rolling Stones to jamming but I was glad

to explain to her the I-IV-V blues notation system.

After the birthday party, I ended up at a hillside chalet in the

Eastern Townships. Totally french-speaking scene. When I came up that

hill with my guitar it was very welcoming. Then I just played along

with a bunch of drummers that were banging away. They love their

drumming in Quebec - a djembe is practically a standard household

fixture in every home.

Back in TO, I did my shift as a judge at the TTC Subway Musician

Auditions. It was at the CNE again, always a nice set up. Maybe I've

been doing this too long, I knew half the candidates. This was a great

set with Doc Maclean, Adam Solomon, Achilla Orru, Shelley Coopersmith.

All top notch and deserving. I've done a few years where the music got

pretty painful. but this shift was very pleasant. After my shift I

wandered around the CNE - looking for music, mostly unsuccessfully.

Thurs, Aug 19 - Saw Ruthie Foster at Hugh's Room. here's a girl whose

reputation precedes her. She lived up to the hype, but not until she

was well into the set. Opening for Ruthie was David Jacobs-Strain. He

had a great sound and some great tunes. I don't think he remembered me

as a fellow NorthernBlues artist, though we had met a while back.

Sat, Aug 21 - Played the Markham Jazz Festival - shared the bill with

David Staines and it was very encouraging to prove to myself that I can

win over an audience. With all due respect to Elaine Overholt's "The

want to love you" I think there's some audiences that *don't* want to

love you. But if they are outnumbered by an attentive crowd they become

less significant.

Early in the month, Harry Manx's Urban Turban bandmates were in town,

Emily Braden, Wynn Gogol and Neil Golden. They were in town en route to

a rendezvous with Harry in Ottawa. I got Emily to do some vocal

overdubs on Saab Story. She is phenomenal. A week later, Harry shows up

but alas I'm on my way to Montreal to record with Michael Jerome Browne

again. There's a certain irony that Harry and I tried repeatedly over

the last year to find a window of opportunity where we could do some

recording together and it was impossible with his brutal touring

schedule. Now it turns out he's got a couple of days lay-off in Toronto

and now I'm booked in Montreal. Anyway he does play on a couple of

tracks on the album, but as I'm being told repeatedly, I can't just

keep adding stuff forever, I have to wrap it up and put out what I've