Wednesday, July 27, 2005

Robben Ford

I've always been a big fan of Robben Ford and when I heard he was back at
the Guitar Workshop Plus in Oakville I got myself "wristbanned" into the
concert portion of the evening. He just played one blues standard after
another (hideaway, bad sign), some with other faculty members, the only one
of whom I recognized was John Tilden, whom I've heard in many contexts and
he is an expert at fitting in to whatever context. What was interesting was
when Robben handed over a solo to him he sounded more like Robben than
Robben. I don't know if Robben knew that Tilden could do that, but I
thought I detected a slight double take. It happened a little later on
another tune, but Tilden also blew away the crowd with many sounds and
riffs all his own. All the guitarists got applause after their solos and
when Ford asked who in the audience played guitar, virtually every attendee
raised a hand. He had a long spot in the middle where he gave tips and
took questions.

The first batch of questions were from younger members of the audience who
asked nothing but questions like what was it like to play with..... Robben
patiently answered every question but it reached a ridiculous point when
this kid wouldn't let up asking which songs on the George Harrison album
had he played on and which leads were his. In the end he joked "actually I
don't play very much on those tracks..." Others wanted to know about his
connections with Miles Davis and other jazz types. They stuck to the blues
for the live performance though and it was obvious that the blues figured
prominently in the shaping of all these young guitarists, most of whom will
take a sharp right into rock guitar.

Robben's advice to them was "When you're playing rhythm guitsr, think of
yourself as a drum. If a drummer can spend all night doing
'boom-chick-boom-chick', there's nothing wrong with chopping out a
repetitive rhythm part for 12 bars then maybe changing it up a little" He
said he had as much fun playing rhythm as he did playing lead. But it's his
lead riffs that give him that immediately identifieable guitar sound. If I
though it was his gear that provided that sound, I was proven wrong because
he was playing a very stripped-down set up (a Les Paul guitar plugged into
a Fender Vibro King amp - borrowed from John Tilden). And that signature
sound was right there, if not off the very top of the show, but by the
second tune he had it. I had been on his web site, reading what appears to
be a blog from his guitar tech who goes into great detail about the gear -
obviously cares more about that stuff than Robben

The setting at Appleby College is very "old world" quite something,
nestled on Lake Ontario. I did a gig there a long time ago with Scott
Cushnie ("Professor Piano") who had actually lived on that campus as a
child when his father was headmaster.

Hubert Sumlin

I definitely wanted to be back in Toronto for the Hubert Sumlin appearance at the Silver Dollar. I had the rare pleasure of playing with him last winter at a blues matinee and he was very complimentary about my playing. He particularly liked the song "Overqualified For The Blues" - he got a real kick out of it. I saw him again the next day at a big Tribute To Howling Wolf Concert but it wasn't till I saw someone slipping him a CD that I realized I should give him an advance copy of mine. But the CDs were in the car and I never got around to it. Now that he was back in Toronto I wanted to be sure to get him a copy of "Overqualified For The Blues"

When I walked around the corner I saw a line up outside the Silver Dollar like I have never seen before. It was such an unfamiliar situation at the Dollar that I decided to just take my place in the line (rather than elbow my way to the front like some media mooch). Soon I saw Gary Kendall outside though, and I cut short an interesting conversation to go up to him and ensure that I was still "on the list".

Inside it didn't seem so full but it soon became a real crush (I found out later that some stories had suggested Keith Richards might be sitting in). Well, there was no Keith Richards and Hubert sang and played his heart out all night long (and apparently hung out for an hour afterwards talking to fans). Some reviewers were less than complimentary about his singing and the whole show was a little rough around the edges but, as far as I'm concerned, Hubert really pulled it off.

I was surprised to see "Boogie Bob" Baldori playing piano and harp for him and Bob led me down to the "Green Room" where we would have found a Rolling Stone if there had been one in the house. Instead, the room was filled with women fawning over Hubert - many whom had met him before, I guess. I did go up and introduce myself and he seemed to remewmber me. When I said "Overqualified for the Blues" he remebered and turned to the women starting to say "This guy...." Then he was cut off by another woman introducing her sister to him. I'll never know whjat he was going to say aboutme but I slipped him a CD. Hope he enjoys it. He said he was going to listen in his hotel room - that he had brought along a portable radio.

Hubert was inspiring to watch - he put on a great show show and did not play the frail old bluesman - though he has every right with one lung gone and surviving cancer. He was enjoying every minute of it.

Tuesday, July 26, 2005

Just back from two weeks in "Old Cape Cod" - only to hear the news of Long
John Baldry's passing. I knew he was in bad shape. Butch Coulter, who plays
harp with me on occasion was Baldry's harp man for 20 years and was
supposed to be touring with him in September. That tour was cancelled
months ago when John couldn't even breathe without a breathing machine.
Ironically, at the end he was able to breathe on his own for a couple of
days, and friends expected him to rally, but then the infection came back
and it was game over. Farewell, Long John.

I had met John and his crew socially a few times when they came through
Toronto. I remember this wild lady called Tova who was his unofficial
Toronto reception committee and hosted a continuous party at her place on
Davenport Road. One time I had to give Long John a lift from a gig in North
York down to Tova's place. It was just a ride straight down Bathurst
Street, and I coasted through a couple of yellow lights on the way. Well,
John was not amused - he gasped each time and his knees pulled up even
closer to his chin than they already were in the passenger seat of my
Toyota Tercel. I gather he was even more nervous in aeroplanes, and was
probably just as uncomfortable with the limited leg room.

A couple of years ago, Butch called me at the last minute to sub on guitar
with him and Baldry at a club date outside of Toronto. I'm no jobber, and
had no idea of the repertoire but Butch said Long John would be playing
guitar and I could just "play along...add to the groove". I took the gig
against my better judgement but we had a lot of fun. I'll always treasure
those words he spoke to me after the first tune...with that authoritative
tone and formal accent he leaned over and said, "I'm afraid you'll have to
turn down that guitar, son..." I also remember that he was quite
meticulous with all the paperwork, getting me to sign a receipt with
copies in triplicate... and then he paid me more than agreed upon - I don't
think that ever happened to me before.