Wednesday, June 21, 2006

Here come de Festivals

Here come de Festivals

I told my son today that I felt like some kind of thoroughbred dog in the
gate waiting for the race to begin. Not because I've got so many gigs (2
this week-end, mind you) but because I know what a marathon it is keeping up
with all the action at the Downtown jazzfest - now called the Toronto Jazz
Festival...OK, the TD Canada Trust Toronto Jazz Festival. All year long, I'm
the (barely)managing editor of the newsletter and website and this is the
payoff - ten or more days of exquisite music. And yes, I even got a gig for
myself and what a privilege to have Carlos del Junco on board playing harp.


Saturday June 24 - 6PM at the Greektown Stage (Danforth and Logan) Brian
Blain with Carlos del Junco and Henry Heilig. This is part of the Toronto
Jazz Festival. It's going to rock.

Sunday June 25th, 4PM I'm doing a solo set on the Trinity Square Stage at
the City Roots Festival in the Distillery District


After that I'll be running around Nathan Phillips Square for ten days
listening to as much music as I can and fixing any computer or internet
problems that arise. Right now, the challenge of the day is getting the
e-commerce going...argh! I won't whine any further, I'm pretty lucky to be
around all this phenomenal music. I wish I could say some of it rubs off on
my playing, but I've come to accept that for the last 40 years I've been
writing a succession of variations on the same couple of songs, with mostly
the same chords and riffs...played on the same guitar, too.

If you ever wondered what a "blog" is, well, it's something like this except
it doesn't arrive in your mailbox - you have to go to a website. I have a
blog at and now I post it at

What else is going on? Well, I've read with great interest when publicist
and friend Richard Flohil has sent a report on his club hopping over the
last few weeks. I'm sure he'll be reporting a hot steamy session with Paul
Reddick and the Sidemen in a smoky, crowded after-hours hang in the Liberty
Village. He might have missed some stuff when he fell asleep on the couch
but he was in good hands with Samantha and Roxanne. It was quite a crush of
people and we were pushed right up inches from the band - and they were on
fire. Teddy Leonard's guitar playing never ceases to amaze and Paul Reddick
was in his element. Having Vince and Greg, original Sidemen since 91 playing
behind them was rock solid.

I'm sure this is the closest I've ever been to a crowded Juke joint/ Rent
party in the southern US. Cigarette smokers were in heaven, and although I'm
sometimes bugged by smoke, here it was helping fuel the overall experience
which I dare say would not be reproducible. Maybe more of these joints will
surface, if only to accommodate the smokers (all kinds).

Before that I swung by the Silver Dollar and heard Suzie Vinnick playing
with Ottawa guitarist, and probably one of Suzie's mentors. He plays so
effortlessly and pushes the intrument to the edge (literally - I noticed he
had no whammy bar on his strat but he would pull and push the neck to get
some dramitic sounds). Suzie has been doing more laid back gigs - this was a
rockin power trio and he bass playing was at a very high level. At one
point, Tony stopped playing the riff for a couple of bars as he made some
adjustment and she just jumped in with some riffs that held the whole thing

I'll try to post regular blogs during the festival...though finding a free
moment is going to be a challenge. The jazz festival is always a great ride
for this old country blues picker from the hill country of Quebec who
happens to know a bit about computers. I'll try to keep track of my
"discoveries" and relate them back here.


QUOTE OF THE DAY: ³Brian's music is not only delicious, but it's
nourishing.² - Alice Brock, Alice's Restaurant

OVERQUALIFIED FOR THE BLUES available at,,, and EPK at

Downtown Jazz

Friday, June 9, 2006

One Night at NXNE

I have mixed feelings about these music conferences but this year I decided to get my media accreditation and take in some music. I didn’t realize till after I got the pass that I was only going to be able to use it on Thursday because I was in Hamilton on Friday and Young’s Point on Saturday. The latter is a gig at an outdoor concert, a one-day festival, as it were. So for those of you that are following my blog (and I want to thank Russ K and Barry and Rosie for mentioning that they look me up once in a while). I’m sure there are two or three others. I think I’m going to broadcast this Blainletter because I have a little something to promote:

This Monday at 1PM, on CIUT-FM 89.5 and, they will rebroadcast the Motherless Day Concert I did with Harrison Kennedy at Free Times (highlights).

It was a special evening, I hope this show can give you a bit of the vibe. I want to thank all the “friends of Brian” who came out to that and other gigs. Here’s a couple coming up:

June 24 – 6-9pm GreekTown Stage, Danforth & Logan, Toronto Jazz Festival
June 25 4pm Distillery District, City Roots Festival
July 8 Wintergreen House of Pancackes, Haliburton
July 11 9pm– The Red Guitar Art Bar
July 22-23 Home County Folk Festival, London
August 10 Free Times Café

And since I’m sitting here typing I’ll trell you quickly the rest of my NXNE crawl. It got off to a slow start, my body didn’t want to go anywhere and I was curled up on the couch so I missed the first couple of acts but I got downtown by 11 and made directly for the Rivoli, even though my ultimate destination was the Fox & Fiddle where I wanted to hear Yukon singer-songwriter Kim Beggs. She had a nice soft touch (a contrast, I thought, to her day-job as a carpenter.

I get out of my car on Queen street and the first music I hear is a busker on electric guitar across the street. As I get closer I realize he’s got a lot of pedals going – I threw in a buck to help cover the cost of the batteries. He was playing “Let the Good Times Roll” a la Stevie Ray.

At the Rivoli there’s a huge lineup. I’ve got my badge in my pocket but I’m not sure what to do so I take my place in the line. The I see a fellow badge-wearer – he’s taling on his cell phone – sounds like he’s talking to someone who’s just outside. He tells me they’ll call for badges first when they start to let people in (ie when some people come out). I
Saw somebody with a badge breaking through the crowd so I jumped in his wake and followed him to the front. Anyplace but Canada, somebody would have made some comment – or worse. Interesting though, there was obviously a badge greater than ours, because a woman came in waving it and the le her right through into the back room.

There I saw a band from Winnipeg called Waking Eyes and then a little later another Winnipeg band called Floor Thirteen. They seemed to have a lot in common, though an aficionado would probably tell me how intrinsically different they are. They both had a loud punk quality but I felt after seeing that little flurry of new, young bands that they were paying attention to vocals. They seemed to have some real good snging (and they would both push it to a shriek now and then. A little taste of Winnipeg. Refreshing. Some cynics would say “we’ve got a hundred bands in Toronto that can do that” but I don’t think a Toronto band would have it so worked out.

I swung into the Horseshoe where I hear a bit of a very heavy band called Priestess while I made my way to the Fox and Fiddle to see one of the few roots shows I could find. – No lineups for the roots, I’m afraid. I left after hearing a couple of songs from Michelle Rasky – the young woman who bieat me out for ther OCFF Songs From The Heart competition. Though after hearing her song, I did tell her (and mean it) that she deserved the win.

The last stop was going to be the Silver Dollar where I just hear it was an “R&B Horn Band”. Well, it was an amazing set – certainly a festival highlight. They’re based in Berlin…called King Khan. Just like being at a James Brown show. Definitely a festival highlight.

Tip of the Day; Go to and find the Spade Cooley footage

Apology of the Day: Two this time, it must have been that 666 thing because this all happened on June 6. First to Bonnie Raitt for getting the venue wrong in MapleBlues (the cover, no less). The next apology is re: The Downtown Jazz newsletter and it might not have to happen because I’ve corrected the mistake and tracked down most of the bad copies. I had written up a little blurb about how a certain local jazz pianist had “saved the day” at last year’s jazz festival, except I attributed to the wrong piano player. It reminded me of the time I wrote up a little blurb about the “late” Tracy Nelson - I had her confused with Sandy Denny. The (barely)managing editor strikes again!

Anyway there’s a few gigs, as you see above, and more great reviews on “Overqualified For The Blues”. Just got an envelope full of them from the lovely Betsie Brown, my publicist in Memphis…if I ever get Stateside. Apparently Senator John Kerry is proposing an amendment to go easy on musicians entering the US. But that’s a story for another time.

Saturday, June 3, 2006

Driving home from the gig

I’m sitting here thinking about the etiquette of “sitting in”. It’s not something I do very often but I’m starting to think I should be a little more pro-active about making guest appearances here and there. Get out there and show my face, you know. It’s not something I’ve pursued because, truth be told, I don’t usually have much fun in those situations. I remember my first experience, as a naive new arrival on the Toronto blues scene, going up to the Black Swan for the Saturday matinee. Actually I went to several of those matinees before I was allowed to step onto the stage, in fact the first time I went my leather jacket was stolen (welcome to Toronto). Perhaps because they felt bad about the stolen jacket the previous week, I was invited to take the stage, not to sing but to play guitar along with a bunch of other newbies. I plugged into the Fender amp, but there was no sound. The rest of them just started playing and I was still looking for the “on” switch. I had never used a Fender amp and didn’t know about the standby switch tucked in the back. After struggling for a while, I just plugged my guitar into the PA mixer and played through that. I’m sure the general thinking was “if you don’t know how to turn on a Fender amp, you shouldn’t be on this stage”. That was my introduction to “sitting in” in Toronto.

Over the years I’ve observed how some people have gotten very good at that, mostly by playing the same song every time (one that everybody knows) – and, of course, playing it as close to the original as possible. Unfortunately, I don’t have a lot of blues standards in my repertoire, and the ones I do are quite different from the original – a combination curse/blessing.

I sat in once in a while at more of these jams & matinees but like I said, I was not having fun. I got the feeling these folks who just wanted to play songs they knew with musicians they knew. Over the years I got to know most of the musicians, even played with many of them on regular gigs, but still didn’t get invited to sit in very often, and hardly ever got invited to be a “featured guest” which usually included a little remuneration.

I should start asking and just arriving with my guitar on my shoulder. It’s not a great career move to sit around waiting to be invited – at least not in a town where every second person you meet is a musician. But maybe things are turning around, because last night I had three “invitations”. Mory the Sockman asked me if I would do a tune at his birthday celebration at Healey’s (I don’t know what the band would have to say about that, but in any case I had a festival gig, so I couldn’t be there – Hope you had a great party, Mory!) Then after my gig I dropped in at the club where my buddy Larry was playing and he insisted that I come up and and do a couple of tunes with the band, even though I was a little reluctant. Well we’ve done a few duo things together and he happens to be the director of the festival, so how could I say no…yet when I got back, I think they were playing their last tune but I jumped in there anyway, and then Larry says the drummer has to leave and the rest of the band leaves the stage so I do a tune with Larry while the musicians are tearing down their equipment. I guess it was overtime and they just wanted to get home, but it just reinforces my resistance about “sitting in” even when one of the band members wants you to. Next time I’ll let them take a vote. I don’t want to inflict myself on anybody. I don’t play that often, so I insist on having fun when I do. I had a a third invitation for last night – not to play but to attend the big gala for the Walk of Fame with Paul Schaeffer and many big stars. That would have been fun.

Here’s a tip for any musicians driving home late on a Friday night – tune in Reiner Schwarz on JAZZ-FM 91.1 He is the original underground FM pioneer and he does an overnight show that harkens right back to the seventies when he was on CHUM-FM. He was talking directly to “the musicians who are driving home from the gig” How many other people are listening to the radio at 3am?