Monday, June 4, 2007

Orangeville Blues & Jazz

What a pleasure playing with the phenomenal Henry Heilig at the Orangeville Jazz & Blues festival. I was lucky he could get away from his intense rehearsal schedule with the newly reformed Manteca (who will be opening the Toronto Jazz Festival on Friday June 22). Henry will also be joining myself and the Blainettes (Carrie Chesnutt and Lily Sazz) for my gig at Toronto Jazz Festival - That's Saturday afternoon, June 30th at the Greektown Stage, Logan and Danforth.

Friday, June 1, 2007

June Blainletter plus Bob Lefsetz' take on managers

Welcome to my June Blainletter. I won't be playing in town until my Toronto Jazz festival gig on June 30th. (June 30th, by the way is the second full moon of the month, the "blue moon" – thus the expression "once in a blue moon". I never knew that, thanks Bette! This week-end I'm playing the Orangeville Blues and Jazz festival on Saturday night at a little bar called the Wild Wing at 75 Alder St. I'll be playing with the wonderful bassist Henry Heilig, whose band Manteca will be opening the Toronto Jazz Festival. Then on June 15, I'm at the Moonshine CafĂ© in Oakville. If any of my dear blog-readers live in the environs of either of those remote locations, please drop in

Your (barely)managing editor has just wrapped up another newsletter. This month I created a headline for the cover of MapleBlues and I realized as I was about to go to print that I didn't really know what it meant. I wrote "Reddick Redux" just cause it looked good on the page but then I realized that I wasn't really that sure what it meant. Well I looked it up and it turned out the "redux" meant exactly what I wanted to say. There couldn't be a better word. Now it will be interesting to see if the majority of our readers will know what "redux" means…but what the hey, it's about Paul Reddick and he is regarded as a bit of an intellectual on the blues scene. He'll know what I meant.

I've been thinking of calling him up to do a couple of gigs. I'm playing this week-end and I still don't know who with. I like to wait till the last minute and see who falls in my lap (not necessarily the best approach in romance).

Last night I went to see Mendelson Joe play (he I knew him when he was Joe Mendelson). He was a curmudgeon then and he's a curmudgeon now. I thought about introducing myself to see if he remembered that I auditioned to play bass for McKenna Mendelson Mainline 30 years ago. I thought better of it when I watched him brush off our senior publicist and my friend Jacquie with "I know who you are" and "OK, I gotta go". Still, he's Joe and we love him. He was riveting on stage. He had not played a music gig in Toronto for 10 years, imagine that. Talk about "I'm going to the country" (…and I ain't coming back).

He marched onto the stage in paint-splattered pants carrying his guitar case (with the hand painted warning "very, very, very fragile") and a back-pack. As he was being introduced, he took the guitar out of the case, sat himself down and had a drink from a big bottle of Perrier water (which he thanked Mose Scarlett for bringing). His first song was his most recent, he said, "I'm a folkie and that ain't no jokie." After a 75 minute show, he came back with a short instrumental encore…his fans still wanted more but he came back up to the stage, slowly packed up his stuff (while people still clapped for more) and then he was gone.

Joe's comments about the air in Toronto really struck home after my experience last week-end playing the Twisted Pines festival a couple of hours out of town. They billeted the bands in some kind of wilderness retreat and I could not believe how refreshed and invigorated I felt after only two days away from the pollution of Toronto. I realized it the next morning when I woke up to the sight of all kinds of colourful birds at the array of feeders just outside the kitchen window…with little squirrels and chipmunks scampering around the bases of the feeders. What a sight. What a breath of fresh air. I had the pleasure of meeting a couple of my blog-readers up there…so hi to you and thanks for your interest. I don't think I'd keep this going if I didn't keep running into people who tell me they enjoy it.

The original impetus for the "Toronto Blues Diary" was to pass along tips on "career development" (long before I ever heard the expression). I used to put the tips in red. I should really cut and paste some of Bob Lefsetz stuff – he's got a lot to say about career development…You can see his "blog" at

Anyway, back to Twisted Pines. My first "arena show" – though there was only enough audience to fit into a club, but it was a great experience and I'm sure the festival will build up from here. I just got invited to play the volunteer party. A couple of days before we had a "warm-up" gig at Free Times. It was my "Motherless Day" show and we had a nice friendly group came out…but once again, I looked out into the house and I knew pretty well every person. It's great to have a friendly, supportive audience, but this is not how careers are built…

Last night I attended the opening of the Art of Jazz festival at the Distillery. That room is the size of an arena, but it didn't sound nearly as good as Twisted Pines. Since it was opening night, there were a few speeches and the soft spoken guys like Don Thomson and Kenny Wheeler were not cutting through at all. I could not hear a word they were saying. Meanwhile, when Jon Hendricks got on the mike I could hear every word. So it's not just the PA. The music seemed kind-of uninspired and I was ready to leave but then Kevin Mahogany hit the stage and launched into a marathon version of "Route 66" and everybody started playing their ass off – leave it to the blues to pick things up. It was my first time hearing Kevin Mahogany and he is something to behold – physically and vocally (a giant in both respects).

What else did I do this month (besides start making a garden – thanks to all those that have contributed. I'm going to make a slide show on Flickr when I get a minute. I also started editing a video clip of me singing "Blues is Hurting" at the Hi-Tech Blues Revue. We'll see how long it takes me to get that together.

I had the delightful experience of seeing Allan Fraser's (& Donna Louthood's) daughter Kaya performing at the Now lounge. She played some fine guitar (very much like Allan) and when she sang it was like listening to Donna. What a trip.

I saw lots of great jazz at the new Courthouse venue this month – surely destined to be a world class showcase venue. Shakura S'Aida did a CD launch there and she rocked the joint. It was the first blues show in the place…tonight Susie Arioli begins a 3-night engagement. I hope she can get a decent crowd over three days.

The Blues Society had a birthday party at Jeff Healey's new club with Jack de Keyzer playing and yours truly as MC. I actually got some spontaneous applause when I introduced myself as the editor of MapleBlues. I wonder if I would have got such an enthusiastic response if I had introduced myself as the 60-year old emerging artist…

Just so you get a taste of this Bof Lefsetz guy, I'm going to paste in part of a recent rant about managers… Here's Bob. See you next time.

"…In other words, you don't need the heavyweight, well-connected manager to make it. Unless you're playing the traditional radio/TV hit single game.

If you're playing the old wave game, sign with someone who's got the chops, who knows the ropes, who isn't reinventing the wheel so much as applying what they know to your situation. You might grow, but your handler, he already knows the game.

Whereas if you're not signed to a major label, don't want to get signed to a major label, don't make Top Forty singles, then you don't need a manager connected so much as one who is savvy and HUNGRY!

The established management players are akin to mini-conglomerates, they're the new labels. They want to get paid, right away. If you're not delivering cash, if they sign you, you're not getting much attention. Or, you're getting attention from the untested newbie. If that newbie is truly great, break off and do it yourself, as Irving Azoff did with the Eagles. Otherwise, you're probably going to get lost in the shuffle.

If you're starting from ground zero, no name manager will probably be interested. But that won't hurt you.

What do you need most if you're a developing act?

Gigs. You need someone to get on the horn, go down to the venue, and cajole and connive 'til they get you a shot. Then you must deliver, but it's the manager that creates/midwives the opportunity.

Where are you going to find such a bloke?

Look around you, he's probably already a friend. Or that dude who comes to each and every show and hangs backstage and won't leave until you do. THAT'S your manager.

Oh, don't throw out your instincts. After all, Paluska went to Amherst, he's no dummy. But find someone committed who will do the job for you.

So much of what Phish did, they did first. Or their spin on an event made it unique. They did their destination festivals. They released live albums of their shows, and then downloads. Elektra didn't deliver these, rather their manager and agent, Chip Hooper, did.

Yup, Chip saw the numbers, he wanted to represent Phish. He didn't care about record sales, but TICKET COUNTS! Most agents feel the same way today, but fifteen years ago, the focus was on the label.

Yes, after you get your manager, and he gets you gigs, he tries to get you an agent. And the agent you want is not the one with the name, the one who wines and dines you so much as the one who BELIEVES in you.

As for music... In today's market, you've got to allow recording and trading, you've got to give the music away for free, you've got to let the seed grow into a tree. If you can't get significant airplay, THIS IS THE ONLY WAY!

It's not the way of the major label, and not the way of the old line manager. But it's your way. You know the Net, you've got friends, both online and offline. You have to create something incredible and give your peeps the tools to spread the word. Not through fake incentives, you've got to trade purely on their belief, your honesty.

It's all about the music when you're doing it yourself. Everything must be subservient to the music. And you must create the best situation to experience the music.

When Phish played the Santa Monica Civic ten plus years ago, the police frisked the attendees. Paluska vowed to never play the building again, and his band DIDN'T! He didn't shrug his shoulders and say he couldn't do anything, that it wasn't his fault, he took matters into his own hands, to defend his band's relationship with its audience.

And when Phish started selling its music online, it offered FLAC files, so its fans could own the best sounding versions. Isn't it funny that EMI is offering 256 kbps AACs supposedly sometime in the near future when Phish sold CD quality YEARS AGO!

So don't lament that the manager with the name isn't interested in you. There's a good chance he might not be right for you.

Inexperience is no longer the handicap it used to be. Drive and appreciation of the band/fan relationship are paramount for today's touring acts. That's more about instinct than big time experience. Furthermore, you want someone who can develop on the fly.

Maybe you outgrow your manager, you end up signing with one of the big boys, who wrings out every last dollar for you.

Or maybe you stay with your guy, who delivers for you.

Or maybe your guy makes a deal with Irving, and uses Frontline's power to get you what you want and need.

It's a new game. It's the sixties all over again. The wheel is being reinvented. Don't be hamstrung by the old wave players and the old wave rules."