Monday, November 30, 2009

Women's Blues Revue & other stuff

This month the gigs have been going away as fast as they show up. There's
band gig on the calendar for the end of January but I hestitate to advertise
it because the venue is not convinced they will continue presenting live
music. Meanwhile the Tuesday Blues Campfire at Highway 61 has been going
great. Interesting guests...many of them part-timers or hobbyists but I love
having them around the campfire and making them sound better than they ever
have. Many pros drop by too, Doc Mclean & Big Dave dropped in on their
cross-country "Century" tour, Robin Banks raised the roof, Son Roberts who I
find very musically simpatico, Roberta Hunt and Martin Aucoin have brought
their keyboards on occasion and last week I had Professor Piano himself,
Scott Cushnie. I was just watching Martin on TV with his Dylan band, The
Dylan Tree. Everybody loves the barbeque and the campfire is much less of a
"show" than other open stages. We tend to stretch out the songs and play
lots of solos, but people dig it. And there's no break. Who ever heard of a
break at the campfire? We just keep passing around the mike and the guitar
and the bass and we play for three hours then it's over

And now for something completely different: I'm currently learning a couple
of Stompin Tom songs so I can be part of a Stompin' Tom tribute night in
February. And last week I was at an agent's office and the owner of the
agency liked my beard and mentioned they were looking for Santa Clauses, but
no, I have to draw the line somewhere. Actually I probably don't have the
tempermant for it anymore. I've lately been accused of being "mean" (the
accusation comes from the ex-wife but I still take it to heart) and last
night I think was the first time I ever heard someone say "Take it easy,
Brian". Let me tell you the whole story: I arrive at the Massey Hall box
office to see the Women's Blues Revue and get tapped on the shoulder by a
west coast blues radio guy who is supposed to be on the guest list but
isn't. He's asking me to help out and I go on a mission to find the prez to
arrange the comps. I know from experience that this will not be a
straightforward operation and when I can't find the prez at the bar I head
out to the stage door to see if he's backstage. The "gatekeeper" at the
stage door at Massey Hall is a grim character called Gene who has been doing
that job forever - probably because he does it so well. Nobody gets past
Gene unless they are on *his* list. I'm sure he would turn away the
President of the United States if he wasn't on the list. Meanwhile, I didn't
even want to get backstage, I just wanted to get a message to the boss.
(even though I've ended up backstage at most of these events, sometimes on
duty, sometime not. Most of the Women's Blues Revue band current or former
bandmates). Anyway, after repeated conversations to various locations on an
antiquated walkie-talkie system where Gene had to repeat the name three
times to be understood. By then a couple of Blues Society staff had come
back to the stage door abd Gene was calling the office and when I tried to
tell him that the guests were in the box office, he said something like "I
can't do this any faster, sir" and I responded "I think you could"...well
that's when I was told to "Take it easy". I guess I'm getting ornery as I
approach old age. You have been warned.

The week before, I was also reminded that my ladder does not reach as high
as Massey Hall when I had to go through three publicists in order to
schmooze my way into the big Downchild 40th anniversary show, which in fact
was sold out, but neithe the publicist for the Hall or for the band had any
more comps but alas a wonderful youg lady at the record label came through
for me. Downchild gave an impeccable show, of course - worthy of the big
stage at Massey Hall. I was in the bacony for Downchild and I think it
sounded better than third row. The vocals sounded boxy and the bass was
Muddy. Haven't heard any comments from the band but in the past they've
thought it was too loud on stage. Can't remember if the lighting was any
better at Downchild, but the Women's Blues Revue had little or no light man.
All the lights on, all the time, and it's too bad because there were many
opportunities for lighting effects. There was one dramatic scene where
Shakura S'Aida move onto the stage - slow and cat-like while Donna Grantis
is playing a great solo. It would be great for the photographers but in
their old-fashioned way, Massey Hall still forbids picture taking and
enforces it aggressively.

Donna and Rachelle Van Zandt were the two surprises of the night for me.
These two women have raised the bar for female blues guitarists...virtuoso
players...and they got soul. Mind you, neither could do the demanding
utility job of Marg Stowe, house guitarist for the band for many years.
Everybody agreed, all the performances were exceptional. There wasn't a weak
set by anyone. Carrie and Suzie each did a song too and raised the roof. If
you hear this on the radio, you might even hear my name come up in the intro
as Shelagh Rogers read a quote from me about Carrie's performance at a
previous show. She calls me "the great bluesman Brian Blain" and I told her
I was going to use that quote!

Other stuff I've seen and plan to see: I was supposed to go to the John
Mayall show, had it all arranged, but I didn't pay attention to the start
time (7pm, WTF?) and it would have been over by the time I got there. I
heard some great reports...especially about his new guitarist (Rocky Athas?)
I remember seeing Coco Montoya for the first time when he played with Mayall
at Ontario Place. I continue to be amazed by Coco, but I'd like to see this
new guy. There were lots of other great shows on my calendar in November,
but I missed most of them. I did get out to the Sky a couple of times, and
saw Lily's band, Groove Corporation rocking the house and then last Friday
took the ex-wife dancing and where better than Paul James Band at the sky.

Tuesday, November 24, 2009

Quote of the Day

There are moments where the connection between one full heart and the next
is so close and quick that singing is the only possible expression. I really
believe that the spontaneous intimacy and joy of moments like that can show
us what we are for: it's like having, just for an instant, the attention of
the universe, discovering itself. ~Alexander Waddell~

Saturday, November 21, 2009

Downchild at Massey Hall

After a solid solo set from Colin Linden with some fine pingerpicking,
Downchild took the stage and gave their (typically) flawless performance
with guest appearances by Dan Aycroyd, Colin James and young wunderkind
Jonah, from Montreal. Packed house, they were hanging from the rafters.

Monday, November 9, 2009

Pick A Niche And Dominate It

Indie artists must break from a niche. That niche must be well delineated
and can be very very small and still be effective. The mistake most artists
make is making a pop record that does not have a niche to break out of.

The adage, think globally act locally can be re-stated think mainstream, act
niche. The newer your niche, the greater your chance of becoming identified
with it. Almost every Tommy Boy superstar broke out of a niche they
dominated if they did not invent. Examples: De La Soul: hip hop hippies,
House of Pain ­ Irish hip hop, Queen Latifah: first proud and powerful
African American woman in hip hop, Ru Paul, first drag queen with dance hit,
and so on.

So whatever you genre, sub-genre or micro niche there will usually be media
that dominates that view of reality. If you are a militant political artist,
you would launch in the niche militant political blogs and magazines to
establish a beach head. If you a rapper that rapped about uzis and AK¹s
maybe your entry would be blogs and mags about guns and ammo. David Hazan
mentioned a band that was way into Anime and they get written up in the
Anime blogs and make a living playing the Anime shows. Will they be able to
cross to mainstream? Maybe not but they can be the lords of their niche and
make a good living doing that.

So rather than being specific, I would point to blogs and mags in your
micro-niche that might not even be music-oriented. You may be more news to a
non-music site and reach a core audience that way than trying to get
Pitchfork to discover you. There are also opportunities to perform at
industry shows in non music industry events and get paid much better than
you would in the glutted music market.

In other words make your presentation and target audience as unique as
possible so you can be the king of that niche, then target the non-music
publications (both on line and off) and the events in that niche. You will
be building fans, gaining awareness and making money before you even attempt
to cross into the ³music industry.²

- Tom Silverman

(from The Indie Maximum Exposure 100 was created by a team of industry
experts and by artists that are making a full-time living from their music.
Visit our friends at HypeBot to obtain a PDF of the Indie Maximum Exposure

Advice from musicians from Steve Lacey (chanelling Thelonious Monk)

Just because you're not a drummer, doesn't mean that you don't have to keep
time. Pat your foot and sing the melody in your head when you play.

Stop playing all those bullshit notes. Make the drummer sound good.

Don't play the piano part, I'm playing that.Don't listen to me, I'm supposed
to be accompanying you.

Don't play everything, let some things go by. Some music is just imagined.

What you don't play can be more important than what you do play.

A note can be as small as a pin or as big as the world, it depends on your

Stay in shape! (When the gig comes, you have to make it.)

What should we wear tonight? Be as sharp as possible.

Monday, November 2, 2009

Quote of the Day

What if democracy is two wolves and a sheep voting on what's for dinner

Where is the audience?

Here I am pictured with JW-Jones and Jesse Greene, winner of Ottawa's Blues
Challenge competition. We had just been jamming at a club called Irene's in
Ottawa where I landed to attent the Ontario Council of Folk Festivals
conference in Ottawa. The OCFF had five or six hundred earnest folkies
showcasing mostly to themselves and the odd festival director or booking
agent. I had not arranged any showcase for myself (I can't swallow the
pay-to-play thang, even though I know it can help with your "career
development.") I did participate in the jams, though, so I was at a couple
of campfires where there was a small circle of musicians in a very large
room (with no audience to speak of) then a late night jam in the hotel bar.
Trevor Mills was the host & bass player. Michelle played drums and Raven
played guitar. There were some guests floating in and out, Coco Love Alcorn
and a guy who's quite well known but damned if I can remember his name. And
some guy wheeled in a set of vibes and that was cool. Luke Doucet was there
too but he didn't play. I had a few words with him, relating how we had both
been taken into the extended Russell-Titcomb family. The music rocked but
there was hardly anybody in the room. But I guess there were lots of people
hanging in the lounge area off to the side because the next morning at
breakfast I had at least three people complimenting me on my playing...and
two of them were folks that might just be able to help with the "career

This week I went to several events and they were all under-attended. Amazing
music, and no one to hear it. Danny Brooks was having a CD release at the
Sky Restaurant & Lounge - I gave the Sky a little bumpf in the MapleBlues
but it wasn't much help for Danny's night - I'm sure he was disappointed
with the turn out. A 9-piece band with horns and the Levy sisters, Papa John
on guitar and Lance Anderson on organ. What a great show!

Alex Pangman was doing a "pre-launch" media event (which was mostly about
here successful recovery from a double lung transplant) and she had the
right idea: she made a podcast and you can see it at She
did a few tunes with Peter Hill and that fantastic fiddler Drew Jurecka.
Drew and I reminisced about playing together on a subway train (yes it was a
real gig, and a good paying one at that).

After that I headed over to the Gladstone for a piano extravaganza (they had
two grand pianos on the stage) which featured Julian Fauth, Kenny "Blues
Boss" Wayne and a couple of "old timers", Bobby Blackburn and Curly Bridges.
The old guys did the most predictable, generic tunes..."Caledonia", "Got Me
Running"...maybe even "Sweet Home Chicago." This was all destined for a CD
and I'm sure they got some great tracks. Chris Whiteley was leading the band
and Diana Braithwaite made a guest appearance - I had the pleasure of
handing Diana a newsletter, hot off the press, with her picture on the
cover. This issue had all the nominees for the Maple Blues Awards and pretty
well everyone on that stage was a nominee...and yet, you have to wonder if
they would have made any money on that show. Not with the cartage/rental of
two grand pianos! Anyway, they were recording an album so they had a budget
but when you look at all the promotion they did, plus the "marquee value"
they should have had twice as many people. Then a couple of nights later,
Margaret Stowe invites me to a last-minute gig at Free Times and there's
hardly anybody. Amazing music and no one to appreciate it. I sat in for a
few tunes and had a great time.

The Tuesday Campfire is not exactly packing them in either - sometimes we
have more players than audience. But there always ends up being a few tables
and I guess they must consider it worthwhile because we've been doing almost
4 months now and they haven't shut me down yet. But Every Tuesday I wonder
if this is going to be the last. Catch it while you can!

Sunday, November 1, 2009


Through a rather unfortunate turn of events I have ended up with a TV in my
room, having been TV-less for many years. There's a reason I didn't have a
TV, and now I'm remembering why. I tend to give the TV "first refusal" on my
time - always checking to see if there's something interesting. Usually
there isn't (I don't have cable) but tonight I caught the last part of the
ADISQ Awards gala (Quebec's version of the JUNOs) and what a moment in
Quebec Music history to see Renee Martel up at the podium accepting the
award for best live show of the year. She was overwhelmed and I knew why
when she said "I've been in this business 57 years and this is the first
time I received a nomination." I remember her as a child star, appearing on
noontime TV show hosted by her father, a local country & western singer in
Shrbrooke. As a teenager, she had a hit record with a song composed by Russ
Kelley (yes, the same Russ Kelley who now heads the music section at Canada
Council). Following her, the "grand dame" of Quebec music, Ginette Reno won
the next two trophies and proclaimed (pardon my rough translation) "Grandma
is still going strong" and finished with something like "now I'm going to go
get shit-faced!"