Wednesday, October 17, 2012

A Gathering of Folk

The OCFF (Ontario Council of Folk Festivals) Conference is a gathering of 600+ folkies, mostly young, earnest folksingers trying to get the attention of a handful of festival producers and a few other presenters. I didn't recognize hardly anybody on the list of "official" showcases but there are lots of other showcases, some sponsored by organizations like the Blues Society or Folk Music Canada and then many other "guerilla" showcases in hotel rooms, just a guy and a guitar with (maybe) a few people listening.I was parachuted in to host the Blues Society's official workshop when Danny Marks called in sick. I got to play a few tunes in between the showcasers and I believe I had a "moment" or two. As "band coach" Tom Jackson preaches at Music Week and/or NXNE, our job as artists is to "create moments" and it's true, that's what people take away with them.

The folk community's answer to Tom Jackson is Vance Gilbert and he's full of tips about how to stand and hold your guitar and he had the best quote of the week-end, "you'll get a lot richer selling guitars than playing guitars." I had never seen him in action - he's hilarious. I didn't get to take in much of the daytime activities since I was staying up so late and driving back and forth from Mississauga to TO. Friday night I didn't make it home till 6am.

I enjoyed playing bass at the 3am Campfire in HOTCHA's suite and didn't realize 'till after, that some of the folks that dropped in were big deals in their home territories (ie Australia). Bev was playing a solid snare and Howard had some great material that is not part of the usual HOTCHA repertoire. We rocked.

There were panels for first-timers, mentoring sessions, how to get your music into film & TV (don't bother, it's a closed shop) and getting an agent and manager (don't call us, we'll call you). One of the highlights was a photo exhibit from the golden age of coffee-houses. What a treat to see folks I knew looking so young and fresh (sort of like most of the attendees at the conference).

Here's me standing next to a pic of Allan Fraser & Sue Lothrop (aka Breakfast) who I managed in the 60s.

After the photo exhibit I slipped up to Russ Kelley's room with Sue and Bill Garrett and we had a wonderful session swapping songs from 40 years ago - one of which I didn't even remember writing (thank goodness Sue wrote it down)

The blues, neither the showcase nor the jam, were a big draw for the folkies, regrettable because it's such a big part of folk music - but maybe it's kinda like a poor cousin. No respect and not much interest. One of the official showcases was Sue Foley and Peter Karp and I got there in time to hear one acoustic tune and one electric tune. Karp did all the talking and most of the singing. Not very bluesy to my ears and short on the "Three E's" - Energy, Emotion and Engagement (hey, I just made this up).

Before them, I saw a tune by a singer-songwriter who looked good but sounded kinda generic to me. His name was Ian Sherwood and I mention him because a little bit later CBC honcho Ann MacKeigan came up and said "did you hear that guy?" I said I heard only one tune but she was admitedly quite touched by this guy's music. So there you go. If you ever get discouraged because there's only 20 people in a room that holds 200, remember one of them might be Ann MacKeigan. That's the nature of "industry showcases" like this.

I didn't apply for any showcase, never have, and it's my feeling that showcasing at this (and most) music conferences is not really worth it unless people already want to see you (I'll let you know when I get there). If you keep applying over and over you might eventually get accepted but then you will be put in a time slot that is not likely to have a lot of traffic It's up to you to bring your own traffic, like every other gig in the music business. A play at a big festival can look great in your press kit but what's the point if you're on the big stage at 11 in the morning before the audience gets there.

Following the event, I saw a lot of discussion on the internet about the "app" and I depended on it quite a bit because I didn't get my hands on a printed program book until Saturday when I collected my goodie bag. Many said last year's app was better - I can't compare because I didn't have a smartphone last year but I am a great admirer of Trevor Mills, who developed it. Both Trevor and Favequest, the quys who did this year's app, have created boilerplates so that they don't have to re-invent the wheel for every client. Of course, this means there will be limitations but it keeps the cost down. In the case of Favequest, they had 3 models and I think the one we used was the most basic (for which they charge $900/yr). The schedule was good but It had only bios for the "official" showcasers and in this age we expect every occurrence of an artist's name hot-linked to a bio/description. And while we're at it, each occurrence of a venue should be hot linked to a map/directions of how to get there. I got lost on the way to the conference centre and I got lost once I got there and was nearly late for my hosting duties.

Like all these events it's mostly musicians playing for musicians and what's wrong with that? It was a veritable love-in for the folk community.

Thursday, October 4, 2012

Remembering Kathi McDonald

Kathi Mcdonald was one of the all-time great female vocalists in rock,blues and R&B. She passed away yesterday, apparently slipped into a coma and never came out.

She had an incredible resume, which you can see elsewhere, but there was a bit of a Canadian connection via Long John Baldry who toured with her for maybe 20 years. Baldry's band always had a few Canadians, Papa John King, Butch Coulter, Al Webster band many others including yours truly when I subbed for Papa John in Brampton or Brantford. Kathi & John made some classic recordings and the bands gave some unforgettable shows. I toured Germany with Kathi & Butch Coulter for 3 weeks in 09 and I could see in every venue we played there were framed pictures or posters of Baldry and Kathi was treated like royalty.

I must share my introduction to Kathi McDonald: I arrived in Frankfurt for this German tour a few hours before Kathi. I was settled in my hotel room and asked the desk to let me know when Miss McDonald arrived. I received a call later "There seems to be a problem. Miss McDonald says her bag has been stolen." She got on the phone, speaking so fast I could really understand what she was saying then she told me to meet her in room 3-something and when I got there, she had stuff spread all over the bed & floor and was sobbing "It's gone! It's all gone, my passport, my money, my jewelry, my phone book!! All those numbers... Peter Frampton's fucking home number..."

I'm thinking "this tour is over before it even started" and "How are we going to tell Butch?" but then she says "Oh fuck it, let's go get a drink." We go around the block, she has a couple of Cuba Libre and I have a slice of pizza then we make our way back to the hotel. We get into the tiny cage elevator and I accidentally push the button for the second floor (she was on the third floor and I was on the fourth floor). The elevator door opens on the second floor and I see a small bag and a purse on the floor and say "Kathi, is that your stuff?" She's incredulous. Obviously as she was loading in her stuff (and she had many bags) she brought the two most important ones up to what she thought was her floor (in her jet-lagged state) and dropped them while she got the rest.

That was just the beginning of the adventure of a lifetime, with musical highs that I will cherish forever. I have have played alongside some great singers but never experienced anyone with a voice like that. I think I heard somewhere that she was Etta James' favourite singer. She was many singers' favourite singer. Another memory from that tour - on one of the last gigs, as I was basking in the applause after my little feature spot in the show, she leaned into my ear and said "you know it would be nice if you could learn a couple of words of German for moments like this..." Danke schön, Kathi

Wednesday, October 3, 2012

Blainletter #56, October 2, 2012

Over the past few weeks I have been taken back to my days with Fraser & DeBolt (60s & 70s). Last week I had the great joy to play with Allan Fraser a couple of times (he borrowed my guitar and I’ve still got his setlist taped to the side). On Thursday, Oct 4th, TOMORROW NIGHT, the Blues Campfire Jam at the Record Vault (7-11pm) will be dedicated to the memory of Daisy DeBolt who passed away exactly a year on that day. I’m hoping some musos who were inspired by Daisy will drop by. I just uploaded a music video she made in 1986. Dig it:

All Daisy’s friends, musical or otherwise are invited to Naomi Tyrell's on Sunday afternoon, October 21st (2-6pm), for a memorial pot-luck.

I’ve also been asked to host the Blues Campfire Jam at the Ontario Council of Folk Festivals conference in Mississauga on the week-end of October 12th. I’ve done this a few times before and I’ve met some fabulous musicians from all over Canada and beyond and we always have a great time. Unfortunately it’s only for the registered delegates.

The other half of Fraser & DeBolt, Allan Fraser has been spending a little more time in Toronto and we had a few opportunities to play together in the last couple of weeks. I just uploaded a tune from our impromptu appearance at Robert Priest’s regular Tranzac matinee. Impromptu for me, I’ll say, because when Allan starts playing you can watch my face as I’m trying to figure out what tune he just started. It was “This Storm Shall Surely Pass,” a tune I remembered because it was on the Fraser & DeBolt album I produced back in the 70s, but I don’t remember playing it in an awfully long time – and I don’t think I ever played bass on it.

But here you can watch me trying to sing along and it’s amazing that I remembered as many words as I did. It’s a testimony to Allan’s songwriting that his lyrics are so memorable. Twice in the last few months I’ve been in some casual song circles where somebody pulled out “Dance Hall Girls” and everybody knows the tune well enough to sing along. It’s a Canadian folk classic…it should be in the Songwriter’s Hall of Fame. It’s on the new album by John Oates (of Hall & Oates) and that should give the tune a little international bumpf. Allan needs to get out and play more and if there’s anyone out there who can help, feel free to contact me. Allan is also looking for someone to help administer his catalogue and find an appropriate publisher. He’s got a whack of great songs.

Back to the Terrace Inn
Meanwhile, I’m preparing for the reunion concert with another pioneering group that I worked with in the 70s. Oliver Klaus was a “brother band” who had their own recording studio and record label back in the late 60s in the Eastern Townships. I wrote a song about my days with the Klaus and the bar where we played all summer, The Terrace Inn. The annual reunion concert will take place Saturday, October 27 at the Maison de La Culture in Waterloo, Quebec. Because it’s Halloween week, they’re making it a costume party and asking everyone to dress up like it was the 70s. I haven’t thought of my costume yet, but I’ve been running over some of the tunes. We’ll be playing all the same tunes we were doing back then, I Shot The Sheriff, Back in the USSR, Free Ride, Layla, Band on the Run….oh boy! And of course I’ll be singing “Terrace Inn.” Here’s a clip of me doing it at the last reunion – we’re going to try to rehearse it this time:

New Folk Blues 2.0
October 5 is exactly 2 years since we recorded “New Folk Blues.” It was just George Koller and moi, “live” at Reba’s Café. It is now becoming my “living” album and in the last few months we’ve made some great strides towards “New Folk Blues 2.0.” We’ve done a couple of “sweetening” sessions already and a couple more will happen in the next few months. You won’t recognize it! A big thank-you to those who have funded (and continue to fund) this recording project. I couldn’t do it without you.

Out and About
The Southside Shuffle is the last blues festival of the season around here and I was only able to catch the last day since I was gigging on the Friday and it was raining on the Saturday. They have definitely downsized as we noted with a drastically smaller programme and no big-ticket mainstage concerts. Still, I rather liked the new set-up in the park. They had two stages at one end of the park and two stages at the other end. Sound bleed was minimal and with the quick switch to the neighbouring stage, the music was pretty well continuous. They were charging $5 to get into the park. It is the harsh reality of the blues scene today that you can find world-class, award-winning artists playing to a handful of people. Harrison Kennedy is all the more authentic now that he’s playing a banjo and Michael Pickett had us believing he was on a chain gang in some southern cotton field with his soulful performance. But nothing could be more soulful than the Levy sisters backing up Ken Whiteley. He had a great new composition called “God is Bigger Than That.” Ken noted that at this time last year he was in a coma in the hospital and many of us wondered if he’d ever be back on stage (he must have wondered, too) but here he was sounding great and…well, inspiring. I also got to hear Bill Johnson again…one hard-working bluesman, and it will take a lot of hard work to make a buzz in this town even if you are a big deal out west. The unassuming Julian Fauth was pounding the keys in a restaurant patio and he was sounding great. Another great artist that we tend to take for granted (maybe because you can see him playing in this town just about any night of the week) I sure look forward to playing with him again. It was a lot of great home-grown blues for one Sunday afternoon.

Last Saturday I made it out to Nuit Blanche, a huge event that transforms downtown Toronto into one big art installation. I skipped last year, even though I really wanted to see Daniel Lanois’ project) so this year I made a special effort but I ran out of steam quite early and what I saw was...underwhelming. Walking up Bay street we were able to enjoy the free cotton candy – that was a good start, I guess. Projections on (and inside) City Hall were pretty amazing but the undergound Museum of the End of the World was downright lame. If it was meant to be dark and depressing, it worked. In fact the whole theme of the night seemed to be apocalyptic. I guess we’ll see on Dec 21st whether the Mayans were right about the end of the world. We cut the night short with cocktails in the Lobby Bar at the Ritz Carleton. Cotton candy and a $16 martini, that’s how I’m going to remember Nuit Blanche.

Thanks for reading this far. I’m trying to keep the Blainletter a little shorter but I’m adding pics & vids, which if they don’t display in this email, you can watch at

Here’s the deets on the gigs:

Thursday, October 4, 7-11pm, The Record Vault, 2156 Queen St East (just east of Glen Manor Road). Brian’s Blues Campfire - special edition, dedicated to the memory of Daisy DeBolt. PWYC

Wednesday October 10, 5-8pm Gate 403, 403 Roncesvales. Toronto The Blain-Davis-Gould Blues Trio PWYC

Friday, October 12, 11:30-2am, hosting the Blues Campfire Jam at the OCFF Conference, Delta Meadowvale Resort and Conference Centre, Mississauga. Delegate badge required

Saturday, October 27, 8pm Maison de La Culture, 441, rue de la Cour, Waterloo, Quebec (450) 539-4764. Annual reunion of Oliver Klaus. It will also be a Halloween Party (dress like you did in the 70s) $29 (tax included)