Monday, November 26, 2012

Women's Blues Revue

The Women's Blues Revue is the biggest event of the year for the Toronto
Blues Society and it has a lot of history. I remember a few years back when Shelagh Rogers christened Rita Chiarelli Canada's "Goddess of the Blues". That label stuck to Rita like velcro. Last night Garvia Baily spontaneously coined the nickname Donna "Goddamn" Grantis and the audience was definitely in agreement at that moment. She had just ripped off another fiery solo, but other times she'd be playing a simple back up part and Suzie Vinnick would be doing a complimentary thang on her guitar and everything they did elevated the song.

The song selection, the worked-out,-thought-out arrangements, the impeccable musicianship, great back-up vocals, expecially by Lindsay Beaver - wow! It's impossible to pick a favourite of the six featured vocalists. I guess Kelly Lee Evans was the one that took me highest but each singer touched different sensors in my enjoyment of music. Tanika Charles kicked it off great and had the most intermission buzz and made a great first impression on a couple of thousand people. Sacha Williamson was a bit more cerebral but then kicked ass with a Koko Taylor song. I was thinking Sabrina Weeks was the only white girl in the group but of course she was not. Angel Forest from Quebec gave a real Performance (with a capital "P,") and Sabrina Weeks brought a lot of class and connected great with the audience. She's coming back to Toronto to be part of an Etta James Tribute...and while I think of it, Kellylee has a gig back at Massey Hall with Michael Kaeshammer in the near future).

I would think the biggest draw last night was Saida Baba Talibah who delivered a great blues set for the occasion but we all know she can take it into some very far out musical territory. All these singers brought something all their own to the event but I dare anyone to say there was "not enough blues" as we often heard after the WBR in the past.

I got a few comments as we left - one former participant who thought the sound sucked and a musical buddy who thought the drummer was rushing too much, but for those who didn't attend because they never heard of those singers, they really missed out this year. Doubly so, because this was the year that the CBC ended their long-standing arrangement to broadcast the event. It's the public's loss (and the musicians' too, since their paycheck was dramatically reduced).

Saturday, November 24, 2012

Blainletter #57, November 23, 2012

Lots to talk about this month and none of it is about my upcoming gigs…because I don’t have any more this year. This works out well because after years and years of getting the nails of my right hand coated with some nasty (but very hard) goop, I am giving them a rest. I’ve got some great stories from the nail salon but I’ll spare you. Now I just have to be careful not to get carried away at some Christmas jam or I will be coming home with some shattered nails.

Happy American Thanksgiving and the Americans have plenty to be thankful for following that election. I happened to be in a hotel room at the Delta Chelsea with an American friend and he uttered an big sigh of relief when CNN called the election in favour of Obama. He runs a large arts organization which would have been crippled if not decimated by the cuts in arts & culture that Romney would have instituted (starting with Big Bird and PBS).

Welcome to some new Blainreaders and a special thanks to my 1000th Facebook friend, Steve Tennant of Perth, Ontario. It’s a significant milestone because unlike a lot of musicians, I actually know every single one of my Facebook friends. I’ve got a lot of friend requests from people I haven’t met – and I keep them in a holding pattern until the day I get to shake their hand. Call me old fashioned, as if anyone using social media is old fashioned…

I don’t send out a lot of friend requests myself, though today as I was looking through mutual friends on someone’s page, I saw Jane Lewis’ profile and impulsively sent a request and to my delight received an immediate confirmation. I don’t know her well but we’ve played together a couple of times and she has a beautiful voice and an other-worldly celestial quality that I recognize in many of the women friends in my life. I am surrounded by angels – I don’t know what I did to deserve it.

At the same time, I’m getting requests to my LinkedIn page from a lot of people I haven’t met and never will but I’m glad to connect with them and how nice to get a notification that Treasa Levasseur is “following” me on Twitter. And then another notification that a couple of musicianfriends are now following my music on something called Deezer. I’m not even sure what that is. I can’t keep up with this.

Playin’ with My Friends

I had a great time playing with my old cover band, Oliver Klaus, in Quebec on Halloween week-end. It was a reunion after nearly 40 years. Everybody dressed up like they did in the 70s – lots of tie-dye. And we played the same set list as we did in the 70s at the Terrace Inn. Lots of Beatle tunes, I Shot the Sheriff, Some Kind of Wonderful, Layla…had a lttle trouble remembering some of those tunes. Aqualung??

When I got home we had a little kitchen session at my place where Allan Fraser and Sue Lothrop sang together for the first time since they had the group Breakfast over 40 years ago. After Breakfast broke up, Allan hooked up with Daisy DeBolt and the rest is history – albeit a short chapter. But that carefree wild abandon that characterized F & DeB started with Allan and Sue. And here they were singing some of the same songs they sang back then. I wish I’d have called out a few of the old favourites – and those songs of Allan’s are so timeless, he’s still performing some of them to this day.

A few days later Russ Kelley showed up and we swapped songs around the kitchen table too – he’s having a CD release in Toronto on January 10 – venue to be confirmed. And the biggest thrill of all was doing a gig with my son the DJ (we call it BlainBlain). He was in town for a couple of weeks and we did a set (two laptops and a MIDI rig on my guitar) at his old dubstep haunt, Thymeless on College Street. It was fun but I hadn’t fired up the old Ableton Live in months and this re-energized me….and now he’s gone again but I’m trying to keep it going on the Ableton.

Maple Blues Awards

Voting for your favourite Canadian Blues artists is open until December 8 at There is a very healthy roster of talent to choose from, so go support your favourites. I believe the JUNO awards also had a whole lot of submissions in the blues category this year so the Blues is alive and well in Canada – though you wouldn’t know it from the dearth of blues clubs in Toronto

One bright spot is the blues series at Dominion on Queen where I heard some fine music last month. Last Sat it was Dylan Wickens playing some solid blues and the week before I saw Robin Banks backed by Teddy Leonard – one of my favourite guitar players since I got to Toronto and my buddies Mike Fitzpatrick and Gary Kendall. It’s an overused expression but “it doesn’t get much better than that.” My friend Peter would agree and I had brought along my son Joel who was not previously inclined to go to a blues show but who was totally bowled over.


I also dragged Joel along to the Sleepwalk Guitar Festival where we saw some real guitar royalty including James Burton – who played with the King himself – and Albert Lee (who played with Eric Clapton (aka “God”). In fact, it was pointed out that the amazing final guitar solo on the live version of “Layla” was not EC but Albert. He had the quote of the day, too, when someone referred to how “fast” he played and he responded “I wasn’t trying to be the fastest guitarist, I was trying to be the cleanest guitarist” I think that’s what I was enjoying about Teddy Leonard – so clean, every note crystal clear, especially in the trimmed down 3-piece format.

There were lots of other great guitarists at Sleepwalk, not the least of which was our host & organizer Luke Doucet with his Gretch White Falcon. He was everywhere and there were even a few moments where he was a little out of his element like when he was interviewing James Burton and Burton started up one of the many hits he played on and after playing a chorus launched into a solo expecting Luke would know all the chord changes but when Luke stumbled a bit James just stopped the song. One more time around and I’m sure Luke would have got it but I guess that’s what it’s like in the big leagues. Not three chances, not two chances – you get it right the first time or you don’t get to play. That’s what it’s come to nowadays on the music scene – a flawless performance the first time around or leave the stage to someone who can (that ain’t me).

The pedal steel workshop was quite phenomenal. That many slides at one time is a recipe for a nightmare but when every player has an impeccable sense of pitch and timing it is a dreamy, surreal musical high. The star of the show, of course, was Cindy Cashdollar – a superstar of slide and she lived up to her reputation. Last time I saw her she was playing with Van Morrison and I remember watching her as she had to do a quick change of instruments and there was a little technical glitch and I never saw anyone move so fast – and Van Morrison waits for no man (or woman). I had a couple of friends on that stage, two local slidemeisters Burke Carrol and Bob Taillefer, and they held their own. Junior Brown was also on the bill and he puts on a great show. What a character. And I never thought guitarists of the caliber of Colin Linden and Kevin Breit would end up being mentioned last but they also played great…

More Out and About

Danny Brooks was up from his new home in Austin Texas to play the Gladstone and it was a delight hearing Danny. I remember one time playing on the same stage as him at the first Distillery Blues Festival. It was a mid-day set in scorching July sun on an uncovered stage and I was really sweating. Danny and his bass player Dennis found one of those big umbrellas and dragged it onto the stage between songs to give me a little cover. I think I suffered a little sunstroke that day, but at least I didn’t pass out on stage. Coming up in the Toronto Blues Society’s “First Thursdays” at the Gladstone are Harrison Kennedy (Dec 6), the Chuck Jackson Trio (Jan 3) and that great Montreal singer songwriter Rob Lutes (Feb 7).
Another notable show that I caught last month was a new artist called Whitney Rose. Michelle Josef plays on her new CD and asked me to come down to the Cameron House and check it out. Whitney’s got great energy and surrounds herself with some great players. In addition to Michelle she had Basil from Blue Rodeo on bass and Jim Cuddy’s son pounding on that old upright piano. And I musn’t forget there was some great blues played at Monarch’s Pub at a fundraiser for (another) one of my favourite guitarists, Kid Ramos, who has some serious health problems. The Canadian contingent came through and raised four grand to send to the “Kid.”

On Buying CDs

I can’t remember the last time I bought a CD…well, actually I do. It was probably ten years ago and it was a Gatemouth Brown CD – he’s my favourite blues guitarists and I bought this overpriced Japanese import…and it mostly him playing fiddle. Oh well… This time I was cashing in a gift certificate and I bought two CDs by a couple of other favourite guitarists, Magic Sam and Robben Ford. And this time I was not disappointed (and the CDs were half the price of Gatemouth)

Alice Brock’s Amazing Artwork

And as a special Thanksgiving treat, my friend Alice Brock went digging through her drawers and pulled out some great original pieces which she is offering for sale. Younger Blainreaders may not remember but Alice was the subject of a very long “Thanksgiving Story” called “Alice’s Restaurant” commemorated in song by Arlo Guthrie and in film by Arthur Penn. And you can hear my little ditty, “Another Song About Alice,” in the background when you play the slideshow of Alice’s original artwork. Check it out at You can view her painted beach stones and prints as well as the original pieces at

Cheesed about Mac & Cheese

I’ve always been the first to try every possible variation of my favourite comfort food, macaroni & cheese, and some have been excellent – though none compared with my mother’s which was made with Kraft slices and lots of milk – but the last couple of times I wasn’t reading the menu carefully and my beloved mac ‘n cheese came in blocks that were breaded and deep-fried. Sacrilege! (although serving in multiple cubes meant that it stayed hot till the last bite). But still…

As you can see, I’m running out of things to babble about so that’s all for tonight. Thanks for reading this far. Next time I’ll have a few gigs to report. BrianB