Tuesday, June 24, 2014

Blainletter #69 June 24, 2014

Hello to my cherished Blainreaders and happy Fete Nationale to all my friends in Quebec. I feel like I know each and every one of you, and with the new anti-spam legislation, I am legally obliged to know each and every one of you. Makes me glad I never put anyone on this list who didn't ask, but if by some fluke you don't know me (or have forgotten me) then please reply immediately and I will remove your address.

We're already at the halfway mark at the Toronto Jazz Festival and even though I'm temporarily full-time (for ten days, at least), I'm still (barely)managing...I just got the July MapleBlues off to the printer, I've uploaded a bunch of pics & videos to the Jazz Festival website and I think it's time to play a little guitar :-) ...because I'VE GOT A GIG ON FRIDAY!

Brian and the Blainettes at Monarch's Pub (Eaton Chelsea Hotel, Gerrard & Yonge) Friday Night, July 27th at 9PM. No Cover.

Colleen Allen and Carrie Chesnutt are the Blainettes, and if you can picture this, they will both be playing baritone sax on some tunes. I was inspired by the dueling trombones in Big Sam's Funky Nation (or was it Galactic...) so I think we'll have a bit of duelling baritones. Colleen was part of David Clayton Thomas' band at the festival and pulled out the bari a few times. When I told her I wanted to do dual bari's she said "...because you can never have enough bottom." Victor Bateman will be playing bass and if you want to blame someone for encouraging me to pursue my music in this town, it was Victor who heard a few of my tunes at a birthday party and dragged me over to his buddy who had a DAT machine and we recorded a demo, which became my first CD, which led to a second CD then...well, you get the idea.

Out and About:

Tonight I made two great discoveries. One was the band Galactic (even though I had them confused with Lettuce - who are appearing in a couple of days).

An amazing singer (Maggie Koerner) and a kick-ass band. The other discovery of the day is Ben & Jerry's Cherry Garcia ice cream. Mmmmm.

My favourite festival moment so far: Kellylee Evans at the Jazz Bistro.

I only made it for the last 3 songs but they were ripping it up. Kellylee doing some wild free-style vocals, Robi Botos digging into his keyboard making it sound like a screaming stratocaster and guitarist Justin Abedin getting some sounds like I've never heard before - twisting and turning the tuning pegs to create an amazing solo. Reminds me of the time I saw Kevin Breit do a solo where the guitar wasn't even plugged in but the amp was cranked and he was just tapping and squeezing the guitar cord to create a loud buzzing solo that was undeniably musical. I love it when conventional instruments are played in unconventional ways.

Besides this recent flurry of Jazz Festival activity (did I mention amazing sets from Shemekia Copeland, Chaka Khan, Lou Pomanti's new band Oakland Stroke, Melissa Ethridge, Robert Randolph....hey it's not sounding very jazzy with this list, but as always, there's something for everyone).

Here's Lou Pomanti pulling out all the stops:

I remember the first time I was headed out to hear Robert Randolph I was told to bring some earplugs and it's true he gets loud but I thought it would be different in the tent but they brought their own soundman and right away they had the kick drum as loud as it would go. I saw our regular sound guy making his way out of the tent subconsciously shaking his head. Don't they know we've got a sound system that can make an artist sound just like his recordings played on a huge expensive stereo. But I guess they want the live experience to be different - more like a kick in the gut.

There was a great moment when Robert Randolph spontaneously invited a 17-year old Andrew Prince to join him on stage:

This was not staged at all, Robert somehow knew this kid played guitar and when I asked Robert afterward if he does this at all the shows he said "Not lately." I guess he had a feeling this kid could play - and he certainly held his own. To take you behind the scenes a bit, Andrew and some friends had contacted the jazz festival office to see if they could somehow get into the Snarky Puppy show at the Horseshoe. Since they were all underage, that was not possible but media staff took mercy on them and invited them to this show instead. Andrew could not believe when RR pointed to him and called him to the stage and for a while, the kid couldn't figure out how to get around the barriers but he eventually found his way and was handed a guitar - and then it was RR's turn to be surprised as Andrew held his own as the two traded solos on Who Do You Love?

Snarky Puppy at the Horseshoe was the hot ticket last night and I'm embarrased to say I never heard of them (they won a Grammy, after all) but I got the buzz and I was going to check it out but then I heard them doing a couple of tunes on the radio and it was just not enough to get me into that Legendary Sweatbox, er, Horseshoe. Still, everybody's talking about it today so I guess it was pretty amazing.

At this time of year I would normally be reporting on all the music I heard at Canadian Music Week, North by Northeast and Luminato but I was on tour in Quebec during CMW, I didn't apply for a media pass to Luminato because last year even though they gave me a pass they did not give me access to any of the shows I wanted to see. And for the first time since its inception, NXNE declined my request for a media pass. Oh well, I missed out seeing hundreds of bands that mostly sound the same.

I did get to a NXNE Film Festival event (all the music festivals now have a film component). This was a film about Vann Pianoman Walls, an R&B pioneer who moved to Montreal in the 50s and was a big influence on my blues pals Stephen Barry and Michael Jerome Browne (who figure prominently in the film). And I was surprised to discover that the Director of the film, Steven Morris, was from my hometown, Sherbrooke, and remembered me practicing with my band in our garage on Prospect Street. Another film I saw was about Shep Gordon, Alice Cooper's manager and a real character. That film is called "Supermench" and is a great look at the music business.

On the home front, those who were shocked to see the X-Ray of Linda's broken knee will be happy to hear that she's recovering nicely and the knee is now bending about 40 degrees.  Joel has been doing security and the jazz festival and doing a lot of web-work and not enough music. The garden is overgown and the grass needs to be cut.  So what else is new

While in Quebec, I recorded a TV Show for STOP-TV and Maurice Singfield just sent me one of the tunes - Ramene Moi Demain - which has some retro visual effects that are pretty cute. You'll get a kick out of it:

See you out there,  BrianB

Friday, June 20, 2014

Thursday, June 12, 2014

Thursday, June 5, 2014

Blainletter #68

Well if you're getting a Blainletter it can mean only one thing – I must have a gig tomorrow...

...and all week-end at the Orangeville Blues and Jazz Festival

Thu Jun 5 2014
8-11pm Fionn MacCools in the mall at Fourth Ave, Orangeville

Fri Jun 6 2014
11am-noon  TD BANK at Sobey's Plaza, 225 Centennial Rd  (with Larry Kurtz)
1-2pm  TD BANK at 150 First St  (with Larry Kurtz)
6-8pm French Press Coffee House 121 First St, Orangeville

Sun Jun 8 2014
2-5pm Grand River Chophouse, Grand Valley  (with Carrie Chesnutt)

And I'm happy to report that I will be doing a gig with The Blainettes as part of the Toronto Jazz Festival. Looking forward to playing with Carrie & Colleen again. Bluesfans will remember them from The Annual Women's Blues Revue at Massey Hall.

Fri Jun 27 2014
9:00p Eaton Chelsea Hotel – Monarchs Pub 33 Gerrard St. W

Then in October I'll be back at the Canal Bank Shuffle on

Sat Oct 18 2014
2:00pm at On The Front Café, 30 Front St South, Thorold

There will surely be a few more to fill in the gaps – need to get that guitar out at least once a week ☺. Meanwhile here's some other stuff that's going on:
As usual, I was not very aggressive about getting gigs for the Quebec Tour.  My "anchor date" was a new venue in Knowlton, my old stompin grounds, called the Star Cafe.  It's a new series called the "Acoustic Cafe" and organizer Bill Duke and his team were intent on doing it right so stage, sound and lights were all first class and the place was sold out weeks before.  In fact, I found out after that some friends had called to make reservations and were told there was no room. So they didn't come...bummer.  Here's a little compilation (this one's for you, Jocey...)

The other gig was in Ormstown, a long established place called the Namasthé Café.  They were packed as well, and both gigs on Stanley Cup playoff nights...with Montreal playing!  This was the first place I called after I got the Knowlton gig and I was told that night was already booked but they would ask that artist if he was willing to move his date.  And wonder of wonders, he was willing (his name is Pat Loiselle and I checked him out online and he is a serious blues player). This is the kind of gesture that a promoter remembers and assures you of many return engagements, as opposed to the artist who won't budge and is never invited back again. Both of these venues were quite community-based.  They had their regulars and many of them were performers themselves so there were 3 or 4 acts playing before (and after in Ormstown).  That's how you pack a club - you get several of the local favourites on the bill and everybody brings their friends.  I shot some video on the iPad - check it out below. For any Townshippers reading this, isn't it a beautiful thing taking that new Highway 30 that bypasses Montreal.  That's been a long time coming... My best ex, Linda, was visiting and took a fall that resulted in a broken knee-cap and banged up shoulder so she will be staying a little longer than she planned. Joel and I have been the care-givers and she is recovering faster than even the doctors expected. Here's the before and after surgery: In anticipation of her visit, we did some upgrading of the old homestead - I am typing in the front room which was nothing more than a glorified storage area for amps & guitars but is now more of an office. Michelle Josef did some painting which spruced up the place a bit and now all I have to do is hang up a few pictures and masks and it will be quite civilized. As the winter finally started to ease off, there's been a flurry of blues activity, usually all clustered together so you'd need a teleporter to get to all the shows.  Tonight it was Steve Strongman's CD release than a race over to the Dominion on Queen to hear Morgan Davis.  And just up the street was George Thorogood and Trampled Under Foot at Massey Hall. Terry Gillespie and Raoul Bhaneja both had gigs at Hugh's Room during CMW (while I was in Quebec) but I doubt that it was by design.  The mainstream music industry does not pay much attention to blues - never did.  And even if you're a mainstream artist, most of the industry folks at these conferences have already decided who they want to see - usually because they've heard the CD and now they want to see the act live (I wonder if YouTube has changed that...) Quincy Jones was also in town for a celebrity interview – I surely would have checked that out! I usually hear a whack of new bands, mostly generic rock but every once in a while somebody would stand out.  But what do I know? I've lost track of how many times I've dismissed a band at some showcase only to see that a few years later they have hit records and are touring the world. What those bands had was persistence and a team. I don't think you can do it without a team. And of course, they were all great players – flawless is the word that comes to mind – but that's not what I'm looking for. I actually prefer "flawed"... The week before, I had one night where I heard five groups one after the other. I started around the corner where my friend David Hines was playing with his group, Last Forgiveness. They had a great knack for bringing back to life some old and not-so-old pop favourites.  The group before them were a good lookin' bunch of kids who loved to harmonize but it wasn't really developed. Then off to the Jazz Bistro to hear Beverly Taft's CD launch and she had an A-list of Toronto sidemen. Everybody loves Beverly, and she really showed her love of the audience - she even made some cue cards for the audience to sing along with. I told her I had never received such a comprehensive promo package as hers (and I get plenty of them).  There was a CD and  a bio and a poster and a postcard and one-sheet with descriptions of the songs for radio broadcasters and another sheet that told the story behind each song....and then at the Bistro when I mentioned this to the manager, she asked me if I got the matches and brought forth a book of matches with the CD artwork.  Yowzer! Here's a 15-sec Instagram clip of 3 other shows I saw that night: After Beverly, it was over to the Horseshoe Tavern where I caught the eccentric Bloodshot Bill, one of the openers for catl, who have been on the cutting (bleeding) edge of the blues in Toronto for a few years.  This set saw them building up to the same energy levels but without as much thrashing as they used to do.  Bloodshot Bill (from Montreal, I think) was still thrashing a bit on the guitar, and kicking a big ole bass drum.  It's his growly vocal that captures you - I guess that's his signature. And it has been such a pleasure watching Steve Strongman develop from the time he showed up at one of our late-night jams in a hotel room at some music conference.  He didn't have a guitar so I let him play mine and I played bass and we were rockin'.  We played until security shut us down and unbeknownst to Steve it was decided there would be no more late night jamming but the next night Steve is back, with his guitar this time - and raring to go.  Alas, it was not to be, but we've had other occasions and I was thinking while watching him that he's an artist I should try to collaborate with - maybe tour with.  I think we'd get along just fine. (I wonder if he's a good long-distance driver...) One last show I should mention in the "I Love This Town" segment was West Coast Piano Boogiemeister David Vest.  Man, can he play.  Last year he played in my old stompin grounds of Sutton, Quebec and some of my friends who went were quite blown away.  He's an inspiration for musicians who come back to music after a long successful career as a speechwriter for some American mega-corporation.
Back in early April, my friend Jacquie  a Pink Floyd superfan, took me to the Sony Centre to see a highend tribute show called "Brit Floyd"  and it was quite impressive. The music was flawless (there's that word again) but I was particularly intrigued by the visuals and couldn't help but remember the first "psychedelic" show I ever attended - in that very hall, then known as the O'Keefe Centre.  It was 1967 and the bands were Jefferson Airplane, Grateful Dead and Luke & The Apostles. At that show, they were using big projectors with big glass slides with different coloured oils.  It was pretty impressive at the time but we've come a long way.

And you, dear Blainreader have come a long way too. Thanks for reading this far and …See you out there, BrianB, aka The Stringbuster, Colorblind Brian, Buddha of the Blues and Canada's best known undiscovered bluesman