Friday, January 23, 2015

Brian's Summit Summary

The Blues Summit is a biennial conference for blues musicians and industry folks. I always get to meet some new folks, blues musicians and the people who help get the music out there. The keynote speaker was Bruce Iglauer, the founder of the pre-eminent blues label, Alligator Records. He gave a great talk saying blues musicians must not try to just repeat what the old blues guys were doing but to embrace new sounds and subjects. He then recited some lyrics he made up the night before to illustrate: "My Computer is crashing and my network is down..." Well anybody familiar with the Brian Blain repertoire will recognize those words from my song "Computer Club Queen." All week-end, friends were coming up to me saying "Bruce was quoting your song." I never got a chance to tell him personally, but maybe someone else did. I remember when Bruce saw me play a while back and told me later that he liked my set "but it's a little on the folky side for me." I took that as a badge of honour, especially considering I was going to the Folk Alliance conference a couple of weeks later (and I did use that quote a few times - good for a laugh).

I didn't attend a whole lot of other sessions, but I heard a whack of music. We had a Campfire Jam on Saturday afternoon but I never really got around to inviting anybody so it was catch as catch can. Musicians were approaching me all week-end saying they didn't know about it or thought there was going to be another one on Sunday. Truth is, a lot of my potential jammers were enjoying free booze & food in upstairs hospitality suites (and I don't blame them). Some folks had contacted me in advance and they all showed up and like always, I left it to the last minute and there were some great last-minute surprises, especially when I saw Bill King in the hotel lobby and coaxed him into kicking it off with me. Ooops, I wonder if he was a registered delegate? I had already told a few friends that this jam was for delegates only, and to her credit, Kim Doolittle went and bought a registration on the spot and was an integral part of the session, even playing bass when required. It was great to see a veteran like herself playing with an up-and-comer like Sabrina Weeks and it was a precious moment when she leaned into my ear and asked "Who IS that woman?" after Samantha Martin had just belted out a number. Then we were joined by Heather Katz and a larger-than-life fellow called Walter who approached the stage and said "just play some blues and I'll make it up as I go along" and we had a few minutes of freestyle rap-blues. You never know what will happen at the campfire.

My pal Sherman Lee Dillon sat in for the entire session and played some real official Mississippi blues. The renowned violinist Lenny Solomon showed up and gave us a taste of his "blues violin" (That's the title of his new CD). Casey Van Gorkom, one of the regulars at my old Hwy 61 Campfire, played a little bass and brought along his friend Alexander McTaggart from Edmonton who played some barrelhouse piano. The piano got a real workout. Ken McColm backed up Peggy Voigt then Murray Porter showed up and ended up doing some four-handed piano with Lily Sazz. I hope somebody's got a picture of that! I had never met Murray but I knew his partner, Elaine Bomberry and they are some "power-couple."

It's ironic that the Summit was populated with some of the best guitarists in the country, but the two extra guitars I brought sat mostly unplayed.I even put new strings on one of them! Trevor Mackenzie, one of my newest favourite guitarists walked in and I got him up for the finale and several more guitarists trickled in to play as I was packing up. Even my pal Danny Marks did not want to play guitar - he wanted to play DRUMS! Well, that's what the Campfire is all about, mixing things up a bit. Danny is a pretty good drummer and has been a big booster of the Campfire and I think I might have blushed a bit as he gave me props and testified to the crowd about the merits of the Campfire. If we do it again next time, we really have to plan it better. In the course of the week-end I ran into several musicians who were in the audience enjoying the campfire but whom I didn't spot, Shoshona Kish and Kirby Sewell among others. Sorry guys! I think if we do it again we should do it late at night, not in the afternoon.

But speaking of guitarists, what a phenomenal array of great players in Toronto this weekend. The Quebec contingent, Jordan Officer, Paul Deslauriers, Steve Hill and Michael Jerome Browne. Then there was Yukon Slim (aka Brandon Issak) from...yeah, the Yukon, my guitar discovery of the week along with Conor Gains and Ross Neilsen from New Brunswick. Then there's the amazing Steve Dawson, the wild Sugar Brown and that guy playing the baritone guitar with Wicked Grin. It was guitar heaven!

I got to meet a few of the movers and shakers whose names I have been hearing for years, but nice to have a little "face time" with Peter North and Cindy McLeod. Cindy was a great friend of Kathi MacDonald and I was happy to share some of my road stories from my German tour with Kathi.

The awards show was excellent. Even in the second balcony, the sound was just fine. Great performances and some touching speeches. The most memorable line for me came from Raven Kanakatka who said "Blues music is the vein of gold that runs through this mountain of music." Nice. Great to see Nanette Workman getting the Blues With A Feeling Award and had a nice chat with her. She was great friends with my ex-wife and brother-in-law and we had lots of memories of those days. And now, I'm able to tell her about my time visiting Sherman Lee in her home town, Jackson, Mississippi where she still maintains the family homestead.

Tuesday, January 20, 2015

Les Gagnants!

Great to see such a strong showing from the Quebec where the blues is thriving and where a bluesman can make a living without ever leaving his province (and in some cases without ever leaving the city where he lives!)

Met and heard some amazing musicians at the Blues Summit and Brandon Isaac (Yukon Slim) was one. He won Acoustic Act of the Year. I was knocked out by him and saw a couple of other great guitarists at the Summit who I'm embarrassed to say I never heard live - Ross Neilson and Conor Gains.

Lots of words of wisdom from the podium this year (not to mention a great Keynote Address from Bruce Iglauer). The best was Raven from Digging Roots in accepting the Cobalt Prize: "Blues Music is like the vein of gold that's running through this mountain of music" I asked him where that came from and he just made it up on the spot!

The Maple Blues Band played great. Danny was a fabulous host - sometimes wandering into the audience with a wireless guitar.

Sorry for my friend Joel who arrived at the theatre thinking he'd be able to get a ticket but he was turned away because it was ...SOLD OUT!

Winners of the 18th Annual Maple Blues Awards

Steve Hill

Steve Hill

Brandon Isaak

Matt Andersen

Angel Forrest

Wicked Grin

Steve Hill Solo Recordings Vol. 2 No Label Records; Producer: Steve Hill

BLUES WITH A FEELING AWARD (Lifetime Achievement)
Nanette Workman

Johnny Winter

Steve Hill

Tied: Guy Belanger and Harpdog Brown

David Vest

Jon Wong

Tom Bona

Greg Morency

Angel Forrest

Peter North

Sunday, January 18, 2015

Campfire Jam - old friends meet, new friends are made

The Blues Summit is all about "career development" and there are some among us who believe that the campfire or jamming of any sort helps with career development. Well I beg to differ. These jams have introduced artists who went on to tour or record together. Maybe a few songwriting collaborations have ensued, too. At the Summit, the jam is mostly about giving folks who are not doing an "official" showcase to get in a little playing and I think we achieved that. I love the moments when people connect for the first time, even though they've heard about and admired each other for years. What a trip hearing Lily Sazz and Murray Porter doing some four-handed boogie-woogie on the piano. And there's usually a moment when somebody gets to play with one of their "heroes" for the first time and this time I got to play for the first time with someone I've always admired because he does so much stuff, playing, producing, publishing, writing, photographing...there sure lots more (gourmet cooking?) - I'm talking about Bill King. Another not-usual-suspect on the blues scene was Lenny Solomon, an amazing fiddle player witha huge resume - and now he mae a CD called The Blues Violin. Then there was my buddy Danny Marks who got on those drums and was having the time of his life (sticks courtesy of Michelle Josef) with a And I like it when veteran Kim Doolittle, leans over into my ear and whispers "who IS that singer?" Well it was Sabrina Weeks, all the way from the west coast. Young Alexander McTaggart was rockin it on the 88's too and I'm looking forward to hearing more of him. Peggy Voight and Ken sat in. Heather Katz sat in too. Sherman Lee Dillon, now packing his lunch for a trip back to North Carolina was great company for me all week-end and I was glad to put him up at my place in appreachiation of the time he let me crash at his place in Jackson Mississippi (and invited me to sit in at his son'e club, Frank Jones Corner). But oddly enough (for a blues event) there were not very many guitar players or harp players coming out of the woodwork - considering I brought a couple of extra guitars and even put a new set of strings on one. I thought Danny Marks would pick up one of them but he wanted to play drums - and he filled in (pardon the pun) very well when Michelle Josef was called away. And I don't think Michelle ever got her sticks back... Trevor Mackenzie showed up just under the wire and then there were a few more trickling in as we were packing up. Other's though it was happening both days and thought they would come to the next one...Oh well

Friday, January 9, 2015

Remembering Jim Galloway

Jim Galloway passed away last week and I will miss him. I worked with him from 1992 to 3006 on the Toronto Jazz Festival and also had the pleasure of having him play on a couple of tracks of "Overqualified For The Blues" Listen to the baritone part on "One Way Ticket." Even after he retired as AD of the Jazz Festival I would see him now and then, sometimes to help him figure out a computer problem, other times just to taste a new flavour of single malt. He was a model musician and a model human being. I just loded up a video that I shot of him and a few friends at the 2007 jazz festival. I used his camera and just lately had talked to him about putting it up on the web and now here it is for all to enjoy