Wednesday, July 15, 2015

Blainletter #77

Greetings beloved Blainreaders (and a fond farewell to the one who unsubscribed).

Thanks for the feedback on my last Festival Blainletter – I wrote it before the last two shows of the Jazz fest – and they were both pretty amazing, so worthy of mention.  Every year there are some names in the programme that I've never heard of and they turn out to be a big deal.  This year it was Morris Day and the Time (I guess I'm the only person on the planet who never saw Purple Rain) and last year it was Snarky Puppy at the Horseshoe making the biggest buzz of the festival.  And this year they played the main stage and I got to hear them first hand and they did not disappoint.  The next night was Gary Clark Jr, another "buzz act" and he was great, but I dare say, "understated."  A bluesman with nothing to prove, you might say – just playing the blues. And not on his highly-promoted "signature" Black and Blue Epiphone Casino.  In fact, he played mostly a Fender Strat and both he and bass player were using Fender amps.  The thing about Gary (and Snarky Puppy) is that they were not playing anything that would drop jaws – it was not about virtuosity.  They were just playing groovy music and the audience was loving it, unlike say, Al DiMeola a few nights before, who played stuff on that guitar that few others would ever attempt.  Nice that Gary Clark gave a big shout-out to his guitar tech (unlike Al DiMeola who fired his guitar tech right on stage – see my last Blainletter for back-story on that!)

Brian and Larry take Tremblant by Storm
I had invited Larry Kurtz and his wife Norma to the Snarky Puppy show (who certainly lived up to their hype) and the following week Larry and I played the Mont Tremblant International Blues Festival in Quebec.  I did a little iPhone video of our set on the "Vieux Tremblant" stage and I invite you to take a look at what we're doing.  You may not want to watch a full 50 minutes of BrianB & LarryK (unless maybe you're an artistic director considering us for your festival - hint, hint). It is quite notable in that you'll hear me talking a lot in French and even playing a French tune.  Wow, the audience was so surprised to hear me singing in French that there's an audible reaction from the crowd, "Y chante en Francais!, Y chante en Francais!"  We had a huge crowd and got a great reaction. What a fantastic blues festival that is, wish I could have stayed for all ten days. I gotta get my ass back to Quebec more often.

"Who Paid You To Give Me The Blues" Re-issued Online
And the other bit of news I wanted to share in this Blainletter is a new (to you) CD that I just put up on CD Baby.  This is the first CD I made back in the late 90s.  I just had a few physical copies left and when I saw that CD Baby had a special offer to put up a CD for digital distribution to iTunes and the all new Apple Music (which I have yet to check out). 

I've told the story of this CD a million times but I'll say it again because I take it as a point of pride that a lot of great musicians came to my rescue and played for free just because they thought it was about time Brian Blain made a record (and they knew that I'd never get it together if left to my own devices).

It all started when Victor Bateman heard me doing some of my tunes at a party and said he had a buddy with a DAT recorder and he could arrange for a little demo.  That encouraged me to get my ass in gear and think about making an album.

At about the same time, my old producer from the 70s, Frazier Mohawk, had built a studio on his farm in Schomberg, Puck's Farm.  He offered me free studio time because he recognized that I was (at least partially)responsible for bringing in the bucks that built that studio.  You see, a year or two before, I had been perusing the shelves of a CD store on Queen Street and came upon some CDs of recordings I knew he produced back in the 60s: Paul Butterfield Blues Band and Kaleidoscope among others.  When I  saw him next, I asked if he was getting royalties now that these albums were being reissued on CD.  I saw the light bulb go off in his head. When he finally reached the right person in the Warner Brothers accounting department he was told "Oh, we lost your address…"  Yeah, sure...  Well, some big retroactive royalty cheques flowed to him and that is what financed the studio.

The album we made was called "Who Paid You To Give Me The Blues?"  I've just been listening to some of the tracks and what a trip hearing some of those old tunes, long retired from the setlist: "Entrepreneurial Blues," "Dump That Lump," "Y2K Blues,"  "Vulcan Heart" and the favourite of all my Buddhist friends, "Ten Worlds." I started this player with a couple of tracks that Scott "Professor Piano" played on - what a blast listening to him rip it up on "Computer Club Queen"

At CD Baby, I checked off all the boxes that allow downloading, streaming of the full song ("Even Unpaid") .  Of course, you're most welcome to buy a track but I always say, "First let's see if you can't give it away."  I once found my music on a Russian website where they would offer the songs free, but if somebody downloaded one, then the price would go up to ten cents, then if a lot of people bought it at ten cents they would put the price up to 20 cents, and so on till it got to 99.  I thought it was a pretty good business construct (except for the part where I never saw a penny!)


Just got my first taste of Beaches Jazz (it's just down the street from me).  Headliner last week-end was the Melbourne Ska Orchestra – bunch of crazy Aussies. Very tight (check out this video from Kris King:

...but I've never seen so much shtick – replaying the end of a song repeatedly to get more applause and doing the "one time, two times, 12 times" thang, stopping a song in the middle and having everybody "freeze,"  stopping a song in the middle and the whole band (all 18 of them) rushing to the edge of the stage to mug for a photographer,  and it goes on.  All good fun and lots of "audience engagement." Plus they can really play!  Looking forward to more Beaches Jazz (and blues) as well as some choice Panamania shows.

And speaking of "audience engagement," Rich Aucoin really showed me how that's done at the Nathan Phillips Square Panamania Stage (two stages, actually, both way bigger than the stages we had for Jazz Festival, but you know what, they didn't sound as good - you can always tell with the acoustic piano).  I have been wanting to check out Rich Aucoin from Halifax for 2 years now.  I heard about him a couple of years ago when I was inquiring about musicians who were incorporating video with Ableton Live.  I wasn't able to see him at the time and I missed him again this year at Canadian Music Week but now I have seen him (up close and personal as you will see in this video clip) and I am knocked out. This clip doesn't really show much of the visuals he incorporates on the big screen but there was lots of that too. 

Best Blues Show of the Month
On Sunday afternoon, I headed down to the Rex to hear on of this country's greatest harp players (and there's plenty of great ones, I know) but I have been so impressed by Montreal's Bharath Rajakumar ever since the first time I saw him (on YouTube) and then hearing the high praise from local blues guys I made sure to catch him when he came to town to play with Junior Watson.  This time he was the special guest at Dr Nick's monthly gig at the Rex.  I could never figure why a harp player would invite another harp player to be his special guest but in this case I could see a kindred connection, right down to those obscure 50s amps they both use.  Here's a clip of the two of them going at it in what used to be called a "cutting contest" but this was not competitive at all. In the most Canadian fashion, they declined solos and encouraged each other to step up but then when they do play together you can hardly tell who's doing what.  The accompaniment was "official" (except they didn't have a bass): Michelle Josef on drums, Sugar Brown on guitar and the wonderful Julian Fauth on piano.

This just in - I will be playing with Julian at the venerable Old Mill on October 30th.  It's a jazz venue but they're gonna change it up with a little blues (and I'm trying to come up with a few "jazzy" blues numbers).

TONIGHT is the big 30th Anniversary bash of the Toronto Blues Society at the elegant Palais Royale. That's Thursday, July 16th and if you're just reading this and you are a friend of the blues then get yourself down to the Palais Royale for 8:30 ($30 at the door). Lance Anderson's Ray Charles Tribute which has sold out everywhere he put it on.  The lineup is top notch with Jesse O'Brien, Colin James' piano man.  Lance says "He plays like he was siitting on Ray's piano bench"  Lead vocals will be handled by John Mays and other guests include Duane & Brooke Blackburn, Quisha Wint, Selena Evangeline, and Cheryl Lescom. Jack De Keyzer will perform a solo acoustic set on the patio and DJ Dave "Daddy Cool" Booth will be playing DJ for the first time in years.

Lastly, I'm sure many of you are acquainted with Zoe Chilco. Zoe is a very special person who has been a real positive force on the music scene ever since I arrived in Toronto.  She has been most encouraging to me and is always volunteering at Blues Society events and promoting local artists on her radio show in Haliburton, while putting out a CD every year or two with her own unique take on jazz & blues. One time she put out a double album and she even put on a cabaret musical about her friend the legendary jazzman Zoot Simms.  

She has gone out on a limb launching her latest effort at the venerable Hugh's Room (Wednesday, July 29) and she could really use a few more "bums in seats" to make it worthwhile.  I'll be doing a couple of tunes to warm up the crowd and I'm sure Zoe will give a great show and hopefully make some new fans.  It would be great to see you at the show and please grab me and tell me you saw it in the Blainletter!

Happy summer,  BrianB