Wednesday, October 30, 2019

Tiny Visitor

As I'm sitting in front of my computer having just received a DNA test that pretty well confirms (95%) that the woman we suspected is my birth mother. I had just been strumming a new tune that will probably be a song about that..."The Mother I Never Knew". Then a tiny spider slowly drops down between me and the computer screen - so tiny I never would have seen it otherwise.  I watched it for a while and then flipped it away so it could continue to live in my studio.  I'm thinking this could be some kind of sign from the mom...or maybe just a sign that I need to start vacuuming my ceiling...

International Blues Challenge

Well, this was my second attempt at competing in the International Blues Challenge eliminations and I have to report that once again, I was eliminated.  I thought I had a great set - I did all new tunes from the upcoming album and probably should have included at least one blues standard. And with the IBC contest you have to play exactly 20 minutes (and I was short a couple of minutes so I guess I penalized for that too).  Still I had a great reaction, especially gratifying from some folks who have known me for a long but never heard me "do my thing".  And Rose, who was doing the merch table told me about a gent who asked "Is Brian Blain on that compilation CD" and she had to say no (though I am on a couple of other Blues Society compilations). Then he asked if she had any Brian Blain CDs and once again she had to say "no".  So he went away....

I didn't think to bring any CDs and could have sold a few. The couple at the table where I sat wanted one.  So it was a great experience all around, but I have a good idea what they're looking for at the Finals in Memphis and and I think Brian Blain would always be too laid back for their liking.  But I did manage to entertain the folks at the Dakota and that's all I care about.

After my set, Sean Pinchin hit the stage with some jaw-dropping guitar pyrotechnics on his Martin and whoa....It was one of those moments when you get pushed back into your chair (in a good way!)  He puts out a lot of sound...and was very complimentary about my guitar sound. Sandra Bouza who won in the band category and came back after the presentation and I don't know if she was making it up on the spot but she rocked out on a tune about "Going to Memphis".  She's a show stopper as well. Toronto will be well represented in Memphis.

Thursday, October 24, 2019

Tuesday, October 8, 2019

Blainletter #116

Blainletter 116 | Happy Thanksgiving | Old Mill this Sat w/ Jesse O'Brien, Mark Stafford, Pat Merner | Vids of Folk Music Ontario & Southside Shuffle

October 2019

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Happy Thanksgiving, Blainreaders, Blainbackers and Blainfans.

I'll start by saying how thankful I am for 3 years of Campfire Jams at the Home Smith Bar in the historic Old Mill of Toronto.  Over the years, I've invited the best bluesicians in Toronto (and beyond) and it's not always easy finding players who can perform their own material AND back up others on the fly. 

This month I'm bringing back some of my favourite guests: killer keyboard maestro Jesse O'Brien – who doesn't often get to show off his own vocal chops as he backs up blues stars across the country but we'll have him singing up a storm on Saturday.  Mark "Bird" Stafford will be shuffling the drum kit while blowing some "fat-tone" harmonica while Patrick Merner will hold down the low end on bass.


Kudos to Heather Luckhart for organizing a monthly blues jam at the 120 Diner – a top notch venue that could be a real showcase room.  After getting sidetracked a couple of times, I finally made it down to the jam and made sure to get there early and "sign up."  I can see there's already a group of "regulars" and we also heard from Heather herself (great singer/interpreter). Like most jams, there were more musicians than audience but in that great space, I'm sure it will grow.  It's on the first Wednesday of every month. In the clip you'll see Jonnie Katz, a name – if not a face – familiar to older blues fans.  The Katz brothers, Doran, Steve and Jonnie were busy bluesmen on the scene back when I landed in Toronto. In this clip, Jonnie is backing up the authentic and soulful Son Roberts and after Son you hear (if not see) Carrie Chesnutt who I've played with a lot over the years blowing her horn. And it was fun to see her cracking up as I was singing "I'm Not Fifty Anymore." And the last bit is Ori Dagan, a true song stylist, who also books the room. 


Played some interesting gigs last month including a set for cancer patients at the Princess Margaret Cancer Lodge with Ken McColm and Peggy Voight.  It's a great feeling to play for folks who are going through a rough patch and give them something else to think about for a couple of hours.  Ken has been performing there (as he comes to town for treatments himself) and is on the lookout for someone who might take over coordinating the music on a volunteer basis and he can be reached at

I also played a new Venue called Antikka – just a block away from the Toronto Blues Society HQ on Queen West. It's a vinyl record shop that serves Turkish coffee and is now presenting live music.  I played solo and pulled out a lot of old nuggets that I rarely play.  The lovely and talented Kalyna Rakel is playing there on October 17as part of the TBS "Blues Revival" series .  I got to hang a bit with Kalyna at the Folk Music Ontario Conference and you cam read all about it in this month's…


Out and About

I might have told a few folks that I was done with music conferences - Lots of standing and no sleeps for a long week-end takes a lot out of me nowadays.  Anyway I took in some showcases and poked my head into a couple of panels at this year's Folk Music Ontario Conference.  I made a little 5-minute video montage of some personal highlights.

This clip starts with a horn band and ends with a horn band - and the last one is the Dirty Catfish Brass Band from Winnipeg. They put on a great set.

Then there's a murder ballad by banjoist Hannah Shira Naiman, which inspired me to start writing a murder ballad...

Hearing Australian blues star Lloyd Spiegel live for the first time was probably the highlight of the festival for me. I had recently listened to his new album and thought it was great. He's a big deal in Australia and I'm sure he'll be a big deal in America.  I was so mesmerized that I forgot to turn on my camera till he announced the last song.  Saw him later and turns out he knows Clayton Doley and his brother Lachy very well. He's got a lot of sold-out shows in Ontario but Hugh's Room is not one of them so if you want to experience what will be the best blues and most entertaining evening of the year, come to Hughs on Wednesday

A young artist called Jordana knocked me out with her hi-tech performance.  When I do my looping, I don't get into a lot of "layering" but she was doing it very well, building up a track with vocal harmonies and percussive sounds.  I saw her pushing her bundle buggy at 2am and shouted down the hall "I like what you're doing!" and she stopped in her tracks, walked back over to me and shook my hand and said thank you.  Electronica is not exactly welcomed with open arms at the folk music conference but it is 21st Century folk music and it's here to stay.  Remember when the traditionalists were trying to keep out the singer-songwriters? Well, we saw how that turned out.  There's more and more of them and they're writing more songs.  I remember the first time I saw someone showcasing a bit of electronica at Folk Music Ontario (back when it was called OCFF).  This poor young gal came with a looper pedal and some other effects & drum machine. After her first number, there was a stampede to the exit. Not so much this time.

Don't know why I put two clips of dancing... but I was watching those dancers thinking "they have turned their feet into musical instruments", then one of those Fitzgerald sisters started playing her fiddle backwards and doing other cute tricks. The sweet eccentric Catriona (she pronounces in "Catrina") was charming as ever (I watch a lot of her Facebook Live webcasts). Then it was time to head upstairs to the private showcases where it was a blur of folk activity...yet seemed a little calmer than previous years. 

For the first time ever, the Toronto Musicians Association Local 149 had a room which was hosted by TMA business representative Quique Escamilla who made very authentic tacos for everybody and, because it's the Union, all performers got paid. How radical is that?  That's where I got to hear my friend Brenna MacCrimmon doing her solo (Turkish) thing for the first time- totally different than when I saw her with Bill Westcott at Sauce where they were doing Tin Pan Alley songs. 

And electronica folk had a home in Marc Merilainen's "Silent House Concert" room where everybody was handed a cordless headphone when they walked in.  Marc himself is a fine guitarist producing some beautiful textured layers of sound in those headphones. They only thing that might have enhanced it further would have been some "special" brownies or something - but it was quite psychedelic on its own.  Jean-Paul DeRoover from Thunder Bay also had some tasty looping going on.  Every year there's more of that and I'm hoping next year I might be doing a set there.

And I made a couple of stops at the Guelph room where I heard Laura Bird, kind of a Godmother to the Guelph music scene, which abounds with talented and typically very nice people.

The video montage ends with the Dirty Catfish Brass Band from Winnipeg doing the obligatory brass band march through the hall.  I bet they got a lot of offers from the festival buyers in the house.

Maybe there were fifty buyers to accommodate that group of 500 or so earnest young folkies looking for attention.  And young and fresh is still what seems to catch they eye of festival directors.  And it's all well and good that the gigs go to artists whose career is mostly ahead of them, but we had a little confab of seventy-something folkies commiserating how maybe it's time to speak out against the creeping "ageism" that is (sub-consciously) prevalent in people booking acts or handing out grants and awards.  At this conference, they seem to have achieved 50/50 gender parity, and nearly 50/50 Franco/Anglo parity among the performers (though it's probably closer to 5% Francophone among the buyers). A very high proportion of Indigenous performers too, but that's OK. Maybe it's time for us old-timers to get some special consideration.  Everybody wants new faces, but some of us with old faces still have plenty to offer, even if we're moving a little slower.



I didn't have an official gig at the Southside Shuffle but I always go and this time I brought my guitar because Mark Stafford had invited me to sit in at his Saturday afternoon show with Jackson Mississippi's Chris Gill.  Another Mississippian, Stan Street got up and sang a couple of tunes - he does the artwork for the Shuffle and also has a storefront gallery/music venue in Clarksdale, Miss called the Hambone Gallery.  Nova Scotian Joe Murphy played a few tunes and I did a couple of blues standards and one of my new tunes, "I'm Not Fifty Anymore."  (ALERT: blatant self-promotion coming up).  A few days later I was at Sue Foley's gig at Hugh's Room and a woman came right up to me and said "I'm not fifty anymore! - I don't know your name nut I remember that song"  Always nice when that happens....but I digress.

After my session with "Bird," I put the guitar back in the car and did a little walkabout.  First thing I saw was Kim Doolittle and Chuckee Zehr doing "Angel of Montgomery" on the stage where I played last year.  Samantha Martin was on the big stage and rocked the house.  Then I caught a little bit of Lance Anderson's Tribute to Woodstock with Harrison Kennedy channeling Richie Havens.  Last thing I saw was Murray Porter on the "Indigenous" Stage (a first for the Shuffle)


Mea Culpa

Due to my uncontrollable addiction to the political circus reality show that's going on south of the border the new CD production has been delayed while I watch every political commentary show on the TV.  I'm sure it will pass. Meanwhile, everything's recorded and will soon be mixed.  I'm currently applying for a grant to raise money for the marketing & video expenses. It's sounding reeeeeel gooooood.

I am still planning a video for my song about water - the Water Song and I guess you could say I'm getting a little political in my old age. This tune is a bit of a departure from my usual lighthearted fare. It's got a message and I'm going to create a video for it.  We are forging ahead with the video even though the funding is not entirely in place.  One generous Blainbacker has put up enough to get us started but we could sure use a sponsor for the video. If water conservancy is something that concerns you, take a listen to the Water Song and if you or someone you know (person/organization) could help us spread the message about the water crisis across the planet (and close to home, too), we are looking for partners who could help by providing some content (video footage), some opportunities to share the video and of course, some $$$.

Nuit Blanche at the Aga Khan

This week-end was Nuit Blanche and in my younger days I would have been hopping all around the city but this year I just made my way up to the Aga Khan museum and they had plenty to offer. I had intended to swing by Hugh's Room to hear Kitchener bluesman Bill Durst – I've never seen him do a whole show but every time I caught a couple of songs he always surprised me…maybe it's because you expect a rather heavy blues judging by his appearance but I think he's a very sensitive musician.  Oh well, that will be for another day – I forced myself to get out the door and went up to the Aga Khan and wandered around hearing some interesting stuff including kora master Diely Mori Tounkara, the principle cellist for the Toronto Symphony, a large-scale Sufi presentation, whirling dervishes and all, some Indian music and three, count 'em 3,  young women, with almost identical set-ups, singing into a vocal processor backed by synth sounds and beats.  It created a nice ambience but none of them got lift-off.  The Joseph Shabason Trio also incorporated a lot of electronica but they took it someplace. 


Thanks for reading this far.  Feel free to forward this to any friend you think might enjoy my occasional ramblings (and maybe my music, too). Every couple of days I get a notification that someone has just subscribed to the Blainletter - I don't recognize any of those emails and I don't know where they're coming from, but a hearty welcome to you. These clips and more are always available on my blog,

See you out there, 

BrianB, aka Butch, Nappy, Shaker, Two-Lane Blain, Colorblind Brian, Stringbuster, Buddha of the Blues



Saturday October 12, 7:30-10:30pm Brian's Blues Campfire Jam at The Home Smith Bar at the Old Mill Toronto. Guests Jesse O'Brien, Mark "Bird" Stafford and Pat Merner. 9 Old Mill Road.  No Cover ($20 min food & beverage)

Saturday November 9, 7:30-10:30pm Brian's Blues Campfire Jam starts a new season of "Second Sarurdays" at The Home Smith Bar at the Old Mill Toronto. Special Guests Lance Anderson & Jerome Godboo 9 Old Mill Road.  No Cover ($20 min food & beverage)

Friday, November 29  8:00 p.m.

All-Star Campfire Jam w/ Ken Whiteley and Mark "Bird" Stafford. Jeanne Gordon Theatre,, 505 King Street, Wallaceburg, ON


I call it my "living" album because it started life as a solo "live" recording with bassist George Koller and has now been "sweetened, stacked, mixed and mastered" with new instrumentation on all the songs. It starts with New Orleans marching horns from Alison Young and Colleen Allen on "Forgotten",  “Alice“ gets violin and banjo from Drew Jurecka and Tim Posgate. There's a reggae percussion workout with Trinidadian Wayne Stoute and the wonderful Michelle Josef, some sweet slide from Harry Manx on the French tune, barrelhouse piano from Toronto expat Patrick Godfrey and organ grooves galore from Australian B3 sensation Clayton Doley. "The Ghost of Clinton's Tavern" is a full-tilt electronic ambient remix by my son the DJ. 

Copyright © 2019 Brian Blain, All rights reserved.

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