Wednesday, February 26, 2020

Winterfolk 2020

@WinterfolkBluesandRootsFestival worked out great in its new home in the Annex. Pretty smooth transition. I've been attending since it started and played it a few times including 4 plays this year. Unfortunately, when you play a festival, you don't get to hear that much because you're concentrating on your own sets. But I did grab some video clips of the acts I was able to catch and here they are - in the same order I recorded them.
Ken Whiteley was on stage when I arrived on Friday playing some inspirational new songs and inviting the fine young mandolinist (and bluegrass radio host) Graham Mansfield. The inimitable Wendell Ferguson (0:50) provided comic relief throughout the week-end and traded licks with me at the Campfire Jam. Mr. Rick (1:06) surfaced from his "semi-retirement" and did some official country blues at the fingerpicking workshop. Glen Hornblast, a mainstay of this festival and a real community builder gathered as many musicians as could fit on some of those stages. The beloved folk icon Lynn Myles (1:40) surprised everybody be bringing out bluegrass superstar Claire Lynch to sing harmony and sang a great tribute to Merle Haggard. Guitar wizard Kevin Breit (2:39) did some obligatory guitar pyrotechnics and a beautiful rendition of "Hang On" from his collaboration with Harry Manx. Jack de Keyzer (3:30) was everywhere and even called yours truly up to the stage and when I didn't have a guitar he offered up a '62 re-issue Telecaster which he had just bought but not yet played on stage. So I broke it in for him  And what a fabulous new drummer he's got, Peter...from Hamilton. Carley Hope (4:03) is a very promising student inJohn Switzer's music programme at Seneca College. Donné Roberts (4:53) provided some infectuous Malagasy grooves and what a delight it was to hear a genuine legend of the golden age of Queen Street the Artsy Beat, Barbara Lynch (5:22). Heather Lynne Luckhart (5:56) was silky smooth in this setting but can belt out the blues with the best of them. That's Tony Quarrington backing her up, as he did numerous others and when he joined us at the Campfire Jam that added up to 20 hours of playing over the course of the weekend. Kudos to him and Brian Gladstone and Dougal Bichan and all the volunteers for putting on such a beautiful gathering. Everywhere I played, it was to a totally attentive "hear-a-pin-drop" audience. It was all peace and love except for one little dust-up when a rowdy audience member started harassing Danny Marks, who showed remarkable restraint thoughhe was ready to "take it out into the alley". I don't believe they did because Danny (6:36) was playing a set as I was heading out to the car. He invited a couple of "youngsters" he had heard earler (didn't get their names) and they joined him for an impromptu "Peeping and Hiding" which must have been the thrill of a lifetime for them. That "passing of the torch" is what I love to see at these festivals and it's what I try to promote myself with the Campfire Jams and elsewhere. That's why they call me the "Blues Booster" and I wore that title proudly over the course of the festival. I also had many total strangers coming up to me saying, "I'm Not Fifty Anymore!" because they heard my new tune at one of my sets so I'll leave you with that one (6:58). See you at Winterfolk 2021, whether I'm playing or not! More on my blog, www.torontobluesdiary.comand please subscribe to the (mostly)monthly Blainletter

Saturday, February 1, 2020

Blainletter #120

February 2020
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Hello Blainreaders, fans, friends (and family). Happy Groundhog day. Apparently the groundhog did not see his shadow and this will be an early spring.  Also today's date is kind of auspicious – 02-02-2020 is a pallendrome (same forwards and backwards) which doesn't happen very often.
Tomorrow is the biggest night in Canadian Blues, The Maple Blues Awards. As I prep myself for the big night, I'm thinking about my moment at the podium – yes, if you hadn't heard, I will be receiving an award as "Blues Booster" of the year.  It's kind of a "lifetime achievement" award and it's the only award that's announced in advance so unlike all the other recipients, I've had a month to think about what I'm going to say. My first thought was to turn my speech into a song and have the band join in and make a big production of it but that idea was nixed pretty quick.  Maybe in the course of this Blainletter, I'll start to collect my thoughts for my "State of the Blues" address.
But first things first: we've got some gigs coming up!  February 8 at the Campfire Jam I've invited young Dan McKinnon to sit in. He's a killer guitarist and does it all – songwriting, vocals and I'm sure he'll have a few surprises in the Campfire Jam setting.  He's been playing on some big, loud stages but I can tell he's a sensitive musician (albeit a very tattooed sensitive musician). Jesse O'Brien who's busy as ever but had an open Saturday so he will be at the Yamaha Grand.  There will be a surprise guest – it will be a surprise to me too – but when it's awards week, I like to keep it open because there are a lot of great out-of-town musicians hanging around so I intend to lasso one of them.
The next day, Sunday Feb 4, I'm guesting with Max Layton at his "Songs & Poems" matinee at the Tranzac. Hey, maybe I should think of a poem...  Max has some serious literary lineage being the son of Irving Layton and he writes some great, thoughtful songs. Also appearing is singer-songwriter Meg Tennant and my old buddy Bob Cohen on guitar.  It's a lovely way to pass a Sunday afternoon (5-7pm)
Then February 21-23 it's back to the Tranzac for Winterfolk! Winterfolk has relocated to the Annex after wrestling with one too many venues on The Danforth.  The Tranzac has 3 music rooms and it worked pretty well for the BeKind festival which just took place.  I didn't play that fest but I was a last-minute substitute M.C and despite a few occasions of sound leakage between the rooms it worked very well. Always a fun time at Winterfolk. I've done it a few times before.  This year I'm part of a workshop called "Finger Picking the Blues" with Isaak Bonk and Mr. Rick on the Friday night, then hosting a "Campfire Jam" on Saturday and doing a solo set on Sunday. See the complete schedule at  There's lots more fine blues, too.

Awards, Awards Everywhere, and even one for Me

Breaking News:  One of my favourite guitar players, JW Jones from Ottawa, had a great night at the International Blues Challenge and is coming home with the top prize for his latest project, HOROJO Trio.  He was just playing guitar in this group which is led by Jeff Rogers on vocals & keyboard (+keyboard bass). Jamie Holmes plays drums.  I don't know anything else about this group.  They were not on my radar but I liked what I heard on the streaming bits I saw from Memphis. JW ripped it up as he always does, and was recognized as the Guitar Player of the Year and gets the blue Gibson 335 with Blues Foundation logo. It must be a good guitar because Ben Racine is still playing the one he received at a previous IBC. Canada represents again and keeps the "I" in IBC. The Toronto reps, Sandra Bouza and Sean Pinchin did well – I saw a bit of both on Facebook Live. Love that streaming!
In other award news, the JUNOS announced the nominations for Blues Album of the Year: Big Dave McLean, Michael Jerome Browne, Whitehorse, Durham County Poets and Dawn Tyler Watson.
Just before the JUNO Nomination announcement Canadian blueswomen figured prominently in the Blues Foundation's Blues Awards nominations. Sue Foley is nominated for Traditional Blues Female Artist (Koko Taylor Award), Dawn Tyler Watson is nominated for Instrumentalist – Vocals  (must have been her mouth-trombone that clinched it).  Also it should be mentioned that "honourary Canadian" (now that she's married to Paul Deslauriers) Annika Chambers is nominated for Soul Blues Female Artist. 
Colin Linden was the only Canadian who made his way to the podium at the Grammy Awards, for his co-production with Keb 'Mo and Mavis Staples was awarded Album of The Year for We Get By at the International Folk Music Awards, presented at The Folk Alliance Conference in New Orleans. A good reminder for hard core folkies that blues is indeed folk music.
But now, back to my award…
Some may not be aware but the Blues Booster is the only Maple Blues Award that is announced in advance. The problem with knowing in advance is you have way too long to prepare your speech but at least I'll know to bring a bag to carry my trophy.
I've always said I felt lucky that I could do something besides play guitar. And the fact that I've been able to spend the last 30 years in Toronto working in the music scene, surrounded by music and musicians, has been the blessing of a lifetime.
When I arrived in Toronto in 1990, you were either a full-time musician or you were not.  And the term "week-end warrior" was not a compliment.  Some players thought the part-timers were cluttering up the landscape and reducing their opportunities but now there's such an avalanche of music out there you just have to carve out a niche for yourself and find your crowd.
And for those who makre their way to the top of the food chain, they discover that the reward for working real hard is even more hard work. If you tour a hundred days and do well, the reward is you get to go back and tour 200 days. And don't be surprised if the increase in gross income is not reflected in your take-home pay.
So these Maple Blues Awards acknowledge the hard work as much as the talent. And for those of us who aren't able to work that hard on their music – because they have a job or maybe they just don't like to work that hard. It doesn’t make their music any less worthy of respect. I dare say, there were a lot of great bluesmen who did not have the work ethic that you need nowadays to succeed.
And if you're able to find work in some aspect of the music business, then you're one of the lucky ones.. That successful businessman sitting next to you might have a guitar in the office to noodle on when he's thinking up marketing strategies.  And the fun begins when you get to play with others…maybe even get a little gig here and there.  
As John Lee Hooker said, "Let that boy boogie. He's got it in him and it's got to get out."
And with the blues, even if it's a little rough, somebody out there is picking up on it and feeling it. 
The hard workers clock their proverbial 10,000 hours in five or ten years but even if it takes 50 years, like I did, it might even help you nurture a style all your own, and that's something every artist strives for.
But when you don't get to play every night, you've got to practice. I'll play a song over and over till I get it right, but the hard-working full-timer will play it over and over until he can't get it wrong. And these days, when you make it to the big stage, you're expected to give a flawless performance which I will never have and I don't care.
So I will accept this award on behalf of all the closet bluesicians who will never make it to the big time, but no matter how often you play, or how well you play, there is still the same joy and fulfillment from connecting with an audience or packing a dance floor. And it doesn't matter if it's an audience of 3000, 300 or 30. The thrill is never gone. Maybe, like me, you're still playing cowboy chords with a capo but if you're feeling it and if you've got a groove going, it's all good. Keep playing.

Recording Update

I'm just back from a mastering session at the legendary "E-Room" with Peter Moore. Peter is the first-call mastering guy in the city.  I joked at the end of the session that the song was recorded with a $200 mic into a $200 interface on a computer that's probably not even worth $200 but we're getting a major label mastering job.  Mastering has always been voodoo science to me but this time I could hear the improvement – he made the vocal pop out a bit and other adjustments which are beyond EQ and dynamics. On my speakers I might not hear the difference but in the "E-Room" I certainly could.
"Water Song" will be released as a single and video on March 22 (World Water Day).  Maybe I will try to set up an event of sorts…haven't got that far along yet.  I do want to bring some more awareness to the water crisis and have discussed collaborating with the United Nation's water initiatives  some water charities including OneDrop, the charity that's associated with Cirque du Soleil and Guy Laliberté.  If any Blainreaders out there can suggest any other possible partnerships/co-promotions for Water Day please let me know.
Peter was a little camera-shy so I didn't get a selfie but as with any time I've ever spent with him, I picked up a lot of good information (and a little scuttlebutt) and this was no exception:  Does everybody know what "absolute phase" is?  I didn't. We (musicians) all know about "out-of-phase" – when the left speaker is pushing while the right speaker is pulling thus resulting in reducing the bass and anything else that's in the center.  Absolute phase is harder to detect because even when the bass sounds fine, if the speaker is pulling when the source (like a bass drum) is pushing air, you're not getting the richest sound. (somebody's probably going to write and correct me on this….but it won't be Peter because he doesn't do social media :-)

Out and About

Just in from seeing guitar guru Albert Lee who is a pioneer who has played with Emmylou Harris, Eric Clapton and 26 years with the Everly Brothers. He is known for very fast picking, in fact the last time I saw him it was with a "pick-up" band and they could not keep up with him. Tonight he had a solid band with him – the drummer did great vocal harmonies and Albert has a great voice – most people just think of him as a sideman.
I saw Laurie Anderson perform back in the 80s and it was an eye-opener.  Seeing her 30+ years later was amazing but knowing all the amazing stuff she's done in the interim, this show was not that different than the first time I saw her. Processed vocals, solo violin with electronics (this time she partnered with a cello virtuoso) and a lot of food for thought – yes there was even a little politics
Who knew Lou Reed was a serious Tai Chi player.  His widow Laurie Anderson gave a short demonstration at here phenomenal show at Koerner Hall in Toronto, January 18, 2020   

And a new Festival is born...

Here's a 5 minute highlight reel of my night at the brand new Speak Music BeKind Festival. In order of appearance, Conor Gains, Maggie and Mr. Rogers w/Don Rooke, Shi Wisdom, Simone Morris, Chloe Watkinson with my discovery of the night, Mip, trumpeter Mike Field's Quintet, Ori Dagan, Tia Brazda and Samantha Martin and Delta Sugar with fill-in guitarist Steve Marriner who did a bang-up job (you can take that boy anywhere).
I was a last-minute fill-in as MC on the main stage and I feel like I have to add a new self-deprecating moniker to my sig – (barely)managing editor, absentee listmom, intermittent IT guy and now, absent-minded MC. In previous MC gigs (usually last-minute fill-ins) I have been known to leave out a sponsor or mispronounce an artist name. This time I was AWOL at the wrong time (mesmerized by the silky lap steel of Don Rooke) then I mispronounce Shi (should have been "shy"…I said "chai"). Then the last intro I had to do was Samantha Martin and I had a great story of how I met her and I'm sitting right by the stage waiting for them to finish their line check and then I'm joined by Rob Bowman, who is Sam's manager and biggest fan so I'm thinking I should let Tob do the intro – he's so good at this – but I've got this great story I want to share…but then Sam just dives right in and starts the set so…never mind.   
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). 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 February 8 7:30-10:30pm Brian's Blues Campfire Jam - "Second Saturdays" at The Home Smith Bar at the Old Mill Toronto. Special guests Dan McKinnon, Jesse O'Brien and more. 9 Old Mill Road.  No Cover ($20 min food & beverage)

Sunday February 9  (5-7pm) guesting at Max Layton's "Songs & Poems" matinee at the Tranzac. 

February 21-23, 2020  Winterfolk Festival, The Tranzac, 292 Brunswick.  

Saturday March 14 7:30-10:30pm Brian's Blues Campfire Jam - "Second Saturdays" at The Home Smith Bar at the Old Mill Toronto.  9 Old Mill Road.  No Cover ($20 min food & beverage)

March 22 - International Water Day and release of single & video for "Water Song"

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. 
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