Sunday, January 17, 2021

a post that isn't about blues

I spent a good part of this week-end listening to spiritual leaders on the internet (and the rest of the time cleaning up the basement) and it's a good moment to collect my thoughts, if only to remember it myself. It started with a zoom meeting of my Buddhist group where the theme was "turning poison into medicine" and confirms that old adage that you learn more from your failures than your victories. I took some exception that "facing difficulties is what life is all about," maybe because I've always thought I had a rather "charmed" life. Maybe I just choose to look at it that way. Some of my rich relatives might consider that my life was less than charmed because I don't have a new car or a big house. All I know is I've got wheels and a roof over my head and I am thankful for that. But I accept the idea that defeating obstacles "provides fuel for victory" and makes you a better/stronger person, but when confronted I will usually look for a way around the obstacle rather than confronting it head-on. And though I like the idea of "Never Give Up," it doesn't mean I won't retreat if my instinct tells me to. This Buddhism is still very focused on "win or lose," "don't accept defeat under any circumstances." One quote I could relate to was, "Unhappiness is not caused by adverse circumstances; it is caused by our own despair and negativity." The suffering or unhappiness is happening in our minds and it is a reaction to the events that are happening. A little suffering is inevitable but misery is optional. Happiness was the main topic of main topic of the Dalai Lama's zoom session with students of the Harvard School of Business. These annointed "future leaders" wanted to know how to be happy. The anwer was to have a life's purpose - and he was talking about caring for each other, though maybe some of those future CEOs were probably thinking of a life's purpose that was more about money and building a successful enterprise. Wealth was one of the Dalai Lama's tickets to happiness but it was the last item on the list and seemed it would not achieve the level of happiness/joy/bliss that results from a life that was focused on caring for others rather than selfish desires. One student asked why it seemed that so many "leaders" were unhappy people. DL did not really answer that question, nor did he give any direct answers to a lot of other questions from these earnest super-achievers. Rather, he kept redirecting the conversation to oneness, brotherhood, the fact that nationalism/racism is out-dated thinking. We are all one race - the human race. The current pandemic and the looming climate crisis should make it very clear that everybody on the planet is in the same boat and the time for taking sides is over. He even put in a pitch for religious harmony. In Buddhism alone there are more than 3000 sects and they don't all get along. Look how Suni Muslims hate Shia Muslims and to us non-Muslims, we can't even see the difference. Truth be told, I don't even see a lot of difference between the Jews and the Arabs - yet they are bitter enemies. Which brings me to the other topic that comes up everytime you hear Dalai Lama speak: Education. And I too believe it is the key to everything. Little kids play together with no regard to race or creed yet once they get into school, they are slowly sucked into an "us and them" thinking to one degree or another. If schools all over the world were purged of teachers and curricula that taught them they were better than others because of their race or creed or nationality and taught compassion and tolerance, then it would only take a generation to make the world a happy, peaceful place. You may say the parents have a lot to do with imprinting this faux-patriotism or holier-than-thou attitudes so maybe it would take a couple of generations...but wouldn't that be a beautiful thing. We could start by ridding all schools and houses of worship of all the really hard-core fundamentalist "influencers". What is gained by teaching hate? It's bad enough that the world will always have a certain ammount of disaffected, angry people - let them all get together and fight amongst themselves. Looking at the United States, I was thinking maybe we could corral all those Americans who are so full of rage and put them in one place - say Florida, and just make sure that all the teachers were not of that ilk and just wait a couple of generations. This morning (Sunday) I watched the Indian sage Sadhguru having a conversation with one of his followers and it was also about happiness. He's a pretty contemporary guru (drives a motorcycle and wears cowboy hats) but everything he says rings true. He spends a lot of time talking about the environment - and has a very active Foundation that plants trees and cleans up rivers in India. An animal lover asked if he was a vegetarian and his reponse was a story about a forest in India where if the elephants started eating the leaves of a certain tree, all the other trees of that species would begin to excrete a chemical which was toxic to the elephants and they would move on to some other feeding ground. He was saying that the trees/vegetables are just as alive as the animals. And you eat what you have to eat for nourishment but eating should not be a recreational activity. He was dismissive of one accolyte who referred to herself as a "foodie". Still he's all about enjoying life - "you can buy pleasure but you can't buy joy". And although he adheres to a lot of Indian tradition, he seems quite non-denominational. He quotes the Buddha, "Don't just accept my words, work to understand yourself." That kind of goes along with the Dalai Lama saying we should not be afraid to ask "why, why, why?"

Saturday, January 9, 2021

Blainletter #132 - Good Riddance 2020

January 2021
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My friend Arlene said my Blainletters were too "dense". Maybe "thick" is the word she used.

She was suggesting breaking it up with clip art but this is the story of my editorial life..."more white space...more paragraphs...less words". Trying to put together promotional material for the new CD has been particularly challenging. Apparently people's attention spans are lower than ever but I know there's people out there who read "the whole thang".

Anyway this one will be short, as were the last couple because....well there's usually nothing to announce. But for this occasion, let me pass along some Seasons Greetings- a subdued send-off for a brutal season and we can only hope for some better seasons down the road. Winter never fails to turn into spring.

And, guess what, I'm going to do a live stream on New Year's Day (5pm on my Facebook Page). I will play some of the tunes from the new CD and I have a special guest, author/storyteller John Gardiner who will be reading some excerpts while I noodle on the guitar. I even got the synth going after a bit of a hiatus. Trying to put a little soul into electronic music has been a bit of a pipe dream and sometimes I just put it aside for a while - just waiting for the day when the computer can follow me and not vice versa. I've upgraded the computer and made a considerable investment in software so here we go again...

So sad about all the music friends who have passed away - just this holiday week-end, Amoy Levy and Gary 17. I met Amoy when I was hired to do the liner notes for a Gospel CD called "Saved!"  She had an amazing voice and a beautiful spirit - The Fabulous Levy Sisters indeed! 

Gary 17 was a fellow desktop publisher and when I arrived in TO he had this little broadsheet that listed every jam in town - and there were many.  That's when we had over 40 active blues clubs in town. After that he covered live music that no-one else did. And if you subscribed to his mag, he'd put your listing in bold type!

Now it's a new world. No jams, no gigs, no going out of the house! This live streaming can be fun but it's nerve wracking when you're over your head with the technology - and most of us are. Still, isn't it amazing how "Uncle Joe" who can hardly figure out the TV Remote is now zooming with family and friends.

But just when the platform gets more stable we start trying to do more. Now the cutting (bleeding)-edge is the challenge of musicians playing together in real time with no latency.  I hope I live to see the day when we can jam across the internet as easily as we zoom today.
Boxes of CDs arrved last week and will be in the mail next week. If you ordered your CD on Bandcamp, they are very organized and I will have your mailing address.  I'm still missing some postal addresses so if you got a message asking for your postal address, send it to me if you want to receive a physical CD. 

And then I've got a bunch of addresses scribbled on the back of envelopes and I hope I didn't lose track of anybody.  If you pre-ordered directly from me and haven't sent tme your postal address, it might be a good idea to send me your mailing address just in case.

And if you didn't watch the album launch…you might get a kick out of it:

How to keep Live Music Alive

Musicians, venues, businesses and even our beloved Blues Societies are facing undue hardship throughout this pandemic.

How Can You Help?
Purchase your regional musician’s music
Artists do not earn a lot from streaming – so now is the time to invest in their music. Buy physical CDs or vinyl releases from homegrown acts (you can order online for home delivery) or purchase songs and albums digitally. This is also a good time to see if your favourite artist or band sells merchandise online.

Share their music

Instead of using social media to complain about politics or toilet paper hoarders, use your platforms to promote our artists to your followers and others around the world. Talk 'em up to the world and be sure to include links to their websites and videos. It is more important than ever to tell the rest of the world about the incredible talent here at home.

Donate to musicians

Support them in these difficult times. Many are offering virtual concerts via social media for you to enjoy at home. Consider using their digital TIP JAR, their PAYPAL link or their email they offer for an e-transfer to offer them assistance.

Support your Venues

Support them too in these difficult times. If they offer a take-out menu please consider using that as a means of support. Also consider buying Gift Certificates to help them out.

Support Music Education

MusiCounts works hard to enact our mission to make music education accessible and sustainable for in-need schools and communities across the country.
Over the past two decades, MusiCounts has allocated more than $14,000,000 of musical instruments and equipment to schools and community organizations across the country, however, they’re so much more than that. They’re building innovative, online tools and learning resources so educators can adapt to their new teaching environment. They’re honouring incredible educators and youth through their awards and scholarships. They’re collaborating with some of the brightest minds in music education to conduct research that will make positive impacts for years to come. You can donate here:

Quote of the Day

“Music is probably the only real magic I have encountered in my life. There is not some trick involved with it. It is pure and it is real. It moves, it heals, it communicates and does all these incredible things”.
- Tom Petty (via the Grand River Blues Society)
Thanks for reading this far and my best wishes for a far Happier New Year. Feel free to forward this to any friend you think might enjoy my occasional ramblings (and maybe my music, too). These bits and more are always available on my blog,

See you out there, eventually...

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


Join me for the live stream on New Year's Day (5pm on my Facebook Page). I will play some of the tunes from the new CD and I have a special guest, author/storyteller John Gardiner who will be reading some excerpts while I noodle on the guitar.

I had to take a breather from the regular Sunday thing in favour of spontaneous Facebook Live Pop-ups whenever I feel like it.

I'll be putting out a series of "Songs that didn't make it onto the album" as well as my continuing series on "How-to-write-a-blues-song-with-Brian" And I'm sure I'll find other reasons to stream They say you have to be consistent to succeed with streaming. Well, nothing else in my life is consistent...

For this album, I wanted to bring attention to the water crisis that is affecting 3 billion people on the planet. "Water Song" is a pretty dark "ear movie" with a global vibe provided by Sadio Sissokho (kora) and Harry Manx (mohan veena). The haunting vocals are provided by Ruth Mathiang. "I'm Not Fifty Anymore" kicks off the album with a little tongue-in-cheek  humour and some fine harp playing from Steve Marriner.  “The Not Worried Blues (An American Dream)” and “You Are Also His Son” were recorded with Julian Fauth and Gary Kendall, Mike Fitzpatrick and Pat Carey from Downchild.  “Blues Des Cantons (Goodbye Sherbrooke)” is a leaving-home barrelhouse boogie “en francais” with David Vest pounding the 88s. Patrick Merner added some bass & synth, and Clayton Doley overdubbed some organ from his studio in Melbourne, Australia. Ken Whiteley played some lap steel on "You Are Also His Son", Jesse O'Brien added some piano and organ to "The Mother I Never Knew" and drummer Michelle Josef provides a solid backbeat throughout.  Some songs end with extended jams (because I loves to jam) and the last track is a ten-minute acoustic soundscape with Michael Jerome Browne from the last day of recording my “Overqualified For The Blues” album years ago in Montreal. I call it “Tai Chi Ten,” …because it’s just the right pace and length for my Tai Chi set, but it makes for a fine meditation even if you aren’t moving.
Track Listing
1. I’m Not Fifty Anymore  3:07
  feat. Steve Marriner
2. You Are Also His Son  4:52
  feat. Ken Whiteley
3. Blues des Cantons (Goodbye Sherbrooke)  4:22  
feat. David Vest & Clayton Doley
4. The Mother I Never Knew  3:55  
feat. Jesse O’Brien
5. Not Worried Blues (An American Dream)  3:37  
feat. Julian Fauth
& Gary Kendall, Mike Fitzpatrick and Pat Carey from Downchild
6. Water Song  5:26  
feat. Harry Manx & Sadio Sissokho
7. Tai Chi Ten  (A Meditation)  9:54  
feat. Michael Jerome Browne

mixed by Margaret Stowe at Ozworld Toronto
mastered by Harris Newman at Grey Market Mastering, Montreal
art direction Linda Turu
photography Margaret Mulligan
design Keijo Tapanainen
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