Monday, September 29, 2014

One of those days

So I haven't been playing much lately and today I decide I'm going to go do a set at this popular Open Mic called Lazy Cat Cafe.  It's at the Bain Co-op in a beautiful all purpose community space (I'm hoping our co-op can one day have a large, comfortable space like this, but I digress)

I decided to take the old Epiphone (I bought it new in 1964) and put it in a soft bag.  That's my first two mistakes.  Then I left the guitar leaning agains a wall fell over.  I had been warned that one good knock would pop that headstock again - each time you glue it, it's less secure.  This was the third time it was glued.  Now I will have to have some kind of post put in there...this is gonna be way more than a cheap (sometimes free) glue job.

I'm inclined to have a crowdfunding campaign to repair my baby. It could go viral -  I never got so many Facebook comments as the last time it broke.

This is what it looked like when I opened the case

Needless to say, I was not in much of a mood to play after that and then I sat down next to Allan McKinley who informed me that the list was full - so I wouldn't have got to play anyway!

I don't have the heart to stick around so I head home with my broken guitar but decide to stop for some take-out.  I go along Danforth, park without paying, and run in to get a souvlaki.  Then, horror of horrors, I look out the window of Mr. Greek only to see a parking officer standing next to my car. But here was a little bit of good fortune on a bad day...  He didn't ticket me. He must have misread the old parking stub that was in my windshield.  Could we call this my lucky day...I don't think so.

Oh, and did I mention that one of my clients had a break in this week and four laptops were stolen and I will be spending the next week trying to restore data from inadequate back-ups.  Argh.

And lastly I'm bummed, because on the way home I turned on Jazz FMI and they were playing a fabulous documentary on John Hammond (the dad) .  I listen for a bit in the car, but when I get in the house I forget to turn on the rest.  Now I've gone and set my Audio Hijack to record it every Sunday - but I'll never be able to get those first three episodes.  Unless I know somebody out there who has this doc archived......

Monday, September 22, 2014

On Living, Dying and Second Chances

Now back from a nice getaway in Cape Cod.  That little white spec in the sand on the left is Linda walking down the dunes at Long Nook (no sharks today). I got back to TO in time to celebrate my 68th birthday with a few friends including my oldest musical buddy, Allan Fraser, and we jammed a little but not into the night the way we used to.  In the big clean-up, I found all kinds of family pictures and ephemera and I decided it was time to get that stuff out of the boxes they've been in and put them up on the wall so I spent the night before my birthday drilling holes and hanging pictures. I also managed to lose the iPad - those things are so thin they could melt into a stack of papers and that is exactly what happened.  It was missing for a week and I was starting to think that it got thrown out along with the stacks of magazines & files that I dumped - but I didn't stop looking and this morning I looked in a box full of envelopes and bags and behold...thar she blows! What a relief - not that I use it a whole lot but I'm planning to load up one of those fake books so the next time I'm asked to go play bass for someone, I can have a chart for every song in every key right at my fingertips.

Last week was one to remember. Thursday morning I had two emails informing me that two friends had died.  One I had just met the week before, at my birthday party actually, and he was quite an eccentric looking character. His name was Nik Beat and the day after the party I googled him and sent him a Facebook friend request.  He friended me right away and then I learnt a bit more about him, he had a long-running show on CIUT was a musician (though he didn't join in our jam session). and a couple of days later he was dead. Then as I'm wrapping up the Crescendo newsletter, we get word that Jim Biros, the Executive Director of the Toronto Musician's Association and a friend to all musicians, union or not, had passed away. Stop the presses! And just a week ortwo before, another one-of-a-kind broadcaster, Reiner Schwartz had passed away. What's going on?

That was the day I was invited to a special event at the Ontario Science Centre called the Science of Rock and this night feature all kinds of activities including a panel of experts dissecting a hit song (by the Who), a make-your-own-cigar-box-guitar (sorry I missed that one) and an amazing display of Rock & Roll artifacts curated by Alan Cross.  The evening ended with a concert/lecture by guitar god Steve Cropper. Remeber "Green Onions" and here he told us how he wrote it and other hits like "Soul Man" and other Stax hits.  I saw an old friend Rob Bowman in the crowd and chatted with him a bit and he told me it was the one-year anniversary of his double lung transplant.  Talk about a new lease on life! As we spoke, the concert ended and he made his way to the stage - I figured to say hi to Steve who he has written about a lot in his book about Stax and liner notes for a CD box set.  But I was surprised to see him take the stage with Steve and there followed a "celebrity interview" with Steve that went into some great stories about the early days of Rock & Roll.

I also got invited to be part of my friend Raoul Bhaneja's theatre/music production called "Life Death and the Blues" The show runs from September 25 to October 19th and each night features a special guest to sing a couple of tunes with the band at the end of the show.  I'm on October 15th and here's where you can buy tix:

And in the "Second Chances" department, I had a meeting with an old friend who is now responsible for a new online live music calendar which just launched at I encourage all my musician friends to post their gigs, so that the government will know it's being used.  It'll be a while before they build an audience but it will be easier if they have some content.  Folks who know me will remember that an comprehensive online music event calendar has been my pet project for twenty years.  In fact, as I was cleaning up for the birthday party I came upon correspondence from 1994 about just that.  I had long given up on trying to do it myself but I was sure that by now someone else would have done it and I could just buy one at Staples.  But alas, it was not to be.  Just a long succession of false starts...but maybe this time it will be different.

Thursday, September 18, 2014

Stolen from Bob Lefsetz

In case you've never heard of Lefsetz, he's the blogger who is always saying "If nobody is buying your CDs and nobody is coming to your gigs, it's probably because you suck"  I would add "...or, you haven't found your audience yet."  I still believe there's an audience for everyone, but if it's down to a few friends and family, then you have to forget about making a living in music.  I'm now retired so I feel like I'm off the hook, but still leap at every opportunity to play.  Anyway, here's Lefsetz' rant of the day:


It anchors your career. There are hitmakers and everybody else. A hit just means something ubiquitous that everybody listens to, chart numbers are unnecessary. Hits can come in a flash via inspiration, but oftentimes they require a huge amount of effort and craft. Are you repeating the verses? Is the chorus singable, is there a bridge? Strive for excellence in your own chosen genre, reaching the brass ring is what it's all about.


They don't want you to be successful, that would mean they are losers. They want to keep you down in the hole they're in. Follow your dream, which is individual to you.


Without it, you're toast. Today's society is all about being a member of the group. Winners in art are singular. They stand alone, they endure the bows and arrows as well as reap the adulation. If you're not dreaming big in today's world, you're not dreaming at all.


Wisdom comes with age and experience. But don't forget the pre and post Internet eras are as different as the pre and post telephone eras. Not everything remains the same.


There's no such thing as a cycle in today's world. Art is like life. Keep making, errors are tolerated as long as you follow them up with more work of quality. Today the key is to be remembered, because almost everything is forgotten. Don't overthink and overlabor your efforts. Raw and honest works today, and it forges a connection between you and your audience.


Don't sacrifice your art to get paid, whether it be a day job or going on the road to fulfill your financial desires. Art is about sacrifice. You live on a subsistence level until you break through or you give up.


Even if you don't want to cut a Katy Perry-type tune, your career would be enriched by an hour with Dr. Luke or Max Martin. They understand the game, they understand a hit.


Cred in a producer is secondary to track record. Work with someone who's been to the mountaintop and continues to journey there. They can give you a perspective no one else can.


Do it to learn, not to write a hit song. Those Nashville cats are the best in the business. Their songs might be saccharine or predictable, but they know the system. Once again, it's all about learning.


They rap in country songs. Avicii put country in EDM. Feel free to incorporate your fandom into your work.


You can only be the critics' darling for a brief period. People will only check you out once or twice, then they're done. Strike when the iron is hot.


People will listen to two new substandard works and then abandon you.


It exists on Spotify. If you connect with a track, people will go deeper.


Forget them. Unless you're making a concept one, a statement. They don't fit with today's world. You drop one every other year when nothing in the news lasts longer than a week, in most cases barely a day? If you have a stiff album, it'll take years to recover. Better to keep in the public eye by continuing to produce. You want to create a body of work, but it doesn't have to be in album form, after all, the term "album" initially denoted a cardboard container for 78s.


You get worn down with age, you know too much. Test the limits. Follow your exuberance. Live and create to the limit.


Unless you're creating Top Forty hits, feel free to stand up to the powers that be. Too many businessmen, label people, agents and managers, are stuck in the old system. You can be dragged down by them, or stand up to them. This doesn't mean you've got license to be a jerk, but standing your artistic ground is an asset. But it's got to feel right to you, don't be afraid to change or take input because you abhor criticism and believe everything you do is phenomenal, no one's got that great a track record.

Sunday, September 7, 2014

Southside Shufflin'

Having made no arrangements for a media pass, I arrived at the main gate prepared to pay my ten bucks (and glad to contribute and I noticed that all the people in the line were being searched and any bottles confiscated. They even made a little girl empty her water container. And here I had a nearly full coffee from Tim Hortons! I stood by the side and started to gulp it down when the security lady said "It's OK. You can come in if it's Tim Horton's." Man, Tim Horton's owns their ass! I guess that's why the festival is so fussy about making sure that "Tim Horton" appears every time they say "Southside Shuffle."

The first band I saw was The Burgess Brothers - Tyler Burgess is a great singer and plays drums with the laid back feel of Levon Helm and I always liked Chris Burgess' guitar playing even though he's as lackadaisical about his career as I am (I think he mostly likes working on cars). Still he's got a signature sound on that Strat - the same one he's been playing for 30 years I was told by Jerome Godboo, who was standing next to me.

Had a nice chat with Jerome and it was mostly about the role of the bass player - Jerome has been working without a bass lately and finds that his harp-playing is coming through better. He also complimented me on my style of bass playing - which is downright simple but in the groove. I guess if he's gonna have a bass player, it should be one who plays less.

I only made it to the last day of the Southside Shuffle because Friday night was rained out and I had a bass-playing gig at a block party downtown on Saturday. But I'm thinking they might have saved the best for last, though I sure wish I'd been there to see Janiva Magness. Here's a video that Randall shot of Janiva singing "I Won't Cry"

I've seen Janiva Magness at the Beaches Jazz and even talked with her a bit but now reading her bio in the programme book about how both her parents committed suicide when she was a teenager and she was on the streets at 17 (and pregnant). Yikes. She's got a right to sing the blues.

But notwithstanding that, and all the other fine female vocalists that played the shuffle this week-end (and there were many great ones), I can't imagine any of them equalling the performance I saw by Angel Forrest. There were some jaw-dropping moments, even from one of the aforementioned female vocalists who was sitting off to the side of the stage and started out looking unimpressed until she could just not hold that stoic look and started swaying with the music. So my fellow Townshipper showed them how it's done. And all without any bass and drums, just her voice and two acoustic guitars. It didn't hurt that one of them was Paul Delauriers who is moving up fast in the ranks of Canadian guitar royalty. There's something special about reaching the energy level of a rock-band in full flight with only acoustic instruments. I love it when that happens, and I think I have achieved that myself a few times.

Friday, August 1, 2014

Blainletter #70 Holiday Edition

Blainletter #70 July-Aug 2014

Greetings Blainreaders – it looks like another month has slipped me by so this will be another bi-monthly Blainletter. We'll call this this July-August Vacation Issue.  I don't think anybody's going to complain about one less email.  And I did heed the complaints that my letters were getting too long, so I'll try to keep this one short, even though there's lots to tell.

First things first, I have a gig tomorrow…ooops make that TODAY.  Actually the gig is probably over by the time you read this. Oh dear.

Saturday, August 2 - 1:30 - 4:30 p.m. (I'll be going on about 3:30)
Portobello Restaurant & Bar  995 Bay St., Toronto ON  M5S 3C4  416 926-1800

The Words and Music Salon is a long running series that mixes music with poetry and other readings.  There will be 3 other musicians playing (and 3 poets reading).  No cover.

Anyway, I've got to send this out - better late than never.  It's long overdue and I always get someone coming up to me saying how much they enjoyed it.  A special welcome to my newest Blainreader, Vid.  Vid and I met at the Toronto Blues Society booth at the Waterfront Blues Festival and were chatting about music and tai chi and when we got around to exchanging names, he exclaimed “I know you – Overqualified for the Blues!“  Isn't that heartwarming. And I got a nice compliment from my old friend Michal Hasek who played my song about Lenny Breau on his radio show and said it brought a tear to his eye.  These are the moments we musicians cherish.

And, if I might continue blowing my horn,  I have been advised this week that my Klout score has gone up and I'm number six on Reverbnation Blues chart (whatever all that means). And this is the topper:  I'm featured on the current episode of STOP-TV, a program in the Eastern Townships.  It's a half-hour of “moi“ singing and talking.  It's worth checking out if only to see the fancy editing that my old bandmate Maurice Singfield did.  I was singing in front of a green screen and he has me transported into an old barn (or the seashore for my tune about Cape Cod – complete with seals and dive-bombing seagulls)

Just got the authorization code to take ownership of  Considering I was an “early adopter“ of the internet (like back when there was only one browser, Lynx, and it was just text-no graphics), you would think I would already own the dot-com for my name but I am so cheap and for the longest time I dragged my heels and then when I finally went to get it, it was gone. The other Brian Blain is a pecan farmer/vintage race car driver in California who bought it but wasn't using it.  As the years went by, I noticed a lot of folks were going to brianblain (dot)com so I'll never know how many messages (or gigs) I missed over the years. I asked him if I could take it over and he most generously agreed. Anyway, it'll be a slow transition but by next year I'll be

As I was putting together the newsletter for my housing co-op (yes, another newsletter!) I included a story by a local part-time historian about my street and was surprised to see that my house on Woodfield Road was kind of infamous.

Carrie Davies, a maid who shot one of the wealthy Massey family after he tried to rape her, stayed with her sister Maud at my little “shotgun“ during the trial.   That was 1915. The trial was quite sensational and the Toronto Star acting as the apparent mouthpiece of Massey’s powerful relatives, sought to discredit Davies but the jury found her not-guilty. It was a turning point in Canadian justice because up until then, male members of a household would take sexual liberties with their live-in domestic servants with impunity. Carrie's lawyer, Hartley Dewart became leader of the Ontario Liberal Party not long afterward but due in part to his role in Davies’ trial, the Star‘s management actively worked to prevent him from becoming premier in the 1919 election. After losing in that race, Dewart retired from politics. (As my ex-mother-in-law used to say, “no good deed goes unpunished“)

Out and About:
It seems like I've been spending every week-end at the foot of my street at Woodbine Park – a 28-acre park that they built quite recently. It looked a bit naked and gawky for the first couple of years but it is now home to Afrofest and (for the first time) the mainstage of the Beaches Jazz.  Afrofest, previously at Queen's Park, were moved there kicking and screaming and now Beaches Jazz has been evicted from Kew Gardens and moved there as well.  A lot of people will miss the cozy setting but they'll learn to love Woodbine Park (I think Afrofest has).  At the press conference for Beaches I came face to face with Mary Margaret, the new city councilor for the Beaches and asked her straight out, “What happened to Kew Gardens?"  And she looked me straight in the eye and said, “I have no idea."  I think she's got what it takes for a long political career.

The Waterfront Blues and the Beaches Jazz festivals are so close I was able to take in a lot of music this month. The outstanding highlight for me was Sugar Ray and the Bluetones.  Every time I see them I say to myself “it doesn't get any better than that.“ I missed the big night on Saturday because I was enjoying a lovely poolside jam session in Port Credit with Allan Fraser & Marianne Girard along with Lynette and David Hines and Allan McKinlay.  I raced back to catch the last set of some guys I had heard playing on the street on Thursday night - I was wishing I had bought their CD on Thursday and was intent on finding out who they were.  No, it was not blues, nor was it even traditional instruments.  They were playing electronica but it had a groove and I wanted to hear more.  And I'm happy to say we've connected and are planning a session together.  Many of you will know that I have another musical persona besides the gentle folky bluesman – I have a Stratocaster equipped with a MIDI controller and I get some pretty crazy sounds.  I started this project so that I would have a band to take to the gigs where people aren't interested in listening to my “story songs“.  I've done it a few times with my son the DJ under the banner BlainBlain and it gave me the bug.  You'll like it, really!

I walked the entire length of the Queen Streetfest and took numerous little video clips on the iPhone.  I started to assemble it but it's not done yet.  I'll put it up on the as soon as it's done. 

Thanks for reading this far.  Remember you can unsubscribe at any time by replying to this address.  See you out there,

BrianB (aka Colorblind Brian, The Stringbuster)

Link of the Day: "4 Reasons Why Music Careers Are Getting Trounced By Tech":