Thursday, November 17, 2011

Last Road Trip 2011

Left frozen Calgary early in the p.m. yo fly to Kelowna, where the relatively balmy +5 C had me shedding a layer as I walked across the tarmac to the terminal. A painless flight, guitar and suitcase unscathed, and a nice bump-up from National to a red Elantra. Dinner with my son and daughter-in-law (nice baby bump showing there) and update this blog and the web page calender before an early bed-time. Tomorrow is the Kelowna Folk Club, and Saturday is The Dancing Bean in Chemainus, on beautiful Vancouver Island. After a few days off on Gabriola Island and in Powell River, visiting friends and family, I play Campbell River (house concert), the Cumberland Hotel (presented by the Vancouver Island Music Fest), Port Hardy (house concert), the Duncan Garage Showroom, and the White Rock Blues Society before flying back to Calgary in time for Mikey's Juke Joint on Tuesday the 29th. December is a whole lotta studio work, plus Carlson's on Macleod in High River, The Art Station (Fernie BC), The Ironwood Stage & Grill and more. I'll be updating the web site calendar ( as soon as I'm done here. Drop around if I'm anywhere near you, and watch me road test tunes for the new cd, and my new Crafter SA, a lovely acoustic/electric I've been using lately. Big thanks to the Labatts' Edmonton Blues Festival and the Mountainview Music Festival for being the first summer fests to sign me for the 2012 season, and check out to read about February gigs in Cabo San Lucas, Mexico. Adios, amigos !

Sunday, September 25, 2011

California to Dawson Creek and back

So it's my birthday...63 years old !...and my wife and I take a taxi to the Calgary Airport, fly to San Francisco, board a shuttle bus to Sonoma County airport, and are picked up by a volunteer for the "Just Strings Music Festival" slated for the following week-end in Geyserville, in the heart of wine country. It's interesting to be back ; I left California in 1970 and rarely go back, especially to perform. We are driven to the Geyserville Inn, a classic little wine country hotel with beautiful grounds and a small pool, about 3/4s of a mile down the road from town - a Gold Rush - era main street of wine shops, one good restaurant, antique stores, 2 corner stores where as much business is done in Spanish as English, a few nice Victorian homes (they appear to be either week-end homes for wealthy Bay area residents or B&Bs), and side-streets of shotgun houses where the Mexican and Mexican-American work force for the surrounding vineyards work.

Our driver is a guy I met before in Mexico (the Artistic Director has also served in the same capacity for the Zihuatanejo International Guitar Festival, and there are quite a few familiar faces among performers and volunteers). A strong nip of tequila from a flask disguised as a cell phone (love it !) and the evening is under way. Over the week-end there will be reunions with numerous friends (Catherine Krantz, another past Artistic Director from Zihuatanejo), Los Pistoleros (from Dallas), Shelly King (Austin), Nick Vigarino (Seattle), Patric Sweany (Nashville) and my friend Pat Guadano, New Jersey saloon singer extraordinaire. We will do a radio broadcast from Santa Rosa, just south of where we are down Highway 101; discover a truly extraordinary Mexican Restaurant/Tequila Bar in Healdsburg (also just south of us) called Agaves - check it out if you're ever in town. Octavio brings spices from Oaxaca, and the best in Tequilas and fine Mescals (yes, there is such a thing) from Jalisco and Oaxaca, and it is truly cosmic. I'll discover some great players/singers/writers...Carolyn Aitken particularly comes to mind...we'll tour wineries, make astounding music in the evenings at the hotel, and play to virtually no one under a baking sun at a festival which is suffering the "first year" curse.

At the conclusion of the festival, Artistic Director Jeanne Pezzi tries to pay me and I first try to not accept, but am convinced to take re-imbursement for the car I've rented (she's already shelled out to fly me / bus me in, put up Jo and I, and stock the bar in the party room plus a few meals).

On arriving home it's back to my usual house gigs in Calgary (Tuesdays solo at Mikey's Juke Joint and the Saturday Jam at the Blues Can, week-end gigs in both rooms with my band, The Electro-Fires, a rehearsal with The Hackamores - a western swing band I'm part of - a private party, then Bar-B-Q on the Bow, an annual competition/barbecue fest, the Calgary Soul Fest (put on by former Perpetrator Scotty Hills, to a very encouraging response), and off to Dawson Creek. Mile Zero of the Alaska Highway. Along with Grande Prairie on the Alberta side of the border, the commercial hub of the Peace River farming/ranching country and a serious oil industry jumping - off point.

The 9 1/2 hour drive is from Hell : I have a cold, and the cd player/radio in the rental car dies by the city limits...Edmonton is a hideous construction zone of lane closures, rude/terrible drivers, and a complete lack of signage to get you out of the city. I roll into Dawson Creek in time to set up in the Dew Drop Inn (beer parlour for the 1931-constructed Alaska Hotel) where I will play 5 sets a night through Sunday night to farmers who love guitar, 20-something oil trash, and crushed natives, while staying in a room where I can smell the mould even through my head-cold. At its best it was great, and at its worst it reminded me why I play the festivals, folk clubs and dedicated music rooms to the exclusion of booze barns whenever possible. A note to the girl who cursed at me for not playing "Jackson" by Johnny Cash : in Dawson Creek you might be considered a hot date, but in a real city you'd be just another stoned whore. See you next time - NOT.

The owners, Charles and Heidi, are lovely folks with whom I'll always be glad of a visit, but I no longer have whatever it takes to do 5 sets a night for the Great Uncaring. The drive back, although still silent, was beautiful (except for the terrible traffic accident I drove by just over the border). Fields still being harvested, colour beginning on the softwood trees, and my own bed where I could lie down and lose the cold.

September's last few gigs will be Mikey's this Tuesday, and The Last Chance Saloon in Wayne , Alberta, on Friday night. October's gigs include the usual Mikey's and Blues Can gigs, plus Mondays solo at The Blues Can (subbing for my pal Darren Johnson while he's off to Florida) on the 10th, 17th and 24th; Vangelis Pizza in Saskatoon on the 5th for the Blues Society; a workshop at Legacy Guitars, in Cochrane Alberta on Wednesday the 12th, The Blues Can with The Electro-Fires on the 14th-15th; Alberta Showcase in Edmonton the 21st-23rd (I showcase on the Saturday and will have a booth at the hotel - drop around if you're attending and say "Howdy"); and 4 dates with a wonderful group of players ...Steve Pineo and Robbie Laws are the other guitarists/front men, with a "dream band" of Ron Casat (keys), Mike Clark (sax), John Hyde (bass) and Kelly Kruse (drums)... October 27th at The Vat in Red Deer, 28th-29th at the Ironwood Stage & Grill in Calgary, and the 30th at the Old-Timers Cabin in Edmonton (Halloween fund-raiser for the Edmonton Blues Society).

Lots more on the go...2 cds to produce and the score for a play at Vertigo Theatre (Calgary) to get ready, RECORD MY OWN NEW CD, and ride herd on the summer festivals already making offers (seems earlier each year). There's now a working website for the festival I'm part of in Cabo San Lucas, Mexico in Feb./Mar. at See you somewhere down the road !

Friday, August 5, 2011

Another Summer (more or less)

After a cold and miserable spring (and a sparsely employed one, owing to the collapse of 1 guitar camp, 2 festivals, and a cd production gig), the good weather arrived more or less along with the Calgary Stampede Parade. I think it was nice on June 9 when I became a Canadian citizen (dual/US) but my mind was on other things. I played 4 shows at the Stampede grounds in the International Visitors Lounge of the Agriculture Building - lovely audiences of people actually from the ranching/farming global community, and turned my regular Tuesday ig at Mikey's Juke Joint into a debut performance of The Hackamores, a western swing band I've been rehearsing with for quite some time : Al Baekland on guitar and vocal, Charlie Veilleux on steel guitar, Gorb Bregg on bass and bgs, Johnathan Lewis on fiddle, Gary Gelhorne on traps, and me on guitar, vocals, mandolin and button accordion. A great night of fun music.

On the 15th Jo and I headed to Chase for a picnic with her holidaying sister and family, then the next morning we were off to Penticton for a night at The Dream Cafe. Possibly the best club/restaurant anywhere, hosts Debra and Pierre offer stellar food, drink and music in an absolutely charming space. Then 3 nights hanging in Kelowna, hanging with my on, Dr. Josh, and his wife (the newly minted Dr.) Heather. A great barbeque, an afternoon of touring wineries, and a lot of just chillin'. Next was a 2 night stand at The Blue Loon Grill in Clearwater BC, where weather forced the show indoors (and woke me up later absolutely pounding on the motel roof). Sun came out enough on day 2 for a picnic at Helmcken Fallis in Wells Grey park, with a stunning amount of water pouring through in this very wet year. Friday was a travel day, down Highway 5 through Kamloops, west over the Coquihala Pass through Vancouver to Horseshoe Bay, ferry to Nanaimo, drive to Duncan and get my schedule/passes for the Islands Folk Fest. A 10-minute drive later we were in beautiful Cowichan Bay, at the Wessex By The Sea Motel. Next day I played a concert in the acoustically stunning Chapel Room and said hello to countless friends. Sunday was the long shift...a morning blues workshop with old friends Ray Bonneville and Dave "Slim" Harris, plus Kat Danser; a noon mainstage with '70s running buddy Rick Van Krugel (brilliant mandolinist/multi-instrumentalist/luthier), then one more solo concert and a beer with Washboard Hank and Bruce Brackney (formerly of Utah Phillips' Rose Tattoo), get paid and discover I was almost sold out of cds only midway through the tour. Many thanks to pal Chris Hunt for getting more from my office and shipping them out.

Next came 2 days off in Courtenay, with side-trips to Coombs (another family picnic) and Qualicum Beach (for the insanely delicious Fanny Bay oysters served up by the Shady Rest pub), and a beer in Cumberland with dobro-playing pal Doug Cox. Over beers and catch-up (Doug plays with Slide To Freedom, Betty Soo and others, and is the Artistic Director of the Vancouver Island Music Festival) we decided to attend the blues jam at the Cumberland Hotel where we were joined by funny guy and guitar monster Todd Butler for a rousing set.

Then it was off to Gabriola Island for what has become an annual show at the Roxy Theatre, put on bby long-time friend Ken Stefansson of Gabriola Gourmet Garlic, and a night at ate beautiful Hummingbird B&B. Up early for a delicious breakfast, we caught the ferry back to Nanaimo (no time to stop at my favorite record store, Fascinatin' Rhythm, which probably saved me a bundle) and north up-island to the Filberg Festival in Comox. It's an arts & crafts event with 130 artisans, and Bobbie Blue programs a brilliant bunch of music on 2 stages. Catching the last few tunes of Blackie & The Rodeo Kings, while setting up for the blues panel after them, I had a chance to catch up with Jolene (Little Miss) Higgins and Foy Taylor, Lester Quitzau, Suzy Vinnick, and Eric Bibb (lots of hugs all around). Blues Panel was brilliant, 2 solo sets on the Garden Stage both went really well (a few drops of rain as I finished...I like to use up the good weather and then leave), grab the handfull of remaining cds and take off after long-overdue visits with Cindy Church and James Keelaghan. Dinner at the Old House (wonderful food and a great covered patio), a few hours sleep, and the 15 1/2 hour car/ferry trip home to Calgary, where our cat Beulah was quite happy to see us (I think that's what she was saying anyway). Big thanks to Trevor Reuger and Howard Chapman for feeding the old gal while we were gone. Next day I picked up another old friend, Smiling Jack Smith, at the airport to begin a handful of local gigs and be our house guest for the my mainstage set with Rick Van Krugel, hanging out and playing with Jack was the effortless resumption of a musical/personal conversation interrupted by decades.

Tomorrow I play my usual set and host at the Blues Can jam, and on Sunday I play a concert in South Calgary for the Parkland in Summer series. Monday I coach a student through his audition piece for the Berklee School of Music, Tuseday is my regular solo spot at Mikey's Juke Joint, Wednesday afternoon I'm at the Hillhurst Farmers Market, and Thursday (my birthday !) we fly to California where I play at "Just Strings...A Music Festival" in Napa Valley. First paying gig in my home state in 35 (?) years. Back in time for my Mikey's show, the Foothills Acoustic Music Academy camp, a private function, Friday night Aug. 26th at Mikey's with The Electro-Fires, the Blues Can jam next day, and the Last Chance Saloon in Wayne, Alberta (as seen on the TV show "Canadian Pickers" - Fred didn't sell them anything) from 3-6 on Sunday the 28th. Mikey's solo on August 30th closes out this delightfully busy month, and a new blog post will be up for September's gigs and some long-range news: one more western tour before year's end, at least one festival in Mexico in the coming winter, maybe a new cd, etc. I'll also be taking a limited number of students for this fall-spring, so if you're interested let me know !

Tuesday, July 5, 2011

Festival Time

Well, festival season is upon us...after Stampede (actually I leave just before the Calgary Stampede ends), where I play a few shows in the International Room of the Agriculture Building, and the debut gig of The Hackamores (the western swing band I've been rehearsing) at Mikey's Juke Joint on the 12th, I head out for the first leg of summer touring.

The Dream Cafe, Penticton BC July 16th
The Blue Loon Grill, Clearwater BC July 20-21
Islands Folk Music Festival, Duncan BC July 23-24
The Roxy, Gabriol Island, BC July 28
The Filberg Festival, Comoc BC July 29-30
House Concert, Campbell River BC July 30

Then home to play Mikey's Juke Joint August 2, a workshop on writing and arranging blues for acoustic guitar (for the Calgary Int'l Blues Fest) August 4, the Saturday jam at the Blues Can August 6th, and Parkland Summer Concerts in South Calgary August 7th. Mikey's again on the 9th, then fly to San Francisco on the 11th (my birthday) to play the Just Strings Festival in Geyserville, Napa County. Home the 15th, Mikey's on the 16th, and the Foothills Acoustic Music Institute (FAMI) music camp in Bragg Creek, Alberta the 19-21st. Mikey's on the next many Tuesdays (and Aug. 26th with The Electro-Fires), a private party on the 25th, and the Blues Can jam on the 27th. The autumn is filling up with dates mostly close to home, plus gigs in Dawson Creek, BC and Edmonton AB, also possibly Saskatoon SK and one more swing to Vancouver Island before the horrific weather sets in again. I've accepted a playing/teaching gig in Cabo San Lucas, Mexico in Feb.-Mar. : come take a guitar lesson in paradise. All confirmed dates (and some tentatives) will be on the calendar at in the next few days. To my fellow nominees for CBC Saturday Night Blues' "Great Canadian Blues Award", condolences that we lost to Dan Ackroyd...Mama always said "If you can't say something nice...". Hasta luego, I'll write more and sooner !

Friday, May 27, 2011

Quick...Get The Ark

Time doesn't march anymore, it gallops like a Thoroughbred. I haven't updated this blog since before last month's West Coast tour, and lots has been happening. My solo Tuesdays at Mikey's Juke Joint and the Saturday jams at the Blues Can (both here in Calgary) both continue to be fun and popular. Although I lost a guitar camp at Whistler, BC this month (cancelled due apparently to poor advance sales) and didn't get a pair of blues festivals I was in the running for, there's always stuff to do around the shack (even in the endless rain) and projects to develop. Rehearsals are carrying on with the Western Swing band (we have a name now - The Hackamores) and our first public gig will be during Stampede (how fitting) at my usual Tuesday night gig at Mikey's.

The BC tour last month was a howling success, all but one room sold out and I ran out of merchandise one show before the end of the tour. The first date, at The Sandpiper in White Rock, was sponsored by the White Rock Blues Society, who are a great resource for touring musicians in their hood; next, after 3 days hanging with family in Vancouver, was the Hornby Island Blues Society...a concert which was also a birthday party for the wonderful Kathy Banky. After a 2 - day visit (and the gift of an incredible '60s Carvin head/Silvertone with Jensens cabinet) it was off to the Duncan Garage Showroom, the only dead night on the tour. First night of Stanley Cup play-offs, with Vancouver in the hunt. Sold a lot of cds (more than there were people in attendance) and one fan who couldn't make the show paid for my hotel room ! Joe's Garage in Courtenay was the following night, a sold-out show with Milo doing his usual great job as host/soundman/chef. Then up at dawn for the drive to Port Hardy (deer, elk and black bears littering the road) for 2 school shows and a concert (big house, great audience). Sunday was the drive all the way down-island to the Victoria Folk Music Society (always a fun one), through more deer, elk and bears, a night in a cheap motel full of the dying and the dealing (by the looks of it) and the long ferry/car trip home. Next morning in the studio to finish work on Carolyn Harley's cd, Mikey's that night, and a very long sleep.

I played at Locals Pub in Red Deer (thanks, Monty), The Grey Eagle Casino (the stage is on the roof of the bar...strange), a private concert in a house backing onto the Elbow River (swank !), in a converted service station for the opening of my friend Yale's Custom Cycle Shop, and for the annual Bob Dylan Birthday Bash at the Ironwood Stage and Grill (great players, great audiences and obviously great music). Tonight I play with the full version of the Electro-Fires (Ron Casat, keys/vocals, Kevin Belzner, drums, Suitcase James, bass, and Mike Clark, tenor sax), always one of my favorite things to do. For a guy who does so much solo work, I am truly blessed to have such great players to work with on band gigs. More soon (honest)...

Monday, March 21, 2011

Down in Mexico

Back from the Zihuatanejo International Guitar Festival, I'm looking forward to resuming my usual Tuesday solo gig at Mikey's Juke Joint tomorrow (Mar. 22). The festival was great, a gathering of world-class players from (this year) Canada, the U.S., Mexico and South Africa. Money was raised to pay a music teacher for the local casa de cultura, and Mexico worked the same magic on me it always has. I played the jam at the Blues Can, couldn't sleep, and left for the airport at 4 a.m. on the Sunday morning. -20 and a lot of snow. Everything went suspiciously smooth at the airport, flight on time, guitar and bag checked through to Zihuatanejo even though I changed planes in Phoenix. In Mexico, my guitar and luggage were waiting for me in the baggage area, I hit the lottery button which decides whether you go through one last inspection, got the green light and hit the lobby where I was met by Catherine Krantz (AD for the festival).

The musicians were put up in two guest-house complexes beside one another in Playa la Ropa ("Clothes Beach", named for some shipwreck which deposited fabric on the shore), about 1 1/2 miles from downtown. I was the first one in; I put on shorts and watched the sun set while bands played ranchera and some minor-key local style tune, listening to crocodiles splash in the estuary on the beach.

The week went by in a blur of great music and new friends, a few old friends I'd made when I did the festival before and a handfull of fans from Canada. Flamenco, blues, rock, singer-songwriters and Gypsy jazz mingled with classical and Mexican guitar styles every night with a few good jams thrown in (okay, and a few bottles of local mezcal).

Home again, clear my desk and computer of neglected items which accumulated over the 10 days I was gone, then the Blues Can jam, a western swing rehearsal, and now Mikey's on Tuesday, Rusty Reed's House of Blues (Edmonton) Thurs./Fri., Demmit, Alberta on Saturday, and the Jack Singer concert hall here in Calgary on Sunday with (among others) Blackie and the Rodeo Kings. End-of-the-month brings a 2-nighter at the Blues Can with old pal Big Dave Maclean (Apr. 1-2). Tune in again for itenerary of my West Coast tour April 6-17 !

Friday, February 18, 2011


Minus twenty-one degrees Celsius. Is this winter worse than others or is it my imagination ? It could have to do with the passing of time...I've lived in Canada long enough that I no longer fear the winters, but I resent their harshness sometimes (maybe in that sense I'm just becoming more Canadian). Photos and mementos on the walls, from warmer places...Mexico, Morocco, Cuba, Australia...sometimes offer a little warmth. I leave in just over two weeks for a guitar festival in Zihuatanejo (2 1/2 hours North of Acapulco, Mexico) which is a welcome thought, although it would be better if my wife could accompany me. She's stage managing a show in Edmonton (brrrr...) and Victoria (nice) in that time period. Next time.

March will be interesting. Gigs in Calgary, Mexico, Edmonton, Demmitt (on the BC/Alberta border West of Grande Prairie) and Calgary again. Planes, planes (no trains) and automobiles. Tomorrow, Feb. 19th, is a two-gig day starting with the Blues Can jam, after which I take to the stage at the Ironwood Stage & Grill with the 5-piece version of the Electro-Fires including keyboardist Ron Casat and tenor sax ace Mike Clark. I don't often get to play in town with the bigger band but decided to roll the dice on the crowd tomorrow night because I like the sound of the band so much. This unit opened for ZZ Top at the Saddledome, and Lyle Lovett at the Blues and Roots fest a few years back, and was featured on CBC Radio's Canada Live this past summer.

April will bring a tour of Vancouver Island, with a kick-off gig on Hornby Island on the 9th, then the Duncan Garage on the 13th, Joe's Garage (Courtenay) the 14th, Port Hardy on the 16th, and the Victoria Folk Music Society on the 17th. Then back to Calgary for the Blues Can, Mikey's Juke Joint and the Grey Eagle Casino.

Friday, February 4, 2011

The Chinook

Although it's set to go away tomorrow, we are still in the embrace of a Chinook wind which is melting the snow and giving a false sense that the winter is on the wane. Gigs in Red Deer and Sherwood Park last month were exercises in patience, outerwear and winter driving. I played a charming little gig last week for TALES (The Alberta League Encouraging Storytelling) plus Friday and Saturday at the Blues Can here in Calgary, then a "Blue Monday" at the National Music Centre (Cantos) with the new house band I helped them to recruit.

My Immigration card will be here on the 2nd of March (nice, sense I fly to Mexico on the 6th and it's hard getting back into Canada without it). Cat-sitting is arranged, now the only hitch could be changing planes in Phoenix with only a 50 minute layover. If you find someone in a good mood sometimes they'll check your luggage through to its' final destination (I've had it happen) which would be nice. Last time I came back from this same festival my guitar was lost at LAX (I eventually got it back - lucky !) and I had to proceed on to Victoria with a spare instrument and no deodorant.

Tuesdays at Mikey's Juke Joint continue to be a very fun solo gig (I was hired to do "a couple of Tuesdays" three years ago). If you're in Calgary on a Tuesday night when I'm not on the road, that's where you'll find me. This is the longest I've been off the road in a long time, since mid-August with only a few nights out-of-town. I'm enjoying the time at home but part of me (the road-dog part) is anxious to do some touring again. Next month will take care of that...check the calendar for March/April and you'll see what I mean !

Thursday, January 20, 2011

A Break In The Blizzard

Well, finally, a few days where the temperature rises above -23. January's turning into a fun month musically, however - both the Blues Can Jam and the 8th Annual Hankover (a tribute to Hank Williams at the Ironwood Stage & Grill) made Jan. 1st a cool one. A Saturday night at Mikey's Juke Joint on Jan. 8 marked the return of old friend and musical collaborator Ron Casat to my electric band (The Electro-Fires) after a 5-month hiatus. A pair of shows with the Front Porch Review (produced by Peter North) were wonderful, although the driving was a little hairy. Thanks to all the guys in the show (Stewart Macdougall, Ron Rault, Bobby Cameron, Crawdad Cantera, Thom Moon, and Dwayne Hrynkiuw) and to the staff at the Matchbox (Red Deer) and Festival Place (Sherwood Park) for such enjoyable gigs.

This Saturday I'm in concert at the Grandview Stage Resort, near Rocky Mountain House. Always a good time ! Greg Godowicz will be holding down the Blues Can Jam for me that day (Jan. 22), and I'll be back for the 29th, as well as playing the club Friday and Saturday nights (Jan. 28-29). Tuesday solo shows at Mikey's Juke Joint continue, plus on Wednesday Jan. 26 I appear with a group of storytellers at JT's Pub in the Tri-Wood Community Centre (7 pm show), and on Monday the 31st I am the first guest to play with the new Blue Mondays house band at Cantos/National Music Centre (7 pm as well).

When I Was A Cowboy, the theme cd I put out a while ago, garnered a very nice review in the current issue of Penguin Eggs, the Canadian folk music magazine. Still no word from Sing Out !, who requested review copies of the two most recent discs a while back.

Progress (finally) is being made on the blues mandolin instructional dvd ! No release date yet but we're approaching the absolute end of editing it. Speaking of instruction, my being listed as "confirmed" at a blues guitar camp at Whistler Mountain, B.C. is a little premature - they have until the 31st to send a deposit and a contract. I wish them well, and if it's a go I will be there.

February looks like a month of good and interesting work. Aside from the house gigs there's a house concert for Jeans Off ! in Red Deer on the 11th, a "dirty" blues Valentine's Day show at Mikey's Juke Joint, the Ironwood Stage & Grill on the 19th, The Blues Can with the Electro-Fires on the 25-26, and producing the second cd for the acoustic blues duo Hills & Lemelin (their debut was one of my favorite projects of the last few years).

Keep on listening, and I'll post again soon !