Monday, October 13, 2014

Home for a minute...

Well, I'm writing this post in between the end of the Legendary Blues Cruise and my flight to Whitehorse, Yukon Territory, for the first annual Yukon Roots & Blues Festival.  Since I last posted I have played the excellent Hot Springs Blues Festival in Arkansas ( a town with a crazy history...go check it out), where I had a chance to touch base with IBC Band winner Mr. Sipp, and runners -up Ghost Town Blues Band; driven to the West Coast and taken 2 ferries to chill in a lovely waterfront house on Gabriola Island; and played (among others) a wonderful show at the 100-plus year-old Empress Theatre in Fort Macleod, Alberta.

The Legendary Rhythm & Blues Cruise was a blast, catching sets by Taj Mahal (and daughter Deva Mahal, a gorgeous singer), Los Lobos, The Royal Southern Brotherhood, Low Rider Band, and numerous others.  My four shows were very well attended and received, as was the workshop I sat in on with the great Doug Macleod, plus I sat in for a few tunes with friend (and wonderful pianist) Leon Blue, and caught two sets by my friend Carolyn Wonderland (both excellent).  Basically a giant festival on a cruise ship with a bar around every corner, it gives the fans a chance to be "up-close" with the musicians, and makes for a great sense of community among the players...informal chats in the coffee and food lines with Cesar Rosas of Los Lobos and Cyril Neville of Royal Southern Brotherhood, praise from Lloyd Jones, Curtis Salgado, Mike Zito and Bernard Allison, and a crew of very dedicated and competent organizers and sound techs made for a fun week.

I'll be in Whitehorse Oct. 15-22 for a few gigs, then the 23-26th in Saskatchewan.  About as big a change from the West Coast of Mexico as one could imagine.  Southern Ontario November 6-12th, then putting my feet up in Calgary for a spell (with the exception of Blues At The Bow, in Bow Island, Alberta, on November 29th).  You can get specific dates from the calendar at .

Tuesday, August 19, 2014

Life After Memphis

Things have been a bit of a blur since I returned victorious from the IBC in late January.  After a little flurry of media attention and another award (this time from the Calgary Blues Music Association...Lifetime Achievement/Hall of Fame) it was time to get back to gigging...after losing and regaining my wallet in the airport, waking up my wife to help pay the towncar driver, getting up for interviews, and a lovely Tuesday night celebration/gig at Mikey's Juke Joint  I played the Calgary Mid-Winter Blues festival with my friend Fruteland Jackson, and Edmonton's Roots & Blues of Folkways winter event (a concert with Del Rey and a panel with Del and the great Allen Toussaint).  A few more gigs in Alberta (including the lovely Ye Olde Jar Bar house concerts, outside Medicine Hat) and it was time to head for Victoria.  A fund-raiser for Blue Bridge Theatre (I would spend the next 4 weeks there as musical director) and a lovely gig for the Victoria Blues Society at The Upper Deck included visits with friends Jason Buie, Tom Gough and Dave "Slim" Harris.  I also got a chance to sit in with David Vest at his cd release for the great "Roadhouse Revelation" disc, at Hermann's Jazz Club.  After opening night, and a house concert within a stone's throw of the ferry terminal, it was time to head to the Hornby Island Blues Week.

Hornby remains one of my faves, a great teaching environment in the company of fine musicians and a chance to hang with friends I've made on the Island over the years.  Following the annual instructors' concert in Courtenay on Vancouver Island, I played a house concert in Campbell River before returning briefly to Calgary.  Then the lovely Dream Cafe in Penticton, a one-nighter in Edgewood, B.C. and home (where the incredibly patient staff at Mikey's Juke Joint and The Blues Can keep my house gigs open to me when I'm not on the road).  Festival season began with The North Country Fair, up north by Lesser Slave Lake, then the Portland Waterfront Blues Fest in Oregon (and a chance to catch up with Leo "Bud" Welch and Jerron "Blind Boy" Paxton), Islands Folk Festival (Duncan, B.C.), Mission (B.C.) Folk Festival,Calgary Blues Festival and The Heritage Blues Festival (Wheeling, West Virginia).  Tonight it's Mikey's Juke Joint here in Cowtown, then a week-end teaching at the Foothills Acoustic Music Institute west of Calgary, plus closing the show at the Mountain Shadow fest in Cochrane AB this Sunday.  Back at Mikey's next Tuesday, then the Hot Springs Blues Festival in Arkansas, and a week of holidays with my hone on Gabriola Island.  Therest of September I'll be in town, then playing the Rhythm and Blues Cruise down the west coast of Mexico; the Yukon Roots & Blues festival in Whitehorse, a tour of Saskatchewan, and the first week of November in Southern Ontario.

Come on out, catch a show and say howdy !

Monday, March 10, 2014

Memphis !!!

     Where to start ?  After touring frozen Saskatchewan, playing one of my favorite gigs on New Year's Day (the annual "Hankover" show at the Ironwood Stage & Grill here in Calgary) and assorted other gigs, I got on a plane for Houston to make connections with a flight to Memphis where I would compete in the 30th annual International Blues Challenge.  This is not your usual battle-of-the-bands horseshit where a bunch of people play for free and club owners line their pockets with beer sales...this is the premier gathering of blues talent on the planet, sponsored by The Blues Foundation.  I was in the solo/duo category, along with 101 other competitors from Canada, the US, Spain, Croatia, Germany, Denmark, Australia and the UK.  Each of these acts had to win a qualifying round put on by their local blues society just to be in Memphis.

     I got to Houston without a hitch, but while having a beer in the bar adjacent to my boarding lounge the bartender mentioned that a bad snowstorm was rolling west.  I looked at the monitor and could see flights beginning to be delayed, so I paid up and got a seat in my boarding lounge.  Soon a counter person asked to see my boarding pass, and offered me $150 plus hotel, ground transportation and meal vouchers to take a flight the next morning.  I politely declined and watched more flights being delayed and cancelled at airports further and further west.  The counter person returned and doubled the offer, but I explained to her that I had to be in Memphis, on Beale Street, by 11:30 and I wasn't going on a different flight from my guitars (which had been checked through).

     We came in from the south, following the river (Mark Twain's river, William Faulkner's river, Louis Armstrong and Bix Beiderbeck's river) at twilight.  Pure magic.  I got to my hotel and noticed a text from pal Mike Clark, whose band were the other Calgary competitors.  Meet at B.B.King's...which was right around the corner from me, five or six stops down the Main Street streetcar line for Mike.  A few Maker's Mark and Flat Tire beer combos later, after listening to the brilliant Tuesday night house band, I went back to the room for some quiet time and a sleep.  I wanted to have my wits about me for the orientation at the New Daisy Theatre next day at 11:30.

     Breakfast in my hotel, the Westin On Beale (more correctly it should be called The Westin Almost On Beale, but what's half a block ?).  Sort of up-scale, definitely could have been anywhere cuisine, but the coffee was good, the waitresses were friendly and it lay directly between me and my destination.  The New Daisy Theatre (right across Beale from The Daisy Theatre) is a run-down, waiting for a loving restoration kind of a place, and once the doors opened there were line-ups (bands one side, solo/duo acts on the other) all the way from the bar (where passes were being handed out) to the stage and across the front of it.  It took awhile to get through the line-up, to be told we had to come back later for the orientation.  I went down the street to Ugly Juanita's, where eventually I got a schedule, and paid $3 for a lanyard to hang my pass from (I grumbled for a second, but then I remembered all the good work the Blues Foundation does for the music I love).  Back to the New Daisy where we are told we are all winners, and told not to mess up and to be at our venues on time or lose points.

     I changed strings and went for dinner at Pig on Beale, a fine Barbeque place where both large front windows are full of BBQ trophies and they serve one of my favorite southern comfort foods, a barbequed bologna sandwich (with slaw and beans).  It was time to wash offr the barbecue sauce and head to my venue, upstairs in Jerry Lee Lewis's club, in The 12 Bar.  A nice little room, no stage but wood walls and floor good for that one warm sound bounce, and a soundman who seemed to know what he was about.  On at 7, playing to a pretty full room with three judges sitting directly in front of me along with a time keeper (you lose points if you exceed your 25 minutes).  I start playing and notice the judges and time keeper looking at me with big smiles and think "Damn, these are friendly folks."  After the set I run into Alberta blues pals Cam Hayden (Edmonton Blues Fest/CKUA) and Holger Pederson (CBC/CKUA/Stony Plain Records) and head off with Holger and some folks from other blues societies, back to B.B.King's to catch thre Papa John Band, who are magnificent.  I finish my evening with a feed of catfish at Blues City Cafe and head to bed.

     Thursday is busier.  A showcase at a knotty-pine paneled bar hung with moose heads, called the Kooky Kanuck.  Noon, the place is full of people drinking beer and trying to either do business or listen to the blues.  I opt for the latter, playing "Shake 'Em On Down" with the Mike Clark Band, then hustle back to Beale.  I had taken a cab to the bar because it was cold and I didn't know where I was going, and the cabby wasn't taking any money...this is a city that loves it's musicians.  1:15 and I'm upstairs at the Rumboogie Club, doing an interview with Vinnie Marini for his internet radio broadcast, "Music From The Couch."  A quick bite at Polly's Soul City Cafe and then try to fix my malfunctioning luck, I'll have to play the set through a Blues Jr. amp again tonight.  Judges dig it, two of them come up to tell me how much they dig it.  I listen to some of the other acts, then head to the lounge at The Orpheum Theatre to catch my friend Brandon Issak, then we head for a beer (and discover we've both made the semi-finals).  And more catfish.

     Friday I discover my venue is right beside my hotel...a strange combo of  Irish pub and southern food.  I had been in earlier to catch Barbara Blue, a Beale Street fixture.  The place is loud, but the soundman is cool and competent...things go down pretty good, and I head to the back room for a pulled pork dinner.  Heading out to find a venue that's announcing the finalists, I run into Eddie "Devil Boy" Turner, and we have a good little hang while waiting to find out they're announcing finalists at the New Daisy.  It's freezing cold in Memphis (colder than Calgary) and freezing inside the New Daisy.  I get a beer and sit up at the back until, in amazement I hear my name announced as a finalist.

     Next day starts out tense.  The e-mail detailing finalist orientation at the Orpheum doesn't get to my cell phone (it's on my computer when I get home, however).  I hustle to the theatre and apologize profusely, find out when I play, and then hang back stage for an eternity.  A good visit with Lionel Young makes the time pass somewhat more pleasantly.  I walk out to play my 20-minute set in the beautiful old Orpheum Theatre...I can't even let myself think about all the greats who've stood on that stage.  Three acts later, it's over and I hear my name being called...I've won Best Solo/Duo and Best Guitarist (Solo/Duo).  Holy Shit...more later (sooner than later).

Tuesday, January 7, 2014

That Time It Never Quit Snowing

Wow...2014 ! How did that happen ?  Well, it went like this.  In January I stayed home, doing my house gigs at Mikey's Juke Joint and The Blues Can (both here in Calgary) plus a gig at National Music Centre (also Calgary) and taught a few private lessons...lying low and trying to recover financially from the collapse of a Spanish tour in December 2012.  I also continued to work on my most recent cd with co-producer Russ Broom and a handful of other folks.  February brought a winter blues fest in Camrose, AB (at the beautiful Bailey Theatre) and a 10-gig duo tour with my old pal Big Dave Maclean (including the gorgeous Dream Cafe in Penticton), and the annual blues & burlesque "Dirty Valentine" night at Mikey's.  March saw the cd completed, plus my house gigs and shows at Legacy Guitars in Cochrane AB and a concert in Vulcan, AB.  April 4 saw the release of the new cd, The Blue Highway (LowdenProud Records) to a full house at Ironwood Stage & Grill, then a flight to Ottawa to rehearse and perform "Big Mama" with Jackie Richardson at The National Arts Centre.  The show was a howling success and I had time to hang with friends Tony D and Steve Marriner (Monkeyjunk), folk and blues radio hosts Chris White and John Tackaberry, and several guitar buddies passing through (Paul Pigat, Doug Cox, Morgan Davis),.  We closed May 11 and I was back in Calgary May 13, playing the Blues Can, Bob Dylan's birthday party at Ironwood, two days as guest guitarist at Mount Royal Conservatory, a guitar clinic and house concert (also in Calgary) and a night at The Grandview Stage, just outside Rocky Mountain House AB. 

In June I played Carlsons On Macleod, a beautiful club closed by the floods which hit downtown High River (fortunately all my friends there escaped without physical harm) and drove with my wife to California via old Highway 95 (Idaho-Washington-Oregon-Nevada route).  After a lovely visit there with my family and my wife's sister's family in the SF Bay area, we drove home in time to play the Pincher Creek Cowboy Poets Gathering, where I put my back wouldn't settle down and caused me to spent the night of our intense flooding in emergency, having to cancel Works fest (Edmonton) and North Country Faire appearances.  July brought Stampede gigs with The Hackamores (my part-time Western Swing band), 2 performances of "Big Mama" at Vancouver Island Music Fest, and more.  In August I played the Canmore Folk Festival for the first time in 20 years, including great workshops with Jim McLennan, Chic Gamine, and Matt Anderson, and returned as a teacher at Foothills Acoustic Music Institute (FAMI) just west of Calgary.  I finished there, went by home for an hour, and flew via Seattle to Anchorage, from where I was driven to Wasilla (yes, Sarah Palin's hometown) to teach at Acoustic Alaska camp and play concerta in Anchorage and Seldovia.  September was largely taken up with a tour of the Okanagan Valley and Vancouver Island, Hornby Island and Gabriola Island in British Columbia.

Early October was spent with friends in San Jose del Cabo, Mexico, and (on returning home) a benefit performance for pal Amos Garrett who lost a considerable amount in the June flooding, followed by local gigs and students.  November and December were a time to stay close and lie low with in-town gigs and teaching (and a three-day tour of Saskatchewan...nice to see friends Richie and Katherine Pollack, and Ken and Heather Peat Hamm out that way).

2014 : The 11th annual Hankover on New Year's Day sold out, and this week I play a house concert in St. Albert AB and the Saturday Night Special folk club here in Calgary, plus other in-town gigs and a house concert in Red Deer on the 31st.  I will compete in the International Blues Challenge in Memphis, TN, Jan. 21-26, and February will see me at both Calgary and Edmonton winter blues fests.  Keep the faith, support traditional and original music, and I hope to see you at a show sometime soon !  Stay warm and drive safe...