Tuesday, September 22, 2015

Been A While

I know it's been too long since I added a new blog post...a combination of events and circumstances.  On this day five months ago my best friend and longtime musical partner, the brilliant keyboardist/bassist/singer/arranger Ron Casat finally succumbed to the liver problems which had plagued him for the last several years.  We toured over more than half of this huge country, and did one tour of Baja California as well.  We did countless sessions together on my recordings, his one lovely solo disc, and the projects of others. I can't remember how many sound designs for CBC Radio we did together - remember when "Morningside" ran a weekly radio drama ? Many of those were produced here and many featured Ron and myself. We were involved in several theatre projects together, including the oft-produced "Big Mama" play about the life of Big Mama Thornton .  And we were friends, the sort who could finish each other's sentences quite often because we were that in-tune, who would come up with the same idea at the same time in the middle of a recording session.  I still find myself wanting to telephone and share some tidbit with him, or bounce a musical idea off him.

So, I haven't felt like writing about it but it's time to jump that particular hurdle.  Ron's passing came while I was in the middle of a tour with Al Lerman, best known as sax and harmonica player (and founding member) of Toronto band, Fathead. Al is also a good guitar player and a lovely singer/writer, and the tour was so much fun (and so successful) we are doing it again in May of 2016. Major club dates in Edmonton and the Okanagan are in place, with more to come.  I know there have been some problems with the website calendar lately but we're working on that, and dates will be posted there.

June began with a BC tour which included the Georgia Strait Guitar Workshop, The Dream Cafe (Penticton), Pat's Pub (Vancouver), and The Campbell River Blues&Wine Festival.  My longtime drummer, Kevin Belzner, played two of these dates with me in an interesting drums/guitar duo we've been working up.  The summer continued with a second BC run (39 Days of Duncan Fest, Duncan Showroom, and Vancouver Island Music Fest) before heading off for my first ever gigs on the European continent. A tornado warning delayed my Calgary flight, causing my entire itenerary to need re-adjusting.  London leg was fine, but in Munich I had to run through customs/security with minutes to spare.  At Genoa I discovered my guitar was fine but my suitcase was still in London.

After making arrangements to have the suitcase sent ahead to Slovenia, my friends Beppe Gambetta and Federica Prina Calvinho loaded my into the van for a drive north to Trento (near the German border). We arrived to an amazing thunder and lightning storm but I still managed to sleep a few hours.  Beppe and I performed next evening at Trento's Itinerari Festival and the next day we headed south and east to Pioraco (in the mountains a few hours from Rome) for PiorAcoustic Festival (an amazing gathering of luthiers set this festival apart for me). Then the long drive to Ambroz Pod Krvacm, Slovenia (halfway up an Alp overlooking the valley where Lubliana, the beautiful capital city is located). After six days of teaching plus a student concert and a public concert (and a way-too-short afternoon in Lubliana) we drove back to Verona, where we overnighted. Truly a magic place. Next day we played in the Piazza di Sol of Santa Margherita, on the Italian Riviera, a fitting end to a great tour.

Next morning, after an effortless flight to Rome, I mis-read a boarding pass, missed a Montreal flight and entered one of those hell-zones every touring musician has a story about.  My luggage was removed from the plane and placed in the lost-and-found of Alitalia in the Rome airport (already a backlogged mess because the airport was shut by a fire two days previously). Again me and a guitar, with my toothbrush in a day pack on my shoulder.  Made alternate arrangements to fly out next morning, found a hotel' and next day was, by noon, headed for home.  My suitcase (which I have named Rover) arrived two days later.

The rest of August and the first three weeks of this month have been spent playing here in Southern Alberta, doing some gigs with Kevin and with a band lineup, and finishing paperwork and such for the new cd, So Low.  It is due out on Nov. 1st, and will apparently be joined shortly after by a trio project cd I did last year with Brandon "Yukon Slim" Issak and Kenny "Blues Boss" Wayne.

In October I'll be in the maritimes for a week of house concerts organized by HomeRoutes (you can get the itinerary from their website at homeroutes.ca), and from mid-November to Christmas eve (after a stop at the Vermillion, AB folk club), I'll be joining Dave Kelly for his seasonal presentation at Lunchbox Theatre.

Festivals and guitar camps are already coming in for 2016 (one for 2017 !) and it looks like another great year !

Just before I sign off I would like to say RIP BB King. Your voice and guitar, and the way you conducted yourself in this world, were an inspiration I will always carry with me.

See you at the gig...

Sunday, February 8, 2015

The February Blues

Back from the South, back to a mild but still wintery Canada.  I journeyed to Memphis (by way of Minneapolis) to participate in the International Blues Challenge, but first I travelled to Clarksdale, MS, with some friends (thanks for driving, Barry), so I could perform at The Hambone Gallery...a delightful combo of art by co-owner/artist/drummer Stan Street and a juke joint (his partner/wife Dixie is also a drummer, frequently in the company of Leo Bud Welch).  The night was a howling success, ending with a little moonshine tasting, money in pocket and cd sales, then back to Memphis by 1 a.m.  Next day, after an excellent country breakfast (chicken-fried steak, eggs, grits, biscuits and gravy) at The Blue Plate, I went to the New Daisy Theatre on Beale Street to get my accreditation pass and attend exactly the same orientation speech as last year, and put my cds in the IBC store.  The venue I would perform in on Wednesday and Thursday was familiar, Pig on Beale...I'd eaten there on earlier trips and knew the lay-out.  Back to my hotel (sadly the old Main Street trolley wasn't running, making it a fair walk (or a taxi ride, with guitars) to all the action.  Check strings, clean up, and back to Pig on Beale for a barbecued bologna sandwich and a beer before show-time.  I caught several of the other acts in my venue and was hugely impressed with Rob Europe, from Long Island NY.  A rousing set (helped by the fact that I had numerous fans from the Calgary Blues Music Association in the audience), then Blues City Cafe for a late supper of Catfish (the best) and greens.  Next day I did an interview with Vinny Bon Marini for his "Music On The Couch" internet broadcast, and played a song at the Canadian showcase before heading back to the hotel ( I also stuck my head in the door of Murray's Clothing to check out what he had for stage suits).  Another pretty killer set (if I do say so myself) and called it a day.  I woke to find I had made it to the semi-final round, appearing at Jerry Lee Lewis' club, in the 12 Bar (I played there 2 nights last year).  Another killer set, but apparently not what the judges were looking for, as I would go no further in the competition.  This wasn't a bad thing...I finally had time to go see the Civil Rights Museum (and walk around in tears for about 45 minutes), have a last feed of Catfish with a friend, and pack for the trip home (my new suit from Murray's is following by mail after being altered.

Memphis to Detroit to Seattle to Calgary, and back into the local gigs, plus a fun house concert at The Jeans Joint in Red Deer.  I was sad to think I couldn't open for piano giant David Vest during Winter Blues Fest here, as I am at he Canada Games in Prince George, BC that week (as well as appearing for two shows as the guest in Raoul Bhaneja's play "Life, Death, and the Blues" in Edmonton).  Then I got a message from David and I'm touring in Saskatchewan as his guitarist from Feb. 25-28, including Bud's On Broadway in Saskatoon, that city's Winter Blues Fest, and the Stir Crazy Blues Fest in Swift Current (in the lovely old Lyric Theatre).  In early March I start work on a new cd...I'll be working the new originals into upcoming shows over the next little while.  See you at the gig !

Friday, January 16, 2015


So, no wonder I keep needing a nap in the afternoons...I played over 200 gigs, spent 120 + days on the road, worked as musical director/composer on two theatre projects, answered well over a dozen media requests (everything from phone-ins to a documentary film crew in my music room), played 14 festivals from Whitehorse, Yukon to Puerto Vallarta, Mexico, and from Vancouver Island to Ottawa, and recorded an as-yet-unreleased cd with friends Brandon "Yukon Slim" Isaak and Kenny "Blues Boss" Wayne.

After a fun, chilly evening at Blues At The Bow, in Bow Island, Alberta, I've been hanging close to home...trying to get material ready for a new disc I thought I would have had out by Christmas and playing all my favorite gigs around Calgary (still getting songs in shape for the new disc).  An interesting year shaping up...I go to Memphis on Tuesday, drive to Clarksdale (Mississippi) and play at The Hambone Gallery, then compete again at the International Blues Challenge in Memphis.  I am crazy enough to think lightning can strike twice in the same life, in the same place.  I'll also be playing a tune at the Ottawa Blues Society's showcase in the Kooky Kanuck bar, and guesting on Vinny Marini's "Music On The Couch" on-line radio broadcast.

In February I'll be playing at The Canada Games with Brandon and Kenny under the name "Blue Note Express," as well as a solo show before heading to Edmonton for an interesting guest shot.  March is The Calgary Folk Club, April includes an Alberta tour with Al Lerman (of the TO band Fathead), and May brings a return to the Kelowna Folk Club.  June will see me at the Georgia Strait Guitar Workshop, The Dream Cafe (Penticton), and The Campbell River Wine and Blues Festival.  I am also teaching at Beppe Gambetta's Guitar Workshop (in the Slovenian Alps) and returning to Foothills Acoustic Music Institute in late August.

I'll be touring the East Coast of Canada this year, in a series of house concerts co-ordinated by HomeRoutes of Winnipeg, plus some additional dates (I'm in discussion with the East Coast Blues Society about that now) and quite possibly returning to Southern Ontario (I had a ball there in early November, thanks to Dennis O'toole, Al Black, Gary Kendall and others).  So, on to Memphis and beyond...see you somewhere down the road !