Tuesday, November 24, 2009

Studio Theatre, Hamilton Place

The Studio Theatre in Hamilton Place is an intimate venue, just right for a singer-songwriter (Stephen Fearing), but also very suitable for some blues (Steve Strongman), or the music of The Rankin Sisters, or even the intricate keyboard noodlings of Garth Hudson. In the last week I've been there twice. A week ago Friday for Bruce Cockburn and last Wednesday for Billy Bragg. Both singer-songwriters, I suppose, but both with very political agendas. They were great!
I'm not a big Burce Cockburn fan. I don't know what it is. He plays the kind of music that I usually go for. Guitar based, folky, with a touch of blues, and I generally agree with his message...so what is it about him that I don't like? Maybe I only had room in my ears for Richard Thompson doing that stuff. Anyway, last Friday I went along with my good friend Frank (who is also not a Cockburn fan) and we sat in the front row, just to the right of centre. This is not a good place to sit, when seeing Bruce. Right of centre is definitely not the place to be! But that's where the seats Ann and Emmitt had saved for us happened to be.
Bruce came out dressed in a baggy outfit, dark pants and an oversized jacket, and picked up one of the two green-topped 6-string guitars and began to roll through his songbook. Tunes from the 70s, 80s, 90s and new songs. Not too many "old songs" mainly "middle-aged songs". And a couple of new ones. "Slow Down Fast," "This is Bagdad," mixed with "Wondering Where the Lions Are," "Waiting For a Miracle," and "Lovers in a Dangerous Time." It was good to have so many familiar songs, because some of the others sounded similar, like riffs just designed to carry the words. There's no doubt that Bruce is an extraordinary guitarist, but there was a sameness to much of what he played. The virtuosity lifted these moments. I was touched, personally, by the new song written after visiting his brother (an army doctor in Afghanistan). My own son is training to go there, and Bruce's lament brought me to tears. Cockburn answered three curtain calls and on his last encore claimed he "[didn't] know what to play." He satisfied the rabid fans, and he satisfied us hangers-on too. All in all a fine night.
Wednesday's show with Billy Bragg was also a dandy night of music, and politics. This time our seats (again, saved by Ann and Emmitt) were in the front row, but appropriately well left of centre! Where else would you want to be for the author of "Power in the Union," and "All You Fascists"!!
After an intriguing set by Toronto's Ron Hawkins (check that guy out!) Billy took the stage. He had played for 2 hours the night previous at the Phoenix Concert Theatre in Toronto, and his tour manager wanted to keep this one to 90 minutes. But once Billy got rolling there was no stoppping him. Playing an electric guitar turned up loud, he rocked the joint with songs of love and justice! He sipped from a mug of tea (he called it Throat Coat) and sang in his London drawl, songs from his long career. He called Woody Guthrie "my boss" as he introduced the songs he had completed (with Wilco) for Woody's daughter Norah, for 2 albums. He sang a classic Guthrie children's song about wetting the bed, and Woody's "Ain't Got No Home". He spoke about oxyomorons like "military intelligence" and "american football". The English call it "runny, runny, catchy" since it has very little to do with the pure "footie" they play in the rest of the world. He expressed his displeasure over France "cheating their way to victory over Ireland" referring to Thierry Henry's handball the night before. He played a few tunes on an acoustic guitar, with STRUMMER emblazoned on the front. He went well beyond his 90 minutes, much to the chagrin of the manager. And then he came out for a meet and greet during which he spoke personally to each person who waited. He heard their stories, and answered their questions, signed their scarves, and LPs, CDs, tickets, and shirts. He gave everyone their money's worth. Long live Billy Bragg!

Tuesday, November 3, 2009

Spectacle: Elvis Costello with Elvis Costello

Last Friday I received an e-mail from the Elvis Costello fan site (which I hadn't even remembered joining). It said that the first 50 people to reply would receive 2 free passes to the taping of the final episode of Season Two of Spectacle with Elvis Costello. Well, who could resist an offer like that? Especially since it was going to take place in Toronto! I replied within 3 minutes, and waited. Later that night I received another message. It said !!CONGRATULATIONS!! You've won! and laid out the rules for picking up tickets. Monday my wife and I headed out early to find parking and a place to have dinner. Parking, no problem, right across the street and only $15. Dinner, two blocks down at le Pain Quotidien, zucchini soup, fresh bread, and smoked salmon salad. Good coffee too! It began to rain, a steady drizzle. We arrived at the Masonic Hall on Yonge Street at about 6:15, a lineup had begun. At 6:30 they checked our photo ID and gave us wristbands. Then they checked our coats, searched my wife's purse, and showed us to our seats. The theatre is beautiful, very art deco. The set featured chandeliers, a 1000 lightbulbs showing the Spectacle logo behind a drum kit, and amps and guitars. We sat in the front row. The front three rows were reserved for the Fan Club winners! Here's someone who knows how to treat his fans.
The place was alive with a buzz. "Who's the guest?" "I hear it's Paul McCartney!" "It's McCartney for sure! I got the word!" People from as far away as Rhode Island were there.
It was 8:00 before the show began, and the air conditioning was blowing on us all the time. "Oh, it'll get hot in here once the lights go on!" But it never got that hot, by the end we were frozen (more of that later).
Elvis came out, followed by The Imposters, did his usual Spectacle rap, picked up his Fender Jaguar and launched into "Accidents Will Happen". It was fantastic. After another tune ("Chelsea") he explained that Elton John was to have been the interviewer and he, Elvis, was the guest tonight. Elton was sick (as the newspapers had told us all weekend) so they looked for a "rock journalist" do perform the task of raking Elvis over the coals. Since they couldn't find a presentable rock journalist...they got Mary Louise Parker (she of Fried Green Tomatoes fame). She came out dressed in black. She looked very slim, and quite lovely, although her interviewing techniques were adequate at best. It was clear that she was a bigger fan, more in awe of her idol than most of the rest of us in attendance. When she closed her eyes and swayed to Elvis's crooning, I thought she might fall off the chair! Nevertheless Elvis was charming and forthcoming with information about how he wrote and recorded, and his life in general. Marriage and fatherhood has agreed with him, and not drinking!
For over 2 hours he shared stories, and songs, some solo on acoustic guitart, others backed by Steve Nieve, Pete Thomas and Davey Faragher. I saw Elvis on his first tour of North America. He played about 14 songs and was done in 35 minutes start to finish! Wow! He explained that the Attractions were using "speed up drugs" and that later when he listened to My Aim Is True to relearn it for a tour, he "couldn't believe how slow the songs were"!
He spoke about writing with McCartney, Bacharach and trying to co-write with Sammy Cahn (it didn't work out) and played songs from each era. "Almost Blue," "Brilliant Mistake," "So Like Candy," "I Still Have That Other Girl," "Bedlam," "I Hope You're Happy Now," all done beautifully whether accompanied by himself on the Gibson, or with the band.
After the show, he came out to re-take the first two songs. "Accidents..." and "...Chelsea". Then he sang a couple more, a couple after that, and more, giving us a 40 minute concert to end the night. At 11:00 he said "Goodnight" and bowed, and walked off. It was tremendous. The audience had been standing through the final few songs. It was rock'n'roll!
On the way out everyone received a copy of the new CD. It was a night to remember. And I can't wait to watch Season Two.

Friday, October 30, 2009


Went to Kingston earlier this week, on assignment from work. Learned how to "Lead Change". Basically...communicate! While there I picked up the new Leonard Cohen CD+DVD Live at the Isle of Wight 1970. The video portion is fascinating. Even if you're not a Cohen fan. The story is great. A bunch of middle-class English hippies tried to crash the Isle of Wight Festival because "music should be free, man!" So the promoters tried to build a wall around the area. Kris Kristofferson got booed off the stage. Jimi Hendrix played and somebody set fire to the stage. Cohen had to follow THAT! Hendrix and a fire! His piano and organ had been damaged in the fire and he told them he wasn't going on without a piano and an organ! The crowd of 500,000 waited! The promoter provided keyboards. Lenny wandered on-stage and sang his songs of loss and love to them and they listened! It's a beautiful film.
Also picked up a brief book about Pete Seeger called The Protest Singer. It's subtitled an intimate portrait and...that's what it is. Pete asked for a book that could be read in one sitting and Alec Wilkinson provided a sensitive and compelling look at this legend!
I read Dave Eggers' novelization of The Wild Things on the train. Not a bad way to spend the five hour (there and back) journey.
Downloaded my first music from iTunes while I was there. J.D.Souther's first live album was just issued (for download only) and while it took over a week for it to become available for the Canadian iTunes fan...it's definitely worth it. He's in good voice and supported (most of the time) by a crack band! A short album but it covers his whole career.
Have you heard Dylan's Christmas album? It's pretty much exactly what you might think...good or bad? Listen and decide for yourself. New Lyle Lovett, Natural Forces is excellent. Wilco the album is growing on me, as is the Avett Brothers I and Love and You.
David Byrne's book Bicycle Diaries has inspired me to buy myself a new bike next spring.
My brother and his wife are coming from Alberta for a visit next week. I'm looking forward to seeing them!

Tuesday, October 13, 2009

Even more Pearl Company...

It was a quiet Thursday, and my wife was having some friends over. I had received an e-mail about a last minute concert at The Pearl Company, but with such short notice I couldn't find anyone to go with me. Rich couldn't make it, Ralph wasn't home, Jesse was away, and so on. I had to go out to allow the ladies space, but did I want to go to a concert alone? I could just go to Chapters, have a coffee, browse for a couple of hours. Ah, what the heck, it's five bucks, and maybe it'll be good, after all the review on-line compared this guy to Robert Fripp.

I managed to find a parking spot right in front of the building. Wow! That's a first. Up the stairs, to the second floor where the performance space is, and there's Gary Santucci and Barbara Milne, the owners and hosts, and a young guy, tall, slim, short hair, long sideburns, glasses. Gary introduces us, and he happens to be Jean-Paul De Roover...the star of the show. We have a long chat about his gear, the relative merits of looping, his familiarity with Fripp, and other loopers. He doesn't know Jacob Moon, but the name Bill Frisell rings a bell. At this point you'd expect the audience to be drifting in. After all, it's almost 8:00. A woman arrives, she's a friend of Barbara's, and she drops her $5 on the table. That makes two of us. We introduce ourselves. Garbielle and I sit in the front row of chairs and couches that make up the comfy seating of The Pearl Company. Gary sits behind me. He says something like, "Ladies and Gentlemen, welcome to the Pearl Co., tonight our guest is Jean-Paul De Roover." And from then on it's J-P's show.

I sympathize. I did a reading of my unpublished novel one night, and it snowed like crazy, three people came into the shop out of the storm. I read to them. They drank the free coffee and ate the free buttertarts, then they left. I know the feeling. Nevertheless J-P takes off. He's playing a Fender acoustic guitar that he says he borrowed from his sister. His web site shows him with a couple different axes, not this one, but by the end of the night you know why he took his sister's guitar on tour. He beats the crap out of it! Not fretting and picking, but beating it...like a drum. J-P plays loops, which means he creates a full band sound all by himself. Whether he begins with a riff, a beat, a bassline, even a vocal he then adds the missing pieces together like a jigsaw puzzle until finally the whole is revealed.

He works behind a red framework built from plastic pipe. His gear is on shelves, or on the floor, a plethora of pedals laid out before him. He knows where everything is. And he has done this enough to move smoothly between each piece of equipment and maintain the music, and the connection with the audience. He plays the songs from his recently released CD, Windows and Doors. The CD comes with a DVD which contains a brief documentary on the making of the album, a series of live performances and a couple of videos suitable for MTV (or Much Music here in Canada). He is a sensitive singer with a flexible voice, he lays down harmonies and background sounds (including percussive noises) with an ease and facility that is amazing to watch/hear. He reminds me at various times of Brian Wilson, or Lindsey Buckingham. His guitar playing is not really like Robert Fripp except perhaps on the experimental "Catharsis" which builds to a thrilling climax as loop after loop is layered onto the mix.

Because of the intimacy of the evening we feel free to take part, to clap, to sing along, to ask questions. J-P is happy for this, and answers honestly. He talks about the songwriting process and how he is less interested in lyrics than melody. He begins with melodic ideas, even when constructing the abstract experimental pieces. He add words as an afterthought, and yet the words he adds are filled with ideas, he is a thinker, having just completed his Master's in Sociology. Sociology? That's right, and it's a perfect fit for his songs about life, death, love, loss and all that.

Partway through the night, early on I think, two other people arrive. They are as overcome by the music as Gabrielle, Gary and I. And after the show we hang around for a while, talking to J-P, looking at the original artwork for his CD. It's a beautiful package, Windows and Doors is available from his Web site. We are all familiar with going through doors, but some of us take the less obvious route, through the window. Jean-Paul is inside that window, breaking through. Even his CD package breaks through! It folds out to become a little house. Buy one and see for yourself. Keep your eyes out for De Roover appearing near you. He's definitely making a return appearance at The Pearl Co. and I'm getting the word out early!

Monday, October 5, 2009

More Pearl Company

A week later and we were back at the Pearl Company to see, and hear, The Marigolds. As you'll see (and hear) by following that link, The Marigolds is a trio comprised of Suzie Vinnick, Caitlin Hanford and Gwen Swick, but after but after seeing them on Saturday night, I assure you...they're a band!
With the addition of percussionist Randall Coryell, Gwen playing bass, Caitlin on rhythm guitar and Suzie adding some hot lead guitar...they can flat out rock! But they don't rock all the time. Sometimes it's Sons of the Pioneersy old-time country like on "A Little Bit of Heaven" and sometimes there's a touch of jazz as on the title track of their new CD That's the State I'm In.
They came to play, and the small but very appreciative crowd came to listen. The night began with a little tuning up, and then Suzie kicked things off with the first track of the new CD. This song lists the things she might do "For Your Love" and it boils down to "anything I can think of..." Suzie's voice is a bluesy and potent instrument, Caitlin brings a clear Appalachian soprano, and Gwen provides the rich alto, but together they create something dreamlike, other-worldly. Harmony singing is one of my weaknesses, and I was completely smitten Saturday night!
The songs have inherent strength in their writing. These are well constructed, melodic tunes, and the lyrics are memorable too. Swick's "Anyone Can Dream" reminds us that "there's a statue that longs to be a national treasure...a sapling that looks high into the trees...a pebble that would die to lie in the Rockies...and anyone can dream." Caitlin's "When I'm Walking With You" is a song she wrote (with Gwen) about the joys of walking with a friend. They share writing duties, Suzie providing songs like "Sometimes I Think I Can Fly" (written with Dan Kershaw) and assisting with all the Marigolds on "Why Baby" or "For Your Love".
These are songs from the new CD, but as I listen to the carefully produced (by Steve Dawson) album, I think I liked the rawness of the live versions better. There was just something about the group interaction, and their obvious affection for each other, and the fire in Suzie's guitar solos, that when added to the bliss of the vocal blend created a separate entity of Marigold-mania, or something. Whatever you want to call it, we were transported to a land of harmony and melody. Aaah!
And of course, thanks to Gary and Barbara our hosts at the Pearl Company, which is quickly becoming my favourite venue anywhere!

Monday, September 28, 2009

The Pearl Company...

Friday night we went to see Joe Clark and Randal Hill perform a mandolin extravaganza at The Pearl Company. Now the Pearl Co. is an old warehouse, at one time home to the Evel Casket Co., then the space was occupied by the Canadian Pearl Co. who made, as you might expect, pearls. Plastic pearls, remnants of which can be found ground into the wooden floor. Parking is at a premium in this neighbourhood, and although they have an arragnement with a local pharmacist, if you don't put the handy little note on your dashboard you might be in for an expensive surprise after the show.
Barbara Milne and her partner Gary Santucci are the hosts, and they live on the third floor in a beautiful open concept space, which they graciously showed off to us during the intermission.
A bunch of Hamilton musicians were there, all to see Joe Clark and Randal Hill play their mandolins. Although the crowd was small, Randal and Joe gave it their all. These guys are amazing. Fingers flew on the little fretboards, and yet it wasn't all flash. There was a wonderful musicality to it all, whether playing bluegrass classics from Bill Monroe, or Duke Ellington's "Caravan," or even the theme from "Never On Sunday" the melodies were strong, and the improvisations always led back to the main themes. Both Joe and Randal doubled on guitar, and sang. They sang those high, lonesome harmonies that mark bluegrass music. Clark grew up in the same area as The Stanley Brothers. His stories are peppered with tales of meeting Dr. Ralph, or Bill Monroe, John Hartford, and other legendary characters. Hill has stories about others, his career reaches back to the Humber River Valley Boys.
The Pearl Co. offers coffee, tea and some baked goods, and comfortable seating in an intimate room. The sound is warm, perfect for this acoustic music. There's an art gallery downstairs, with crafts and jewelry for sale. But the main event Friday night was the music...and it was extraordinary.

Friday, August 28, 2009

Me & the Devil Blues

Just picked up this giant manga 500 page graphic novel called Me & the Devil Blues. Now, since I wrote a novella with the same title, I was immediately drawn to the 1 1/4" brick on a high shelf in the back room of a local bookstore. I haven't read it yet, but it looks beautifully done. All black and white illustrations, plenty of representations of Robert Johnson and the denizens of 1920s Mississippi. Have a look for it. Only problem is reading from back to front, but for a southpaw it shouldn't be too big an issue!

Tuesday, August 11, 2009


Apparently Blues Hamilton has posted a video of my tune from the Festival. Here it is. Go figure!

Monday, August 10, 2009

Festival of Friends

Well, I did it! I sang at the Festival of Friends. I've attended many, many Festivals down in Gage Park, I even used to bring my guitar to play the open stage, or sit under a tree with some friends to sing "Mr. Tambourine Man" or "Catch the Wind." But this time I was actually part of the programme! Under the direction of Margaret Stowe, I took part in the Memories of Jackie Washington tribute.
I wasn't sure I wanted to do it. It was a bit stressful, imagining myself up on stage flanked by professional musicians who do this for a living, but I did it. Accompanied by my good friend Sylvia we arrived at the stage a few minutes early. There was some confusion about which stage we would be at, but when Marg Stowe arrived, and then Cathy Powell, we knew we had founf the right one. Marg set up guitars and mics, and the other performers started arriving. Hamilton poet James Strecker, who read from his biography of Jackie; local bluesman Alfie Smith; Toronto bluesman Brian Blain; songster Paul Langille and more all came to pay tribute to Jackie.
I brought along some lyrics of songs that Jack had recorded over the years, for volunteers to read. I set the bar by doing Bert Williams "Nobody". A couple of others took up the challenge. Some folk from the audience told stories of their experiences with Dr. Washington. The 'band' played on!
Cathy Powell told her story of the man who had been her friend for almost a lifetime. Then I was called back to sing Colin Linden's tune "Jackie Washington". After that it was a reading of "We'll Meet Again" and the tribute came to an end.
The day was humid, with only a slight breeze to cool us off. But the feeling was warm and mellow, and so filled with love that nobody cared about the weather.
A splendid time was had by all.

Thursday, August 6, 2009

Rufus, Nathan, and Jackie

I discovered that the date for Rufus Wainwright was the same as the date for Nathan's wedding. As Nathan's family has been good friends for many years I had to decline the Rufus show. Jeff was going to go with someone else. They were both looking forward to it, and I was curious to hear how it went. Nathan's wedding (okay, sure, it's Katelyn's wedding too...but she got all the attention at the event) ummm...Nate & Kate's wedding was a lovely occasion. I am pretty much "weddinged out" but this was a good one.
Came in Monday to ask Jeff how Rufus was, and he said, "We didn't go...one of the dogs got sick!" So, anyone who attended Rufus at the Winery, let us know.
This weekend is the annual Festival of Friends down at Gage Park. It's the biggest free festival in the known universe I think. I like to call it Festival of Frenzy just because it is a frenzy trying to find a place to park, or a seat for the mainstage acts. Last year it was Steve Earle and Alison Moorer...Canned Heat and John Sebastian played on the Sunday during heavy rain. We've had enough heavy rain in the past week or two so we should be clear...but HOT! I'm playing a tune at the Tribute to Jackie Washington session. Organized by Margaret Stowe, it promises to be an interesting 2 hours. I haven't played in a setting like this for...a LOOONNNGGG time.
I'm getting a bit nervous.
Wish me luck...or tell me to break a leg...or something!

Tuesday, July 28, 2009

The last month...

Jackie Washington passed away. A couple of weeks after the delightful celebration of his life and work at McMaster, he went into hospital and after a week of fighting it, finally slipped away. He was in his ninetieth year.
On Monday, July 6th his friends organized a Memorial Evening at the Jackie Washington Park. It was attended by a large crowd of friends and family, and featured performances by Ken Whiteley, Mose Scarlett, Tony Quarrington, Paul Langille, and others. Poems were read by Holmes Hooke and James Strecker, reminiscences shared by Bill Powell, it was hosted by Bob Bratina and all put together by Margaret Stowe. I've left out lots of names ofd folks who were instrumental in making this happen...but you know who you are! Thank you! Jackie...we miss you!
A couple of days after that, Rich and I travelled to Toronto to visit Susan (Java Mama) who we'd met at Hugh's Room. We had a well brewed coffee and a chocolate brownie and listened to more stories about Richie Havens. Thanks Susan!
Then vacation time. Away to Scotland with my wife and our friends Kevin & Fran. Two weeks touring around, from Glasgow to Skye, from Skye to Inverness, Inverness to Pitlochry, to Edinburgh (Rebus-land!) and then down to Catlowdy (actually in England). From there we attended the Elliot Clan Gathering, drove to Hadrian's Wall, and had sufficient single malt or lager and surprisingly wonderful Scottish grub until we drove back to Glasgow for our flight home! A splendid time was had by all.
I picked up the new Ray Davies CD, The Kinks Choral Collection which is perhaps the most interesting idea for a "hits" album I've ever heard. I wish Ray sang on more of the songs, but the Choir is excellent, and their interpretation of "You Really Got Me" needs to be heard to be believed! Found Ian Rankin's QuickRead A Cool Head which is unavailable on this side of the pond. As promised I finished it in a day but it is a fine little story, as was Some People Are Crazy: the John Martyn Story. I've never been able to get into Martyn, but I'm going to give him another try after reading this biography.
Arrived home to find a signed copy of Los Angeles Stories waiting for me. Paul Martin (another Rylander) picked it up for me in Barcelona! It's Ry Cooder's first book! Self-published and only available during the European Tour it turns out to be a well written collection of short stories all set in Los Angeles through the last few decades. Character development and a sense of place are excellent! Thanks Paul!
I have my tickets for Bruce Cockburn, and for Billy Bragg, both coming to the Studio Theatre at Hamilton Place, a week apart in November. Looking forward to that! Supposed to be seeing Rufus Wainwright this weekend. More as that develops!

Friday, June 12, 2009

Richie Havens

I first saw Richie Havens on the Tonight Show with Johnny Carson. I loved him then. Open tuning, fretted with his thumb, cool. I tried it. My guitar didn't like being tuned to an open E, and my thumb hurt like crazy! Besides my voice isn't as rich as his...so it didn't sound the same anyway, and just how did he play minor chords? I bought a copy of his first album in NYC on a trip there with Lester Bilbo. Same trip where we saw Performance and discovered Ry Cooder.
Then Richie became a star with his featured role at Woodstock (the festival and the film). The next year he played at the Burlington Arena! Lester's mom drove us to the show, and Richie was right there, to talk to. We listened in on a conversation, got an autograph, and then watched the concert. I remember best a long rendition of "Rocky Raccoon" where he left the stage still playing, circum-navigated the arena and found his way back to the stage...well he was not so lively this week at Hugh's Room in Toronto. He's 68 now, and he's slowed down. When we spoke he seemed frail, and tired. His concert this night was only a little over an hour long, and featured at least one long, rambling narration about stickball, Superman, and "truth, justice and 'the American way[?]'" We could've done with another song instead of that. And yet, there we were in the presence of an icon. He still plays a big Guild guitar, tuned to open E, he still frets with his thumb, and goes through a pick in two songs! He is a rhythmic guitarist, doesn't need a drummer (although he used to travel with at least one percussionist). Now it's just Richie and Walter Parks (the lead guitarist) and a bunch of new songs Richie is writing about peace and love and goodness. Sure, he still does a couple of the favourites. "Here Comes the Sun" and "Freedom" but many others have been lost along the way. No "Just Like a Woman" this time, although everyone called for it. His guitar playing has got a bit sloppy, he missed the 5 chord once or twice, and he seemed to get lost with the lyrics of The Who's "Won't Get Fooled Again" but everybody had a good time.
We met Susan, an old friend of Richie's, and she introduced us to him. He was gracious and charming and posed for a photo or two. Again...a wonderful night. And when I got home...the newly released 40th Anniversary edition of Woodstock was waiting for me.

Friday, June 5, 2009

Jackie Washington

On Wednesday night McMaster University celebrated the life and music of Jackie Washington. Months of preparation had gone into this evening, and it paid off because a spledid time was had by all.
Jackie received an honorary doctorate from "Mac", and has donated his archives to the University. Those archives include copies of all his albums, an old 45rpm vinyl record which features King Biscuit Boy on harp, the infamous Jackie Washington songbooks (which are essentially a storehouse of the popular music of the last century). Over 1200 songs, lyrics and guitar chords, all the songs Jack has sung over the last eight and a half decades. That's right...he's been performing since he was FIVE years old! His mother bought a guitar from Eatons for his brother to play so the boys would sound more like the Mills Brothers, but it was Jackie who took to the fretboard (he also plays piano) like a duck to water. Oh, and there's more...photos, posters, diaries (with some very interesting entries), and some delicate pen and ink drawings of trains. Jackie loves trains, he worked as a porter for Canadian Pacific back in the day.
The night began with a bit of a scare. Mose Scarlett and Ken Whiteley were tuning up, when a phone call came in. Jennie was driving Jack to the event and she was worried...the man of the hour was having trouble breathing. Should she drive him to Emergency? I ran downstairs to meet the car, and found a very wheezy Jack, and a pretty nervous Jannie. But Jack started breathing a bit better and agreed to go ahead with the night. By the time he got upstairs, and he was surrounded by well-wishers, he was beaming, and he just got better as the night went on.
Chief Librarian Jeff Trzeciak welcomed all the guests and introduced the event, President Peter George (who six years ago had presented Jackie with his Doctorate) spoke about Jack's achievements, and then yours truly Rylander Dave himself got to speak. I talked a bit about the importance of music and the active scene that has existed in Hamilton for as long as I could remember, and then introduced Ken and Mose for a set of good old fashioned toe-tappin' music. They played songs they've been playing with Jackie for the past 20 years, and finally invited the guest of honour to join them. Jack had said he wasn't going to sing, but he loves an auidience and couldn't resist. He sang along with a couple, and then did a risque recital of a Woody Herman tune and thanked everyone for such a great night. And it was a great night. Tom Wilson, Brent & Liam Titcomb, Eve Goldberg, Marg Stowe, Michelle Josef, Festival of Friends founder Bill Powell, members of the Friends of Jackie Washington Committee, McMaster's Provost, Donors, folkies, rockers, little kids, they all came to pay tribute to Jack.
Thanks to everyone who played a part in this event. Thanks especially to Anne (you know who you are) for all your hard work. Thanks Doctor Jackie! For the healing power of music...and love!

Monday, May 4, 2009


So, Friday night we go to see Lee Harvey Osmond at the Casbah. Not the place where the Beatles were born but not unlike that little club. The tickets say the show begins at 9pm, so we arrive a bit early to get a good seat...however there are very few seats at all, and they've been claimed by others who arrived even earlier. We post ourselves next to...well...a post, so we can lean against it. We're not as young as we used to be, and both of us have back issues. The first band comes on just after 9pm. Tom Wilson and Brent Titcomb are here, we see them wandering around all night, but this is not Tom Wilson who takes the stage, it's a buxom young lass in a red dress with a couple of associates who perform one of the least professional acts I've seen in a long time. She holds a Seagull acoustic guitar and strums it from time to time, her partner on electric guitar seems content to show off his psychedelic jazz guitar licks throughout the song, playing things that are irrelevant but flashy. The bass player and drummer are...forgettable and suit the songs well. It's a long first set. I wish I drank more!
After she's done and her personal fan club has congratulated her Tom and Brent and a few other Osmonds appear. But the band that takes the stage is Rattlesnake Choir. It's now after 10pm. I know I'm going to be turning into a pumpkin. People around me are yawning. It's contagious. Rattlesnake Choir are a sort of weird country-Celtic band with a hot redheaded fiddler and a percussionist who plays the Slinky, and musical saw! Normally I would think this was cool, but I find myself sliding down the post which is the only thing holding me up. I'd like to see this band under different circumstances. I'm glad that my boss declined our invitation now!
Finally, some time after 11pm Lee Harvey Osmond comes on, Tom Wilson swears and comments that he's glad they arrived at 6 o'clock for a sound check, since the on-stage monitor isn't working. He speaks sharply to the soundman. Am I the only person who remembers that Rattlesnake Choir asked for that monitor to be turned off? By song 3 the monitor is turned back on.
At least the sound that we're hearing is better for LHO than for the openers. This is a great band. They play through the new CD, and add some Wilson solo material, a song by Brent Titcomb, one or two from the guys from Huron and just in general rock the joint. The day is done, I am sinking even lower against this post. We go home and miss the end of the night.
Never one for the bar scene, I am still embarassed to admit that I left before the end of the show. I'd go see them again though, any time...hopefully with an earlier start!

Tuesday, April 7, 2009

Tom Wilson Live

Saturday night we went out to dinner at LaLuna for tabbouleh and shawarmas, a glass of beer and some fine conversation. Then over to the Downtown Arts Centre for the latest Freewheelin' Folk Concert! Jim Marino hosts a local radio show (on CFMU 99.3) and he (with a couple of friends) have organized a series of live shows. This one was a sell out. Tom Wilson, from Blackie & the Rodeo Kings, and Junkhouse, and the Florida Razors, and his newest project LeE HARVeY OsMOND was the headliner in a rare (these days) solo appearance. And everybody from the arts community in Hamilton seemed to be there.
The show opened with Lori Yates singing from her new release The Book of Minerva. Backed by local guitarist Brian Griffith (who could've used one more run through of the songs, in my opinion) Lori put on a dandy show. She chatted with friends in the audience, and it was just a relaxed and comfortable set of new country tunes somewhat reminiscent of Emmylou Harris.
After a 20 minute break Jim Merino introduced Tom Wilson who came out to make an announcement...he introduced his son's band who played a rootsy mini-set.
Then it was time for the main event.
Tom Wilson dressed in a thousand dollar suit holding an acoustic guitar which was plugged into an amp he decorated himself, played his unique brand of folk music. He calls it acid folk...think loud...very loud...and very good.
He misses the stunning lead flourishes of Colin Linden, and the harmonies of Stephen Fearing, but Wilson sure holds your attention. He owns the stage. No doubt about it, he's in charge. His full baritone is a delight after years of wheezy tenors. His rocking tunes filled with observations of this...our hometown...are welcome. Local boy makes good!
A great show!
And...home by 11:30!

Monday, March 23, 2009

Steve Strongman CD release...

Saturday night we attended the release party for Steve Strongman's new album, Blues In Colour and it was a great night. If you've been reading my exploits here, you know that my wife is a big fan of Steve Strongman, so we've seen him live about four times in the last 12 months. And the Studio Theatre at Hamilton Place is the way to go! It's an intimate venue, if you buy your tickets early you get a table in the middle of the room, a place to keep your beverage, and a small lamp so you can read the upcoming events brochure. We were at table 9, on the stage right side of the room, second row of stations. Close with a great sightline. The couple we shared the space with were not chatters, so we didn't find out much about them. It was clear that they were fans though...and they enjoyed Coors Lite!
The show started with Harrison Kennedy, playing the country blues on an old Stella. Very authentic, although Harrison still needs a bit of work on his guitar playing, but compared to what he was doing a couple years ago he's coming along. His voice is powerful and pure, just like when he sang "Give Me Just a Little More Time" with the Chairmen of the Board. He closed with that one...acapella! Nice touch. He has a new CD coming along very soon.
Then a ten or fifteen minute break, for everyone to pick up a couple more brews, or to check out the merch counter and it was the Steve Strongman Band. Just a trio, they make enough noise although I do miss Jesse O'Brien tickling the ivories! This time the trio was Alec Fraser on bass, and Dave King on drums. Oh, and of course, Steve Strongman on lead guitar and vocals. Dave King produced this latest album and if the live versions of the songs are any indication, this album is a keeper.
Steve usually puts on a great show, and this weekend he didn't disappoint. Of course, when everybody in the audience is either family or friend it's not hard to feel comfortable.
The crowd sure loved him. And he loved 'em back. Although...asking after every song "Is everybody having a good time?" did get a little tired after a while...I would've thought it was obvious...everybody was having a great time. Especially those girls at the back!
I am not going to spend a lot of time describing the show, just to say whether on electric or acoustic, or harmonica, Steve Strongman is a bluesman to be reckoned with. Grab yourself a copy of Blues in Colour or Honey slip it into the car CD player, and crank the volume up. Roll down the windows. Get out on the open road. And have a ball! Oh! And if Steve and band come anywhere close...make sure you're there!

Monday, March 2, 2009

SETH (the cartoonist)

Friday night I went to the Dundas Town Hall (now unused since we've been amalgamated with Hamilton) to witness a conversation with SETH. Seth is the artist and writer responsible for such classic examples of comic book art as Wimbledon Green, It's a Good Life If You Don't Weaken and Clyde Fans Book 1. Oh, and Palookaville, his self published irregular comic wherein these books had their beginnings. He was appearing in Dundas, in this glorious old building, to speak about a project of his. In the basement of his home in Guelph, he's been building a city. If you've read any of the books you'll know the City of Dominion. It's a sort of typical Ontario city, of a certain age and size. Seth sees it as having grown to about 300,000 population, but he knows the history from its origin since...he created it. He created the businesses, and schools, the shops and factories, even the water tower. And he made them out of corrugated cardboard, house paint and ink. Lots of glue and a huge amount of imagination!
Seth is an odd fellow, he dresses as if he's an insurance salesman in the mid-1950s, right down to the fedora. But then in his jacket pocket he carries a handful of pencils. His hair is slicked back, and he sits bolt upright in his chair. When he speaks it is with a quiet yet assured voice. He knows why he does the things he does. He traces his own position in the history of cartooning, linking back to Thoreau MacDonald, Windsor McKay, the Katzenjammer Kids, right through to Chris Ware and Art Spiegelman.
This evening he is interviewed by Andrew Hunter whose interview style is a bit reminiscent of Brian Linehan. Okay you did the research, but we really want to hear Seth speak...not you!
He describes the development of the city of Dominion, which he has built, and it seems to exist comfortably next to a project of my own. Well, my wife's really. Together we are walking the streets of the city of Hamilton, until we cover each one. We don't expect to finish this year, or next. We park the car somewhere and then spend an hour zigzagging back and forth through a block of the city. When we're not walking my wife researches the area, and as we walk she tells me of the history...when this building went up, what used to occupy that empty space, and so on. Seth knows all these details of Dominion. He has them written down in his notebooks. He knows when this building was built, by whom, how the Toboggan Factory fared, everything a civic historian would know.
The cardboards buildings are also on display at the Dundas Museum, and it's a fascinating collection. From the portrait of the first mayor on the wall (flanked by the Ontario ensign and Union Jack) to the carefully constructed models laid out throughout the room, in grids, it's like a big boy's train set.
I'll post a photo or two to give you the sense of the scale of the project. Or you can look at and search for Dominion Dundas to download a little booklet with pictures of some of the buildings.
Capped off with a viewing of Milk with its powerhouse performance by Sean Penn...and no e-mails (I made a pact) this was an altogether enjoyable weekend!

Friday, February 6, 2009

Remember Muddy!

Last night I was driving to a practice, guitar in the back seat, thinking how tired I was and how I hoped this practice wouldn't go on too long, when I decided I'd had enough of the radio so I pushed the CD button to see what my wife had been listening to. She drives the car most of the time, so the music is her choice, mainly blues. There was the new Buddy Guy, Honey by Steve Strongman, Eric Clapton, Bonnie Raitt and then...the one that I listened to...Jimmy Rogers. Not the Singing Brakeman he spelled his name Jimmie Rodgers. This guy was from Muddy Waters band, he played rhythm guitar alongside Little Walter (harp) and Otis Spann (piano) to make one of the most potent blues lineups ever. Second only, and arguably, to Howlin' Wolf with Hubert Sumlin. This band was responsible for classic blues like "Blow Wind, Blow," "Hoochie Coochie Man," and "I'm Ready."
Jimmy passed away just before Christmas in 1997, but before he died he finished recording a dandy album with guests Keith & Mick, Jeff Healey, Stephen Stills, Eric Clapton and while it didn't come out til 1999 it's a total classic. Blues Blues Blues is the name, and on it he does some of Muddy's big songs. Look for it, it's dynamite!
Anyway, it made me think of the night I saw Muddy himself at Hamilton Place and was able to snap a couple of pictures which I'll try to post. We had great seats about ten rows back. John Hammond opened the show with a brief set on Robert Johnson songs and then Muddy's band blew the roof off the place. Within a couple of years he would be gone, but that night...he owned the place. I'm just glad I was able to see some of these originators before they passed away. I saw Count Basie, Elizabeth Cotton, Doc Watson, and others live and in person! And there's nothing like live music...whatever they tell you. I found this 35mm slide in a box of slides I had almost forgotten about, along with some family pix, and Ed scanned a few of them for me (Thanks Ed!) so I thought I'd share this one here on Rylander! Enjoy!

Tuesday, January 20, 2009

Bluegrass in the city...

The sky was clear, a quarter moon shining on the snow below. The stars of Orion glistened from above. The air was beyond crisp, it froze your breath as soon as you exhaled. The Grant Avenue Studio is in the centre of town, on a quiet residential street. The street is narrow, and residents use any available parking spot. I ended up in a grocery store lot two blocks away, which explains my familiarity with the weather. I wasn't sure what to expect. This was the recording studio that Daniel Lanois started. U2, Eno, Yoko Ono, John Cage, Raffi, Gordon Lightfoot had all recorded here. But tonight it was home to an intimate bluegrass concert. Only fifteen guests on a cold dark night.

Inside the door the hostess greeted us with a kiss and checked our names on the guestlist. We were a bit early and toured the facility. The performers were sequestered in a room upstairs that houses the studio's vast instrument collection. You could hear them pickin'. The walls were lined with framed CDs, even LPs, and posters from the artists who had recorded in these rooms. There was a sense that something extraordinary was about to take place. And sure enough it did.

There were a few stools and chairs, a piano bench or two, set out for guests to sit on, and one microphone standing in the middle of the room. A music stand held two pages marked in an almost indecipherable script "set 1" and "set 2". The songs were listed, and if you tried really hard you could recognize a title or two. Joe Clark's mandolin case was over in the corner. I recognized it, having seen it before. It is covered with stickers from a career's worth of bluegrass festivals, and tours. Don Rigsby's instrument was perched in its case on top of the grand piano. And on the floor in its case was Joe's poor old guitar, victim of a house fire, sound hole enlarged by a a Dremel tool. Instruments look so lonely sitting unused. But when Don and Joe entered the room, and picked up the guitar and mandolin, and started to play, the instruments sprang to life.

What a concert! Two 50 minute sets which wandered through the whole history of bluegrass. Joe and Don traded lead vocals, they harmonized with that high lonesome sound that identifies bluegrass. Then they traded solos. Don on mandolin, then Joe on guitar, maybe Don would take two verses, or Joe would, but somehow, magically they ended together with a flourish. Whether singing new songs steeped in the tradition, or paying tribute to the Stanley Brothers, or Tex Ritter, or Clarence White, or the master of them all Bill Monroe, they played beautifully. Fingers flying over the fretboards, their mouths moving, feet tapping, and the audience gasping at the precision of it all.

They traded instruments, Don played guitar and Joe mandolin; then Don played fiddle while Joe brought out the banjo. They brought tears to the eyes of a couple of the ladies with a gorgeous version of "Kentucky Waltz". They brought laughs when they had to start "Cannonball Blues" three times, once when Joe broke a string, then again when Don missed a chord. "Missin' a note is one thang, but missin' a whole chord..." "Well...it happens to the best of us!"

Intimate. Cozy. It was like listening to live music in somebody's living room. And the sound was fantastic. They're playing a couple of house concerts, a club gig and a theatre show on the weekend. But none of them will be as special as this night. Recorded for posterity, and a radio show, I can't wait to hear it again. These fellas are masters of their craft. I feel honoured to have been there!

Tuesday, January 6, 2009

Happy New Year!

It's 2009! Can you imagine? I just reviewed a book about CSN called (of all things) Crosby, Stills & Nash: the 40th Anniversary Edition and for me that was a rude awakening. FORTY years of CSN! I bought the first CSN album on the same day as Poco's Pickin' Up the Pieces because I was a big Buffalo Springfield fan and here was Stills on one hand, and Richie Furay on the other. In fact, while I admired the harmonies of CSN I liked the sound of Poco better. Sure "Suite: Judy Blue Eyes" was one of the best songs ever, but I played the bejeebers outa that Poco album.
But here it is 2009. I'll be 58 this year! I can hardly believe it! When my grandmother told me she was fifty, I cried! I thought she was not long for this world, and now I'm on from that! Still listening to good music though, still rockin' & rollin' in my way!
The next big thing coming is the new Bruce Springsteen CD due at the end of the month. If it's as good as Magic I'll be thrilled. I went off the Boss for a while, but lately he seems to have got back to where I like him.
I finished the John Lennon bio by Philip Norman, and apart from a couple of small points of interpretation (where I disagreed with Norman's take on something) I found it to be a well balanced look at Lennon's life and work. Started to read Mick Wall's bio of Led Zeppelin which is quite interesting. His comments about Jeff Beck are starting to raise my hackles...but it just makes reading fun!