Tuesday, December 6, 2011

Tom Waits Tribute / John Mayall / etc.

OK, it's been a busy time. the last couple of weeks I've been to Hugh's Room for A Man Called Wrycraft's Tribute to Tom Waits, seen Harrison Kenedy and John Mayall at Brock, been to Pickering for a high school production of The Music Man and supported my friend who plays in the Dundas Concert Band. Whew! That's a lot of music, most of it good, some of it excellent.

Hugh's Room is a great venue, but I have to say...they need to fix the kitchen. The menu has been the same forever, and while I used to stick with the salmon one overcooked fish helped me decide to experiment a bit. Well, I tried the Sausage Penne this time and the penne was...not quite al dente, but rather hard! No, I didn't send it back because I had already waited an inordinate amount of time, and was hungry! And the show was starting! I don't like to eat during the show, especially when my seats are pressed up against the stage. Now admittedly these are great seats, right next to the action, but nobody wants to watch people eating pasta while they're trying to sing about strippers and junkies! Big Rude Jake opened and having Coco Framboise do a strip tease dance just took the show to great heights. How could anyone top that?

Elizabeth Shepherd took the challenge by just playing and singing beautifully. Then Ariana Gillis and Band (fresh from a major success in NYC) won over the crowd. Al Parrish, Kim Stockwood, Joe Nolan, and the 24th Street Wailers, everybody was ON tonight. It was wonderful. The songs were dandy too, made everyone go back and revisit Mr. Waits' catalogue when they got home. And the closing act? Matt Brubeck and Roberta Harrison, couldn't have been better. It all wrapped up with a rather sloppy, but appropriate "Ol' 55" by everyone, including the audience. Almost made me forget my pasta...well...the beer helped!

A week later it's Harrison Kennedy opening the show for John Mayall. Kennedy is an acquired taste, going for the authentic, untrained blues-singer thing. He only recently came to the guitar, and seems to have taken that lack of skill to new lows by adding banjko and mandola to the instruments he can't really play. He'd do better with a band, since he still possesses a dynamite voice. But when John Mayall came out the night improved. With Rocky Athas on guitar, Greg Rzab on bass, and drummer Jay Davenport Mayall new band is hot. Add the godfather of British Blues on keyboards and harmonicas and you've really got something. My friends who really didn't know what they were in for said, "Wow, I've never heard anything like that...all his songs are really long." That's because everybody gets to solo, and these guys know their instruments! A good night's entertainment (the food at Grill on the Hill was good too) topped off by a signing in the lobby!

My nephew Andrew Wright was the star of the show at Dunbarton High School's The Music Man. Singing Meredith Wilson's classic songs he was Professor Henry Hill in this high school presentation. The cast was enthusiastic, with a couple of standout performances, and the band was excellent. A surprisingly good production!

The Dundas Concert Band needs to cut their concerts by a third. Their annual Christmas Concert found them tiring after an hour. Some horn players somewhere up there were running out of wind. But the night began with energy and good feelings. Marry Christmas to all, and to all...a good night!

Monday, November 21, 2011

Hamilton Music Awards Weekend

The Hamilton Music Awards 2011 had quite the build-up. Maybe I was just more aware of it (the celebration not the award) because I was involved in some of it. Singer-songwriter (and neighbour) Ian Thomas was receiving a Lifetime Achievement Award, and he told them (the organizing committee) that if they wanted any historical items they'd have to contact me since I had them all. Let me clarify that. I don't have them, but I know how to get them! I was involved in the negotiations that brought Ian's archives to McMaster University, and since I dealt with him the most regularly, he knew I could put Jean-Paul and his team in touch with the actual materials. JP even asked if I would be interviewed for a video celebrating Ian's career. Wow, was this to be my big break in show biz? Would I get my own listing on IMDB like my pal Les Harding? (Les has been playing drunks, ne'er-do-wells and priests in a variety of CBC productions filmed in Newfoundland.) More on this later.

The Awards run from Thursday to Sunday, with seminars, press meetings and a star concert before the awards gala on Sunday night. In the past I've seen related shows by people like Garth Hudson and Steve Strongman but this year the Saturday night concert featured Blackie & the Rodeo Kings.

I've seen BARK a few times before, and they're always an entertaining night out, filled with great music and a few laughs. The laughs come from wondering how early Tom Wilson will start swearing. This night he was pretty much under control, prowling around the right hand side of the stage like a wolf, with his low slung Gibson guitar. The one with all the autographs on it, Ralph Stanley, John Fogerty and Johnny Cash among them. It's interesting to note that of all the guitars on stage, this is the one that comes on and leaves with its owner. No stage stand for this baby. Colin Linden is on the left of the stage (stage right to you theater people) wearing his ever-present fedora, and clearly enjoying himself. He bounces up and down as if on a pogo stick contrasting Tom's hozizontal movements across the stage. In the middle is Stephen Fearing who basically stays put. The three Kings are backed by John Dymond on bass and this evening Tom Hambridge on drums. I have to put in a special word for Tom (award-winning producer of Buddy Guy), who did a tremendous job filling in for the usual drummer Gary Craig.

The band played a fine cross section of songs from their whole career. What started as a tribute band playing the songs of the late lamented songwriter Willie P. Bennett, has became one of the world's top roots bands. They have seven albums under the BARK name and each of the partners has his own body of work, where do they find the time?

From "Water or Gasoline" through "Stoned" and "49 Tons" with a brief look back to Willie's "White Line" and a generous sampling of the new (and critically acclaimed Kings and Queens they simply rocked the place. The stories included tales of how the songs were written, life growing up in Hamilton (Tom's a local boy) and dreams of Lucinda Williams recording their song. (BTW Lucinda Williams DID record the song!) Tom proclaimed "Hey Hamilton, you don't have to pay to see me, I LIVE HERE! In fact Monday morning at 11 o'clock I'll be at Fortino's doin' my grocery shopping!" I wonder who met him there to drive him home. There was probably a convoy.

Blackie and the Rodeo Kings? A fantastic night out. They were scrambling to find songs they all knew to keep the night going. Then after the show they came out to the lobby to sign and schmooze.

Sunday night Tom Wilson was the co-host (with Shelley Marshall) for the Awards. What do you wear to an Awards show? Well, there's no red carpet at the Hammies. It was jeans and hoodies for the most part, at least for the nominees who seemed to be all in the 19-25 range. Even younger if you include Brandon Pacheco 14 year old boy soprano. Look out Beibs!

The show got off to a slow start, and then almost fizzled out altogether. The awards (any awards) are meant for the families of the winners. Anyone who says "it's a privilege just to be nominated" must be on something. As Tom made clear...most of the people in the room are "losers". He lost a couple himself, winning Roots Recording for Kings and Queens but, well, let's not rub it in.
If you Google Hamilton Music Awards you can see all the names, but if you're not from The Hammer you might not recognize many of them. That's okay, I'm from here, and I'm quite involved in music around town and there were lots of unfamiliar names. The Riddim Riders played some reggae, Jeremy Fisher, the Dinner Belles, Monster Trucks and James Hoffman all made an impression. The show simply went on too long. After BARK played a song ("Another Free Woman Gets To Walk Away") with Johnny but without Tom, we left the theatre. Teenage Head's Gordie Lewis was roaming around the lobby with Mickie DeSadist in wackie regalia. Murray McLauchlan and Rik Emmett were around to support their old buddy Ian Thomas who performed his first big hit "Painted Ladies" and the Boomers' classic "Rise Above It". My interview portion was left on the cutting room floor, although the pictures Kevin Andrews and I took of some old Ian Thomas paraphernalia were obvious in the clip.

So I guess IMDB will have to wait. Les doesn't have his own music blog, after all. And who watches The Republic of Doyle anyway?

Next week it's off to Hugh's Room again for A Man Called Wrycraft's Tribute to Tom Waits, and then John Mayall! I'll let you know how that all turns out!

Monday, October 31, 2011

Bill Bourne at The Pearl Company

It was a Saturday night, and I was home alone. The car accident I had been in the night before had left me a bit shaken. I only broke a fingernail, but I was having trouble settling. I thought about skipping out on the plans I had made to go to the Pearl Company to see Bill Bourne. It was starting to rain. Ah what the heck, I decided to go. A couple hours of live music could only help me feel better.
I made the right decision.
The Pearl Company is, just as it sounds, a gem in the middle of Hamilton. It's like a pearl, it doesn't sparkle diamondlike in the sun, but when the sun goes down the Pearl has an inner glow that warms the heart. Too bad more people don't take advantage of it.
While there are seats for almost 150 only a third of those were filled when Alberta's Bill Bourne took the stage Saturday night. He played an old blues on his battered Gibson. Then he called for the band, the Free Radio Band, to join him. Switching between the Gibson and a Martin (tuned to an open chord) he led the band through a career stretching journey. Moses and Brian on bass and drums comprised the solid rhythm section and Pa Joe (from Ghana by way of Toronto) played smooth jazzy guitar fills on his Stratocaster.

While the music was extraordinary, I really want to use this time to comment on the Pearl Company itself. As I walked up to the door Gary Santucci was on the street with a flashlight helping to park cars. Once inside Barbara Milne greeted me with, "Hi, David, it's been a long time!" How many venues provide this kind of personal service?
The merch table is right in front of you, with Bill Bourne sitting alongside playing his guitar warming up. A coffee pot brews on another table, which features tasty treats. Try the butter tarts! The walls are filled with art and photography. The performance area is behind a curtain. The seats are a collection of different chairs, a couple of couches, two banquettes...choose the most comfortable, the sightlines are all good, the sound is exquisite.
Barbara and Gary use the building for a variety of purposes. The first floor can be an art gallery, although Saturday night it looked like it was setup for a theatrical performance. The second floor is the concert hall. They live above that in a huge open space. It's called the Pearl Company because it used to be a factory where they made pearls. You can still see them ground into the wooden floors! But it will be the Pearl Company...the essential gem in Hamilton's treasure chest of entertainment. These people are committed to the arts, and to the city. If only the city was committed to them!
On Saturday night John Mellencamp was playing at Hamilton Place, Selena Gomez was at Copps Coliseum, Malawi singer guitarist Tony Bird was at Artword ArtBar, and the Pearl had Bill Bourne. Hamilton has a place in the cultural fabric of Southern Ontario, and The Pearl Company offers a gorgeous intimate venue that we should all use more often!
Here's the schedule for November!
November 4: Jazz w Andy Middleton Group
November 4: Art Bus
November 8: Jazz w Ernesto Cervini Quartet featuring Joel Frahm-
November 9: Emm Gryner & Colleen Brown
November 10: Rakish Angles
November 11: Art Bus
November 12: Kaleidoscope Brown: Brownman w Latin Jazz
November 17: Cam Penner
November 19: Ben Caplan w Charlotte Cornfield
November 22: Jenn Grant w Amelia Curran
November 24: Matthew Barber w Louise Burns
November 25: Jazz Connection Big Band w Paul Hoffert on Keyboards
November 26: Jon Brooks
November 27: Design Hope CD Launch

Wednesday, October 19, 2011

Q. and A.: Ry Cooder on Woody Guthrie, Politics and a New Album

Ry Cooder’s been called a lot of things: A “musician’s musician” and a “musical archeologist;” a virtuoso of rock and blues guitar; and an explorer of international styles. But no one has ever labeled Mr. Cooder, 64, a folksinger. No one has accused him of singing protest songs and serving up social commentaries in the tradition of Woody Guthrie, Pete Seeger, Phil Ochs or Bob Dylan. Mr. Cooder’s most recent album, Pull Up Some Dust And Sit Down (Nonesuch), may change that perception.
It is an overtly political work rooted in his anger over the country’s financial collapse, the bailout of America’s big banks and what Mr. Cooder feels are senseless wars. Employing everything from Mexican country music to rock licks, he has written a series of scathing protest songs aimed at Wall Street bankers, Republican politicians, former President George W. Bush, anti-immigrant vigilantes and war profiteers.
The first track, “No Banker Left Behind” — a stomping old-time, jug-band tune — paints an image of bankers fleeing the country after “they robbed the nation blind.” Then Mr. Cooder sings a Mexican waltz-time ballad about Jesse James, in which the Missouri outlaw asks God for his gun back so he return to earth from heaven and take revenge on the bankers. “You lined your pockets well but I’ll see you all in hell,” Jesse James says before opening fire. Other tracks are political satire: in one growling blues tune, the devil is working as a political consultant for the Republican Party.
Mr. Cooder spoke by telephone recently from his home in Santa Monica, Calif., about his new album and how it came about. Here are edited excerpts of the conversation:
Why do you think more musicians aren’t writing protest songs these days?
I myself am not in touch with anybody, you know. I’m a hermit. I stay in my home pretty much you know and I sit in my chair and I do this because it’s what I like to do. There are a lot of people out there, playing instruments, more than ever before for sure, and they’ve got to be saying something. They must be. We may not get to hear them.
Is it risky for artists to take on such material?
I don’t know what risk it would be honestly. Risk of what? They can’t keep you off the radio because you’re not on the radio. You’re not going to be on the radio.
This album plays with some themes you developed in Chavez Ravine and My Name Is Buddy. But those were concept albums about times past, and this one is about current events.
What changed?
If you look at the Buddy record, the Buddy record could be about now. It was in the style of then, a more archaic style I suppose. Modest because it’s a cat speaking. We all know how cats think.
That album recalled the labor songs of the 1930s. Do you see parallels between the 1930s and today?
Well, sure. It’s only obvious, isn’t it? You can’t find solidarity in this country anymore and that was the saddest thing. It was what I had in that mind when I made that record. Especially with this voting business, about how they want to restrict voting and go back to Jim Crow time. That’s the most appalling thing of all. What else can you do but respond to this? Otherwise they paint you in the corner, you get angry and it’s very bad for your mental health.
There has been a nod to social justice in your work, going back to your 1970 debut album, when you covered Guthrie’s “Do Re Mi.” Does this sort of music hold a special place in your heart?
I always loved those songs. Woody Guthrie – I probably first heard him when I was 5. And those records and those photographs – the Farm Security Administration photographs – they made a big impact. I was intrigued by his voice. Of course, the guitar interested me. I was trying to learn them when I was a little kid. Somebody gave me a guitar. Gave me the Woody Guthrie records too. It was quite a package.
What do you hope people will take away from this album?
I’ve always said I’m just a guitar player from Santa Monica. I really believe that’s true. But I think that music has a contribution to make and if you ever saw Pete Seeger take a whole room and transform it into a collective mind, you know, where he could produce solidarity by making people sing with him, in four minutes, and it was a tremendous thing to witness. If you want to say do I think this is going to make an impact? I have no idea. I just do this because I like to do it.

By JAMES C. MCKINLEY JR. (originally published in Arts Beat, The New York Times)

Thursday, October 13, 2011

Ry Cooder, Los Angeles Stories (City Lights Noir, 2011)

Ry Cooder has written a book! Everybody’s go-to guy for bottleneck guitar has decided to write stories. He spent the first 20 years of his career navigating the history of American music. Then he worked for the movies. After that he helped the world rediscover Cuban music, he introduced us to the Okinawa sound, to the guitars of Timbuktu. More recently he wrote and performed a trilogy of albums about California. Chavez Ravine told the tragic tale of a community of Mexican-Americans, who were moved out of their neighbourhood to make room for Dodger Stadium. Then My Name Is Buddy presented us with a fable of a cat named Buddy in a Guthrie-esque odyssey through the Depression. This was followed by I, Flathead, which came packaged in a hardbound book which featured the lyrics to the songs, along with a novella to flesh out the stories. On a rare tour of Europe with son Joachim on drums and Nick Lowe on bass and vocals, the ‘merch counter’ offered t-shirts, posters and a hard cover book called Los Angeles Stories. The book came signed or unsigned. My copy was bought for me in Barcelona and mailed at great cost (the stamps covered the front of the envelope as well as the postage). Now two years later the book has been published in a popular trade paperback edition, by San Francisco’s City Lights Books.

There was certainly a sense of place and time in the tale of a door to door salesman who gets involved in a mystery by circumstance. It was a bit like a Raymond Chandler story. Maybe not as cleverly plotted, but rich in language, character and the essence of 1950's LA. Each tale has a title and a date, and early to mid-50s seems to be Cooder's oeuvre. Some of the stories echo each other as characters (or at least names) reappear. The links are tenuous except that they all take place in the City of Angels and all involve people involved in shadowy activities -- musicians, gun shop owners, pornographers, thieves, and all sorts of women.

Although it’s based on the kind of hard-boiled style of Chandler and the like, Cooder has his own voice, and if he had started writing sooner, might have made a bigger splash in the literary world. It might be too late for that. Bravo to City Lights for taking him on, and introducing him to a broader audience.
Who’s in that audience? Well, obviously, Ry Cooder fanatics will have to get a copy. Fans of hard-boiled fiction might want to give it a try, and anyone interested in the city itself, will find much to savour. The limited edition hardcover is all gone but the paperback edition is available anywhere books are sold.

This review has been updated from a review of the hardcover edition which appeared in Green Man Review.

Thursday, September 8, 2011

The Beatles Tribute at Hugh's Room...

It's a long drive from stately Rylander Manor to the Big Smoke, especially on a Friday evening, of a long weekend. Nonetheless my wife and I made the trek, and considering everything...it was a fairly simple journey. A Man Called Wrycraft had invited us to attend TWIST & SHOUT the second annual tribute to the Beatles. The poster is fantastic, using imagery from HELP! to advertise this homegrown show.

Walked into the room and there was Michael, who waved us over and in his booming voice said, "David...didn't you have a hat on the last time we met? Meet Gurf Morlix!" Two minutes in and I'd been introduced to Gurf Morlix...not bad. After a brief chat (and an autograph) we took our place at the next table and ordered dinner. Pasta and sausage for me, beef stroganoff for Milady. The food at Hugh's Room is not bad, but I think their menus could use an update.

The show started at 8:30 with the sound of the pipes from the bar. That's right...THE PIPES! Bagpipes, played by Grier Coppins, leading the Highland Brothers in a spirited version of George Harrison's sitar masterpiece, "Within You, Without You". Pipes, drum and sax marched to the stage, the tune melding into "Rain". Then the pipes and drum were laid down and replaced by guitars for "Hey Bulldog" and more. Then more pipes as the trio retreated to the bar. Michael introduced Aaron Jensen and the Omnium Gatherum who sang "In My Life" and "Got to Get You Into My Life" in guitar accompanied vocalese. Lovely. They were followed by a bluesy "Yesterday" and "Yer Blues" from Alfie Smith and Nicole Christian. Interesting, if a bit awkward. "Yesterday" doesn't really lend itself to blues scales. Next up, Toronto producer/guitarist Ray Montford who did weird things to "Girl" and almost redeemed himself with an instrumental "Come Together".

After a brief intermission the music began again with David Celia bravely tackling "Happiness Is A Warm Gun" and "A Day In The Life"! Awesome really! The Indo-African trio Sharbat was up next with long renditions of "Let It Be" and "Eleanor Rigby". World Music rules. Gurf Morlix, who had been watching and enjoying the show with the rest of us, then took the stage. He played "From Me To You" and Ringo's "Don't Pass Me By" as if they were Townes Van Zandt songs! I would've loved to hear a whole set by him...maybe next time.

That left Saidah Baba Talibah and Donna Gratis to finish the night. Saidah's voice and Donna's guitar were magical, adding soul to two tunes from Abbey Road. "You Never Give Me Your Money" and "I Want You/She's So Heavy" both sounded great. Then Michael called the whole cast back to the stage for a singalong on "Don't Let Me Down". It was fun! The whole audience got involved. In fact the audience was just dying to get involved and would have happy sung along at any point during the night.

Then it ended. We wandered into the night. Drove home and dreamed of John, Paul, Ringo and George. A great evening. Thanks Man Called Wrycraft, thanks a lot!

Friday, September 2, 2011

Reviews are in for Ry's show in SanFran...

I've heard a lot of friends complain that living in San Francisco comes with a steep cover charge. While that is true, many notable artists have a particular affinity for the Bay Area's unique venues and personalities. With that high cost of living comes the opportunity to experience art and culture that can be found nowhere else in the world.

Such is the case with Ry Cooder's current stint at the Great American Music Hall. The shows are primarily intended to announce the release of his latest album, "Pull Up Some Dust and Sit Down," but more than that he wanted to bring his San Francisco audience, who he applauds for their appreciation of the new and unexpected, something that in his words "they don't get to see every damn day." There will be no tour to follow this two-night run and on Wednesday fans came from as far away as Florida and Wisconsin.

The band brings together Cooder's past and present, featuring a rare appearance by accordionist Flaco Jimenez as well as singers Terry Evans and Arnold McCuller, all veterans of Cooder's touring bands from the '70s and '80s. The rhythm section represents the younger generation with son Joachim Cooder on drums and Los Angeles based-singer/songwriter/multi-instrumentalist Robert Francis on bass. The core configuration is augmented by a ten-piece horn section including tuba and bass-saxophone, many of whom are positioned in the balconies on either side of the stage.

The Wednesday set spanned Cooder's career highlighted by a spirited version of Woody Guthrie's "Do Re Mi" featuring Jimenez's deft accordion work, a romping boogie-woogie rendition of Sam the Sham's "Wooly Bully," and a whole lot of down home blues and Mexican-tinged traditional songs.

Cooder's new material from "Pull Up Some Dust" was well received by the left-leaning San Francisco audience who seemed to particularly enjoy "El Corrido de Jesse James," a modern-day fable told as a conversation between the outlaw and God. Jesse James asks for his gun back so that he can return to Earth to shoot up Wall Street and "set things straight," naive to the reality that America's problems can no longer be solved with grit and bullets. "No Banker Left Behind" began a two-song encore again using satire to illustrate Cooder's concerns about American political and economic policy.

Time has been kind to Cooder's voice. His vocals have matured over the course of his career and he has learned how to use his singing to convey the spirit of his more recent work which is more lyrics-driven.

Joachim Cooder was solid with good feel and held down the rhythm effectively. The bond between father and son was evident and could be felt in the music, although at times Jim Keltner's wider breadth of expression and rhythmic mastery was missed. Francis' bass playing was enthusiastic and functional although there were moments when he seemed to be just hanging on and unsure where certain songs were going.

The horns were sonically magnificent and added a new dimension to the material but at times overpowered the band and were overwhelming, bordering on painfully loud, which Cooder seemed to enjoy tremendously.

Even with so much sound and so much to look at, the most transcendent moments were when slide hit steel. Cooder is a true master of the guitar and every time he took the lead the music was elevated to a higher level. Though firmly rooted in slide blues, his playing defies genre classification and can only be compared to a handful of other living masters who share his dedication to the eclectic. Guitarists Bill Frisell, Pat Metheny and Mark Ribot jump to mind.

San Pablo's Los Cenzontles (The Mockingbirds) opened the evening with a richly authentic and spirited set of traditional Mexican-influenced dance songs to the delight of the crowd.

Both shows are sold out, but a number of fans were looking for tickets at the door on Wednesday night and most seemed to find their way in. For the dedicated, it might be worth a trip downtown to see if you can get lucky on Thursday. You won't get many, if any, more chances to see this ensemble. Only in San Francisco.
(from SF Gate)

Thursday, September 1, 2011

New interview with Ry Cooder...

This appeared on CANOE today!

It feels like old times to Ry Cooder. And that's the problem.

Economic malaise, unfettered greed, spiralling unemployment, self-serving politicians, impotent media: Life in America hasn't been this depressing since ... well, the Great Depression, the veteran singer-guitarist and musicologist believes.

"It's only perfectly obvious," grumbles the ornery 64-year-old Cooder from his Santa Monica home. "I read history books. I know what this is all about. I'm not stupid. What we have now is a replica of those conditions. Politicians in general and corporations have manipulated and wrecked the country. As a nation, we've come full circle entirely."

Fittingly, so has he. Cooder's latest album Pull Up Some Dust and Sit Down harkens back to his '70s heyday, when he specialized in unearthing and revamping Depression-era fare like "How Can a Poor Man Stand Such Times and Live?" and "The Very Thing That Makes You Rich (Makes Me Poor)". This time around, however, Cooder's timeless tracks -- a musical melting pot of folk, blues, country, Tex-Mex, gospel, soul and more -- are topped with his own topical lyrics about everyone from bankers and brokers to illegal aliens and John Lee Hooker. It may be the most personal and potent album of his career; no small feat for a guy whose resumé includes more than a dozen acclaimed solo albums, a slew of magnificent Hollywood soundtracks and collaborations with everyone from The Rolling Stones and Captain Beefheart to Buena Vista Social Club.

With Pull Up Some Dust now in stores, Cooder made some time to talk about creeping up on Woody, the kids and their texting, and how he soothes his jangled nerves.

Most artists go from angry young man to aging gracefully. You're getting feistier.

Ha! Not really. But I see what you mean. When you're surrounded by all these criminal acts and this terrible devolution of political life and social structure here in America -- I don't how it must seem up there, but down here, at my age, you can certainly trace this arc of collapse and chaos -- what are you going to do? It was either die of frustration and bitterness or make something out of it, you see. It's bad mental health to let that overtake you.

But you came up in the '70s during Watergate and Vietnam, and didn't write about them. What's different?

It took me a long time to get to where I had a handle on songwriting. You know, the old populist music of the '30s, which was invented and written by working-class people, was used to describe their lives and what they were going through, whether you were on strike at the cotton mill or westward-bound on the road. But since I didn't migrate west with the Dust Bowl guys like Woody Guthrie or see this first hand, I had to creep up on it more. It took time to absorb that kind of songwriting. It's taken me ... well, a lifetime.

Does it rankle you that protest music seems dead?

Well, here's the thing: In the '70s, you had one huge difference, and that was the record business. You had the three Rs: Radio, records and retail. You had a quick-response system. You could write a song and could go into a studio -- in those days, you still did that too -- and the record company could put it out as a single pretty quickly.

You could do that today on the Internet.

Oh, I don't think it's the same. The Internet is so vast and so diffuse. You can't compare that to the record business and the way it worked. And digital cyberspace doesn't provide a shared experience. I used to go see Pete Seeger, and within minutes he'd have an entire audience singing. When people sing together, they feel the same thing, they feel kinship. And by the end of the song, they've learned something and they can be moved forward. It's hard to have this kind of experience now; that feeling of solidarity.

Speaking of performing, you haven't done much lately. Why not?

It's hard. I'm a homebody. Travelling was not my favourite thing. And it's very difficult to do music out in the world. It's the most random, odd feeling. But I'm starting to think people are ready for this message. I don't know about the youth with their texting; they're hypnotized by their little screens. But they don't come see me anyway unless their grandparents bring 'em. But I think older people will respond to this. So if that means I go and play for 150 people -- which I think is an ideal audience -- to get this message across and give them the feeling I want them to have, I'm happy to do it. We're going to try a couple of shows this month. We'll see if I can pull it off. If it's motivating, maybe I'll find a friendly billionaire who will underwrite the whole thing.

I find it reassuring that your music has retained its own sound. You've never chased a trend.

Heaven forbid. I wouldn't even know a trend to chase.

What kind of music do you listen to?

Classical. It's very spacious and undemanding, especially the French guys. I like Ravel and all those cats. It's very soothing to my jangled nerves.


Thursday, July 21, 2011

So, what have I been up to?

I took a couple of weeks holiday. Played my guitar[s], read some books, watched a bit of TV. It was relaxing.
I read Jeffery Deaver's up-date on James Bond, Carte Blanche, and found it to be a satisfying, exciting story. Good settings, interesting characters, and a villain who was...disturbed to say the least. Better than some of the post- Ian Fleming Bonds. Then I read Joe Gores' Spade and Archer the prequel to Dashiell Hammett's The Maltese Falcon. Gores had also written Hammett which saw the writer drawn in to a detective story not unlike his own work. Gores is a strong writer, and so his take on Sam Spade is respectful of the original and builds him into the detective that Hammett introduced. Of course, most people recognize Spade as Humphrey Bogart, and those folks won't be disappointed either. Another fun read.
Also got a look at Julian Dawson's biography of rock's sessionman extraordinaire. And on piano...Nicky Hopkins gets my full attention on Sleeping Hedgehog, but let me tell you, it's a dynamite tale.
I went to see Richard III at Stratford which featured Seana McKenna in the title role. It's been a tad controversial but I have to say she totally convinced me that she was a miaserable crippled king!
We also visited Toronto's Sound Academy to see Leon Russell. Paul James opened the show for some rocking blues and then Leon and his band really rocked the place with a career overview. See my full review on the Critics at Large blog!
New music? Blackie & the Rodeo Kings Kings & Queens, Gillian Welch's new one, and a bunch of Jack White produced 45s from Third Man Records. Vinyl? Yes, vinyl. I've been buying vinyl because, I can read the liner notes! See also Van Dyke Parks' new website, Bananastan, for subscription information. The music is beautiful, as is the presentation. Great artwork.
Friday night we celebrated Dr. Disc's 20th Anniversary by attending one of their free rooftop concerts. The Steve Strongman Band gave us forty-five minutes of blues in the Hammer. It was a gorgeous night...

Wednesday, June 29, 2011

New music, books, etc...

I finally obtained a copy of Elvis Costello's Spectacle (Season 2). Bought it on Blu-ray since we were there at the taping of the episode where Mary Louise Parker interviewed Elvis himself. You can spot us sitting in the second row off to the right side of the stage. No closeups though! So I hurried home and popped the first disc into my Samsung Blu-ray player, which has been a fine machine, and it began to load. "Loading" it said on the screen. 5 minutes later, it was still loading. It would still be loading today if I hadn't decided to try another disc. Popped in True Grit and it began right away. So, it was something to do with Spectacle. I tried the other disc..."loading". David Byrne's new live disc played beautifully, as did the Neil Young Music-cares disc. I bought a DVD copy of Spectacle to watch, and it played with no trouble. Aha! There must be one of those firmware updates I remember reading about last Christmas when my son gave me the Blu-ray player. With a little help from my technical guru (the same son who provided the machine) I was able to download the upgrade to a USB drive and jam that into the port on the back of the player. The rest was simple, the player discovered the file on the USB and loaded it. Now Elvis and I are available in High-Def! Oh, and the shows themselves? Excellent. Jesse Winchester, Ron Sexsmith, Lyle Lovett, the Boss, Bono and the Edge, and Elvis himself...all great.
The David Byrne? Odd, geeky dancing and a hot band playing David's hits. Curiously engaging! The Neil Young? A fine tribute concert to someone who deserves it, and who has a vast catalogue so that the tribute songs don't have to sound like his greatest hits. True Grit? Well worth another viewing. I read the Charles Portis book after seeing this new version, and for all the fuss people made about how faithful the Coens were to the source material, I have to say...the John Wayne version wasn't that far off. Both films are pretty true to the original, and have chunks of dialogue lifted off the page. It seems to me, that Barry Pepper's Lucky Ned is really based on Robert Duval's interpretation of the outlaw in the first film.
J.D.Souther has a new CD. Called Natural History it is a collection of old songs (and new) redone in stripped down versions. Produced by Fred Mollin (who did a similar thing with Jimmy Webb on Ten Easy Pieces) it highlights Souther's songs and his warm voice. A bit sleepy perhaps, but just right for a quiet night at home. Eliza Gilkyson is one of my favourite songwriters and performers but I was disappointed with her new disc. The band is fine, and Eliza sings beautifully but I felt the material was a tad samey, and grew bored with the album. I'll give it another chance but I'm not hopeful.
Blackie & the Rodeo Kings' Kings & Queens finally found its way out of the starting gate. I ordered the limited edition signed version from the website, and it arrived on the last day before a postal strike stopped the mail from moving. The autographs look more like scribbles on the front cover, fortunately I have another set of signatures to compare them to, and can identify whose scribble is whose! The music though is tremendous. Each song is a duet featuring one of the Rodeo Kings with a Queen of choice. Lucinda Williams, Patti Scialfa, Rosanne Cash, Emmylou Harris, Cassandra Wilson, the list goes on. A rootsy and gorgeous hour of song.
Paul McCartney re-issued his two solo albums in regular, deluxe and super deluxe packages. McCartney is one of my favourites, coming in 1970 and recorded during the breakup of his other band, it was light and fun and showed a man who wasn't afraid to take chances. McCartney II came after the drug bust in Japan and I found it hokey (although the songs were more complex) and sloppy. I've never understood the attraction Sir Paul has for "Coming Up". Maybe it's the kazoo solos! Anyway, my opinion of these albums hasn't changed. The remastered versions sound dandy, and the bonus tracks are...a bonus. But I'm not paying $70 each for a hardcover book and a DVD I'll only watch once!
My wife took me to see ex-Beach Boy Al Jardine for Father's Day. He was playing with his son Matt's band the Surf City All Stars, and it was a fun night of surf music and rock'n'roll. Just right for listening, singing along and a bit of dancing. We didn't stick around but I understand Al and the band did a meet and greet.
Apart from reading Tana French's Faithful Place (***) and starting to dig in to John Sayles' Moment in the Sun I've just been perusing magazines. I did pickup the new James Bond book though, and am taking a break from Sayles' 900 pages for a quick action tale. Carte Blanche updates (reboots?) 007 to today, and might just work...I'll let you know.

Tuesday, May 10, 2011

Paul Simon on TOUR!

When I heard about Paul Simon's new tour I immediately e-mailed my wife. "Wanna go see Paul Simon?" "YES!" was her response, so I ordered the tickets. They were for the 2nd balcony, but dead centre at Massey Hall, and we all know there are no bad seats at Massey Hall. Well okay, there are a few obstructed view spots but generally everything is good. Well, I had an obstructed view, not because of the construction of the building but due instead to the giant bobblehead on the guy in front of me. I don't think I've ever seen anyone move his head quite so much as this guy, and what a head it was! And his girlfriend never stopped talking to him, or to her friend seated next to Bighead. Very distracting.
But to the music...it was exquisite. Simon led an 8-piece band in a career spanning two and one half hour show. It never stopped!
"Crazy Love, vol.2" started things off followed by "Dazzling Blue" (from the new album), then "50 Ways to Leave Your Lover" and the title track "So Beautiful or So What". And if you were looking for surprises, well how about Jimmy Cliff's "Vietnam" which was the inspiration for "Mother & Child Reunion" or a medley of "Mystery Train" and Chet Atkins' "Wheels" before the new tune "Rewrite". Virtually no part of his career was left untouched (well, to be fair he didn't do Tom & Jerry's "Hey Schoolgirl") as Simon included "The Only Living Boy In New York" and "The Sound of Silence" from the Garfunkel days.
He has a strangely gentle (almost girlish) presence on stage. His hands, when not wrapped around a guitar, flow hither and yon lending a Piaf-like air to his performance. His voice was a bit ragged, he's been suffering from a cold, but apart from marking a few high notes, he hit everything he aimed at! As J-Lo told the wannabes on American Idol "You're a professional, you don't have to hit those notes! You have a 2 hour show to give." And Paul Simon is a consumate professional.
The band was terrific, many of the players doubling on instruments, they reproduced the crystalline sound of his CDs beautifully.
A stunning night, that ended, after two encores, with a long ovation for a true American legend.

Monday, April 25, 2011

Ron Sexsmith at The Studio Theatre...

Wednesday night Rich and I had front row seats for the best show in town. Sure, The Pixies were playing next door, but Ron Sexsmith was at the Studio Theatre, and what could be better than that?
The show started on time with an opening set from Ash Koley. They were better than expected, and apart from way too much "Gee golly, it's so cool to be on tour with such a wonderful guy as Ron Sexsmith..." they provided an entertaining opening. I mean, even if it's true (and it is) that Ron is a sweetheart, enough is enough.
Ron took the stage, in front of his touring band, wearing a new stage jacket with embroidered flowers. He looked every inch the professional. He has an open easy-going style, friendly and chatty with a touch of humour and cynicism. The band really cooked this time, Bover shone on lead guitar, and the addition of Dave Matthewson on piano was a good idea.
Ron did tunes from the new album interspersed with classics like "Strawberry Blonde," "Brandy Alexander" and "Hard Bargain". Working with Bob Rock helped. The new songs and the old came off as punchier, and more solid than in the past. They've never sounded bad, but this band owned them.
The merch counter had T-shirts, CDs, signed lithos and the new album on vinyl, but I'd pretty much gathered all that stuff up over the past month, so after an encore of "Michael and His Dad" and "Every time I Follow" we headed home, our heads full of Ron's beautiful music.

Thursday, April 14, 2011

Crowbar, and other stuff...

I've been listening to quite a bit of Crowbar these days. I have the vinyl albums, some 45s and some of the stuff on CD, but I would say that for a band as rockin' and (dare I say it) important to the Canadian scene as Crowbar...they are woefully under-served on CD. The Bad Manors album ranks up their with the first Moby Grape album as one of the all-time classic LPs. Heavy Duty and Larger Than Life are good ones. LTL is that live double that came with a poster listing everyone who attended the concert where it was recorded. The show was broadcast on CHUM-FM as it took place, I recall listening to it from Massey Hall to John's living room.

I saw Crowbar a couple times, in weird places. I can't even remember the names of them, but wherever I saw them...Kelly Jay and the boys put on a great show.
We shouldn't forget the Official Music LP, with King Biscuit Boy. Or the Epic album KE-32746 which was produced by Jack Douglas. I managed to find a download of this (sorry boys) and it is a good album.

You have to wonder what ever happened to Josef Chirowski! Rheal passed away, but Roly, John, Kelly and Sonny are still getting together once in awhile with a few friends to play the classics! I loaned John my 45s one time so they could study a couple arrangements!

This Live album appeared from nowhere, and it's not as good as LTL but it does capture the band in an American venue The Whiskey-A-Go-Go. Even in a foreign country you can feel the heat.
Crowbar I miss you! Thanks for the memories.

Thursday, April 7, 2011

Jackson Browne...last night

OK, it wasn't a million guitars, just 17 or 18. And a keyboard relicating a grand piano. And a couple of chairs. And any song he had ever written, plus a couple he didn't write. Jackson Browne brought his solo acoustic show to Hamilton Place last night, to a big crowd, not quite sold out, but very healthy. Surely the floor was sold out. And everyone brought their loudest voice to call, shout, scream for their favourites. Jackson had announced this as a "no setlist" show...which meant he would sing the songs you called for, as long as those were the songs he felt like singing.
They're all his songs after all. Kudos to him for remembering them so well. We just saw Lucinda Williams at Massey Hall with a songbook perched in front of her for the lyrics. Jackson just kept singing the verses over again til he recalled the next line. It was an interesting exercise. Should keep the Alzheimers at bay!
He sang a couple of Warren Zevon songs. Don't forget, Jackson produced Zevon's first Asylum record. He sang "Off Of Wonderland" and "Giving That Heaven Away" from 2008's Time the Conqueror and reached back as far as "Jamaica Say You Will" and "Rock Me On The Water" from the album known as Saturate Before Using from 1972. They were selling T-shirts with that album cover emblazoned on them at the merch counter.
Oh, they also had Time the Conqueror, the two solo acoustic CDs, and the Lindley/Browne live release Love Is Strange for sale, and buttons, and a DVD and a water bottle, and other T-shirts. It was a Jackson Browne marketplace in the lobby.
It was fun to see him wandering between piano stool and chair, deciding whether to play keyboard or guitar. It was fascinating to watch him choose the right guitar for the job...at least he didn't have to change tunings for each song! His voice is rougher than in the past, although having shaved off the beard he looks about the same from where I was sitting as he did back in 1973 when I saw him last.
An interesting night. Made me want to go home and listen to the originals. Maybe that's not such a bad thing!
Just one more thing...folks...leave your Blackberries and iPhones at home. We finally get rid of thsoe stupid concert wands, we're no longer getting hot metal from sparkers dropping on our neck, so turn off the @#$% phones! The picture quality stinks anyway, and it's OH SO ANNOYING to have those bright lights popping up all over the auditorium. Even for the performer. I know, I've done it...I've been scolded by Ramblin' Jack Elliott! But as Jackson Browne said, "If you're hoping for a performance that just might be...transcendent...don't do it!"

Wednesday, April 6, 2011

Jackson Browne...


On Stage! Alone with a million guitars...

Monday, March 28, 2011

Jesse Winchester...

Jesse Winchester dropped onto the music scene with considerable buzz. Was this Bob Dylan recording under an assumed name? He's a friend of the Band! Who is this guy?

When his first, eponymous album appeared with a green-grey photo of his unsmiling, bearded face, Jesse Winchester in plain black lettering across the top, and the same photo on the back, AND repeated twice on the inside of the gatefold...there wasn't much to go on. No lyric sheets. No posters. No extensive liner notes by Ralph Gleason. Just a list of the musicians involved; David Rea on guitar, a rhythm section featuring Levon Helm and production by Robbie Roberston. But to listen to this album was to be transformed. This was some serious stuff. A potent riff, a rocking beat, and:

"Let's go out on the town tonight,
my pockets are heavy with loot.
We'll get drunk and nasty,
and loud and agressive to boot!"

The album was filled with simple tunes, evoking the songwriter's home in Tennessee, and his longing for his home in the South. He was, after all, a draft evader...in exile in Montreal, the most European of Canadian cities. A stranger in a strange land.

This was over thirty years ago, and Jesse Winchester has continued to write from his home in Quebec. He took himself a Canadian wife, and lived the good life north of the border; becoming a Canadian citizen, and after the Jimmy Carter amnesty, finally returning to tour the US in 1977.

Todd Rundgren produced part of his second album, 1972's Third Down and 110 To Go. The title alludes to Canadian football, which has one fewer downs, and a longer field than its American counterpart. If it's "3rd & 110 to go"...you're in trouble babe! Rundgren's production set a standard for the next few albums. Where Robbie Robertson had provided a garage band sound, Rundgren went for an even further stripped-down approach. Winchester's three-chord tunes were presented almost in demo form. The simple melodies and homey lyrics take the forefront and the quality picking by local musicians, and the odd guest star just provide a foundation for Winchester's warm vocals. The album cover art tells a tale too. Far from the stern, almost scarey visage on the first album, Jesse looks happy on the cover of this one, life is settling down.

The next two albums continued this approach. Band members included the gifted Amos Garrett whose superlative melodic guitar stylings provide some memorable moments, and Russell Smith whose song "Third Rate Romance" (later a hit for his own band the Amazing Rhythm Aces) made its first appearance on Learn To Love It (1974). The cover art for this one shows an ecstatic dad holding up his first born!

In 1976 Let The Rough Side Drag was virtually a sequel to Learn to Love It. Winchester was writing minimalistic songs, little snapshots of life. He was enjoying his life and making quick to the point comments. It's a songwriting style that suits him, and his melodic gift is such that the tunes are memorable 25 years later.

With 1977's Nothing But A Breeze he upped the ante. Maybe after the amnesty the record company decided to spend a bit more money, but on this album the home-made quality started to slip away, and producers were brought in to give Jesse a commercial "sound". Brian Ahern, who gave a glossy sheen to the early albums of Ann Murray and Emmylou Harris, tried his magic here. In fact both of those singers appear in backing roles. But apart from a pleasant but slow turn on "Bowling Green", and "Rhumba Man" -- soon to be a hit for Nicolette Larsen -- there's not much to recommend this album.

1978 saw another attempt to mainstream Mr. Winchester, this time by taking him to Nashville. Norbert Putnam led a galaxy of Nashville session men to produce A Touch on the Rainy Side. David Briggs and Kenny Buttrey were among the musicians hired to polish a rather forgettable batch of tunes. The most memorable song on the album is Tony Orlando's hit "Candida", a scary thought indeed!

Winchester returned south of the border for 1981's Talk Memphis, a slice of funky, Tennessee R & B produced by Willie Mitchell. While not completely successful, the grooves are appealing and Winchester relaxed vocals are well presented. "Say What" was a minor hit, and is representative of the album as a whole. Winchester took a break at this point. He wrote songs tunes that were recorded by other artists and gained a reputation for doing so. In 1988 WEA released a collection of his best songs from the Bearsville albums and came up with a good cross section that highlights his strengths. Warm, mellifluous vocals, and quirky little songs surrounded by nice picking and a decent groove. What more could you ask?

Winchester was picked up by Sugar Hill Records, and 1989 saw the release of Humour Me. He shows his Northern allegiance by choosing the Canadian spelling of the title. This is a listenable but not particularly ground-breaking album. There's no questioning the musicianship though. Winchester is surrounded by Sugar Hill staples Jerry Douglas, Bela Fleck, Sam Bush and Edgar Meyer.

It would be ten years before Jesse Winchester released another album. 1999 saw the release (again on Sugar Hill) of Gentleman of Leisure. This was a return to form, and a quite enjoyable record. I especially liked the sly reference to Steve Cropper, who then takes a rather nifty guitar solo! The title track is one of Jesse's novelty tunes, which he writes to break up the seriousness of his songs of life and love that populate his writing.

Winchester demos all his songs solo, playing all the instruments, and in 2001 he released Rough Ideas, the demos for Gentleman of Leisure. It is a novel idea, and worth a listen if you're interested in the creative process of songwriting and recording.

Over the years Winchester has released a succession of live albums which present him fronting his hot band of Montreal musos, playing his greatest songs. Live at the Bijou Cafe was a 1977 promo album later issued in Japan (and bootlegged in North america), and is a rocking little number, intimate and fun. 2001 saw the release of Live at the Trojan Horse, 1976 which is similar in feel and material, but available in North America. Live From Mountain Stage is a solo performance on Blue Plate Records close to what a perfomance from Jesse is like today. As a songwriter he is probably best represented in a marvelous double CD, Anthology on a British label called Castle. The 23 best songs from his whole ouevre are presented in chronological order on the first CD; and whoever chose the songs obviously feels as strongly about Winchester as I do. The second CD is the incredible first album in it entirety. It's as good today as it was when I firsty heard it! With liner notes by Colin Escott it's the perfect collection, if you can find it.

I have admired and listened to Jesse Winchester for 30 years. His songs of distance, and longing for his homeland moved me to tears; his songs of home and hearth warmed my soul. In looking at this collection of material I realize that he has been a spottier performer than I thought. The first album was a powerful introduction to a new songwriter, and the next three albums saw him develop a unique and cozy style. While the record labels' experiments with commercialization seem dated today, there are still a few gems from this era. And Winchester remains a powerful voice and a magnetic performer, perhaps best enjoyed in compilations.

On Saturday night Jesse Winchester played in concert at the Spectator Auditorium in Hamilton. The show was sold out, and a week ago the organizers added 20 seats which disappeared quickly. We arrived 35 minutes early and had to sit close to the back of the room. Winchester ambled out carrying his gut-string guitar, at exactly 8:00. He sat on a stool and launched into a gentle version of "Brand New Tennessee Waltz" which set the tone for the whole night. He sang songs from his whole career, including a selection or two from last year's Love Filling Station, in a light tenor, fingering funky chords on the guitar, and showing a flair for drama with his expressive hands. His stories of the South, of life in Montreal, of approaching 'geezerness' and a newfound appreciation for the Mercury Grand Marquis set the songs in context. The crowd in that hot auditorium, loved him. And a great time was had by all.

Wednesday, March 23, 2011

so what have I been listening to?

Way back in January, I bought the CD+DVD edition of Jimi Hendrix's West Coast Seattle Boy and I downloaded the early tracks to add to it. I don't listen to Jimi a lot, but when I'm in the mood there's nothing like some Hendrix to make you realize "Hey, I'd better practice!"
I picked up Gregg Allman's Low Country Blues mainly due to the hype, and the fact that T Bone produced it, and I have to say that I've enjoyed it, although it has more recently slipped off the playlist in favour of a couple newer items.
Found an old Rick Holmstrom album too, called Lookout which is mainly instrumental. I love the guy's playing with Mavis Staples, but this album is pretty generic. Worth the $8 I paid though!
Wanda Jackson's newest came in the mail from Nonesuch, accompanied by a signed poster, which is cool. The album is pretty hot, produced as it is by Jack White. Great for crankin' it up on long car rides!
I ran across a vinyl copy of Legendary Grape the, well, legendary album made by a reformed Moby Grape. It reminds me just how good this band was, and what a shame that I missed seeing them live that evening at the CNE...
Campus Disc showed up at the University, and I bought a few used items including a Best of Gerry & the Pacemakers, Peter & Gordon, Sam the Sham & the Pharaohs, as well as a copy of Lou Reed's live Berlin. Wow, that's a depressing album, but the 60s stuff is uplifting fun. Oh, and a vinyl copy of Elvis Costello's Secret, Profane & Sugarcane for the bonus tracks.
A couple old Randy Bachman albums were next, Axe was a download, and Survivor came from Randy's mail order. Nice things to have, he's a fine guitarist and he knows how to write a riff!
The Majestic Silver Strings was hard to find. It's packaged to resemble a set of guitar strings, and with Bill Frisell, Greg Leisz and Marc Ribot joining Buddy Miller on a collection of old country tunes...that's a good image to have. The accompanying video is interesting too. These guys make magic.
Lucinda Williams released Blessed the same week I saw her live when she opened for Levon Helm at Massey Hall. Songs from the new album were featured at the
show, as Lucinda read lyrics from a music stand. I haven't warmed up to Blessed yet...give it time. Oh, the show was great, and Levon (singing raggedly due to a cold on top of the already shredded vocal cords) put on a show that was unforgetable!
Ron Sexsmith's long awaited Long Player, Late Bloomer was for me, the highlight of the year so far. I bought the special edition with a DVD of live performances and a signed litho. But even without all the extras, this is a beautiful album. Bob Rock's production is crisp and presents another set of fine songs from the pen of a master. Ron should be proud of this addition to his oeuvre, and get over the lack of confidence that seems to plague him.
Gary U.S. Bonds has a recent CD that you can buy from his web site, signed. It's a good little rocking number. Give it a try.
Levon Helm has asked Capitol Records to reissue the first three albums by The Band which are available in a boxed set, called Three of a Kind. No bonus tracks, all the remastering is gone, what's left...the first three albums just the way we heard them back in the day. Awesome!
Still looking for the newly re-issued Nick Lowe Labour of Lust CD, and awaiting delivery of Steve Martin's second bluegrass album. Maybe tonight, if the postman can get through the snow that surprisingly dropped on us overnight.
Upcoming? Robbie Robertson, Paul Simon, Steve Earle, and don't forget Record Store Day coming up April 16th. Support your local retailer!

Tuesday, March 22, 2011


Autographs. Some people give 'em, some people collect 'em. And some people refuse to give 'em. I think it was American actor Keenan Wynn who refused to sign anything, but he would take time to pose for pictures with folks. So here are a few autographs I've collected over the years.

Ron Sexsmith, obtained this one after a concert in St.Catharines. He said, "I don't like using those gold pens," and pulled out a black sharpie. I said, "Please, can you use the gold?" Which he did, of course then it didn't dry for about ten minutes. Still, I think the gold looks good against the tones in the picture.

Bettye LaVette. Purchased this one from her web site. She managed to use one of those liquid silver pens without smearing.

This one came from Newbury Comics. They often have some excellent collectibles, most are available in Canada although sometimes the signed copies are only available to US customers. Glad to have been able to get this one.

Klaus Voormann, the artist who did the Beatles' Revolver and Anthology covers, was also a bass player, and one of the Fab Four's oldest friends from the Hamburg days. I bought one of his signed prints from his web site, and then when this career celebrating CD was released I ordered it as well. He signed in letters big enough for King George to read!

A week after seeing Levon perform at Massey Hall I bought this 3-disc set from his web-site. A bit pricey maybe, the discs have all the bonus tracks and remastered frills removed and sound just like the original albums I fell in love with so many years ago. Nice to have Levon's scrawl on the box.

I now have signatures from the three surviving Band-mates. Remind me to tell you the Garth Hudson story sometime!

Monday, March 21, 2011

a couple great shows...

Bob Dylan and his band at Hamilton Place. Loud, rockin' fun...Bob played only the keyboard all night.

Lindsey Buckingham and his band also at Hamilton Place. One of the greatest shows I've ever seen, anywhere. To a small but appreciative crowd. Wonderful!

Surf music, and hot rods...

1962 saw the release of the first Beach Boys album, but within a couple of years the wagon was gettin' pretty loaded up. Bruce Johnston and Terry Melcher put out singles as Bruce and Terry, but they also called themselves The Rip Chords for this one. "Three Window Coupe" b/w "Hot Rod USA".

1964 also found Jan & Dean on the charts with "The Little Old Lady From Pasadena" and "Ride the Wild Surf".

"Ride the Wild Surf" was backed with one of my favourite all-time titles. "The Anaheim, Azusa and Cucamonga Sewing Circle, Book Review and Timing Association".

1965 found the Beach Boys recording "Help Me Rhonda" while Freddy Cannon had a hit with "Action".

"...Oh, baby come on!"

The ultimate Beach Boy tune is at the top of this article, but "Sloop John B" came out the same year as "Good Vibrations"...1966. I'll never forget seeing the Beach Boys live one stormy night in August, they started playing "Good Vibrations" and the clouds parted, the moon shone through and the night turned wamr and wonderful.

Johnny Rivers jumped on the bandwagon in 1975 with his version of "Help Me Rhonda" with help from Brian Wilson.

The Beach Boys tried all sorts of things to maintain their popularity, from this 'disco' version of "Here Comes the Night"(1979)...

to joining with Little Richard on this Bruce & Terry written track "Happy Endings"(1987)...

to the hit by committee "Kokomo" written by Mike Love (he probably provided the atlas for place names) Terry Melcher, John Phillips and Scott MacKenzie (1988).

While Brian Wilson went on his own bizarre path, creating marvelous music all along the way. 1987's "Love and Mercy" and...

from 1988 "Too Much Sugar" b/w "He Couldn't Get His Poor Old Body To Move" (written with Lindsey Buckingham!)