Friday, October 31, 2008

TV Vacancy, Kamloops, BC to Ashcroft Halloween

We’ve got a TV show to do today in Kamloops, BC. It’s only about 150 km away, but we don’t know the roads all that well, and need to give ourselves a good start to get there on schedule. It’s Starbucks coffee to go, and the worst muffin I have ever tasted, and we’re on 97 headed north. The road south to Penticton, where the tour was originally routed, has been blocked by a massive landslide. They are saying it may be closed for a month, and the drive-around is something like 3 hours. The road north looks good, and there’s not much traffic today as we head out.

I always enjoy the drive into Kamloops. The hills around it are strange, cartoonish things. The sprawl is something else, however. Worse everytime in, it seems. Take a breathtaking landscape and fill it with corporate logos, billboards, and condos that look like cancer cells on the hillsides… Rolling into town a car honks at us and pulls up alongside. “Where are you trying to go?” the driver asks. I tell him we’re lookng for the TV station. “Follow me!,” he says. And off we go! At the top of a ridge overlooking the city we pull into a parking lot. Perfect. And right on time for soundcheck. We thank Rusty for guiding us in, and give him a couple of CDs for his trouble. He’s a blues fan, and knows a bunch of local players. Neat.

The TV show is Midday. We soundcheck. Our bite will be about four to six minutes at the end of the show. We hole up in the Green Room— thank goodnes it has WiFi— and wait for our turn. Michael sits outside and smokes. Nice view outside the front doors. I catch up on email and sit with a college football player, a specialty butcher, a woman who does custom Halloween parties… Our host, Tracy is dressed in a cowboy hat for this occasion. Happy Halloween! The tech drops a mic on the floor. Michael and I take snaps of ourselves in the newsroom. Finally it’s our turn to go on. There. We’re done. We present Tracy with a tour jacket and we are out of here! Thank you! Good-bye until next time. I wonder how much of our demographic is watching Midday Television. Will they drive to Ashcroft tomorrow to see us at the Oper House?

Michael and I are very, very hungry. He wants to stop at the first food place he sees. It’s an Indian restaurant. I say “not me” as I want breakfast. Michael goes Indian. I wander up the street and find a diner in the same block. Eggs, toast, coffee. Good. Very good. Back at the truck we decide to push on to Ashcroft. It’s not far, and as we are not performing this evening we might as well check in there a day early.

It’s a fascinating drive for us and we stop a few times to take it all in. In Ashcroft we quickly find the Opera House. Owner-booker-manager-chef Martin is standing outside as we drive up— a day early! But he is glad to see us and shows us around the venue. This is very, very cool. The building was once Town Hall, then was an opera house, a silent movie house… and eventually this wood filled concert hall. We can sleep in the Green Room if we want, but Michael and I elect to stay at the local hotel. There are plenty of vacancies at this time of year. We drink coffee with Martin and then check in for a nap. Michael naps. I go to the bar, the only place here where I sem to be able to get a WiFi signal. I sit with my laptop and a glass of red wine while some of the local lads drink beer and play pool.

After dark we go back to the Opera House, pick up Martin and head out for some Halloween social events. We are introduced to some really nice folks, and end up at a Halloween party at a studio/house high over the river. Michael plays guitar while a whole lot of people play drums. That’s more than I can manage, but I enjoy talking with quite a number of local artists and musicians. Also at the party are a couple members of a theatre group who are doing a play at the local school here. One of the women is from Atlanta, so we catch up on South for a few minutes. They travel around the country doing week long workshops in schools. Tomorrow afternoon all the kids will be presenting a play at the local high school. Anyway, back to our hotel before it gets too late. We had hot dogs. We had a pleasant evening. Thanks, Ashcroft!!

Thursday, October 30, 2008

Kelowna, Kelowna, BC

Breakfast with Lorne in Enderby, and then off we go to Kelowna. We are enjoying this drive through the big valley. In town early, we check into our hotel rooms and kill time until soundcheck. Nice suites here. Very comfortable. I decide to go for a run and head out along the lakeside. As I’m leaving I can hear Michael playing his guitar in his room.

It’s a busy road, with plenty of obstructions between me and the water, but after a few km I encounter a greenbelt walking/hiking trail. It seems to be an old railway right of way which follows a creek through the edge of town. I head up this path. It’s fine, crushed gravel, not too hard and not too soft. Great for running. Nice trees up either side of the trail. The creek murmuring next to me. Km markers every once in a while. This is a really nice run or walk. I go far too far, perhaps, but get back to the hotel feeling recharged.

Load-in and soundcheck at 4:30. Minstrel Café owner Clare meets us and shows us what the set up is. We end up bringing in our own mics, a couple of cables, and a couple of boom stands to set up. We carry a full, back up PA in the truck, and all too often we need to bring in bits of it. The mics here are not up to the task of a two person set up. And the fifty foot cables won’t do either. We’re up and ready pretty quickly, but we have our doubts about the volume of the whole thing. We’ve ordered food, and it is very good indeed. The staff are very nice. Back to the hotel for a snooze before showtime. Our hotel is only about 5 minutes drive from the club, so this is good.

Showtime. The place is not as crowded as we would of liked. Not bad, but not filled to capacity either. Outside on the sign it says “Doc McLean Blues Tour.” This is not an ego thing for either of us, but having both Doc MacLean and Michael Pickett up on the sign would be a good idea to maximize buzz for this show. Michael has loads of fans in this region, and they need to know that he is here! But there is a bit of a buzz, and quite a number of local musicians and blues fans have turned out to see us. Thanks, everybody, for supporting live music in Kelowna!

I kick it off tonight with Charlie James’ Blues, and the sound is better than I thought it would be, although not loud enough from my seat. But these folks are with us in a big way, and the set goes by far too quickly. Michael breaks a string on “Wicked Grin” and sings most of it without the guitar. It is quite cool. Between sets the merch table is busy— we’re selling and signing, and answering questions. These folks are into this tonight. When we start the next set we have a very quiet, very attentive house. I think we are playing exceptionally well tonight. We are both singing well. Timing is good. I have fun playing harp behind Michael on a couple of tunes. I don’t know what he thinks about it, but I think it sounds OK, even pretty good. After all these years of not playing I’m both rusty and cautious. And, heck, I’m sitting next to Michael Pickett. He’s one of the harp Kings. Tonight I sing the best “Bone Train” I have ever performed. It hits me that way, anyhow. The singing seems easy tonight. I was worried last spring, after a winter of street singing, whether or not I had finally destroyed my voice altogether. Well, I guess that’s always a matter of opinion. But everybody seems to be riding with us this night.

On the way back to the hotel Michael asks me how many dates are left. Heck, we’re coming up the last stretch now, what— maybe 10 shows or something. Hard to believe. It’s been good. I’ll miss this Tour when it’s over!

Wednesday, October 29, 2008

Lorenzo's, Enderby, BC

We’re sorry to see the last of Golden, it’s been a nice rest. But we do like to perform every night. It just seems easier to stay in motion than to stop, however briefly. We’re headed for Enderby, BC today. Lorenzo’s Café. This is a cool place that both Michael and I have played before. Lorne is a fine host. The whole scene is a little crazed and wacky. It’s just a warm and interesting stop that we are both looking forward to.

Back out onto the TransCanada Hwy. Westbound. It’s the Rogers Pass today, and we’re over the continental divide and yet another time zone. Snow up here, but none falling at the moment, thankfully. Close call with a couple of deer on the road out of town. But we’re OK, and we enjoy this ride. Yeah, we’re tourists and we take pictures of all these mountain views.

Enderby is over the big hump, in more of a valley area. Upper Kelowna perhaps? I’m not sure what they call this district. Lorenzo’s is several miles outside town. Rolling in early we are greeted by Lorne, do a quick set-up and sound check, and retire to our quarters above the Café. Michael naps. I elect to go for a run. I don’t feel as stiff as I thought I’d be from running Golden, BC. Here it seems pretty flat, so I head out on the backroad, down past the river, and up into the rolling ranch country. Barking dogs, llamas, cattle. A nice trot.

Showtime at Lorenzo’s. It’s a small crowd tonight, so we get to met everybody pre-show and chat. Lorenzo’s has a big, outdoor smoking porch. So there’s plenty of hanging out and plenty of conversation. The acoustics of this room are really quite wonderful, so we enjoy every moment of playing. At the end of the evening we stay up too late, shooting the breeze with Lorne. I crash hard, while Michael and Lorne hang until who knows when. This is a nice stop, for sure. Next time it will be a Friday or Saturday night!

Monday, October 27, 2008

Mountain Ride to Golden: Kicking Horse

We wake up this morning in Okatoke, AB. Breakfast is great. We are hungry enough to walk into the nearest chain diner— and there is a big, smiling gent waving us to join him at his table. It's Gary, a fellow traveller we met yesterday when we were looking for a hotel. He's a special EFX guy who has done some major film stuff and also does training for the Canadian armed forces. In short, he enjoys blowing stuff up. Big stuff with plenty of flash and woof! And he's a great storyteller, so we enjoy breakfast in a big way. My face hurts from laughing. Gary picks up our breakfast tab. I hope our paths cross again. Our day is off to a great start.

We're going to take the back way north to the TransCanada Hwy, by-passing Calgary by cutting through the hills to the west. This means going back to Black Diamond and ducking south for a few minutes to pick up the secondary road we will use. I took this road last year with Big Dave, and it was a great ride— worth doing again. This road does not disappoint. Michael and I stop the truck a couple of times and hang out, soaking up the mountain views. Totally amazing. In 30 minutes not a single car or truck comes by. The smallest sounds are clear. There's ice on the river below. It's a beautiful day, and we're telling ourselves how lucky we are to be here in the middle of all this. As we drive we encounter Texas gates, open range, cattle and deer on the roadside. Eventually we get to the Big Road. The TransCanada Hwy. You know, it ain't so big for a road that stitches together a nation from one ocean to another. It's a small country, with a big land mass. There's still plenty of wild between points on the map. In more ways than one might imagine.

Today we're headed for Golden, BC. I've already heard from the promoter— due to the municipal elections our show has been cancelled. My old pal Bill Usher who had initially arranged the show has arranged for hotel rooms for us. This is a class act, a great thing to do. Now we are on holiday!!! That's right, folks, the National Steel Blues Tour has TWO days in a row with no shows, in the same place. It's an amazing drive up through the Kicking Horse Pass, and we arrive at Golden to stay in a motel in the shadow of the cliffs. We can see the trucks slowly working their way up the great pass, and others working their way down. I would not want to drive one of those rigs through here! OK, I'm a whimp. But really, you wanna drive a big rig through here you better know what you are doing. No kidding.

We can also hear the trains. The railways twist up and down around the road, or within sight of it, boring through the mountains— spiral tunnels near here! You sure don't want to be afraid of heights!

Michael and I check into the Rondo, two rooms, marginal internet, great views of the mountains. It's cold and crisp. I head out and run the river trails. I run way too far, but these trails are amazing. The air is clear and the mountains inspiring. I run up a bluff over the river and the rail lines. I'm gonna feel this tomorrow! It's an early night for us. Dinner at a nearby restaurant, and then a quiet time at our rooms. Through the wall I can hear Michael playing his mandolin. I'd rather be doing a show tonight, but this is not bad.

Sunday, October 26, 2008

The Stop, Black Diamond, AB

A cold day in Cochrane, Alberta, this morning. We say our thanks and good-byes to Randy and his family who have put us up— and put up with us— for the last three nights. It's been really nice, and we so appreciate the hospitality. Today it's Black Diamond, AB, for an afternoon show at the Stop. This is the place that had the chicken toss going last year. I'm pumped for this one because it was so much fun last time!

It was a nice drive down Route 22, by-passing Calgary. The mountains are off in the distance, building anticipation. We are going there soon. But not today. Today they tease, but the foothills are bouncing light, and the sky is blue for us.

At breakfast we meet Warren Harbeck, a famous journalist with the Cochrane Eagle, of Cochrane, AB. After a most compelling and fascinating conversation, we are on our way.

These photos seem to be all about me meeting people today. I'll take more snaps of Michael tomorrow, honest. Here's me and my pal Hoogy. He's a well known film cowboy, ex-real cowboy, and musician. Always great to see him. We have a great time hanging out between sets. I'll stop by on my way east next month, and we'll really catch up.

Here's the lucky winner of the Tour jacket raffle! Congrats Laddie!! This should impress the folks back in Scotland!!

Merch guard at the Stop.

Merch dealer at the Stop. Wanna buy a Tour Jacket? Raffle ticket? Couple of CD's for you, pal??

What would life be like without magazines like this to guide us? Black Diamond is no one horse town, that's for sure!

The show is relaxed, we play well. We are well fed. Kate and her staff take good care of us. The soup and sandwiches are everything one could want. A friendly crowd shakes hands and heads out into the early darkness. Here's the gang at the Stop as we say good-bye until next time.

Mikey's Makes Good

Email from Mike Clarke at Mikey's Juke Joint, Calgary, today. He's sorry we didn't get paid what was expected, and will mail me a cheque for the amount due. That's a good deed in my books, so Mikey's is forgiven. The multi-owner thing can be difficult to work with. So I hope these guys manage to keep operations smooth. It's a very nice little room, well suited for acoustic shows, or local blues bands. All the best to ya! Let's all work together to keep the blues alive and growing! Thanks, Mike.

Saturday, October 25, 2008

Ironwood Grill, Calgary, AB

Great day not too early in the morning. I'm not going to run today. We've got to be up and out of here as our hosts are selling their home and need to show it this morning. We're off to have coffee in town. Here's a cool guitar from the music store across the street. Too bad the rest of their stock is all new stuff.

We decide to take in an art exhibit in a rural gallery. We'll follow Randy and his daughter in her cool, Smart Car. Here's what it looks like in these parts—

The gallery is an old ranch house, and the inside is all wood and antiques. There were some stuffed things in here that got my attention.

Time to get back to our digs and get ready for tonight's show. We drive back to Cochrane under a big sky.

The Ironwood Grill is a very cool, SE Calgary venue. I couldn’t play here last year because of a prior commitment Big Dave had to the Red Onion. I’m like that, too. I’m very loyal to my venues. After the Calgary International Blues Festival, the Ironwood was the first venue to host me in Calgary. It was new, but looked like it was going to develop nicely. It has. And I’m very pleased to be back. This is clearly a destination now. I’m glad to have Michael with me. He’s gonna knock ‘em down!

On this night house soundman J.T. is on hand to meet us at load in. Absolutely one of the best sound techs I have ever worked with. He’s got some cool mikes up and ready for us to try, he does a great monitor mix, front house mix, back of house mix, fixes the lights, tells stories, and is an all around professional all evening. He makes it happen effortlessly, calmly. This is the best sound we’ve had all Tour. (Although, I gotta say the Slice in Lethbridge was really, really good, too.) I bet the Ironwood has the best sound in Calgary for live music. My pals Little Miss Higgens and Foy were here last night, and I’m sorry to have missed them. I guess I’ll try to catch them on the flip through Saskatchewan in November. It’s nice to have friends all up and down the line.

It’s still early when we finish sound check, so Michael and I order dinner. Nicely presented fare here. The soup is great!! And the staff seem to enjoy their work, and being here. We’ve set up an extra chair and a couple of extra mics tonight as we’re expecting company. Johnny V had come to see us a couple of nights ago, and had said he would like to play with us— if invited. We invited him! He’ll be here tonight, so the chair is ready. Also, I’m half wondering if Tim Williams will come down tonight. I’m not sure if he’s in town, but he sure is a fine acoustic blues player. He’d be very welcome to have a turn in that extra chair, too.

Club owner Patrick MacIntyre arrives, and we share a few jokes, catch up on family, and have a wee dram of single malt to warm up the evening. Rick from the Red Onion comes by to catch the show and I introduce him to Patrick. These guys ought to know one and other. I tell Rick he should open his new place across the street from the Ironwood! That way there would be an entertainment district.

Showtime. We kick off with an old Sonny and Brownie number. I get to play harmonica on this one, and it’s fun to be doing that a little bit again. I chase it with an old Son House number, and then we move the night into our own material. It’s a fun first set that seems to end all too soon. Johnny V has arrived and we’ll set him up on the break. I wander the crowd, meeting everybody and selling raffle tickets on the Tour Jacket. I should probably be selling CDs instead, but the raffle is popular tonight, so I bring a pile of tickets back to the stage. I have a moment of panic. I think the Tour Camera has been lost or stolen at the gig. I look in the truck. No sign of it. So no pics tonight. Damn!

Second set is way more fun than I thought it would be. I open with an old Charlie Patton inspired It Won’t Be Long/Rollin’ and Tumblin’ in B-flat— and Johnny is right there with us. He’s a great guitar player, and he’s doing our thing. Not as easy as it looks, folks. Michael and I play lots of stuff with variable meter and time, not cookie cutter music. We trade songs back and forth, including Johnny in the rotation. Johnny has brought his National Trojan tonight, and it’s a wonderful guitar. I like these wood-bodied Nationals. I’d love to get one. We raffle the jacket, sign CDs... The night seems to end all too soon.

Patrick is on hand to pay us, and even gives us a bonus on the evening. This is a class act, this club. I feel like family here. After we say our good-byes at the club Michael and I follow Johnny over to the Blackfoot Diner, and old truck stop on that edge of town. This diner has what are perhaps the biggest slices of pie I have ever seen. No kidding. I didn’t have one, but thought about it. I wish I had the Tour Camera to record this place properly! We have breakfast and head back to Cochrane at about 3:30 AM. The tour camera is sitting on my bed, where I had left it! Snap! That’s the day, folks.

Friday, October 24, 2008

Hangin' Out: Down Day in Alberta!

Up early this morning in spite of a very late night. Do I settle in and work at this computer, or go for a run? We don’t have a show tonight, so this might be a good opportunity to get out there and do it! The house is pretty quiet, so I assume everybody is sleeping or at work. I suit up in my track gear and slip out the front door. We’re in Cochrane, AB, a town of about 13,000 people, about half an hour north of Calgary. In spite of the obvious rapid growth suburbs perched on the hills, there is open space and big sky. Hills brown and golden. Mountains in the distance.

We are staying in a ten or fifteen year old suburb, but I have a feeling I might get to the open country fairly quickly if I take the right road. I can see big spaces across the mighty valley, and I’m guessing that we are pretty close to the top of the ridge on our side. The wind is sharply cold this morning. It was minus 7 degrees last night when we drove up here, and it hasn’t warmed up too much yet. I’m glad I’ve got gloves and a good jacket. I head up the road. I’d rather climb hills now than at the end of my run.

It’s steeper than I thought, and as I clear the sleepy suburban street the wind kicks in. Cold and blowing full against me. It seems like a long way up this hill. What is it? One Km? Two? I don’t know, but I’m working harder than I thought I wanted to! I’m breathing hard. Yeah, this is good cardio, baby. Clearing the ridge at last I’m running into a gravel road posted “No Trespassing.” This is a First Nations land reserve. The road is rough gravel and it points straight ahead towards the mountains in the distance. The George Fox Trail. I carry on and run for half an hour without seeing another person, car, or animal. The wind howls and pushes, and I lean into it. Returning, it’s at my back, and the slope is downhill. Now this run is easy, and I feel good!

Back at the house I drink coffee with Michael and our host, Randy. Randy takes time to tell us of his recent arctic adventures. An amazing trip in which he pulled a sled for six weeks across the ice! The pictures are breathtaking, and it makes our little, cross-Canada trip look like a cakewalk.

Later I head out for a hike down the Bow valley with Randy and his pal Brian. I was going to stay in and work, but the river looks great, and I don’t want to miss any of it. It’s a fast, cold river. Some canoes pass us as we walk. The wind is behind them, and the current is pumping at a rockin’ rate. Neat! There are plenty of mule deer up in this part of the valley, but we don’t see any today. Maybe we’re talking too much!

Night time is dinner with Johnny V and his family at Mr. T’s BBQ in north Calgary. Great eats. If you like meat, go there. I’m not crazy about the sauces they use. But this place is a long way from Oklahoma. Only a BBQ snob would not enjoy this outing. We have a great meal and talk for a long time. After dinner we head over to Johnny’s for a coffee, a tea, some more chat, and a little guitar show and tell. Johnny shows us his National Trojan and his Gibson Army-Navy guitars.

Very cool. He plays us some very interesting stuff in “fandango” G tuning. I use this tuning all the time, so I enjoy Johnny’s take on it, and his choice of material. We all talk guitar stuff— strings, bridges, tension, necks, until it’s pretty late. A very pleasant day. Michael and I head out into the night to find the Crowsnest Trail, our way back to Cochrane.

Thursday, October 23, 2008

A Little Stiff at Mikey's, Calgary, AB

A slow start this morning. The hotel has given us a late check out time, so Michael and I will meet up at noon to look for breakfast. I wake up early. Too early. I’m getting a little tired. Some days my brain just races along, and there’s nothing to do but to go along with it. I fight it this AM. Work on the Blog? It’s way behind! Do the books? Take care of the spread sheets? Inventory? Nah, go for a run! We stuffed ourselves with pizza after the show last night, so I feel that I should do something good for my body this morning before doing anything else.

I head out and run through suburban streets of Lethbridge. Coming out at the gorge, or valley, I head up something called the “Dog Run Trail.” It’s exactly that. The wind is howling, so I turn back for the motel. I don’t want to go far this morning anyway. But my shortcut back is misleading! I’m running and running and nothing looks familiar! My luck to get lost out running! Finally I hook to a street where I can get my bearings. It’s a good, long run by the time I get back to the hotel.

Downtown for breakfast we find a great café with real coffee and real food. We then visit the downtown music store and the pawnshop next door to it. Ran into Elvis and chatted briefly before blowing town. Here's the road out.

On the way we stop in Nanton, AB, to visit the Auditorium Hotel. We couldn’t book this gig this tour, but it sure is a neat room with it’s cowboy pictures, gun racks, stuffed animals, etc. Here's a couple of images from the main street—

A nice drive north into Calgary. Arriving in rush hour is not fun, and although the city streets are arranged on a grid system of streets and avenues, the bridges and nogoes, no lefts, one ways, etc are here to make things interesting.

After about 45 minutes of this we locate the venue. I’ve played this place before under different owners.

Mikey’s Juke Joint seems kinda out of the way, but apparently it has a loyal following. Inside, there are great tunes playing on the jukebox and some very cool blues posters on the walls. The place is owned by Calgary musician Mike Clarke, a really good sax player, band leader, etc. It’s kinda nice to see a live music venue actually owned or operated by a musician. I’m hoping the PA has been upgraded since my last visit to this room!

The stage is better than the old one, more than big enough for Michael and I, and the board, monitors, and speaker bins look like they’ll probably be OK. I get word from the bar that Mike won’t be in this evening, as he is ill. I guess we’re on our own getting this up and running. Right away we need a boom stand and a couple of mics from the truck. Michael is the default sound tech on this tour, and as he gets the PA set up I do the merch sheets and set up our display. I order some food. Can’t wait. We didn’t do lunch, and I just had a muffin at the coffee joint earlier.

Michael is cussin’ over the PA system. We’ve got monitors, but no mains. Some of the channels do not appear to be working. The cables are tangled. We start tracing cables and checking this, that, and the other thing. OK the mains are powered. Get ‘em turned on. Get ‘em turned up. One side still not working. Trace the circuit. No AC. Run cable. Works now. EQ wonky. Rings on my side. This takes a long time to set up, and it ain’t great once it’s done. Sorry. Spending this much time getting a PA up should not be part of the picture in this time and place. I’ll end up playing the night with little in the monitor, little in the mains, and people telling me “you are not as loud as you should be.” I’ll be pushing my voice too hard and playing the guitar too hard. Probably. But that’s what it is here tonight. We’re not thrilled. Michael paces outside and smokes. I order a glass of wine and kill time while the place slowly fills. This gig does not seem to have made the listings, so I’m not holding my breath that we’ll draw a big crowd.

A bunch of old friends and fans do show up! One guy has seen us in Kingston, ON, and has come again to catch us in the west. That always makes us feel good! Johnny V and his wife arrive, and we exchange hellos and gossip. Our host for the next couple of days, Randy, arrives from Cochrane, and we hang out ad talk music.

Showtime, and this proves to be a great little listening room! During our first set the place is absolutely silent while we play— and the sound doesn’t seem to be as difficult as I had thought it would be. Now that the show is in gear we are actually having a good time!

There are not as many people in this club as I would of hoped for, but certainly enough to be comfortable. Second set we dig in, and they are with us. It’s a pretty good night. We sell cd’s, sign some autographs, shake hands with a whole lot of people. The night is done. This is the smallest gig on the Tour, I think, but it’s not been bad. Here's our lucky raffle winner. Paul caught the show already in Kingston, ON, but really, really wanted one of these jackets! We didn't sell any tickets tonight, as we wanted to surprise him with the Tour Jacket! Thanks for your support, Paul, much appreciated.

I see the bartender to get paid, and she gives me less money than was agreed to on my contract. This is what “Darrin” or some such guy— a co-owner apparently— had told her to pay us. I bring my contract in from the truck. I show it to her. I ask her to call Mike. She says, “I’m only doing what I’m told. It’s not my problem. Maybe you can come back and see him tomorrow.” We pretty much gave this show away already, but to be shorted on this is insulting and humiliating. The difference is not great, but she won’t budge. I’m not coming back downtown the following day for twenty-five bucks. But I’m not likely to come back here, either. I mean, what the fuck. Why? I’m not local, and this is not some kind of hobby band. The owners are no where in sight, and they are apparently directing the bar tender to ignore our contractual arrangement. Mikey’s Juke Joint. Calgary, Alberta, Canada. You can't buy publicity like this for $25. Actually, you can.

We go out for Chinese food with Johnny V. I watch him and Michael eat, as I’m not hungry this late at night. We gab a long time. It’s probably 3:30 in the morning by the time we find our way to Cochrane, and a couple of beds.

Wednesday, October 22, 2008

The Slice, Lethbridge, AB

Wake up call comes early and we head down to the Broadway Diner for breakfast, gas up the truck, and point this show SOUTH. It’s to be a good haul today. About seven or eight hours of road to get us to Lethbridge for tonight’s show.

Again, it’s unusual landscape for us so the drive is not boring. It’s more big sky, flats, rolling hills. As we head south-west it gets a bit more rolling. We stop in Rosetown, SK, and visit the local diner (or rather terrorize it!). We are perhaps a bit stir crazed from being in the truck! We end up meeting probably half the town, being served free coffee and muffins, and getting little Rosetown, SK, pins, before being sent on our way. We think we see somebody from the Guess Who on the main street. But we can’t remember his name. Is it Randy or Burton? I don’t know.

It’s cold on the prairie, and there is ice on some of the ponds. A winter sky, perhaps.

Lethbridge is exactly where I left it the last time through. We roll into the Slice, and are greeted by Jess and his friendly staff. Big Dave and I had a great time here last year, and I have not wanted to pump it up too much in advance in case it was different this time. But no fears. We are immediately welcomed, fed great pizza and drinks. We have a quick sound check, and Jess, as last year, has this place sounding GREAT. It’s to be a late start so Michael and I go out to the truck and sleep in our seats for a couple of hours. At least there is a warm, south wind blowing here, so we are reasonably comfortable. We’ll worry about accommodations after the show. I wake up and both my hands are asleep. Odd! But I’m OK, and soon we are inside and it’s showtime.

There’s a bunch of grad students from the university that bought advance tickets and got to the gig early. They’ve got a table right up front, so we socialize a bit with them, and they prove to be fun and wonderful to play to. The lights are bright enough that I can’t see the rest of the audience from my seat on stage. But all in all it’s a good crowd. The sound is terrific, and I believe we are giving perhaps the best show of the tour. At the end of the night we sell a lot of CD’s, raffle off a tour jacket. Hey, Jess won the Tour jacket! The second booker on Tour to do this. Not fixed, really. But a nicer guy could not of won this coat! Gary Kendall at the Silver Dollar Room in Toronto, ON, was the other booker to win. We eat pizza again before heading out into the night to find a motel. The Slice is a great gig. It's a destination. Go there.

When we do find a motel, it has the slowest check in in the western world. What? Thirty or forty minutes to do the paperwork, figure who gets which rooms… I hit the pillow hard when I finally get one.

Tuesday, October 21, 2008

'Toon Town: Capacity Show!

A rainy start from Regina. We stop at Mr. Breakfast on our way out of town for a decent feed. It’s an early start, 8:AM call as we have a radio show to do at noon in Saskatoon, SK, followed by a masterclass at Long & McQuade, and then our concert downtown.

After an uneventful drive to Saskatoon we hole up in a coffee joint to make our phone calls and emails. The radio show has not been organized as planned. So, OK. Relax. We drink coffee and talk to Jeff at the Blues Society. We’ll check into our rooms, and then head over to Long & McQuade to do our masterclass presentation.

Only one room ready. Michael and I take opposite sides of the king bed and catch thirty winks before going to Longs. It’s easier than I thought to navigate the Circle Drive around Saskatoon, and we arrive at Longs without any detours. This is a really nice store with a huge learning and teaching facility. We are greeted by manager Pete Woronowski, who makes us feel right at home and shows us to the room we’ll be presenting in. It’s got a little PA all ready to go, and pretty soon we’re ready to go as well! People are trickling in, a few at a time. We end up with about 15 for the masterclass. It’s a mix of young and old, players and non-players. We try and do something for everybody, and it’s a wide ranging presentation covering everything from slides to strings to fingerpicking. We talk about the history of our instruments, of the blues, how we each came to it. It’s not a real focused workshop, but it feels good, and Pete seems to be very happy with it. These folks at Longs are great supporters. Now straight to the venue for sound check and dinner.

It’s a room called the Vangelis, just a couple of doors down from Bud’s. It’s actually pretty nice— good sight lines, lights, nice stage. The sound tech is waiting for us, and has us up fairly quickly. All good from my chair! We order food and settle in to kill time until the show. The room is actually filling up rather quickly. Clearly this is going to be another sold out show!

I’m really pleased to keep meeting folks from last year and the year before. These are exceptional blues fans in an exceptional Blues Society that is doing great work. I so appreciate the fact that they support acoustic blues, and do so in such numbers!
Here I am with some Blues Society members before the show.

Prior to the show, Michael and I are honored by the Black American Blues Historical Society. This is a total surprise to us. Here Charles Taylor presents us each with the honor and title of "Acoustic Blues Master." This is part of the 6th Annual Black American Music Awards. I'm thrilled as I have never before had an Award or honor of any kind. And this one is particularly moving for me because of where it is coming from. Thank you. I am truly honored.

Showtime! Here's what it looked like from the merch table.

After a warm introduction, we got the show into gear. This is the National Steel Blues Tour, bringing the Blues to Your Town! Hey, great to be in Saskatoon. This is one great blues town!

Tonight I'm drinking red wine and we are playing the blues! This crowd is with us all the way. We dig in deep, and they follow. Here's our jacket winner— (picture here!)

We had so much go on in 'Toon Town, Saskatoon, SK, that this will have to wait another day or so. Too much to write about in a hurry! And my connection is so slow that this is taking forever to get the pics in. Thanks everybody for sending pics. I'll get these up in a day or so, as well as pics for the rest of the week. We had a ball. Thanks to everybody involved in making it all happen. This was a great day, and night. Saskatoon is a great blues town.

Monday, October 20, 2008

We Got Friends in Regina, SK!

And I don't mean virtual, facebook style friends, but real friends and fans. I'll tell you all about these and put some snaps up in another day or so. There's just not enough downtime in my day today. Thanks, Redbeard and Dale for making our stay in Regina so enjoyable. Check back here soon. And C'mon, people, blog. It's really nice to hear from you, and to have some other voices talking about the Tour. I can't review it myself. Only tell you about it.

Saturday, October 18, 2008

Bobby's Place, Moose Jaw, SK, Canada

If it's Saturday it must be Moose Jaw. And it is Saturday, so it is Moose Jaw. But not yet. It's maybe 8:00 in the morning and the Yorkton Howard Johnson is being renovated with hammers and saws. Go figure. Today we planned on sleeping late and relaxing in our rooms until noon. They are bashing the wall next to my head, and they are spilling buckets of paint (yes, really, big big mess) outside Michael's room. Some quick internet checking and we are out of here! Is there a decent cafe in Yorkton for breakfast? Not a chain, but a mom and pop? Let me know, would ya? Be nice to get fed in town. We head back to Slow Helen's, in Melville, SK, for a sandwich. Michael mandolins as we drive. Today it's "96 Tears" that gets me going.

The flatlands are an adventure for us, and we soak in in as we drive. Stopping for gas and a snack along the way.

Bobby's Place is off High Street and Main, near the bus station. Next to the bus station, actually. Not that we need a bus tour. This place is jumpin' in late afternoon when we roll in. Manager/owner Kevin welcomes us and directs us to our hotel, after a quick tour of the stage and sound gear. We're staying at Al Capone's Hideaway Motel, just a block from the club. I've stayed here before (see last year's Big Road Blues Tour blog for Moose Jaw!) and I'm familiar with this place! Sure enough, we draw Room 10, the SAME room I had last year! We open the door and find it is HOT, HOT, HOT. We leave the door open to let in some of the crisp, prairie air. I explain to Michael how last year the heat in this room would not shut off, so I had to turn the air conditioner on full blast— letting the two machines fight it out all night between hot and cold. Surely they would of fixed the thermostat by now? A quick check shows it falling off the wall. They must be spending a fortune on hydro keeping this room at the temperature it is! We'll be ventilating this room tonight.

Back to the club for sound check and a meal. It's a Peavy system. Not my favourite PA gear to begin with, and clearly not to be fun tonight, either. Michael's the designated sound guy on this trip, and he works hard to get this puppy up and running. We bring in our own mics and a couple of boom stands. We can't seem to get the EQ right on this stuff. It's a very noisy house, and we can't get it up any louder, and we can't get the monitors to behave. Eventually we pretty much turn them off. Show time sees us start and be totally ignored by the crowded house. Oh, this is going to be an interesting night, for sure. We're starting at 9:00 PM for three sets, to end by midnight. There's a bunch of football players in the crowd, and they're loud, maybe louder than us, I don't know. By the end of the night there are a few people sitting up front listening to us. We wander through the crowd and sell (surprisingly, to me) a bunch of CDs. People are telling us how much they are enjoying the show! At the end the staff tell us they thought we were great. We get paid, load out, and back to our hotel. Big work. This is the grinder of the Tour so far, no doubt.

In front of our much too hot room we have a drink, a smoke, and watch the town go by. This town is going crazy this Saturday night. There are pick-up trucks squealing their tires at the lights, groups of people stumbling by, bottles breaking, sirens running, girls squeaking over the night noise. It's still loud at 3:AM when we close the door on this night.

Friday, October 17, 2008

Yorkton, SK, Anavet Club

Up not too early. Say good-bye to Susan, and on our way across the flatlands. West! It's like setting out on some great sea.

And the sky is totally wrap-around. The roads are pretty lonely, but for some truck traffic. I'm driving with extra caution today, as I am finding it difficult to judge distances for passing! It will take a day or so to get used to this great space.

We stop in at Slow Helen's in Melville, SK. Fishbelly White used to wash dishes here, back in the day. No sign of him now, and even the old promo pictures have been stolen, or removed from the walls. Still, it's a great lunch stop today.

Yorkton's a jumping little town. We check into our hotel, and then down to the venue for sound check and show. We're playing the ANAVET Club this evening, so no hats, please!

It's a very friendly room. The show goes very well. The place is pretty crowded. We have a number of blues fans come out wearing last year's jackets. The raffle for this year's coat goes very well. Here's the winner!

My great-grandfather lived here for 10 years, about 100 years ago. Strangely, his offices were in one of the surrounding buildings. I don't know which one, but at the same intersection we are located at for this show.

Thursday, October 16, 2008

Running with the Wolves

I've had my best sleep of the Tour. The silence out here is amazing. It's going to be a relaxed start today, so I elect to go for a run before breakfast. These are one lane dirt and gravel roads winding their way through rocks and trees, picking their way around lakes, bogs, over streams and creeks.

Whiskey Jacks are playing tag in the yard. Hawks are above. The old dog tracks me to the edge of the clearing, and then leaves me to run on alone. Just me, the wind in my face— now a little crisp, it's a good deal colder and damper here than it was in southern Ontario. Great running roads, no traffic at all, soft, just the sounds of the birds and my feet crackling on the gravel. After about 15 minutes I turn up an even smaller road, a bit rougher. Rounding a corner I spot a large animal ambling along the road in front of me. Hearing my feet it turns, stops for a moment to look at me, and then leaps into the bush. A very large wolf. Huge paws and scraggy fur. A serious animal. I've skinned wolves, and I know a big one when I see it. Good morning! Are there more? I keep running another few minutes but see nothing else on this little road. Reluctantly I turn and head back to the house.

We say our good-byes, and head out of town. A relaxed drive back to Winnipeg, where we contact Susan, our host for the evening. We'll be staying out in Stonewall, a little town just north of the city. Meanwhile Big Dave tells us how to find Long and McQuade music, and we drop by to pick up our reserve PA.

As our original gig for this evening has been cancelled due to the closure of the venue, Dave has come up with another place we can hang out and play this night. It's a little coffee house in a big church. We crash it, and are fed coffee, tea, cake, cookies. Mmm, glad I ran so far this morning. Michael and I play a set. We hang out and talk too loudly, and keep the place open too late, telling jokes with Big Dave.

Now that's a relaxed night. Some of the clubs around town actually closed up this evening as Neil Young was performing, and they expected to be empty! Neil's playing tag with us, doing gigs in Regina and Calgary over the next couple of days.

Wednesday, October 15, 2008

Western Adventures Begin- Big Tour Day

Up early. Need to do inventory, pack the flight bags, get the rental truck back to the dealer, get a taxi to the airport, check the bags, do security, catch our flight, meet Big Dave in Winnipeg, get to the downtown, pick up our next truck, go to Long and McQuade for a back-up PA, drive to Kenora, set up, sound check, and do a show. This is the most complicated day of the Tour, and if anything messes up there could be a nasty domino effect.

We roll into it. My house is so filled with stuff that we need to pack our bags on the front porch. We’ve got the merch packed into a big flight bag. It takes the two of us to carry it down to the truck. I hope we sell all these cds. I’m pretty sure we’ll sell out of jackets quickly. The fuckin’ truck has a near flat tire, and also requires fuel. I won’t be sorry to see the end of it when we turn it in. Crappy tires on two trucks in a row!!

Soon we are in a taxi, bound for the airport. We are exactly on time, so our driver drives very, very slowly. His cab is nearly full with all of our stuff. I mean really full. He looks amazed when I give him a tip at the airport. “Are you guys famous?” he asks us.

Long line at the WestJet counter. But it moves fast, and soon we are on our way to Oversized Bags to check the guitars in. We’ve locked down the cases, taped the latches. These guitars are good to go. We use Calton Cases, made in Alberta, Canada. These are fabulous cases, and do a great job of protecting our vintage Nationals, Gibson, and Stella, over hundreds of dates. Check ‘em out if you want great cases for your instruments. The guitars are sucked noisily up a conveyor belt, and we make our way to Security.

The usual take off your hat, shoes, computer, spare change, etc. I suggest that they should have a tip jar with all this change floating around, but the ladies with the security wands are not amused. One keeps pointing her wand at my zipper, saying “there’s something metal in there.” Michael is through the barrier first, and they are tearing apart his carry-on bags. “What’s this?” they keep asking. Guitar capos, slides, harmonica racks, fingerpicks… They really haven’t got a clue. They want to know where the guitars are. How come Michael is not carrying them, too? It’s like a music lesson gone bad. Michael points at me (ratting on his accomplice), and they descend upon me for baggage tags. Got ‘em. OK, we’re good to go. Michael is carrying a banana. I tell him not to point it or hold it in a threatening way…

We get right on board. Take off is amazing. There is a disaster simulation going on. Nobody has told us about this, but as soon as our plane is in the air I can see black smoke off to the side. Down below us there is what appears to be a passenger aircraft in flames, with fire and rescue machines all around it. We get a great view of this as the plane banks. Strange omen?? Weird way to start a flight? Our plane creaks and groans it’s way to cruise altitude. There are two crying children in the seats behind us. No sleep on this flight.

Big Dave McLean is waiting for us at the Winnipeg airport with his Caddy. It is great to see him. We all talk a mile a minute as he drives us downtown to the National rental lot. We get the identical van we’ve had, this one with Alberta plates. Dave and I make some quick plans to get together the next night in Winnipeg. Then he escorts us out of town in his Caddy. Points us in the right direction, and we’re bound for Kenora, ON. Long and McQuade will wait until tomorrow.

Kenora is about 30 minutes farther than I remember it being, but of course we drive this rental at a fairly slow, no ticket, kind of speed now. On the way we stop at a diner and have breakfast. It’s mid afternoon, but breakfast is what we want and get. Close encounter with a deer on the highway. Promoter Mort Goss is waiting for us at the venue with a team of volunteers getting up lights, PA, stage and tables. It’s to be an 8:00 show, and it’s now around 6:00 PM. Here's the sound tech and his stage crew:

Our 8:00 start turns into an 8:30 start as the sound crew are a little slower to set up than anticipated. It is decided that we should do one long set instead of two shows, so off we go! Hello Kenora!! It’s a good crowd with lots of familiar faces. A couple of people have driven in from Dryden for the show. Long drive. Thanks. We really, really, appreciate this kind of support. Others are familiar from the Trout Forrest Music Festival, which I have played a couple of times in recent years. Our set goes and goes. While Michael plays a solo piece, I roam the room and sell tickets on the tour jacket. Dryden takes it!! Nice. In the end our set runs to about 2 hours and 15 minutes. Everybody goes home happy.

We follow Mort and Em out into the dark night beyond Kenora. They’ve got a home way back in the woods. On arrival Mort cooks us an amazing dinner. Somehow we talk into the wee hours, before finding our way off to sleep. Day’s done. We did it! Thanks everybody!

Tuesday, October 14, 2008

London, ON. Full Moon Crazy

I picked up messages at 10:30 last night only to find an urgent call and email from Brian Mortimer, the promoter of tonight’s show. He’s got a significant regional television show lined up for us, and we had to confirm that we’d be able to do it. The catch? Of course, there’s always a catch… We’ll need to be in London by 1:00 in the afternoon. Fine. Except that we are preping to fly out for the Western leg of the Tour, and need to be completely airport ready BEFORE we go to London. Basiclly, Michael and I will pack gear, do inventory, laundry, guitar repairs, etc. instead of getting a full night’s sleep. Then we’ll take off and get to the gig over 8 hours in advance of show time. We’re shaving 8 hours off of our most demanding 48 hour schedule. Right, then. Let’s do it!!! I hope this show puts some bums in seats. It’s election day in Canada, and it’s the Tuesday following the long, Canadian Thanksgiving weekend. And a full moon, so who knows?

Out the door and to the polls to cast my vote. Michael is doing the same in Crystal Beach. We’ll meet up in Hamilton, ON at about 11:AM. Remarkably I get there early in good weather, and have time for coffee before Michael and Louise arrive. A quick transfer of gear and we’re bidding Louise good-bye. She’s going back to Crystal Beach, ON, where she’ll be working on Michael’s upcoming winter tour of the South-East states, and his spring trip to Europe.

Meanwhile in Oh, Canada, we have an uneventful trip into London, ON. We’ve both played this town dozens of times over the years, so getting in and out of the downtown is smooth. After a little difficulty in finding the Lounge (building was being refaced, so no numbers…) we are met by Mortz himself, who helps us to load in and shows us around the venue. Here's the wall by the door... It’s pretty nice. We meet Flex, the full time sound tech for the place. He knows his stuff and has great gear. We’re using some pretty nice Sennheiser ( how the heck do you spell this?) mics both up top for vocals and for the guitars. Here's what it looked like from the stage:

Rick Taylor arrives to set up. He’s our opening act tonight, and he’s got a great looking new tricone. Wow. Nice to catch up a bit with Rick. We played the Winnipeg Folk Festival together in the mid 1970s, and I remember we had some great shows with Blind John Davis, Martin, Bogan and Armstrong… Others. Anyway, cool to see him again. We’ve both located to Ontario after lengthy stays elsewhere. I look forward to his set. He’s got a new CD called the Wonky Years, which seems to be picking up some airplay across the country. It’s a sparse crowd when he starts his set. Too bad, as Michael and I really enjoy his guitar playing— some nice slide playing in standard tuning, great picking and grooves. Very cool! Thanks, Rick! Here he is, raisin' a little sweat—

Below see Rick's guitar, tryin' to get close to mine!

The room has filled up quite a bit by the time we start, it’s still not as big a crowd as we’d like— but we do have some fans out from across south-western Ontario.
A couple of people come in wearing Big Road Blues tour jackets from last year. Nice! Very stylish. Michael and I dig in deep this night for the Great Lakes Blues Society members, and Karma. I think we have an exceptional night! After the show people are taking pictures, and we’re signing posters and cds. It’s very nice. I chat for a while with a blues society member who has driven in from Sarnia, ON for this show. It seems we had lunch one time in Memphis, back in 2000. Time flies when you’re having fun doesn’t it?

We load out, and it’s now way later than I would like. The truck has got a near flat front tire. It’s close to 2:AM when we get in gear and start to roll. Gas station. Air. Tim’s (Canadian coffee chain) for coffee. Out on the Big Road. By 3:45 we’re at my place in Toronto. In three or four hours we’ll continue on our way. The East is done. The Western leg is about to begin. I hope nothing messes up— we’ll be playing Kenora, ON in about 16 hours. Good night!