Thursday, October 9, 2008

Silver Dollar, Toronto, ON

One of those rare days! It’s a home town show tonight, so I’m waking up in my own bed, expecting to have a relaxed day in the chaos which is my house. It’s 7:30 AM and my son is waking me up. “Since your home,” he says, “I could use a ride to school with my bass.” Apparently my need for hours of uninterupted sleep will have to wait for my next hotel room. At least I’m not signed up to help with the guitar club today. It’s actually a pretty neat noon hour club run by James Simone, the school music teacher. I’m amazed at what he manages to do— in spite of having zip supplied by the school board. OK, quick cuppa coffee, drop Alasdair at school, and off for my morning run.

It’s High Park today, my own, hometown runner’s paradise. There are quite a few great places to run in Toronto, but this is my favourite. The park has a nice mix of big and small hills, trails, paths and roads, and is a wonderful, all season place to run. I’ve got a show tonight, so I’m not going to push. I do four laps on the upper road circle. That’s probably about 9 km? Anyway 36:07 today, which is a fine jog.

Back home it’s email time. The truck has a leaky tire. Search out a garage. Banking must be done. Done. And home. I get my National out and play some guitar in my kitchen. I’ve only just moved into this house, so I have not had time to do this yet. Sounds great! I wanted this place because I thought it would be a great kitchen to write in. And I’m sure it will be. When I get back here again in late November… But now I have to go. We’ve got an early show tonight, and I need to load in to the Silver Dollar Room at 4:30 this afternoon.

Going down Spadina the front tire of the truck starts going THUMP! ThumP! Pulling up in front of the club I can hear it hissing. Big hangin’ hole in this tire, I would think. Damn! I get the truck around to the back and call National roadside assistance. This is the car rental company, not the guitar company. I don’t know where the call goes, but they ask me what state Toronto is in, and want to know how to spell “Spadina.” Somebody will arrive within the hour, they say.

Meanwhile I go and get set up on stage. I really like the Silver Dollar stage.

The room is a little narrow, so it may not be the best for a large, loud band— but for what we do this is quite good. A good sound board, lots of monitors, mike stands that work. The sound technician worked with me on New Year’s eve, when I played this room with David Rotundo and Jerome Godbo. He’s quick and get’s me up in about ten minutes time. Nice to have in-house guys that know what they are doing!

The Silver Dollar is a storied old club that has been a fixture on Spadina for over 50 years. There was a time you could drink your way up and down this street: the Silver Dollar, the El Mocombo, Grossman’s, The Paramount, the Victory… and then the after hours joints all the musicians used to hang at: the Paper Door, Tiger’s, Funky Dee's, the Elephant Walk… a bunch of other’s I can’t remember at the moment.

I had a girlfriend who used to sing with the old, alcoholic piano player who used to play jazz standards at the Dollar. Poets and dope dealers and hookers used to live upstairs in the hotel next door. Probably still do. Anyway, I love playing the Dollar, and I’ll miss it when the condos eventually go shooting up.

It’s to be an early night show. Doors to open at 6:PM for dinner. An 8:PM show. I wonder what it will take to market the Silver Dollar’s kitchen. They’ve had an on and off service over the years, and it will take time to establish a reputation for good food. Dinner and show is a great idea, so I hope that they stay with it and make it happen. We won’t be eating here as food is not part of our deal this night. Only touring shows can get a meal now. As it is, the crowd is coming in slowly, mostly after the dinner hour. Michael has arrived and is setting up. He’s got a good ear, and locates a poorly functioning monitor that I’d missed earlier. Sound check is over quickly.

Louise Pickett, Michael’s partner, agent, manager, etc., has come out for tonight’s show and is going to run the merch booth for us. This is excellent as it’s fun to hang with Louise, and she’s very good at the things she does. We’re gonna be busy tonight, with only a short break between shows, so having her join us for the evening will be a great help. She’s got the merch table up and running pretty quickly, and we get the banners out for stage and side stage. I set up a couple of tour jackets to “dress” the center stage monitors. These look very cool. I think I’m going to have monitor slips specially constructed for future tours. Details make a difference.

The Roadside Assistance guys arrive from Abrams Tire Service. They hum and haw and have me move the truck forward. It’s just two guys in a little car. They put an air hose to the tire. It hisses. “You’ve got a bad leak,” the man tells me. No kidding, eh? They tell me that the service is going to cost me $48. Then they start digging in MY truck for tools. “We need a special tool to unlock the spare,” they say. What do you mean unlock the spare? That little tire thing??? I’ve got to take this truck to Oakville, ON, tomorrow. I thought these guys were going to repair my tire. “We don’t do that. We just put on the spares.” Oh, I see. In the end, these guys can’t even find my spare, and they don’t have the “magic tool” that they claim is necessary to do the job. So they leave. They don’t know any local garages that could fix the tire… Do you want to read about this?? Probably not but a call to the LOCAL office of National car rentals results in immediate service. A rep arrived to replace my truck within the hour. How he changes up the tire on the old one, I don’t know. But I’m thankful. It’s show time, and my new truck has a full tank of gas.

Silver Dollar booker, bassist Gary Kendall is on hand to monitor the evening, and he introduces us. The “early” show is still pretty early, but we’ve started about 15 minutes late as people are just ariving in numbers. It’s really nice to see several of our friends from the Toronto Blues Society out for the show. They really support the blues in this town, and go out to a lot of events. Thanks for supporting us on this night! Eddy B has dropped by to catch a set. I’m sorry he’s not shooting pics anymore, but he’s got a new radio show, so I guess that’s keeping him pretty busy. I think I can see Brad Wheeler, the Globe and Mail music critic, at the bar. I’m not sure if it’s him. It would be nice to get some ink in a big paper… Here’s a couple that saw us twice in Halifax at the Blues and Beyond Festival… Here’s a couple of subway musicians… But all these faces are quickly forgotten as we bite into our first song.

Michael’s been kicking off the night recently, on acoustic guitar, with me playing harp next to him. Any of you harp players out there can imagine what it must be like to be blowing next to Michael Pickett!! One remains humble at all times! We have a lot of fun doing stuff like this, but every time he touches his harmonicas I am reminded of how great he really is. Seriously, it’s a thrill to hear him every night, and tonight is no different. He digs in behind me on “Narrow House,” “Jinx,” “Charlie James,” and I feel that we are free to go anywhere inside and outside of this music. Later on in the evening he does a solo harp piece, and you could hear a pin drop in that big room.

Intermission comes all too soon for us. I chat with Brit blues musician Steve Payne, who has taken his rest day to come and see us. Yeah, maybe we will do Britain and Holland next year. It’s time to raffle off a tour jacket. Wouldn’t you know it- Gary Kendall wins the draw! Not fixed, I swear! Wait ‘til Mr. Downchild sees this cool swag. Gary is longtime bassist for Downchild, directs the Maple Blues Band, and fronts his own show as well. In Canada, he’s the guy the young bass players try and sound like. The coat fits him nicely!

Second set starts off nicely as we slow burn the old Charlie Patton tune, “It Won’t Be Long.” The club has filled up, and they’re with us. By closing we’ve sold a couple of tour jackets, and a bunch of CD’s. I get word that my mom was going to come to the gig, but she’s busy fiddling someplace else in town this night. Too bad. I would of got her up to play something with us. A pretty good night in the home town room— a good crowd, although we didn’t sell out as I had hoped we would do. We started early and end almost as early as planned. A couple of encores and we’re out into the night. Michael’s driving home to Crystal Beach, and I’m to have another, rare night in my own, Toronto bed. In all the excitement moving our gear between the three trucks my new Hercules, triple guitar stand is lost, left behind somehow. I can’t remember the last time I lost a piece of gear. But these stands aren’t cheap, so it takes a bit of the gloss off the evening for me.

Late note: 10/07/09. Somebody reviewed the show and took snaps. So you don't have to take my word for it. This is a nice piece, so check out the URL for somebody else's take on the night:


Jipes said...

The Muddy Waters drawing (Paimnting ?) on the blackboard is just fantastic ! The stage looks great that really looks like a cool place to gig !

D.S. Faris said...

Hello -
I really enjoyed your show in Toronto. It was a great night and I hope you play again there sometime in the not too distant future. Nice to see two vintage Nationals in action, helping put forth some great music.
Cool idea for a tour, and the blog is an interesting read. Life on the road in 2008.
I did a writeup about the Toronto show on my blog, with a few photos:
Best of luck with the rest of the tour!