Tuesday, September 22, 2015

Been A While

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

See you at the gig...

Sunday, February 8, 2015

The February Blues

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

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

Friday, January 16, 2015


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

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

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

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

Monday, October 13, 2014

Home for a minute...

Well, I'm writing this post in between the end of the Legendary Blues Cruise and my flight to Whitehorse, Yukon Territory, for the first annual Yukon Roots & Blues Festival.  Since I last posted I have played the excellent Hot Springs Blues Festival in Arkansas ( a town with a crazy history...go check it out), where I had a chance to touch base with IBC Band winner Mr. Sipp, and runners -up Ghost Town Blues Band; driven to the West Coast and taken 2 ferries to chill in a lovely waterfront house on Gabriola Island; and played (among others) a wonderful show at the 100-plus year-old Empress Theatre in Fort Macleod, Alberta.

The Legendary Rhythm & Blues Cruise was a blast, catching sets by Taj Mahal (and daughter Deva Mahal, a gorgeous singer), Los Lobos, The Royal Southern Brotherhood, Low Rider Band, and numerous others.  My four shows were very well attended and received, as was the workshop I sat in on with the great Doug Macleod, plus I sat in for a few tunes with friend (and wonderful pianist) Leon Blue, and caught two sets by my friend Carolyn Wonderland (both excellent).  Basically a giant festival on a cruise ship with a bar around every corner, it gives the fans a chance to be "up-close" with the musicians, and makes for a great sense of community among the players...informal chats in the coffee and food lines with Cesar Rosas of Los Lobos and Cyril Neville of Royal Southern Brotherhood, praise from Lloyd Jones, Curtis Salgado, Mike Zito and Bernard Allison, and a crew of very dedicated and competent organizers and sound techs made for a fun week.

I'll be in Whitehorse Oct. 15-22 for a few gigs, then the 23-26th in Saskatchewan.  About as big a change from the West Coast of Mexico as one could imagine.  Southern Ontario November 6-12th, then putting my feet up in Calgary for a spell (with the exception of Blues At The Bow, in Bow Island, Alberta, on November 29th).  You can get specific dates from the calendar at www.cayusemusic.com .

Tuesday, August 19, 2014

Life After Memphis

Things have been a bit of a blur since I returned victorious from the IBC in late January.  After a little flurry of media attention and another award (this time from the Calgary Blues Music Association...Lifetime Achievement/Hall of Fame) it was time to get back to gigging...after losing and regaining my wallet in the airport, waking up my wife to help pay the towncar driver, getting up for interviews, and a lovely Tuesday night celebration/gig at Mikey's Juke Joint  I played the Calgary Mid-Winter Blues festival with my friend Fruteland Jackson, and Edmonton's Roots & Blues of Folkways winter event (a concert with Del Rey and a panel with Del and the great Allen Toussaint).  A few more gigs in Alberta (including the lovely Ye Olde Jar Bar house concerts, outside Medicine Hat) and it was time to head for Victoria.  A fund-raiser for Blue Bridge Theatre (I would spend the next 4 weeks there as musical director) and a lovely gig for the Victoria Blues Society at The Upper Deck included visits with friends Jason Buie, Tom Gough and Dave "Slim" Harris.  I also got a chance to sit in with David Vest at his cd release for the great "Roadhouse Revelation" disc, at Hermann's Jazz Club.  After opening night, and a house concert within a stone's throw of the ferry terminal, it was time to head to the Hornby Island Blues Week.

Hornby remains one of my faves, a great teaching environment in the company of fine musicians and a chance to hang with friends I've made on the Island over the years.  Following the annual instructors' concert in Courtenay on Vancouver Island, I played a house concert in Campbell River before returning briefly to Calgary.  Then the lovely Dream Cafe in Penticton, a one-nighter in Edgewood, B.C. and home (where the incredibly patient staff at Mikey's Juke Joint and The Blues Can keep my house gigs open to me when I'm not on the road).  Festival season began with The North Country Fair, up north by Lesser Slave Lake, then the Portland Waterfront Blues Fest in Oregon (and a chance to catch up with Leo "Bud" Welch and Jerron "Blind Boy" Paxton), Islands Folk Festival (Duncan, B.C.), Mission (B.C.) Folk Festival,Calgary Blues Festival and The Heritage Blues Festival (Wheeling, West Virginia).  Tonight it's Mikey's Juke Joint here in Cowtown, then a week-end teaching at the Foothills Acoustic Music Institute west of Calgary, plus closing the show at the Mountain Shadow fest in Cochrane AB this Sunday.  Back at Mikey's next Tuesday, then the Hot Springs Blues Festival in Arkansas, and a week of holidays with my hone on Gabriola Island.  Therest of September I'll be in town, then playing the Rhythm and Blues Cruise down the west coast of Mexico; the Yukon Roots & Blues festival in Whitehorse, a tour of Saskatchewan, and the first week of November in Southern Ontario.

Come on out, catch a show and say howdy !

Monday, March 10, 2014

Memphis !!!

     Where to start ?  After touring frozen Saskatchewan, playing one of my favorite gigs on New Year's Day (the annual "Hankover" show at the Ironwood Stage & Grill here in Calgary) and assorted other gigs, I got on a plane for Houston to make connections with a flight to Memphis where I would compete in the 30th annual International Blues Challenge.  This is not your usual battle-of-the-bands horseshit where a bunch of people play for free and club owners line their pockets with beer sales...this is the premier gathering of blues talent on the planet, sponsored by The Blues Foundation.  I was in the solo/duo category, along with 101 other competitors from Canada, the US, Spain, Croatia, Germany, Denmark, Australia and the UK.  Each of these acts had to win a qualifying round put on by their local blues society just to be in Memphis.

     I got to Houston without a hitch, but while having a beer in the bar adjacent to my boarding lounge the bartender mentioned that a bad snowstorm was rolling west.  I looked at the monitor and could see flights beginning to be delayed, so I paid up and got a seat in my boarding lounge.  Soon a counter person asked to see my boarding pass, and offered me $150 plus hotel, ground transportation and meal vouchers to take a flight the next morning.  I politely declined and watched more flights being delayed and cancelled at airports further and further west.  The counter person returned and doubled the offer, but I explained to her that I had to be in Memphis, on Beale Street, by 11:30 and I wasn't going on a different flight from my guitars (which had been checked through).

     We came in from the south, following the river (Mark Twain's river, William Faulkner's river, Louis Armstrong and Bix Beiderbeck's river) at twilight.  Pure magic.  I got to my hotel and noticed a text from pal Mike Clark, whose band were the other Calgary competitors.  Meet at B.B.King's...which was right around the corner from me, five or six stops down the Main Street streetcar line for Mike.  A few Maker's Mark and Flat Tire beer combos later, after listening to the brilliant Tuesday night house band, I went back to the room for some quiet time and a sleep.  I wanted to have my wits about me for the orientation at the New Daisy Theatre next day at 11:30.

     Breakfast in my hotel, the Westin On Beale (more correctly it should be called The Westin Almost On Beale, but what's half a block ?).  Sort of up-scale, definitely could have been anywhere cuisine, but the coffee was good, the waitresses were friendly and it lay directly between me and my destination.  The New Daisy Theatre (right across Beale from The Daisy Theatre) is a run-down, waiting for a loving restoration kind of a place, and once the doors opened there were line-ups (bands one side, solo/duo acts on the other) all the way from the bar (where passes were being handed out) to the stage and across the front of it.  It took awhile to get through the line-up, to be told we had to come back later for the orientation.  I went down the street to Ugly Juanita's, where eventually I got a schedule, and paid $3 for a lanyard to hang my pass from (I grumbled for a second, but then I remembered all the good work the Blues Foundation does for the music I love).  Back to the New Daisy where we are told we are all winners, and told not to mess up and to be at our venues on time or lose points.

     I changed strings and went for dinner at Pig on Beale, a fine Barbeque place where both large front windows are full of BBQ trophies and they serve one of my favorite southern comfort foods, a barbequed bologna sandwich (with slaw and beans).  It was time to wash offr the barbecue sauce and head to my venue, upstairs in Jerry Lee Lewis's club, in The 12 Bar.  A nice little room, no stage but wood walls and floor good for that one warm sound bounce, and a soundman who seemed to know what he was about.  On at 7, playing to a pretty full room with three judges sitting directly in front of me along with a time keeper (you lose points if you exceed your 25 minutes).  I start playing and notice the judges and time keeper looking at me with big smiles and think "Damn, these are friendly folks."  After the set I run into Alberta blues pals Cam Hayden (Edmonton Blues Fest/CKUA) and Holger Pederson (CBC/CKUA/Stony Plain Records) and head off with Holger and some folks from other blues societies, back to B.B.King's to catch thre Papa John Band, who are magnificent.  I finish my evening with a feed of catfish at Blues City Cafe and head to bed.

     Thursday is busier.  A showcase at a knotty-pine paneled bar hung with moose heads, called the Kooky Kanuck.  Noon, the place is full of people drinking beer and trying to either do business or listen to the blues.  I opt for the latter, playing "Shake 'Em On Down" with the Mike Clark Band, then hustle back to Beale.  I had taken a cab to the bar because it was cold and I didn't know where I was going, and the cabby wasn't taking any money...this is a city that loves it's musicians.  1:15 and I'm upstairs at the Rumboogie Club, doing an interview with Vinnie Marini for his internet radio broadcast, "Music From The Couch."  A quick bite at Polly's Soul City Cafe and then try to fix my malfunctioning pre-amp...no luck, I'll have to play the set through a Blues Jr. amp again tonight.  Judges dig it, two of them come up to tell me how much they dig it.  I listen to some of the other acts, then head to the lounge at The Orpheum Theatre to catch my friend Brandon Issak, then we head for a beer (and discover we've both made the semi-finals).  And more catfish.

     Friday I discover my venue is right beside my hotel...a strange combo of  Irish pub and southern food.  I had been in earlier to catch Barbara Blue, a Beale Street fixture.  The place is loud, but the soundman is cool and competent...things go down pretty good, and I head to the back room for a pulled pork dinner.  Heading out to find a venue that's announcing the finalists, I run into Eddie "Devil Boy" Turner, and we have a good little hang while waiting to find out they're announcing finalists at the New Daisy.  It's freezing cold in Memphis (colder than Calgary) and freezing inside the New Daisy.  I get a beer and sit up at the back until, in amazement I hear my name announced as a finalist.

     Next day starts out tense.  The e-mail detailing finalist orientation at the Orpheum doesn't get to my cell phone (it's on my computer when I get home, however).  I hustle to the theatre and apologize profusely, find out when I play, and then hang back stage for an eternity.  A good visit with Lionel Young makes the time pass somewhat more pleasantly.  I walk out to play my 20-minute set in the beautiful old Orpheum Theatre...I can't even let myself think about all the greats who've stood on that stage.  Three acts later, it's over and I hear my name being called...I've won Best Solo/Duo and Best Guitarist (Solo/Duo).  Holy Shit...more later (sooner than later).

Tuesday, January 7, 2014

That Time It Never Quit Snowing

Wow...2014 ! How did that happen ?  Well, it went like this.  In January I stayed home, doing my house gigs at Mikey's Juke Joint and The Blues Can (both here in Calgary) plus a gig at National Music Centre (also Calgary) and taught a few private lessons...lying low and trying to recover financially from the collapse of a Spanish tour in December 2012.  I also continued to work on my most recent cd with co-producer Russ Broom and a handful of other folks.  February brought a winter blues fest in Camrose, AB (at the beautiful Bailey Theatre) and a 10-gig duo tour with my old pal Big Dave Maclean (including the gorgeous Dream Cafe in Penticton), and the annual blues & burlesque "Dirty Valentine" night at Mikey's.  March saw the cd completed, plus my house gigs and shows at Legacy Guitars in Cochrane AB and a concert in Vulcan, AB.  April 4 saw the release of the new cd, The Blue Highway (LowdenProud Records) to a full house at Ironwood Stage & Grill, then a flight to Ottawa to rehearse and perform "Big Mama" with Jackie Richardson at The National Arts Centre.  The show was a howling success and I had time to hang with friends Tony D and Steve Marriner (Monkeyjunk), folk and blues radio hosts Chris White and John Tackaberry, and several guitar buddies passing through (Paul Pigat, Doug Cox, Morgan Davis),.  We closed May 11 and I was back in Calgary May 13, playing the Blues Can, Bob Dylan's birthday party at Ironwood, two days as guest guitarist at Mount Royal Conservatory, a guitar clinic and house concert (also in Calgary) and a night at The Grandview Stage, just outside Rocky Mountain House AB. 

In June I played Carlsons On Macleod, a beautiful club closed by the floods which hit downtown High River (fortunately all my friends there escaped without physical harm) and drove with my wife to California via old Highway 95 (Idaho-Washington-Oregon-Nevada route).  After a lovely visit there with my family and my wife's sister's family in the SF Bay area, we drove home in time to play the Pincher Creek Cowboy Poets Gathering, where I put my back out...it wouldn't settle down and caused me to spent the night of our intense flooding in emergency, having to cancel Works fest (Edmonton) and North Country Faire appearances.  July brought Stampede gigs with The Hackamores (my part-time Western Swing band), 2 performances of "Big Mama" at Vancouver Island Music Fest, and more.  In August I played the Canmore Folk Festival for the first time in 20 years, including great workshops with Jim McLennan, Chic Gamine, and Matt Anderson, and returned as a teacher at Foothills Acoustic Music Institute (FAMI) just west of Calgary.  I finished there, went by home for an hour, and flew via Seattle to Anchorage, from where I was driven to Wasilla (yes, Sarah Palin's hometown) to teach at Acoustic Alaska camp and play concerta in Anchorage and Seldovia.  September was largely taken up with a tour of the Okanagan Valley and Vancouver Island, Hornby Island and Gabriola Island in British Columbia.

Early October was spent with friends in San Jose del Cabo, Mexico, and (on returning home) a benefit performance for pal Amos Garrett who lost a considerable amount in the June flooding, followed by local gigs and students.  November and December were a time to stay close and lie low with in-town gigs and teaching (and a three-day tour of Saskatchewan...nice to see friends Richie and Katherine Pollack, and Ken and Heather Peat Hamm out that way).

2014 : The 11th annual Hankover on New Year's Day sold out, and this week I play a house concert in St. Albert AB and the Saturday Night Special folk club here in Calgary, plus other in-town gigs and a house concert in Red Deer on the 31st.  I will compete in the International Blues Challenge in Memphis, TN, Jan. 21-26, and February will see me at both Calgary and Edmonton winter blues fests.  Keep the faith, support traditional and original music, and I hope to see you at a show sometime soon !  Stay warm and drive safe...