Tuesday, August 28, 2007

The Wild West is Ready

Photo by Debby Sereda. The Calgary International Blues Festival was one of the best organized shows I've ever been on. From airport to hotel to the festival site everything was great. I'm not gonna embarass anyone by telling whose road manager was arrested at (and deported from) the Winnipeg airport for making BOMB jokes! Seriously, this gives the phrase "travelling with a little dope" a whole new meaning. My own road manager was hidden safely in my trousers.

Saturday morning was the front porch, more or less acoustic blues workshop hosted by Tim Williams. What can I say? Tim's a magnificent man and one of the very best acoustic/roots blues guys anywhere. We had a nice time swapping tunes for a couple of hours with Little Miss Higgins, http://www.littlemisshiggins.com a husband-wife duo from Comma, Saskatchewan (OK, actually Nokomis- but on stage that's what I thought I heard.) They start out playing like Memphis Minnie and Joe McCoy and extend the tradition into their own, very cool compositions. We hung out for a while after the show and also had a great time drinking up Alberta's fine local beer. I'll look forward to seeing them again and again. Suitcase James sat in with us on acoustic bass. Here's a legendary Canadian bass player who makes it all look and sound easy. I'd been wanting to meet him for a long time. I played all sorts of bar and time impaired stuff and failed to mess him up at all! He had the same cool playing with Sonny Rhodes the next night.

Duke Robillard was, as always, great in spite of a rough border crossing. He was in high demand, so we didn't get much time to talk. Holger Petersen of Stony Plain records came in for the show, so we had a chance to make some arrangements for radio appearances and recording of Big Dave and I on the Alberta leg of the Big Road. Kelly Hunt and her band delivered a classy show on borrowed gear. I'd seen her in Memphis, but had not met her until now. I stayed to hear Calgary's Mike Clark and it was worth it. A great sax player and singer- nice band Mike! Guitarist Johnny V played in that show- I'd never seen him before. Yup, he's pretty much as good as he says he is! High marks, Johnny- it was fun.

Back to the hotel where I prepared for the next morning's front porch gospel show with Sista Monica, Kelley Hunt, and Tim Williams. I wasn't worried about singing with Tim (I mean, we both can sound way too much like Blind Willie Johnson first thing in the morning!) but I was wondering to myself "will I be singing before, or AFTER Sista Monica, or Kelly Hunt?" And what can I pull out that will save my black-clad butt? This was the Saturday night prayer session.

God came through for me on Sunday morning in the form of a tall cup of Irish whiskey delivered to me by one of the stage tech guys. "Here's your coffee, Doc," he says. It was pouring rain and there were maybe 100 people huddled under plastic sheets and umbrellas waiting for us to start. I did what God intended me to do with his fine liquid creation and we fired up the gospel train. Sure enough, I had to follow Kelley hunt- but she was kind enough not to blow me off the stage. Actually, we had a great time all singing and playing together, and the workshop seemed to end way too soon.

Next up was the Agnostic Mountain Choir. These guys are (I think) another Calgary based act, and they've had some degree of international success. They'll probably not like this comparison, but it sounded a lot like Tom Waits' Bone Machine- layers of hot gritty sound and deep groove. I immediately wanted to play with these guys. Blew me away entirely. If these boys had suits they'd be rich. If you don't know them already- go hear them!

Hung out in the trailer for a while with festival producers Cindy McLeod and Maurice Ginzer. They are so dedicated and so on the ball- Calgary is lucky to have them. And I was glad they got the propane heater working. Cindy and I used it as a tanning light. I was thankful to be warm before my concert. Got lucky- the sun came out for my show, and again the set seemed all too short. For some reason I played a couple of brand new tunes. "Jimmie Lee Jackson's Blues" will be in heavy rotation on my set list for a while. Pretty much written on a scrap of paper a couple of nights before. Sometimes the universe gives you a little gift. It sold quite a few cds for me, despite not having been recorded yet.

Here's Jack de Keyzer and I post-show.

Next up was the Du-Rite Aces- another Calgary show which should be much better known. It's a roots round-up of blues and jump, 40's Texas, rockabilly... They've got a cool sound which is very much their own and are great performers. I could listen and watch Greg Demchuk play guitar all day. You want to party and dance??? Go see 'em.

Quite a buzz in the air here about the Big Road Tour- I met a few of the western promoters over the weekend and began taking requests for next year's shows. I was right about the Tour jackets- I wore mine and could of sold it a dozen times! This is way too long, and I've got to go pick up my truck. And WestJet destroyed yet another guitar case. I promise, posts will get shorter as Dave and I roll into what now looks like 60 shows. — Doc MacLean

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