I was recently asked to be the keynote speaker at the annual conference of the North East Regional Folk Alliance (NERFA to those in the know).

Here’s what I told the audience of some 500 people, crammed into a theatre in an early ’50s pickled-in-formaldehyde hotel in the Catskills — one of the last remaining Jewish resort/conference centres in the area.

As I walked onto the stage, I’m sure I saw the ghosts of Schecky Green, Joey Bishop, Sammy Davis Jr. and Frank Sinatra… I hope they approved!  [click to continue…]

…an article/interview in the Globe and Mail, published August 6, 2012.

Bonnie Raitt Leaves a Slipstream For Those Behind Her

After taking a break from touring and recording, the bluesy singer-guitarist Bonnie Raitt has returned with Slipstream, her first album in seven years. She spoke recently from her California home.

You recently played Toronto’s Massey Hall, where the story goes that you burst into the green room and yelled out for Richard Flohil, that Canadian folk-music promoter and raconteur. True?

It is. He was the first Canadian that I really knew. I had met Dick Waterman, who was one of the three people who rediscovered Son House, and who managed Skip James, Mississippi John Hurt, Mississippi Fred McDowell and Buddy Guy and Junior Wells. Richard and Dick were very good friends, and I inherited that friendship. Who told you the Massey Hall story?

Richard did, of course. I assumed you were looking for him because he owed you money, for Mariposa or something.

Oh, that’s pretty funny. I don’t see Richard enough. He looked hale and hearty and fantastic.

Meeting Waterman and Son House during your freshman year at Harvard changed your life. But, up to that point, what had been your relationship with music?

The tradition that I grew up in, regardless of whether I was going to do it for a living, was just falling in love with music and being a fan. And what moved me to sing it myself was that sometimes it’s not enough to listen to House of the Rising Sun on the radio. I didn’t want to be a star. I just wanted to create that feeling, in my room. So, I taught myself guitar when I was eight or nine years old.

You didn’t take lessons?

I had a couple of chords shown to me by my grandfather. He and my parents gave me my dream, which was my own Stella guitar from Sears Roebuck. I went into my room and played and played until my fingers bled, so that I could haunt myself singing those ballads of Joan Baez.

Hearing your version of Gerry Rafferty’s Right Down the Line on your new album made me think of the song in a new way. The line “I just want to say this is my way of telling you everything I could never say before.” Could we look at that as your history of interpreting other writers’ songs? Singing and saying things through words written by others?

It never even occurred to me, until Bob Dylan came along and the Beatles, that people wrote their own music. Everybody was interpreting other people’s songs. If you connect with a song, enough to want to sing it, or it moves you, it doesn’t matter if it’s coming out of your exact pen or not. It’s what you want to express.

Adele covers your 1991 single I Can’t Make You Love Me. Justin Vernon recorded a version as well. How does that make you feel?

Adele said wonderful things about that record. It wasn’t just me. It was the writing and Bruce Hornsby and producer Don Was. I’m very proud that as a singer, people across different genres appreciate me.

It calls to mind your recent quote: “I’m in the slipstream of those who came before me, and I’m leaving one for those behind me.”

I called the album Slipstream so people would talk about that, as a jumping-off point for discussion, instead of “what’s new about this record.” You know, one of my greatest joys is B.B. King thinking that I’m the best slide guitar player. I have the respect of my peers, in my own generation, in my musical world. It means so much to me.

What about your legacy as a female guitarist? With your popularity, now it’s a little less surprising to see a Sue Foley or a Susan Tedeschi strap on a Fender electric.

I’m really proud of that as well. I’m setting a standard for women leading a band, and also for my activism and who I am as a person. I’m proud that that glass ceiling has been broken a little bit. But I’m certainly just one in a big long line.

This interview has been condensed and edited.

Bonnie Raitt plays Vancouver, Aug. 10; Edmonton Folk Festival, Aug. 12; Calgary, Aug. 13.

Songwriter, performer, rancher, and irascible and charming in turn, Ian Tyson writes a tell-most autobiography and aims for the best-seller lists.
Richard Flohil has known Ian Tyson for longer than most, has yet to ride a horse, and admires the grumpy old man for simply being himself; this piece was written two years ago, but there’s not a lot I would change…


It’s been Ian Tyson’s big week in the Big Smoke. Honoured at the Canadian Songwriters’ Hall of Fame. Big piece in the Toronto Star by Greg Quill. An even bigger piece in the Globe and Mail — on the sports pages, yet — by Stephen Brunt. Big coverage in the National Post. A Nick Patch story on the Canadian Press wire. A Sunday morning interview on CBC by Michael Enright. A shot on Canada AM.

It all marked the release of The Long Trail: My Life in the West, the iconic songwriter’s autobiography, and you gotta hand it to the Random House publicist, Scott Sellers.

This sort of thing doesn’t happen very often, and since everyone else has written about Tyson this week, I’m adding a few words, if only because I go back a lot further than most. And although I’ve done press for Tyson on and off for the best part of 20 years — because he records for my client Stony Plain Records — it won’t be a puff piece.

Back in 1965, when I was considered — most inaccurately — as some sort of blues expert, I was invited to something called the Mariposa Folk Festival, held north of Toronto at a place called Innis Lake. I co-hosted a “blues workshop” featuring Son House, John Hammond, Sippie Wallace and the duo of Sonny Terry and Brownie McGhee, along with Mr. House’s manager Dick Waterman (starting a friendship that continues to this day).

And, in a life-changing experience over three days, I heard and met Gord Lightfoot, Leonard Cohen, Phil Ochs, Buffy Ste. Marie, a newcomer called Joni Anderson, the Staple Singers and the Rev. Gary Davis. And the incomparable duo of Ian and Sylvia.

Canada’s first international pop artists

When you discount Guy Lombardo and Percy Faith — Canadians who had gone off to the United States and rarely returned — you can make a case that Ian Tyson and his wife Sylvia Fricker were Canada’s first international pop stars. By the time they played Mariposa in 1965, they had already played the Newport Folk Festival twice, not to mention Carnegie Hall. They had an apartment in New York and were managed by mogul Albert Grossman, who also steered the careers of Dylan, Peter Paul & Mary, Odetta, and later went on to handle Janis Joplin and The Band (It’s not widely known that Tyson was responsible for getting Grossman to sign a young kid from Toronto called Gordon Lightfoot).

Ian & Sylvia were young and handsome and remarkably self-assured. Tyson wore shiny black cowboy boots, which I thought were incomparably cool (and I’ve worn cowboy boots ever since), and Sylvia’s regal grace — and long brunette hair — made her a memorable fantasy figure.

As we all know, true love — and success in the music business — doesn’t last for ever. Half a dozen albums on various labels (Vanguard, Ampex, MGM, Columbia) followed, with diminishing returns.

After a couple of years with a music show on CTV, Ian (now divorced from Sylvia) went out west, worked as a ranch hand, played with a pick up band on weekends in a Calgary bar, and worked towards building a ranch to raise quarter horses. With the income from Neil Young’s version of “Four Strong Winds” — the first song Tyson had ever written — he bought his first spread.

The call of music was too strong, and ever since Tyson has had two careers — the ranch (which he’s now downsizing) and music. There are now a dozen CDs on Stony Plain (including reissues of earlier records on Bearsville, Boot, and A&M_ and a touring schedule that sees him playing between 40 and 60 concerts a year.

Along the way — and he’s certainly frank in his book — he’s had some pretty heavy affairs, a costly divorce that’s seriously damaged him financially, and some uncertain relationships with his two kids.. The passage of time, a crappy sound system at a country festival, and a virus all turned his once-smooth voice into a hoarse, grainy, croak. (Oddly enough, the broken voice helped the story-telling nature of most of his songs — and, in the last couple of years, has improved considerably.)

Why Ian Tyson doesn’t give a shit

Tyson is often his own worst enemy. He’s pissed off dozens of people who have supported him — music industry people, radio folk, journalists and fans alike. He’s moody, irascible, doesn’t suffer fools for a second, and has been known to throw a few punches in bar fights. His politics — save for a deep commitment to ecological issues — have often been to the right of Atilla the Hun, although he does seem to be mellowing these days.

Most times, Ian Tyson just doesn’t give a shit. When asked why he wrote the book, he just says that he needed the sizable advance Random House offered him. When asked how he wrote it, he responded, using a word you’ve not heard for 20 years, by saying “I hired a stenographer.” He rarely misses an opportunity to grumble at the CBC, complains commercial radio won’t touch his records with a barge-pole, and hangs up on interviewers if they haven’t done their research or want to know about the Ian & Sylvia days (“that was 50 years back” he grumbles).

But despite all that, the songs really tell Tyson’s story, and often better than this slim, sometimes self-serving, book does. He practices two hours each day to keep the arthritis in his hands at bay, he’s still writing (though he says he’s uncertain whether he’ll make another record), and he includes a couple of fine new songs in his live show.

Tyson walks proudly, although he’s had a couple of new knees and a hip replacement, and he’s broken way too many bones being thrown off horses. He’s a westerner, heart and soul, and he puts up with Toronto, dreads the Alberta winters, likes to travel (a recent trip to Morocco has yielded a wonderful new song), and he knows his Prairies history better than almost anyone alive. At 77, he’s still in it for the long haul, because he is aware of the alternative.

Flawed, flinty, funny, outspoken, charming when he wants to be, Ian Tyson is who he is, take it or leave it. And “legendary”, for once, is the perfect word to describe him.

A wonderfully talented young singer from Western Canada e-mailed me.

She asked:
“What would a full publicist/artist relationship entail?”

Ah, responding to something as open ended as this is a bit like getting Einstein to explain the Theory of Relativity in four minutes. (Not, obviously, that I think I’m Einstein!)

But here was my response:

It would/could/sometimes should involve all, some, or none of the following:
– hand-holding (a.k.a. career guidance)
– enjoying a mutual belief in others talents/skills
– writing bios and press material
-writing press releases (and thinking up stuff to write them about!)
-helping create a visual image for the artist
-more hand-holding (a.k.a. helping solve relationship problems)
-hiring photographers, video makers and other support people
-writing grant applications (or, in my case, finding grant writers)
-arranging media interviews
-getting artist on TV or radio
-more hand-holding (a.k.a. media coaching)
-supervising other public events
-refusing to arrange in-store appearances (remember Spinal Tap?)
-helping find an agent
-helping find a manager
-helping find a publisher
-even more hand-holding (building confidence)
-helping launch a new CD/video
-getting artists connected with other artists further up the food chain
-promoting tours from here to there and back again
-helping get opening gigs and headline appearances
-driving the artist to the gig
-still more hand-holding (a.k.a. maintaining confidence)
-the artist paying $750 – $1,500 a month for at least four months

Does that help?

PS: It didn’t help.  The artist liked everything except the final point. Ah well, that’s the music biz!


When superb musicians pass on, they leave a hole in peoples’ lives. When they die at 41, with so much music unplayed, it seems doubly tragic.

That said, Jeff Healey — in his personal life — was a gentle, funny family man, musically enthusiastic about everything from psychedelic rock to arcane and long-forgotten dance music of the ’20s and early ’30s. He knew as much about Henry “Red” Allen and Clarence Williams as he did about Stevie Ray Vaughan or B.B. King. He adored old-fashioned country music, and he had an encyclopedic knowledge of what was on the grooves of his 27,000 78-rpm records as well as what Deep Purple or Cream played on record. He’d played with just about everyone you can name — from Bonnie Raitt to George Harrison and from Stevie Ray to Albert Collins and B.B. King and Albert Collins and Jimmy Rogers. He’d met the Queen and President Clinton, he’d travelled around the world, and he loved to stay home. He was a unique musician with an astonishing musical vocabulary.

And then, on March 2, he died.

After 38 years of a busy, productive, musically joyful life, he took the successive wave of cancers, radiation, chemotherapy and all the rest of it with grace, an amiable grumpiness, and some nervousness. But everything changed when he had a guitar in his lap — then, the fun, the hilarious laughter, and the sheer joyfulness of making music took over again.

Within a week after Jeff died, a group of his family members, close friends and colleagues from this two bands — Jeff Healey’s Jazz Wizards and the Jeff Healey Blues Band — organized two tributes to celebrate his life and his music. The first, at Toronto’s Sound Academy, saw more than 2500 people crammed into the room to hear Jack Bruce of Cream, Deep Purple’s Ian Gillan, Randy Bachman, Colin James, David Wilcox, Goddo, the frontmen from Downchild, and dozens more — most of them supported by Jeff’s Blues Band (Dave Murphy on keys, Al Webster on drums, Dan Noordermeer on guitar and Alec Fraser on bass). Everyone of them adored Healey, were mentored or influenced by him, or saw themselves and colleagues and friends. Jack Bruce, who has had his own battle with cancer, told reporters: “Jeff put his arm around me when I was at my lowest.” And Steve Lukather (Toto, and the guitarist on Thriller) sent his own message: “When Jeff died, every other guitarist in the world moved up a notch.”

The following day, half a dozen Toronto-based traditional jazz bands packed the Roadhouse named after Jeff, along with some American guests who had played on Healey’s classic jazz records. The Mayor of Toronto showed up with his kids, Jack Layton cheered, Shakura S’Aida got off a plane from Amsterdam and went straight to the club to bring down the house with two songs, accompanied by a band she’d never even herd before, and the Jazz Wizards ended the six hour show, with an empty chair in front of the band.

Every musician played for nothing, dozens of organizations and individuals put in both time and money, with box office receipts going to the Daisy’s Children’s Eye Cancer Fund and The Healey Family Trust

Jeff Healey was a one-off. We’ve never had a musician like this before; and — alas — we never will again.


Murray McLauchlan looks back at a 40-year career, as Richard Flohil remembers some highlights and near-disasters

Time: 1966
Scene: A circular office on the sixth floor of an old building on the corner of Bay and Richmond. Papers are strewn on the floor; there is a drunk in the hallway outside near the elevator; he has pissed himself.
Participants: Chain smoking publicist; a young art school student of with a portfolio of drawings and paintings.  The artist is a songwriter who is looking for a manager; the publicist demurs.

Time: 1971
The washroom in a locker-filled auditorium “dressing room” at a school in Conway, Arkansas.
Lead participant: A young Canadian singer-songwriter is in a cubicle, discovering, as he is being introduced on stage, that several large woodticks have burrowed into the flesh of his inside thigh, the result of a stoned afternoon playing in a cow pasture.

Time: 1972
Scene: A bedroom in the “official” hotel for the Philadelphia Folk Festival; a guitar is being passed around, as are beers, cigarettes and joints.
Participants: John Prine, Steve Goodman, Loudon Wainwright, Jim Croce and Murray McLauchlan. Slumped on the floor behind one of the beds, this observer, feeling proud that his fellow Canadian was more than holding his own.

Time: Early ’80s
The cockpit of s small plane on a clear, moonlight bright night, as the pilot brings half a dozen people in to a small Toronto suburban airport, direct from a gig in Sarnia, Ontario.

Time: Early ‘90s.
An industry luncheon and showcase at Canadian Music Week.
Lead participant: An older, experienced artist, asked to present an award, and visibly angered by a total lack of applause as he is introduced to an indifferent audience.

Time: November 2007
Hugh’s Room, the acoustic music venue in Toronto, with a packed house of musicians, on their feet applauding.
Participants: Veteran songwriter, with wife, son, long-time record company owner and friends old and new, watches as his peers — including Gordon Lightfoot — honour him as an inductee into the Mariposa Folk Festival Hall of Fame.

There’s a real danger that Murray McLauchlan — arguably one of the best singer-songwriters this country has ever produced — can be taken for granted. And earning awards is often seen as a way to say thankyou and push the “ignore” button and move on to the next big thing, whatever or whoever that is.

In part to prevent that possibility, and to remind new generations of listeners of his catalogue of Canadian songs, McLauchlan’s old record label, True North, has just released a lavishly packaged two-CD set of material from no less than 13 of his past albums. A quick glance at the titles on Songs from the Street is enough to launch nostalgia attacks for anyone over 40: Child’s Song, Down by the Henry Moore, On the Boulevard, Whispering Rain, and, of course, Farmer’s Song.

McLauchlan himself, as he approaches his 60th birthday, will tell you frankly that he wants to preserve a legacy. “It’s a collection of hits and misses,” he says, without a trace of false humility or sentimentality. “We decided to go through all the old albums, and pick some songs from each — songs that seem to mean something to people, and which mean something to me.”
Long before McLauchlan signed his first record deal with a young entrepreneur called Bernie Finkelsteins (whose “office” at the time was a telephone booth opposite a shabby variety store on Yorkville Avenue), he was building a local reputation. He had some good, fresh songs — and he could (and says he still can) sing almost every recorded Dylan song up to and including the Blonde and Blonde album.

Best of all, his curiosity and eyes and ears processed the harsh, difficult, and often hilarious business of being a young kid in a big city into songs that rang true.  The first folk boom — or folk scare, as some revisionists have it — had produced a flurry of guitar-playing “folkies” who listened to Dylan, a young and handsome Canadian duo called Ian & Sylvia, and such grizzled veterans as Sonny Terry and Brownie McGhee; Toronto was the centre of the Canadian folk world then (although both Montreal and Ottawa had similar, but much smaller, scenes. And McLauchlan — son of Scottish immigrants to Canada — struggled to become part of the action.

The old adage about writing what you know has certainly been exemplified by McLauchlan’s work. His first “hit” was Child’s Song Song; memorably covered by Tom Rush, it’s about as autobiographical a piece as you can imagine — but it has resonated with succeeding generations of teenagers as they unhappily strain the bonds loving parents place on them.

It was the centerpiece of his first album, 1971’s Song from the Street, and it caused a huge buzz in the folk community in Toronto.  And while nobody tagged him with the “new Dylan” moniker, McLauchlan was a wannabe star waiting for his turn.  He scuffled around Yorkville, hitch-hiked and hoboed across Canada, hung in Greenwich Village, played festivals and coffee houses and small clubs and larger ones, got married too young, slept with Joni Mitchell, and raised as much hell as he could. He toured the interior of BC opening for the Everly Brothers, and returned with Carmelita, the one cover song he always plays, which he learned from the Everlys’ pianist, Warren Zevon.

That first album opened doors everywhere but it was the second album, though, that made McLauchlan a household word, and contained the song he still has to sing at every performance. Like his other material, it was based on hard reality: the way we city folk regard the people who grow our food. Farmer’s Song was his first bone-fide radio hit, and was produced by Ed Freeman, a hot producer at the time since he’d just completed Don McLean’s American Pie.

And while there were gigs and tours in the US (including one opening for Neil Young), McLauchlan failed to make any real impacy in the US market. There was, in hindsight, something too “Canadian” in his material, and in the Scottish burr in his voice.  McLauchlan, with Fnkelstein acting as manager as well as record company, changed direction — and eventually found himself working on CBC television and radio shows, emphasizing the “Canadian-ness” of songs like Hard Rock Town (on Sudbury), Red River Flood (Winnipeg), Down by the Henry Moore (Toronto), Out Past the Timberline (the North), No Change in Me (Newfoundland)…

Domestic life settled his wanderlust — his marriage to one-time MuchMusic TV personality and later record company president Denise Donlon (now working on a major project for the Clinton Foundation) has mellowed him. After pulling back from music to be “house-husband” and full-time father to their son Duncan (now 17), it took him a while to find his performance legs again.

His association with an informal group called Lunch at Allen’s (after the bar and restaurant on Toronto’s Danforth Avenue) has brought him back to an older audience which has grown alongside the other participants — Cindy Church, Marc Jordan and Ian Thomas.

The songs, now, seem to have taken a more laidback, personal approach. Path of the Moon is about young Duncan; Don’t Put Your Faith in Men is for his daughter Sarah, the loved offspring of his first marriage.  On stage, he still invests his classics with the feeling he used to, and — looking a little like a less-fuzzy Arlo Guthrie — he radiates an easy, relaxed respectful attitude to his audience.

The hell-raising of his youth is well past him, as is the bitterness that was sometimes evident as his career faded in the nineties.  The pace is easier, the schedule not as demanding, and the odd, unusual and funny gigs (especially with Lunch at Allen’s) seem more frequent and much more enjoyable.

“I don’t want to be seen as a ‘nostalgia act’ he says, as the waitress at Allen’s brings him another glass of wine. “I just want to keep doing it as long as it’s fun. I’ll know when it’s time to quit. But I don’t think that’ll be for a while yet.”

In October, at the Ontario Council of Folk Festivals annual event held in Ottawa, this time, I was honored to receive the Estelle Klein Award.  It doesn’t say, on the elegant award itself, what it’s actually for, but it’s given for “lifetime achievement”.  So, taken from my notes, and slightly edited, here’s what I said to the 500-odd people in the room:

“I thank the OCFF for this honor, and I am particularly proud of the fact that I am the first non-musician to have been graced with this Award – except Estelle herself. When she passed away, the award was renamed in her honor.

“I am proud that I knew Estelle, and that she was a mentor for me. She was passionate about music, but not always easy to love (anyone who received her 10-page letters reprimanding them for lapses in judgment or taste will agree).  She was a woman with extraordinary energy and her final achievement, in establishing the ArtsCan Foundation, is part of her rich legacy.

“It was her request to me to attend the 1965 Mariposa Folk Festival that changed my life. At that event, this committed blues and jazz fan became a committed folkie. I heard, and met, Ian & Sylvia, Phil Ochs, Gord Lightfoot, Pop Staples, Leonard Cohen, Buffy Sainte-Marie and so many others.

“In the years following, Estelle taught me and so many other people about organizing events, about programming, and about dealing with artists and other creative people.

“Obviously, there are many people I would like to thank. My family: my wife Donna and my children Jill and Sarah, who put up with me and support me and let me run around and listen to music most nights of the week. My clients: Downchild for 36 years, Stony Plain Records for close to 30, Loreena McKennitt since the days she busked outside the St. Lawrence Market in Toronto. I am equally proud of the relatively new artists I am privileged to work with: Serena Ryder, Roxanne Potvin, Justin Rutledge and Paul Reddick among them.

“I’d also like to thank SOCAN, for whom I worked for 24 years; this organization allowed me to meet and write about literally hundreds of composers, lyricists, songwriters and musicians.

“Thanks, too, to the people who have worked with me over the years, and in particular to Samantha Carter, who’s here tonight, who is moving on to complete her educations. I hope that Sarah French, who will step into your shoes, Sam, will be as helpful and encouraging as you have been.

“I would also like to thank the newspaper writers and the music programmers at community radio, and more importantly at the CBC, for supporting our music. I trust the promised revamp of Radio 2 will be speedy, and effective.  And, since we are in Ottawa, let us all put the present government on notice that we’re going to come calling if it even thinks of cutting arts support.

“Finally, a note to all the musicians in this community: Hone your craft, practice your instrument, train your voice, study your songs, and handle rejection with the grace with which you handle your successes.

“To everyone else, please remember, as I have tried to do for almost 40 years, that if you can’t make music, you have a duty, a solemn obligation, to help make music happen.”

A Personal Addition

At this event, I was deeply honored by the audience who gave me a standing ovation when I was called to the stage and another one when I completed my speech.  How COOL is that?  I now know, first hand, the ultimate reward that so many performers get, and earn, night after night. What a damned shame that I didn’t learn music and become a performer!

The funniest piece I’ve read about rock and roll.
From The Guardian (UK)  Friday August 11, 2006

By Ian Ball, Gomez

“The hardest thing about touring is trying to survive an endless groundhog day lifestyle. People think you’re seeing all these great places, but you won’t see anything. You’re going to wake up on the tour bus outside the venue, probably hungover, slightly disorientated, hot and in desperate need of a shower. You’ll basically see the area around the venue, a restaurant, a soundcheck and that’s it. And its going to be like that for every single city in the world. It’s like being the detective in a surreal mystery. You’re constantly solving tiny little problems: misplaced shower gel, room keys, passports, sanity. We have all literally gone on stage and said ‘Hello’ to the wrong town at some point. Our guitarist Tom Gray’s classic was in Australia. I can’t remember which city he said, but he was at least 1,200 miles off.”

Don’t Miss the Bus
Matt Rubano, Taking Back Sunday

“On our first UK tour, I was left behind by the bus in Birmingham. It was a communication thing where one guy goes, ‘Where’s Matt?’ someone goes, ‘He’s asleep,’ and it’s, ‘OK, let’s go.’ I was outside in a telephone booth calling my girlfriend. I wandered around Birmingham for a couple of hours, and got chased by some guys who had left the pub. In the end, I found a security guard on an industrial estate, and pleaded with him to let me call home, as it was an emergency. The only number I could remember was my girlfriend’s, who emailed my manager in California, who then called our tour manager, who had just arrived in Oxford. The same thing happened to me again two days later. That time a very nice Pakistani family lent me £10 and drew me a map of how to get to London.”

Be Careful Who You Open For
Alan Vega, Suicide

“Opening up for any high-profile band is a great opportunity. But don’t do it unless you are prepared to fully commit. When we supported the Clash in Scotland, every night felt like world war three. The kids came for the Clash and got us first. They were so hyped up – but we wouldn’t back down. I taunted them, ‘You have to live through this to get to the Clash!’ Our presence infuriated them to the point of riot. It was pure mayhem, they were destroying everything in reach. In Glasgow, an axe flew by my head. It was surreal, I felt like I was in a 3D cowboy movie. We barely escaped with our lives – but we were really going out there to survive. Thirty years later – guess it worked!”

Don’t Take Crap From Your Own Audience
Jean Jacques-Burnel, The Stranglers

“Very early on we decided that audience interaction made things an event. We developed a philosophy called Truth Through Provocation. For the encores, we’d be in Edinburgh and say, ‘At least people in Glasgow know they’re Scottish whereas in Edinburgh they think they’re English,’ and all hell would erupt. We had a similar approach with hecklers. If people spat at us, we’d wade into the audience, until one day we decided it would be more fun and more effective to drag them on stage and stick a banana up their arse. In New York we couldn’t get bananas so we used celery. Some people were amused – when Terry Wogan mentioned it on the radio people started queuing up to get it done. But when we tried it in France, it ended our career there for years.”

Steer Clear of Freaks
Ian Ball

“A good rule is to never sit next to the dressing-room door, because when the crazy people invade they latch on to the first person. Our bass player is always the unfortunate soul who cops it, because he’s such a welcoming guy. The craziest invader we’ve had was probably Ewan MacGregor, who turned up in Sydney. He was really exuberant because he’d just finished Star Wars and had consumed half of Scotland’s whisky. We were in the worst dressing room you can imagine and he came barreling in like a cannonball, ‘HeyyouGomezguysarefuckingcrazeeee.’ That was actually pretty good fun. Usually it’s weird Argentinian women convinced you’re marrying them in the morning.”

Don’t stand too close to bandmates
Matt Rubano

“Our singer likes to twirl the microphone like a lasso. One night at Earls Court, in front of 12,000 people, I walked forward and caught it on the forehead. I was knocked to the ground. I got back up and realised I was soaking wet. I put my hand on my forehead and I was gushing blood. I was rushed off the stage and patched up. By the middle eight of the second song, I was back on stage and finished the gig, blooded and bandied up. Then they rushed me to casualty. Afterwards, fans sent me helmets. Some said, ‘Are you doing that again tonight?’ It looked really cool.'”

Use Hearing Protection
Andy Partridge, XTC

“We had this nerdy image but I remember reading in the 80s that we were officially the loudest band ever. We used to have the sound as loud on stage as it was in the audience. We used to see all these supposedly fearless heavy metal bands and think, ‘You pansies!’ because they were wearing earplugs. However, after five years of touring, I’d lost 50% of my hearing.”

Don’t Get in a Band with a Drug Addict
Gemma Clark, the Suffrajets/ ex-Babyshambles

“The first gig I did with Shambles, the venue got trashed, the ceiling came down, there were riots and the police were called. The first month [September 2004] was tremendously exciting, but the drug-taking soon nosedived. I would be downstairs in my pyjamas and they were upstairs in a crack den. We had a few chats but Peter [Doherty] just wasn’t coherent. It’s terrible to see a friend get like that and I just hope they’re all OK. On the road now with the Suffrajets we worry more about stopping to get a sandwich, not, ‘I’ve run out of crack, can someone get some heroin?'”

Know your limits
Francis Rossi, Status Quo

“I gave up drinking and coke in ’98. It came to a head one night when I was planning a toot the night before a day off, so it wouldn’t affect the show. I had it all planned: cornflakes, watch the news, get stuck into the coke. When I got to it, I thought, ‘No, I’ll do it next time.’ Because I never actually said ‘Stop’ I didn’t touch it again for years. Then in Amsterdam somebody I knew in a restaurant gave me some and I couldn’t say, ‘I don’t do that any more.’ I gave most of it away but had a little sniff off a plectrum. I went running down the stairs to meet the wife and kids, got halfway and my teeth started grinding. I had to run into the bar and have a tequila to take the edge off. I thought, ‘That’s it, no more.'”

Avoid Antagonizing the Locals (especially in Sweden)
Jean-Jacques Burnel

“In Sweden they had a gang called the Raggere, who are based on 1950s American rockers. They took affront at bands like the Stranglers playing their town. We were in the dressing room when we heard dozens of cars coming up. They beat up our road crew, smashed up our equipment. We managed to do a couple of Molotov cocktails and blew up a couple of cars. The police came and we were escorted out of the country. The second attempt to play Sweden ended with the audience on stage and the band in the audience. Back at the hotel Jet [Black, drummer] was being ignored by the waiters, and he got so frustrated he hurled a chair through a window. The police arrived with machine guns once again. We’re still banned from Sweden.”

Keep Smiling and Don’t Moan
Francis Rossi

“You learn very quickly there’s no point moaning. We have an expression, ‘I do believe this was your chosen profession.’ It’s our way of saying, ‘Shut the fuck up, you could be driving an ice-cream van.'”

Play gigs, not rehearsals
Francis Rossi

“We do 125 gigs a year and one of the reasons we work so much is because we know if we don’t play for two weeks we’ve got to bloody rehearse – and we’ve always hated rehearsals. If you do that many gigs the machine keeps nicely oiled, whereas the longer you stop the more it feels like putting a whole new bloody engine in.”

Survive Touring – Stop Touring
Andy Partridge

“I was sick of the same orange hotel rooms and looking at the same piece of corporate art for 30 days. I’d also started to drift off during gigs. Unwittingly, from the age of 13 I’d been addicted to valium because that’s what they did in those days if you were unhappy. One night my ex-wife flushed the tablets down the toilet. It’s the only time I’ve ever smashed up a hotel room. For a while I lost my memory. I’d get nervous before gigs, throwing up. It came to a head in Paris. I threw the guitar down and ran off. I never toured again. It felt like I’d woken up. Because we didn’t tour we made better records. Giving up touring was probably a good career move.”

Hold It Together: it will be OK in the end
Grant Nicholas, Feeder

“Touring can be lonely. You can be playing in front of thousands and then be climbing the walls in your hotel room. I had some problems last year – screaming at the audience off-mic. I caused haemorrhages of my vocal chords. I was terrified; my voice wouldn’t work. You have to look after yourself. The crucial thing is to enjoy the magic hour on stage because if you do, it will all be worth it. We’re doing some of the Stones dates because Charlie Watts likes us. I haven’t met Keith yet, but he seems indestructible. Apparently, he’s been saying it wasn’t a tree he fell out of, it was a hedge – ‘More of a shrub.'”

The very first time I went to Grossman’s, in 1969, it was to see Downchild.  The leader of the band, Donnie Walsh, wanted me to manage/publicise the band, and I had a rep back then as a blues maven, having had a hand in bringing the likes of Sleepy John Estes, Muddy Waters, Robert Nighthawk and B.B. King to Toronto (indeed, to Canada) for the first time.

Failing to get service, I was a little abrupt with one of the waiters, who promptly had me thrown out. On the way, Al Grossman (bless his memory!) muttered that I could come back tomorrow and all would be forgiven.  So I did, and so began a friendship with that band, and that bar, which continues today.

Ozzy was a character, and when the new owners took his picture down, there was such an outcry that it was replaced; it’s there for all to see, stuck on a pillar in the outer room.

Ozzy had every disease known to man all at once – or he certainly looked as though he had – but he was at his scabrous best on Saturday afternoons when The Happy Pals would play (and still do; one of the most surprising pleasures of Toronto and one you should take every visitor to see and hear).  Ozzy would not serve you until you had purchased tickets for a raffle, the prize for which was a box of steak knives which, I presume, had fallen from the back of a
truck somewhere on the way to the bar.

As far as I know, nobody EVER won the steak knives, and the draw was always held VERY late at night, if it was held at all. But Ozzy always picked up a couple of hundred bucks every Saturday afternoon.

And that, children, was when a buck was worth a buck, not 61 cents!

I’ll bet Ozzy and Al are trading bullshit stories now, wherever they are….

For many years, as part of what we do for Stony Plain Records, we handled publicity for Long John  Baldry. In view of his recent passing (and the benefit show that’s being arranged for Hugh’s Room on November 12) it might amuse you to reprint an unusual artists’ bio we prepared for the release of his 1996 Stony Plain CD, “Right to Sing the Blues.”

It break all the “rules” of artist’s bios – it’s way too long, for starters. Yet, re-reading it almost 10 years later, it does seem to capture the tone of the man. As he told me at the time, “Well, it does sort of sound like me, I suppose.  In any case, dear boy, do send it about and see if anybody is amused!”

Recalling that reminds me of his comment when I wrote the sleeve notes for one of his CDs: “Very good, dear boy, but you used so many words that they couldn’t fit all my lovely snapshots in the booklet!”   – RICHARD FLOHIL



Welcome to the last half of the last decade of this century, and consider the case of John Baldry, Esq., entertainer, world traveler, opera expert, antiques collector, rock and roll legend. And, more than any of the above, blues singer.

The evidence in this case is his third album for Stony Plain, the feisty independent record company from Edmonton, distributed to record stores across the country by Warner Music Canada, prime deliverers of good music.

This particular album is called Right to Sing the Blues. The album’s identifying number is SPCD-1236. It follows two other albums recorded for the same label: It Still Ain’t Easy (SPCD-1163) and On Stage Tonight: Live in Germany (SPCD-1192).

Good morning Mr. Baldry. How are you today?
Very well, thank you very much. Very well.

Mr. Baldry, have you always been a blues singer?
Well, not always. I have been known to wear white suits and sing ballads at Royal Command Performances, and on the telly. But that was a long time ago. I have also sung pop music, rock and roll, appeared in pantomime, and recorded many commercials for companies who believe that my voice will help them sell their products. They keep asking me to do it again and pay me handsomely to do so, so it must. I also amuse the kiddies by being the voice of the dastardly evil Dr. Robotnik on a cartoon show called Sonic The Hedgehog, which, I understand, is seen in many countries around the globe, to my astonishment.

But I asked about the blues…
Forgive me, I was carried away. May I have your indulgence to go backwards in time to explain. When I was a young lad in Derbyshire, England, uncommonly tall for my years, I began to hear strange and touching music on records brought in from America. I learned to play the guitar; I would occasionally busk on the street-and many people know that, in previous proceedings, I was found guilty of causing a disturbance. I protested that I did not want any boojie-woojie laid on the king of rock and roll, and many people, especially in America, understood my point.

The first American musicians I met were a remarkable pair of characters, two folksingers called Rambling Jack Ellliott and Derroll Adams; the first blues people I heard in person were Big Bill Broonzy and Lonnie Johnson. My guitar playing was getting better, and I had, if I may say so, a rather remarkable voice, so I found myself in small music groups; some of my companions were Mr. Michael Jagger, Mr. Charles Watts, and a young man called Brian Jones.

The first record I made was an EP made for a chap who had a shop on Charing Cross road; that was in 1960. Two years later I made a real record; it was called R&B at the Marquee. I have a copy here dated 1962-Exhibit A, if you like-to indicate that I sang three blues songs with Mr. Alexis Korner; one of them was by a singer known as Jimmy Witherspoon, with whom I was to sing again in Canada, some 33 years later.

We would play this American music at a variety of places, and with many other musicians who would become rather well known. Some of them the court may have heard of: Jack Bruce, Jimmy Page, Rod Stewart (I had met him on a railway station at midnight, playing harmonica while buried in a long woolen football scarf); I had what was called a “supergroup” with Mr. Brian Auger, young Mr. Stewart, and Ms. Julie Driscoll. Later I would have a band called The Hoochie Coochie Men that included a balding young piano player called Reg Dwight. On an aeroplane flight back from Newcastle one night we changed his name to reflect my own, and that of Elton Dean, our saxophone player.

Basically, in short, everything we did was deeply informed by blues music.

And you came to America, eventually?
Indeed I did. My good friends Mr. Rod Stewart and Mr. Elton John helped produce a record for me in 1971 called, rather colloquially, It Ain’t Easy. I came to Los Angeles to assist in promoting the record, and eventually decided to stay. But I thought that Canada would be a more comfortable place, so I moved to Toronto; it was comfortable, but very, very cold, and I moved to Vancouver, a more temperate city, climatically; it rains rather a lot, but it rarely freezes and hardly ever snows. I decided to stay, I became a Canadian citizen, and here I am!

I put out a number of recordings for a label called Capitol; recently they reissued the best of them on a single CD recording called The Canadian Sessions: A Thrill’s a Thrill, after a rather naughty song from one of the records that had been very popular.

May I quote from a press communiqué, released by your Canadian record company some five years ago? “In clubs across the country, audiences learned what their British cousins had known more than a decade before-that this tall (6 ft. 7-in. officially, but that doesn’t count the hats and the stacked-heel boots), rangy, sardonic, witty, very English singer is a consummate entertainer.”

I played many saloons, endlessly, in fact. I did become rather tired of it; there is much traveling involved and I do not like to drive very much, and I dislike flying even more.

Stony Plain Records asked me to make a new album in 1991, and I agreed, perhaps partly because the gentleman who runs the company is almost as tall as I am. Since it was 20 years later, I recorded a selection of songs called It Still Ain’t Easy. It helped re-establish me in some European places, and despite the traveling involved, I now go there annually to sing once again in France, Switzerland, Holland, Belgium, and Austria, as well as Germany; I do do rather well there nowadays.

May I introduce Exhibit B-my second recording for Stony Plain called On Stage Tonight: Live in Germany. You will notice that it contains some of my more popular pieces from the past, and a great many blues. There is an opening medley of Every Day I Have the Blues and Times Are Getting Tougher than Tough, and classic songs associated with the great blues vocalists of the past-I would mention T-Bone Walker’s Stormy Monday and Bessie Smith’s Backwater Blues.

Your new record is mostly blues, is it not?
Indeed it is. I was fortunate to gain considerable musical support from many people, including young Mr. Colin James, a neighbour of mine from Vancouver, who wrote the title song and brought along his guitar to play on the recorded version of the tune. He also brought the members of his band to play on many of the songs. On other songs my friends from Edmonton played-Rusty Reed, Mike Lent, Dave Babcock and Bob Tildesley-and my guitarist Papa John King performs on all the tracks; a very remarkable musician it has been my privilege to tour with for some years now.

I chose material from a number of blues idioms. Old songs from the repertoires of Huddie Ledbetter-better known by the soubriquet of Leadbelly-and more contemporary material by well-known artists such as Little Willie John, Oran “Hot Lips” Page, and Little Walter Jacobs. A young woman called Rita Chiarelli, who also records for the label, gave me a song called Midnight in Berlin.

You call the album Right to Sing the Blues. Do you have that right?
I do believe so. I have, in fact, a been singing this music for a very long time. I should also point out that the recording also contains an interview-I believe it is called a “bonus track”-in which I talk about many of the blues people I have known in Britain and America, including Willie Dixon, whom I was fortunate enough to sing with on many occasions, and…

I believe the point is made. This need not proceed further. The case is proved. You do have, in fact, the right to sing the blues-you have earned that right-and on the evidence presented today you obviously do so very well. Good afternoon, Mr. Baldry.

Good afternoon. I do hope you will take these records home, and enjoy them.