Jackson Browne’s Carbon Footprint and Other True Stories…

June 21, 2015


(Originally published on February 28, 2011)

It’s been a busy week. Here’s a couple of short stories and a musical diary.  And two daffy videos to finish up.

THIS TIME: The Mariposa Folk Festival, Neill Dixon, Jackson Browne, David Lindley, Odetta, Bobby King, Jonathan and Darlene Edwards. Spike Jones, Shauna de Cartier, Luke Doucet, Holger Petersen, The Breakmen, Harry Manx and Kevin Breit, Billy Connolly, Run with the Kittens, Jay Aymar, the mysterious and forgetful Leon Redbone, and many, many others…

Jackson Browne’s carbon footprint 

It’s the Mariposa Folk Festival, 1990, at Molson Park just south of Barrie. The Sunday night headliner is Jackson Browne, touring behind his new album, World In Motion.

Neill Dixon, who had connected the festival with Molson, came up with a brilliant idea: Browne was touring with sound and lights, so the festival could send its sound and light people home after the Saturday show; Browne would close the festival, which could use his crew and his opening artist, the brilliant David Lindley.

Browne’s management had no idea of what folk festivals were about, and refused the suggestions made by the festival’s artistic director (er, that would be me). None of the artists on the festival were apparently up to management’s standards, but in the end they grudgingly agreed that Odetta, being a folk pioneer, a woman, and black, could indeed open the show.

There were other demands. No other festival staff or performers could come back stage, where two giant tractor-trailers, and three block-long tour busses, humming with diesel generators, were parked behind the stage. To my everlasting shame, I caved, and agreed to the instructions.

However, one of the festival’s artists — the marvelous singer Bobby King (known for his recordings with Ry Cooder) — did find his way back stage, once he had convinced the tour’s officious security detail that he knew the headliner.

“Hey, man,” he greeted Browne. “So, are you still into all that ecology shit?”  “Yes,” Browne replied, guardedly.

“Cool,” said King. “So why don’t you turn all them motherfucking tour buses off?”


A luxury limousine ride for a socialist comedian:

Ten years later, in 2000, I’m hired to organize a one-day national media blitz for Billy Connolly, the Scottish comedian. An interesting character — and a man who began as a shipyard welder, toured as a folk singer, recorded three albums with Gerry Rafferty(Baker Street) as a duo called The Humblebums, and eventually found that people preferred laughing at his stories to listening to his banjo playing.

His hardy — and difficult — Glasgow working class upbringing has ingrained in him a ripe sense of political reality; he is somewhat to the left of Karl Marx. When the stretch limo arrives at my house so I can pick him at his hotel and take him to Canada AM in Toronto’s distant suburbs, my heart sinks.

Apart from it’s sheer size, it has a bar (and Connolly doesn’t drink), room for nine people, and fluorescent lighting in the ceiling that changes colour when the car moves. This is overkill, and I dread his reaction to this profligate example of superfluous luxury.

Me meet in the lobby, and I take Connolly and his manager to the waiting car. He settles into the plush leather of the back seat, stretches out his long legs, gazes around as the car pulls away from the Sutton Place Hotel.

“Is’na show business just fuckin’ wonderful,” he pronounces in his thick accent. “Ya get to ride around inside a fuckin’ JUKEBOX!”


One publicist’s week:

SUNDAY: My friend Shauna de Cartier, one of the brilliant women who run Six Shooter Records, calls at suppertime; would I like to go hear Luke Doucet at the Dakota, and if so, she’ll pick me up in 30 minutes.

Needless to say, Doucet offers a storming set, but he does seem s a little tired. “I think I could be coming down with something,” he admits. Afterwards, de Cartier, ever the mother, advises Doucet to go home and get a good night’s sleep — the tour starts in Saskatoon on Wednesday.

“Ah no,” he replies, getting another drink at the bar. “I think I’ll hang for a while…” No reports, as yet, as how the tour’s going.


MONDAY: Holger Petersen, amiable head of Stony Plain Records, is in town, “executive producing” a second Harry Manx/Kevin Breit collaboration for the Edmonton-based label. Dinner table talk moves forward to next year, when the label marks its 35th anniversary. They will be a combined double-CD + DVD release, a book of radio interviews Petersen’s done for CKUS in Alberta, and for his Saturday Night Bluesradio show on CBC Radio (currently in its 24th season on the network). And, perhaps, some festival packages of a shifting group of Stony Plain artists.

TUESDAY: Former assistant Jadea Kelly is back at her Tuesday evening 6-9 p.m. residency at the Cameron. One of the most cheerfully seedy bars in Toronto, the venue hosts two residencies a night, seven days a week. Justin Rutledge had the 10-to-midnight Monday spot for nine months before he broke out with the release of his first CD; Alejandra Ribera also played Monday evenings for a year before CBC radio play catapulted her into three sold-out nights at Hugh’s Room, a much bigger 200-seat club, and prestigious gigs at Koerner Hall, Massey Hall and the Quebec TV show Belle et Bum.

Jadea’s set (with a guest appearance by Luke Nicholson, who’s Royal Wood’s brother and is equally talented though not as well-dressed) indicates how far she’s come in the 10 months since she became a full-time touring artist. Simple lesson for all bands: The more you play the better you get.

The evening’s second act is Run With the Kittens, a local cult band that’s built its following almost completely by playing the Cameron. This is a punky four-piece with a lead singer whose on-stage persona is alternately arrogant and silly. The rhythm section’s as subtle as a dropped marble slab, and the whole thing is saved by Jamie Robertson, who is the most interesting and innovative guitarist in town after Kevin Breit.  I don’t get it, but the crowd — jammed in every available space in the small bar — roars its approval after every song.

WEDNESDAY: Ya gotta start in the bars, and if you’re not careful you can be stuck there for ever. Jay Aymar is at Dora Keogh, an Irish bar on the Danforth, where the audience talks throughout everything — there are bars like this in every town in Canada, and Jay’s played in ‘em all.  He’s too good, and so is his songwriting. Having heard the new songs for his new CD, due in the new year. I decide to stay home and make plans to help this guy escape.

THURSDAY: Meeting The Breakmen in town for the first dates on a cross Canada tour. Four guys, killer harmonies, bluegrass flash playing, and real heart in the songs. Rootsy rock and roll. They’ve listened to The Band, sound like an acoustic Blue Rodeo, but most of all remind me of The Byrds.  They’re releasing their third CD, recorded in the Yukon. Wanna sample?



FRIDAY: Off to Hamilton to deal with the first of four dates with Leon Redbone. Not a sellout, but pretty good. Redbone, arguably one of the most forgetful men on earth, alternately loses — and finds — his keys, his tuner, his set list, his clip-board, his false nails, and his telephone.

SATURDAY: Billy Connolly at Massey Hall, and we have tickets in the front row of the balcony.

He comes on stage to a huge roar of applause. “FUCK,” he roars. “The world is just FUCKED!”  We agree, but we laugh anyway — for all of a two hour and 20 minute performance.

Big difference since he was last on tour in Canada: Unlike most comedians, he is not shackled to a microphone. He now has a invisible headset mic – I’ve got a good seat but cannot see it at all — which allows him to wander all over the stage. A much more physical comedian than he used to be, he tells stories, not jokes — but he does end with one joke that’ll be in my repertoire for a few months, complete with my bad impersonation of a Scottish accent.  Wait ‘til I see you next…

SUNDAY: Leon’s at Hugh’s Room and it’s jammed. Disappear to hear The Breakmen, who sell out the Tranzac, a 100-seat Toronto club with all the ambience of a suburban recreation room in Saskatoon.  Added bonus: They bring in the astonishing Kendel Carson on fiddle. Apart from being one of the most beautiful women in the world, she plays brilliantly (and with dozens of different artists and bands). I could be in love.

And next week’s gonna be worse….


Videos of the week:

Four days in the company of the enigmatic Leon Redbone, leads one to the ridiculous. Here are two versions of a classic song, “Cocktails for Two,” rendered both inane and insane by Jonathan and Darlene Edwards, and, secondly, by Spike Jones and his City Slickers.

Alas, the first is not a performance video, but the soundtrack is worth your time. Jonathan and Darlene Edwards hides the identity of one the America’s best arrangers, Paul Weston, and his wife, the superlative jazz pop singer, Jo Stafford. The skill with which they mangle the song is impressive — that one of the best singers of her day could sing this so incredibly out of tune, on purpose, boggles the mind. And Weston’s piano playing cheerfully misses beats, fumbles simple runs, and is frequently in the wrong key. There’s a classic story that they had to fire the drummer on their first sessions because he couldn’t stop laughing.

In the ’50s, Stafford sold 25 million records for Columbia, and in 1960, as a gag, she and her husband invented Jonathan and Darlene, whom they claimed they had discovered in a piano bar. The resulting record was a smash hit, and they won a Grammy for best comedy album in 1960. Forgotten now, but well worth discovering anew.

Spike Jones unleashed plenty of musical mayhem in his day — this version of “Cocktails for Two” came from a movie short he made in the ’40s.