Monday, 17 February 2014

100 day challenge: week 6

6 weeks, today.
I have almost completed half of the 100 day challenge.

25 lbs down.

I have had to punch 2 new holes in my belt.

I actually don't feel right until I'm on that elliptical. 60 power squats a day. I walk everywhere now. The shoulder rolls have made my guitar playing pain disappear.

The daily workouts, diet and supplements plan I am on has my mind focused like a lazer beam. I am accomplishing waaaay more in a day than ever before.

The change in my skin has been miraculous. I can finally look into the mirror and be proud of what I see.

I know I have a long way to go, but my goals are becoming more and more attainable.

I hope my positivity has not become sickening.

The greatest part for me, is my zeal for playing music is back. There are no aches from playing. I'm practicing and writing more, and I know my best music is yet to come. I feel like I could play a 3 hour show, no problem.

I actually feel like I am reversing age, physically, while embracing getting older, mentally.

I have never felt more brave.

Make success inevitable.


Tuesday, 16 July 2013

Touratribe Pt. 2: The House (Concert) Rules

Well, hello again. You look fantastic.

The tour with Samantha Martin & Sister Down (I would be the "Down") has been going swimmingly. A nicer crew I couldn't ask for.

This tour marks my first time ever performing at house concerts. I've heard many stories, both good and bad, regarding such events. Judging by my experiences on this tour, it appears I am in the throws of a positive experience.

The houses have been lovely, the weather wonderful, and the people, warm and receptive. Each host/hostess have been so kind and generous, not to mention, full of insight and experience on "what to do and what not to do". As common as these points may sound, it's always good to revisit them.

House Concert Do's:

- Be yourself. No one likes a fake.

- Clean up after yourself, or at least offer.

- Engage with people. People want to talk to you. Take the time to appreciate THEIR time and support of your craft. Ask how they're doing. I've found endless inspiration for songs by doing so. House concert attendees are a facinating bunch.

- Inspire the youth. Encourage their creativity. High fives are encouraged.

-  Let the hosts know ahead of time of your dietary requirements and specific tastes. Both sides appreciate this.

-  Relax. I know sometimes you have to race to the gig due to traffic/late flights, but leave that at the door. Take a 5 before you play if you need it.

- If you stay over at the venue the night before your gig, make your bed. It looks nicer and shows respect.

- Constantly use The Magic Words: please and thank you. These are more valuable than cash.

- Respect each others religious or non-religious beliefs. Debates are cool, but keep it light.

- Send a follow up thank you card or email. Again, classy.

- Smile. Laugh. You, your audience and hosts deserve it.

House Concert Don'ts:

- Don't be an ungrateful self-centered jerk.

You would be surprised at how many travelling musicians forget these simple points. I hope I don't sound preachy. I just want everyone to have enjoyable experiences doing house concerts.

Good luck out there.

I'm in Prince George tonight, and heading to Dawson City, Yukon to meet up with The Beauties and many other friends. I'm really looking forward to this festival. Many musicians I know claim it's Canada's best.

Saturday, 13 July 2013

Touratribe Day 1: Lee Harvey Awesome

Hello Crybabies.
Nice to see you again. It's been too long.

I am corresponding from an unseasonably cold Pembina, Alberta. It's about an hour out of Edmonton.
I'm on the road this summer with my dear friend Samantha Martin (whose album "Back Home" I produced) and 2 gospel/soul singers (Stacie Tabb & Sherie Marshall, respectively).

Last night we played The Pembina River Nights Music Festival. As fate would have it, headliners Lee Harvey Oswald (the psych-folk project of Canadian icon Tom Wilson) had to catch an early flight, so they traded their headling time slot for our slot before them. Closing out a Friday night music fest in Alberta? OK THEN.

Lee Harvey Osmond has had many great players in its employ over the years (Aaron Goldstein and Brent Titcomb come to mind immediately), but LHO's lineup at this show was primarily a trio, rounded out by the stoic rhythm section of John Dymond and Ray Farrugia. A few songs in, they introduced the talented Steven Fearing on electric guitar. Nice.

John and I have played together on stage as the rhythm section for the Sleepwalk Guitar Festival (curated by Luke Doucet), backing up the greatest guitarists alive, from James Burton (Elvis) to Nels Cline (Wilco) and beyond. Watching him climb the neck of his bass with a rapier-quick precision was a treat. You can tell these guys have been playing together for a while, and their friendship radiates to the audience. Ray brought a very cool, at times voodoo-like vibe to their overall sound. A dangerously versatile drummer.

Tom Wilson is a smart man. He peppered LHO's set with "Dig It" (a successful solo tune of his) and "Shine", arguably the best song from his former band, Junkhouse. It's enough to keep old fans happy, and new fans searching the crates for his earlier material. Tom has a deep, rich baritone voice that is all his own, but it should be noted that he is a great guitarist with a firm grasp on tremolo and delay effects. He pulled out a virtual cornucopia of tones from an old John Lennon style acoustic. Plus, his stage banter is warm, at times hilarious, and constanly engaging.

So, we had to follow THAT. This was our first show with this lineup, and the sound is sort of a mix of swamp-y gospel with furry slide guitars. I play kick drum, hi hats/tambo, electric guitar and man my own vocal effects. Sam and the ladies brought the thunder,  and it was nice to watch the group win over a reluctant crowd.  It's always nice to get an encore, even when now one knows who you are. I ran into another musician this morning, T Buckley, and he said the show was "life changing". What a sweet thing to hear, coming from another respected musician.

We are off to Valleyview AB for a house concert tonight. If last night was a testament to anything, this tour is going to be a blast.

Thanks for reading.

High five the elderly.


Wednesday, 19 December 2012

Candor Is King (End Of The World Edition)

It's been a while since my last blog, so I have some catching up to do.

Since we last spoke, I have been producing recordings for Sarah Burton, Krista Hartman, Bryce Jardine and Young Running. I've also played on records by Andy Kim and Sean Burns. Plus a live video at Catherine North with Whitehorse. Not to mention, I am nearing the completion of my own record.

I have also played on stage with James Burton (Elvis' guitarist), Albert Lee, Nels Cline (Wilco), Sloan, Divine Brown, Ron Sexsmith, Serena Ryder, Kevin Drew, Cindy Cashdollar, Dan Mangan, Madison Violet, Colin Linden and a pantload more. Not bad for a few months' work.

I try to give a little advice with these blogs. Often, people ask me how I get to play with so many great players. I get calls almost every day for gigs.

"Do you search them out?" Not really.
I have worked hard on my playing from day one. Focus on playing to a click (or, metronome) to the point where you can't hear it while you are playing. They call that "burying the click". Your relationship with a metronome should be a life-long relationship. Once you start burying it, people will start noticing.

Let it be known, not every recording should be done to a click. The Beauties record wasn't working with a click because I was a click player, but the rest of the band wasn't. So we ditched the click and drank some tequila. Perfect.

But technical fortitude and choppery aside, there is one word that will always land you the gig.

Candor. (Or, candour, as the brits spell it.)

The mark of a true pro is someone who can get along with everyone. I am still nurturing my own candor. I'm not perfect, that's for certain. There is something to be said for humbleness and humility. I have confidence with my talents. However, I am open to suggestion, always.

Sometimes it's the least schooled musician that will teach you the most valuable lessons.

I always say, 80% of the game is getting along with the people you play with. The other 20% is your application of skills.

Also, leave your baggage at the door when in a session. At least wait until the session over before you cry, get angry, or punch a clown. Take deep breaths. The Buddhists have this technique down pat. Believe me, this will earn you a call back.

You don't want to bring stress to an already intense situation. Time is money in the studio, but being patient and zen-like is crucial. My friend and engineer John Dinsmore (of The Lincoln Country Social Club studio, bassist for Kathleen Edwards and NQ Arbuckle) carries this quality. That's why he gets the gig.

I hope this sheds some insight into "the game". Being a polite and fun to be around person are traits I strive for. Playing and technique, while of course important, will always come in a shy second place. How can you expect to make inspiring music if there is a storm cloud in the room? There can be inspiration therein, but it's tougher to find.

Tell your friends you love them, today.


Thursday, 30 August 2012

Heckleland's Who's Who

Warning: The content of this particular blog may be offensive to "Haters". It contains coarse language. Reader discretion is advised.


It's been a while since I've had one at a gig. It's usually just old, drunk high school friends yelling "F*ck you, Downham", or something like that. I occasionally throw out a funny rib to lighten a mood.

(I always get my back up when people take themselves too seriously. Lighten up, friends. Life is too short to be so uptight.)

The other night I had one of those hecklers that was trying to physically ruin my show. During the first set of my last minute performance, this guy and his brother thought it was cool to just hop up and play piano over one of my songs. The bartender was new, and also fairly busy serving, and didn't know that I didn't really know them. I can't really blame her. So, she did nothing to stop them. Much to the chagrin of the people in the audience, the guy and his brother, drunken and uninvited, kept playing. I even tried to give them an easy one with 3 chords, but they still couldn't find the key, or the beat.

I mean, these guys couldn't find a pocket in a Levi's factory.


Before I started my next set, I kindly asked the brothers not to play during my set. They were wasted, but agreed to lay off.

Later, I invited a few friends up to play with me. As I was playing, one of the brothers (oh, let's just call him local musician Tim) decided to start telling me, as I'm playing:

"You should stop. You're always selling yourself. You're not good."

I laughed at first, but this was no joke. He kept pushing towards me, agressively repeating himself. Eventually I just turned my head and proceeded to give him the ol' hand to the face. He was then escorted out by the owner.

So, thank you Tim. You have proven to me that people can be both terrible at piano AND oblivious to the feelings of others at the same time.


I am reminded of The Causey Way, the band I saw open up for Wesley Willis (RIP) about 10 years ago. A fresh faced member of the audience kept squirting his beer on the female bassist. The singer politely asked him to stop doing it. The kid squirted her again. The singer asked again "Please don't do that." The kid squirted again.
Suddenly, the singers guitar came at the kid's face like a 6-string missile, smacking his face open in a bloody barrage.

No one helped him up.

Except the paramedics.

I'm not saying this is the correct way to deal with a heckler.

But in The Causey Way's defence, they did ask him to stop.

Some classic "on-the-mic" retorts:

"I'm sorry, I can't hear you over my awesome job."

"I don't come to your job and kick the cock out of your mouth."

"What do you want to be when you grow up?"

For free shows only: "If you don't like it, you can totally get your cover charge back. That, I promise you."

"Is it nap time already?"

Remember folks: When you have the mic, you win.

I guess the real point of this blog entry is a classic quote from our collective parents: "If you haven't got something nice to say, don't say anything at all."

As much as I agree, you should never show up to a gunfight with a butterknife. Be prepared. There's all kinds of people like the afore mentioned just waiting to bait and hate on you. Usually due to their own shortcomings.

(You can visit Tim Isherwood at

Also keep in mind: If you want a small world, become a Canadian musician. I get calls to play constantly, because I treat people as I would want to be treated. It's one thing to be a great player. It's another to be a great player with people skills. I aspire to be both, constantly. I have room to improve, and therein lies consistant inspiration.

Hug a musician today.

Know your worth.

You are where you are, because of WHO you are.

Hearts above all,


Monday, 20 August 2012

Let's Hear It For The Girl(s) ; Part 1

Upon listening to the incredible Suzie Vinnick ( at Summerfolk last weekend, I was reminded of how lucky we are in Ontario to have so many musically talented women. I feel so fortunate that I get to play with some of the most talented women in the country.

I would like to dedicate this blog entry to the women who consistently push the envelope. I hope that, at least for some of you, this will open your eyes and ears to some of Canada's finest female voices and players. These women are out there everyday, on the road or in the studio, carving a unique path in Canada's terrain.

I give you the first instalment of "Let's Hear It For The Girl(s)":

SARAH SLEAN: It goes without saying that Sarah is talented and beautiful. Throw in the fact that she is touring Europe with a small symphony in tow, completed a double record, and finishing her own musical, it's safe to say we all have some catching up to do.

SAMANTHA MARTIN: I had the pleasure of producing an album for this powerhouse vocalist, but what should be most noted for is her songwriting. Her newest record (with her band The Haggard) features gospel backup singers and yours truly on keys. For fans of Patsy, Lucinda, Janis and Mavis.

SUZIE MCNEIL: I had the pleasure of writing a song with her in Costa Rica on a recent trip, and can't say enough about her vocal dexterity. While the rest of us burned out our voices from singing every night for hours, Suzie could still belt out a Queen song without waning...while the boys croaked. She just released a new pop/rock album that is getting airplay all over the country. She plays harder than most, and deserves the credit.

MORGAN DOCTOR: I started playing with her with Andy Kim a couple of years ago, and have admired her enthusiasm for all things musical. She is not only a great drummer, but a songwriter, producer and even plays tabla drums. LA's loss is Toronto's gain.

SERENA RYDER: Serena Ryder sweats on stage. At least when I play with her. Over the past couple of years, I have watched her dedicate her entire being to song crafting, writing with some of the best in the world. I am honoured to have written with her, and look forward to hearing what she does with those tunes on her upcoming record. Watch her right hand, guitarists. Gibraltar has nothing on this rock.

DANI NASH: as either part of The Pining, or The Sure Things, Dani's energy is undeniable. A rockabilly/country soul with the heart of a lion. She's a small package waiting to explode. Keep your eyes open for her playing in Toronto at various venues. Deadly drummer, too.

ANNA RUDDICK and MAIA DAVIES: As the newest member of The Beauties family, Anna has been a delight. She graduated from McGill in the jazz program for upright bass, so she also has that in her back pocket. I've been enjoying watching her get her rock chops on with us, though. She is also a part of Ladies Of The Canyon with Maia Davies, who can throw down a country tune with the best of them. The rest of The Ladies reside in Montreal, where they began.

SCARLETT JANE: These gals seem to be perpetually on the road. I really enjoyed seeing them at Dauphin Countryfest this summer. With roots/folk hearts on their sleeves, they effortlessly bridge sweet harmony and rural road rhythm. Andrea Ramolo strums guitar, and Cindy Doire plucks bass.

SARAH BURTON: Here's another member of the perpetual-touring-team. Great songs delivered with a quiet conviction. Strength in the soft. A lovely piano player I must add. Her new album, Fire Breathers, is gaining momentum due to her hard working tour schedule. Oh, and because she's great at what she does.

GRAY: The artist formerly known as Brooke Harris has come to life as a pop/rock artist. Trained as an opera singer from a young age, she called me to produce some tracks with her. We wrote "Oh No", and I love the direction. I implore you to check it out at

CHRISTINE BOUGIE: I am always inspired by Bougie's work on guitar, but she's really shining as a lap steel and rummer, too. I consider her to be one of the tastiest guitarists in the country. Pure, understated excellence.

DANIELA GESUNDHEIT of SNOWBLINK: I saw her play with her partner for my first time last year in Saskatoon opening for Ohbijou (which also contains many formidable female musicians) and was lost in her tone and range. Elastic band vocals and a virtuoso of the delay pedal. Buy their record.

RONLEY TEPER: Very few artists what the artistic fortitude displayed by Ronley. In fact, dare I say, no one rivals her style as it is all her own. A visionary with stories to tell and the ability to leave your jaw agape.

JOAN SMITH of LITTLE FOOT LONG FOOT: Set your speakers to stun. A remarkably dexterous fuzzy blues player, with a voice to crush hearts and skulls simultaneously. Absolutely go see them if you like rock and roll in your rock n' roll.

Okay, I have realized that this list could go on for quite a while, so I'll leave it at this short list for now. I will make this theme a reoccurring blog, as the women of Canada are making more of an impact than ever. At least in my eyes. Please support any or all of the artists in this blog, and keep your eyes peeled in the papers. They may be playing close to you soon.

Please feel free to leave links to other amazing females in the comments section. I'm sure they will appear in the blog at some point or another.

To the thousands that have been reading this blog, thank you so much.

May your hearts be shielded by your souls.


Friday, 17 August 2012

Summerfolk, Summerjustplaincool

This installation begins in Vancouver. Beautiful, beautiful Vancouver. I have never been to Van when the weather has been so, dare I say it: Perfect.

So, The Beauties were hired to play the wedding of a celebrity. I was sworn under oath to not divulge the name of said celebrity on this blog...but just know that it was a comedian that I have the utmost respect for, and was honored to be in the company of so many actors and actresses I respect and adore.

Celebrity encounters have always fallen under the realm of the surreal for me. It's nice to know that most celebs I have encountered in my life have turned out to be fantastic souls. I don't gush over other musicians, generally...but comedians? I turn into a blathering mess. I have a deep appreciation for their timing and delivery. It's very akin to music in that sense. Plus, simply put, I just like to laugh as often as possible.

So, once the dust settles, I can probably divulge more names and tales. For now just know that it was possibly the coolest and most fun gig I have ever played.

But I digress...

After the wedding (which ended at 4am) we hopped on a plane from Vancouver to Regina. This was our first foray into The Regina Folk Fest, and they had us workshopping as soon as we hit the tarmack.

Workshops are exclusive to Canadian folk fests, and were originally used to keep traditional folk music and other world music alive. I've seen some of the greatest collaborations come out of these events. I've found more often than not that it's the least likely combinations that herald the most satisfying results.

We stared with a workshop hosted by Del Barber, and featuring us (The Beauties), Serena Ryder and the stacked lineup that is The Heartbroken. We were all pretty familiar with each others material, so the styles rarely strayed into unknown territory. Serena's new material I found to be very strong in particular. To hear her and Damnaiht Doyle harmonize is always a treat.

After that finished, we went off to another stage for a scheduled workshop with Great Lake Swimmers and Austra. Austra are kind of a wiccan-goth pop act, and GLS are a reverb-soaked folk/pop ensemble, so I was curious to see what we could collaborate on. I threw my hat into the ring first by throwing out "Play With Fire", a Stones song we like to play. It was the darkest version I have ever performed. The haunting voices of Austra enveloped the song with a shivering coo. Jay-Z recently tweeted that Austra was a band to watch. I'm curious to see where their output takes them.

We THEN played a "tweener" set...which I didn't get to do due to stage limitations...THEN we played the afterparty for the volunteers. 4 gigs in a day on no sleep can make for a peckish troupe. However, The Beauties realize that we could be doing something we hate for a living, so missing a few z's here and there can prove fun in the right state of mind.

I always get irked if musicians complain about playing too much. Have you ever worked drywall? Flooring? Built an olympic sized pool? I have. Suck it up, kids. We have it pretty good.

Fast forward. Tonight I played Summerfolk in Owen Sound with the incomparable Sarah Slean. I haven't played a show with her since our tour last year, so I was looking forward to playing with her, Paul Matthew, Karen Kosowski and Mark Mariash. Sarah always hires a band of the highest order and I am always honored to play with her. I am a fan of the consumate professional. Everyone shows up on time, knows the music inside out, and still carries a personal feel unique to the undividual. Stress is fleeting when these cards are in place.

"It's better to be an hour early, than a minute late."

Or something like that. Shakespeare, I believe.

Tonight I had the pleasure of seeing Royal Wood and his band perform pleasing pitch-perfect piano pop.

Sorry, I couldn't resist writing that.

What a band Royal has compiled. Dean Droulliard is a tone collecter to the highest degree. Everything in his pedalboard is boutique, but with a place and purpose. If you don't know how to play to a song, no pedal in the world will bail out your sinking boat.

Steve Zsarai is a stoic bassist, and great harmonizer. More bassists need to sing. He's in demand for a reason. 

You want gigs?
Sing as well as you play.

This also applies to Royal's drummer Adam Warner. He's the perfect mix of flair and function. A lefty who plays on a right handed drum kit, "open-handed", will always catch my eye. Plus he sings. The whole band sang.

I think it's important to any live show to have everyone singing. It's so much more engaging for the audience.

There are no wrong notes, if they are always delivered with conviction.


May all of your Riots be of the Pussy persuasion.

Love your own face.