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.


Monday, 6 August 2012

The Regina Monologue

It's Monday at noon...or as I like to call it, "post-Sunday".

Last night saw us at The Dakota Tavern for our first time in about a month on a Sunday, Now, as you know, we (The Beauties) are the house band on Sundays, but due to a full summer touring schedule, we have had to sub the gig out lately.

It was nice to come back to such a rapturous crowd. I swear, every female in the room wore their most beautiful dress. Anna had to go out of town, so our dear old friend (and long time bassist) Paul Pfisterer sat in with us. Old hat. He delivered, and all was well. It was nice to play "Hearts Are Down" and "Southbound Suarez" (Zeppelin cover) with him again. Paul moved on from the band for reasons we all understood, but it's nice to know we can still play together and have fun. Therein lies an important lesson: Never burn the bridge with a band mate.

This week sees us travelling to to play a private wedding in Vancouver. Then, Sunday, we are playing The Regina Folk Festival. I am really looking forward to seeing some great friends on the west coast. The last time I played in Regina was last year with Sarah Slean at The Exchange, and despite the ragged setting for her specific brand of baroque-pop, it was an amazing show.

Everyone I meet from Regina seems to emanate pride and pleasantry.

Plus, they have a pretty sweet brew pub that delivers top-shelf ales, stouts and lagers.

Well played, Regina.

So, I leave for Vancouver on Wednesday. I have been many times, but does anyone have some suggestions to see/hear/taste? Please leave them in the comments section. I have 2 days to kill, and would love to see some fresh sights.

Keeping it short for now. Trust me, the next one is going to be a doozie. Consider this one the calm before the awesome.

Love your own laugh.


Saturday, 4 August 2012

What goes up...

...must come down...or, perhaps it gets crushed in the hold.
The bad news comes later in the blog. First, the good news from the past week:

Camrose, Alberta. A beautiful prairie town that's home to a couple of great music fests. We had the pleasure of playing at the brand new Bailey Theatre. Serena Ryder & The Beauties shows don't happen very often these days, so we made sure to bring the people something special. The crowd was a mix of young and old, and very open to different styles. Playing "The Funeral" is always a challenge and a pleasure. It's the best I've ever heard Serena sing, and it gives me goosebumps every time we play it. It's really the song that started me on my path of playing keys, drums and singing at the same time. We signed autographs for almost as long as the duration of the show. I am humbled by the affection.

After Camrose on Monday, we flew back to Toronto on Tuesday, where I went straight from the airport to AXIS. For the past 8 years, I have hosted The Junction Jam at AXIS ( Dundas West and High Park Ave.) every Tuesday that I am in town. Players come from all over the city for this jam/open mic. Sadly, the P.A. system stopped working around midnight, so an early end to the night was forced upon us. I hope they will have it fixed by next week.

Here comes the bad news: Somewhere between Edmonton and Toronto, my lovely Martin acoustic got crushed by the airline. Thankfully, my management at Six Shooter are on it, and I anticipate a positive outcome in the near future. I'll keep you posted as news comes in. I never thought it would happen to me.
I guess the lesson is "Never say never". I am hoping my insurance will cover this.

The rain kept pouring, as I had all of my weekend gigs pull out on me. Those are the breaks sometimes. One night you're playing to 10,000 people, the next you're scrambling to fill out your calendar because of a double booking, closed venue etc. In math, they call these things "variables". ;) Every now and then, you have to take a punch. The older I've gotten, the more I have learned about deflecting the cheap shots.

Last night (after a lengthy rehearsal with The Beauties), I got a last minute call to play bass with Tom Barlow and his fantastic band at The Bier Market on The Esplanade. It's funny how the universe works in your favour when you least expect it. Call it karma, call it chance, but all of a sudden I didn't lose a gig and I'm playing to a packed house of live music fans and dolled-up damsels. Despite the leaky ceiling, the crowd was really, really into it.

Tom Barlow is a consumate performer. His swagger and diverse repetoire make him a hot commodity for any establishment. I've always enjoyed playing with him, mainly due to his hard-working, fun-before-flash ethos. He sweats. That is important, kids. Most musicians could learn a thing or two from Tom. Tom looks like he's having fun, because he IS having fun. It's that projection that makes a show infectious. Never forget to enjoy yourself when you are playing, friends.
(Plus, he's a really nice guy, who puts others before himself. Thanks again, Tom.)

I have another "last minute" gig tonight (Saturday) at The Hole In The Wall. THITW is owned by some dear friends, and is already established as a staple of The Junction. Dundas West and Keele has never been this cool. The decor is reclaimed warmth, and the sound is surprisingly rounded and full. Plus, they have great booze, food, and fresh oysters (!). What more do you want?

Tonight, I'm playing a solo set opening for Young Running. I just produced an EP with them at The Lincoln County Social Club, and couldn't be more proud of their achievements in the studio. It's always a treat to work with a band who wants to be their own entity, and will work hard to get there. See them tonight, and keep your eyes open for them in the future. I anticipate success won't be far away. Their song "Coming Home" will coddle your core. I will probably sit in with them tonight on banjo and slide.

Thanks again for reading. See you tonight.

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