Loose Blues News


November 2010 – Vol. 26. No 11 (download issue)


Remembering Solomon Burke: Solomon Burke was blues royalty and should anyone ever doubt it they need not look any further than his crown and his throne. In fact, a throne was part of  the requirements of his performance contract. Many a festival director had to scramble to fulfill that rider. And he was a true road warrior, traveling the world even when health issues made it challenging just climbing up to the stage. It’s no surprise that he passed away on his way to a gig. He died at age 70 on an airplane at Amsterdam’s Schiphol Airport after a flight from Los Angeles on Sunday, October 10.

Burke had a lot of connections to Toronto and was a fan favorite. Many local musicians had the opportunity to play with him as he often picked up back-up bands in different cities. “Playing” with Solomon was real play time. Despite his regal bearing, he never took himself too seriously and on stage would actually tease and distract the musicians in the band, as if rolling without a set-list was not enough. This writer witnessed his set at the old Rock Pile/Masonic Temple when he was here as part of the Southern Comfort Blues Festival. He signaled Michael Fonfara to take a solo then walked over and started pulling at one sleeve and ultimately removing his jacket while Michael performed a (mostly) one-handed solo – no problem for Fonf! (more on Michael Fonfara below)

Drummer Michelle Josef recollects Burke “sang from a total commitment to the song and had an intuitive ability to read an audience and deliver an unforgettable performance to them.  Their joy, their pain, their loss, their gain was also yours.  You connected with every tone-drenched note they sang. On stage he threw away the set list, instead he prompted and cued us with grand gestures and many hand signals behind his back, leading the 9-piece Houseband through songs we hadn’t rehearsed, complete with chord changes, dynamic changes, tempo changes, modulations, stops, starts-you name it. We sounded like we knew the repertoire intimately, but it was all a matter of keeping your ears on the subtleties of his voice and your eyes on him.  He DEFINED the meaning of the word leader. I have been playing drums professionally for almost 40 years, and I know that I will never experience that depth of musicianship, leadership, soul and spirit ever again.  Yes, there are bright sparks of talent and amazing voices out there but the environment that produced singers like Solomon Burke and Etta James is gone.  Both on and off stage, Solomon Burke was a legend.  After our performance, Solomon called the members of the band, one by one into a backstage area and graciously thanked us for a great show and warmly shook our hands.  Folded in his palm was a $100 (US) bill, as a tip and a token of his gratitude.  What a class act. His handshake and praise were generosity enough”.  

Publicist Richard Flohill adds, “I remember that show like it was yesterday. I remember Rebecca Jenkins sitting on the ground, soaking wet and getting wetter. I  remember Solomon singing a long, improvised blues, about Edmonton,  the festival, the band and the pouring rain… The man who was a powerhouse on Atlantic Records in the early 60s, a man who began his career as a boy evangelist when he was six — and made his first record when he was 12. He was the first artist who made soul recordings of country songs, and he wrote “Everybody Needs Somebody”, which was turned into a massive hit by The Blues Brothers.

Solomon Burke was a licensed mortician, he used to have a record pressing plant in Los Angeles, he owned churches in 13 American cities, and he continued to sing when his career was in the doldrums, playing small clubs like the Bluenote in Toronto. With a dramatically revived career earlier this decade, he toured the world with a 10 piece band, met presidents and the Pope, and rocked every house he ever played. How sadly perfect that he died on his way to a sold-out gig so far away from his home.”


 “Honouring Our Own” There will be a special evening honouring Michael Fonfara on November 30 at Black Swan. To celebrate and support local musicians and songwriters whose presence and work have made a big difference in the GTA music community, veteran players and promoters Jack Tassé and Pete Otis are teaming up to launch the “Honouring Our Own” celebration series beginning with a night toasting award-winning keyboardist Michael Fonfara on Tuesday, November 30 at Black Swan Tavern, 154 Danforth Avenue.

Fonfara, best known these days as a member of iconic Downchild Blues Band, was a founding member of Jon Lee & The Checkmates in the 60s, part of the seminal Rhinoceros supergroup in the early 70s, spent several years touring with Lou Reed in the 70s and has also worked extensively as part of The Lincolns among his many A-caliber musical collaborations over the past 45 years. He has been named Keyboard Player of The Year by Maple Blues Awards four times and has received numerous other awards, including Junos, as part of Downchild.

High profile talents such as Joe Mavety, Steven Ambrose, Paula Shear and Jon Long have already committed to perform at the event, which will start at 8 p.m., with a $10 door charge. For more information or to volunteer your participation contact Pete Otis Music at: peteotismusic@hotmail.com


Blues On The East Side: The Grand River Blues Society will be hosting the 12th Annual Blues On The East Side on Saturday November 6, 2010 at the Edelweiss Tavern in Kitchener. This event is in support of the annual Youth Blues Camp which takes place the week of the Kitchener Blues Festival. Headlining this event is Big James and The Chicago Playboys and Delta Moon from Atlanta Georgia. Also on the bill will be up and coming blues diva Mati Haskell.  There will be a silent auction as well as a raffle for a really cool prize. For more information or for tickets visit www.ticketscene.ca or www.grandriverblues.org


The Healing Power of the Blues in Action: With the acclaimed success of the Tracks of Kingston CD less than a year behind her, Monika Slack is doing it again. This time around to raise money to grant wishes to our healing children. Tracks of Kingston was a compilation CD consisting of songs by Kingston musicians to raise funds for the Joe Chithalen Musical Instrument Lending Library.

The Production Team for Wishes In Blue consists of dynamic Executive Producer Monika Slack, seasoned sound recording engineer Tim Greencorn of Little Chicago Studios and Videographer Ken Bowman.  The Musical Directors for this Canadian Blues Extravaganza are Jerome Godboo, Monkey Junk and Johnny Max.

Each participant in this endeavor are pouring their heart and soul into producing a CD/DVD set showcasing some of Canada’s finest Blues Musicians. The monies raised will go to the Children’s Wish Foundation of Canada.   Each year, thousands of Canadian children between the ages of three and 17 are diagnosed with a life-threatening illness.  The Children’s Wish Foundation of Canada is dedicated to granting an exceptional wish to every child. 

Additional funds will be raised through the sale of raffle tickets for a  Fender Stratocaster Squire Guitar which was lovingly donated by Pat Rush. This magnificent instrument will be autographed by each musician involved in the project. Exciting? You bet! You can follow the project on Facebook – Wishes In Blue and find out how you can be a part of Blues Musical History in the making.


The Blues Bookshelf: Blues aficionado Bryan Krull has just released his first novel, Lil’ Choo-Choo Johnson, Bluesman, and it is a delightful romp into the golden age of rural blues in the Southern US. It is a work of historical fiction about a young Mississippi boy who becomes a blues guitar legend. Earl “Lil’ Choo-Choo” Johnson left home at the age of 10, with only his father’s guitar, and stepped into the world of the Delta blues. A guitar prodigy, his music led him to play with blues legends like Robert Johnson, Charley Patton, Son House, Howlin’ Wolf, and Muddy Waters. Lil’ Choo-Choo’s story is a history of the blues, from sharecropper’s shacks on Dockery’s Plantation and whiskey-soaked juke joints in Depression-era Mississippi to the swinging clubs of post-war Memphis and Chicago. It encompasses the heyday of the Delta blues, the birth of rock and roll, the British invasion, the blues revival of the 1960s, and beyond. It is also the story of a man who overcomes adversity to become a successful musician and family man. It is available in a bookstore near you or directly from www.bryankrull.com

For something a bit more factual, but no less of a “fairy tale”, Wall Street Journal cultural critic Terry Teachout has written a definitive biography of Louis Armstrong, Pops: A Life of Louis Armstrong. Terry Teachout has drawn on a cache of important new sources unavailable to previous biographers, including hundreds of candid after-hours recordings made by Armstrong himself, to craft a sweeping new narrative biography. Certain to be the definitive word on Armstrong for our generation, Pops paints a gripping portrait of the man, his world, and his music that will stand alongside Gary Giddins’ Bing Crosby and Peter Guralnick’s Last Train to Memphis as a classic biography of a major American musician. Louis Armstrong is widely known as the greatest jazz musician of the twentieth century and certainly earned a pew in Blues Heaven. He was a phenomenally gifted and imaginative artist whose larger-than-life personality was tougher and more sharp-edged than his worshiping fans ever knew. It is published by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt


Hamilton Rising Star Award: Organizers of the Hamilton Music Awards have launched an annual showcase dedicated to aspiring new musical talent, as part of their annual Awards programme. The award which is geared towards students has been introduced as part of the HMA’s commitment to developing new talent and ensuring Hamilton’s music legacy continues well into the future.

The ArcelorMittal Dofasco Rising Star Search event will take place during the Hamilton Music Awards Festival at 8PM on Saturday November 20, 2010 on the Festival main stage located in the McIntyre Theatre at Mohawk College.  Students attending elementary school, secondary school, college and university are encouraged to apply to be part of this event. Tickets for the Rising Star Search Concert are $10 in advance (or $15 at the door subject to availability!!!) and go on sale at 12PM on Saturday October 30th at all TicketMaster outlets and The Beat Goes On Upper James. Tickets can be ordered online at www.ticketmaster.ca or by calling TicketMaster at (905) 527-7666. Students will be admitted into the Industry Awards at 6PM free of charge upon presenting Rising Star Ticket and Student ID at the door (subject to capacity/availability of seats). Tickets for all other HMA events including Lighthouse, the Hamilton Music Awards and this year’s Music Conference are also available through the above locations.

$1 from every ticket sold for the ArcelorMittal Dofasco Rising Star Search will go to An Instrument For Every Child, an organization dedicated to providing all students in Hamilton with the opportunity to learn to play a musical instrument and receive general music education.  For more information about An Instrument For Every Child please visit www.aninstrumentforeverychild.ca.

The 2010 Hamilton Music Awards, Festival and Conference are taking place November 18-21, at Mohawk College, Fennell Campus, in Hamilton, as well as venues in the downtown core.  Information regarding volunteer opportunities can be found at www.hamiltonmusicawards.com 


– Brian Blain, Pamela Tena