This is the "wrap" of the 2014, National Steel "Vagabond" Blues Tour. As such, it has more words than the posts which precede it. Here, I tell it like it is and call it as I see it from the roads I ride. It's also the most personal post of the lot. Thanks for joining me, and thanks for following along on this great adventure. I couldn't find a single picture that captured all the places, all the crazy, all the blacktop- so I'm leading with an almost random image from North America's most easterly point.
Out on the Blues Highway all things are possible, and some things are probable. I know this to be true. This year's National Steel "Vagabond" Blues Tour chalked up over 30 thousand km as I played over 100 back to back shows across 10 Canadian provinces and about 20 US states. Six thousand dollars in fuel. God knows how many gallons of red wine, how many cups of coffee. Didn't break or change a string. Shaving in truck stops with a dull razor. Sleeping in my car. Staying in homes both grand and humble. Places you've seen in magazines. Places you never want to see. A few thousand people with the mountains as a backdrop. A few people in a cabin, with coyotes howling in the distance. Roughnecks off the oil rigs. Crop dusters. Whales off Vancouver Island. Snakes in a Mississippi bayou. Dope growers. Fishermen. Politicians. Doctors, lawyers, First Nations Chiefs. People who march on Washington. People who run the damn place. Jockies and hot walkers. Fallers, miners. Truck drivers. Cotton. Bartenders and waitresses. Women who own things and drive too fast. Ministers to whom God has diverted vast quantities of single malt scotch. Painters. Photographers. Broadcasters and school teachers. People who just do what they please. I'd wake up at noon and drink bourbon with you if I didn't have eight hours of travel and a border to cross... I've done this Tour for nine consecutive years now. Or maybe I've reached a point where it's the Tour doing me.
To quote one of my favorite harp players, "it's my life, baby." So, if you are reading here, you are probably one of my people. You caught a show in Weyburn, SK or Haida Gwaii, BC or Fargo, ND or Clarksdale, MS, or Cherokee, AL... God knows where. Corner Brook, NF? St. Louis, MO? Port Elgin, NB? It blurs. Did we do drinks? Were you the sound guy? Maybe I stayed at your house one time, maybe a bunch of times over a bunch of years. Over two hundred shows a year. Theatres, joints, house concerts, cafes, festivals. Maybe I was playing outside the Variety Theatre in Little Five, in Atlanta, or outside the Walgreen in Memphis, just off the strip? Maybe I was holding court at Osgoode Station in Toronto. I couldn't live this crazy life without friends and followers all up and down the line. So thanks again. You are appreciated. I could fall off the edge of the world. I could die in my car in a Walmart parking lot. As big numbers now do the Facebook thing, this year it proved impractical to blog daily. These blogs are for the hard core, anyway. I tend to speak a little more freely here, and I can lay down as many words as I want. I've had to be pretty careful with my words this year. Maybe your mind just gets up to strange things when you spend as much time driving as I do.
Middle America- and lump middle Canada in, too- has a way of homogenising culture. The ever new, digital world we live in makes that easy. And it leaks. You don't have to be urban. 1984 has been late to arrive, and it's not quite what Orwell had imagined. The daily joy- or the horror- of being able to eat the same foods, served in the same establishments, by people who look and dress the same- and may even be the same- as one drives for tens of thousands of miles marks this chapter of North America's history. Stains it, rather. A greasy, fat smudged smear across the map. Granted, Newfoundland has a share of these troughages- but you can still stop on a main street in Corner Brook and have a Mess for your lunch. Or cod tongues for your dinner. What it is, 'bye. Just wait. I'll come back to this.
|Harper's new CBC. Canada needs a national broadcaster.|
Many years ago the iconic Canadian broadcaster, Peter Gzowski, introduced me to Joey Smallwood. Canadians- and Newfoundlanders especially- remember Smallwood as the larger than life, always controversial Newfoundland leader who brought the colony into the Canadian confederation in 1949. Joey loved jazz and blues, and in our conversations he regaled me with stories about visiting Harlem in the 1920s. He also invited me to visit Newfoundland for some "real hospitality." This year I was able to bring the Tour to Joey's hometown, Gambo, NF, and I was not disappointed. Nice that some of the loose ends in life can eventually form circles. What it is, 'bye. What it is.
Music is what it is, too. How about the Blues? Culturally, music is produced and consumed in identical conditions as the foods that surround it. There are more people and places and sounds under the blues umbrella than ever before. Middle America has put it's arms around us. The digital world has also made this easy. Indeed, as one drives tens of thousands of miles across North America, there is now the nightly joy- or horror- of being able to hear the same torn, blues jam set list nightly- played by a similar bunch of guys in a similar way. Yet the general quality of the musicianship is probably higher than it has ever been, and everybody seems to be having fun.
So what is it that is so profoundly unsatisfying to me about this? Beyond the contests, and the proliferation of look alike festivals? Beyond the super sizing of the primary blues flavors? I don't want to disparage all the hard work and success. It's all legitimate. It's all authentic, in it's own way. But nobody actually steers the ship of culture. It drifts where it will. And the Blues is not immune. As an art form it carries more baggage and more icons than any other. There are lots of exceptions, but American Idol finds it's own expression in our marketing, promotion, and ultimately in our blues purchases. Disney girls (and boys) are good for the Delta, and for Memphis and St. Louis and New Orleans. And Chicago. But I've never been a fan of Disney movies. What I crave is in the cracks around the edges of the big machine, the stuff in the little store around the block from the supermarket. Stuff that makes men cry. Stuff that makes women want to take their clothes off. Or put them back on. Stuff that might make some people in high places uncomfortable. Healing music. Compelling stories. Stuff that never goes to the five... Hot sauce and cold beer. You know what I mean- or I hope you do- and it's out there. You know some of the artists, too. Maybe you like them. Maybe you don't. That doesn't matter. What matters is that you and I can make choices. What I want to hear: real stories played by real people in real places. Real stories played by the people who own them. Living blues. I didn't say you shouldn't go dancing- I'm just asking you to sample the side dishes.
|Doc MacLean with Colin Linden, Nashville, TN|
When I left Mississippi in 1979 I didn't think I'd ever be back. Yes, I'd roll in for weddings and funerals, but that was about it. By contrast, the past few years have been very gratifying. I got to play with a lot of first generation artists when I was young, but recently it has been my association with Sam Chatmon, Hollandale, MS, and the BBQ Boys that has somehow come full circle. Colin Linden and I were the BBQ Boys- Chatmon's last band- and back in the 1970s we recorded for the Chicago based, Flying Fish Records. Now when I play Mississippi there seems to be no end to the number of these albums that arrive at shows to be autographed! Sam always told me that getting old would be good for business, and I hope he was right. Colin has done pretty well- producing hundreds of albums, getting Grammy nominations, writing, playing, singing, appearing on Nashville, playing with Bob Dylan... And then there's Blackie and the Rodeo Kings... But look what we were back in the glory days...
It's funny how a couple of festivals can change your numbers up. If I can believe the numbers Facebook serves me, I'm now more popular in Jackson, MS than in Edmonton, AB. More popular in Greenville, Meridian, and Biloxi, MS than in Regina, SK. More popular in Mobile, AL than in Lethbridge, AB or Winnipeg, MB. More popular in Clarksdale MS than in Saskatoon, SK. And I've played those Canadian locations dozens of times. Heartbreaking, or liberating? Or just crazy Google talk? I guess it doesn't matter, and it's hard to tell. One way or the other, it's likely I won't be sleeping in too many more Canadian parking lots.
|Sam Chatmon Blues Festival, Hollandale, MS|
|Doc MacLean and Libby Rae Watson, Clarksdale, MS|
|Deep blues at Bayport, MN|
|Salmon Arm Roots and Blues Festival, Salmon Arm, BC|
|Luther Wamble and Doc MacLean, Silverhill, AL|
|Doc MacLean with McKinley Wolf, Victoria, BC|
|Visiting Darren Brown, DB Custom|
Cigar Box Guitars, Canning, NS
|Doc MacLean with the Hupman Bros., Wolfville, NS|
|With BB King's choir, Indianola, MS|
|Blues on Whyte, Edmonton, AB|
|Doc MacLean and |
Austin "Walkin'' Cane,
|Catahoula Brown and Doc MacLean,|
Meanwhile in Toronto, what it is.
Although this post is "the wrap" for the 2014, National Steel "Vagabond" Blues Tour, in the days ahead I'll be working to put up posts for some missing dates. You'll find these to be mainly pictorial and by whatever time you have arrived here, these may well be complete. Check the sidebar archive for place names! Do Follow me on Facebook! <DocMacLean.deltablues> Thanks for riding along on the Blues Highway!