Sunday, December 15, 2013

Got Lucky- It's a Wrap!!

Done! The National Steel "Got Lucky" Blues Tour. The 2013 edition of my annual, national tour of Canada. Eight consecutive years of coast to coast shows- nearly 800 of them now- visiting places large and small, grand and humble. The National Steel Blues Tour remains "Canada's biggest little blues tour." 

Covering over 27,000 km by land, this year's Tour played nearly 100 mostly back to back shows over nine provinces from coast to coast: theatres, festivals, casinos, cafes, saloons, church halls, legions, house concerts, music stores, gas stations, breweries... I won't get into how many litres of red wine and how many litres of fuel. That's proprietory information. Fuel still leads... I have spreadsheets!

For the fifth year, the Tour stopped at Long & McQuade locations along the way for masterclasses and workshop presentations to local players. I've done over 60 of these now, and I've enjoyed them tremendously. As usual, the Long & McQuade/Yorkville Sound gear functioned flawlessly night after night.

Still no agents, managers, record labels, tour busses, or shiny new guitars. Or grants, pensions, or other subsidies. While I'd happily adapt to any of these- alone or in combination- I must acknowledge the growing role of house concerts in keeping my Tour wheels turning. As overhead in the larger centres rises, and the pie is divided among more parties, it is increasingly difficult for smaller commercial presentation venues to play a significant financial role. Without friends and fans up and down the line, life would be much harder. As it is, I'm pleased and honoured to be welcomed in so many places. A real privilege to do what I do. A big thank you to everyone who played a part in keeping this Tour going. It's always teamwork, and the presenters are often the unsung heros.

While I did not have a guest co-star for the entire Tour– as I usually do– I did have the pleasure of working with a many fine musicians along the way. In the early phases of the Tour: Joe Murphy, Morgan Davis, and Samantha Martin. 

Next, Libby Rae Watson came up from Pascagoula, MS and joined me for nearly a month of Maritime shows- a great experience (especially the trio shows with Morgan Davis). Expect more shows with Libby Rae in the future- we had a blast!

Matchstick Mike did a show with me in Miramichi, NB.

Keith Hallett split a bill with me in Moncton, after which we spent more time together in Edmonton. Ross Neilsen and his band also spent some time with me and split a bill in St. Albert, AB. See the whole gang just below- great shot of some road dogs!

Gord Macaulay kindly played bass with me in Saskatoon, SK, while Lynn Victoria facilitated us at her blues jam.

A big time was had in Winnipeg with Big Dave McLean, John Scoles and Joanna Miller.

Lastly, the McKinley Wolf Band– these guys learned all of my material and delivered a great show with me in their home town of Victoria, BC. At this point I am planning some full band, electric shows across western Canada- hopefully with McKinley Wolf to back me up.

Lots of great radio push on the Tour. CBC was very kind to me, and I made regional appearances in Charlottetown, Fredericton, Moncton, and Edmonton. As always, I visited with Holger Petersen in Edmonton. Numerous college and community stations supported the Tour, including stations in Halifax, Kingston, Ottawa, Thunder Bay, Winnipeg, Regina, Saskatoon, Edmonton and Victoria. All of these shows make a big difference. Like most blues artists, I earn my fans one seat at a time. Blues Societies played less of a role this year than in past years, nonetheless, the Tour would not have been the success it was without the help of the East Coast Blues Society, the Thunder Bay Blues Society, the Saskatoon Blues Society, and the Victoria Blues Society.

It's been another wild ride. A tougher Tour than in some years. Bad weather. Rough edges  from last year's auto wreck- a ripple effect of down time a year later. The new Lincoln Cartier Congressional is a great car, but it has sucked up huge sums of money in ball joints, tires, batteries, tire chains and window glass. On average I paid out $1.25 per litre of gas- with some regions being much more, and some being much less. The car has a great overdrive, that being one of the reasons I use it.

Motels are more costly than last year. Meals are more costly, too. Canada Post failed to deliver, lost, or delayed shipments of tour posters in all parts of Canada. One venue in Saskatchewan cancelled a show on 48 hours notice because they had not sold any advance tickets. Another venue in British Columbia had similar concerns- but sold out the show with walk-up ticket buyers during a snow storm! I didn't have to sleep in a parking lot that night.

Telling songs and singing stories has never been more of a pleasure. It's the delta songster tradition– and I guess I've learned more from Charlie Patton and Sam Chatmon than I might of thought. The shows have been going really well, and it's a growing fan base around North America. I've now met costs on the Narrow House CD, so it's definitely time to get busy and make a new one. Lots of new songs and stories, if I can ever get my ducks in a row.

Next year's National Steel Blues Tour will be announced in just a few weeks time. Meanwhile, I'm hatching plans to visit western Canada during the summer festival season. I've just confirmed the Salmon Arm Roots and Blues Festival for August. Other dates are soon to be announced. I'll be attending the Maple Blues Awards at Toronto, ON in January, and the Blues Music Awards in Memphis, TN in May. Spring dates are available for Mississippi, Louisiana and Texas.

Thanks everybody, for riding with me on yet another fantastic National Steel Blues Tour. This blog is a real slice of what it is to live on the road year after year, mile after mile, as an independent, touring blues artist. I live the dream, I ride the big tour. Alright, it's a working man's tour. I do it all from booking to marketing to branding, to writing the songs, loading the gear, running the sound, and playing the show. I drive the car down this blues highway and I pay my own way. I don't write much about my own music here- it's up to others to review my shows- but I try to share some of this blue highway with you. I hope you enjoy it. I appreciate your company. In the sidebar you'll find links to several previous tour blogs. There are plenty of good stories there, as well. A reminder that you can follow me on my Facebook artist page, docmaclean.deltablues.

Wednesday, December 11, 2013

I Arrive Home Safely- Got Lucky- One Heck of a Ride

From Blind River, ON, I nurse the car along through the night- stopping to sleep for an hour or two in various truck stops and gas stations along the way. I roll out of the Regent St., Sudbury, Tim's at 6:AM. Some driver was telling me that the 400 highway is closed between Perry Sound and Port Severn- but rolling out of Sudbury, things are not bad. They've been so bad for the last few days that the bar for BAD is now set pretty high. Nonetheless, by the time I get to Perry Sound things are starting to get interesting on the highway. This part of the road is pretty close to Lake Huron and, sure enough, there's a big "snow effect" taking place.

Contrary to reports, the road is not shut down. But as visibility nears zero, it might as well be. This road has traffic on it, and this is a very, very scary place to be at this moment. I get off onto a Muskoka side road and sleep for a couple of hours in a lumberyard parking lot. The side road gets ploughed, so I chance my way out to the big road. Snow seems to have let up... maybe I can get through before it starts again...

Not. This road has not been serviced, and the snow is blowing harder than ever. The highway is littered with ditch divers and I'm determined not to join them. After a couple of exits, I'm off again. Gas station parking lot for another two hours. At least these guys have got washrooms and coffee. Weather reports say more snow is coming and moving south! I do not want to spend another two days in this! When the snow lets up slightly, I shovel out the car and head off again. Once this road moves away from the lake, perhaps there will be less snow...

Conditions are as bad or worse than before. It's dark in the early afternoon. But suddenly, over a distance of perhaps half a km, suddenly I'm on clear road and in the sun! I've never driven out of a snow system so abruptly! What joy! What relief! Hammer down on the open road! I've not seen dry, clean highways since I arrived on Vancouver Island- weeks ago. Now, I'm on the edge of Barrie, ON, and just 100 km from home.

Toronto. I gas up, go through a car wash, and drive home. Motor off. Log book entry. Soon I'll be watering my dead plants. I carry my guitars inside and go for a long, hot soak in a familiar bathtub.

Tuesday, December 10, 2013

I Take the Chapleau Road, And Drive with Wolves

I drove past a pack of wolves up on 129, near Chapleau, ON. They were running along the highway between a rock cut, probably travelling about the same speed as I was. Deep snow. I was glad to have tire chains. Big wolves. They are always big. I could clearly see their eyes. They bounded up through the drifts into the woods. I held on to the wheel, downshifting, hoping to make the top of the hill.

An early start from my Zero to 100 Motel in Marathon, ON. I'm thinking that the road crews have had all night to scrape and sand- and open- the TransCanada highway running south and east towards the Sault. On line, I find that the road is still closed south of Wawa. That's part of the reason there is no traffic: nothing coming up, and the trucks further north are probably routing down 61 into Deluth, MN and the bigger, cleaner, Interstate system. But here I am, heading south to Wawa, a 250 km drive that will end up taking nearly six hours...

I only think to take pictures on the good bits of road. The rest of the time I'm busy, stressing to hold the road. Steep hills up, down, tight curves, ice, snow. Sometimes deep snow in drifts. It's white, dim. I'm alone out here. At Wawa it is snowing hard, the highway remains closed beyond, so I head up Hwy 101 into town to look for Tim's. I'll use their free wifi to check road and weather conditions, drink some coffee, and plan my next move. I'm glad to be stopped and indoors.

Reports don't give any hope of the highway being open anytime soon, but the maps show a secondary highway, 101, as being "snow packed and snow covered," but open. If I take 101 east for about 200 km of bush driving, and then take 129 south for another 200 km, I could drive right around the closed highway. And besides- these little roads are INLAND. There will be less snow away from Superior. I can't spend days waiting in a motel- the back end of this Tour has been running on fumes. I gas up and head out. The road looks small, but not any worse than I've just been on. And there's no traffic to worry about...

As the snow deepens and the hills get bigger, I stop on the road and chain up. I'm not liking this, while the sky had cleared a little bit at first, now the snow was starting again. Go back an hour and a half? Or press on? Press on, into the gathering darkness. Headlights on high, fog lights on. Nerves on edge. Wheels clattering on ice. Tires slipping in the snow.

Nine hours later I reach the TransCanada, Hwy 17, near Blind River, ON. Made it! Boy, are my arms, back, neck and legs stiff! It's a good thing the Lincoln has a sturdy steering wheel. That was like a ride through the dark side of Narnia, complete with wolves, lights in the sky- and probably beasts in the deep woods as well.

Monday, December 9, 2013

In Which I Head East to Find the Highway Closed!

Out of Thunder Bay early, but not too early. It's quiet out here today. My plan is to stop in the Sault for the night, and then make Toronto the following evening. The roads are better than I expected, given that I had to dig out the car this morning. After I clear Thunder Bay there are portions of road which are  actually sort of clear and wet. But the temperature is falling.

It does not take too many more miles for the ice and snow to edge back onto the road. Superior is tossing up fog, snow clouds, and squalls as I skirt the rocky edges. It's a great and wild inland sea.

It's pretty slippery, so I'm driving slowly. I'm not going to make the Sault until quite late.

Beyond this point, darkness falls fast, and the road covers entirely with snow and ice. When I reach Marathon, ON, I get off this two faced road. Now it is snowing hard. The road report now says that the highway has been closed entirely at Wawa! That's a long 200 km away on a night like this. I check into the Zero to 100 Motel. It's warm. I'm tired. I'll give the crews all night to clear this road for me!

Sunday, December 8, 2013

Thunder Bay, ON- House Concert is the last "Got Lucky" Date

That's what an oil pipeline looks like when it's running by rail. Blast this load through countless little places, everybody hoping it will cling to the tracks, hoping that the wheel bearings are good, hoping that the track is secure, hoping that nobody fucks up. Beyond Dryden, ON, the road is better than expected this morning. It's very, very cold. Tire tracks cut through the frost covering the cleared portions of highway.

I've got a big coffee, I've got Sam Larkin on the stereo, and I'm having the easiest drive I've had in a long time. I'm looking forward to the show tonight- the last show of the Tour. And my wheels are pointed toward home. The sun comes out from time to time, and my mind is free to wander past the drill of keeping the car on the road. Here's a good spot to stop and answer nature's call. For a fleeting moment I imagine I'm John Denver, high on drugs, or full of Bud... Hmm... Wonder where all this will end up... Things could go one way, or the other. Oh, dear.

W.C. Fields always talked about this place. I doubt that he actually visited here- but it always made for a good story. Fields collected place names he could wrap his tongue around. I wish I could play Kakabeka Falls! Actually, I've been thinking for some time about doing a Tour which would include only places with interesting, or similar theme, names. The poster would be great...

Top of Hwy 61. I should be coming back here in the morning and driving to Clarksdale, MS. Ah, but that's not in the Got Lucky Tour Book! Hey, I've had enough snow to last me until next year.

Local, Thunder Bay, ON blues musician Dave Jonasson is hosting me tonight for a house concert. Dave's a really interesting player who has toured with a couple of international shows, but is pretty happy to stay close to home. I always like to hear him play! Folks are arriving early for the front row seats.

We have a really good house turn out for tonight's show. This is nice. It is cold out. And snowing. A nice crowd with a bunch of familiar faces is a wonderful way to wrap this Tour. Given the strains and stress of this year's road adventures, the fans along the way have themselves been my greatest reward.

Jacket winner!! Genuine satin, white stripe tour jacket! Got Lucky!!

Post show I relax with host Dave Jonasson and local showman, Camden Blues.

Saturday, December 7, 2013

Green Achers of Wabigoon, ON: Pappy's Cafe

Still cold today. -32. It's been a big day. This morning the car was, as expected, dead. I had another go with the vice grips. There's a little rod that has to be turned to release the thing holding the bottom of the battery. I simply can't turn it with my vice grip wrench! I end up calling the Auto Association for a boost. Yep, she starts right up with a little help from a good battery. I drive back across the street to Canadian Tire. I'm so cold now I'll pay them to take out the battery! I've had enough. Except that the garage is closed today. So I'm on my own after all. I've left the car locked and running outside, but knowing that I'll need to shut it of eventually, I buy some heavy duty jumper cables. I used to own all this sort of stuff, but it was all lost in last year's wreck.

After breakfast in the Husky Truck Stop I've got to turn the motor off to buy gas. Good thing I have the cables! I need them! One of the guys working the gas station gives me a jump off his truck, and I'm off. I'm going to Wabigoon, hours early, to hang out and stay warm, get my guitars inside... Manager Suzanne, has a socket wrench set in her truck and it takes us all of four minutes to change out the battery! The Lincoln fires right up with the new kicker in place. The day is looking better!

It's cold, cold, cold. The roads are ice covered. And it is snowing. I'm told that there is an Elvis impersonator playing Dryden tonight, so I may not have a crowd out here anyway...

All set up and ready to go. Every travelling musician in Canada stops by this place sooner or later. It's right on the TransCanada highway. You can't drive across the country without driving past this little cafe. I've had some good shows here. People driving in from places like Sioux Lookout, Ear Falls, Red Lake. Downtown Wabigoon, ON. Tonight I've got maybe ten souls composing my audience. I give them what I believe to be a great show. I've got a good front row- what more do I need? These people have travelled on dark and icy roads to be with me- and I really appreciate that. Note to myself: NEVER forget to appreciate that! I know people who are out there tonight going through the motions with far larger crowds.

Outside it's even colder than before. Pappy's owner, Bruce, locks the place down and we both head off into the night. Nothing moving out here except the occasional semi. It's so cold the smoke from their stacks hangs in the air in long trails behind them. They are like dragons, growling along with so many bright eyes, so many expressions, so many complaints. They trace the ice road, and I wonder how I'm going to join them in the morning. About 400km of slick, ice highway to my show in Thunder Bay, ON. Still snowing, too. Back to my motel to call up the road reports- as if that will make a difference! The short drive to the motel is dark and slippery. I plan for an early morning, and a long day on the road.

Friday, December 6, 2013

Damn Cold- Really!

The seven year old battery in the Lincoln would not begin to crank that big motor this morning. Dug her out. Jumped her from Dave's truck. Took a long time to warm up as well. It's down at about -27, and there is more snow on the way- so I decide to get an early jump on the weather. Tomorrow I'll play Wabigoon, ON, just east of Dryden, ON. Today, I'll try and do 250 km of icy roads. Plan is to beat the storm and get in early. I'm going to take my time. Well, there is no choice. You'd think they would of cleared the TransCanada by now. But apparently not...

Dave and I have had a big time playing with my old National amp- and with the new copy he constructed from the blue prints for this amp. Pretty cool little rig! His has also got a tone control. National, Supro, Valco, and Gretch all used the same basic circuit for this little, one speaker amplifier. We also played around with a tobacco can pre-amp that Dave had recently constructed. Exactly what my new cigar box needs to sound boss through this small amp, low volume set-up. Big gain at low volume, and filter down that treble side! My CBG is not actually playable yet, but I'm looking forward to having her join the show once she's ready! Every time I hang with Dave I learn a little more about amplifiers and the parts which make them work. He plays with circuits and parts the way some guys play music with guitars.

Canada's national highway. A mass of ice with a bare spot down the middle. An Australian company has been given the contract to maintain this section, but they won't lower the plough blades beyond a certain point- they want to save money and reduce wear. You don't see a whole lot of commerce coming down this road today. And I'm thankful. The semi trucks have enough weight to hold the road at a higher speed, so they'll tailgate the cars, bully them into the ditches as if nobody else has a right to be out here. Some "bad weather- no pass" trucking laws might save more than a few lives. And pretty much every day sees a serious truck wreck somewhere between Kenora and the Sault. These boys can't actually go as fast as they think. They'll slide, too. And hard.

I reach Dryden early enough to visit Canadian Tire and buy a new battery for the Lincoln. These guys want a full hour of shop time to install it for me- $90- plus taxes on the labour. I pass, and buy some vice grips on sale for $9.99. I'll change it myself in the parking lot. It is -30, and I don't have gloves or real winter clothing- and my leather cowboy boots on the ice are cold, believe me! It's so damn cold that the car is covered in frost just sitting there. As the sun goes down I'm wrestling with the battery- it won't come out! What gives here? Frozen right in? Nah, there must be a clamp under it somewhere! Damn! I can't get the battery out. I'm frozen now! And the garage is closed. Thankfully, the car starts on the old battery, and I drive across the road to check into a motel. I take the new battery into my room to keep it warm for the night, and I google up Lincoln battery removal... I still can't feel my thumbs or toes. I put my feet up on the window mounted heater and blast it as hot as it will go.