Tuesday, December 8, 2009

Lincoln and Cadillac Men

Nice, eh? Doc's Lincoln and Dave's Caddy. New blues rides for a couple of old blues guys. It's been a great, great Tour. Nine provinces, two territories, over 35 thousand km on land, plus marine and air transport. One hundred and four shows in 92 days. Ten thousand live blues fans, 17 radio shows, 2 television shows, Long and McQuade workshops from coast to coast. Over 1800 unique emails, 250 text messages, two trucks, one Maple nomination, one West Coast Music Award, two banners, 600 posters, four boomstands, one laptop, one iPhone, 500,000 mg. of vitamin C, 500,000 of vitamin D, 800 Advil, 50 bottles of Merlot, 800 cups of black coffee, one speckled grouse, 200km of running, one legal action, one wicked witch, one pail of cold water...

Dave and I pretty much wrapped the books on the Tour last night. It's hard to believe that it's over. The new rides are idling in the cold. We shake hands, embrace, and head back to our other worlds. West. And East. What a Tour. What a Tour. This was the big one, and we did it. Doc MacLean and Big Dave McLean. I'm so proud and so thankful to everyone who helped us out along the way. And now I'm bound for home.

Good-bye until next time. See y'all out on the Blues Highway.

Sunday, November 29, 2009

Last Tour Drive

Breakfast was better than I thought it would be. Well, coffee is really what it takes— and they had that by the bucket, so good. Now we're out on the last big run of this Tour, Bow Island, Alberta to Winnipeg, Manitoba. I've got to return the truck to the dealer in the morning, file an insurance claim to cover the damage done by Grill Bill. It looks to me that the whole, one piece front end of the truck will need to be replaced. Who would of thought that a bird could do that kind of damage? We didn't think the grill or the hood was actually broken. It'll be a mess for the body shop guys who end up fixing it. I'm glad I spent the extra $16 to upgrade my insurance coverage for rental vehicles. But here we go... the Caravan is pointed east.

So many roads. This trans-Canada Highway has many faces. Mostly pretty, and sometimes dangerous. For the most part we drive pretty cautiously. Over three months of driving we've only made a few really long hauls like the one we are making today. We set the cruise control, watch our mirrors, check our tires. It's all about arriving alive.

I don't have to wonder how much we've spent on gasoline on this Tour. The spreadsheets spell it out pretty clearly. At least we're doing better than we were last year when gas reached $1.40 per litre. I've been reading Jeff Rubin's book about oil and economy— and I'm largely convinced by his arguments. For sure, it's going to get much more expensive to do this road thing. It's a little scary as my working life depends upon national— if not global— mobility. As it is, I'm going to refine Tour revenue structure to more accurately reflect oil prices. Overall the Tour has suffered from an increasing difference between gross and net. In other words, the percentage of our income that we lose to non-discretionary expenses is growing. Most of this jump is directly related to transportation levies. I've managed this somewhat by increasing the number of Tour stops to maximize return on the distances. But clearly the bleeding continues and must be mitigated.

Not much talking on this run. The cd collection was left in Winnipeg along with Dave's suit— you did notice he wasn't wearing a suit on the last show? Dave and I sit, lost in our own thoughts. I know this feeling. It's the same at the end of each of these Tours. This life becomes so routine that it is hard to leave it. But we are tired. Very tired now. It is time.

The blog is way behind. I've promised to try to bring it up to date as soon as possible, but this is going to take a while. The whole legal drama with the person who shall not be named just sucked so much pleasure and energy out of the Tour. I spent a lot of time dealing with that, and not updating the blog. As our lawyer, Paul Sanderson said, at least we have enough profile now that people notice us. I am not going to discuss specifics, as this matter has been settled, but our right to perform under our own, legal names was questioned, and a legal action was launched to try and shut down the Tour. Obviously, we persevered— with the expert assistance of Paul Sanderson and Richard Flohil— but I can't begin to describe how draining the whole experience was. Thank goodness for all the really wonderful, thoroughly decent and outstanding human beings we met each day on the Tour.

Doing 104 shows pretty much means that we've met 104 presenters, enjoyed their hospitality, and have worked with them to make the shows a success. Nearly all the presenters were great to work with, and indeed Dave and I have come to regard many of these as personal friends. A lot of times presenters are the unsung heros of the music business. They take chances, work their tails off to bring in shows, but don't take the applause at the end of the night. Mind you, some of them take in a good pile of money by the end of the night— but most are ordinary, music loving folks, who also have expenses to pay when all is said and done. And how about all the other friends up and down the line who have helped us along? Folks who took us to their homes, treated us to meals and coffee at their tables. Folks who packed us lunches, gave us cds, helped us in airports, gave us tours of their communities... Folks who went out to their way to help us bring a show to their town, and who did their best to make us comfortable during our stay... I bet I owe about 150 people thank you notes. We don't expect such hospitality, but it really makes Tours like this one possible. Thank you. Thank you. Thank you. You know who you are, and so do I. Merci. Thank you.

This long, prairie drive will come to a close in another hour or two. As it happens I'll be on a flight to Calgary in the morning. From there it will be a bus to Enderby, BC. Yup, I'll be picking up my new Lincoln and driving it back across these same roads! Crazy, eh? I was hoping to drive east via Chicago, but I don't think I can take the car over the border with its temporary, transit sticker. It will be an interesting ride anyway. I'm flying my 12 year old son, Alasdair, to Kelowna. He's going to ride home with me, and I'm very much looking forward to seeing him.

I drop Dave at his home in Winnipeg. Big hug. Handshake. I'm off to my hotel at the airport.

Saturday, November 28, 2009

Last Date: Blues at the Bow

We're up early, but not too early. Canadian winter is clearly starting to catch up to us, and the ride promises to be interesting. Not too interesting, we hope.

Things are looking a little better by the time we roll into the Bean Capital, so we check into our hotel and then circle around to take a look at the venue.

We can tell this is going to be a very cool gig. Actually, the venue is rather famous in Canada— it's just an exceptional blues room. Dave and I are looking forward to it, although in a blue sort of way. This is the last show of the Tour— and we've really enjoyed ourselves. Not only that, but we are sharing the bill here tonight with our pal Tim Williams, so our show will be a short one. We've known this for a long time, but it's hard to believe the end is near. It's an early sound check and load-in, so we stroll inside.

The place is busy in mid-afternoon— sound and lighting techs are busy, bar people are busy, Tim Williams and his band are already here. We carry our gear in and get down to work as well.

It's always a pleasure to run into Tim Williams. I love the way he plays. He should be way better known than he is. If you don't know him, Google him up. We are very pleased to be sharing a bill with Tim and his excellent band.

Some of you will recognize Suitcase James as Alberta's top blues-roots bassist. These guys are actually playing the Saddle Dome with ZZ Top tomorrow night.

While the bar gets ready soundcheck continues.

Before you know it, we've done soundcheck, been out for dinner, got changed, and it's night time and show time!

Go figure, nobody took any pictures of our set— at least not with our camera. Send us a jpg or two would ya, somebody? We had a fun set, all too short, with Tim Williams sitting in on mandolin for a couple of numbers. That's Willie P. Bennett's mandolin he's playing. Sort of gave me a little shiver...

Between shows we went outside to take in the street scene and the lobby.

Blues at the Bow has been an exceptionally friendly place to be. We are impressed by the dedication of all the volunteers. This great old theatre was completely renovated and rebuilt by these blues fans so they could bring substantial shows to this corner of the map. There's plenty of time and effort in all the detailing. We are so pleased to have had the chance to meet everyone, and to play this venue.

Dave and I retire to the Green Room and watch Tim's set from sidestage. It's been a great run. Hospitality is good, and there are little sandwiches, and dip, and beer, and water, juice, wine... I have a glass of red and survey the room. This is one of those places where it seems like everyone has played. All the names and autographs are up on the wall.

We figured we'd leave our mark, too.

It's kind of fitting that the last photo I take on the last show of the Tour should turn out to be my favourite. It's my favourite tonight, at least. We've had a ball, and we're tired after 104 back to back shows! But gosh it was good, and we're a little sorry that it's over. Thanks Blues at the Bow, for helping to make this night so special.

Back at the motel there's no internet and no heat. It's right next to the railroad tracks, so a couple of big freights wake me up and hum me back to sleep. Big drive in the morning. I'll dream of the white line. These days when I close my eyes I'm always moving.

Friday, November 27, 2009

Sold-Out Show in Swift Current!

Yes, I know— the giant wheat is in Weyburn, but that's where we are starting. So, yes, big wheat. Gotta love it. Art in an oil town. We've only got a few hours of driving today, but Dave and I are up early and searching for breakfast. Alas, no diners of the sort we like. Another Canadian breakfast at Tim's! Fortified by coffee and bagels, we troll the town for pawnshops and thrift stores. The Sally-Ann store has just opened, but there are no old National guitars to be had... so we hit the highway. Good-bye Weyburn. Until next time.

It's an easy drive, and we stop in Cadillac because Big Dave is a Cadillac kind of guy.

We roll into Swift Current, where we'll be performing at the Art Gallery of Swift Current this evening. Early, so we GPS our way to our hotel to have a rest before load in and sound check. The rooms are really nice, and the presenters have provided us with goody baskets— snacks, fruit, organic wine. Very nice, and most appreciated. After a short nap we make our way across town to the venue.

The Art Gallery of Swift Current is a large, modern building, well designed and presented. Our show is in an auditorium/gallery space. It is beautifully equipped with banks of overhead stage lights, and it is clear that they have got a top flight sound company working with us on this show. This is going to be nice! I've been trying to book Swift Current into the Tour for several years now— but the dates never seemed to line up before. Big Dave has played this hall several years ago, and he assures me that it is a good one. The sound tech certainly knows his stuff, and Dave and I are finished our set-up and check in record time.

We return to the Hall after dinner to find that it is filling up. Apparently all the tickets have been sold. That's always good news. CD's are being sold in the lobby, along with wine, beer, snacks. This IS nice! We are so busy that we neglect to get pictures of the building or its lobby. Showtime! This is to be our last complete show as our final show tomorrow will be a single set. Dave and I have come up with a lot of material over the last three months, and this will be our last chance for us to hear and enjoy some of it. We are both pretty pleased at the way this show has developed. Tonight we are both really on. I'm just soaking up Big Dave's fabulous playing. And I felt that I had NEVER sung some of my own material as well as on this evening... Photos?

Well, I asked the crowd to pass around the Tour camera and take a few snaps for us... I didn't get all the stage views I was imagining, but the pics are kind of cool. So here's what we found in the camera! There's quite a few, so you may want to fast scroll if you are not from Swift Current...

We had a ball. I can't remember what we played for our encore. A great way to bring the Tour to the (almost) end. Dave and I both had quite a few fans come out— and I guess we made a bunch of new friends this evening. Nice. I just wish it wasn't snowing outside!