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Tuesday, December 27, 2011

6th Annual Turton-Lewis Boxing Day Singalong & Jam

In 1975, this suburban hippy boy got in a truck and moved to Bear River, Nova Scotia as part of a back-to-land commune called Dogsnest Farm. Jesse's mother, Ramona LeBlanc, was from Pictou County and introduced me to down-east culture, including the Boxing Day kitchen party. When we all eventually moved back to Ontario, our daughter Teri carried it on at her home near Peterborough. Ashley Condon, my PEI-raised, Canadian Folk Music Award-nominated niece was living with us six years ago when we decided to continue the tradition here in Guelph.

That's how the Turton-Lewis Boxing Day Singalong & Jam started. We moved out the furniture, prepared the best homemade food, layed out the instruments, spread out the chairs, and invited all and sundry to eat, drink, sing, jam, and be merry through afternoon 'til midnight.

It would start with an easy-going afternoon jam and turn into a mini-Woodstock by about 7:00 pm, when the dining room, living room, hallway and every step of the stairs was shoulder-to-shoulder belting out all our favourite songs. When the house was shaking from the massive harmonies it was like nothing I'd ever felt before. That was what inspired Ashley and I to start our Singalong events with our now-famous songbooks. Something this good could not be kept to ourselves!

It was also this Boxing Day wing-ding that inspired me to record AT HOME. Last night it was a special thrill to sing some of those songs right here where we recorded them—with the whole houseful that inspired the music in the first place! Many thanks to everyone who came and made it the special day that it always is.

Thursday, December 22, 2011

Year-end reflections

For me, Christmas is neither religious or commercial. It is a time when things slow down. Daylight is at its lowest ebb, and things go into hibernation, gathering energy for the coming year.

At this time when I slow down and reflect, the first thing that comes up is a question. Why do I sing?

The first answer? Because it feels good.

I really enjoy the sensation of singing, the sensation of the body vibrating that way.

I like that this reason is independent of goals, success, or the approval of others. I can simply open my mouth and it's done.

Tuesday, December 20, 2011

Slide technique

We were playing in Oakville a few weeks ago and a young musician from the opening act came up to me and said, "I'd love to play more slide, but when I do, it just doesn't sound as clean as you." Now this young laddie was pretty good on guitar, so I knew he could do it with a few tips.

I responded with three words, "muting and intonation." Pluck with your fingers and touch down on any string you don't want to ring. Pluck and touch, pluck and touch. It's as much about what isn't ringing as what is. Muting keeps the unwanted notes quiet and that's half the battle.

The other element is intonation—being ruthless about playing the slide right over the fret. You can slide up to or away from the note, but when that main note is plucked it needs to be in tune with the rest of the music. If necessary, shift your head angle or guitar position to check.

Slide 101.

Sunday, December 18, 2011

New mini-doc video of "Ain't Gonna"

Check out this video—produced by Jane—of the recording session for "Ain't Gonna," on Saturday, April 23, 2011.

It's very raw, taken from cameras in position throughout the house. The sound is from the cameras, which is why the volumes shift as the camera views shift. This was a totally acoustic session, so when the image from the dining room drum-and-harp camera is on, you can hardly hear me singing or playing, because the drums are a louder instrument and the camera at that point is close to the drums. After viewing the video have a listen to the recording to hear a balanced mix from all microphones.

Also, make sure you listen carefully—the fun is in the candid commentary between takes!

You can also catch this on the video page of my website -

Wednesday, December 14, 2011

Being a localist

I have recently learned that "localist" is the word given to those who espouse a lifestyle that attempts to rely on local resources. Aboriginal humans lived sustainably within nature for almost a million years without significant population growth before the first signs of civilization about 12,000 years ago. 

This aboriginal lifestyle was a localist lifestyle—everything they needed they got from their immediate territory, or within a repeated migratory pattern. If they traded with other tribes, it was never for essentials. 

Once humans began to take more than they needed or live outside their means, they denuded the landscape and had to go further afield to get their needs met, which leads us to today, where we eat greens that are grown thousands of miles away and trucked the distance, burning fossils fuels along the way.

I believe that a return to localism is a must if we are to maintain a livable planet. This is one of the reasons I recorded AT HOME, using musicians and gear from right here in Guelph. And it's also why I spent hours cutting and piling wood today! It all fits together . . .

Tuesday, December 13, 2011

Badass Bowman

You like the groove in my tunes? Here's the dude who abides with the beat—Adam "make-it-nasty" Bowman.

Photo by Kate "make-it-purple" Vanderhorst.

Monday, December 12, 2011

What now?

All of the official CD release shows are done, and the memorial service for Jane's father is completed. It's been an intense time.

The work now continues in many different ways. As much as we would have liked to, we haven't had the time to apply for every folk/roots/blues festival, and send CDs to every radio host and music reviewer. I'm launching into that this week. 

I'm connecting and following up with every presenter and venue owner I know to get gigs in 2012, and the calendar is starting to take shape. Respectful persistence pays off. 

I'm not a big fan of driving distances—especially in snow storms, so I tend to let January and February slide. I'm having knee surgery on January 9 for a cruciate ligament I tore a year ago playing soccer, so that'll lay me up anyway. I feel fortunate that I also have a deeply meaningful career as a therapist to sustain me when I need some down time. 

Winter will also be a good time to focus on new songs, getting Jane's full-length CD into pre-production, and getting to the final draft of a book I've been meaning to write for years now. Never a dull moment!

Friday, December 9, 2011

Penguin Eggs review

Penguin Eggs Magazine (Canada’s foremost folk/roots publication)
Winter 2011

By Doug Swanson

Sam Turton: At Home

Sam Turton is a lucky man. A gifted singer and songwriter, he was able to draw on his vast network of talented friends and relatives to produce a heartfelt CD called At Home, made, well, at home.

Over three weekends in 2011, Turton and his life partner, Jane Lewis, conscripted the willing at their Guelph, ON, home to participate in this unique project. The house was turned into a compartmentalized recording studio, with the piano, vocals and guitar in the living room, drums and harmonica in the dining room, accordion in the kitchen, bass in the . . . well, you get the idea.

The result is a harmony-laden, soul massaging album that strokes all the comfortable, noble chords in life: peace, love, compassion, and understanding.

Familiar names helping with the project include, among others, Tannis Slimmon, Laura Bird and Katherine Wheatley.

Monday, December 5, 2011

Mapleblues Magazine review

Mapleblues Magazine: December 2011
John’s Blues Picks by John Valentyn
Sam Turton: At Home (Self)

A roots music road warrior now residing in Guelph, Sam Turton has a strong sense of local living and community-shared music. To that end, he set up his entire home as a recording studio and invited some friends to join in for a “real music” session. In the notes he emphasizes the importance of being at home and among friends there, and to his great credit, he has pulled it off. Recording studios have control rooms where you have, well, control. At home, you don’t have that. Turton has included snippets of dialogue & music between the songs proper and the overall effect is exactly what he was after. We can all give thanks to Nik Tjelios, an expert at location recordings.

Turton describes his music as a ‘roots-blues-gospel gumbo packed with slide guitar and soul-fired harmonies’ and that’s what’s here. All of this effort would not have mattered much if the songs didn’t stand up as well as they do. “Next Time” is billed as a slide blues/gospel barnburner about life in a troubled family—as advertised, a keeper. Ain’t Gonna” is even bluesier, a call to stand up and speak out. “Oh Susanna” gets a very different arrangement and Turton comes across a little like Lyle Lovett, and that’s a compliment. “I’m On My Way’ is a fine performance of a traditional call-and-response gospel tune, a performance very much like one Ken Whiteley would have given. The vocal responses here and elsewhere are by his partner Jane Lewis, Tannis Slimmon, and Katherine Wheatley, and they are indeed soul-fired. Larry Kurtz adds harmonica and the core band consists of Jesse Turton on bass and Adam Bowman on drums. He’s leaving his home quite a bit there days to showcase the album and you can check out a concert near you at You may not be at his home but you will get a good show with some excellent songs.

Saturday, December 3, 2011

I love this woman

The incomparable Jane Lewis singing at the Guelph Little Theatre.

Photo by Larry Kryski.

Friday, December 2, 2011

Sad times

Two days ago Paul Lewis, Jane's father, passed away after a year's struggle with pancreatic cancer. The last two months were a difficult decline for him, which made it a strange time for us, as it was in parallel with the excitement of the CD release and concerts.

One thing I will always remember about Paul was his unique medley of songs on the piano—God Save The Queen, Waltzing Matilda, Oh Canada, Old Man River, Oh Susannah, Camptown Races—all rolled into one meandering piece that hung together as if it had been originally written that way. And it was all tied together with great gospel-style walk-ups and roll-downs. 

His favourite traditional song of ours was "Swing Low, Sweet Chariot," and I think it may be a while before we do that one again. About two weeks ago in hospice, Jane's mother Janet asked him if he wanted to hear some music, perhaps my CD, and he said, "No, not that!" Jane's mother was a bit puzzled and then he said, "Those songs, like 'Sinner's Child,' you can't get them out of your head!"I think that's a great compliment.

In honour of Mr. Recycling (crushed cans for Christmas tree ornaments) and the creator of the "Christmas Pig," (a story for another day) here is a great old photo.

This is the extended Lewis family, circa 1974. That's Paul upper left with the dark-rimmed glasses, Janet below him, Andrew Lewis on her lap and next to Andrew on the floor is a blonde, wavy-haired Jane. Keep smilin', Paul.

Monday, November 28, 2011

Jesse Turton

My son, Jesse Turton, was born on July 24, 1976. His mom, Ramona, and I were caretaking a farm with no electricity near Port Lorne on the Bay of Fundy. It was the back-to-land hippy era, and I was loving every minute of it. I used to sing to Jesse in the womb, and he has made music since he was born. He is a stellar talent and I'm lucky to have him playing with me. Make sure you check out his uber-cool website from the link!

Talented—and mighty handsome!

Here we are doing a duet for the Guelph CD release show—"I'd Rather Be With You."

Sunday, November 27, 2011

Concert Photos #3


This photo was taken by Simon Bell during the rumba-blues rave-up version of Hound Dog. Friendly smile!

Jeff Bersche as MC. Jeff is an amazing singer in the Great Wooden Trio, and is one of the warmest and funniest guys I've ever met—a natural for the job!

Jude Vadala leading her powerful tune, "Molly," from her recent CD. I got to do a gritty electric slide riff throughout.

Saturday, November 26, 2011

Concert Photos #2

Here are some more shots taken by Bruce Shapka at the Guelph Little Theatre.

We're singing "Yes Indeed." Jane is playing her Zydeco accordion part with the stellar harmony section of Tannis Slimmon, Laura Bird, and Katherine Wheatley.

The stage is getting full for the a capella work song, "Pilin' Line." From left: Adam Bowman, me, Laura Bird, Rich Maynard-Langedijk, Joni NehRita, Tannis Slimmon, Jeff Bersche, Mike Driscoll, Katherine Wheatley, Dennis Gaumond, Stu Peterson, Tricia Brubacher, Jan Vanderhorst, Tannis Maynard-Langedijk, and Guy Stefan. Jane and Jesse are in the back, out of sight!

One of the encore songs—We Want Peace—with the whole gang, and the addition of the lovely, multi-talented Heather MacRae second from right.

Wednesday, November 23, 2011

Concert photos #1

I've now moved from crazy busy to just busy, which means I have time to do things like post photos of the shows. Here are some from the concert at the Guelph Little Theatre, taken by Bruce Shapka.

Adam Bowman, Sam Turton, Jesse Turton, Jane Lewis performing "Hard Task."

Adam, Jesse, Sam, Jane, Tannis Slimmon, and Larry Kurtz performing "Ain't Gonna." Barb Bryce did a great job of stage design—with a fireplace, and my 1971 "teapot" painting from over our home fireplace!

Performing the gospel classic, "I'm On My Way," with Jane, Tannis, and Katherine Wheatley doing three-part harmony call-and-response.

Saturday, November 19, 2011

More shows!

Since my last post we've done CD release shows in London and Hamilton, with my other full-band show in Niagara tomorrow evening. 

I've been developing a following in London since first appearing at the Home County Festival. I've played some gigs with Catherine McInnes (Home County's artistic director) and super bass-player Steve Clark, and it takes a while for awareness to build. This time was a tipping point, and the room was almost full. 

Catherine and Steve opened up with five of Catherine's insightful, piano-based songs, and then Jane and I took the stage. Steve stayed on and Catherine played snare drum and added a third harmony. Previous to the gig I send them some charts, and we rehearsed for an hour and a half in the afternoon before the gig. They are consummate pros and it sounded great!

Last Thursday was my first foray into Hamilton, a community that doesn't know me at all. I booked the great Alfie Smith to open and jam with us (Jane and Tricia Brubacher) because his music complements mine and to see if he could introduce his following to me. I had done all the right things—been on radio the Saturday before, had a poster out in time, got a news release to the Hamilton Spectator for which we got a "Best Pick" for that night. 

Not that many people showed up, however, which follows what Alfie said: "Sometimes I've done nothing and the place is packed, and other times done everything and played to no one—I've given up trying to figure it out." 

I don't let that stuff bother me anymore, because the people who come are deserving of a good show, and every person who loves the music is valuable. The folks that came were knocked out and bought CDs. Alfie booked me for a gig with him, Tricia's mother offered us a gig at her house concert series, and the venue owners Judith and Ron want us back for an "Art Crawl" and a regular singalong at their Artword Artbar! So things worked out very well indeed.

Tomorrow night I'm taking the five-piece with Jane, Tannis, Jesse, and Adam to Niagara-on-the-Lake to play for my old hometown crowd at the Old Winery Restaurant. Maybe I'll see you there . . .

Tuesday, November 8, 2011

Juno awards and quality of attention

I slept most of the afternoon because Jane and I were working until 3:30 last night and up at 8:30 this morning to finish my submission for the Juno awards.

Judgment and competition are detrimental to the growth and freedom necessary for true expression, but here we are in the music world doing just that with awards programs. Why do I bother submitting? 

Unfortunately, recognition from awards, reviews, and press affects how people pay attention to music. if an artist has some sort of recognition—or buzz—as they say, people become curious, pay attention to the music, and then are more likely to actually experience what the artist is doing. If the same artist, with the same songs does not have that recognition, the same audience is likely to neglect the performance—in spite of its quality—and miss the whole thing.

It's very much about the modern psyche and the inability of many people to slow down and pay attention. So rather than complain about it, I accept it as part of life at the moment, and work at being more attentive myself, and attend to the aspects of my music that develop human connections and recognition. I believe in the quality of my songs and the human virtues that they stand for, so it's worth it to me that I focus on the consciousness of attention. That's the essence of awareness anyway.

Sunday, November 6, 2011

Home town CD Release success!

Jane and I woke up and got ourselves together. She showered and had her breakfast and coffee. I showered and had my rice milk-yogurt-egg-banana-Greens Plus-blueberry power shake. I was buzzing enough from anticipation that I didn't need coffee.

Jane got to work preparing food for the Green Room at the theatre and for our after-show party back home. Jesse had made hummous, and everything was looking good.

I checked my email and dealt with last minute on-line ticket sales. I posted my last Facebook status update. Then on to ticking items off my list: gathering tools and 2x4s for Pilin' Line percussion; changing the batteries in my Yamaha pick-up; gathering cash for the day's stage, lighting and sound workers; printing out set lists; gathering CDs for prize winners, rehearsing a couple songs with Jane; organizing my guitars and gear; choosing our clothes. Then on to loading the car and finding a place for the teapot painting that would be a focal point for the stage set.

Adam came over, grabbed some drums and loaded Jesse's gear in his car. Off they went for lunch. Jane and I headed to the wonderful neighbourhood café and bakery "With the Grain" and bought some homemade sandwiches to eat at the theatre. They have the most wonderful chalkboard art for their menus and specials, and I just had to compliment the young lady who does them. These people are unsung heroes and we'd all be a bit more happy if we showed our appreciation more directly. Live and love local, I say.

Then off to the Guelph Little Theatre. A great deal of the set for the previous play was still up, so Barb Bryce, my stage specialist, and Jim Hoare, her carpenter/helper took care of that and setting the stage with everything from a fireplace and sofa to plants and lamps, which Jane helped direct. Barb hung my painting over the fireplace and I started to feel AT HOME! 

Jane set up food in the Green Room and got that area ready. It's so amazing to have a partner who takes care of everything so well.

Adam, Jesse, Jane, and I set up our gear, and Sal Noguera and his partner Janet set up all the sound gear and monitors. Katherine Wheatley, Tannis Slimmon, and Laura Bird arrived and we did a sound check. There were some tech issues, but we eventually got them sorted out. Then it was off home to get our clothes and a few things and head back.

Back at the theatre, we met Val Morse, Kim Logue, Karma Davis, and Heather MacRae, who were taking care of the lobby set-up, door, and CD sales. Then my old school buddy Steve Lambert arrived and we had a too-short chat before I headed backstage to warm up and be a part of the gang in the Green Room.

People started to arrive and the place started buzzin'. We ended up with 153 people in the place, and even though I knew beforehand that the numbers would be respectable, I was happy to know we were at that threshold where individuals start to feel their community.

When the time came, Jeff Bersche got ready to start the night as our MC. He has the gift of being totally natural, serious, and funny. He was the perfect person to introduce us. And the show rolled out from there.

THE HOMESTEAD BAND - Sam Turton, Adam Bowman, Jesse Turton, Jane Lewis, Tannis Slimmon

1. Next Time

2. Ain't Gonna
Larry Kurtz joins the band on harp

3. Oh Suzanna
Adam sits out while Jane, Tannis and I harmonize

4. Molly
Jude Vadala joins us and leads her tune

5. Sinner’s Child
Jude steps down, Katherine Wheatley and Laura Bird join us

6. Yes Indeed
Laura and Katherine continue and Jane plays accordion

7. Storm Blowin’
Jane leads while Laura and Katherine join Tannis on back-up vocals

8. Hound Dog
Laura and Katherine exit, Larry joins us on harp

9. Just A Little Bit
Up come Joni NehRita, Rich Maynard-Langedijk, Jeff Bersche, Tricia Brubacher, Heather MacRae, Guy Stefan, and Dennis Gaumond for the set finale 

I've never signed so many CDs! And I had the challenge of remembering people's names, which I have always been terrible at. But I managed fairly well. Everyone was quite excited about the music, the songs and the show as a whole. It really felt like I had come home in a profound way.


1. Chapter 11 (T’ai)
Sam solos

2. I’d Rather Be With You
Jesse joins in

3. Hard Task
Adam and Jane join

4. Walk With Me
Tannis joins in

5. I’m On My Way
Katherine steps up and sings with Jane and Tannis

6. When It Comes My Time
Laura joins us and leads her tune, Larry Kurtz comes up on harp

7. Hey Hosanna
Tannis leads her tune, while Laura and Katherine add harmonies

8. Pilin’ Line
Joni, Rich, Jeff, Tricia, Heather, Guy, Dennis, Larry, Tannis Maynard-Langedijk, Mike Driscoll, Jan Vanderhorst, and Stu Peterson join us

9. Right Here
We all stay up and sing the final song

Standing ovation and an encore!

10. We Want Peace
We bring everyone on stage for this one

11. Eyes on the Prize
We finish with a rousing version complete with bass, drum, and guitar solos

I could go on about what each tune was like, but it would take too long! Suffice it to say that it was tremendous show of music and community.

There was happy chatting, congratulations, and hugging in the lobby and Green room. A group tear-down and return to our house for snacks, conversation, and jamming. Katherine picked up pizza, others brought snacks and drinks. Folks took out guitars and we had a very laid back jam.Nik brought his mandolin! And it all came around full circle. The thing that got it all going—singing with friends and family in our house—wrapped it all up. What can I say. Love to you all.

Thursday, November 3, 2011

Sound, lighting, and video

I just finished doing up a stage plot for the Guelph show, and writing up detailed notes for Sal Noguera, the sound man, Brian Pickles the lighting designer, and Brad Mayes, the videographer. It's 1:11 am and I'm beat!

A show like this is a bigger deal than I imagined when I first booked the theatre. The whole damn project is bigger than I imagined! It's taking on a life of its own—I think I'd better get to bed . . .

Tuesday, November 1, 2011

Last large group vocal rehearsal

Tonight we filled our house with musical friends for the last large group vocal rehearsal before my hometown CD release concert. In essence I just wanted an opportunity for everyone to get familiar with the group singing songs—Just a Little Bit, Pilin' Line, Right Here, We Want Peace, and a possible encore tune, "Eyes On The Prize," a traditional gospel song recently recorded by Mavis Staples and Ry Cooder.

For this, I was less interested in the particulars and more interested that everyone get a general sense of the structures and just have fun. Little errors that fly by in the moment are part of the character of live performance. In recording you would have to listen to those moments over and over—and that could be annoying—but for a live show with a large group it's about literally setting the stage and letting the enthusiasm pour out. With this gang, that's certainly going to happen!

The final rehearsal with the small vocal group—Jane, Tannis, Katherine, and Laura—is Thursday evening, the night before the show!

Saturday, October 29, 2011

Getting ready for the Guelph show

Guelph is my hometown. I've worked hard for the community though many initiatives, and sharing a project as personal as AT HOME is special and meaningful. It's also special because this gig is significant enough that I will have a full band and a full compliment of singers to perform the songs as they were arranged and recorded.

That in itself requires adjustments. For instance, when I play "Sinner's Child" solo, I play my National resonator, tuned in D, with a capo on the 2nd fret to get it in the key of E. Because there is no band, I have to keep rhythm throughout the song and have to change the solo section so that I maintain chords and play some kind of melody. In the recorded version, the rhythm is carried entirely by the band—a trio of piano, bass, and drums. Because of that support, I only played guitar as an accompanying voice, and didn't even start until the solo, which I did as a single note melody. I played an electric guitar, tuned in E - without a capo - for greater ease along the entire length of the neck.

The only time I have ever played it this way was when we recorded it. And on Friday, I'll have to play it that way live—so I need to practice!

The same goes for Jane. Doug Wilde played piano and composed the parts for the recording. Since I never play with Doug live, Jane has had to learn the parts, but even when we play it as a duo, I'm playing my National to add rhythmic support, so she's not used to carrying the chordal essence of the tune, which she has to learn to do now with the bass and drums—something she never even had to do in the recording!

So this week, we will be at work . . .

Friday, October 28, 2011

Doing radio

I'm on radio 4 days in a row this week, promoting the CD and release shows. I used to get nervous about being on radio, but it's getting to be second nature, in no small part because the hosts are such music lovers and so welcoming.

Last night I was on Steve Clarke's "Acoustic Planet" on CHES 88.1 FM out of Erin, Ontario, and tonight I was on Doug Gibson's "Songs From The Wood" on CKWR 98.5 FM out of Waterloo. Tomorrow morning at 8:00 am I'll be on Jan Hall's "Royal City Rag" on CFRU 93.3 FM from Guelph, and on Sunday at 8:00 pm, Jan Vanderhorst's "Just Us Folk" show on CKPC AM 1380 from Brantford, Ontario.

Jan Hall has been a supporter for a long time, and some of my favourite radio moments has been doing on-air gags with her and storytellers Sya Van Geest and Brad Woods. Jan would pick a special day, like Canada Day or Hallowe'en and set up the imaginary premise that we were recording live from some strange location, with sound effects and all. Then we would improvise around that. 

The premise for the first installment was a live broadcast from the local Wal-Mart store, especially ridiculous because I campaigned so hard against it and would never set foot in one! The sound effects and our improv was so convincing that my partner Jane thought I was there—even though I had told her what we were doing! She though I had tricked her by telling her we were doing a hoax! I was brought up on the magic of radio via British broadcasts such as the Goon Show, and it was a treat to be in the thick of it!

Oh - I should get to bed so I can get to the station on time!

Monday, October 24, 2011

Wednesday is my first official CD Release show!

I'm looking forward to the first show—a concert in Toronto with Jane and Tannis in support. I'm getting them to lead three songs each (I like being democratic!) so it will be a good variety of music.

There's a jam/song circle afterwards, and I know that Rosemary Phelan and Jason LaPrade will be there, so it will be special!

Wednesday, October 26, 7:30 pm
The Big House on the Hill Concerts
Sam Turton AT HOME CD Release with Jane Lewis and Tannis Slimmon
Tickets $20 / RSVP only
Doors open at 7:00 pm
Contact Lucy Bowers for details and to reserve: 416-690-4862  
Percentage of proceeds go to The Children’s Peace Theatre

Saturday, October 22, 2011

Blue Skies

It is deeply meaningful to me that I was approached to play the Blue Skies Festival immediately after releasing AT HOME. If the CD is a small expression of life close to home, family, community, and the earth, Blue Skies is the big expression of it.

I don't really experience Blue Skies as a festival but as a celebration of community. Every summer the natives of the Great Plains would come together in a "gathering of the tribes," that is wonderfully described by Black Elk in the profound book, "Black Elk Speaks." Blue Skies is a modern gathering of the tribes.

For years people had told me how wonderful Blue Skies was, but having been part of the grand gatherings of the back-to-land movement of the 60s, I took it with a grain of salt. But Julia Philips, now the Artistic Director of the festival, kept telling me, "Sam, you gotta go—you belong there." I thought it was a sweet sentiment until the first time I walked over the hill and witnessed the vista of the great meadow and the most organic wood-and-canvas stage I had ever seen in my life. Children were running everywhere, people in multi-coloured clothing were laughing and hugging each other, music was wafting through the trees. I felt the rising of that ancient feeling we all have—coming home—and tears welled up in my eyes.

Home. Right here. I'm welcome. I'm okay as I am. I belong.

That's what I was expressing in the AT HOME recordings when I invited friends and family together to play music—and record it. I can't wait to stand on that magical wooden stage at Blue Skies, lift my eyes to the community sitting on that great meadow bowl and start singing together. I'm also looking forward to leaping into Magoo's arms!

Many thanks to Julia Philips for having open ears to my music so many years ago. We're gonna bring it home!

Friday, October 21, 2011

The CD is in my hands!

It's been a whirlwind. After my last post Jane and I went to Niagara Falls for the Ontario Council of Folk Festivals (OCFF) conference, and I ended up having to drive from there to Mississauga to get my final CD shipment! I was hosting a panel on Private Showcases at 5:30 pm Friday and got back to the Falls with 15 minutes to spare!

The CDs look great—you never know in the digital world of printing—and everything sounds super. I've received a lot of positive feedback and got booked with the whole band to play the main stage at the Blue Skies Festival in Eastern Ontario next August! It's the beginning of a wave that started with the wee idea of recording in my living room!

Life is a wonderful mystery . . .

Thursday, October 13, 2011

Gig poster for Guelph!

Here's the new poster for the Guelph CD release show -

Saturday, October 8, 2011


It's been a hell of a lot of work, but Jane has masterminded the reinvention of my decrepit website, and it's now ready to roll! 

You can order CDs on line, order tickets to the soft-seat-theatre Guelph release show, listen to clips of all the songs, look at video and photos of the AT HOME experience (many more to come), read info about me that isn't from the last century—wow, I feel like I just awoke from a trance!

To check out the site click on any of the links at the top . . .

Thursday, October 6, 2011

Radio CD Release!

This evening Jane and I were on CIUT-FM 89.5, Steve Fruitman's Back to the Sugar Camp radio show for the first public release of my new songs!

Steve is one of those rare, mythic, life-sustaining creatures—the true-blue, 1000% real music lover. Every cell in his body seems to vibrate with enthusiasm for the stories and sounds of "real music," that is, music made for music first, not money first. 

And Steve is not only a living library of real and rarified music, he seems to know every story ever known about every track and everyone who played on it—including anyone who happened to be walking by as it was being recorded! Without special beings like Steve, underground music would be so far underground that it would have broken through the other side of the planet and be lost somewhere near Uranus.

Steve started out by playing "Next Time," which is a perfect opener —

My Mama died too early
And my Daddy lived too long

Then Jane and I sang "Hard Task," which he has affectionately dubbed the F-song because of these lyrics —

It's three o'clock in the mornin'
And baby's got a rattling cough
That selfish fuck left his young bride
She shoulda knocked his fool head clean off

Steve has no qualms about playing songs with profanity and relished the opportunity!

He also played "Chapter 11 (T'ai)" my meditative slide instrumental, and my rumba blues version of "Hound Dog," with Jane and Tannis on harmony. Jane and I also sang the blues song, "Ain't Gonna" live. I was having a great time (still walking slowwwwly) and felt in fine form. Can't wait to play some more.

Thanks, Steve!

Slow down, you move too fast . . .

In the big rush to get all the artwork done for deadline—plus all the other stuff too numerous to mention—it has been a familiar sight to see me hunkered over my computer and suddenly leap up and whip around the house to get this or that. Have you ever seen those little red squirrels that seem intrinsically on edge or chronically pissed off? The ones that seem like an unholy cross between a chipmunk and a squirrel? The ones that Norman Liota calls a squipmunk? Anyway, at my most intense, I believe I act like one of them. Maybe I was one in a former life.

Anyhow, the other day I leapt up from my desk, hyper-extended my leg and pulled a little muscle/tendon/ligament thingy on the inside of my right knee. It was a sharp twinge that I had never felt before. Not nice. I rubbed it and carried on, figuring it would sort itself out. But it didn't. If I'm not very careful when I walk, it re-injures itself—a real piss-off, because I have a lot to do and I just want to plow forward. But I can't.

As I got ready for a gig this evening, I was thinking, "What's the message?" Then I noticed that the only way I could deal with this thing is to walk normally, but very slowly. Very, verrry slowwww motion. Of course, the bloody message is, "SLOW DOWN!" I hurt it moving too fast, and the only way it will heal is if I slow down. And there is no bargaining with this thing. 

So there you have it. I have to accept that what will get done will get done and what won't, won't. Slow down, Sammy, s l o w   d   o    w    n    .     .       . 

Wednesday, October 5, 2011

CD manufacturing weirdness

Expect the unexpected.

The CD manufacturing is plugging along, Jane and I are working on song clips for my soon-to-be-updated website, and she looks at the CD-R master case label and says, "Did you notice that the apostrophes in the songs are all computer gobbledegook? Is that a reflection of what is in the display codes for the CD?" I say, "No, I doubt that, it's just a label for the proofing master."

Then, drawing from my years as a graphic designer and the ethic "never assume anything," I decided to write to the mastering folks at Silverbirch and ask the stupid question.

Apparently it wasn't a stupid question. They hadn't noticed the glitch when they copied the song titles from my Word file, and I hadn't thought the copy label was indicative of what was in the digital file. So all hell broke loose and a new master had to be done, approved and rushed forward! I wanted the CDs for the Ontario Council of Folk Festivals conference October 14-16, and it looks like they might not make it.

As they say, shit happens. Lesson learned. Do what you can and move on!

Friday, September 30, 2011

Living local

The AT HOME project is an extension of our lifestyle, which is to keep things simple, hands-on, and close to home. It's good for mind, body, heart, creativity, livelihood, family, community, and planet. Music is just a part of this life. Here's the food part - 

In addition to our backyard "kitchen" garden, Jesse, Jane and I have a 2000 square foot community garden plot just north of town at the Ignatius Jesuit Centre. Ignatius is run by some very hip people who also have a huge organic CSA. My "Not There" CD was released to raise funds to keep Wal-Mart from encroaching on this land. 

In the photo above you see Jesse picking away. The leaves in the bottom right corner are from the parsnip patch; he's in the chili pepper patch; behind him is the onion patch, and further to the left are the cabbages under row covers. The structure to the upper left supported 64 tomato plants (already harvested), and at the far side are eggplants, broccoli (finished), sweet peppers, carrots and potatoes.

Here is our winter squash and beet harvest with the parsnip patch behind them. We got 72 squash and a good pile of beets that I'll keep in tubs of moist sand in our garage food storage area.

The CD is being manufactured, Jane and I are redoing my website—and we're all eating well!

Tuesday, September 27, 2011

The back

Here's a peek at the back of the CD package, with the song listings. The tracks with lower case letters in orange are outtake sections, the ones with caps are the songs. It's a fascinating ride over 20 tracks!

Monday, September 26, 2011

It's off!

The At Home CD is off to manufacturing! It's been a long haul, but as I did a final listen to the master in a soundproof space at Silverbirch Productions in Toronto, I had a big smile on my face and I was grooving in the chair.

Here's a rough jpg of the front cover -

This was a scene shot by Jane from the second recording day. Nik is setting up the mics, and Adam is hangin'. The mirror is there for Tannis and Jane to see my cues from upstairs. The curtain was closed across the window to dampen sound reflection. Very cozy.

Friday, September 23, 2011

Mixing and mastering crunch

I haven't posted for a while because I've been in the vicegrip hold of final mixing and mastering. Deadlines - gotta hate 'em, gotta have 'em.

This CD is more work than many because of all the extra material on it, amounting to 20 tracks—15 songs, 4 segue sections and one 9-minute outtake track.

Anyway, gotta run—Nik is here for an adjustment session on the master!

Thursday, September 1, 2011

New video

Jane worked most of the day on a new video. She took still shots from the very first recording day—when she was documenting the destruction and revival of our house—and added music from the sessions. One was an out-take jam from Hound Dog and another was an instrumental from Just A Little Bit. It's a blast watching Adam setting up the kit with his drumming as the soundtrack!

When Jane sets her mind to something she always does an amazing job, and the final version is excellent, and may end up on the extra features—who knows!

Wednesday, August 31, 2011

Song order

Having grown up musically when record albums were considered art, the order of songs is important to me. I remember June 1, 1967, the world release of Sergeant Pepper's. My buddy Steve Lambert and I rushed to the record shop, got a copy and went home and listened reverently. As the songs unfolded, one to the next without spaces, it felt like entering a mystical trance or an exotic journey. The order was significant—and still is—as the Beatles introduced the listener to people, stories, feelings, and ideas about life and society.

I approached the song order for "At Home" with the same idea. I did an initial list that made sense theoretically. Then Jane and I hooked up my laptop to the stereo and proceeded to listen—and feel—the transitions of one song into another.

It was amazing how things I thought would work simply didn't. The transition was either too much of a stylistic leap, too abrupt a sonic shift—or too much the same. Sometimes we would notice a discordant feeling because the new song was in a slightly different key.

We attended to stylistic movement, tempo shifts, mood changes, and subject matter. There are very quiet, sensitive songs and also very light-hearted, raucous songs. We discovered that rather than bounce between these moods, we had to have the courage to stick with an atmosphere for a number of songs in a row and give the listener time to fully experience that.

It took us about four hours to get something that felt right. By that time our brains were so tired we had to leave it to the next day!

Yesterday we had a final listen and approved the order. I burned a CD with that order and listened to it in the car today (Tuesday), as I drove to Toronto to pick up Jesse at the airport. He just came back from two weeks with his musical cousins Virgil Muir in Halifax and Ashley Condon in PEI.

As I listened to the rough mixes of the songs in order, I started to feel happier and happier. It's working, and I can't wait to share that journey with you.

Monday, August 29, 2011

Final mixes

Nik and I have been very busy, but we're now digging into the final mixes for the CD. Yesterday he send me an mp3 of "Ain't Gonna" via an FTP site and I downloaded it—technology can be a wonderful thing! I recall horror stories from the "good old days," of reel-to-reel tapes being ruined or lost, but that's not a worry here—as long as the files are backed up!

I listened to the track on two different stereo systems via speakers, and additionally through three different sets of headphones. Every sound reproduction device will translate the sound differently, and a variety of sources allows the producer to make the best general conclusions, given that every person who buys the CD will be listening on a different system.

Right away, it was the best "first final mix" I'd ever heard, in that it came very close to my recommendations and personal tastes. Besides a few tweaks, it won't take much time to finish it, which bodes well moving forward into the rest of the songs. 

The blues harp playing of Larry Kurtz features prominently in "Ain't Gonna," so here are a couple photos from those sessions.

Sunday, August 28, 2011

Out-takes #2

As I mentioned in an earlier post, we recorded out-take banter to use as segues between songs, to capture the flavour of the "At Home" sessions.

As I listened to out-takes from the sessions, I was struck by how light-hearted we were—even doing deep and heavy songs! It certainly allowed for a release and a balancing of the mood, and at times I was laughing out loud as I listened. Then it started to dawn on me that it might not be a good idea to place a humorous out-take in a section between two serious songs.

This is going to be an interesting challenge!

Wednesday, August 24, 2011

Hound Dog

One of the co-writers of "Hound Dog," Jerry Leiber, died yesterday, which is awakening a new interest in the song. I've been playing a slide guitar blues rumba version of that song since Christine Bougie and I started a duo in the late 90s. It's so much fun, that last fall Jane suggested I include it in the "At Home" sessions. Now people are going to think that I just put it out as a tribute to Jerry Leiber!

Nonetheless, it might not be a bad idea to release a video on youtube. Yeah . . . that's the idea, yeah . . .

Tuesday, August 23, 2011

photo shoot!

Jane shot a ton of photos today, which means we definitely got about three keepers! Here are a few you won't see on posters (well, one is pleasant enough . . . )

Jane thought that standing in front of my living wall of pole beans would be cool, but it's a little too "Farmer Sam."

"What dumb pose do I take next? Oooops!"

See, I can look friendly . . .

"I can play Pinball Wizard on the National . . . "

"I saw ya!" At the end of what Who song did Pete Townshend say this—to who, and why? First correct answer gets a free CD.

The feet of my photographer sweetie.

Sunday, August 21, 2011


Producing a CD is one thing, and making sure people hear it is another. That's the promotional side, and like most artists, I'd rather not have to deal with it.

The good thing, however, is that I have a fine arts degree and was a professional graphic artist from 1978 to 2000. Jane is a professional writer, designer, and a damn fine photographer. We can do quite a bit of the promo ourselves, but it takes time.

Jane, James Dean, and Kate Vanderhorst took quite a few shots during recording, but promo/poster stuff is of a different nature, and now it's time to get it done. We spent part of today (until it got dark and rainy) shooting. I'm not very photogenic, so Jane shoots a lot and we choose a few! We'll finish tomorrow, but here's an out take from today -

We have this big antique hutch that looks very Tibetan painted yellow, red, and green, so I put on my favourite hat and a red shirt and sat in front of it on the wooden floor. Jane moved around, told me what to do and made me laugh. This one is from a series with a dark setting, so I removed the colour, balanced it in black and white, and then put a golden colour back in. Not bad for a start.

Friday, August 19, 2011

Getting the lyrics right

I'm sure you've read lyrics while listening to a song and noticed that they were different. That's because the artist made a change from the original version either during the recording or while performing it—and someone forgot to edit the changes. 

I prefer to write songs and perform them live first so that the songs have a chance to grow into their final forms before being recorded. On "At Home," the only song I haven't performed live is the instrumental, "Chapter 11 (T'ai)". "Just A Little Bit" was performed twice before I recorded it, after which it went through a considerable rewrite before recording—so I hope it sticks!

Many of the song lyrics did change slightly during the performance period, often because certain words would just pop out because they were naturally easier to sing, and I would leave them that way. In "Hard Task," I wrote:

The flames in the furnace are belching
The steam will burn the flesh off your bones

But when I sang it, this is what would come out:

Flames in the furnace are belching
The steam'll take the flesh off your bones

Even though lyrically I preferred "burn" to "take," "take" rolled off the toungue easier, so I left it.

When those natural changes happen I usually don't remember to return to my original lyric file and update it. So if I were to record the songs and then copy and paste the lyrics into my CD booklet, you would read things like "burn" when I'm singing "take."

To make sure the final printed version is correct, I copied the original lyrics to my CD production file, opened it, and read the lyrics as I listened to the final recorded version, correcting whenever I saw a change. It was tedious, but important, because when a song is first recorded, that's the definitive version.

Sometimes singers will make accidental changes while recording and decide to keep them. In "Ob-La-Di Ob-La-Da," McCartney did not intend to sing,

Desmond stays at home and does his pretty face
And in the evening she's a singer with the band

but all The Beatles loved the weird switch, and the rest is musical history.

Wednesday, August 17, 2011

promo, oh promo

It's one thing to record music and a whole other thing to promote it. Thank goodness Jane and I have professional backgrounds in writing and graphic arts. At least we can create and do the work—but then we have to find the time!

This evening we started the big meeting to completely organize all aspects of everything we have to do between now and Christmas. Needless to say, the meeting will continue tomorrow!

Thursday, August 11, 2011

Outtakes, banter and bloopers

We love bloopers because we get to see the human, fallible side of performers and performance. I've always liked hearing the unscripted sounds of musicians captured before and after polished takes, like Ringo screaming, "I've got blisters on my fingers!" at the end of "Helter Skelter." Here are a few more -

The Beatles: Taxman. The intro captures the sounds of the studio.

Bob Dylan: Bob Dylan's 115th Dream. Dylan starts, the band forgets to come in and he cracks up.

Humble Pie: Thirty Days in the Hole. This starts with some of the vocal rehearsal - it's my favourite part of the whole song!

Howlin' Wolf: The Red Rooster, from the album "London Howlin' Wolf Sessions" with Eric Clapton, Bill Wyman, Charlie Watts, and Stevie Winwood. This is one of my favourites, and starts as a long outtake where we hear Clapton and the others encouraging Wolf to play acoustic on the track.

The "At Home," project is as much about the experience of playing together as the finished songs themselves, and I wanted to capture that in as many ways as I could, from the in-house sound of the recording to candid photos and film. I also asked Nik to record what we were doing before and after the takes themselves, so that some of those natural moments could be used on the final CD.

Now I have to listen through hundreds of outtakes. Wish me luck!

Tuesday, August 2, 2011

"Oh Jesus" Part 2

In "Next Time," the chorus reads:

Oh Jesus, next time make it easy
Give me a cold, cold heart of stone
Or Mama, next time
Don't you leave me
On my own

"Oh Jesus," can be felt both as an exasperated curse and an actual ironic request for Christ to grant reincarnation! I refer to "Jesus" to emphasize just how dire and intense the experience is. The magnitude of this reference also acts as a contrast to the truth of the matter, which is that much of my suffering would have been avoided if my mother had been able to stay with me and do what a mother is intended to do. I believe that when our needs are fully met as infants and children, no religious "heroes" are needed.

The second reference to Jesus is in the song "Sinner's Child," where I focus on the suffering and shame experienced by the children of criminals and any violent or antisocial individuals. One of the most damaging aspects is that these children usually have no support and no choice but to hold their suffering in silence.

When Judas turned on Jesus
Were his orphans meek and mild?

To emphasize my point I needed a major historic criminal—and you can't get much bigger than the man who betrayed the "son of God"! Can you imagine, within a Christian culture, being the son or daughter of Judas? What would a child do with all of that shame, hurt, and anger? Would they be able to be meek and mild like the baby Jesus was supposed to be? What happens to these children? Does anyone notice? Does anyone care? 

The song, "Hard Task," is a lament to the exhausting and painful aspects of modern life. In the first verse we see a single mother, in the second, a factory worker, and the third, a man about to commit suicide. The third verse reads:

Fifty years is just too long
For nothing good to come down
A lonely ledge on the tenth floor
Is Jesus gonna catch him when he hits the ground?

It's bad enough that people are driven to suicide by the alienating apsects of modern life, but even worse when they are conditioned into thinking that a saviour is there to usher them into a better "life." It's sad to me that instead of applying efforts and funds to making modern life better, billions of hours and dollars are spent on building and maintaining the illusions of saviours and heavenly states. What more powerful cultural icon could emphasize this sad contrast than Jesus?

To sum up, when writing about the contradictions and challenges of modern life—within a blues-gospel musical environment—there are few images as powerful as Jesus of Nazareth.