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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.