The Bee's Knees Experience

By Richard White, December 15, 2013

Spent last Wednesday night at 'in lovely downtown De Winton, Alberta listening to local musicians jamming.  It was a true grass roots experience, no egos here?

Perhaps it is the prairie version of an east coast “Kitchen Party” - instead of everyone gathering in someone’s kitchen and playing tunes, people gather at the neighbourhood café or bar and take turns playing for others.

Everyone is invited to participate at the Bees Knees Experience and stay as long as you want.  The lead cycles to whomever wants to play a song.  There is no sound system, no mics and no electric guitars - everything is unplugged.

A blast from the past

One can certainly picture nights and afternoons like this in kitchens of Canada's Maritime provinces or porches in the Mississippi Delta. Musicians playing for the pure enjoyment of it...any skill level is welcomed to join in.  The song selection is all encompassing - country, blues, rock or island music - anything goes. 

You don’t read about these jams in the newspapers or the magazines…they aren't all over social media….yet it is vital to creating a vibrant music scene.

Too often we think of culture as something that only happens downtown… in formal cultural spaces…but in reality much of it is happens in the churches, schools, cafes and bars in the ‘burbs. 

The big city jams are more orchestrate with a full stage and sound system. The performances are more polished as often the musicians have played together for years. Also, there is a formula, you get your three or four songs before its time for the next musicians.  There is lots of fun, often accompanied by dancing and a good bar room buzz.  

A "music city" needs both grass root and professional jams. 

 Upon arrival we find Jay, Tina, Ron, Ron and Paul (from left to right) have started without us.  

Upon arrival we find Jay, Tina, Ron, Ron and Paul (from left to right) have started without us.  

Paul's trombone adds a unique sound to the Bees Knees experience. 

It doesn't take long before Merv (Smilie) joins in. 

The Bees Knees Experience

When a buddy suggested we check out the Wednesday jam at Bees Knees Café just off Highway 2 in De Winton I was skeptical, but the “flaneur” in me said “Why Not!”   Back story – for past 20 months three buddies (two play guitars, one gets beer i.e. me) had been getting together to jam in their respective houses and regularly attending jams at Mikey’s, Blues Can and other pubs. 

It was time for a pre-Christmas house jam at GG’s who happen to live in the De Winton area, so why not kick it up a notch by combining our jam and dinner with the Bees Knees jam. 

As we arrived the “OPEN” sign was flashing, but it didn’t look like there was anyone inside and there were few cars around.  But, as we got closer we could see one guitar player…opening the door, we were surprise to find four guitar players and a trombone player jamm’n away.  What was missing was the audience?  Was this a private jam? 

We were quickly welcomed to sit and listen or join in - there was even an extra guitar if we wanted to use it.  We sat back enjoyed the music and our bottle of wine for a few songs. The trombone added a nice rich element to the jam that was unique. 

Jay takes the lead on this one...

Smilie loves to let others take the lead. He is life long learner! Take it away Ron and Ron.

GG finally joins in....he loves to pick...

Angry River

Soon Merv couldn’t resist the temptation! He grabbed the extra guitar and joined in. He was quickly assimilated into the group…singing and playing as if he was a BFF.  He was even encourage to play his “Angry River” song he had written about the flood – his first attempt at song writing.  Later GG joined in…the first time he has played in public!!!

As we left we found out the group wasn’t locals from the De Winton area but from Ogden to Okotoks.  Turns out the owner of Bees Knees Café lets them and anyone else who wants to join in use the space to jam Wednesday nights – 6 to 9 pm. There is even a small stage for more formal music events.

Explosion

It is just me or does it seem there has been an explosion of live music events in Calgary over the past few years.  Seems like every café and neighbourhood pub has some live music one or two nights a week.

Jay's guitar string art...

Tina's artifacts or Bees Knees Still Life

Last Word:

If Calgary is going to evolve into a vibrant music city, the development of places like Bees Knees Café is just as important as the multi-million dollar projects like National Music Centre and cSPACE.  

I encourage all of us to get out and support the local jams, open mic nights and other performances.   

I you like this blog you might like:

Cowtown's Budding Music Scene 

Are we too downtowncentric?

Cafe: Montreal vs Calgary 

Calgary North America's new "music city."

The Bees Knees Experience

Calgary: North America's Newest Music City?

By Richard White, November 26, 2013 

Recently I read in the Calgary Herald that our city is “the unofficial folk club capital of the planet!”  The quote was attributed to Suze Casey the Artistic Director of the Calgary Folk Club one of seven such clubs in the city.  Casey might be a bit bias, but hey I am all for putting the statement out there and challenging other cities to dispute it. 

The statement was made in the context of the Canadian Folk Music Awards coming to Calgary for the first time, which Casey thought was an injustice given our status as the “folk club capital of the planet.”  Unfortunately, it turned out no Calgarians (no Albertans for that matter) won any of the awards - a good host never hogs the awards! 

Amy Thiessen and Russel Broom at Lolita's a tiny intimate room in trendy Inglewood, home to several music venues including the Calgary Folk Festival's new Festival Hall. 

Prince's Island is the best

Not only does Calgary have a strong folk club culture, but we have one of the best folk festivals on the planet that takes place each year on Prince’s Island an oasis in the middle of the Bow River (best fly fishing river on the planet).  Recently, Calgary also became home to intimate Festival Hall, which is operated by the Calgary Folk Festival to provide year-round music programming.

One of several weekend jam session in Calgary's downtown.  This is an all ages jam. There is a teenage brother and sister on stage in this photo.  

GABEsters

For me Casey’s statement was another piece of evidence that Calgary is more than just a collection of conservative corporate towers, but one of North America’s vibrant urban playgrounds – a statement I have been championing for 15 years.

Recently, I wrote a blog about Calgary’s Beltline community as being one of the most attractive hipster communities in North America, certainly on par with those I have recently visited in Chicago, Portland, San Francisco, San Diego, Toronto, Ottawa or Vancouver.  I even suggested we create a Calgary based term “GABEster” to reflect that our hipsters are unique in that they are highly paid geologists, accountants, bankers, brokers and engineers who love to work hard and play hard, not the typical bohemians.    

Calgary's International Blues Festival at Shaw Millennium Park. 

WAMJAMs

Over the past few years, I have come to appreciate Calgary has an incredible weekend afternoon music jam culture (WAMJAM).  In the downtown, there are jams at Blues Can, Ironwood, Mikey’s Juke Joint (yes we have a juke joint) and Ship & Anchor on both Saturday and Sundays. 

Add in places like Broken City, HiFi Club, The Palomino, The RePublic,  Wine-Ohs and the numerous open mic nights as many of the independent coffee houses and you have a very vibrant indie music scene in Calgary’s downtown that is hard to match. 

It doesn't stop there most of the downtown churches have active music programs from classical to folk. Any night of the week, I can find a place that offers great local music.  

Over the past few years I have visited Chicago, Portland, Ottawa, Vancouver and San Francisco and asked about WAMJAMs and it was hard to find anything to match scope and strength of Calgary’s downtown jams. 

 Mikey's Juke Joint is located next to the railway tracks under a busy over pass, has just the right sense of place and ambience you want for blues bar. 

Hexters to National Music Centre 

Outside of the downtown there are numerous live music spots.  Hexters in Bowness has a great Sunday afternoon jam. Recently, I attended for the first time and was shocked to find 150 people there a “football Sunday” dancing up a storm – how cool is that.  You can even go to very edge of the city and find live music.  Bee’s Knees is a coffee house in an estate community (big homes on big lots) on the southern edge of the city offers live music twice a week – a jam session and an open mic night. FFWD our weekly art and entertainment newspaper list 64 venues across the city 

Calgary is also home to the National Music Centre which hosts one of the largest collection of keyboard instruments on the planet. With the opening of their mega 150 million dollar new home in 2015, Calgary will certainly be not only a major music city, but also urban playground destination.

And then there is Sled Island which was quickly becoming one of North America's premier music festivals until it was flooded out last June.  I expect it will come back stronger than ever in 2014.  The festival offers over 250 bands, plus film, comedy and art exhibitions at 30+ venues.  

Even in March, the Ship & Anchor's patio is full of GABEsters. 

Sir Elton John likes Calgary 

I haven’t even mentioned Alberta Ballet’s successful collaborations with the likes of Sir Elton John, Joni Mitchell and Sara McLachlan to create original ballets. Or Calgary Opera's commissioning of new contemporary operas.  And there is the Calgary Stampede, includes an amazing 10-day music program that includes major headliners as well as local musicians, and it is not all county and western music.

For most people, Austin, Memphis and Nashville are top-of-mind when you think of North American music cities.  My plans are to visit Memphis in January for the International Blues Challenge January 21st to 25th where Calgary’s Mike Clarke Band (owner of Mikey’s Juke Joint) and Tim Williams will be competing.  I am curious to see how Calgary competes with the big boys of the bayou.

Guitar Club

A grassroots affair modeled after successful shows in Edmonton and Vancouver, the Calgary Guitar Show will be a one day/all ages event focused on bringing together anyone who loves music. It will provide a venue for retail music stores and collectors alike to sell their guitars, amplifiers and accessories and an opportunity for the public to meet collectors, talk to technicians and builders, and hang with local musicians. A much anticipated event that will evolve and expand in years to come.

The Calgary Guitar Show will take place at The Golden Age Club in the heart of Calgary’s East Village. In addition to the 20+ vendors expected to sell their goods, homegrown talent will be showcased on the Club’s magnificent stage and 50/50 raffles held to support the community. Following the show, an exclusive “After Party” for vendors, sponsors and friends will be held at the National Music Centre to wind down the day. Tickets will be limited to 150 for an evening of food, drink, entertainment and an exclusive tour of the National Music Centre collections – a fascinating journey for all!

For more information go to calgaryguitarshow.com.

 

 

Tim Williams and Mike Clark (owner of Mikey's) have fun on stage. 

Thrifting in Edmonton, Red Deer and Airdrie

Had a great day thrifting in Edmonton, Red Deer and Airdrie today.  First stop was the Bible for Mission in Edmonton on 34th Ave.  Could not believe the selection of film and television books - hundreds of them.  Fortunately or unfortunately I am not a collector of this genre so I will left them all for someone else. 

This is just one of the shelves of entertainment books some older some brand new.  Good diversity. 

There were 18 shelves of books like this one.

Being a good flaneur, I also kept my eyes open for other interesting things to see and do on the way to BFM (Bible For Missions).  I noticed in one of the many oil patch services yards a collection of industrial equipment that looked like an amazing public art piece.  I had to go back an explore.   

How cool are these?  Not sure what they are called, some sort of crane.  They look like creatures right out of science fiction movie.   There is both a humanoid and robotic element to them that is fun!  Gotta love found art!  There is also a resemblance in my mind to Jonathan Borosky's Hammering Man (see image at end of blog). 

Next stop was the Value Village on 51st but no real finds there so it was off to Red Deer where the Salvation Army and Value Village are side by side.  The Sally Ann had a 50% off sale on books so I was in my glory. As I was checking the books a volunteer was cleaning up around me. Kinda annoying but I didn't say anything.  

I was happy when I found a signed copy of "Kid Dynamite" the Gerry James Story by Ron Smith and then the Punch Imlach's story "Heaven and Hell in the NHL" and several others for only a dollar.  As I was getting to the end of my book browsing the volunteer handed me a book and said "I think you might like this one."  I was shocked, it was a copy of "Muddy Waters: The Mojo Man" by Sandra B. Tooze with forward by Eric Clapton.  I said "Thanks!" and he replied as if we were best friends "I've been watching you and I thought you might like this."  How did he know that I collect books on blues history?  It was perfect.  He then told be about a new blues bar in town that I should check out and we chatted like best friends for a few minutes.

Muddy Waters: Mojo Man in great condition for $1.50...gotta love thrifting...

We decided to pass up on Value Village as the prices are usually too high for thrifters like us and there was a tornado warning so we thought best to get out of town and head to Airdrie where there is a Goodwill, Sally Ann and Community Thrift all within a few blocks.  

The Airdrie Goodwill is an new concept as it is both a donation centre and retail store. I hit the jackpot for shirts - FILA golf shirt, Descent long sleeve active wear shirt and three brand new casual crew neck shirts - $25!  I am good for the summer.

Sally Ann in Airdrie was jammed with stuff...this time it was records...50 cents....Boz Scags "Middle Man," Aretha's "Who's Zoomin' Who?" David Loggins "Apprentice" Maria Muldaur, Martha and the Muffins " Trance and Dance" Joan Armatrading "Me Myself I" and Joe Jackson "Night and Day." All in great condition.   $4 bucks!

 

It is a good day of thrifting when I come home with something new to read, listen to and wear.   

 

Jonathan Borosky's "Hammering Man" sculpture. 

Tim Williams: Cowtown's Adopted Bluesman

By Richard White, January 26, 2014

Tim Williams won the 2014 International Blues Challenge in Memphis on Saturday, January 25, beating out seven other solo/duo finalists.  To get to the finals, Williams had to perform twice in the quarterfinals and once in the semi-finals before a panel of three judges.  

Playing a combination of traditional blues songs by both well known and obscure bluesman, as well as his own compositions, Williams demonstrated he was the most well versed bluesman in the challenge (both solo/duo and band categories).  

Telling stories that only he could tell about the blues and picking on his well traveled mandolin and guitars, Williams impressed not only the judges, but the over 1,000 international blues fans who attended this year's Challenge. Williams carefully curated each of his performances with a focus on the Delta Blues which showcased his talents as passionate blues guitar player and historian. 

After listening to Williams play the first night, at the Jerry Lee Lewis bar's upper salon, the folks next to us from Springfield, Illinois quickly turned to us and said "Wow, he is very unique."  As the challenge continued we heard words like "authentic," "traditionalist" and "a true bluesman" used to describe Calgary's adopted bluesman. 

In presenting the 65 year old Williams with a new cigar-box guitar as the winner in the solo/duo category, Jay Sieleman, President & Chief Executive Office said "it's been a long time coming!"  In the Commercial Appeal (Memphis newspaper) Sieleman stated "I joked that our finals show was seven hours long and Tim Williams could do old blues songs for the whole seven hours. This guy is steeped in it big time." 

There were 250+ entries into this year's International Blues Challenge organized by The Blues Foundation.  Williams had very strong competition in the solo/duo category.  Erik Ray from the Granite State Blues Society put in a strong performance with his cowboy blues set.  Eighteen year old Matt Tedder is a rising star moving from Texas to Nashville in the past year to focus full-time on his music, rising from busker to winner of the Nashville Blues Society's competition this past year.  Wendy DeWitt and Kirk Harwood from The Golden Gate Blues Society presented the judges with a strong vocal and keyboard performance of original songs.

And, the runner-up Lucious Spiller from the Ozark Blues Society of the Northwest has a haunting blues voice that was captivating from the first note. In total Williams had to beat out 101 acts to win this years 2014 International Blues Challenge solo/duo performer. 

Note: Calgarians can enjoy Williams wit and guitar playing every Tuesday night at Mikey's Juke Joint starting at about 8:30 p.m. 

Tim Williams plays Silky O'Sullivan's on Beale Street to get into the finals. 

Tim Williams: Cowtown's Adopted Bluesman

By Richard White, April 2, 2013

Mother &(*(&^

Yes he does like to use the word “mother&#^*%” in his shows and loves to chat about the role drugs and sex play in blues music.  He like to tell the story of growing up in a small desert town in southern California next to the Mexican border listening to Wolfman Jack.  How small was the town? Tim says "when I was growing up you didn't lose your girlfriend to another guy, you just lost your turn!"

Last night I attended Tim’s launch party for his new CD “Blue Highway” at The Ironwood in Inglewood (Calgary’s funky historic and arts district) along with about 200 of his family and friends.  I felt a bit like a party crasher as my interest in the blues and Calgary’s indie music scene is only in its infancy – yes I am a late adopter (just got a PVR and don’t have a flat screen TV). 

YYC Blues Tribe

Over the past few years I have become fascinated by Calgary’s underground blues tribe and Tim seems to be its leader!  He is not only a great blues guitar player, but also good storyteller and a comedian.  His shows are very entertaining be it his regular Tuesday night at Mikey’s and Saturday afternoon gigs at the Blues Can or jamming’ with others when they are in town.

Last night he must have rattled off the names of 200 bluesman from Robert Johnson and Muddy Waters to friends like Big Dave Maclean.  He shared with us personal stories about singers, songwriters, guitars, family, friends and even some politics. 

Tim Williams kick of his "Blue Highway" CD launch party.

Wit & Cynicism

His mix of wit and cynicism has a bit of a Robin Williams skit to it. One minute he chastising people like Dylan who claim songs are theirs without recognizing they really originate in traditional folk and blues tunes – he seems to know all the lineages.  The next time he is telling us about why he had to learn Spanish i.e. so he could get invited to dinner at his Hispanic friends house and not get beaten up by the brothers of his Hispanic girlfriend. And then he breaks into a story about Pacheo music he learned growing up in a Mexican community in southern California.

Tim is encyclopedia of blues music history and always gives a short blues 101 before every song he performs.

Williams meets Johnson

On his website, www.cayusemusic.com it says “imagine, if you can, a front porch where Robert Johnson, Hank Williams, Hula Hattie, Flaco Jimenez and Bob Marley meet often and discover just how much they have in common.  Tim’s music would fit right in.”  I can imagine this to be true.  I have a nice front porch maybe I should invite Tim to invite some friends over for drink and debate – could be very interesting. 

When was the last time you saw two accordion players on the stage at the same time at a blues concert.

Blog/Facebook

I encourage you to check out his blogs on facebook, as they are full of humour and insights into the life of bluesman living on the edge at 64. For example, here is what he says after he had to cancel at tour of Spain in the Fall of 2012 that was going to be an economic disaster - “But, by producing 2 other cds while working on mine, playing every gig that came along in Southern Alberta, and touring with Big Dave Mclean I’ve returned things to their normal, shaking footing.” 

Somebody needs to document Tim’s stories and experience they would make a great book or film.

Last night was bit of mind trip as Tim took us from the real Delta Mississippi blues to the Mexican Pachuco music he learned growing up in southern California, as well as his current live in Calgary and the prairies.  Interestingly on his website he doesn’t refer to himself as Calgary-based, but prairie-based.

I have often wondered if at some point the Canadian prairies or Calgary might produce a “place” inspired school of music, architecture or art like the Mississippi delta. Perhaps something that builds on the  "Wheatfield Soul" coined by the Guess Who, but could also apply to other Canadian prairie musicians - Joni Mitchell and Neil Young.  

When I recently suggested this idea to a buddy I was quickly told, “the American South still has music-making locked up. I wonder why Calgary or Alberta would even bother?  I realize with my kind of attitude, Bob Dylan would have never left Minnesota. But my question remains, WHY? How is it distinctive authentic to a time and place - that's what I want to understand in your blog - Tim Williams and onward.”

Cover of Blue Highway CD.

Place & Time

As an everyday tourist, the night was a wonderful trip back in time and yet I do have to wonder in this global world where everyone is listening to everyone else’s music will there ever be a distinctive sound that reflects a sense of “place and time.”

Tim can paint a picture, a sense of place and time, with words and music like nobody else I have every seen perform – but it is not our “time and place.”  However, it was an inspiration to move a road trip along Highway 61 up on my bucket list.  I need to see and understand what Nashville, Memphis and New Orleans has that we don’t.  I am off to Chicago – hope to get some insights there.

The Everyday Tourist

P.S. Want to learn more about Tim Williams check out Mike Bell, Calgary Herald Music writer's story about Tim's journey.

P.P.S.  I don’t know if Tim has a nickname, which all good bluesman must have. I have never heard one. I am throwing out Tim “Tequila” Williams even if he did drink red wine last night as I know from his stories that Tequila has been influential in his life. 

Tim Williams and friends jammin' at his party!