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Back in the glorious sixties, in the days of outdoor summer festivals, being the bearer of a press pass, especially one that boasted you were a photographer, allowed access to everywhere, close up to the stage, closer even than the expensive boxed-in area of the influential. Jazz musicians at Newport, folksy prophets of Mariposa, rockers at the Filmore and the bluesmen funkin’ on down at Ann Arbor, co-operating, posing for the camera, wanting to be seen.


Howlin’ Wolf and Muddy Waters • Ann Arbor Festival • Michigan

Nowadays it’s not permitted to crouch down in front of the stage, subtle messages bonding you with the players, participating in the magic of stealing souls. The whole scene has changed, the integrity and camaraderie found at those old-fashioned affairs transformed into trendy entertainment for the credit card classes, high-priced ticket events.

How many years has it been since anyone asked me to shoot a gig? More than a dozen. So long that I didn’t actually have a working camera, or any unused rolls of Tri-X. What to do? Accept the challenge and borrow Essjay’s bright metallic-red ultra-slim Canon PowerShot SD780 IS Digital ELPH. The bands – two of them – are island locals, the guitarist playing in both a Smith, not related of course, another stream. Younger.


Breagan Smith and Silas Crowe

It’s a night out at the community hall, a party for Breagan Smith’s new CD, so there’s no real pressure, and anyway there’ll be a bunch of enthusiastic amateurs popping away, flashes obliterating every nuance of shadow and light.

jefferson airplane

Jefferson Airplane • O’Keefe Centre • Toronto

There had been some memorable shoots in the past; being hired by Bill Graham to cover Jefferson Airplane at the O’Keefe Centre, dealing with the problems of psychedelic projections; my first “commercial” assignment – invited by producer Paddy Sampson to cover a three day CBC-TV taping of a “Festival” special simply called “The Blues”. The studio filled with the music of Willie Dixon, Otis Spann, Sonny Terry and Brownie McGee, James Cotton, Maybelle Hilary, Sunnyland Slim, James Cotton, and the legendary father of Chicago blues, Mr. McKinley Morganfield [Muddy Waters]. Sitting around in the dressing room between filming, free beer and sandwiches courtesy of the producers, Muddy, espying my wife’s conspicuous  belly claims Godfatherhood if he predicts the gender and weight of the child. Certainly not the seventh son of the seventh son. A girl, he sez, 7lbs 4oz.


Maybelle Hillary • CBC TV • Toronto

Toronto’s Spadina Avenue was resplendent in funky bars; the Silver Dollar in the Waverly Hotel, an art deco left-over from the fifties – three-times-a-night shows of gum-chewing strippers accompanied by organ/tenor trios, the crowd outside mingling with the ragged bunch of hopefuls lining up for food, shelter and clothing next door at the Scott Mission. The destitute looking for a friend called Jesus.

mariposa festival

Odetta • Mariposa Festival • Innis Lake

On the next block south local artists, some internationally famous all over downtown Toronto, can be seen in Gwartzman’s art supply store, and almost next door the illuminated palm tree topped by a quarter moon announced the El Mocambo where I would hear the funky repetitions of Bo Diddley, Fats Domino rings a-flashing, Johnny Otis’ Rhythm & Blues extravaganza with son Shuggie, Mighty Mouth Evans, Eddie “Cleanhead” Vincent and the Three Tons of Joy; where Maggie Trudeau’s weekend of rock & roll debauchery would forever pass into Canadian pop culture


Across the road, down another block, was the Paramount Tavern where the aptly named Whiteley Brothers (Ken & Chris) performed their version of blues to black audiences, a bar where it was possible to score dope in the none-too-clean toilets. And still there, on the corner of Cecil Street, Grossman’s Tavern, our home away from home. Al and Granny Grossman who could always be relied upon to add another order of the greasy fried “Daily Special” and a jug of belly burning draft beer to the seemingly never ending tab; a privilege offered to the local families, artists, writers and musicians that frequented their illustrious establishment.

grossman's tavern

Buddy Guy, Donnie Walsh, Dave Woodward • Grossman’s Tavern

Before Al was persuaded to allow the Devil’s music into his establishment the entertainment was often popular Yiddish songs, likely our first introduction to Klezmer, the repertoire of expressive melodies, reminiscent of the human voice, complete with laughing and weeping, accompanied by a trio of clarinet, accordion and the out-of-tune upright piano.

Two bands became mainstays in this funky environment. Saturday afternoons was soon packed with fans of Cliff “Kid” Bastien’s Camelia Band, a rowdy New Orleans styled band, with Cliff emulating his hero trumpeter Kid Thomas Valentine, and given on certain numbers to dress in a woman’s pinafore and headscarf. For three years Monday nights featured Downchild Blues Band co-founded by the Walsh brothers – Donnie (Mister Downchild) and Richard (Hock). The band’s name inspired by a popular song written by the escaped convict Alex “Rice” Miller (a.k.a. Sonny Boy Williamson II).