The long-awaited new album is almost here! Currently nearing the completion of manufacturing, on vinyl and CD.
Since I’ve got a new music video coming out soon, I have some tracks ready to go for when things like the Western Arctic Moving Pictures 48 Hour Music Video Competition come up, I can submit a song for the creative filmmakers to make something great. Thanks so much to Cat Fauvelle and Miles Johnson for putting together this video, and congratulations to them for tying for the Audience Choice award!
In the 1970s Craig Mishler spent some time in Old Crow and northern Alaska, and wrote a scholarly book documenting Gwich’in fiddle music and culture. It’s called The Crooked Stovepipe; Athapaskan Fiddle Music and Square Dancing in Northeast Alaska and Northwest Canada, and it’s available at the Inuvik Public Library. I had it out a few years ago. The video shows Charlie Peter playing some tunes in 1972 – there are some familiar ones, and some interesting variations of them too.
The Punch Brothers take traditional bluegrass instruments and play everything from classical music to contemporary rock. This tune is an old bluegrass number that they play in their own exceptional style. All of the band members take amazing solos in this video.
A fiddler I know of back home once said that people often asked him if he was into Stephane Grappelli, to which he replied “I’m more a Stuff Smith guy.” Having never heard of Stuff Smith, I promptly looked him up, and found this old video of him playing some outstanding jazz fiddle.
I have no idea how I stumbled across Fiddlin’ Al Arsenault, but he’s a riot to watch perform. Aside from this old news clip, there’s also a good video of him playing the Black Mountain Rag.
I just returned from a week in Nanton, Alberta! After several months of preparation and anticipation, I got to spend the better part of a week working with Steve Loree at his recording studio, Crabapple Downs. I’ve wanted to work with Steve for a while after hearing some of the great work he’s done with other musicians that I look up to. I was also excited to work with the group of great musicians that he brought in for the recording – although I’d never met any of them, I was confident it was going to work, and it did. We had three of southern Alberta’s finest – Brad Brouwer on drums, Paul Holden on Bass, and Scott Duncan on fiddle and mandolin, plus the great Jimmy Roy from Vancouver on lap steel and telecaster. These guys were the perfect complement to my music (some of which is brand new and I’d been cramming to complete over the last few months). The music is now in the mixing and mastering stage. In the meantime, I’ll be working on artwork for the album (yes, there will be an actual album, and I’ve got my fingers crossed for vinyl). I look forward to sharing it with you soon!
This past weekend was the 13th annual Old Town Ramble and Ride here in Yellowknife. It’s a neighbourhood celebration of music and art, and of course exploring the area and checking out local businesses, most of whom are supporters and participants in the festival.
I’ve lived in the Woodyard (the neighbourhood, not the pub) for nearly twelve years now, and have performed at nearly every Ramble and Ride. It’s one of the highlights of my year in terms of performances, being so intimate and down home (and close to home).
This year I had the honour of being featured in an article in the festival’s Old Town Rambler, in a photo and article by my neighbour Fran Hurcomb.
If any one person could be said to embody the spirit of the Old Town Ramble and Ride, it would have to be Woodyard resident, Ryan McCord.
In 2003, Ryan moved to Yellowknife from Ontario. He biked the entire way here. Today, his yard is home to about 25 bikes, in various states of repair. Many of them are classic bikes from the 50’s and 60’s, some of them looking for new homes. In keeping with his love of bicycles, Ryan remembers participating in the bike workshop at the very first Ramble and Ride in 2007.
Ryan began playing guitar in 2005 and played his first Ramble and Ride gig a few years later outside Squatter’s Books on the Government Dock. He also remembers playing in the back room of the Down to Earth Gallery during a memorable storm which pounded the festival on the Saturday afternoon a year or two later. “I think I played at almost every Ramble and Ride,” says McCord, “although I might have missed one.”
Over the years, Ryan has played with several bands, including The Dawgwoods, Back Bay Scratchers, Bluebird Island, and the Old Town Mondays. These days, he’s still making music although he’s not affiliated with any one band.
“There’s a lot to like about the Old Town Ramble and Ride Festival,” he says. “I like the walking and cycling theme and I like that it combines the arts with Old Town. It also gives people a good reason to come and wander around Old Town and check it out.”
McCord is currently working on his second CD and we know it will be a hit with his many fans across the north. You can catch Ryan at this year’s festival on Friday night at Down to Earth Gallery and on the Government Dock on Sunday afternoon.
Back in the fall of 2018 I was down in Louisiana at Blackpot Festival while also attending Blackpot Camp (I’ll write about it one day – it’s amazing), and there was this guy Tim Kness selling triangles.
I mentioned that I had made some triangles in my woodstove, and he immediately said “You’re the guy!”… I said No, we don’t know each other… or something like that. And he said no, you’re the guy, I read your blog about making Cajun triangles in your woodstove in your kitchen! So, amazingly somehow Tim Kness found this website and had read about my experience making triangles. I have to say, his T-fer’s are beautiful works of art (Claire bought one) so big shout out to him from me!
Original post April 2, 2017:
I had thought for a while wouldn’t it be great to get some old hay rake tines and make a Cajun triangle – or, more likely, have one made for me. From what I’d been told, it is best to use old iron instead of modern steel, for the nicer sound quality.
But then I thought, hey, for seven dollars I could buy a piece of mild steel and try my hand at blacksmithing! Who cares if it’s not the right steel! If I could hand-forge a triangle, in my wood stove, in my kitchen, that would be great!
I’ve got some inspirational music on – Lisa Leblanc, who played Snowking’s Winter Festival the other day. She had a triangle with her, and since I’d met her in Louisiana, the Cajun connection seemed strong, and I got inspired to have my own triangle…and why not make it myself.
A bit of background – most of the men on my dad’s side of the family have worked with metal somehow. My dad was a tool and die maker for over thirty years, and my uncle has worked as a serious artisanal blacksmith. I love working with steel – grinding, cutting, welding – there’s something satisfying about being able to manufacture things yourself with such a solid material. I’ve never tried pounding metal this way, so this will be all new to me. I don’t have an anvil, but I’m going to have to get one (or improvise something) to make the small-radius curves required in a triangle.
I didn’t know for sure if my woodstove would get the steel hot enough, but with some hardwood in there, the piece came out glowing. A few hits with the mallet on my makeshift “anvil”, and holy crap, the shape is changing!
I’d already thought about how I would approach this – I would start by tapering one end, then curl that end, then the first corner bend, then the last taper and curl. The idea is to maintain as much handle as possible while sticking it in my makeshift forge.
I’m burning hardwood pallet wood, and sticking the steel in for about two minutes at a time right now. The hotter the fire gets, the less time it will need presumably.
The old ball-peen hammer is getting a workout; I rarely know what else to use it for, so it’s great to have this purpose.
Progress seemed quick at the beginning…But now maybe I’m being too much of a perfectionist. I want to get a nice taper on the end, so it’s not as fast now as it was at first.
Got some more inspirational music on now, having made it through Lisa Leblanc’s album. Savoy-Doucet Cajun band with Bosco Stomp as first tune.
I have discovered now about over-working the steel, as I think I’ve kind of fractured my taper.
So, day two of the triangle project. I wasn’t able to buy a small anvil, at least not at the hardware stores, so I’ve decided to use a twelve dollar drift as a substitute. With a bit of luck it might work without snapping…
I was able to curl the end reasonably well, but I’m not sure how to really coil it. I decided to quit while I was ahead (even as it is the end is starting to split) and move on to the first corner bend.
I suppose I should have thought a bit more about the corner bend… It turned out ok but the hard part was bending it in the right spot, and in a tight enough radius, and to the right angle. Maybe I didn’t even need to heat it up for this part, but because I was getting it glowing red – and not always in the right spot exactly, I felt a bit rushed. Anyway I got the first corner not looking too bad, but now I’m extra nervous about the last curl and corner. Getting the length just right will be a challenge.
On my third session of construction, I put the curl on the end of the triangle which will be cut off to make the striker/mallet/hammer—whatever you want to call it. I did this work while it was still attached to the main piece in order to have a longer handle to work with.
After cutting that piece off with a hacksaw, and making my best guess at how much material to leave for the triangle itself (there are still one curl and one corner to make and it’s hard to know exactly how much length those take up), I started doing the last taper on the triangle in preparation for curling the end. I’ve done two curls now, so I know I can do it, but they’re both a bit different, and I’d like this next one to match the first one, for symmetry on the triangle itself.
I got the last curl on the triangle to a point that I was content with, and then moved on to doing the last bend. I thought I had a great idea when I decided to use a propane torch to heat up the exact point of the corner, instead of putting the piece back in the stove. The torch was barely able to get the steel red, but at least it was isolated at the right spot. It made doing the bend a lot easier, but then I wasn’t totally content with the look of it in the end. It’s cleaner than the first one, but lacks the character I think. Plus the radius ended up tighter, and it’s not quite as nice to hold onto as the first one.
After the moderate success of the first triangle, I decided I’d better try some more. I thought I had the process all figured out. But they all ended up looking and sounding surprisingly different. I think in the end I like the first one the best, but the third one is ok too. I could streamline the process even more with a better forge and an anvil. I think even a charcoal barbecue would make a pretty good forge, especially with some sort of fan to make it hotter.
So now I’ve made three triangles, but none of them have the quality or character of a real Cajun triangle. They don’t look or sound quite the same – the sound is more tinny than I like, and they just don’t look so polished and perfect. Something to keep working on.
Hi friends, here’s an old story… Please note – I haven’t ridden a freight train in nearly ten years. This was way back in 2005, when I was still in school in my hometown of Peterborough, Ontario, and going to see Washboard Hank on Tuesday nights at the Peterborough Arms. Enjoy!
There ain’t nothin’ sweeter than riding the rails – Tom Waits
When you spend all winter working, lounging and drinking, all in disproportionate amounts to each other, and all indoors, the first few days of warmth are like the unbinding of the shackles of boredom. Suddenly, you can do all of these outside, not to mention bummin’ around a little more comfortably.
I’ve always had a fascination with trains. I’ll walk down to the tracks at certain times to see if the westbound is on schedule, or listen at night for the whistle of the eastbound. Once I went down to the station on a Thursday night to catch a train; that was my first time hopping. It satisfied a certain void – I’d always admired the hobo lifestyle, but assumed it was long gone – another victim of modern times; progress – whatever you want to call it.
After that first ride I didn’t need to do it again for a while. I wanted to do a longer trip, and eventually did, but in the last few months I haven’t taken the opportunity. There’s always something that seems really important, or else it’s too cold. To get away from the tedium of “normal” life you sometimes have to really steel yourself.
Last night I was out on the porch – it’s spring damnit, or so we’re unconvincingly told by the calendar – and I heard the familiar call. That Lonesome Whistle, those Train Sounds Through the Distance tugging at my heartstrings. It was a Thursday – every Thursday for months the thought of catching out had crossed my mind. Without really planning on making a trip, I grabbed mitts and a toque, just in case I wanted to fool around hopping on and off for kicks. That’s always a thrill. On the way to the tracks I reasoned I might as well ride to Havelock – it had been a while – and really, why the hell not?
I wonder if it’s a characteristic of train hoppers to feel guilty as their ride advances. In the glare of the headlights, I see two points of view. One is that the engineers never even consider the thought of people catching their train, and also that for ninety-nine percent of people, to stand by the tracks as the train approaches means nothing more than watching it roll past. The other has me imagining that passing cops are reading my mind and know what’s going on, and sees me scheming to look innocent. Really, I force myself to believe, nobody cares. Not in a small city where the tracks don’t really go anywhere anyway.
So I let the engines roll by – one, two, three. A little excessive power for the twelve-car consist. Surprisingly, the first few cars are rideable. Around here, mostly everything is grainers, or at least covered hoppers. Some of them have that sweet platform at either end but it seems that more and more don’t. There’s just a coupler, some little beams, and the glistening steel limb removers spinning below. That just wouldn’t be fun to ride.
Generally the trains through Peterborough don’t stop in town, although I’m sure that once the crew parked the train right downtown to go for coffee. This one wasn’t stopping, though, and it was the fastest I’ve ever caught on. The ground is flat; the tracks curve away (so the crew can’t see you). I run along the ladder. It’s moving about as fast as me. First the left hand; then the right, one rung higher. A good step up and I’m on, climbing up to the platform.
Immediately I climb to the car ahead and drop into the little hole – it’s the kind where there’s no floor in the hole, just a beam and the wheels. But I just need to stay out of sight for the first crossing; I won’t be in there long. The platform itself is good. Pretty soon we’re across the river, still crawling along. At the edge of town, Botulf siding, I consider hopping off. What the hell am I gonna do once I get to Havelock? I wonder. Who cares – stay on, you need the wind on your face, the stimulation of an adventure even this brief.
As soon as we leave town I have no regrets. With so much power and so little load, we pick up speed instantly. Soon we’re cruising – only 30mph maybe, but it feels like three hundred. The roar of the steel, the clicking of the rails – the dim landscape, still illuminated by patches of snow, racing by below.
Whenever the train slows a bit I climb up the ladder, to catch the scene that was imprinted in my memory on my last ride – the daylight glare of the headlights shining on the rails and trees out in front, highlighting the silhouetted outline of the engines and the first couple cars. At this time of year, there are no leaves on the trees, and they glow unearthly against the infinite blackness of the sky.
But as soon as we speed up, I’ve got to get down fast. I’m alternating back and forth between the back ladder of one car and the front platform of another. I feel pretty comfortable doing this at slow speed, but not when we’re cruising. This train really rocks – in the most literal sense – on the winter-weary tracks. I keep thinking about the possibility of trains rolling over (they seem pretty tall and wide on such narrow rails), or at least jumping the tracks. Again though, rational thought is comforting – nobody cares enough that I’m on here to even contemplate it, and trains sway like this all the time. I hold onto the ladder and make sure not to get caught without a grip on something.
I’m always noting little things about trains that I’ve never seen before. This trip provided a sad new observation – the cubbyhole on the standard “Canada” or “Alberta” style grainer was welded shut. That was such a perfect spot to hide from the prying eyes of the hostile bull. You have to admit that there was never any real reason for the hole to be there in the first place, but I took the covering up of it as a personal attack against riders. What reason could there be to close the hole other than to keep people out? I see the freight train as a means of travel gradually dieing off – not only are there bulls to outsmart, but a smaller and smaller proportion of equipment is physically rideable. We really try hard to restrain the more adventurous types.
It might be a bit of a sidenote here, but you should all read Jack London’s The Road. He tells you all about riding the rails in the early 1900s. Everything from hobos waiting on a grade to catch out because the train would be moving so slowly, to the brutal conductors killing people with coupler pins on a rope, to the excitement of outsmarting the crews of passenger trains. It was a time when people took more responsibility for their own actions, rather than always looking for scapegoats. I bet railways would let us all ride if they weren’t so concerned about liability.
Back on the train I’m thinking this sort of thing – the mind really jumps around. Physical sensations are all kind of surreal. The wind is cold but the body doesn’t notice; the light rain is a pleasure not an aggravation. Some old songs roll off my tongue out into the deaf darkness: “I was riding number nine, heading south from Caroline…” Some of them gain new context as I improvise lyrics for the circumstances. It’s easy when there’s nobody there to judge you. “Can you hear me?” I shout. Of course not. There’s nobody there – it’s just me, the train and the night. It’s an unbeatable sensation – but maybe just to us railway fanatics.
We roll into Havelock around 1:00AM. The one thing holding me back from riding was the thought of getting stuck out here for the night. It’s not that warm yet, and there’s nowhere to stay. I’d slept in, slothlike, till noon in the morning, so I’m nowhere near tired enough to just pass out. And since the Havelock Hotel got knocked down a couple months ago, there’s nowhere to go for a beer. The town is dead, hitchhiking is pointless – what does one do?
My “solution” was to walk to the nearest shelter. This turned out to be pretty good, at least compared to other places I’ve slept. It was a little shed behind the grocery where they store all the old cardboard boxes. There was a padlock on the door – but it wasn’t closed. That’s an invitation if I ever saw one. For a few hours I tried to sleep on a mattress of cardboard, covered as best as possible by, of course, more cardboard. This was futile.
Around four, I finally got up the courage to go where I should have gone straight away – back to the railyard, where the engines were still humming. It might be a little risky, but really, what would they do even if they did catch me? I climb into the middle of the three units, open the door and walk into a wave of heat. My toes, by this time, are frozen numb, so I take off my boots, and sit in the engineer’s seat, with my feet up on the heater. I stayed there for an hour or so, always vigilant, ready to make my escape back into the shadows, but of course nobody came.
After five, I went for a coffee at a Mac’s Milk, and felt the “you’re weird” eyes of the clerk burning into me. Just like all my other paranoid worries, I’m sure this was all in my head. Any highway-side shop sees its share of people it doesn’t recognize. By five-thirty I was on the road again, and caught a ride home pretty quickly. By seven I was back in bed.