Thursday, October 13, 2011

I Have Seen The Future

On Wednesdays I take my 10-year-old daughter to piano lessons. I drop her off and take the half hour to visit a guitar shop down the street - Guitarworks in Calgary. It’s a local chain. They carry a nice selection of the main brands of acoustic and electric guitars: Gibson, Fender, Martin, Larivee, Godin etc. I paid a visit there this week to ogle all the new pre-Christmas stock they're getting - gorgeous guitars that I can't afford.

I wander through the shop and drool over the eye-candy.

I didn’t stay too long because I had been meaning to check out the new Future Shop on Macleod Trail. They built a new big one very close to one they tore down some time ago. For you non-Canadians who don’t know the Future Shop, it’s very similar to the Best Buy chain of big box electronics store. It used to be a Canadian privately-owned-and-operated company but, oddly enough it was bought by the U.S. parent company that owns Best Buy. There are Best Buys and Futures Shops across Canada. Even though they are part of the same parent, they are run independently (at least last time I checked).

Like I said, this Future Shop was big new and shiny and opened not more than six months ago.

My first stop was the CD aisle to see if they had new releases and my jaw dropped.

I know these big box stores have radically reduced their CD selections but I was still shocked at what I found. The shelves were barely covered and what they had seemed random and disorganized. There was very little selection.
Frankly it didn't look like a newly stocked store, more like a closing-out sale that had been picked over. The DVD/Blue-ray selection was somewhat better and of course the video game section was overflowing.

I walked over to the new release CD selection and among their meagre selection they did have the new Feist CD. I instinctively grabbed it and then I thought: “Wait a minute. Why am I buying this? Should I reward this company for this slap in the face to music lovers?”

Then I recalled the first time I walked into a big box electronics store and remembered the HUGE selection of music. They not only carried a fairly full catalogue of rock and pop music, they even had a quite acceptable selection of jazz, blues, classical and even a decent amount of folk and world music, all at pretty good prices. But, over time what happened to the book biz happened to the music biz. First Big Box stores, then downloading forced the local music stores to close. 

Now, finally, big boxes have turned their backs on hardcore music fans. And I put the Feist CD back on the shelf.

(And yeah I know, downloading is making the CD obsolete but, as I have mentioned on my blog before, there are still music heads like me who download music who ALSO still buy lots of CDs and vinyl. We are being ignored.)

Here’s where this story takes and even uglier turn.

There’s a musical instrument section in this new Future Shop; it’s a very big section of the store. When they first opened, these big box electronic stores carried one or two no name brand guitars and amps, a token amount. That has changed quite a bit. There is now a large selection of mostly mid to low range guitars mostly of the off-shore no-name variety plus Gibson and Fender's budget brands - Squier and Epiphone - amps, keyboards and accessories. They also do have a smattering of higher end Fenders and Gibsons. In the case of this particular Future Shop, they are hanging high on a display organized so a salesperson has to climb a mile-high ladder to bring it down for you to plug and pluck.

Why is this ugly?

A friend of mine who owns a guitar store told me that most local music stores make more money off of the cheaper guitar-and-amp packages that sell for about $200 - $300. The higher volume of sales of the cheap stuff keeps them in business to they can sell high-end instruments and accessories. He also develops a relationship with families who return to upgrade the kids' instruments when they become budding Claptons and Hendrixs. (The other money-maker for his store is the music studio.)

Future Shop doesn’t run a music studio but they are obviously digging into the entry level instrument market; so if you have a favourite music store in your community, you better give them your business, because the big box stores are gunning for them too.

The sad fact in all of this is that these big box stores keep preying on niche markets until they choke out the competition and then they abandon those customers when the niche become less profitable.

I still maintain that there are a number of music fans – maybe older ones like me – who would still buy CDs at places like Future Shop if they had a better selection. We would buy other things too like oh, I don’t know, computers, big screen TVs?

But between the death of their music selection and the cynical jump into the guitar biz, I think last Wednesday was my final sojourn into a Future Shop. 

Monday, October 10, 2011

Press Play> Vol.14 The Coppertone - Amanda Zelina

There’s plenty about Amanda Zelina that belies her age. Most striking is the 25-year-old’s stirring, smoky voice with an aura of experience far beyond her years. Couple that with her ability to pen soulful blues-laden songs and you've got a performer with the output of an established artist and the vigor of a young upstart.

The King City, ON native is now known as The Coppertone. She has been a musician for half of her life, though it wasn’t until 18 that she picked up an acoustic guitar and started to discover her true musical voice.

Since adopting her moniker only two years ago, Zelina has paired ambition with a love of a musical style of yore to find a sound of her own.

Beginning her career with a singer/songwriter-style album comprising what she calls “very safe stuff,” Zelina soon found herself in a music school south of the border; however, the experience left her discouraged.

One particularly miserable day during that daunting period was interrupted by John Lee Hooker’s Boom Boom – a great song, but to Zelina, also an epiphany. 

“You know when your hair suddenly rises like there’s a ghost in the room? That’s what I felt; it just seemed that all my questions were answered. Music just started flowing out of me and I threw myself into it.”  
excerpt from the bio on her FB fan page.

Hymns for the Hollow -- EP by The Coppertone

I haven't met Amanda or even seen her in concert but I love her two records I downloaded from

I found out about her music from a Twitter friend @myleatherjacket. He books acts for one of Calgary's best live music venues The Palimino. He tweeted me that I would like her and he was right.

I watched her video, downloaded her records and then found her on Twitter @TheCoppertone. You should follow her.

One of Amanda's friends, another extremely hip and cool person on Twitter, @Sugarwilla, is a big fan, and taunted me mercilessly because she was going to see her Calgary gig, and I alas, could not.

After hearing her music I just knew her musical influences would be terrific. Amanda/The Coppertone proved me right when she took some time to PRESS PLAY>

What are you listening to RIGHT NOW? (What's on your turntable, CD player iPod these days?)

The Mighty Imperials featuring Joseph Henry: Thunder Chicken.

What is the record (okay maybe two or three or four or more) that influenced your music the most?

That's hard to narrow down.

First off I have to say anything by John Lee Hooker. I can't pinpoint the first record of his I heard but he changed my life. I continue to learn so much from him musically.

Second, Junior Kimbrough... again, anything by him. His drone and pulse shaped how I play. I don't use a pic, I studied delta players when I started teaching myself guitar and to this day owe a lot to them.

Third, The White Stripes... When I first heard De Stigl it opened my heart. Jack's no-holds barred attack with the guitar kills me. His take on the blues is so precious.

Fourth, The Black Keys Rubber Factory. That album was something I stumbled apon years ago when I was living in Los Angeles. It did something similar to me as De Stijl, it was contemporary blues that didn't suck. Dan's voice is ridiculous, his guitar work is unparalleled... Pat's drumming is spot on and has so much soul.

And to top this all off  I'm going to add a fifth, sixth and maybe seventh in here. Ray Charles, Etta James, Al Green... Those voices in particular molded the way I sing. Their phrasing and guttural honesty in the delivery hit me to the core. I grew up around a lot of Motown, soul and blues. Their voices moved me. I would sit for hours mimicking them, turning the records over and putting the needle down to the same one verse until I nailed it. I did the same with guitar. I became obsessed and spent all my time ( I grew up in the country on a dirt road with not much else to do around me) trying to pick out what I was hearing.

What was the first record you bought?

The Fugees - The Score

What’s your favourite cover tune? (Song and covered by whom?)

Jolene  Dolly Parton covered by the White Stripes

What is the record that you count as a guilty pleasure?

Robyn - BodyTalk - It's so good. I am currently obsessed with it. It's every girl's emotionally selfish breakup album.

Currently, what’s your favourite record to listen to on the road?

The Stooges Fun House. I think I played that record on repeat the whole tour.

Which of your records - where you appear as a musician - is your favourite?

My favourite was Hidden Dreams. It was a whirlwind of magic in the studio. It was the last project I got to work on with my best friend and producer Dan Achen before he passed away shortly after. There was a vibe, an urgency, an understanding. A lot of geeking out on vintage gear and tone and tape machines and room sounds. I will never ever forget those sessions.

What’s the record you bought that you wish you didn’t?

John Legend. Can't remember what it was called. (record is called Get Lifted) I loved that song Ordinary People. Aside from that, I kicked myself for buying it.

@TheCoppertone on Twitter

Saturday, October 8, 2011

Press Play> Vol. 13 Mae Moore - singer-songwriter

Mae Moore's soulfully blends folk, jazz, and rock in her songs that reflect her artist’s eye. Her songs are landscapes of the human heart; her paintings are landscapes that reflect the beauty of her west coast Canadian home. Have a look. 

Mae has been songwriting for over thirty-five years and her creations have been heard in major movie soundtracks, hit television shows, on radio and on  music television. Mae Moore has two Juno nominations, two SOCAN awards and has had many chart successes.

She has forged a career sharing the stage with such folk/rock luminaries as  Richard ThompsonSarah McLachlan, John Hiatt, , and more. 

She got  her start in the smoky folk clubs and coffeehouses of southern Ontario and later moved on to the thriving indie club scene of Vancouver.

Her first big break as a songwriter was when she co-penned the song Heaven In Your Eyes, the 1985 hit for Loverboy from the Top Gun soundtrack. Her songwriting skills lead to a record deal and her debut recording, 1990’s Oceanview Motel.

Her subsequent recordings such as 1992’s Bohemia (an international hit) and 1995’s Dragonfly established her as a respected artist on radio in the US and Canada. Since then Mae has returned to a more stripped down acoustic sound and tours folk clubs and coffee houses across North America. She also performs and records with her guitarist husband Lester Quitzau who is recognized as one of Canada's premier blues roots musicians. I asked her if she'd pass along the eight PRESS PLAY> questions to Lester. Her answer was, "He'd say Jeff Beck, Jeff Beck and Jeff Beck."

After years of listening to her music and seeing her videos, I finally got a chance to see her perform at the first concert of the season at the Nickelodeon Music Club in my hometown of Calgary. ((Shameless plug -- The 2011-2012 season is great. Visit the homepage or follow @nickmusicclub to find out more. )) 

Mae is a lovely person, writes and sings wonderful songs and I was tickled when she agreed to  PRESS PLAY>.

What are you listening to RIGHT NOW? (as in ... currently)

Early solo Stephen Stills, my dog panting and the whales going by.

What is the record (okay maybe two or three or four ) that influenced your music the most?

Jackson Browne - Late For The Sky - for his masterful songwriting.

David Crosby If I Could Only Remember My Name  for his use of alternate tunings.

Luke Gibson - Another Perfect Day - really aligned with my vibe at the time it came out.

What was the first record you bought?

Creedence Clearwater Revival - Green River with my Toronto Star paper route money.

What’s your favourite cover tune? (Song and covered by whom?)

Bridge Over Troubled Water covered by Aretha Franklin

What is the record that you count as a guilty pleasure?

Anything by Steely Dan...except I don't feel guilty.

Currently, what’s your favourite record to listen to on the road?

Beyond The Missouri Sky (short stories by) Charlie HadenPat Metheny

Which of your records is/are your favourite(s)?

It's a toss up between It's a Funny World and Folklore

What’s the record you bought that you wish you didn't? 

Joni Mitchell's - Dog Eat Dog

Find Mae Moore's Website here 

Follow her on Twitter @moremaemoore 

Send her an email

You can book her for a concert here