Smokestack Lightnin' Home Page -- The Blues Profile Page
Julian Fauth (vocals, piano, guitar) blues, roots and 'barrelhouse jazz'
When I was six, my father, a radio journalist, brought home some discarded LPs from the radio station. (They played them a certain number of times and then got rid of them, because the grooves would wear out.) One of them was a blues LP called 'The Golden Blues Hour', with 20 tracks, from John Hurt to Buddy Guy. There was a live recording of Big Bill Broonzy doing 'Louise' at the 1938 Spirituals To Swing Concert on that LP, and some live recordings from, I think, the Newport Jazz Festival: John Lee Hooker doing what I still think of as the definitive version of 'Tupelo', Lightnin' Hopkins singing about his father, a "sack-shaker," who made him carry heavy bags of cotton, Muddy Waters praising the skills of a 19-year old girl whom, alas, he can't satisfy, and Otis Spann singing 'Sometimes I Wonder' through a cold. I haven't heard that LP in a long time, but I still hear many of the songs in my head - that's how often I listened to it.
My taste for blues was re-enforced by some radio programs I heard while my mother was laboring away in the kitchen. One was an adaptation of Paul Oliver's 'The Story Of The Blues', with songs by Leroy Carr & Scrapper Blackwell, Bumble Bee Slim and Big Maceo. One Bumble Bee Slim, with a distinctive falsetto howl, appealed to me especially. Although I kept bugging my parents to buy me more blues records, they weren't that readily available then, and certainly the pre-war blues guys were hard to come by. I finally heard the Bumble Bee Slim tune again at Roger Miesewicz place a few years ago: "Here I go, locked up in jail again, whooo-hooo" But Leroy Carr and Big Maceo also entranced me. The other radio program I remember from those days was one on the songs of black American prisoners. That was some powerful singing. I remember one tune, 'On A Monday', where the singer seems to break down crying with rage while he's singing: "Ain't that enough, boss, to change a poor man's mind?" Again, it took many years before I finally tracked down the recording, but the song rang in my brain all the time.
In short order, one of my dad's aunts died and left him a piano. By then I had discovered Memphis Slim and was avidly listening to everything he recorded that I could get my hands on. Well, of course I started fooling around on the piano, pretending to be Memphis Slim, pounding the keys and hollering songs I could barely understand. I was maybe seven or eight. My father generally encouraged me and brought over some of his friends from the radio station. One was a saxophone player who loved bebop, the other was a folkie who played flute, banjo and guitar. We got together quite often, at least once a week, and spent hours jamming. I also tried my hand at other instruments: harmonica, trumpet and trombone. But I don't remember much of that.
In high school I occasionally played at fund raisers, spaghetti
suppers and so on, and also got into some bars. There was a piano player
named Don French who sometimes let me sit in with him. An insurance
salesman who came to the house turned out to be a blues guitarist named
Poor Charley Robertson. We played together often, and he had me play on
some of his gigs at a coffee house named the Moondog. I also taught his
son a little piano. Then there was 'Fast Eddie' Anderson, a drummer who
dated my mom for awhile. He knew how to cook excellent soul food and set
up his kit in our basement, so we could jam together. In the 1980s, I
used to creep into Pop The Gator, where Mel Brown was hosting a regular
Wednesday Night jam. I'd picked up a little guitar by then, making up my
own chords and rhythms. The first time I wanted to jam, Mel made me wait
till the bitter end. But then he liked my singing so much, he started
dancing along with the music and let me play almost half an hour, and
said I could come back any time. Which I did.
Back then, there were two other bars in Kensington Market that got me started. One was Graffiti's, where they let me play piano quite often and occasionally gave me a gig. One day I was playing there when Madagascar Slim happened to drop in. So he jammed with me, although, unfortunately, my guitar was in shitty shape that day. I had broken some strings, and all I could replace them with were very soft electric guitar strings. Well, they bent like wet spaghetti. It was okay for me, because I played mostly piano, but Slim was stuck having to play these things. (Mostly, I play mediums - 13 gauge or so.) But he took it with good humor, and although he's very busy, we remain friends, and he recently recorded some very tasty guitar with me at Ken Whiteley's studio. He's on the CD "The World You Live In," together with Bob Mover on saxophone. (More on him shortly.) Slim is doing very well now. He's won a Juno and is touring all over the world, including a recent two-month tour of Europe with Taj Mahal.
The other major hang-out for me was Robert Khaled's Baldwin Street
Restaurant. I first met Robert at Grossman's. I wasn't playing, just
listening, and there was a piano player there. Robert started talking to
me and told me he had a bar. So we went there, and they had a piano in
the back. He let me play it, and said that he thought I was better than
the piano player we'd just heard at Grossman's, and if I wanted, I could
play there every Monday night. Of course I wasn't better than that piano
player, but Robert loves the old blues and knows more about it than
anybody else; he's got an amazing collection of recordings and videos.
And I think he heard that old pre-war blues influence in my playing.
Robert is an amazing cook and a very good friend. I often hang out till
the wee hours of the morning at his place, listening to old blues.
Robert's bar was a place where I met many fine musicians. I heard John
T. Davis there, and Kingsley Etienne, and saxophonists Doug Richardson,
Jim Heineman and Bob Mover. I also met Ken Yoshioka there, playing
harmonica with a very good jazz guitar player. Sometime later, I met a
guitarist, Mike Robertson, who had a vintage 1934 National steel guitar
and knew all sorts of old blues, hillbilly and ragtime songs. Ken, Mike
and I eventually formed a trio, called 'Dark Holler' (after an old
Clarence Ashely tune). We recorded a little CD called 'Mother Earth' in
1998, but it's all gone now. We still play around town occasionally. And
one day, while I was pounding the piano, David Rotundo walked in with
his harps. From then on, whenever we met - which was often, because we
both lived in Kensington Market - we went to Robert's bar to play.
David's band, the Blue Canadians, is doing well now. I played piano on
their first CD, and occasionally I join them for a gig. David and I
often work as a duo as well.
In 2000, Mike, Ken and I went to a jam at L'Arte, which had just
opened up at 2060 Dundas W. We got a regular gig there, and I still play
there every Monday night. L'Arte was a hotspot for musicians. There was
a virtuoso bass player from Russia, Alex Boldyrev, who played with me
(and everybody else) for about a year before returning to Russia. And
whenever he was in town, Bob Mover would play at L'Arte, sitting in with
me regularly. I'd first heard Bob in Kensington Market, but had been too
shy to talk to him. He's got an incredible pedigree, having played with
Charles Mingus, Chet Baker and a whole lot of other jazz heavyweights.
He also played with Lightnin' Hopkins once, and told me how the bass
player had complained to him about Lightnin's idiosyncratic chord
changes. "Well," Bob Mover said, " Lightnin's right over there. Why
don't YOU go and tell him he don't know how to play the blues." Bob has
done some recording with me as well. One day, the owner of the Kiwi Kick
(1986 Bloor W.) heard me at L'Arte and liked it so much, he hired me and
bought a piano so I could play at his place. I am still there twice a
In August of 2002, Andrew also organized a tour of Cuba for me. David couldn't go this time, but he may join me in the future. We went with Livan Castro, a Cuban-born artist based in Toronto, who had an exhibition in Cuba. We went to Havannah, Varadero, Santa Clara and Camajuani. In Varadero, I played at Arenas Blancas, a 5-star resort, together with Los Hurricanes, their regular band. They had me start off the night with a set of solo piano tunes and the joined me on stage. For the rest of the night, we alternated songs, me playing along on piano or guitar with some of their material, and they accompanying me with guitar, trŽs and percussion on some of my blues. Most of the tour, however, took place inland, away from the beaches (and hence, the tourists).
All in all, I played with about 25 different musicians, all of them very good. I played some blues, but also joined them on some Cuban music. It was difficult for me, since I'd never played Cuban music before, and I was afraid there would be a major train wreck, but it all went surprisingly well. In Santa Clara, I was part of a program hosted by the group Sacramonte, which features an excellent vocalist and a dancer, and which does both Cuban music and Cubanized flamenco. I played along with some of their songs, did a few solo sets and was joined for some blues by a group featuring an excellent young trombonist from the Symphony Orchestra. When the show was over, we all went to a local park and jammed until daybreak.
Camajuani was a sight to see. For 105 years, every year the town
holds a festival, with lots of street partying, art and music. The tonn
is divided into rival teams - the Chivos (sheep) and the Sappos (frogs)
- and each builds an impressive float, several storeys high, complete
with paintings, sculptures, light-shows, costumed actors, fireworks and
music. Everything is made by hand. They keep their ideas secret from
each other until the last minute. Then, on the last day of the carnival,
they bring out the floats, at a party which lasts well into the wee
hours of the morning. I've never seen anything as creative. As part of
the festival, there was a concert at the Casa Cultura, in which I
participated as well.