comment 0

Texas Gals

I’ve been learning a tune called Texas Gals on the banjo, so I’ve been listening to some different versions. Here are Al Hopkins and his Hillbillies….

Here’s a nice version by a group called The Monks, featuring a square dance caller….

I’ve been learning the tune from a teaching video by a wonderful banjo player named Hilarie Burhans, who has very generously put a boatload of videos up on her youtube channel to help the banjo-challenged like me to learn some tunes.

I’ve discovered that as I get more experience playing and have seen many if the common patterns show up in various tunes, I’m enjoying learning from videos more and more. With a video, I can listen to how it sounds and can also watch the fingering, which I find very helpful.

Once I practice this one for a while, I’ll try playing it on video as well. I find that recording myself is a great learning tool. When I listen to myself play, sometimes it sounds to me far better than I know it really sounds. When I record myself and then play it back, I can better hear what I really sound like and that helps me make adjustments to my play so I sound better.

comment 0

Phyllis AKA Bunny


Her name is Phyllis but somewhere along the way we started calling her Bunny. Bunny has a job. She puts me to bed at night. She does this by wrapping herself around my head and turning on the purr machine. Once I’m down, job done, she moves on.

comment 0

Brunswick House closing

I heard on the radio today that the Brunswick House, a landmark in the Bloor and Brunswick neighbourhood here in Toronto for many years, will be closing – possibly to be replaced by a chain pizza joint.

It has been many many years since I’ve been at the Brunswick, but I do have some great memories of the place. Back in the 80s they had an upstairs room called Albert’s Hall, and they used to bring in the best blues players on a regular basis.

I attended performances by The Sun Seals Band, Eddie “The Chief” Clearwater, Buddy Guy and Junior Wells together (twice), Hubert Sumlin, Mighty Joe Young, Clarence Gatemouth Brown, Koko Taylor, Sunnyland Slim, and many more.

When they closed Albert’s Hall I never went back. I won’t miss the place. The memories of those great days are in a safe place.

Here’s a performance I wish I had seen at Albert’s Hall, vintage Canadian blues featuring two of the best, both gone now – Peter Appleyard and the breathtaking piano boogie of  Jane Vasey.

comment 0

What’s wrong with this picture?

Paintings by famous Canadian artists — including Lawren Harris and Tom Thomson — garnered record prices on Thursday night at the Heffel Fine Art Auction at the Park Hyatt Hotel in Toronto.

Mountain and Glacier by Lawren Harris was the biggest seller of the night, fetching a whopping $3.9 million.

I’ve made paintings for as long as I can remember. I’ve always loved paintings. We make art a significant part of our lives here at 27th Street. And yet, it strikes me there is something amiss when a painting sells for almost $4 million, yet we can’t feed everyone or provide shelter from the winter weather, or look after refugees whose lives are in shambles.

I get that Lawren Harris has an important place in the history of painting here in Canada. Sure, I studied his work along the way, and he is after all one of the Group of Seven. (Whenever I hear or see the name Group of Seven, I’m reminded of my teacher and friend, the late Ron Bloore, who used to say, “Canadians paint by numbers.” He was referring of course to the Group of Seven, The Painters 11 and the so-called Regina 5, of which he was a part).

Don’t get me wrong. I’m not against selling paintings. I’ve very pleased and encouraged to have seen the sale of a few of my own over the past couple years (a big thanks to all those who bought one – I hope it brings you years and years of enjoyment). I just can’t get my head around 4 million Canadianos for some paint on canvas, no matter how famous the artist, no matter how accomplished the painting, no matter how critical it was to our cultural history.

Just imagine the fantastic collection a modest collecting contemporary gallery could amass for $4 million. It could be spectacular. I know a lot of artists, and I don’t think the combined lifetime sales of all of them together amounts to that kind of change – and just about all of them have to hold down a day job to support that nasty art habit.

Harris paintings are always a big draw, and there may have been increased interest in his work given the buzz around a Steve Martin-curated exhibit at the Los Angeles Hammer Museum.

Aha! Blame it on the banjo player.

Filed under: Art
comment 0

This got me thinking about spring….

….and it’s only November.


A local Loblaws is selling dried morels for $249.94 /pound.

I missed morel season this year because I broke my ankle, but I’m looking forward to getting out to the secret morel grounds in May. I collect all kinds of different mushrooms for the table in season, and enjoy some good exercise along the way. I just can’t imagine paying outrageous prices to enjoy morels from a grocery store.

comment 0

Episode 6 of the Twenty Seventh Street Podcast is now available

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

You can access Episode 6 of the Twenty Seventh Street Podcast here or from iTunes.

In this episode I visit Lorraine Wilson at Peticure Paws, located on Davenport here in Toronto, just east of Oakwood on the south side. Lorraine can be reached at (647) 989-4440. She has been grooming our Newfs for years and does a fantastic job with them. Sending out a big thank you to Lorraine for taking part in today’s podcast.

Follow Lorraine on Instagram @PETICUREPAWS

If you have any comments about this podcast or suggestions for future Twenty Seventh Street Podcasts, drop me a line:

A note on the music – intro and outro – that’s me playing a traditional tune called June Apple.



comment 1

What’s that noise?

Yesterday we had a crew of roofers here at 27th Street all day. The menagerie was not impressed. The dogs and the cats were all extremely happy to see me when I got home from work (even more than usual), and they gathered around me, with the obvious expectation that I make the banging stop.

The crew almost finished the job when darkness made it unsafe to install that last vent. I’m sure to the dogs and cats, I was the hero, as not long after I came home, the noise stopped. The menagerie likes routine. Everything has to be just so for maximum canine and feline contentment. They would much prefer we just ignore the need for a new roof.

Memphis, one of our two Newfs, won’t eat if there is noise. She just looks at me, sighs and lies down. The other day, there was a wood chipper in operation next door as the builder who bought the place took down the apple tree in the back yard in preparation for his re-building project. I put out doggy dinners on the deck as usual. Georgie didn’t care about the noise. He was prepared to eat his dinner and Memphis’ dinner as well. I brought Memphis’ food back inside, waited until the chipper stopped, then invited her back out on the deck to eat. Yesterday, I simply delayed food for the whole gang until the roofers left.

Construction-type noise has become the norm around here, unusual because since we moved here a number of years ago, our neighbourhood has been very quiet. There are three homes under construction which I can see out my window as I type. The construction guys typically show up at 7 and work at least until dark. By re-doing the roof, we added to the noise for a day. I suppose the best thing is for all the construction that’s going to happen, happens at once, so it is over as quickly as possible.

Aside from the roof work, I’m aware that I have added to the neighbourhood noise – at least during the nice weather – by playing my banjo on the front porch. When I started doing this, I figured it would be a short-lived activity, and if the neighbours didn’t like it, I was ready to take my banjo back inside. So far, there haven’t been any complaints, and in fact several people have told me they enjoy hearing it. Maybe banjo is a healthy antidote to construction? In my own little brain, I’d like to think so.

comment 0

Fifteen Dogs – a brief review

A lot has been said and written about Fifteen Dogs by Andre Alexis. After all, it did recently capture the Giller prize. I should say that I dislike awards shows in general, and mostly dismiss them as glitzy commercials. I did watch the Giller show though. After all, this was a contest all about Canadian literature, and that is something special enough that not even an awards show, albeit an unusual one, could diminish.

The finalists all seem like super-interesting books, but by the time the show was over, my note to self was to read Fifteen Dogs as soon as possible. Yesterday Tuffy P bought a copy for me, and just a short while ago I finished gobbling it up.

The premise of the story is simple enough. Two gods mess with the lives of fifteen dogs, all staying overnight at a vet clinic in Toronto. On a bet, the dogs are given the intelligence of humans. The bet asks the question, will any of them die happy?

We follow the adventures of the 15, follow their relationships with other dogs and with people, follow their lives and follow their deaths. We learn how the dogs, with their elevated level of understanding and language skills, understand and relate to humans and how they deal with their own suddenly altered dog-ness.

What a thoughtful and inventive book, and as a bonus, it’s a page-turner. I simply could not put it down. Fifteen Dogs gets my highest recommendation. It’s among the best novels I’ve read in years.

Maybe this year, I’ll read all the finalists and the winner of the Giller. On that list, next up will be Arvida by Samuel Archibald, translated by Donald Winkler. That however, will have to wait, as I interrupted The Colony of Unrequited Dreams by Wayne Johnston in order to gobble up Fifteen Dogs.