On November 7th, 2009 I drove to Montreal with m’lady and our good friend BradM to see the Derek Trucks Band at Metropolis (with an opening act by local blues duo Dawn Tyler Watson et Paul Deslauriers). I’m listening to the show right now on archive.org and it sounds great. Of course it does.
And no, I’m not simply referring to the deeply talented playing of Trucks or his amazing band (Kofi Burbridge [1961-2019] on keys and flute, Mike Mattison on vocals, Yonrico Scott [1955-2019] on drums, Todd Smallie on bass, and Count M’Butu [1945-2021] on percussion), though they were all quite astounding. As if Derek’s ever-creative world-inflected blues guitar playing wasn’t engaging enough all on its own (which it was) back in this pre-Tedeschi era he was surrounded onstage by hand-selected musical monsters who all seemed very, very happy to be playing with one other. My goodness, the music was just fantastic. But don’t take my word for it, you can listen for yourself.
See? Sounds pretty great huh? Like, almost like an officially released live album? Well, we all have BradM to thank for that.
Brad McFarlane was one of my best friends. I remember meeting him like it happened yesterday. It was at a Downtime show in Ottawa and I liked him immediately. That was way, way back when Brad was first getting interested in recording shows, a hobby/public service that became his calling card. I’m not talking about bootlegging here – c’mon now – for in the “jam” scene openly recording and sharing live concerts has been an accepted and legal enterprise ever since the Grateful Dead started allowing taping in…well, I don’t know when taping started but it was probably right around the time BradM was born.
BradM eventually became probably Canada’s most prolific “taper”. He invested quite heavily in DAT recorders, microphones and stands and started showing up to everything super-early in order to set up, and he spent every show quietly grooving his heart out next to his precious recording gear. And when I say “everything” I mean everything. Most tapers reserve their hobby for the big fish (the Dead, moe., The Allman Brothers Band, Phish, etcetera) but not BradM, no way. Three, four, five nights a week – every week – BradM would hop a bus to some local venue to record any number of small-time local acts. I mean, walk into to any half-decent local show in Ottawa and you’d be almost certain to see BradM there, all set up and ready to go; the guy was an absolute fixture on the scene. I can’t tell you how many shows he recorded in all, but it’s in the thousands. He only uploaded a fraction of them to the archive but you can find almost 800 of his recordings there, including several that I was involved in (The Four Bridges, Bob Loblaw, and Burnt Reynolds). He recorded every solo show I played since we met (an absolutely invaluable resource for practising and remembering old lyrics and stuff), but none of those were uploaded. As a matter of fact, most of his recordings were never uploaded. Unfortunately BradM simply ran out of time.
In November of 2017 I was at the Montreal airport munching on what would be my last-ever Burger King meal when I got the word that BradM had passed away after going into a diabetic coma while at home alone (the experience ruined me on Burger King – my former favourite fast food joint – ever since). During the ensuing days as I sat home mourning it occurred to me that whomever was going through Brad’s things might very well have no idea of the importance of the many spindles of burnt CD’s they would unquestionably find. So I made a few calls and ended up at his house, where I met Brad’s brother (and much tidier doppelgänger) Steve. Unfortunately BradM’s vast and valuable concert poster collection had already been relegated to the trash bin but I had made it in time to retrieve the CD’s. When I got them home I found them meticulously ordered and labelled. I then spent a several months tracking down bands and artists and mailing BradM’s recordings out to them. The pile consisted of about 1,500 recordings from over 200 different artists. I managed to send out about half of them. I know how much I value, appreciate, and learn from having recordings of my own shows and I suspect lots and lots of the people I contacted feel the same.
BradM was such a unique man. Furiously unkempt, radically unhip and consistently unfashionable, his long greasy hair, untrimmed beard, thick glasses, and cheap winter jacket (even in July) all disappeared behind his welcoming smile and unflinchingly positive demeanour whenever he saw a friend, of which he had legions. After he passed away someone mentioned that he had never heard BradM say a bad word about anyone and it occurred to me that this was true. BradM always found the good in everything, which made it really easy to find the good in him.
Thanks BradM. I miss you dearly.
(I think I have pontificated upon BradM’s legacy in a different ticket story and I don’t care. I will eagerly type similar accolades about my good friend in as many of these missives as I think I can get away with.)