My Plane Ride with Jim Bryson
Back in February, I arrived at Pearson airport to take the short flight to Kansas City for Folk Alliance. When I got to the right area, I walked back and forth, looking for Gate F85. There was F84, 86, 87, no 85. I finally gave up and sat with a bunch of people at an unmarked door between F84 and F86, hoping I was in the right place. I felt like a fool.
I looked up and there was James Keelaghan a few feet away.
Then I realized he was sitting with Oh Susanna.
So I knew I was in the right spot.
On the plane, all I could think about was how many rows back the washroom was. I hadn’t dared left the gate in search of one, worried that despite finally seeing a handwritten sign that said “F85” taped on the wall I was in the wrong spot and the plane would leave without me, so by the time takeoff came around I was seriously desperate. And in the window seat. There was a dude beside me who, after trying to seem friendly as he settled in, started to look like he was going to sleep. No, no, don’t do it, I silently willed him. I prayed for a screaming baby to jolt him out of dozing.
When the seatbelt sign blinked off, I ripped mine off and tapped the guy on the shoulder. “Sorry, I’m sorry,” I said, and he got out of my way.
I returned to my seat and picked up my book, avoiding the subtle gestures that indicated this guy beside me wanted to talk. The thing about talking on a plane is you’re trapped, potentially for a really long time. It’s like an elevator ride on steroids. Who knows what you’re opening the door to if you let someone start up?
“Why are you reading that book?” he asked me. It was Tracey Laird’s Austin City Limits.
“I have to review it,” I told him and went back to reading.
“Oh yeah, what do you think of it?”
“Yeah,” he said. “I thought it was pretty interesting the times I played on it.”
Nice line. It worked. I asked him when that was.
“Oh, when I used to play with Kathleen Edwards.”
“What?!” I snapped the book shut. “You’re Jim Bryson?”
“You know who I am?!” he asked incredulously.
“Hell, yeah,” I said.
Jim Bryson is the guy who plays guitar with his mouth (or sings into it, I don’t really know) at Kathleen Edwards shows, among all the other astounding technical and technological things he does. I felt bad for not recognizing him when I sat down, because I’d seen him enough on stage.
He’s also the funniest person I’ve ever met.
I spent most of the trip laughing, to the point where I was giggling like such a little girl, that I worried I’d annoyed James Keelaghan, now in the seat in front of me, because he eventually put on a large pair of headphones.
The first thing Jim did was call the flight attendant over to complain about the heat. I was sweating and barely responsive to his inquiries from the heat blasting out of the vents above.
“You seem like a very helpful lady. Can you get us some blankets please?” he asked her.
“Oh, are you cold?” she asked. “I’m so sorry.”
“No! This girl beside me is melting. I’m worried we’ll have to revive her. Honestly,” he leaned in conspiratorially, “I keep telling her to take off her coat, but she refuses. It might be easier if you turn off the heat.”
Jim started telling me stories about touring and recording with Kathleen, the Tragically Hip, and the Skydiggers. He was on this trip with Oh Susanna. He’s in demand as a producer, songwriter, and multi-instrumentalist, having worked with tons of Canada’s best artists. He’s no slouch in the solo department either, working on his fifth solo album. Check out “Metal Girls”:
When the flight attendant came around with snacks for sale, he balked at the offerings. He didn’t want chocolate; didn’t know what to do.
“Let me tell you what, sweetie,” she offered. “I’ll trade you my staff Pringles if you like, because I’d much rather have a chocolate bar.”
“Sure!” he said.
He ripped off the top of the Pringles can and pushed it toward me. “Chip?” he asked mischievously.
I shook my head. The flight attendant asked him for another card. “Yours didn’t work.”
“I don’t have another one,” said Jim. “Only that credit card.”
She tried again. It still didn’t take.
“I don’t know,” he said. “I wonder if it’s demagnetized. That card’s been giving me trouble.”
“Oh don’t worry about it, sweetheart,” said the flight attendant. He’d won her over when he complained about the heat. “I’ll just let it go.” She gave him a wink and moved forward.
“The trick is,” he said, leaning close to me, “to rip off the top of the can before they get your defunct card in the reader.” He pushed the can my way again; again I declined. “Why won’t you eat a chip? They were free! You must eat one on principle!”
Here’s the thing about Jim Bryson: unlike many others in his position, he adapts. He sees the industry changing around him, and rather than waiting full of entitlement, as someone else with his credentials might, he manoeuvres through these changes as necessary. His entitlement reaches as far as the rest of ours: a free can of chips on the airline who otherwise rips us off at every turn. Instead, he seizes opportunities, offering his production skills to artists around him, tours with compatible musical partners, releases his music in small, accessible download packages for fans and reviewers. Bryson has built a studio that anyone who’s worked with him would want to take advantage of; his production on the early Edwards albums alone is enough to convince you that he has a strong aesthetic vision and serious chops.
But he’s the first to admit, in his more serious moments, that the industry is not changing for the better. People need to pay for music; there has to be a better model for selling albums, streaming, and securing gigs, and the only way to make that happen is to remind the audience that it isn’t free. Bryson keeps pushing because he has two little kids to raise, and slowing down or waiting to see if things improve isn’t an option. Funny as he may be, he cares deeply about his craft, and bemoans the way anything beyond a digestible soundbite has to fight to be heard.
“What are you going to say in your review of that book?” he kept asking me.
“I don’t know,” I’d answer. “I haven’t read enough.”
“What are you going to say about me? You could ruin my career! And Tracey Laird’s!”
What else can I say but this is a guy who should be getting far more exposure than he does, whether for his own work, or for his collaborations.
There’s Edwards, of course:
And Oh Susanna, who he was playing with that weekend:
If you want more, there’s another one below, and of course, he’s got everything on his website.
*Disclaimer: any evidence presented throughout this post that Jim Cuddy is an asshole is unintended.