Tag Archives: Local 180

Blues Guitarist JW-Jones Says the Pandemic Helped Him Appreciate His Union

Canadian blues guitarist JW-Jones joined the AFM nearly 18 years ago, primarily for the visa assistance when touring the US that membership offered him. He has been a member in good standing ever since, but, honestly, he says, he has taken his union for granted. The COVID-19 pandemic and the shutdown of the music industry, however, have showed him the error of his complacency and given him a new appreciation for the power of collectivism.


As an artist who plays mostly in groups and who lives to jam and record with every legend he can find, Jones found himself having worrisome thoughts during COVID lockdowns, feeling like real-time collaboration might never happen again. But the Musicians’ Performance Trust Fund—a key partner with the AFM—came through, not just with a paid gig but with a chance to really make music.

“They paid union scale for these [internet live-streamed] performances, and it was a chance to actually play with my bandmates, to practice our material, to perform and know that people were able to see,” he says. “It sounds so simple, but it was huge after months of just playing by myself. And all that doubt, just poof! It was like ‘That’s it! That’s the feeling I remember! I am still inspired to play!’”

Amid the tension of the pandemic, the chance for a live show was both financially and emotionally helpful, but it also brought Jones, as a bandleader, huge peace of mind knowing that the relief fund administered through his local, Local 180 (Ottawa, ON), put literal money into the bank accounts of his bandmates. “Local 180 has been incredible. This is all tangible evidence that they can help you when you need it,” he says.

The tension of the lockdown stood in sharp contrast to the year that should have been. Jones rolled into 2020 strong, winning the coveted Gibson Guitarist Award at the International Blues Challenge in Memphis in early February, and making his way home to Ottawa, to prepare for a year of performing.

And then COVID brought the world to a halt. Jones found himself in lockdown with his family and endless free time on his hands, so he decided to dig into some recordings that he had set aside. Though he typically performs with a trio, just drums and bass behind his guitar, he had recently played shows with a big band, including a large horn section. He loved the sound and enjoyed the possibilities of performing with a large group, so they recorded a handful of tracks to use as a demo to secure more gigs.

“It was just going to be an EP originally, but I was there at home, in lockdown; I couldn’t play with my band, so I figured, ‘Why not?’ And decided to start playing around with it,” he says.

Lockdown offered the time and the freedom to get experimental, and Jones leaned into that. Going the experimental route is sometimes a taboo in deep-rooted genres like blues, where gatekeepers and tastemakers can sometimes act as the purity police.

Jones grew up with music-loving parents in a house full of records of all kinds, from the Beatles and the Rolling Stones to Canadian folk. He took to the drum kit in his early teens, but when he saw B.B. King in concert at age 15, it all changed. He picked up a guitar and taught himself to play, spending countless hours learning to play legendary licks, note-for-note.

“When I started playing, I was totally one of those people,” he says. “It was all about recreating that perfect sound. All I cared about was my heroes, my favorite guitar players; I wanted them to see what I was doing as being impressive, keeping the old stuff alive. But slowly, I evolved more and more. It’s taken a long time to get to the point where I no longer care about what anyone thinks. I’m just making music that I love. I’m so fortunate to be at the point in my career where I know my fanbase will be with me no matter what. But you can’t just change things for change’s sake, it has to be coming from somewhere; you have to really feel like something is worth changing.”

The new album is fittingly called Sonic Departures, and it delivers on that title. That’s not to say that it’s not wholeheartedly a blues album; it is. But between the big-band sound and a heavy slate of original songs, the listener is certainly invited to do a bit of exploring on their own. Adding to the originality: a few touches of whimsy also provoked by lockdown and the limiting of personnel that came with it.

“My wife actually sang backup on [the record]. She doesn’t think of herself as a professional musician, but she has a great voice and she can sing harmony on absolutely anything. So I got her to sing on it and that was a lot of fun.”

Jones and his wife also have a toddler-aged daughter who got in on the action. Like so many children of musicians, her toys include not just blocks and board books, but also the array of noisemakers that fill all the spare space in the house.

“She noticed the microphone one day,” Jones laughs. “She liked that! You speak into this thing and pow! Your voice is loud! So she was playing around on it, and my producer decided to hit ‘record’ and we actually sampled her voice and used the sample on the record; [we] turned it into this weird, loopy intro. That little ‘wah wah wah’ voice at the beginning of ‘Snatchin’ it Back,’ that’s her!”

Jones has not yet signed up his toddler for her first union card, although the future holds plenty of possibility, he says.


JW-Jones endorses:

■ Gibson Gold Top Les Paul Standard

■ Fender Stratocaster Professional Series

■ D’Addario Strings

■ Kemper Profiler Amplifier (M Britt Profiles)

■ Flint Strymon Tremolo

■ Boss Fender ’63 Reverb FRV-1

■ Star Access Guitar Picks


Local 180 Member’s One-of-a-Kind Fazioli Piano Destroyed in Moving Accident

On the last day of January, pianist Angela Hewitt of Local 180 (Ottawa, ON) lost her best friend—her precious Fazioli concert grand piano that she has been using for the past 17 years for recording and performing. 

Hewitt told the story of what happened—what she called an unfortunate accident—on her Facebook page 10 days after the incident and said she would not comment further.

She stated that as she finished her most recent recording session, the movers came into her studio in Germany and told her they had dropped her piano. The damage was catastrophic: the iron frame was broken, as was the lid and parts of the case, and much else in the structure and action, she wrote. The maker, Paolo Fazioli, and his staff inspected the damage and determined it was not salvageable. “It makes no sense, financially or artistically, to rebuild this piano from scratch. It’s kaput,” Hewitt wrote. “The movers of course were mortified. In 35 years of doing their job, this had never happened before. At least nobody was hurt.”

One of the world’s leading pianists, Hewitt appears in recitals and as a soloist with major orchestras throughout Europe, the Americas, Australia, and Asia. She gives well over 100 concerts per year, and also devotes herself to nurturing new talent through masterclasses she gives around the world and online. The London Evening Standard once referred to Hewitt as “one of the busiest pianists on earth,” while  her interpretations of the music of J.S. Bach have established her as one of the composer’s foremost interpreters of our time.

Fazioli Pianos, founded by engineer and pianist Paolo Fazioli, has been producing pianos since 1981 and is considered by an increasing number of professional pianists to build the finest performance pianos in the world. The Fazioli factory, located in Sacile, Italy, individually handcrafts only 140 Fazioli grand pianos each year.

piano destroyed
Pianist Angela Hewitt of Local 180 (Ottawa, ON) said losing her Fazioli grand piano to a moving accident was like losing her “best friend.”

Hewitt’s F278 Fazioli was the only one in the world to have a four-pedal mechanism, and it only recently had new hammers and strings put on it. “I adored this piano. It was my best friend, best companion,” Hewitt wrote. “I loved how it felt when I was recording—giving me the possibility to do anything I wanted. … Now it is no longer. … I hope my piano will be happy in piano heaven.”

Hewitt stated that she now must attend to the insurance aspect of the incident, and then she can choose a new piano from Fazioli.

As a professional musician whose instrument is her livelihood, Hewitt tells International Musician that it is, of course, “extremely important” to have insurance on your instrument. “Surely that goes without saying. I don’t insure my hands (I’m just careful!), but I insure all the pianos I have.”

She says it’s also important to read your insurance policy carefully. “My particular insurance in Italy demanded that I tell them every time the piano was being moved out of my house because it wasn’t covered unless I had alerted them to that fact. So that was an important thing to do,” she says. “My policy in Canada covers my Fazioli there no matter where it is. Of course, it’s also important to make sure you use a transport company that will have full insurance for the transport side of things.”

AFM members are reminded that our union partners with Mercer LLC to provide the AFM Equipment Insurance Protection Program. The plan pays to replace your covered equipment when it’s lost, damaged, or stolen; and if replaced with new equipment, coverage is available up to 10% above the scheduled amount. The plan also covers the cost of renting equipment to help you avoid losing income when you’re waiting for new equipment.

Visit www.afminsurance.com for more information.

Canadian Multi-Instrumentalist Performs on Both Sides of the Border

Suzie Vinnick of Local 180 (Ottawa-Gatineau) with her custom-built red guitar by Ontario luthier Joe Yanuziello, which a fan nicknamed Scarlett.

A versatile instrumentalist, Suzie Vinnick of Local 180 (Ottawa, ON) has won 10 Canadian MapleBlues Awards for vocals, acoustic artist, bassist, and songwriter and a Canadian Folk Music Award for contemporary vocalist. Though she considers herself a roots musician, she dabbles in many styles.

“I love playing and I feel lucky to make a career of it,” Vinnick says. A native of Saskatchewan, she joined the AFM in 1990 and moved to Ottawa in 1991. “The union has been a great liaison for gigs in the US.” For North American and international touring the local helped her with visas and compiling proposals. She adds, “[The union] makes sure we’re taken care of financially. I know that money is put away in the pension fund.”

During live shows, Vinnick alternately plays electric and acoustic guitars, lap steel, and electric bass. Add to her prodigious instrumentation the dobro and mandolin and she’s a one-woman band. Once her solo career took off, she did less session work, but is still heavily involved in Canadian blues, roots, and jazz communities, frequently appearing on recordings by other artists. She plays with the theatrical musical troupe Betty and the Bobs (a seven-piece roots, bluegrass, country band) and The Marigolds, a three-part harmony folk group.

Vinnick took up guitar at age nine, played saxophone in the school band, and as a teen learned bass guitar. She eventually added wind ensemble, stage band, jazz combo, and sax quartet to her performance repertoire. Vinnick says she’s fortunate to have attended a high school with a strong music program and dedicated teachers. In college, she says, “I played in a jazz ensemble and attended a lot of blues jams.”

Rather than taking a strict academic route to success, like many artists, Vinnick says she’s learned much from experience. By the time she was 16, she was playing local gigs with her guitar teacher, John Mair, which she says taught her music and life lessons. Jazz camp gave her access to seasoned players; then, she finessed her skills at festival competitions. All the while, she adds, “dipping my toes in blues bars.” “Jazz playing and education undoubtedly feeds into what I do now. There’s always something to learn.”

This month Vinnick turns out her sixth album, Shake the Love Around. A celebration of blues and roots, she puts focus on her different voices. She says, “There is the voice of guitarist, bassist, singer songwriter, and interpreter—I include a few cover tunes as well.” Shifting from soulful resonance to jazz-infused vocals, her range is on full display, backed by fellow union members keyboardist Mark Lalama of Local 298 (Niagara, ON) and drummer Gary Craig of Local 149 (Toronto, ON).

She counts among her influences Rickie Lee Jones. “I love her singing. Her songwriting has sophistication and there is a lot of heart in her music. It had jazz leanings—so did Joni Mitchell [of Local 47 (Los Angeles, CA)], for that matter. Sting, Stevie Ray Vaughan, Shawn Colvin, Thelonious Monk, Miles Davis, Sarah Vaughan—I’ve listened to so much; it’s all kind of found its way into my music.”

“When I do workshops, I say it’s a musical stew. You mix all your influences together and come up with your own voice. I taught a guitar course in Germany and did a map of some of my favorite guitar players and who influenced them. Like Freddie King and BB King—it was neat to see a crossover. For example, Eric Clapton and John Mayer [of Local 47] have a lot of similar influences—how they’re similar, yet different, and how they found their own voices.”

Shake the Love Around has a decidedly positive vibe. “I don’t know if it’s just because I’m getting older, but you see these cycles of good and bad, plus all the social media stuff that’s beaten into us,” She says, “I wanted to try to do a record with as many positive messages as possible, not being Pollyannaish—it’s got some edgy hope. I was a little more conscious of that.”

Vinnick just returned from shows in Maryland and Missouri and the Folk Alliance International Conference. In July, she’ll go to Texas and tour the US Midwest—going, she says, “where the work is.” She now lives in the Niagara region and is in the States almost every month.

For her latest CD, Vinnick received funding from the Foundation for Assisting Canadian Talent On Recordings (FACTOR). She put it out to her fans through a crowdfunding campaign and raised about $18,000. Having a nice size email list and dedicated fans, she was able to cover some of her travel and recording expenses. But Vinnick also used some promotional ingenuity. “I’m Ukrainian so I offered to go to people’s homes and teach them how to make pierogi. I just did one where there were 40 people! All the babas,” she laughs.

Her dedicated fans also buy merchandise. “My audience is into that. It comes from the days of vinyl—where you’re sitting and listening and following along with lyrics. They like the tangibility, whereas younger generations don’t quite experience it in the same way,” she says.

Vinnick, who will be 48 this month, has built a successful and diverse career that combines live performances, workshops, teaching, and session work. “I would say to anyone wanting to pursue music—be open to diversification, doing different things. That’s how you will be able to stay in the business. It keeps it interesting, makes it fun.”