Leather worker crafts successful blues podcast

by Gayle Wilson

  • <p>GAYLE WILSON PHOTO</p><p>Howard Van Tassel in his leather and shoe repair shop, Cobbler Corner, on King Street. Tassel has buyers for his crafted leather goods, such as guitar straps, around the world.</p>
  • <p>CONTRIBUTED PHOTO</p><p>Howard Van Tassel produces his podcast Tic O Fog in his own home studio.</p>

A Bridgewater leather craftsman has been tooling a platform for Atlantic blues music that is grabbing the attention of listeners around the world.

Howard Van Tassel, co-owner of Cobbler Corner on King Street, is the creator and host of the blues music podcast Tic O Fog.

Leather worker by day and a self-taught producer and blues aficionado by night, Tassel started the podcast two years ago as a means of showcasing Atlantic performers.

He now has 18 episodes under his belt and followers from throughout North America, as well as the U.K., Germany, France, Japan and South Africa.

"I'm everywhere but Antarctica right now," he told LighthouseNOW.

According to Van Tassel, he and his wife Odette, who works at Cobbler Corner along side of him, have been attending live music events for years. They're big fans of the Dutch Mason Blues Festivals held in Truro.

"The blues, especially, is kind of where I'm at," says Van Tassel.

"Blues speaks to me about every day, common man living. I mean everybody in the world gets the blues. You cannot run away from that. Everybody does."

Nor does he prescribe to the notion the blues are melancholy, suggesting the genre is "very wide spectrum."

"I don't know how to put it, it just feeds my soul."

According to Van Tassel, the blues influence came to him "the long way around," as it did for many people his age, through the British rock invasion.

"Those bands were playing American blues. I mean, the Stones and these guys were hard-core blues artists."

He's been listening to music-themed pod casts, such as the former Friday Night Blues out of western Canada, for about 15 years.

"It's broadened my musical horizon a hundred-fold."

A couple of years ago Van Tassel decided to launch his own podcast.

Adept around computers and music programs, and aware of the capabilities of his Apple computer and the Garage Band program, he tapped into on-line tutorials on making podcasts.

He invested in a good microphone, put some time into sound-proofing a room at home and launched Tic O Fog from his new home studio with his own music collection.

His goal was simply to promote Atlantic blues as a means of helping to support the artists.

"There's nothing worse than having all these wonderful, wonderful hard-working artists around the area and nobody even knows who they are," he insists.

Van Tassel's promotion criteria was simple.

"First of all, you're Atlantic Canadian. Number one. That is my goal is to promote Atlantic Canadian music. Because Atlantic Canadians are the last people to listen to Atlantic Canadian musicians," he says.

"We have some real musical treasures here and people just don't realize it. They just don't understand."

Secondly, he insists on being independent and commercial-free, "100 per cent" self-financed.

"I'm not interested in a sponsorship. Sponsors usually dictate what you play or how you play it. And I don't want those restrictions."

"I find by having a commercial- free show, it's my own personal entertainment. I love doing it."

He starts by collecting the music, then sorts the tunes so there's a flow to the play list. "And then, of course, there's commentary and history that you have to work into the program," adds Van Tassel.

"My first few were pretty crude, I will admit," he says.

"Even when I hit that, 'let's publish this' button, I'm like, 'God, I hope this came out all right.'"

Tic O Fog's following grew slowly, until it now has more than 1,500 listeners extending across the globe. In terms of cities, the greatest number come from Tokyo, Japan and Ashburn, Virginia.

Van Tassel suggests that "Japanese people love blues." But he has no idea why the podcast has proven so popular in Virginia.

The third greatest number of listeners are in Bridgewater.

There is no set schedule for Van Tassel's podcast releases; he produces them as an when he has built up a collection he wants to promote, and has the time to work on the podcast.

Each hour-long show takes him about 10 to 12 hours to produce.

He notes that the production must fit around his work schedule and other recreational activities, which include heading out on a motorcycle with his wife and attending live music events.

However, he could see devoting more time on the project if he were retired.

"Oh yes, I could sit there in my jogging pants with a cup of coffee and the headphones on, and chair-dance all afternoon," says Van Tassel with a grin.

Eventually, he might like to get into featuring interviews with the artists and blues bands from beyond Atlantic Canada.

But, for now, the podcast will stay in its current format, and in tune with its name, Tic O Fog, which is Maritime slang for thick fog.

Van Tassel sees himself as bringing music in out of the fog and making it available to the listener.

"That's why I call it shining a beam of light over an ocean of Atlantic Canadian blues artists," he says.

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