Blue Rodeo Keeping Canada’s Country, Roots and Rock Scene Alive!

Blue RodeoCan you believe that this year, 2020, is the 30th anniversary of Casino?
You can imagine that as the years have gone on, we’ve had so many anniversaries. I did not realize that. Was it 2020? I guess that’s right, huh? Wow, 1990. It all seems so long ago.

What do you remember about writing for that album?
Oh, in those days we were working so much… do I remember? I don’t think I remember writing. I certainly remember recording, because it’s the first time we went down to Los Angeles, and we used Pete Anderson, and we worked in the Capitol recording studios. So it was all a bit of a walk through music history. It was exciting being down there. I certainly remember all the recording, the mixing, and being very happy with the results. I remember being in the studio, writing Trust Yourself, and sitting there with an electric guitar writing that.

When you were recording, then, was there a mission or a goal when you went in?
Well, the mission was more to distill a bit of what we’d done. We’d just done Diamond Mine, which was a big, huge, and sprawling, anything you want to put onto it goes. And we wanted to do something that was a little bit more streamlined. And that’s one of the reasons that we got Pete Anderson. We liked his records with Dwight Yoakam and some other people.

Yeah, it was more an exercise in editing than just putting everything down on record. And I think you can also understand that the next record, Lost Together, was back to our old ways. We realized that’s the way we liked to make records.

The biggest hit at that time was ‘Til I Am Myself Again. How did that song come about?
It was written to acknowledge a friend’s struggle with addiction. I think that if anybody knows anybody that has struggled with substances… you say, “What are you doing?” And they say, “Look, I know what you mean. I’m absolutely going to give it up, but January 1, I’m done.” There’s always some kind of deadline in the future. So that was more what it was, is that the idea of the song is, “I will go back to my life when I feel like myself again.”

How is the 2020 Blue Rodeo band different from the band that released Casino in 1990?
Well, I think the band that released Casino in 1990 was more of a rock band. And I think now we’re more of a roots band. It’s such a broad palate now to draw from. We’re very happy dipping into country, folk and rock. But we’re certainly less of a rock band than we used to be. I think we’ve found so many other avenues besides just pounding away. And it was sure fun pounding away when we were in that stage.

Well, there’s one thing that’s certainly different from the Jim Cuddy of 1990 is, you have your addition of your own wine that debuted a couple of years ago. Why did you launch your own wine?

I’ve been a wine enthusiast for a long time, probably since about 1991. We were touring that record. The road manager, Kevin Douglas and I, we just admitted to each other that we were so sick of beer, and the common libation of rock bands. We just started to say, “What about wine?” And we got a magazine and we read about some stuff. In those days you could buy a first-growth French wine for $50, we’d split it, 25 bucks each. And we’d read about it, then we’d try it in the little Solo red cups in the back of the bus, and we could understand it. We thought, “Yeah, I get this.”

It just went on, because traveling is very conducive to wine appreciation. You go to different places, you smell the air, you’d see the agriculture, you’d taste the wine, and it all sort of connects. I’d been very interested in a long time, and I started to do some annual winery gigs, one being at Tawse Winery. Believe it or not, on the very same day, I’d been thinking about it. Other people had wine, and I thought most celebrity wine was terrible. If you’d ever go to some celebrity event, they’d be serving one of the celebrity wines? They’re terrible. Undrinkable.

So, I thought, if I ever did this, I’m going to make a good wine. And on the very same day, we got two offers. One was just for me personally, it was Tawse Winery. We had lunch and made a deal. So now I have a red, a white, and a sparkling. And soon to have a whiskey.

What are some of the traits that a wine connoisseur should look for? And what were your requirements about the winery… that they had to meet?
Well, Tawse is a very good winery, so they’re not going to make bad wine. I really think it’s simple. I’m not making a particularly expensive wine, just $25. So, it’s a little above, perhaps, what people are used to spending, but it delivers with some characteristics. And really, the whole point is, it’s not bad. It’s not a bad wine.

So often people are having cheap wine, and they think, “Well, this is good enough for me.” But they don’t really like it. They like it enough. Maybe there’s some sugar in the white. But I just tried to make a wine that resembled good wines that had a particular character. And mine is a chardonnay, it’s from their blocks, and it’s relatively dry. I mean, it’s totally dry, but it’s not very oak-y. It’s a very pleasant and character full wine. For good price.

That’s awesome! So your tour bus must have some of that wine on it when you tour, right?
Frankly, it’s a pretty small run, right? I’m not looking to blanket the world. It’s mostly just in Ontario It’s certainly in all the liquor stores, and I have lots at home. But it would be embarrassing for me to serve my wine, to my guests. So, I let other people do that.

Back to music, Countrywide Soul is your latest solo album. Why did you decide to rerecord all those songs?
Primarily, I wanted to make a record at my farm, in our barn. Beautiful upstairs to the barn. Really sounds gorgeous. I’d written a lot of songs up there. Nice vibe, wanted to get up there. I wanted to highlight what musicians I have in my solo band. Ann Lindsay, Colin Cripps, Bazil Donovan… they’re both in Blue Rodeo, but Joel Anderson and Steve O’Connor? They’re just absolutely seasoned professionals. Beautiful, sensitive musicians.

I did a couple of covers. I wrote a couple of songs. And then I just mined my own catalog, to see if there was something I could either get some new meaning out of like All in Time, became a different song or finish songs that felt that I had rushed. The two Blue Rodeo songs, Dragging on and Clearer View are ones that post-recording, I didn’t feel that I had done them justice. And Countrywide Soul because that was going to be the name of the record I wanted to just push it. I don’t know why I was reluctant at the time to make it more countrified? Push it in that direction, and have a pedal steel play on it. A really fun, rollicking, very country.

Some didn’t change. Maybe sometimes it sounds almost exactly the same. That’s what we did before. But it’s an exercise. We just did it live, off the floor in the barn. I wanted to just show off these musicians. You know, all those solos are done at the time. Just everybody listening to each other playing. We’d start at 11:00. We’d be finished by 7:00. We’d be having people going for a swim, and then we’d have dinner on the lawn at eight o’clock. It was just such a pleasurable experience, and I think the record reflects that.

I love that you chose Rhinestone Cowboy. It’s such an amazing Glen Campbell song. What does that song mean to you?
When I was growing up, the Glen Campbell songs are hits, but I don’t think much about them. I think they’re pop hits, and I wasn’t really into that kind of music. So I don’t even think about them. Later, when I started signing more, I sort of realized that Glen Campbell had a pretty amazing voice. I mean, quite a range. Rhinestone Cowboy is thought of as just a pop song, and yet, it’s a very complicated little pop song. It has very beautiful, and slightly complex, chord structure. It’s got quite a wide range. It tells a great story. I saw somebody do it and I thought, “Wow, that’s a great song. I should cover that.” And it is that funny song that people know, and they don’t always know why they know it. But they know it.

That’s true, yeah. It gets stuck in that head, and you sing it over and over.
It sure does!

Is there any new music ahead for Blue Rodeo? Because it’s been a couple of years since 1000 Arms came out.
That’s sort of up to the collective will. I am writing songs, and I’ll be ready. So one way or another, if Blue Rodeo wants to do another record? I’d love to and I’ll be ready. But if everybody wants to do their own thing? I don’t know. That’s a difficult question to answer. That requires everybody to sort of step forward and say, “Let’s do this!” That could happen. It seems like it will, but I don’t know.

You’ve also been part of a couple different recordings from different artists. I wanted to ask you about them. First off is Corey Hart’s First Rodeo?
I love Corey. You know, Corey? We kind of came up at the same time. Corey was very, very big, and so we just sort of watched him from afar. I think I got to know Corey just through this. I think it came from Bob Ezrin. And I think, honestly, it was started by a fan. This woman named Jacki, who’s a huge fan of Corey’s, she suggested that he sing with me. I thought Bob Ezrin had thought of it, because I’d worked with Bob Ezrin in the past, but I guess it came from Jacki. And then I tell you, the song? I was keen on it. And then, just the process of getting to know Corey. He’s an absolutely lovely man. He’s a very talented guy. I sang the song with him at his amphitheater show in Toronto, and it’s been a really nice relationship to start.

You’re also with Sharon & Bram’s Talk About Peace.
What are you going to do when Sharon & Bram ask you to do a song? You’re not going to say, “Let me hear the song.” You’re going to say yes! And I think it’s lovely. I do think putting anything out there that promotes harmony and peace is a good thing, so I was happy to do it.

You’re also part of a special recording of Home for a Rest, which brings up the sad passing of John Mann.
Right.

How did John, and/or Spirit of the West fit into your life?
Well, we not only came up at the same time, but we were label-mates. They had the first couple of records when they signed with Warner. We got close, played a lot together. Knew them, loved them. We got together, we do charity trips, and it used to be raising money just for Olympic athletes. Now it’s for a music and food charity as well. They were on a few of those trips. Our lives were very intertwined. I knew about John’s cancer battles, and that seemed like he would win that battle. Of course he did. When I heard about his Alzheimer diagnosis, I was absolutely floored. We were riding somewhere and I had to pull over. I couldn’t even catch my breath. I thought how unfair it was that one man would put so much tragedy on one man. He’d already so bravely fought cancer.

Anyway, if there was one good thing, it was that it showed what a cohesive and supportive group of musicians work in Canada. Allen Doyle was the engine behind that recording. He just set up in the bathroom of the Commodore, and he would just pull people into the bathroom, they’d sing their line, he’d got out, got it all mixed up, all played. He did a great job. Everybody wanted to honor John, because everybody loved John, and they watched him through the last couple of years. I think one of the greatest fears for a musician is being lost and bewildered onstage. And everybody’s staring at you and you not knowing what to do next. John weathered that for at least two years. The iPad would keep him going, but if he stumbled, it would be really lost. So, I think everybody admired his bravery, and they loved him, and it was just very, very sad to watch.

Over the past 35 years, you’ve toured southwestern Ontario quite a bit. So you know quite a few of the cities. You know St. Catharines, London, Kitchener, and Hamilton. The cities must be very familiar with you?
Oh, absolutely. We’ve been coming to those cities since either the first record, or even just before. Because once you were a little bit big on Queen Street, there were bars in Hamilton that you could go to. And there were bars in Kitchener.

Even when we started with the Hi-Fi’s, the bar scene was what everybody did. There wasn’t a concert scene, really, for original bands. And so, there were huge bars, like Lulu’s. Those are the bars that we all aspired to play. It only changed in the late ’80s when so many bands had records and got more popular.  And now everybody has a beautiful venue, but prior to that it was pretty much a bar circuit. And it was a lot of fun.

You were here in Windsor last year, and you sang Try. It seems like you still had a lot of passion when you sing that. Does it still mean the same today as when you wrote it?
I think there’s a little bit of gymnastics to it. Vocal gymnastics that’s always fun to do. And I think that as I get older, I think people look at me and figure, “Well, he’s not going to be able to hit those high notes.” So I like just proving them wrong!

I thought so! Blue Rodeo shows up as a member of Artists Against Racism. The country is so fragile right now, we need more of this to happen. What does it mean to you to be a member?
I think that being a member is signing your name to a petition. But I think what music does, and what musicians do, is go out there and provide entertainment for everybody. And so when you look out at your audience, you hope you see a lot of diversity, because this is something that people are enjoying together. How else can we make bridges, other than with some kind of communal activity? So I think that musicians feel like that’s the work their doing anyway.

Are there any other causes that you or the band, are near and dear to you?
Well, I’m pretty near and dear to Music Counts. Music Counts is a charity that provides grants for schools to buy instruments. And I’ve been involved with them for about 10 or 12 years. First of all, it’s amazing how the need keeps rising. You’d think that that would be something that you could eradicate. But because every time the grant is used, that school probably has instruments for 20 years. But the need? It just goes up, and up, and up as music programs are more threatened. And I think that’s such wrong-headedness. And I don’t think everybody should be guided towards a tech career. I think there are a lot of languages to speak, and music is one of them. So, I work hard for that one. And then just numerous other ones.

It doesn’t get more iconic Canadian than Blue Rodeo. The country, rock and roots band have been a steadfast recording band since they started in 1984, including 15 alums, several live releases and a massive box set that celebrates the early years and successes.

In the thirty years since forming, Blue Rodeo have sold over 4 million albums, won countless Juno awards, been inducted into the Canadian Music Hall of Fame, received a star on Canada’s Walk of Fame, been named to the Order of Canada and have been honoured with the Governor General’s Performing Arts Award.

The band is gearing up for a mini-winter tour, including shows in St. Catharines on Feb. 7, London on Feb. 8, Kitchener on Feb. 20 and Hamilton for two shows on Feb. 21 and 22.

Vocalist/guitarist and solo artist Jim Cuddy checked in to chat about some memories, his latest solo album Countrywide Soul and the upcoming shows.

Photo: Dustin Rabin
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