Looking back upon Blue Rodeo’s debut album Outskirts, founding member Jim Cuddy reminisces how, after years of failed attempts to get any momentum behind the multitude of projects that he and his long-running musical partner Greg Keelor had been a part of since the mid to late 70’s, this band was going to be the end of the line.
He admits that in the time shortly before the 1987 release of their debut effort, he and Keelor had uneasily resigned themselves to the fact that maybe they just weren’t destined to be full-time musicians.
“Blue Rodeo was absolutely going to be the last stop for us,” Cuddy says. “By the time we got this band going, we had a decade of experience under our belts. We had been contemplating quitting, but just truly enjoyed making music together so we decided we’d resign ourselves to the bar scene and do away with any greater aspirations. Blue Rodeo was going to be a band that was about the love of the music and nothing else. Youthful dreams of success had been cast aside.”
The universe works in mysterious ways, however. Does any red-blooded Canadian dare dream of what our country’s musical landscape would resemble had Cuddy and Keelor not persisted all those years?
Of course, their songs might have had a little something to do with propelling the group forward as well. Over the last three decades, the group has sold upwards of 2.5 million records in Canada alone on the strength of timeless hits like “Try,” “Hasn’t Hit Me Yet,” “Lost Together,” “After The Rain,” “Trust Yourself,” and many more.
Yet, despite the obviously enduring appeal to audiences, especially in Canada, Cuddy would be the first to admit that the group is not in the habit of looking back. In other words, fans attending Blue Rodeo’s sold-out show at Casino New Brunswick on Sunday evening should not expect a full album performance of Outskirts, in spite of the record turning 30 years old this year.
“We’ve never been ones to really take stock of everything that’s happened along the way. We never thought we’d get the chance to make a record, let alone get a record deal, so everything that has transpired since 1987 has just been a series of pleasant little surprises along the way.”
While many other groups with a tenure comparable to Blue Rodeo’s would have either settled into merely going through the motions or resorted to recreating the same record over and over as to not alienate their fans, they have never been shy about taking chances.
On their latest studio record, 1000 Arms, the group sounds as vital as ever. While each of Blue Rodeo’s albums have an undisputed charm about them, the group’s newest record is one of the most energetic and concise studio offerings from the band in more than a decade.
“We knew we wanted to have a collection of songs that was rooted in the British pub rock sound of the late 70’s with artists like Nick Lowe and Brinsley Schwarz,” Cuddy says. “The new record came from a very energetic place though, which I believe has a lot to do with the settling of two of our newest members, [keyboardist] Mike [Boguski] and [guitarist] Colin Cripps. At this point in our career, everyone in the group is comfortable with the role they are playing within the band. We were all chomping at the bit to get back in the studio.”
One notable trait of 1000 Arms is the overarching feeling of unity that is heard through virtually every moment of the record. It is not only a collection of musicians that happened to be gathered in the same room playing the same song, the album is a dazzling display of inter-band chemistry that can only rise to the surface when you’ve been at it as long as Blue Rodeo have been.
“One of the first things that [album producer] Tim Vesely suggested was for Greg and I to focus on singing together on this album. He pointed out that it was something prevalent on our first two records, but had fallen off the radar over subsequent releases. Getting back into that groove of singing in unison is a big focal point for the new record.”
If anything, the very notion of change is nothing new to the Blue Rodeo camp. While the group’s core – Cuddy, Keelor, bassist Bazil Donovan and drummer Glenn Milchem – has remained consistent since 1992’s Lost Together, there has otherwise been a number of lineup changes through the years, the most recent being the amicable departure of longtime pedal steel player Bob Egan late last year.
Asked to what he attributes Blue Rodeo’s longevity and tenacity to be able to not only withstand such changes, but somehow also emerge stronger, Cuddy believes it is the sum of the band’s parts that ultimately make it work so well.
“None of us are the same people we were 30 years ago, which is expected. For the moment though, we are the right combination of people and the right combination of musicians. We genuinely like each other in this band,” Cuddy says, laughing.
“More importantly, we all share the same work ethic, but also have the will to keep moving forward together. When you’re all on the same page, that’s when the magic happens.”
What: Blue Rodeo with special guests The Sadies
When: Sunday Feb. 26, 8 p.m.
Where: Casino New Brunswick, 21 Casino Dr., Moncton
The show is sold out