The essence of Blue Rodeo’s music was born out of influences by Elvis Costello, the Beatles, and the Rolling Stones. The band’s synthesis of rock, country, folk, and pop has remained steady throughout Blue Rodeo’s career, as they have refused to be categorized in one simple genre. While the roster of band members has changed over the years, co-songwriters and singers Greg Keelor and Jim Cuddy—sometimes likened to the Beatles’ duo John Lennon and Paul McCartney—have passionately led the band from anonymity to stardom in Canada and significant recognition in America.
The Canadian band Blue Rodeo officially took root in 1984. Greg Keelor and Jim Cuddy had known each other in high school, but didn’t begin playing together until five years after graduation. After coming up with the band’s name—which hinted at their twinge of country sound—Keelor and Cuddy invited original drummer Cleave Anderson to take part. Anderson recruited bass player Bazil Donovan, who had coincidentally answered the band’s renowned ad in NOW Magazine, which read; “If you’ve dropped acid 20 times, lost three or four years to booze and can still manage to keep time, call Jim or Greg.” Keyboard player Bobby Wiseman hooked up with the band through his older brother’s friendship with Keelor, and Blue Rodeo was complete.
Blue Rodeo began by playing the Toronto clubs and wherever else they could get a gig. The band credits this willingness to play anywhere with their eventual success. Cuddy was quoted in Rolling Stone as saying, “We’ve played between 175 and 200 shows every year since we started. That’s the way we spread the word in Canada: If somebody would have us, we’d play there.”
Blue Rodeo’s first two albums, Outskirts in 1987 and Diamond Mine in 1989, both received critical acclaim and won double-platinum awards. These initial recording efforts fostered a growing throng of devoted fans and attracted the attention of musicians Kris Kristoffer-son and Elvis Costello.
1989 was a busy year for Blue Rodeo. Mark French replaced Anderson on drums. The band toured Germany that year, opening for Edie Brickell and New Bohemians, and also appeared at the Montreux Jazz Festival. Blue Rodeo received their first of three consecutive Juno Awards—Canada’s equivalent to the Grammys—for Canadian Band of the Year, and performed at the ceremony with Robbie Robertson and The Band. The band appeared as Meryl Streep’s backup band in the movie Postcards From The Edge when the actress heard their music in her chauffered limosine as she rode back and forth to the movie’s set.
Blue Rodeo’s third album, Casino, featuring newcomer Mark French on drums, was released in 1990 after being written, rehearsed, and recorded in just four months. Once the album was completed, the band’s manager, John Caton, left the music business due to a serious heart condition. When Blue Rodeo’s original record company, Risque Disque—which was owned by Caton—suspended operations due to financial difficulties, the band switched to Atlantic Records for the release of Casino.
Casinds appealing mix of pop, country, and blues provided the band’s breakthrough to the American music scene. Nicholas Jennings stated in Maclean’s, “[Casino] is already getting airplay on radio stations ranging from rock to easy listening, a rare feat that proves that the band can bridge a variety of styles with its country-tinged pop sound.” Keelor didn’t feel a great pressure or urgency to succeed in the United States. He was quoted in Rolling Stone as saying: “The question always arises if we’re worried about not being popular in the States. We have to keep reminding people that we’ve got an awfully good thing going in Canada—we constantly do cross-country tours and sell a lot of records up here. As far as I ‘m concerned, anything else that happens would be like winning the lottery.” The
For the Record…
Members include Cleave Anderson, drums; Jim Cuddy, guitars and vocals; Bazil Donovan (born in Halifax, Nova Scotia), bass; Greg Keclor, guitars and vocals; and Bobby Wiseman, piano and acetone. Later members include Kim Des-champs (born in Kirkland Lake, Ontario; joined group, 1992), pedal steel and lap steel guitars; Mark French (joined group, 1989; left group, 1993), drums; James Gray (joined group, 1993), keyboards, and Glenn Milchem (born in 1963; joined group, 1992), drums.
Group formed in 1984 in Canada; signed with Risque Disque and released first album, Outskirts, 1987; signed with Atlantic Records, 1990; signed with Discovery Records, 1993.
Awards: Toronto Music Award for Best Group, 1988, 1989; Casby Award for Best Group, 1988, 1989; Juno Award for Best Single, 1989; Juno Award for Canadian Band of the Year, 1989, 1990, 1991, 1996.
band began a national Canadian tour in January of 1991, covering all ten provinces and Labrador to promote the album. They also appeared on NBC’s The Tonight Show in August of that year.
Between recording and touring, Blue Rodeo remained true to its belief in quietly supporting various causes. They have played benefits for anti-nuclear and disarmament groups, and they have also spoken out in favor of native rights. They also performed at the Stein Valley Festival in British Columbia in 1990 to voice their concern for the endangered West Coast rainforest.
Blue Rodeo’s 1992 release, Lost Together, reinforced the band’s foothold in both the Canadian and American music scenes. The album showcased the talent of band newcomers Kim Deschamps—formerly of the Cowboy Junkies—on pedal & lap steel, mandolin, and banjo, as well as Glenn Milchem—formerly of Andréw Cash’s band, and still with Groovy Religion—on drums. Blue Rodeo’s sound took on a new edge in Lost Together, and their efforts toward musical growth were broadly recognized. Parke Puterbaugh stated in Stereo Review: “Lost Togethens a cornucopia of solid tunes and strong arrangements from a Canadian band that just keeps getting better and better.” The band’s country tendencies are not abandoned on Lost Together. Nicholas Jennings stated in Rolling Stone that “with their latest album, Cuddy and Keelor have steered the group in a decidedly more urban direction: although Lost Togeth- erstill features some of their old familiar twang, the most exciting tracks are those with a grittier, downtown feel.”
Blue Rodeo’s fifth album, Five Days in July, introduced James Gray on keyboards and accordion. Guest musicians included singer and pianist Sarah McLachlan, cellist Anne Bourne, and guitarist Colin Linden. Although originally intended to be a demo, the work became an album as the group’s music ignited at the unusual recording location at Keelor’s farmhouse in Ontario. Keelor stated in the album’s promotional literature: “We set up in the living room… people hung out and we played music. It was great to make music in this atmosphere, people always walking around and the sun coming in the windows.” Any concern of losing the Blue Rodeo sound by recording in such an unconventional place was dismissed. Larry LeBlanc wrote in Billboard: “One worry was that by recording together quickly and being outside a conventional studio, the performances might be too ragged. To their relief, what the band members heard on tape exceeded their expectations.” Sales of the acoustic album topped triple-platinum.
Blue Rodeo’s sixth album, Nowhere to Here, was released in 1995 and revealed a darker side to the band’s sound. While continuing to combine country, rock, and folk in their unique genre, the band explored new depths in songs infused with emotional lyrics that spoke of suicide, relationship woes, and desperation. This new direction and the band’s extensive touring led to a greater international audience, and Blue Rodeo was awarded another Juno Award for Canadian Band of the Year in 1996. Vic Garbarini stated in Playboy: “Blue Rodeo hail from Canada. Nowhere to Here is another of their pristine country-rock albums that outclass their American cousins. They do rebel on some mesmerizing jams that capture the spirit of their live shows.”
Nowhere to Here, Discovery Records, 1995.
Five Days in July, Discovery Records, 1993.
Lost Together, Atlantic Records, 1992.
Casino, Atlantic Records, 1990.
Diamond Mine, Risque Disque, 1989.
Outskirts, Risque Disque, 1987.
Billboard, December 11, 1993.
Maclean’s, February 18, 1991; August 26, 1991; July 13, 1992.
Playboy, January 1996.
Rolling Stone, May 2, 1991.
Stereo Review, November 1992.
Blue Rodeo’s Official Internet Site, www.bluerodeo.com, 1997.
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