After nearly 30 years of togetherness, Blue Rodeo remains a happy musical partnership between Jim Cuddy and Greg Keelor — and that’s saying something.
Most bands break up long before their three-decade anniversary. Others might stick it out but leave audiences wondering: Why?
Cuddy, who performs with the rest of Blue Rodeo on Thursday, Jan. 9, at Red Deer’s Centrium, wondered this himself after seeing a less-than-stellar Eagles concert last month.
Blue Rodeo, along with The Tragically Hip and Johnny Reid, shared a bill with the California band at the Exploits Valley Salmon Festival in Newfoundland.
After the Canadian bands played their hearts out, Cuddy noticed the headlining members of the Eagles looked completely miserable to be on stage together and performed like they just weren’t into it anymore.
On top of their lacklustre output, he recalled the band members cut the concert short so they could catch a flight out of the province.
“If it’s so bad, why didn’t they just stay in their mansions in L.A.?” said Cuddy. “Why make music with people you can’t stand? … They must have a gazillion dollars. I don’t understand why they do it.”
When it comes to longevity among Canadian bands, few can beat the 45-year-old Rush “’cause they’ve been playing together since they were 12,” Cuddy joked. But Blue Rodeo is nearly neck-in-neck with another long-lived, seminal Canadian band, The Tragically Hip, which has only been around for one year longer.
Cuddy called his group’s 29-year history “absolutely incredible” — especially since he and his pal, Keelor, still love what they do and appreciate each other’s musical contributions.
“We get a lot of pleasure out of playing music,” he admitted. “And since we’re not trained to do anything else, and the audience is still buying tickets, we find reasons to get along and appreciate each other.
“You have to have a desire to stay together,” added Cuddy, who noted that he and Keelor have been “invested in each other’s lives” since meeting in high school.
There was never an inkling, in those early days, that their roots-rock band would achieve such huge success in this country, as made evident by the group’s seven Juno Awards. “We never asked to be picked for these accolades but it’s been very humbling for us,” said Cuddy.
Blue Rodeo’s 13th album, In Our Nature, has been long awaited, coming four years after 2009’s The Things We Left Behind.
Part of this interval was spent trying to figure out what to do about Keelor’s ears, which grew sensitive to loud sounds. For a while, Keelor was taking needed breaks by leaving the stage for parts of live concerts. But that didn’t feel right, said Cuddy. “We weren’t Blue Rodeo without him.”
The problem was gradually solved over the past couple of years as Keelor’s rested ears became more resilient, and the band got all the sound off stage and channeled out towards the audience.
While there are still some amps, they only act as sources, said Cuddy. who wears in-ear monitors to hear the music that’s being created. The stage, itself, is quite silent.
“Greg is the heart and soul of Blue Rodeo,” proclaimed Cuddy, although he quickly added the group gels because of the participation of all members — including bassist Bazil Donovan, drummer Glenn Milchem, keyboardist Mike Boguski, pedal steel guitarist and mandolin player Bob Egan and guitarist Colin Cripps.
The whole crew headed to Keelor’s cabin in southern Ontario to record In Our Nature, following the formula piloted for the group’s most commercially successful 1993 recording, Five Days in July.
Many of the country-rock songs on the new release have an autumnal feel. Cuddy said this is likely because he and Keelor are now older and more reflective songwriters. But the woodsy locale also contributed towards a laid-back recording process.
He recalled it was fall, with leaves around the cabin turning gorgeous colours, and each fulfilling day wrapping up with a communal supper eaten outdoors.
A musician friend who cooks was hired to make all the evening meals. “There was even a recipe book that came out of it called Singing For Your Supper,” said Cuddy.
It’s no wonder the songs Made Your Mind Up, about the dissolution of a relationship, The Truth Comes Out, and Tara’s Blues have a quiet, contemplative vibe.
“Greg’s place was so comfortable that, as aggressive as we might have wanted to be on the recording, somehow we ended up rounding off the edges. It’s a comfortable record — not edgy,” said Cuddy, who intends to please the Red Deer crowd by performing two sets at the concert — one of new songs and another of the band’s familiar hits.