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On the whole, he’d rather win

When somebody awakened Tom Wilson to tell him the latest album by his group, Blackie and the Rodeo Kings, made the Top 100 list for America’s national public radio, he felt like rolling over and going back to sleep.

When somebody awakened Tom Wilson to tell him the latest album by his group, Blackie and the Rodeo Kings, made the Top 100 list for America’s national public radio, he felt like rolling over and going back to sleep.

“I thought, well, Jesus, anybody can make that,” said Wilson with a chuckle.

When he discovered Kings and Queens was actually at No. 4 on the U.S. list, Wilson was suddenly wide awake and paying attention.

He later noticed his group’s recording of duets with Lucinda Williams, Roseanne Cash, Emmylou Harris and other female singers was on year-end lists all over the place.

This includes CBC-Radio’s top picks for 2011, and the No. 2 spot on CKUA Radio’s best-of albums list.

Wilson’s admission that he follows such trivial things makes him feel a little sheepish.

On the other hand, the singer who performs with Blackie and the Rodeo Kings on Thursday, Feb. 2, at The Hideout, south of Red Deer, reasons, “I’m lying here surrounded by all the Junos and gold records we’ve won over the years and, if I was being completely honest, I’d have to say that I’d rather be nominated than not nominated. And I’d rather win than not win.”

Awards and best-of lists really amount to a public acknowledgement that years of hard work and persistence in the music business are finally paying off, he added.

The singer, formerly with the band Junkhouse and who also performs under the quirky pseudonym Lee Harvey Osmond, has had more than his share of salad days.

The reason he and his Blackie and the Rodeo Kings cohorts, Colin Linden and Stephen Fearing, recruited singer Exene Cervenka of the Los Angeles punk band X, for one of the duets on the Kings and Queens album is that Wilson was very familiar with her “incredible voice” from his stint on the streets of L.A.

“I knew her band from back in the late ’70s, when I used to sell dope outside the Whiskey a Go-Go in Hollywood,” said Wilson.

Like many young people who want to strike fame and fortune, he travelled to Los Angeles after selling a song to U.S. blues-rocker George Thorogood. “He never ended up recording it, and I ended up living off of chili-dogs, playing my guitar, and selling hash to tourists in front of Grauman’s Chinese Theatre.”

Those days seem like a lifetime ago, admitted Wilson, who’s been sober for 12 years “and happy as can be.”

One of the reasons he’s on such a natural high is his musical involvement with Linden and Fearing.

He and Linden first met as a teenagers playing the folk festival circuit in Southern Ontario. Wilson is from Hamilton and Linden grew up in Toronto, so the two crossed paths often and became good friends.

Linden, who’s since become as well known as a Grammy-winning producer as a musician, also eventually became friendly with Vancouver-born, Ireland-raised Fearing. When the two decided in 1996 to form Blackie and the Rodeo Kings to honour the great songwriter Willie P. Bennett, they asked Wilson to join them, and “I was honoured,” he recalled.

Seventeen years later, the trio of musicians keep making great music together because their modus operandi was never to try pleasing anyone other than themselves.

“I just think the fact that we got together for completely unselfish purposes has set the tone for the rest of our career,” said Wilson. “We do things for musicality, not popularity, and we respect each other’s point of view. We don’t fight over how many songs each of us get on a record.”

Two of Wilson’s favourite duets on Kings and Queens are sung by others — Black Sheep, by Stephen Fearing and Serena Ryder, and Shelter Me Lord, by Colin Linden and Patti Scialfa.

“They are just enormously great songs” that come from the heart and are beautifully performed, he explained.

Fearing’s song, in particular, has an autobiographical undercurrent that’s seamlessly blended with fictional elements in the lyrics, said Wilson. “That’s how smart Stephen is, that he can weave his own story into a fictional setting.”

While none of the Queens will be present to sing their side of the duets in Red Deer, Wilson said he, Linden and Fearing are more than able to pick up the slack.

“We’re really looking forward to coming to Red Deer,” said the 52-year-old, who noted Blackie and the Rodeo Kings have only ever played here as part of the Central Music Festival.

And “we hardly ever do bars anymore.”

Wilson will be travelling with his son, Thompson Wilson, whose folk-rock band, Harland Pepper, is opening on the tour.

The singer said he gets along great with Thompson, as well as his adult his daughter, Madeline Wilson, who helps administrate the business side of things.

“I’ve always allowed them to do what they’ve wanted as adults and they’ve never run away from me,” said Wilson, who credits his solid relationship with his kids for adding to his general air of contentment.

Tickets to the 8 p.m. show (doors open at 6 p.m.) are $25 in advance or $30 at the door. For more information, call 403-348-5319.

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