Photo by Dustin Rabin Photography
By Keith Sharp
Recent announcements suggest that Blue Rodeo have put their pandemic break to good use by utilizing their downtime to produce a new album `Many A Mile’ (Warner Music) and are set to head back on the road for a leisurely 27-date national tour which launches December 10th and 11th at Kitchener’s Centre In The Square and will take them through until March 26th at the Halifax Scotia Centre including two prestigious dates January 28-29 at Toronto’s newly-refurbished Massey Hall.
Based on Greg Keelor’s struggle with tinnitus which adversely affected him during the band’s 2016 tour in support of their previous `1000 Arms’ release, there was speculation that Blue Rodeo would be prevented from touring and recording again as a group. “I don’t want to sound too dramatic, but my ears were in such bad shape from the last tour. I just wasn’t sure I’d be able to do it anymore,” Keelor noted in the band’s press release. “The ringing in the ears gives me migraines, which are humbling, to say the least.”
But as Keelor and band co-founder Jim Cuddy assembled their touring group of bassist Bazil Donovan, drummer Glenn Milchem, keyboardist Michael Boguski, guitarist Colin Cripps and multi-instrumentalist Jim Bowskill in preparation for their four-month tour launch, both report their pandemic break provided valuable time for Keelor to recoup his health and for both of them to spend time apart to work on new material.
“The pandemic gave me time to let my brain settle and get a little more stable,” Keelor noted. “I was not being creative and had no desire to be creative. The most important thing for me is to be able to sing and write songs. I lose that and I am truly lost, I am flailing in the ocean and it’s a dark, stormy night.”
Fortunately, Keelor recovered enough to record a new solo album, “Share The Love” and when he found he had a few songs left over from his project, he phoned Cuddy and suggested they might want to work on a new Blue Rodeo record.
“Greg called me from his home in Cobourg, I was in the process of finishing my own solo record and when he made that suggestion, I switched direction and started to write for Blue Rodeo,” Cuddy noted. “We each have a method to record separately but with the COVID separation, there was no way to get together on the sessions.”
So, the duo recorded separately, Cuddy working with co-producers Cripps and Tim Vesely at the band’s Toronto Woodshed Studio while Keelor completed his six songs of the 12-song list with help from James McKenty and Bowskill at both Ganaraska and Lost Cause Studios in Durham Region. “We would send the musicians to each studio as we needed them. One day it was a Michael Boguski day and the next day it was a Bazil Donovan day and so on…” explained Cuddy. “We had never recorded like this before, it was a huge difference in the way we had worked as a group. Frankly, it’s the way a lot of people work now, people send files to each other, it’s an easy way to work.
“We ended up marrying two separate mixes which had to be mastered together but it’s remarkable that the end result sounded like a Blue Rodeo album, which it should be considering Greg and I wrote the songs and we did use Blue Rodeo musicians.”
Which begs the question, if Cuddy and Keelor recorded their tracks separately with input from two sets of co-producers, what is the difference between Cuddy and Keelor solo tracks and Blue Rodeo songs?
“For my part, when I write Blue Rodeo songs, I write them with Greg’s voice in my head, I think this will work with two voices, a lot of our songs have a call and response element with Greg and songs that will work because it will engage the other two guitarists,” Cuddy noted. “But when I am writing my own stuff with Colin Cripps my focus is totally different.”
For Keelor’s part, the pandemic allowed him to reset, take a break from endless touring and spend time working on finessing his songwriting. “There are times I have recorded a song when the song wasn’t one hundred percent complete in my mind. They weren’t finished in the way you would have liked. I have written good songs but there were a few lines in them that rubbed me the wrong way, to the point I didn’t want to sing them”
The 12 songs which comprise `Many A Mile’, their 16th studio release, are split six each between Cuddy and Keelor with Cuddy’s tracks; including “I Owe It To Myself”, “All In Your Hands” and “I Will Wait For You” are a little more personal in nature while Keelor’s contributions including “When You Were Wild”, “Symmetry Of Starlight”, “Deep Dark Well” and “Criticize” being a little more introspective.
The album title; Many A Mile, comes from a line in Keelor’s “The Opening Act” song. “There’s a line in that song which says “Many A Mile To Nowhere” which describes the life of a touring band, it’s a little bit like Groundhog Day, a lot of repetition.”
But Keelor says the essence of “The Opening Act” reflects a great time in the band’s career. “Just hanging out with these heavyweights, these masters of their craft and learning by observing what they do. We realized that you can’t go on stage and just be a drunken party band.”
Blue Rodeo has released a number of tracks off “Many A Mile” as singles; “When You Were Wild”, “Think About You”, “I Owe It To Myself’ but unlike a time when radio exposure was crucial “Now we just throw everything out there on social media and see what sticks,” Cuddy noted. “That seems more like a diplomatic way to do things.”
So as Blue Rodeo prepares to set out on their first national tour in five years, they organized their itinerary to allow for double dates in key centres to relieve the stress of constant travel.
“We are trying to lessen the impact by not having too many shows in a row,” analyzed Keelor. “We have learned from previous tours that we don’t have to do 60 dates in a row. By doing multiple dates in certain centres, we can have an Edmonton life or a Calgary life or a Winnipeg life where we can spend a couple of days in each city and hang out with friends in those cities. The road can be punishing for my head but it’s still a pleasant place to be, I still like being on a bus with the band, it’s a good vibe and a lot of laughs, it’s these things that keep me going.“
Considering Blue Rodeo has won every honour imaginable since releasing that debut `Outskirts’ album in 1984, they have recorded 16 studio albums, 4 live albums and 1 greatest hits package, and have received 12 Juno awards, 7 SOCAN awards were inducted into the Canadian Music Hall of Fame in 2012, Canada’s Walk Of Fame in 2009 and received a Governor General’s Award in 2014. Yet being cited as a Canadian music institution with all the plaudits that this entails is shrugged off by Cuddy and Keelor when they reflect on the band’s 35-year legacy.
“So you get your award or honour and you dandy about for the rest of the evening but then you go back to doing what you do,” Keelor allowed. “All of these awards end up being listed on your bio, but the following day, you have to get up and travel to a place like Timmins and do another show.”
Blue Rodeo’s Many A Mile Tour
December 10 Centre in the Square – Kitchener, ON
December 11 Centre in the Square – Kitchener, ON
December 27 Peterborough Memorial Centre – Peterborough, ON
December 29 Sadlon Arena – Barrie, ON
December 31 Scotiabank Convention Centre – Niagara, ON
January 22 Start.ca Performance Stage at Budweiser Gardens – London, ON
January 28 Massey Hall – Toronto, ON
January 29 Massey Hall – Toronto, ON
February 4 FirstOntario Concert Hall – Hamilton, ON
February 5 FirstOntario Concert Hall – Hamilton, ON
February 9 Palais Montcalm – Quebec City, QC
February 10 Place Des Arts – Montreal, QC
February 11 Canadian Tire Centre – Ottawa, ON
February 16 Queen Elizabeth Theatre – Vancouver, BC
February 18 Southern Alberta Jubilee Auditorium – Calgary, AB
February 19 Southern Alberta Jubilee Auditorium – Calgary, AB
February 20 TCU Place – Saskatoon, SK
February 22 Northern Alberta – Jubilee Edmonton, AB
February 23 Northern Alberta – Jubilee Edmonton, AB
February 24 Conexus Arts Centre – Regina, SK
February 26 Burton Cummings Theatre – Winnipeg, MB
February 27 Burton Cummings Theatre – Winnipeg, MB
February 28 Thunder Bay Community Auditorium – Thunder Bay, ON
March 22 Savoy Theatre – Sydney, NS
March 24 TD Station – Saint John, NB
March 25 Credit Union Place – Summerside, PE
March 26 Halifax Scotia Centre
For further ticket information, please link to https;//www.bluerodeo.com