Better Off As We Are
It's easy to take something for granted when it becomes as integral to your cultural identity as an accent or even the changing seasons. For nearly 25 years, the music of Blue Rodeo has held such importance for thousands of Canadians. No other band, not even the Tragically Hip, has been as widely embraced, and in turn has naturally embodied so many sensibilities shared throughout the nation. But just as a clear definition of a Canadian sound remains elusive, so does the sound of Blue Rodeo. Firmly rooted in the traditions of folk, country and early rock'n'roll, they have, in spite of their evolution over the course of a dozen albums, been instantly identifiable, whether the voice leading the band belongs to Greg Keelor or Jim Cuddy. Theirs is a classic rock'n'roll bond, one built upon a simple dream, which now has given birth to its own community within Canada. It can't be over-emphasized, then, that Blue Rodeo's latest album, The Things We Left Behind, easily ranks among their best. It's also perhaps the band's most ambitious offering. With 16 tracks spread over two discs ― and four sides of vinyl ― Keelor and Cuddy push their songwriting in new directions, while never losing sight of what has always made their work great: the chemistry that only occurs when they, and the rest of the band, perform together. It's hard to conceive of where Canadian rock would be without them.
1971 to 1977
Jim Cuddy (born Dec. 2, 1955 in Toronto) and Greg Keelor (born Aug. 29, 1954 in Inverness County, NS) meet while attending North Toronto Collegiate. Cuddy is quarterback of the football team, while Keelor is on the defensive side. Cuddy's immediate post-graduation plans entail driving west with friends in a renovated school bus, and when one passenger pulls out, Keelor takes his place. The bus breaks down in Saskatchewan, whereupon Keelor finds work in Lake Louise and Cuddy heads to Banff. There, Cuddy meets an aspiring country/rockabilly singer named Robin Masyk, who later lands in Toronto under the name Handsome Ned. Masyk's example gets Cuddy performing in coffeehouses, while Keelor learns guitar by studying Gordon Lightfoot and Everly Brothers songbooks. Cuddy enrols at Queen's University in 1975, but keeps in touch with Keelor, now that they share a similar musical passion.
1978 to 1980
Back in Toronto together and inspired by local punk bands the Demics and the Mods, Keelor and Cuddy form the Hi-Fis, a power pop quartet. That band record a single, "I Don't Know Why (You Love Me)," for their manager's Showtime label, which drums up some interest within the city. They are approached by Ready Records, home to new wave acts Blue Peter and the Spoons, but the deal falls through when the Hi-Fis cannot find more gigs outside of their limited circuit. "A lot of partnerships are forged in failure," Cuddy says today. "We were actually quite happy doing what we'd been doing, even though we hadn't had a lot of success. When we started, everybody embraced the fact that we had two singers. Some people leaned more toward Greg's stuff, some more towards mine."
1981 to 1983
Cuddy's girlfriend (and future wife) Rena Polley is accepted at a New York City theatre school, and he opts to move there with her. Keelor follows suit, knowing that his old friends Michael Timmins and Alan Anton are also there with Hunger Project, the band that will become Cowboy Junkies. Cuddy and Keelor form Fly To France, with a revolving line-up recruited from Village Voice ads. The pair cross paths with a New Zealand outfit called the Drongos, and enlist them to help record a demo consisting of "Try," "Outskirts," "Rose-Coloured Glasses," and "Floating." Every label roundly rejects it as too soft. Their ex-pat Canadian manager Howard Wiseman introduces them to his younger brother Bobby, who studied avant-garde piano at York University. Their initial jams together are the few bright spots in an otherwise frustrating period. Keelor, who works as a waiter, suffers severe homesickness, and eventually convinces Cuddy to return to Toronto, a decision the latter instinctively feels is a mistake.
The pair first hires drummer Cleave Anderson, whose resume includes stints with Toronto bands the Battered Wives and the Sharks. Another one-time Shark, bassist Bazil Donovan, answers an ad placed in NOW magazine, and gets the gig without an audition based on Anderson's recommendation. With Wiseman also on board, they start seriously building a repertoire out of Keelor and Cuddy's original material. By now the pair are writing separately, with Keelor's songs taking on a more pronounced twang. He credits this to a new fondness for Patsy Cline, as well as Elvis Costello's 1981 country covers album Almost Blue, which partially lends the new band its name, Blue Rodeo.
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