We've just started touring the new Blue Rodeo record, Are You Ready, and I've just put out the album for my dad. I did five shows to launch that, and I'll be doing more solo shows this summer.
What are your current fixations?
Right now, playing live is on my mind the most. The Blue Rodeo machine is in full swing, but doing these solo shows was a really great experience. It was like standing naked in front of people. I was fixated with this Daddy record for a long time, and I'm really happy it's out.
Why do you live where you do?
I moved out of Toronto to the country about 15 years ago because I've always enjoyed nature. I love how I can go for a walk in the valley and see the world reflected back at me the way I prefer to see it. It's close enough for work too.
Name something you consider a mind-altering work of art:
Lots of Sadies recordings; The Notorious Byrd Brothers; Barry Melton's guitar playing with Country Joe & The Fish; The Dead by James Joyce.
What has been your most memorable or inspirational gig?
I'm 50, there's been too many. Sitting in with Paddy Maloney of the Chieftains recently was memorable. Also playing drums for Justin Rutledge.
What have been your career highs and lows?
Career highs would be getting to play with people like Kris Kristofferson. A low would be when we backed up Ian & Sylvia when they got their lifetime achievement Juno award. We sucked, and I wasn't really into their music at the time anyway. Now I think it's great and I feel really bad about that night.
What's the meanest thing ever said to you before, during or after a gig?
Fairly early in our career, I was eating in a Subway before a gig and a guy came up and said, "Aren't you that guy from Blue Rodeo?" This didn't happen very often, so I thought it was cool. Then the guy said that we sucked.
What should everyone shut up about?
Everyone should be free to say whatever they want.
What traits do you most like and most dislike about yourself?
I don't think about myself enough to answer that.
What advice should you have taken, but did not?
I never take anyone's advice anyway.
What would make you kick someone out of your band and/or bed, and have you?
If they can't remember my name.
What do you think of when you think of Canada?
The landscape and the wilderness. That's what made me want to go out and explore it in the first place. It's the wind that blows out of the north that makes all of the great Canadian songwriters.
What is your vital daily ritual?
I'm a diabetic, so insulin is the main one. I've also got arthritis, so I have to do yoga and exercises.
What are your feelings on piracy, internet or otherwise?
It doesn't concern me. The ones who are most interested in it seem to be the ones who have the most to lose.
What was your most memorable day job?
I worked as a timber cruiser, walking through the woods all day evaluating trees. The others were working on a Great Lakes freighter, and at a lodge in Lake Louise where I learned how to play guitar.
How do you spoil yourself?
Lately, it's been cars. I've got a ‘67 Cadillac and a ‘66 Ford Ranchero. I still like old guitars and getting vintage gear for my studio. My whole life is pretty much an indulgence.
If I wasn't playing music I would be?
Probably working in the woods. After high school I applied to Guelph to get into forestry management, but got turned down because my marks weren't high enough.
What do you fear most?
Physical pain. I was just in the hospital back in September, and it's not fun.
What makes you want to take it off and get it on?
A big bonfire, lots of music, and a variety of intoxicants.
What has been your strangest celebrity encounter?
I worked in a restaurant in New York where I'd serve a lot of celebrities like Keith Richards. I served Yoko Ono and Allen Klein having lunch together. But the weirdest was one day I was late for work and running to get there. Way down the street I could see Henny Youngman talking to someone and it freaked me out. When I passed him, he said in his trademark way, "You're gonna be late kid!"
What does your mom wish you were doing instead?
She would probably have just wanted me to have a more traditional life with a wife and kids.
Who would be your ideal dinner guest, living or dead, and what would you serve them?
My dad. Roast chicken.
Given the opportunity to choose, how would like to die?
Painlessly. I'd also like it to be after a big going away party. It would be nice if everyone knew I had to catch the train in the morning so we could have a full day with a big bonfire, lots of music, and various intoxicants.
It's been a milestone year for Greg Keelor so far. Exactly two decades ago, he, Jim Cuddy and Bazil Donovan formed Blue Rodeo and quickly became one of Canada's most successful — and more importantly, self-sufficient — bands. He also turned 50, a decidedly un-hip age for most musicians, but a fact that hasn't fazed his support of younger artists, or dampened his own restless creative spirit. He has directly tapped into it on his second solo album, Seven Songs For Jim, a moving tribute to his father who passed away in 2003. It is a companion piece to his first solo album, Gone, written after a search for the birth mother he never knew. Despite all the success he has achieved, Keelor has remained haunted by his past, and perhaps the best milestone he can reach this year is that the release of Seven Songs For Jim will finally put these ghosts to rest. As he says about one of the songs, "Just This Love," "[It's] about cleaning out my dad's apartment — it was heartbreaking — he smoked a pack of Export A every day for 25 years in the same apartment. The once-white walls had turned a yellowish green and everything you took down left its outline burned onto the wall. Above the door in his bedroom there was a cross. It was one of those crosses that had one of those radiating suns behind it. The outline it left sort of told the story of his life: very beautiful."