Published Jan 23, 2010The centre of Blue Rodeo's universe is a non-descript building on the Danforth in Toronto, housing their management company Starfish Entertainment and their renowned Woodshed Recording Studio. If the band have any roommates at the Woodshed, then it's the Sadies. Distinguished by their punk-infused, country rock sound and an uncanny ability to back up an eclectic array of collaborators ― Neko Case, Andre Williams, Jon Langford, Heavy Trash, John Doe, and most recently Gordon Downie among many others ― the Sadies are led by hotshot guitar-slingers Travis and Dallas Good, whose organic approach works well in their adopted HQ.
"Aside from a few isolation chambers, it's one room,' Dallas says, surveying the Woodshed. "Everybody's in the room, including the engineer and the mixing board. Most engineers hate that but so much of our work is about spontaneity and we work very quickly. For some people, this wouldn't be a conducive environment to making records but for us, it's perfect."
Direct descendants of Canadian bluegrass royalty in the Good Brothers, Travis (the elder) and Dallas were steeped in music-making from an early age. "I started playing guitar when I was nine and took lessons from 'Red' Shea who was playing with Gordon Lightfoot," Travis recalls. "He usually took people at 12, but my hands were the same size then as they are now. I started with classical lessons and finger-picking, eventually got hand-me-down gear from my parents, bought a Vantage guitar when I was 13, and learned how to play electric."
Though Dallas began younger, he studied piano with a teacher he recalls fondly. "I never practiced and she noticed that so she'd just teach me ear training. By the time she stopped teaching, I was 11 and had grade nine Royal Conservatory ear training. More than my parents or my brother's musical forcefulness, that was the best because it was something I could use."
Whatever their respective ambitions, the Goods were bound to the family business. "Our dad [Bruce Good] was always really encouraging about us playing music but also told us, if we wanted any security, we'd be better off doing anything else," Travis recalls. "I still think I might be a hockey player," he laughs, "but even at nine years old, I was a much better guitar player than I was a hockey player."
Dallas initially chose the instrument out of spite. "A guy I knew at the time had a guitar and was playing 'Peter Gunn,' the Henry Mancini song, wrong and it drove me nuts, so I was just like, 'I'll show you what fret it actually is.' Then, all of a sudden I thought I could play guitar, so I did for something to do."
Inspired by punk prototypes like Iggy and the Stooges, the brothers' formative bands explored hardcore; the sensibility eventually informed the Sadies' all-encompassing rock sound. "That's why we came full circle; bluegrass is faster than hardcore," Dallas explains. "I dunno how many times I've said that to guitar geeks."
Aside from their mind-bending musical dexterity, the Goods are music nerd heroes because of their gear. Wherever possible, Dallas uses Garnet Revolution amps with an old Fender Telecaster (on permanent loan from Travis), a B-Bender guitar, a seven-string Mill Music acoustic, a Martin acoustic, an Acetone keyboard, and lately, a Stylophone ― a stylus-operated synthesizer ― which he's been enjoying in combination with his cherished pot accessory, the V-Tower Extreme Vaporizer. "I'm thinking of giving up guitar for it," Dallas grins.
Along with Martin acoustics and a 100-year-old fiddle, Travis sports a Gretsch Tennessean of one vintage or another, played through a mid-'60s Vibrolux and a 1970 deluxe reverb amp. "The Gretsch/Tele was very deliberate," Dallas says of their interplay. "For what we wanted to do, the instrumentation seemed to dictate the style and everything else. From there, the experimenting happens in studio but, in terms of translation, those are our most comfortable instruments."
"Ever since the beginning, I've felt like our instrumentation dictates what we play," Travis says. "I feel like the guitar's more the player ― I'm just the guy standing behind it. It has a very unique sound and I don't have a whole lot to do with that. It doesn't matter what we play, with those instruments, we're gonna sound like the Sadies. If you give us all Ibanez guitars and Marshall amps, we're not gonna sound a fucking thing like the Sadies."