January 24, 1998


Blues Blue Rodeo
By Ian Gillespie -- Free Press Arts & Entertainment Reporter


A lot of artists say they'd like to go out in a blaze of glory.

But in the case of Blue Rodeo, the end -- when it finally comes -- could well be a fiery conflagration sparked by a murderous argument over incense.

(Remember -- you read it here first.)

Not that one of Canada's most established, respected and acclaimed bands is calling it quits. Nor have Canada's favourite country rockers hinted they're bent on some suicidal act of self-immolation.

On the contrary, Blue Rodeo is in the midst of one of its most extensive tours ever; its most recent album, Tremolo, has sold almost 100,000 copies and the band's latest string of shows is attracting sold-out crowds.

But Blue Rodeo's careful cultivation of mood harbors the potential to unhinge the whole operation.

"I'm a bit of a fire hazard," admits singer/guitarist Jim Cuddy. "I have a personal ritual which is, I buy a candle for the recording (session) and I light it every day before the work starts. To me, it's just a ritual that starts the day. And I blow it out when we're finished at night.

"I also do it on the road. I take a candle when I leave and I light it in every room I stay in and then bring it home.

"We've always tried to make our atmosphere vibey," says Cuddy. "So there's always candles, incense and all that kind of stuff."

Okay. So the band lights a few mood-inducing sticks of wax. How might that lead to an out-of-control blaze?

Well, figure in the band's often less-than-agreeable mix of personalities and you have potential trouble.

"We're not a band that's given to an easily obtained consensus," says Cuddy with diplomatic understatement. "So if it's incense, it has to be a certain type. Or the candle smoke is bad for the singer. Nobody can agree."

So there. It's not inconceivable that Cuddy and fellow singer/guitarist Greg Keelor might exchange a few harsh words about what colour of candle to light. Emotions heat up, somebody jostles somebody else, a burning candle gets knocked onto a ragged carpet and WHOOOMMPH! It's a four-alarm blaze.

Or maybe not.


One thing's for sure: After 12 years and seven best-selling albums (Outskirts, Diamond Mine, Casino, Lost Together, Five Days in July, Nowhere to Here and Tremolo), Blue Rodeo has developed the kind of unspoken rapport that can elevate a band from the mundane to the magnificent.

Indeed, Cuddy says Blue Rodeo has gotten itself into trouble in the past because its members over-intellectualized -- a trap the band avoided before recording Tremolo.

"I think one of the advantages of doing this album without rehearsing and preparing was that we never allowed ourselves to try to verbalize what we were doing," says Cuddy. "We never sat and had a conversation about what kind of record this was, because that's when we find ourselves in the greatest trouble -- when we try to communicate to each other what it is we want to get out of a record.

"The easiest way we communicate is to just simply play, then discuss what we've played. Then it's very easy for us; everybody realizes how the parts go together and we can move on quickly."


That kind of eloquent silence should be evident during Blue Rodeo's London gig on Thursday. Cuddy says the band's current schedule of shows -- its biggest tour in years -- features almost three hours of music at every concert. And that's still barely enough to scratch the surface of Cuddy's and Keelor's prolific songwriting output.

"The shows are tiring but they're extremely satisfying," Cuddy says. "It allows us to cover all the little bands we've been on our different records and spend more time with our audience."