November 29, 1995


Always True to Canada
by James Muretich - Southam Newspapers


In the last decade, Blue Rodeo has become a classic Canadian music story.

In America and Europe, the Toronto-based group gains a few favorable notices and sells a handful of discs.

Yet in Canada, Blue Rodeo is about as big as a recording act can get this side of Bryan Adams.

Each album, whether it spawns a hit song or not, sells well. Its tours draw legions of loyal fans, witness the three sold-out shows at the Centre's Jack Singer Concert Hall this Saturday to Monday.

"Canadians are very much disconnected from international music, from American music,'' says guitarist-vocalist Jim Cuddy.

"There's a safety in that. You know when you were a kid how there was this distance where you could yell safely back at somebody -- the hell with you! -- and you knew exactly where that distance was.

"Well, I think Canadians understand that they stand at that distance from the big time.''

Which isn't a bad thing. As Cuddy says, it's a key ingredient in giving Canadian bands a sound uniquely their own, be it Blue Rodeo's psychedelic-kinetic blend of country and rock or The Tragically Hip's brand of meat 'n' tell-tale taters rock.

"I think a lot of American music is characterized by a slavish reverence to whatever the sound or look or attitude is. Grunge bands have to look exactly like grunge bands. Obviously, there are some great bands that come out of that but the bands that do it that slavishly in Canada look ridiculous,'' says Cuddy.

"We don't feel the same sort of loyalty to the past and therefore we think it's just fine if we want to put a big messy, jazzy, rock solo in the middle of a country song. We don't feel like we're drawing a moustache on anybody's family portrait.

"There's something always off about what Canadians do, a kind of ironic distance from the source that makes our stuff interesting but also makes it difficult to digest for the rest of the world.

"I mean, we think of The Hip as the most standard rock band up here. We all know someone like (lead singer) Gord Downie. People in the States, though, they always go: What's with that guy? They just don't get it. To us, that kind of irony is so familiar.''

For Cuddy and fellow Blue Rodeo songwriter Greg Keelor, it's been a long and winding road to come to that understanding. Years of punk-rock, ska and reggae in other bands.

"You have to try on a lot of clothes to find the suit that fits you . . . and we tried on the whole store.''

As Cuddy says, even though Blue Rodeo saw its country-rock as decidedly non-mainstream it "just happened to get into one of those little portholes of psychic opportunity.''

In among the weirder Doors-style nuggets like Floating, the band's first album yielded the hit ballad Try -- and Blue Rodeo has never looked back. It has kept on exploring new avenues, personally and musically.

"At times, being a Blue Rodeo is an uncomfortable thing and we're always trying to figure out ways to chip away at that, new ways to fight and new ways to make up and new songs to write.''

The band may not be big in Los Angeles or London but there are a lot of great artists who have remained truly Canadian in their appeal and their feel for music.

"I think there's a satisfaction in thinking of yourself in the same light as Gordon Lightfoot. I mean, that guy's a Canadian institution and maybe we're on our way to being that too. That would be an amazing position to be in,'' says Cuddy, in a self-effacing fashion that is, yeah, all Canadian. Calgary Herald.