September 17, 1998


Jim Cuddy Can Cut It Alone
by David Veitch


Jim Cuddy sits down for a morning coffee and immediately asks about the Canadian Country Music Association awards.

He wasn't at the Calgary ceremonies Monday night, even though his band Blue Rodeo was once again nominated for group of the year. And once again, they lost.

In fact, as of last week, Cuddy didn't even know Blue Rodeo was up for the honour.

"I don't remember being told, or asked to come as a presenter," Cuddy says matter-of-factly at his downtown hotel yesterday.

Strange, since Blue Rodeo is regularly nominated for best group, although it's an award they've never won.

"It's funny. We won the rising star award in the first year (1988)," he points out, "and I guess that's as far as it went."

"So, where did it all go wrong, Jim?" I ask with tongue firmly planted in cheek.

"I guess we didn't write about Alabama."

Unlike many of today's homegrown country stars, Blue Rodeo have remained resolutely Canadian and never pandered to a U.S. audience through its music or lyrics.

The consequences have been predictable and unjust: The country-rock quintet is loved in Canada and virtually ignored down south, despite creating a body of work that plays second fiddle to no one.

No wonder fans are worried that the group's songwriters, Cuddy and Greg Keelor, are dipping their toes into solo waters.

Keelor's solo disc, Gone, was released last year -- and last week, Cuddy released his own, the autobiographical All In Time.

"Because Greg was doing his (solo album), I thought, 'What if Greg likes it and just wants to carry on solo? I'll have to do one.' " says Cuddy, who'll bring his solo band to The Palace on Oct. 15.

"I had to quell some doubts about whether I could do it. Yet the moment I decided to do it, it was a fully formed plan.... I knew I wanted to have a sound that was fiddle-driven, Late For The Sky Jackson Browne, (Jerry Jeff Walker's) Lost Gonzo Band kind of stuff."

All In Time was started two years ago and, since then, Cuddy contributed material to Blue Rodeo's 1997 album Tremolo.

"Songs that were of a personal nature just naturally ended up on my solo record," he says, referring to tracks such as Whistler, about working in the Rocky Mountains after high school, and Disappointment, about his days as a struggling musician in New York.

"Other songs that were on a broader landscape ... went on the Blue Rodeo album."

But isn't that the big downfall of solo albums -- the most personal and challenging material gets funnelled into the solo albums, leaving the band to wither creatively?

"I found it the opposite," Cuddy responds.

"It pushed me to write more, to write better.... It was a great year for me to know I could write 25 songs in one year. Prior to that, I was used to writing just half a record."

The solo projects gave Blue Rodeo's songwriting team a needed change of scenery.

"Every couple years, we come to a brick wall and say, 'What do we do next?' We've been a country band. We've been a rock band. We've been all these things," Cuddy says.

"We sidestepped that this time. We said, 'Let's just park the car here and walk away and see what happens.' So we ran off to do solo projects, came back and had all this new charge in Blue Rodeo.

"We always have to keep thinking of ways of re-energizing our enthusiasm for this band. Because once you have the enthusiasm, it's really easy to do. If you don't, it's a drag."

Before any more solo albums, Cuddy and Keelor are committed to a new Blue Rodeo record and tour that'll keep everyone busy for the next two years. After that, who knows.

"What we've done is allow the possibility for anybody in the band to do a solo album," Cuddy says.

"It's the mature, wise thing to do at this point in our lives."