September 16, 1998


Jim Dandy!
by Mike Ross


They come in pairs: Lennon and McCartney, Page and Plant, Mick and Keith - even death (or solo albums) won't do them part.

There are few things as fascinating to a music fan as a songwriting partnership. It's a marriage of music (and just think how interested we are in celebrity couples like Pamela Anderson Lee and Tommy Lee) and so, going solo is a trial separation. That's what fans of Blue Rodeo are so nervous about. The two songwriters have recently committed mutual musical adultery. Two years after Greg Keelor had a transcendental experience and released an aptly titled album called Gone, Jim Cuddy is out this month with his solo offering, All in Time. It's an upbeat alt-country collection that sounds a lot more like Blue Rodeo than Gone does. During an interview at the Westin Hotel yesterday, Cuddy explains that his initial motivation was simple - revenge and self-preservation. "I did it because Greg did his," he says.

It soon evolved into a labour of love, he adds, whose final tracks were laid long after Blue Rodeo had already reconciled and released a new album, Tremolo. And so, to repeat what Greg said two years ago - Blue Rodeo has not packed it in. In fact, the solo records (the other Blue Rodeo members did some, too) have "recharged" the band.

"It added new life," says Cuddy, who brings his solo band to town for a show at the Sidetrack Cafe Oct. 17. "What everybody brings back is a much clearer head and an enthusiasm that they've created on their own project. It also made us work harder on the tour."

Most importantly, Cuddy and Keelor are still a songwriting team. Cuddy even talks as if it's a marriage, allowing that the alarmist speculation in the music media about feuds and breakup talk is at least on the right track.

"I think what people are looking for is there. Greg and I have, many times, a very incendiary relationship. We've been together since we were 16. And we are fundamentally different people, and yet we also have a very deep bond. We had to work so closely together. Songwriting is, at times, an extremely intimate and vulnerable experience. It's like a marriage and also being partners in a business."

The little things can be the real problem.

"It's not always about, 'Should we keep the band together?' or 'You have more songs than I do!' It's about many other things. It's about pissing each other off in the studio, it's about touring too long, it's about making noise at night on the bus. It's about a million things. And yet, what happens with Greg and I is that we still have this very unbreakable bond that we just keep going forward together in tacit agreement, without having to say, 'You're coming, aren't you?'

"It's been obviously entertaining to us to be talked about as if we were Laurel and Hardy fighting with each other."

The fans, especially the close ones, don't quite know what to make of Cuddy's solo band. He'll be bringing it across Canada next month. Colin Cripps plays guitar - Greg's guitar.

"No, it's not Greg's guitar. It's mine and I lent it to him ... I have done gigs with this band in Ottawa and a lot of Greg's friends were very uncomfortable with me afterwards. One said, 'You know, it's like you're bringing your new wife to meet us. But we like your old wife.' There's this sense that Greg's been downsized in my band, replaced with a younger, more vibrant model. But it has nothing to do with that. I cannot eclipse Blue Rodeo."

As you might expect, there's a song about Greg on All in Time. It's called Second Son, inspired by Cuddy's slightly older brother, who did all the talking for both of them when they were kids. Calling it a "junior psychology moment," Cuddy says Greg served as his surrogate older brother: "I've got this big colourful guy that's my best friend who just eases us forward. We're going to be a band? You're kidding. We're going to write all our own songs? That sound great. Second Son was about the moment at which I had to step out from that relationship. I had to come out and start to speak for myself."

It appears that Blue Rodeo has come out of its mid-life crisis relatively intact - with a pair of solo albums to show for it.