What would you call a band that has delivered hit after hit, sold millions of records and stayed together making award-winning music for 20 years? You could call it a small miracle — or Blue Rodeo.
Blue Rodeo’s latest album is suitably named Small Miracles. It is a small marvel in itself that a band could ride strong for that long in an unstable industry, where there is a sea of one-hit wonders and where it isn’t surprising to never hear from a band again after a couple of studio recordings.
Formed in 1984 by Jim Cuddy and Greg Keelor, Blue Rodeo has become one of Canada’s most influential bands.
Before hitting Montreal on their cross-country tour supporting Small Miracles, the band’s 11th studio album, Greg Keelor reminisces on his start in the music world and where he finds himself today.
Greg, take us back to the beginning. Why was Blue Rodeo decided on as a band name?
Jim and I were living in New York in the early ’80s. At the time I was writing everything I did on the electric guitar. All fast and furious. We were just getting into country music after being in a punk-pop band in the late ’70s. We wanted to underline the country aspect of the band.
What was it that sent you down a country road?
I can remember listening to a Gordon Lightfoot record and just thinking that I wanted to write music with more resonance in it. Something that meant a bit more to me.
This is Blue Rodeo’s 11th album. Why is Small Miracles an appropriate title for the new album?
Jim wrote a song called “Small Miracles.” I was thinking that it was a really nice title. Sometimes you’re looking for the big answer, hoping that external influence will head you in the right direction. More often than not it’s the little things that mean the most.
Do you consider it a small miracle that Blue Rodeo is going on its 20th year?
It’s more like a lab experiment! (Laughs) Put six middle-aged men in a van and drive around all over the place. There are times when you’re madly in love with each other and times when you think, “I can’t believe what idiots these people are.” (Laughs) But really, we’ve grown, loved and lost together. I feel so lucky to be able to make a living this way. There is just a genuine friendship in our band.
Are strong friendships the major factor that held the band together for so long?
It’s a big big part of it. Jim and I have known each other since high school. That means 1971. We started a band together in ’78. Still, it’s weird. I never thought I would be in a band this long. Ten years seems long! Maybe it’s not meant for some people, but it feels pretty good to us.
You’ve been immersed in the Canadian music scene for some time now. Is there something you’ve noticed that’s particular to Canadian music?
There definitely seems to be a Canadian thing that has to do with being a songwriter and the quality of your songs. There’s just something about writing songs in Canada pulling the bands together.
Which Canadian bands demonstrate this?
The Sadies. I think they’re one of the best bands you will ever hear in your life. But there are many more like Kathleen Edwards, Oh Susanna, Justin Rutledge, Feist, and Constantines.
Those are some great current artists. What do you think of current country music?
I don’t even know what country music is anymore! It sounds like pop music. I love the country of the ’60s and ’70s. Great song writers. The “new country” I find alienating.
As a musician and songwriter, how do you keep up with the changing times and trends in the world of music?
When we first started Blue Rodeo there were bands like Loverboy and Honeymoon Suite on the radio. It didn’t seem like there would be room for a band like us. We’re lucky. We never tried to make our music for the radio. I really can’t explain it. We’re so lucky that there is a place for us in Canadian music.
How does that feel after 20 years?
Maybe I’ve fantasized about being like Bono or saving the world, but where we ended up is pretty incredible! It’s great all around. I’ve made my living from playing music. I love the indulgence of song writing and the musician’s life. It feels like this is what I’m supposed to do.
Blue Rodeo plays le Thé