King Of this Town
World Gone Mad
Baby I’m Your Devil
King of This Town
Walking on Our Graves
Kick My Heart Around
by Rob Bowman
It was in late fall 1995 that Canadian roots icon Colin Linden, Tom Wilson, then lead singer and songwriter of Canadian rock heroes Junkhouse, and Stephen Fearing, the Irish-Canadian poet laureate of Canadian folk music, first came together in the basement of Colin Linden’s Toronto apartment. The somewhat disparate threesome were all long-time fans of the criminally unsung Ontario-based singer-songwriter Willie P. Bennett. What brought them together on that chilly evening was they were starting rehearsals and pre-production for what was planned as a one-off tribute album that would shine a light on the wonderful body of work that Willie P. Bennett had written over the course of his two decade career.
It was Fearing who had first suggested the idea to Linden. When he first heard Bennett’s 1977 sophomore disc, Hobo’s Taunt, he had been absolutely transfixed by the power of Bennett’s songwriting.
“It just had so much atmosphere in it,” exclaimed Fearing. “I’m pretty romantic. It was really about pouring your heart out. I loved the stories that Willie was spinning and the characters that were going through his songs. I could imagine it all!”
In Linden’s mind, Willie “was one of the only folk singers around who kind of had the guts and grit that blues music had. I just loved what he did and I loved him. With Will, there was always something that crossed the lines. It was always pushing the envelope. It always had a certain attitude to it, even when he was singing one of his many, many beautiful ballads. There was something about Willie that cut through the crap.”
A few years after first seeing Bennett at Shier’s Coffee House in Don Mills, Linden ended up joining Bennett’s band, getting to know both the man and the music on a deeper, more intimate level. The further time went on, the more he became enraptured by the wonder, beauty and power of Bennett’s work.
When Fearing approached Linden with his idea, coincidentally Linden had recently been discussing with his wife, musician and sometimes Blackie collaborator Janice Powers, what a cool idea it would be to record a Willie P. tribute album. The concept was clearly in the ether. Linden immediately suggested that they bring Tom Wilson into the mix. When he called Wilson at his Hamilton home, he didn’t have to ask twice. Wilson was just as enamored with Willie P. Bennett’s work as Fearing and Linden.
To Wilson’s way of thinking, “Willie articulated the sensitivity of a fifty year old guy and he represented the rebellious ‘fuck you’ attitude of a sixteen year old. Willie managed to be more punk rock than any punk rocker I have ever met and, at the same time, could probably break your heart in two. He was a true poet. His wings were a little dirty. He wasn’t afraid of living life and taking chances. When you’re a young guy and you’re looking for an influence, there’s your man right there.”
Sessions for the album, aptly titled High or Hurtin’: The Songs of Willie P. Bennett, began January 2, 1996. The finished disc was released by True North Records, hitting the stores that spring. Wishing to avoid the death trap of filing the album under “various” in the record stores of the day, Linden, Wilson and Fearing appropriated the title of one of Bennett’s songs, “Blackie and the Rodeo King,” to use as the moniker for their newly created “fictitious” band.
With or without a name, there never was a plan to form a band. Blackie and the Rodeo Kings was from the first conversations a one-shot, one-album project. They were never intended to be a band. Linden, Wilson and Fearing all had burgeoning solo careers, which continues to this day, and had no reason, nor time, for an ongoing side project. In fact, there were never any plans to promote the album by playing any live shows. That changed when True North began to field offers from various folk festivals across the country. After a bit of discussion, the nascent trio agreed that a few festival gigs sounded like fun, could be scheduled around solo commitments and would double down in terms of paying tribute to, and creating awareness of their spiritual guide, Willie P. Bennett.
I was fortunate, alongside jazz chanteuse Molly Johnson, to bring Blackie and the Rodeo Kings onstage for their very first appearance. It was a short set scheduled as part of the media launch for Toronto’s Harbourfront Centre’s summer festival season, a highlight of which was to be one of the handful of shows that Blackie and the Rodeo Kings had agreed to. Looking back nearly a quarter-century later, no one in the band was quite sure as to what they would sound like or how they would go over with the audience that afternoon. They needn’t have worried. From the first song, Bennett’s rollicking “Come on Train,” the combination of Wilson’s swagger, Linden’s infectious energy and enthusiasm, Fearing’s sensitivity and the unlikely timbral blend of their distinctive voices alchemically delivered a sound and a presence that was wholly different from any of their solo outings and, in some ways, seemed even greater than the sum of the parts. The spirit had come down and a certain zeitgeist had been tapped into. Although no one knew it at the time, one of the great roots ensembles of the past quarter century had just come into being.
The first album and the few shows they played that summer were rambunctious, sometimes a little rough, but always resplendent with purity of intent and honesty in delivery as they feted Willie P. Despite the inherent noncommercial nature of the project, the album received substantial critical acclaim and sold well. After the festival season, the band continued to gig into early 1997 and the Blackie and the Rodeo Kings phenomena gave journalists an excuse to write about Willie P. Bennett, consequently significantly raising his profile. Perhaps most gratifying for all involved was that the attendant publicity served as a catalyst to get Bennett back in the studio to record his first solo album in nine years. Willie P’s 1998 CD, Heartstrings, featured a number of guests including Bruce Cockburn and Stephen Fearing and went on to win the Juno Award (Canada’s Grammies) for “Best Solo Roots and Traditional Album.” Sadly it would be his last album as Bennett passed away in February 2008, leaving a legacy behind consisting of seven of the finest singer-songwriter albums in Canadian history.
As the band played a number of gigs after the festival season moving through the fall of 1996 and into the winter of 1997, they found themselves having so much fun that it only seemed logical that a second album was in order. The fearless threesome headed into the studio some months later and delivered, to True North owner Bernie Finkelstein’s surprise, a double album they called Kings of Love. Released in 1999, Kings of Love picked up where High or Hurtin’ finished off, including another six Willie P. Bennett compositions while also containing originals by Linden, Wilson and Fearing as well as covers of songs by Canadian songwriters that they all knew, loved and admired such as Fred Eaglesmith, Bruce Cockburn, David Wiffen and Murray McLauchlan. The basic band was the same as that featured on the first album–Gary Craig on drums, Richard Bell on piano and John Dymond on bass–all of whom had worked on Linden’s solo material for years. In other words, as Blackie and the Rodeo Kings slowly were evolving into a band with a future rather than a one-off tribute project, in essence, they simply took over Colin Linden’s musicians, adding two additional front men/singer songwriters in Tom Wilson and Stephen Fearing. It was a heady and potent combination. Sadly Richard Bell passed away in 2007. Aside from the odd gig where either Ken Pearson or John Whynot augmented the band, there has not been a single change in the groups’ lineup since that first record.
“We’re all so different that I think we keep each other interested,” quips Wilson. Hard as it is for all to believe, twenty-five years have passed since Linden,
Wilson and Fearing first got together to begin work on what emerged as High or Hurtin’: The Songs of Willie P. Bennett. While all three principals have continued forging ahead with their ever evolving solo careers, every few years they have come back together, recorded a new Blackie and the Rodeo Kings album and hit the road playing dates in Canada and the United States. If one includes the superb 2009 compilation Swingin’ From the Chains of Love, King of This Town is Blackie and the Rodeo Kings’ tenth studio album.
A 25th anniversary is a significant achievement for any band and is a milestone worth celebrating. “It blows you away a little bit because you realize how unlikely it all is,” muses Linden, shaking his head in disbelief.
Perhaps even more surreal is the fact that King of This Town is Blackie and the Rodeo Kings’ first album on a major label. “What other group has been together 25 years, has an average age of 60, and signs their first major label record deal?” laughs Wilson.
After their last record deal expired, it was Wilson who decided to approach Warner Music Canada to release their next record. It was an inspired choice. The company’s president, Steve, Kane, is as much of a music geek as the band members and most of their core fans. As a teenager he had been known to sneak into shows to hear Wilson’s first band of note, the Florida Razors. In 1988, when Colin Linden released his first solo album When the Spirit Comes, Kane was a young adult managing a hip record store on Toronto’s legendary Yonge Street. He chose to front rack the album.
“I couldn’t believe it,” recalls Linden some 31 years later. “I went to visit Records on Wheels the day the record came out and I was just speechless ‘cause my record was front racked on Yonge Street in Toronto! That was so exciting to me.”
With Warner Music on board, it was time to think about writing songs for the record. Two of the past three Blackie and the Rodeo releases have been concept albums. 2011’s Kings and Queens and 2017’s Kings and Kings had paired the group with guest female vocalists such as Emmylou Harris, Rosanne Cash and Lucinda Williams in the first instance and guest male vocalists such as Bruce Cockburn, Keb’ Mo’ and Rodney Crowell for the latter disc. This time out, it was time to pare it back to the core group.
“To me,” stresses Fearing, “This record is really about us regrouping and coming together tighter. The Kings and Queens and the Kings and Kings albums were really disparate records in the sense where there was a point where you just let it go and it becomes the producer’s job to bring the record together with all the guests. I wanted this one to be much more all of us having our hands on it as much as we could from the get go—the writing and the recording.
I wanted us to be much more involved as a band and indeed we were. There was a lot of input from even the rhythm section, Gary and Johnny, in terms of the arrangements. There is a very strong feeling [on this record] that Blackie and the Rodeo Kings are a band. I think we really needed to pull this thing back close to home—that’s what I really wanted.
“For Tom,” continues Fearing, “It was really important that we do something different with this record, that it somehow be a progression. For him it was about breaking new ground. I kind of feel like we did both of those things. On this record we are allowing the individual flavours [of each member] on the record more than we have in the past. There’s sounds and treatments and sonic stuff on this record that we’ve never done before and there’s a production element to it that’s different from what we’ve done before. Colin, especially, has learned a lot in the last several years around Nashville [the television show], as a producer, as a guitar player, as a session guy, and I think he brought a lot of that to bear on this record.”
There are a number of things that mark King of This Town as a step forward for the band. With Linden living in Nashville, Wilson in Hamilton and Fearing in Victoria, British Columbia, opportunities for all three to write together have been few and far between. This time out, Linden was determined that they should make the effort to spend time together with the express purpose of writing new material as a band. Consequently, in January 2019, Linden and Fearing headed to Hamilton for a few days of writing sessions with Wilson in the latter’s living room. A handful of songs emerged, two of which, “Cold 100” and “North Star,” appear on the album.
“Cold 100,” more than any other song on King of This Town, captures the sound, swagger and magic that I first heard at Harbourfront some 25 years ago with Linden, Wilson and Fearing singing the melody in close harmony above a chugging, driving, irresistibly propulsive groove. Wilson is singing the bottom part, Linden is in the middle and Fearing is on the top. As was the case with the Band, the three vocalists in Blackie and the Rodeo Kings have all very distinctive voices and yet somehow achieve an organic blend, singing whatever they are most comfortable with. At times that means two singers doubling a note rather than crafting a minutely worked out set of harmonies. There is not a band currently out there who sounds anything like them! “Cold 100” is roots rock-based music at its best, taken to the next level by Linden’s ceaselessly inventive dobro slide work.
The image “Cold 100,” itself, is a sly reference to a lyric line in the fifth verse of pre-war blues great Robert Johnson’s “Terraplane Blues.” Fearing contributed the chorus and the beautiful enigmatic lines “I’m a soft tail sinner full of chrome and camomile/ I’m a long gone daddy like a song going out of style.” Song writing doesn’t get much better than that.
The track ends with a wonderful pulsating sound produced by Linden using a 1953 Gretsch Duo Jet guitar. “It resonates so beautifully,” beams Linden. “The old Gretschs are hollow but they don’t have F-holes so they have some principles of a solid-body guitar and some principles of a hollow-body guitar. When you get close to an amp on it, they do weird things on their own. Sometimes you take your treble pedal or something and you just turn it up as much as it will go to and you get some cool sounds..”
Wilson succinctly adds: “Colin is like a fucking mad scientist. He’s got all sorts of things he plugs in. I usually love them all.”
The other group written song, “North Star,” is nearly the polar opposite of “Cold 100.” Again, the initial idea came from Wilson, who sings the first verse by himself sounding like a weary Tom Waits.
“I was tired,” he explains. “I wanted to sing that over which I rarely do on Blackie records and Colin said, ‘No no no. It’s great! It’s as weary as the narrator’s heart.’ I trust Colin completely on things like that.”
The lyrics is loosely built around the true story of a teenage Colin Linden traveling by bus from Windsor to London in pursuit of both music and love. After spending the night sleeping in the bus terminal in Windsor, he caught the first bus in the morning, arriving several hours before the Home Country Festival started. He passed the time by sleeping under the bandshell.
“This is really a young man [with an] old heart, a true love story that we decided to finally tell,” smiles Wilson. “That story was always so romantic to me. It always stuck to me—sleeping under the band shell. What a commitment to music and to seeing this women and to being a part of something that you are actually an outsider in. I think if I can bring anything to the table, it’s sometimes dragging those stories on to the page and just showing that this is really important. This story of [Colin’s] life is shared by a lot of people in different circumstances.”
The lyric’s beautifully evocative hook, “The girl with the North Star in her eyes,” is courtesy of Stephen Fearing’s pen.
“You know what you need when you have a couple of idiots from Southern Ontario?” explained Wilson. “You need a guy from Ireland to really bring the romance in. Stephen really is the whimsical Irish poet. He really knows how to say things otherworldly because the inspiration he’s coming from is coming from another place.” Linden also loves the lyric “Every night I go to see her show/The dreams and diamonds rodeo,” exclaiming, “That’s total Stephen Fearing!”
In addition to writing a handful of songs with all three principals involved, there was a desire to live together while they recorded the album as they had previously done with Kings of Love (in Kingston, Ontario at Tragically Hip’s Bath House studio) and on BARK (in Bogalusa, Louisiana at Studio in the Country). That way they could work all day, break for dinner, wine and conversation and, if the spirit moved, head right back into the studio where a different magic would often happen late into the evening.
The timing was perfect as Colin’s partner, Janice Powers, had recently designed and oversaw the construction of Pinhead Recorders, right behind their house. Some of the equipment in the new studio were artifacts from the fake studio used in the Nashville TV show for which Linden had served as music supervisor, While Pinhead Recorders had been used for a few small projects as well as some demo recordings by Linden and Lucinda Williams, King of the This Town served as the litmus test to see if the studio was everything Janice and Colin had dreamed of. It more than passed the test. With all of Linden’s amps and guitars now easily accessible in a studio in his backyard, he could experiment whenever he wanted to in search of new, cool and crazy sounds. Meanwhile, the band all roomed in Linden and Powers’ home, living and breathing the record as they recorded it.
Despite not playing together for quite some time, it took a mere six days to cut the tracks. “It’s remarkable to me how fast it happened,” gleams Fearing. “We hadn’t seen each other in almost a year. The connection is so strong now that we can be away from each other for a long time and then get together, plug it in, turn the engine over and it fires up real fast.”
The sessions were held in February. Between the group-written songs completed in Hamilton, a number of songs that Wilson and Linden had worked on during the former’s occasional trips to Nashville, and various individual songs the group members brought to the table, Blackie found itself with a surfeit of material. Seventeen songs were cut down to fifteen and, when recording was finished, eleven of the fifteen were selected for the album. With such an embarrassment of riches, King of This Town became only the second Blackie and the Rodeo Kings’ album not to include a Willie P. Bennett song (the other was 2006’s Let’s Frolic).
“I thought of a number of Willie P songs that I’d like to do at some point,” explains Linden. “But we were so happy with where we were going writing wise [that we didn’t record any covers]. When I hear ‘North Star’ or some of the other songs on the record, I just hear Willie in there so much. It’s almost like that’s the way to honour him on this one. Even when we’re not doing his songs, he’s there so much. “
Fearing concurred: “He’s always very much there. His name comes up in the studio. We talk about him, we reference him. It’s a trippy thing but he’s always there when we’re together playing.”
Appropriately, the last credit on the album reads “Willie—You are everywhere.” Wilson was insistent that “Hard Road” open the album. The song came into being at Gary Craig’s house in December 2018. Wilson recalls the moment vividly: “Gary said, ‘Hey, you know what, it’s weird that you have all these cool time signatures in Lee Harvey Osmond [the name under which Wilson performs solo] but in Blackie we’ve never played a 6/8 time signature.’ I said to him, ‘I don’t even know what that is. Sit down and play it for me so I can actually hear what you’re talking about.’ He started playing what would be ‘Hard Road.’ He was playing it and I turned my phone on [to record it] and I started singing and the first two verses of ‘Hard Road’ came out intact, complete.
“I stopped recording and said, ‘That’s a song right there.’ Gary said, ‘Oh yeah, but we’ve got to do something with it’ and I said, ‘Actually we don’t have to do anything with it. That’s it!’ Those two verses, that 6/8 time signature and me singing the way I did was pointing in one direction, that was south, that was going to Tennessee. I was influenced somehow, without trying to imitate, by gospel and blues music. All the elements that are in that song are part of Blackie and the Rodeo Kings. They are part of where Colin Linden comes from particularly.”
Linden added a few chords and a couple of additional verses to what Wilson and Gary Craig had started. Part work song, part old-time gospel moan, “Hard Road” is a primal track of astonishing power. Adding to the southern church feeling are the gospel responses of Regina and Ann McCrary who currently work as the McCrary sisters and are the offspring of the late Reverend Sam McCrary, leader of one of the great quartets from the Golden Era of Gospel, the Fairfield Four. Complementing the power of the gospel moaning are Linden playing a Blind Willie Johnson influenced slide line on his Resophonic guitar and Janice Powers’ apocalyptic piano work. It is a heavily atmospheric track on every level: lyric, vocal performance, groove and instrumental nuance.
Two of Wilson’s songs on King of This Town were written in tandem with his son, Thompson Wilson. The first, “Baby, I’m Your Devil,” added Canadian singer-songwriter Hawksley Workman into the mix. The track is as atmospheric as “Hard Road,” opening with ominous organ and electric guitar. The piece-de-resistance is the 3-bar vaguely eastern sounding counter melody heard both before and after the title line, “Baby, I’m Your Devil.” What makes the melodic live so effective is the composite timbre built up by the layering of session musician Jim Hoke’s harmonica, Linden’s Duo Jet guitar and Americana singer Rachel Davis’ wordless theremin-like vocal.
“We did a lot of experimenting with that,” smiles Linden. “Tommy was trying to do it and I thought it would be a good part for Stephen to sing and then I thought maybe we should try to do it as a group. [But] it always felt a little bit like some kind of eastern European choir when we did it. It didn’t have a lot of sensuality to it.”
Searching for the right sound, Linden turned to Jim Hoke. “He understands atmosphere. His playing of the melody was the coolest thing. Then I put the Gretsch Duo Jet on and I found a way of doing it with a bit of a backwards sound, like a reverse delay, that didn’t track the melody completely but caught in a random sense, most of the notes of the melody. It kind of supported the melody without it adding density to it. Rachel’s singing reminds me of great singers like Ruth Etting. There’s a timeless thing that’s in her voice. It felt like it needed that angelic otherworldly support to it. It’s one of my favourite things [on the album].”
The other collaboration between Tom and Thompson Wilson, “Kick My Heart Around,” brought Colin Linden into the songwriting mix. The influence of the early 1980s Nick Lowe/Dave Edmunds band Rockpile is palpable.
“Colin and I lean towards the only great, great rock and roll album of the 80s which was Rockpile’s Seconds of Pleasure,” affirms Wilson, “When I want to write rock and roll I take away everything I’ve been influenced by or that has come through my radio for the last forty years and I go back to that Rockpile record. That really resonated with me.”
The basic groove and Jim Hoke’s harmonica and accordion give the track a slight Cajun feel, being slightly reminiscent of the kind of inflections that various members of the Band would routinely bring to different recordings.
“Medicine Hat” is one of many highlights on the album. The song started with Johnny Dymond’s bass line which has a hint of both 1960s Roy Orbison and Van Morrison’s early group Them. The rest of the song is littered with other references. The 12-string acoustic intro is reminiscent of the Byrds, the bridge has a British Invasion feel, and Linden, using the Fender Mustang guitar he got when he was 17 played through an octaver, is quoting all kinds of sources, most obviously “Shakin’ All Over” and Howlin’ Wolf’s “300 Pounds of Joy.”
“We were driving around listening to Little Steven’s Underground Garage,” recalled Wilson “There’s almost a breath of fresh air in that garage, low-processed kind of guts on the strings rock and roll. That’s easy for me to go to because I played like that almost my entire life.
We were letting that be our guide. As we started to dig into that, we were also listening to these old Dion records that I had found and just how much garage Dion had just before he started sounding like Bob Dylan. He had a lot of garage going on. You listen to songs like ‘Drip Drip’—holy shit! It’s completely unconventional in terms of what you would call doo wop or street corner music. Picking up on Dion and picking up on a little more of a garage attitude—I think it served us well.”
Linden remembers singing the melodies of both “Medicine Hat” and “Kicking My Heart Around” at the same time as they were writing the lyrics: “We wanted to make them so we could sing the song the whole way through. [On ‘Medicine Hat’] Tom was concerned that the chords were too much like ‘Gloria’ [but] I think that ‘Gloria’ is a sub-genre of music now.”
A second or two after the track ends, Linden plays a descending blues lick on his Fender Mustang. It’s a quirky thing to leave on the record. “It made me laugh every time I heard it,” he explains.
Linden helped write two other tracks, “World Gone Mad” and “King of This Town.” The former was crafted long distance with Jim Weider and, as usual, features Linden on a variety of stringed instruments including the mandotar, which is essentially a 12-string guitar tuned an octave higher, putting it in the range of a mandolin. The instrument provides a beautiful shimmering quality to the track.
“King of this Town,” sporting a melody that could have been written by Bruce Springsteen, originated with Janice. “I realized when she started the first verse,” relays Linden, “that I felt like she was writing about Tommy and then the second verse to me seemed like it was written from Stephen’s point of view and the third verse seems like it’s written from my point of view.”
At one point, Linden considered having each member sing their respective verses but ultimately he opted to take the lead for the whole song with Wilson and Fearing contributing their trademark Blackie harmonies. It’s a potentially anthemic song that is bound to be one of the highlights of the group’s live sets.
The final three songs to be discussed were all written by Fearing. He had imagined “Trust Yourself” and “Walking on Our Grave” as potentially being co-writes. But, once he started working on the basic idea for each song, the rest of the lyrics came tumbling out on the spot.
When bassist Johnny Dymond and drummer Gary Craig got a hold of “Trust Yourself,” Fearing’s lyric found itself underpinned with an irresistibly funky groove. Interestingly, Linden’s guitar workouts throughout the track exhibit a big more of a jazz influence than usual. The jam-based ending is especially effective.
“I think that track is going to be a really fun one for us live,” suggests Fearing, “I think there will be quite a bit of room for us to jam on it.”
Fearing’s concept for “Walking on our Grave” started out as his attempt to “come up with a really good sort of groovy ballad like Al Green.” When it was finished he thought that perhaps it sounded too much like Bruce Cockburn’s “Waiting for a Miracle.” To my ears, the song has a gorgeous melody that if dressed up in different ways could be either a classic country or a classic soul ballad.
“I sometimes feel like the only way that I can approach with some authenticity some of the R&B or blues things that I love is through country music,” offers Fearing. “It’s a way for a white person to find their way into that kind of soul realm. I’m always trying to find an authentic way in.”
The track’s highlight is the Richard Manuel-esque falsetto melismatic “ooh” that Fearing graces the climax of the two bridges with. It’s a subtle but exquisite moment in what is, in all respects, a tender and masterful vocal performance.
All three off Fearing’s songs were written in drop D tuning. In fact, he plays in drop D on every track on the record. “It’s becoming this thing for me,” he smiles. “I love the tuning. It’s trying to find a way of contributing to the song arrangement without stepping on anybody’s toes.”
The album’s closing track, “Grace,” was written late at night by Fearing after a day of writing with Linden and Wilson at the latter’s Hamilton home.
“’Grace’ is ‘The Water is Wide,’” offers Fearing. “That melody has been haunting me for years. I went back to the Sheraton where I was staying. I was sitting on the 10th floor and there was a snow storm coming in. It was just beautiful. I’m just thinking what will I bring to the table tomorrow [while] playing that progression of ‘The Water is Wide.’ I’m going ‘Okay, how can I use this?’ The how and the feeling of the song is two o’clock in the morning, sitting in the hotel room, it’s dark and the snow’s falling and that song ‘The Water is Wide.’ That’s where it comes from.”
Just as Wilson’s “Hard Road” feels like the perfect track to open King of This Town, “Grace” seems like the perfect closing track—quiet, calm, and reflective while reaching for the ineffable truth of what it means to live in and through this world.
So ends the latest chapter in the twenty-five year tale of Blackie and the Rodeo Kings. It’s a history filled with change, growth, richness of spirit and a commitment to making music with no hidden agendas, no clamoring for fame and a willingness to embrace what every member can bring to the table. It’s a history that has enriched the lives of the group’s many fans and, in its own small way, made life just a little bit richer for all concerned.
Not surprisingly, Linden, Wilson and Fearing are all somewhat reflective about what it means to be fortunate enough to still be working with each other a quarter of a century into this adventure, a journey that everyone is keenly aware was never meant to happen.
“At root its Colin’s band,” acknowledges Fearing. “Yet clearly all of us love it so much that we just keep coming back. There was a point that I think we all realized, probably nobody was more surprised than me, that if you remove any one of the three of us, it stops being Blackie and the Rodeo Kings in a very clearly defined way. It means that when we get together, when the tape’s rolling or when the audience is sitting down and we’re in front of our microphones, it becomes this thing where it isn’t Colin’s band or Tom’s band or my band. It exists around the three of us. I think we have all come to realize that. Which is kind of a delightful thing. For me, there’s a great feeling of gratitude at this point that we’re all still here, we’re still making music, we still like each other, the music is still vibrant and exciting. It’s pretty palpable that we’re all still growing. It kind of makes me proud that this is my band and I get to be in it.”
Wilson is equally grateful: “I’ve been thinking of the band in really poetic ways. You realize that when you’re a band for 25 years, you actually live a life together with all the highs and all the losses. You all share those, you all feel those. You’re kind of in each other’s atmosphere. We’ve been through serious sickness, divorce, death, [and] addiction. Whether we think about it or not, we’ve made it through a lot of stuff. I think that’s really important and I’m glad we’re still doing this.”
Linden gets the final word: “We’re these three guys who are scratching away, being able to continue to do it and continue to kind of move upward no matter how fast or how slow it might be and no matter how likely or how unlikely it might be. We’re still hunting for that beautiful thing that happens when you play music that makes you feel fantastic. I just couldn’t imagine saying that in any other context than Blackie and the Rodeo Kings. I feel that we have just realized it is really a blessed thing.”