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Jim Cuddy of Blue Rodeo rehearses at the band’s farmhouse in Kendal, Ontario, on Oct. 23, 2012. (Fernando Morales/The Globe and Mail)
Jim Cuddy of Blue Rodeo rehearses at the band’s farmhouse in Kendal, Ontario, on Oct. 23, 2012. (Fernando Morales/The Globe and Mail)

MUSIC

Twenty-five years later, Blue Rodeo is still at work Add to ...

The farmhouse is where Blue Rodeo recorded Five Days in July, released in 1993. The video for Hasn’t Hit Me Yet was filmed here. Today, there’s a long picnic table and a swimming pool, full of leaves now on a drizzly fall afternoon. The driveway is littered with cars, including Keelor’s cream-colored, vintage Ford Ranchero. Some of the band (which also includes pedal-steel player Bob Egan, keyboardist Michael Boguski and the third original member, bassist Bazil Donovan) are staying at the house during the recording sessions, while others dive back nightly to Toronto. “It’s a nice little nesting for us,” is how Keelor puts it. “We sit down, we eat together – we can’t run away.”

Keelor has been suffering from hearing issues for the last few years, to the point now that the band has hired another guitarist, the veteran producer and sideman Colin Cripps. Keelor can’t wear headphones while recording any longer. “It’s different,” is all he says when asked about listening to speakers rather than through cans.

Coming back inside, I bump into Cuddy, now at the piano downstairs. He sees Blue Rodeo as “part of the landscape,” and that it is better to be taken for granted than to be forgotten. As for the band’s status, he likens it to a small, family-run operation. “We’re like a really successful dry cleaner, where we own the building.”

Keelor remembers what it was like being an “it” band. “There was something very pleasant about that,” he says. But there’s something noble about outlasting the buzz and still being able to play 25 concerts across the country, selling out most of them. “Would I trade that reliability for it-ness,” he wonders aloud. “I don’t think so.”

Solo, and so long

The boxed set Blue Rodeo: 1987-1993 includes a remix of the group’s first album, Outskirts, with a reinstated piano solo on the song Piranha Pool. For original keyboardist Bobby Wiseman, though, the gesture comes 25 years too late.

“When we were making the album, they were having a nervous breakdown over which one of my solos on Piranha Pool they were going to use. At the end of the day, they acquiesced to checking with me, which was the thing they should have done, because we were a band which, ostensibly, was about respecting each other. A few weeks later, though, I was told by the band’s management that the solo I liked had been lost. But, wow, by coincidence, the producer, Terry Brown, was able to use the one he liked the most. I have no idea if the one being used now on the remixed version is the one I preferred back then. It’s small consolation for not treating a guy with respect back in the day. That kind of thing didn’t work for me, and I eventually quit the band. I loved those guys when I started, but my heart was broken by a lot of things that I saw as time went on.”

Against the grain

“Started out so innocent / Everything was so simple and so plain.” Blue Rodeo’s fifth album was recorded with little forethought, and with two new members, the band was in transition. Bassist Bazil Donovan talks about the casual process of making 1993’s Five Days in July.

“Americana wasn’t a term yet. I remember playing with Lucinda Williams in Memphis, and there being 15 people in the room. There was a certain reality that had hit us – that things were going to be different for us in the States, and that we weren’t a new band any more. Nirvana was big at the time, which changed everything. On the way home from an Australian tour, Greg [Keelor] suggested we go out to his farm, to chill out and do some recording. The plan was loose – maybe we’d get an EP out of it. We initially went out to the farm for five days in June. We recorded a lot of loud stuff which we couldn’t use. We decided to go back for another five days in July, to focus on the quieter stuff. As I said, grunge had broke. Everybody was turning up to 11, and we were turning down to two. It was people at the farm having fun, and, in the meantime, we were going to play some music. I really didn’t notice that we were making a record.”

 

Blue Rodeo’s silver anniversary tour begins in Whitehorse, Jan. 3, and finishes in Hamilton, Feb. 16.

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