October 20, 2019

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It's a tour fit for the Rodeo Kings

Juno Award-winning trio beefed up with collaborations from TV's Nashville

Mark Maryanovich</p><p>Initially a side project paying homage to Willie P. Bennett, Blackie and the Rodeo Kings have come a long way in their 21 years as a band.</p>

Mark Maryanovich

Initially a side project paying homage to Willie P. Bennett, Blackie and the Rodeo Kings have come a long way in their 21 years as a band.

Hey there, time traveller!
This article was published 4/3/2017 (960 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.

When Blackie and the Rodeo Kings formed in Hamilton in the mid-’90s, it was intended to be a side project for three established musicians as a way to pay homage to Canadian folk artist Willie P. Bennett. Nine albums and more than 20 years later, it’s safe to say that side project has progressed into something much larger.

“It’s amazing after all these years — 21 years — this side project conceived completely in love and the love of the music of Willie P. Bennett and of Willie himself continues to evolve and people care enough to come out and see us... it’s gratifying and humbling,” says Colin Linden, one of the singer-songwriters and guitarists for the Juno Award-winning trio.

Last year, the band released their album Kings and Kings, which features an impressive collection of their male musical friends as guest singers. The record is a kind of companion piece to a previous release, 2011’s Kings and Queens, which hosted some of their favourite female vocalists. The testosterone-filled follow-up includes performances by City and Colour, Bruce Cockburn, Fantastic Negrito and Eric Church, among many other notable names.

Most of the artists corralled to participate are friends or longtime collaborators, Linden says, but for a few, such as country star Jason Isbell, it was their first time working together.

Hey there, time traveller!
This article was published 4/3/2017 (960 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.

When Blackie and the Rodeo Kings formed in Hamilton in the mid-’90s, it was intended to be a side project for three established musicians as a way to pay homage to Canadian folk artist Willie P. Bennett. Nine albums and more than 20 years later, it’s safe to say that side project has progressed into something much larger.

"It’s amazing after all these years — 21 years — this side project conceived completely in love and the love of the music of Willie P. Bennett and of Willie himself continues to evolve and people care enough to come out and see us... it’s gratifying and humbling," says Colin Linden, one of the singer-songwriters and guitarists for the Juno Award-winning trio.

Last year, the band released their album Kings and Kings, which features an impressive collection of their male musical friends as guest singers. The record is a kind of companion piece to a previous release, 2011’s Kings and Queens, which hosted some of their favourite female vocalists. The testosterone-filled follow-up includes performances by City and Colour, Bruce Cockburn, Fantastic Negrito and Eric Church, among many other notable names.

Most of the artists corralled to participate are friends or longtime collaborators, Linden says, but for a few, such as country star Jason Isbell, it was their first time working together.

"Jason and I had never done anything together before, but we both were familiar with each others’ work. So it varied a lot, but there was a personal connection with pretty much everybody," says Linden on the phone from Nashville, where he has lived for more than 15 years since moving from Toronto.

When penning the songs that would ultimately end up on the record, Linden says he and fellow band members, Tom Wilson and Stephen Fearing, kept in mind the idea that multiple singers would be involved.

"That was at least on my mind and on Tom’s mind when we were writing the songs — you know, the idea of shifting the point of view from verse to verse, or from verse to chorus or chorus to bridge — something that would be more than just from a musical point of view, but from kind of a spiritual point of view or from an emotional point of view. Having certain lines delivered by different voices was part of the thought," Linden says.

One of the songs on the record features the men of Nashville — a television series that tells the stories of various fictitious musicians in the Nashville scene — on which Linden is a musical director. He’s been involved with Nashville since the beginning of its run, playing the majority of the guitar parts heard on screen for the first four seasons (it’s now in its fifth) and working with the actors to get a sense of their style and abilities, to create the most accurate portrayal.

Suffice it to say, he spends a lot of time with the cast of musicians, so it only made sense to have them involved when Blackie and the Rodeo Kings hit the road — on this tour, Sam Palladio, who plays Gunnar Scott, and Jonathan Jackson, who plays Avery Barkley, are tagging along and will perform at the Winnipeg show tonight.

"They’ve all become great friends to me in the last number of years... often I play when they make recordings of their own, I play guitar on a lot of those, I produced some stuff for some of those guys," Linden says.

"So we’ve just become great friends and collaborators. The whole world of Nashville the TV show is sort of like being in a big band with 180 people, it’s very harmonious and really a lot of fun. The cast members are incredibly talented, gracious, great people."

One thing that stands out about Nashville as a musical television show is the make-believe No. 1 hits are so strong that the scripted praise for them has a real feel.

There is an odd feeling of truth in the songs written for and about a group of fabricated lives, and that’s something Linden and his team are proud to have accomplished.

"Everything that we do is to bring honour to the music and… fundamentally to bring honour to the integrity of the musicians’ lives. So much of it is reflective of real life and the cast pay a great deal of attention to that and are also humbled and respectful to not only be living in Nashville but to be really... so warmed and welcomed by the rest of the music scene here and they have such an unjaded attitude about it," Linden says.

"For me personally, I really want to bring honour to it. I want it to be real. Music on TV, there’s some of it that’s been great over the years but some of it that isn’t, but I never want to feel like the work that we’re doing is presenting music on a show about music. I used to hear that, not only in music on TV, but I’d go and hear bands and the music would be so self-conscious, and one of the things I would say was, ‘That sounds like a song from a show about music.’ It would be one step removed from real emotion and real life.

"There’s just an incredible attention to detail (on Nashville) and a real desire to make the music as good as it possibly could be."

erin.lebar@freepress.mb.caTwitter: @NireRabel

Erin Lebar

Erin Lebar
Multimedia producer

Erin Lebar is a multimedia producer who spends most of her time writing music- and culture-related stories for the Arts & Life section. She also co-hosts the Winnipeg Free Press's weekly pop-culture podcast, Bury the Lede.

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