Blackie & the Rodeo Kings ebullient about a Band classic


By Steve Newton

Like Brian Wilson used to do in his Beach Boys days, Colin Linden gets around. When the Straight catches him on his cellphone he’s just leaving a Calgary hotel with his fellow members of Blackie & the Rodeo Kings—Tom Wilson and Stephen Fearing—for a sound check at a “fantastic” Cowtown venue called Knox United Church. Two days earlier the trio arrived in Vancouver after a jaunt from Toronto on the sold-out Roots on the Rails traveling music event, which also featured in-transit performances by the Cowboy Junkies, Over the Rhine, Fred Eaglesmith, and the Skydiggers.

“It was fantastic,” raves the ever-positive Linden about the five-day train trip. “The best part of it was Stephen and Tom and I in the boxcar rehearsing for the Last Waltz show. We learned the songs, and we sang good together.”

The gig Linden refers to is an upcoming two-night concert celebrating the 30th anniversary of The Last Waltz, the legendary farewell performance by the Band that featured guest appearances by Bob Dylan, Neil Young, and Joni Mitchell, and was recorded as a double album and a documentary directed by Martin Scorsese. Linden is musical director of the show, which is being taped at Toronto’s Glenn Gould Theatre for broadcast on CBC Radio. BARK will anchor the event, and Linden­—who notes that Scorsese’s film had a powerful effect on him —says he’s particularly psyched about his group performing the Band staple “Acadian Driftwood”.

“One of the things about it was that sense of community that exists amongst musicians,” he says. “I had already been a gigantic fan of the Band’s at that point, but when I saw the movie it gave me such an inkling that those guys were really a lot like the musicians who I knew. Not only just because they were—except for Levon [Helm]—all Canadian, but they really came up through that Ontario school of bar playing.”

The day after the Last Waltz taping, BARK heads west again, this time on a bill dubbed the Kings of Love Meet the Queen of Comedy. Kings of Love is the title of Blackie’s 1999 Juno Award-winning CD; the queen in question is comedian Cathy Jones, from CBC TV’s This Hour Has 22 Minutes. She’s also Tom Wilson’s “way better” half.

“I think they’re the funniest couple in Canada,” says Linden. “Tom and Cathy have done a bunch of shows together, and originally this little run was gonna be one of those, but Tom, always the good date, said, ‘Can I bring my friends along’?”

BARK will be showcasing tunes from its latest CD, Let’s Frolic, which features the trio’s typically topnotch mix of raucous rockers, soulful blues, and down-home roots-folk. One of the more moving tracks was contributed by esteemed Canadian musician and producer to the stars Daniel Lanois. As stated in the band’s True North Records bio, “Lanois donated ”˜House of Soul’ on the condition the BARK version make him cry.” Linden says that wasn’t quite the case.

“It wasn’t really on a condition,” he explains. “But when I left his place with the CD of the song to bring to the guys he kinda jokingly said, ”˜Okay man, now make me cry.’ I think he was pretty happy with how we did it, too, which is great.”

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