Blackie & The Rodeo Kings:
Kings Of Love - Lovers of Food & Music
by Jan Vanderhorst
Colin Linden, Tom Wilson and Stephen Frearing
have banded together to record an album of songs by Willie P. Bennett.
There are any number of reasons why musicians get together to form a band. From the creative energy inherent in a group setting to the basic enjoyment of just hanging out and jamming, groups have sprung out of garages, basements and kitchens for years. For the three individuals known as Blackie & The Rodeo Kings, what brought them together was an admiration for one of Canada's most respected singer-songwriters Willie P. Bennett. It all started in 1995 when singer-songwriter Stephen Fearing, blues guitarist/producer Colin Linden and Tom Wilson of the rock group Junkhouse, discovered each were fans of Willie's music and shared an interest in recording some of his songs. A quick trip to the recording studio brought forth "High Or Hurtin'", a critically acclaimed tribute to the artistry of Willie P. Bennett. The album featured some of Willie's best known songs, including "Come On Train", "Lace And Pretty Flowers" and "Music In Your Eyes". It also featured Willie himself, playing and singing on some tracks. Add in other musical admirers of Willie and what you had was a true labour of love. It's a funny thing about "labours of love" though. They sometimes take on a life of their own.
"When we made the first record", says Colin Linden, "we had a good enough time we thought it would be cool to do (one) gig. We didn't really anticipate becoming a band, which is really what we became."
A cross-Canada tour and a nomination for a Juno award followed, after which Colin, Stephen and Tom went back to their respective solo careers. Colin released "Raised By Wolves" and received a Grammy nomination for working on "A Tribute To Howlin' Wolf". Stephen Fearing released "Industrial Lullaby" (produced by Colin) and toured extensively through the US. Tom Wilson went back to Junkhouse to record "Fuzz", which produced the hit song "Shine". The new-found exposure to his work had benefits for Willie P. Bennett. His recording "Heartstrings" won a Juno in 1999.
Having had such fun making the first record, Tom, Colin and Stephen soon set their sights on doing it again. This time though, "Kings Of Love" has a different focus.
"We kind of thought we could have done three different records", Colin said recently, "The first, of course, was there were so many great Willie P. songs we didn't do on the last record, that we could have just made a whole other record of Willie songs. But we thought that might have been repeating ourselves (and) we wanted to do a little more than that.
"And then we thought there were all these other great songwriters who have songs we'd love to cover as well. We've also been a real part of each others lives since we did that last record and we have done a lot of collaborating on our own projects, completely outside the "Blackie" stuff. So essentially, we took elements of all three of those ideas and put them together."
Therefore "Kings Of Love" features songs penned by Willie P. Bennett, Stephen, Colin and Tom alongside songs from Jules Shear, Fred Eaglesmith, Bruce Cockburn and John Martyn. The task of choosing which songs made the album and which didn't proved to be quite difficult.
"Well it's a double album, so obviously we shirked our responsibilities", laughs Colin, "we made a real long list and just worked on the songs. We wanted stuff to seek it's own level, give every song a shot at being one that could make it to the record. So we ended up cutting a lot of stuff really fast. There's maybe six songs that didn't make it to the record, some of which might make it on another (record) at some point. "
We felt the experience of making the record was what we really wanted to share. Having two (discs) that were 42 minutes each seemed to be easier to deal with than one album with 75 minutes and cutting out a few more songs. So in the tradition of those great double albums we all love, we hope people will get into ("Kings Of Love" ) record by record and take their time (exploring it)."
For the three principals of the project, the main objective of the whole process was having fun.
"We recorded during the day the official stuff", relates Colin, "and then every night after having a copious amount of food and drink, we would retire to the control room and set up a bunch of mics in a real intimate environment (with) no headphones, just sitting facing each other and a bunch of the record got cut that way too. Basically we worked around the clock, but we were really excited about (the recording), so it was very exhilarating. It wasn't really tiring at all in fact."
Although "Kings Of Love" has only been out for a few months, it's early success has been a bit surprising for Colin Linden.
"It was kinda the last thing on our mind", he says, "When we cut certain things (we'd say) 'Boy this sounds good...this could maybe get on the radio', so that part isn't so surprising, as much as it really kinda was the last thing on our minds. So if there's demand for us (to tour) we'll do it. And if there's not a demand for us, we'll probably do it anyhow, but maybe a little less publicly."
On an individual basis, Tom, Colin and Stephen are all quite busy. There are plans in the works for Colin to release in the spring of 2000 an anthology of his earlier material through Sony Music. Tom Wilson is in the midst of recording a solo album before heading back to work with Junkhouse. Stephen Fearing's recording "Industrial Lullaby" was released on Red House Records in 1998 and so he spends a great deal of time touring the States. "Really the most important thing", says Colin, "is that us three lugheads can get together and have a good time eating and playing music."
To find out more about Blackie & The Rodeo Kings or Stephen Fearing, the e-mail address is: email@example.com
For Colin Linden and Tom Wilson, their web address is: sonymusic.com/artists
For more information on Willie P. Bennett, the web address is: festival.bc.ca/top30/bennett.html
Jan Vanderhorst can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org