We were sad to hear that due to unforeseen circumstances folk rockers Blackie and The Rodeo Kings have had to cancel their November 1st performance at the Holy Heart Theatre in St. John’s. Never ones to waste a good chat, The Herald shares our recent interview with founding member Stephen Fearing. Lets cross our fingers that the guys can finally make their Newfoundland debut in the near future.
(Note: the article has been edited to reflect the cancellation of the performance)
Fans of Canadian folk rock will undoubtedly be familiar with the smooth stylings of Blackie and The Rodeo Kings. The hybrid sound of the bridging of worlds by founding members Stephen Fearing, Colin Linden and Tom Wilson have made them a cult favourite for over two decades.
Fearing caught up with The Herald to talk their new album Kings and Kings, rising from tribute act to established presence and enlisting an A-list class of collaborators.
Q: It amazes me that after two decades of performing you guys have never made it to Newfoundland and Labrador.
A: You know, I have some pretty strong ties to Newfoundland and I’m really excited that this band gets to play there, because it will be our first time ever. We’ve been together for 20 something years and it’s about time that we did it.
My wife spent some significant time growing up in Newfoundland. My father-in-law is from Labrador. Over the years I’ve played there a bunch. Most recently I got to play at Woody Point Writers Fest, which was a treat. I was kind of blown away by the landscape and the crazy walk formation that they have there. It’s like walking around mars.
Q: You’re touring in support of Kings and Kings, the followup to your acclaimed Kings and Queens album, which features numerous guests like Eric Church and City and Colour. Where did the idea for these duel albums come from?
A: Kings and Queens started with an idea we had when we were driving in a van, like hey, we should make a record with some women. I think all of us realized at some point or another that we were raised primarily by our mothers – absent fathers, fathers who had passed away – it’s sort of the old story and I think a lot of men can relate. We always had a soft spot and a real connection and yet we are very much a band of middle aged men. To go from there to the next step of well we made Kings and Queens and it was a delightful thing so now how about we make a record with some of our male heroes? And away we went. As a songwriter it’s an amazing thing to be able to make a living from it, but to have other people, especially people that you’ve admired your whole life like Nick Lowe or Lucinda Williams, to have these people sing your song or be involved in your song is spectacular.
Q: On a personal note, how does it feel to have these established acts agree to collaborate on these albums? Must be humbling.
A: It sure is. Because Colin lives in Nashville and Nashville is becoming more and more the center for not just country music but roots music, it means he has access to and an understanding of the scene that I certainly don’t have. Both Tom and Colin are probably a lot more educated about what’s going on in music these days more than I am. They brought up a lot of the suggestions.
It’s hit and miss. You have your wish-list and you start making calls and a lot of people say they can’t do it or they’re busy or there’s been a death in the family. It goes on and on and everyone has their lives to lead. When someone says yes it’s like a big cheer goes up and then it’s a matter of can their schedule allow it? It’s really a logistical coup. With someone like Eric Church, who was the first person to say yes, I really didn’t know much about him at all, and he immediately said yeah I’m in. It was really exciting.
Q: Of particular interest on the record is your collaboration with ‘The Men of Nashville,’ as in the acclaimed television series. That certainly must have given you guys a boost in a different avenue?
A: That whole phenomena is really amazing. Colin and Gary Craig and John Dymond, who are the rhythm section of our band, they toured the Nashville Live show. All of those actors are pretty heavy artists in their own right. They’re amazing showmen. They’ve all had careers or are all still in the midst of careers as musicians as well. I think for them it was a chance to sort of step away from the fiction of the show and actually exercise their skills as musicians.
For people who are fans of the show, we played Massey Hall an Sam and Chip both came up and performed with us and it was really wild to look out into the crowd. There are people here who know nothing about this band, but they’re really excited because they’ve been watching that show for how many years and this is the first time these guys have played in Canada. It’s this really interesting cross-polinization which I think is going on a lot in the arts. People aren’t so defined by whatever role has brought them to the publics attention. People are feeling they have permission to exercise a little more of the skills that they have.
Q: You guys originated as a tribute band for Willie P. Bennett. Does it amaze you how far you’ve come and where you’ve reached since those early days?
A: It absolutely does. I know that when we started it, I think all three of us realized that there was something. You immediately start going into the cliches – there was chemistry. There was something special going on, all of those things that make for a great press release. In our case it was so obvious. The response from that first record was kind of a perfect storm. Willie himself, he was still alive when we put the first record out and the second, and he has always been a faovurite of a lot of critics who knew about his music, but he’s not always easy to write about because the editor might say ‘Why should we write a story about him? ‘We’re not going to sell a lot of papers,’ or that kind of thing. When we put this record out, the first one, it gave a lot of people in the newspaper industry a chance to write about Willie in writing about us. Of course that helped our record and brought attention to what we were doing and the whole thing took off in a way that none of us could really have foreseen.
When people started writing about it first it was because it was such an unlikely pairing – the rock guy, the folk guy, the blues guy. Where do they find common ground? It goes back to the idea of how artists are always more than they are initially perceived. We all have a lot in common musically, but if you look at it by how they rack at the record stores you would not see the connection. Through Willie we found a very solid way to connect musically and we all have a lot in common.