Linden, Fearing and Wilson wrangle a potent posse of Kings
Music | by Emmet Matheson
Blackie & the Rodeo Kings
Twenty-one years after they came together for what was supposed to be a one-off tribute album, Blackie & the Rodeo Kings continue to ride on. In 1996 singer-songwriters Tom Wilson (then of Junkhouse, currently of Lee Harvey Osmond) and Stephen Fearing joined up with guitarist and producer Colin Linden to record an album celebrating the music of Ontario folk hero Willie P. Bennett. That album, High or Hurtin’, led to a tour and that tour led to more tours, more albums, and more Rodeo Kings, as well as a few Queens.
“We knew after that first tour that there was something special going on,” says Linden, perhaps best known these days for his work on the TV show Nashville, or for playing guitar in Bob Dylan’s band a few years back. “Since then we have never stopped wanting to do this.”
Blackie & the Rodeo Kings’ latest album, Kings and Kings, which came out at the end of 2016, is a follow-up to 2011’sKings and Queens, which saw the trio enlist an impressive procession of leading ladies from country legends like Roseanne Cash and Pam Tillis to genre-defying trailblazers like Mary Margaret O’Hara and Exene Cervenka (of the L.A. punk group X). This time around, they’ve called upon some of the top male folks in roots music like Rodney Crowell, Keb Mo, and Buddy Miller.
The goal, Linden says, was to make each guest singer feel like they were, for one song anyway, a full member of the band.
“The one thing that has been central to the idea of Blackie & the Rodeo Kings from the very start,” he says, “is that it is very much more about the music than the individuals.”
Corralling all these luminaries was no small feat, and there were a couple of gets that Linden was especially proud of.
“Nick Lowe is someone I’ve always admired as both an artist and a producer,” Linden says. “He’s a real hero to Stephen and Tom and I. We knew it was a long shot.”
While most of the guest stars sing a verse or two, trading off in a duet style with the Rodeo Kings, Lowe sings lead for the entirety of “Secret of a Long Lasting Love”.
“We told him to sing as much or as little as he wanted, and he sent back the rough mix and it was just fantastic. It turned out beautifully.”
Vince Gill is another guest Rodeo King that gets Linden excited. Linden has worked with Gill before and calls him “one of the great musicians.”
“When you collaborate with so many different artists, it takes a little faith in the process,” Linden says. “Nothing ends up exactly how you planned it. I told Vince to do whatever he wanted in the song, and when he comes in on his verse and he’s gone up an octave, it’s just spine-tinglingly beautiful.”
Obviously, the logistics of touring with all 12 guest stars from the Kings and Kings would be just ridiculous and the Rodeo Kings aren’t even pretending that’s an option.
“The thing about the tours is that we want every night to be different,” says Linden. “Kind of like the Rolling Thunder Revue.”