Blackie and the Rodeo Kings got a little help from roots royalty
It’s lunchtime in Sault Ste. Marie, and Colin Linden is emphatically happy that while his Blackie and the Rodeo Kings bandmates Tom Wilson and Stephen Fearing are headed west, he’ll be going east.
“I’m doing a solo gig in Pickering, Ontario, tomorrow night,” the affable singer and guitarist explains. “So I’m going to fly to Toronto tomorrow, and then fly back to our show in Regina.”
Normally a booking in the nuclear-power capital of Ontario would not be cause for rejoicing, but by this clever expedient Linden’s just avoided 1,500 kilometres of the most endlessly boring highway on the planet.
“I feel so bad,” he claims. “I’m weeping bitter tears.”
Otherwise, though, all is rosy for Blackie and the Rodeo Kings, currently touring in support of Kings & Queens, a collection of 14 duets with a bevy of gifted female singers, including Emmylou Harris, Lucinda Williams, Serena Ryder, and Roseanne Cash.
“The idea came to me when we were rehearsing in a train car, going across Canada with the Cowboy Junkies, back in the fall of ’06,” Linden says. “We were getting ready to play a tribute to the 30th anniversary of The Last Waltz, for the CBC. It was really fun learning the material, and it was also fun working with all these different guests, many of whom happened to be really great female artists. So the idea just came: “Hey, wouldn’t it be cool to do an album where every song had a different female artist joining us?’ And then minutes later, I got the idea for calling it Kings & Queens.”
It took a few years to put the project together, but support for the idea wasn’t hard to find.
“I spent a year playing guitar with Emmylou Harris while the idea was further fermenting,” Linden notes. “Then when I finished playing with Emmy, I sent out two emails: one was to Pam Tillis and one was to Roseanne Cash, because they were both such big supporters of the band. And I said ‘We’re planning this idea; is this something you would do?’ And both of them responded so enthusiastically, immediately: ‘Whatever you want, whenever!’ That gave me the confidence that we could actually do it.”
The finished product is arguably the finest effort in the Rodeo Kings’ seven-album catalogue, perhaps because, as Linden comments, the presence of so many great female vocalists “raises the bar” considerably.
“When a beautiful woman walks into the room, you want to make sure that your tie is straight and you don’t have a bunch of tomato sauce on your shirt or something,” he suggests. “It’s kind of the same way with the music.”
And while it’s obviously impossible to take all of the album’s guests on the road, two Kings & Queens participants—Ollabelle’s Amy Helm and punk-roots sparkplug Exene Cervenka—will join the band for its upcoming Vogue Theatre performance.
“I’m always excited whenever Colin asks me to be on something,” says Helm in a separate interview, the singer having first met Linden when he was playing alongside her father Levon in a late edition of the legendary Band. “And I was so excited to sing on this. The whole vibe was just instantly infectious.”
And the same, Helm adds, is true when some Queens join the three Kings on-stage. “Every night,” she says, “I stand with my jaw agape at Tom Wilson’s ability to say the most crass and most funny things to an audience, while managing to get them up on their feet, laughing and dancing.”
The man otherwise known as Sasquatch does indeed have a gift—and it’s shared by everyone else involved with this open-hearted collaboration.
Blackie and the Rodeo Kings bring Kings & Queens to the Vogue Theatre on Tuesday (November 27).