About The Album
"Take the homespun bluesy elements of The Band, twist it around the streamlined approach of Elvis Costello, add the duel vocals of Jim Cuddy and Greg Keelor, and you can understand why this group is making a big noise in Toronto." Tom Harrison - Vancouver Province
In a musical world where comparisons are the best calling card, the above quote comes as close as you'll get for a band that defies description — a band like Blue Rodeo is not a country band. Their music is a unique blend of contemporary sounds that include rock, pop, jazz and country performed with a streetwise sensibility.
As a band, Blue Rodeo emerged on the Toronto scene in October 1984, although years of experience had gone into each of its members prior to that time. Principals Greg Keelor and Jim Cuddy (both singers, songwriters and guitarists) have been performing together since 1977 when they formed the HiFi's, a high energy pop band which Keelor describes as "garage Mersey Beat." The HiFi's decided to try their hand at the New York City club scene. Keelor and Cuddy, the only original members of the group to actually make the move, recruited a new band and changed their name to Fly To France.
New York City provided a wealth of experience and an opportunity to record with the Drongos from New Zealand ("5'll Get You 6" evolved from this session). Unfortunately, the Big Apple lacked the necessary club scene for them to develop as a live unit. Such a scene was thriving in Toronto's Queen St. area, and there Keelor and Cuddy, with a new set of quintessential Queen St. players evolved into what Blue Rodeo is today.
Drummer Cleave Anderson, a veteran of several legendary Toronto bands (Battered Wives, The Sharks), was someone Keelor and Cuddy had had their eyes on for some time. Placing a classified ad in Toronto's NOW Magazine, the two attracted bassist Bazil Donovan, also from The Sharks.
The final component was a young pianist from Winnipeg named Bobby Wiseman — a bundle of manic energy bopping behind an Acetone that's as old as he is. Bobby's improvisational jazz background brought some interesting touches to Outskirts (listen to the opening of "Piranha Pool") and live, he's half the show.
Blue Rodeo's intelligent songwriting and tight arrangements quickly brought them to the fore of the often fickle Queen St. music establishment. Next came management in the form of Toronto's Artist Consulting Team headed by John Caton, a label deal with Warner Music Canada and, finally, a debut album, Outskirts.
Recorded digitally at McClear Place Studios in Toronto, Outskirts was produced by studio veteran Terry Brown, known for all his work with Rush and, more recently, Cutting Crew.
The songs themselves come from ideas as diverse as their musical styles. The first single, "Outskirts", is Keelor's interpretation of the life and death of David Kennedy and the anguish he experienced in growing up and bearing grief in the public eye, as all the Kennedy's did. Keelor's affection for controversial American journalism and politics, evident in several of his songs, works well with his gravelly voice. On the other hand, ballads like "Rebel" and "Try" show off Cuddy's smooth vocals. Together their flawless harmonies make it all work. As for their stage performance, Cuddy explains that it changes every night: "We like to go with our strengths and turn our weaknesses up real loud."
In March 1987, the album and title track were released in Canada to critical acclaim. With the second single "Try" released in June, radio at large did not bend an ear until MUCHMusic (Canada's music video TV service) had championed the video all summer long, and the band's word-of-mouth reputation as a riveting live act had caught fire. In September, radio finally reacted with a vengeance, charting the single top three in November 1987 and pushing album sales well past gold.
By now, word was spreading south of the border. As with the band's introduction to Warner Music Canada and eventually to radio, Blue Rodeo's reputation reached Atlantic Records in New York the right way - not solely from management and the record company, but from numerous independent word-of-mouth sources.
Despite the band's success, Jim Cuddy's attitude has not changed at all. "We've all been in other bands and our main ambition is as it's always been — writing new songs and playing them live." A fitting aesthetic for band's band such as Blue Rodeo.