Jim Cuddy: Refusing the Laurel

The following article will be published in the Alberta Edition of Beatroute Magazine in January.  Happy Holidays!

Jim Cuddy has been a household name for a long time now. It’s an evocative name, too: undoubtedly, a mere mention of the name will bring to mind Blue Rodeo’s soundtrack to five eternal, though illusive, days in May as well as many other gems. More recently, however, Cuddy is going it alone (kind of), shrugging off the stuff of Blue Rodeo legend in favour of a solo project simply known as The Jim Cuddy Band. It’s almost as if at the age of 56, Cuddy is starting out all over again and if his new record is any indication, he still has much to say.

 Cuddy’s most recent offering, Skyscraper Soul, is a lyrically beautiful rendering, not only of his own life, but of life itself. Like a long-lost box of dusty Polaroids or slides, Skyscraper Soul gives us glimpses into the past. It conceals as much as it reveals, however, proving Cuddy to be an artist at the peak of his powers.

 “My life has changed drastically since Blue Rodeo,” Cuddy says. “I’m an empty nester now, I’ve become more contemplative… [I’ve] been thinking about my own mortality and the early years with my wife. Those are some of the things that turn up on the new record.

 “Which isn’t to say that the songs are purely confessional,” Cuddy continues. “There’s nothing worse than people assuming that this or that song is about you… except when they think it is about them. Sure, I write about what I know, but so much of it is imagined. I just add little fragments of my own experiences here and there, you know? I like songs that cut close to the bone and all of the songs on the new album do.”

 These are the songs Cuddy wants to play live; those five days in May are a distant memory.

 “The tour is going great so far,” Cuddy says. “We’ve been touring as a three-piece, just a violinist, a guitar player and me. We’re always worried that people will scream requests for obscure Blue Rodeo tunes as we’re more geared toward the new stuff. So far, that hasn’t happened. Thank God.”

 Indeed, Cuddy’s former band casts a long, blue shadow and while there is obviously a comfort in not simply being associated with one of Canada’s most revered bands, but synonymous with it, Cuddy hardly thinks of his musical success as a sure thing.

“Let’s face it: I’m getting old. If anything, I have more to prove now than I did when Blue Rodeo was getting started. I never want to rest on my laurels and while I still love those old songs, you’d better believe that I can sing the new ones more convincingly. I want people to hear the new stuff, that’s why I’m on tour.”

 And an ambitious tour it is. Having already played the eastern edges of the continent, Cuddy plans to begin the second leg of the tour in Nanaimo, BC, at the beginning of the New Year. He will be coming through Alberta as well, first in Edmonton on January 13 and then Calgary the next day, where he will be playing at the Jubilee. At this point in his career,Cuddy doesn’t care for quantity so much as quality, as evidenced by the fact that he also has shows in Medicine Hat and Banff.

 “I’ve played some huge shows: I once played for 500,000 people in Toronto,” Cuddy discloses in an impossibly humble tone, “but the best show I’ve ever played was for the Hundredth Anniversary for a little pub called the Inverness. There were maybe a hundred people there — maybe.”

 Cuddy’s humility extends into his understanding of his own legend.

 “I don’t really think of myself as a legend — never believe your own press. In a lot of ways, Blue Rodeo was just in the right place at the right time. Canadian music became what Canadian people wanted. We entered into a musical stream which was extremely receptive to the kind of music we were playing.

 “Don’t get me wrong: we worked our asses off, too. We played every show we could get, we played some small bars back in those days, sometimes to only two or three people. By extension, we gained a loyal following. We were the band that played in your town, at your university. That’s the reason we were able to stick around for so long.”

According to Cuddy, the controversial CanCon laws also played a role in his success.

 “Without CanCon, Canadian bands wouldn’t eat. I owe a lot of Blue Rodeo’s success to the radio. Thank God Canadian radio stations play music from their own town or country. Sure, radio’s becoming less and less relevant — I’m using outlets to promote Skyscraper Soul that I never would have conceived of when Blue Rodeo was starting out. I guess the proof of a musician’s success has been, and always will be, determined by record sales. Just because your song is being played on the radio doesn’t necessarily mean it will sell, but it sure helps.”

 And over four cold nights in January, we will be able to see Cuddy do his thing live and in person. We will sit at the feet of a legend as he tramps his way across our province. While those who expect to see a Blue Rodeo cover band may be somewhat disappointed at first, such emotions will surely give way to a joy most pure as the new songs are every bit as strong as Cuddy’s relics. July is long gone, after all: the most beautiful flowers bloom in January.

 411: Catch Jim Cuddy at the Northern Alberta Jubilee Auditorium (Edmonton) on January 13 and at the Southern Alberta Jubilee Auditorium (Calgary) on January 14.

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One Response to Jim Cuddy: Refusing the Laurel

  1. Gman says:

    To hear the word writtin resond like the voice of Jim Cutty; aka JC, Keeler and all the herbs as days of the Hourse Shoe Tavern float by my mind and memories. G^

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