There is a certain satisfaction and appreciation you experience when an artist that you enjoy is admired and loved by your peers. That feeling is all the more celebratory when you see the same artists admired by their OWN mentors in their field!  …that is the closest, but inadequate way I can come to expressing the happiness I feel about the success of Canada’s premier “super group”, Blackie and The Rodeo Kings. Hearing them on continental satellite radio, or laying the licks beside the voices of Emmylou Harris or Rodney Crowell on the lead U.S. alt-country radio stream just makes me feel all warm and fuzzy!

The fact that the show at Massey Hall on February 25th is SOLD OUT makes me feel even more satisfied. And sold out shows are justly deserved by this trio of cool and talented guys. 

Having been “in the biz” for a few years I really appreciate it when I see accolades grow for original talent, and especially when that talent is a supported by hard work and a sincere love for what they do. 

Blackie and the Rodeo Kings is comprised of Colin Linden, Stephen Fearing and Tom Wilson.  All are accomplished and extraordinary guitarists, songwriters, and successful solo musicians in their own right.  Colin, who played with Levon Helm, The Band, and Howlin’ Wolf while still in short pants, is a top session musician, music actor for ABC’s series “Nashville” and a Nashville-based producer;  Stephen writes the most poignant lyrics, tours the festival circuit and world extensively with only a guitar in hand, and still carries the vocal cadence of 10 years on the Green Isle, and Tom, with his trademark growl of a voice and rocker roots put Canada on the map with his band Junkhouse, fronts notable roots band Lee Harvey Osmond, and has worked with many prominent musicians.  All three continue to carry their solo careers to the max, and yet manage to remain humble, sincere and authentic people.  

And together they are B&RK to their fans, greater than the sum of their musical individuality, a rocketship of rhythm that seems to get bigger and better every time it blasts off.

B&RK was formed originally as a tribute group to one of Canada’s well known and best loved folk and roots musicians, Willie P. Bennett. The group takes their name from an experience Willie used for song inspiration, an encounter with two authentic characters, hard-living “Blackie” and her drunked-up boyfriend, “The Rodeo King”. Anyone who has ever ridden the Greyhound bus through a long night can relate to the song!

Willie was an early mentor to Colin, Stephen and Tom among others, his powerful lyrics and and a deep vocal delivery influencing and marking a new era of the Canadian folk scene in the 70’s and 80’s.  What began as a tribute CD to Willie’s talent was so successful, both artistically and commercially, that multiple recordings have followed. Along with their band mates drummer Gary Craig and bassist John Dymond, friends Linden, Fearing and Wilson have spent 20 years growing Blackie and The Rodeo Kings into one of Canada’s best roots bands. 

So what makes their career so special? 

As I mentioned, Linden, Fearing and Wilson take their individual and immense musical talents and meld them into a powerful original sound and dynamic stage performance that has made the whole continent sit up and take notice. Live shows are energized by their joyful stage presence; with a nod to the grand ole’ days of Nashville country, they wear hand-tailored and original rhinestone “Nudie” suits in the style Gram Parsons once made popular.

…but then they continued to push genre boundaries and grow the sound. With inclusive generosity, and taking a bigger step on the continental music stage, their last two recordings were collaborations with some notable names in the business. “Kings and Queens”, released in 2011 included many of Americana and Country’s finest female artists, among them Emmylou Harris, Lucinda Williams, and Pam Tillis. Now six years later, the group returns with “Kings and Kings”, featuring country and Americana’s best male singers, including Vince Gill, Rodney Crowell, Buddy Guy, Eric Church and others.  

Songs were chosen to suit the guests, with certain “star” voices in mind. On the recordings, Blackie and the Rodeo Kings make the most of their talented guests, playing to each of their respective strengths and sounds, to create an authentic sounding roots album. It culminates in a very natural sounding recording, similar to how they play together in live performance, featuring each other’s distinctive styles of singing and guitar work on certain songs.

Both “Kings and Queens” and “Kings and Kings” is the perfect example of why Americana music is such a tough genre to define, because a variety of sounds and styles all work under that appellation. Blackie and the Rodeo Kings have provided music fans with an album that epitomizes the genre, with great collaborations from the most respected singers of country and Americana music. And they continue the growth of musical culture with this ability to incorporate separate genres of musical style.

The participation of these other illustrious artists can be seen as a measure of popular success, but is really a measure of the respect B&RK is afforded by the established professional roots music community. However -who wouldn’t want to collaborate with these guys, and go along for the ride, when they have the ability to share their rhythm and drive of energy to make everyone who rides along with them sound great? It leaves me eager to hear what the next project for this band will be.

To have seen the rise of this project grow from Ontario roots and folk performances is eminently satisfying to anyone who loves to be entertained. 

Knowing the story behind the success, and watching our Ontario roots become popular culture is the adrenalin that gives me the extra fuel to feel part of the experience…AND the fact that B&RK has routed their National Tour to our city this Monday is even better!

So Sault Ste. Marie, do yourself a favour and come out and see a performance you will remember for the rest of your lives. 

This rocket ship is blasting through our solar system, and we can hitch a ride!


~ Robin MacIntyre, Black Fly Jam 


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