Jim Cuddy juggles a few musical balls with ease

ON STAGE

What: The Jim Cuddy Band
Where: Butchart Gardens, 800 Benvenuto Ave.
When: Aug. 15, 8 p.m.
Tickets: Free with paid admission to Butchart Gardens

Jim Cuddy of Blue Rodeo has been a professional musician since 1980, and as a result, has been forced to endure his share of rough tour routings at various points. The sweet-singing performer has it easy during the summer months, however. Cushy festival gigs are often on the agenda for Cuddy and Blue Rodeo during July and August, which amounts to a paid holiday, in some cases.

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His schedule is somewhat more complicated at the moment. Cuddy is scheduled to perform tonight at Butchart Gardens and Friday at the Salmon Arm Roots and Blues Festival with his solo band, before venturing to Vancouver and Grande Prairie, Alta., respectively, for performances on Saturday and Sunday with Blue Rodeo. With a new solo recording, Countrywide Soul, in stores and needing to be supported, Cuddy told the Times Colonist during a recent interview that he is giving his time to both projects concurrently, which is rare.

“I do more dedicated [solo] touring in October, November and January, and that will be the tour [to support this record],” Cuddy said. “But in the summer, we get offers, so as long as I’m willing to fly around a lot, I go back and forth with my band and Blue Rodeo. It’s a little discombobulating, but it works out well.”

Cuddy’s life is made a little easier by the fact the two projects share several members. Bazil Donovan (bass) and Colin Cripps (guitar) are key cogs in both projects, and when the drummer for his solo band, Joel Anderson, can’t make a gig, Blue Rodeo drummer Glenn Milchem often fills the chair.

Work smarter, not harder — that is Cuddy’s philosophy as he nears his 40th year as a professional performer. “It’s great for me to know that those two rhythm sections know both bodies of work,” Cuddy said. “I never have to worry about it.”

The dual lives of the aforementioned bandmates came into play during the recording of Countrywide Soul, the bulk of which revisits songs from Cuddy’s two creative selves. Six songs previously released by the Jim Cuddy Band were re-recorded during sessions in a barn on Cuddy’s farm in southern Ontario, while two Blue Rodeo songs (Dragging On from 1997’s Tremolo and Clearer View from 2002’s Palace of Gold) also went under the knife.

“The barn is where I get banished to from the house when people get sick of hearing guitar,” Cuddy said with a laugh. “It’s a three-storey barn, and the upper floor sounds really good. It’s really comfortable. From a practical point of view, it works.”

Countrywide Soul was recorded live over four days, with Cuddy, Cripps, and Tim Vesely of the Rheostatics in the role of producers. Cuddy said he wanted to keep the barn sessions loose after an extended tour to support his previous solo recording, Constellation. Blue Rodeo has a studio in downtown Toronto that he could have used for the album, but he wanted a more comfortable environment for not only himself, but his bandmates as well.

“The band does a lot of touring, and they get asked to do a lot of tiring things, so I wanted to do something that would be nice for them. Come up to the farm, go swimming in the morning, play ’till 7 p.m. and then have dinner on the lawn.”

The group, which also includes Anne Lindsay on violin and Steve O’Connor on keyboards, recorded two new Cuddy compositions for the record, along with covers of a pair of country classics: George Jones’s Almost Persuaded and Glenn Campbell’s Rhinestone Cowboy. Jones has always been a favourite — Cuddy sang A Good Year for the Roses during Blue Rodeo’s early days as a group — but the latter song “came out of nowhere,” he said.

“I was at a gig and I was watching George Canyon, and he sang it. I thought: ‘That is a great song. Why have I never thought of doing Glen Campbell?’ When you get into that song, there’s so much more to it than meets the eye.”

Campbell, who died in 2017, is one of the biggest stars in country-music history, but when Rhinestone Cowboy arrived in 1975, it was labelled too slick for some tastes. The outlaw movement was in full effect at the time, with records that year from Willie Nelson and Waylon Jennings gaining traction with rock audiences, and Rhinestone Cowboy — though hugely successful — was deemed out of step by many.

Cuddy might have been in that camp at one point, but not today. “If that is considered too slick, it would be pretty hard to make a critical case. Because that guy could sing, that guy could play guitar. His greatest hits go six songs deep, and then it falls off. But those six songs are fantastic songs. It’s hard to criticize, in retrospect.”

mdevlin@timescolonist.com

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