[Frequent contributor Julia Wallace manged to get to the Blue Rodeo man before a recent gig. Here’s what happened. – AC]
Jim Cuddy on the Horseshoe Tavern, “Try”, and The Underdogs of the World Cup
Just minutes prior to Jim Cuddy’s performance at the Horseshoe during NXNE, I walked backstage to find him surrounded by a group of people chatting away. In his hands was a basketball, around his neck was a harmonica holder, and next to him was an open guitar case. I sat down with the Canadian legend who was articulate, kind, and just as attractive in person.
You’ve been such a big part of Toronto’s music scene since your career started 30+ years ago. What’s it like for you to come back and play at the Horseshoe all these years later and celebrate the 20th Anniversary of NXNE? Did you think you’d get here back then?
That’s a funny thing. When we first started playing at the Horseshoe, when it was under the previous owners, we were just happy to get a bar gig. That was a great thing – to get a bar gig. We were just happy being a bar band. By the time NXNE started, 20 years ago which is amazing, that was when I’d released my first solo record so that was sort of mid-career for us, and those were pretty tumultuous but exciting times. I think that… it never got… We’ve done a lot of stuff that I’ve really enjoyed and it’s been a pleasure – but it never got better than filling the Horseshoe when we just started. A Friday or Saturday night and all this crazy dancing and sweating – you know there didn’t used to be any fans or air conditioning in here at all – so just that. Those sweaty nights were just extraordinary. Like I never thought that would ever happen to me and I was so excited to be playing music like that.
You’ve had Blue Rodeo for almost 30 years now. You’ve had your three solo records. What’s it like to be the third wheel playing with Melissa and Luke?
Years ago I just decided to say yes to everything – just to see what things were like. Sometimes they were music related, sometimes they weren’t, but playing with other people has always been a challenge and a joy, because it very rarely goes wrong. You know? I know – pretty much – the people I’m playing with and how talented they are, so it’s not taking that big of a risk, but you get right inside. You don’t really know what somebody plays like until you’re right beside them. How strong their voice is, how comfortable they are making changes when things happen on stage. So, I find that is a really nice sideline for what I do. You know? What I do with Blue Rodeo is more about the actual format, and this is just fly by the seat of your pants, so it’s very enjoyable.
That’s a great way to do things in life – seize all opportunities.
One of the songs that’s stuck with me from day one is your first single “Try.” There’s a line in that song I’ve remembered since the first time I heard it. My friends’ dad was working out how to play the song, and I heard “every time you walk in the room/I couldn’t ever be sure of a smile/you were never the same way twice.” I think that line touches on the most important thing about relationships – needing to be there for someone when they aren’t on their game. Can you recall what it was like when you guys were writing it?
Oh yeah. I know exactly – I know when we wrote it… it just… it was an attempt to write about a subject matter of a frustrated love, but also something inspired, and something that made my voice go into falsetto [laughs]. Right? And it wasn’t until we sort of worked out Blue Rodeo, and we played here, that we knew we could never get away with playing it just once. We had to play it a second time. So, you know, people would always say – especially the staff, the staff would always say “please play ‘Try’” – and that was the first time we’d ever had that experience of having a song that was REALLY making people pay attention. And it was unusual. We were a progressive band – to have a real ballad was unusual – so it was uncharted territory for us. We didn’t know what to expect so we just did what we thought we should do.
[The lights backstage are beginning to flicker as a warning that it’s almost time for Jim to go onstage.]
Are we going to hear it tonight with Melissa?
No, no, no, no. This isn’t a “Try” night [laughs].
It’s more of a collaborative good time night?
Do you have any picks for the World Cup?
Well – you know what? I would say that… Honestly? I would say Chile.
They’re coming out of nowhere!
And they look fantastic. Fantastic! But sometimes, you know, the fans that like, when I saw the Cote d’Ivoire lost, they scored one of the most spectacular goals I’d ever seen! And so… I don’t know. Some of the hotty toddy ones… Brasil looked great in their first game and then didn’t look good in the second game against Mexico. I don’t understand all the rolling around and I can’t stand all the diving [laughs], but Chile were exciting to watch.
What’s your pick?
Germany. I think Chile and Germany are two that are going to get really far. Germany has a strong defence.
That would be a good one!
[The lights flicker more]
I know you guys are rushing to go on – thank you so much and I can’t wait to see the show.
Jim Cuddy, ever gracious, ever kind, responds with a smile, “my pleasure.”