Jim Cuddy Talks His New Solo Album and Tour, Songwriting in His 60s and Blue Rodeo’s Legacy

Jim Cuddy

The Summer of Cuddy: Jim Cuddy, 68, drops a new solo album and kicks off a summer tour this week, which will include the annual Toronto amphitheatre show with Blue Rodeo. Photo: Christopher Gentile

Jim Cuddy, the mellifluous voice of Blue Rodeo, ably juggles two music careers. In between playing with the band he has fronted with Greg Keelor for 40 years, he has a thriving solo career, has been known to play alongside sons Devon Cuddy and Sam Polley and offers his talents for various fundraisers. 

Cuddy, 68, is a national treasure and a treasure of a man always friendly, with no airs, despite his massive success in Canada and constant presence on the airwaves: from Blue Rodeo’s first hit, Try to 5 Days in May, Bad Timing, Til I Am Myself Again, After The Rain and countless more.  

He’s also set to release his latest solo album, his sixth, All The World Fades Away (June 14), and kicks off a summer tour on June 15, playing wineries, festivals and theatres, with some Blue Rodeo dates in August – including, of course, the annual Blue Rodeo amphitheatre show at Torontos Budweiser Stage (Aug. 24), which they’ve been performing for some 24 years – before going solo again through to December. 

Jim Cuddy

Cuddy is also looking forward to his September induction, alongside Keelor, into the Canadian Songwriters Hall of Fame for their shared duties penning Blue Rodeo’s roster of hits. Cuddy already has the Order of Canada, a Governor General Performing Arts Award and 15 Juno Awards (13 for Blue Rodeo; two solo), while Blue Rodeo has been honoured by the Canadian Music Hall of Fame and has a star on Canadas Walk of Fame.

Ahead of his album release and tour, Cuddy spoke with Zoomer about his new solo album, mining his memories for song ideas and Blue Rodeo’s enduring appeal.

 

KAREN BLISS: What is it, beyond the musicians you dress it up with, that makes a song a Jim Cuddy song versus a Blue Rodeo song?

JIM CUDDY: The initial framework is important because, let’s say, for this solo record I was making during the pandemic and writing. We had this little country place, and I would just sit here and write. I had all day. There were no gigs to go to, so I could write all the songs by myself and start recording the record. And then Greg phoned me and said, “We should make a Blue Rodeo record.” So, I immediately stopped and started writing for Blue Rodeo. So, I think that the differences weren’t quite as apparent because they were separated by a day, by 24 hours. But, no matter who I do it for, it’s a solo venture. It’s private. 

I have a tendency to mine my own personal memories a little bit more and not generalize and not use more imagination. So I did end up with a solo record that has certainly a lot of reference to personal stories in my life. And with Blue Rodeo, I don’t think I consciously do this, but maybe, subconsciously, I move away from those a little bit and write with a little bit more generalization and a little bit more imaginative stories. 

 

KB: Many of the lyrics on All The World Fades Away are so specific that I believe  some of them happened, like “wrote me crazy letters that I’ve kept to this day” in You Belong. You’re not making them up?

JC: Yeah, especially on this record. It’s funny, as I’m starting to think about the next Blue Rodeo record, I started thinking, “Have I depleted my memories? What do I do next?” Everything gets so specific. The beauty of songs is that, as opposed to novels or movies or larger works of art, you can concentrate on something that’s so small and derive so much meaning from it. I’ve always been attracted to that. I’ve probably also been attracted to my natural affinity to writing songs, but also that they’re little captured moments many, many moments but the story is small.

 

KB: You will be 70 soon. When you’re young, you’re living in the moment or looking at the future and maybe, as a songwriter, not mining memories? Whereas now there’s more to look back on …

JC: Hmm. I wonder if that’s true. I think that in all cases, things that you write about require a certain time to lodge themselves in your body and your mind. So, I’m not sure. I mean, if I think back on writing about things that have just happened, I have a tendency to miss things. And all these songs, all these stories, take a certain amount of rumination. Maybe they take a certain amount of alteration to tell what you think is true about it. You need to round out some edges or sharpen some edges. But you need to understand what it is the story’s about. 

Jim Cuddy
Now that he’s approaching 70, Cuddy feels “there’s a certain comfort in being older, writing songs, because there’s an enormous well of information and memories and action.” Photo: Christopher Gentile Photography

 

KB: True.

JC: You know, when I write songs, I can usually write the first two verses very quickly, and then I need to think about what’s going to happen next. So there’s a certain comfort in being older, writing songs, because there’s an enormous well of information and memories and actions. But that well of information is also now starting to become inhabited with mortality … thinking about the end, or the final chapter. That’s what’s ahead. So there’s never a time when you’re just dealing with nostalgia or memory. There’s always something contemporary that’s fusing itself to your thought process. 

 

KB: Blue Rodeo has been together for 40 years. Your relationship with Greg has lasted more than 40 years; your manager [Susan de Cartier], over 30 years; your booking agent [Kay White] about 40 years; your wife [Rena Polley], married 40 years. What is the key to managing all those relationships for so long? 

JC: [Laughs] You just have to want to stay in them. I’m lucky that I’ve chosen well. My wife and I have a good relationship. It’s not without its challenges. And certainly challenges are less than they used to be when we traveled so much and we had young kids. My relationship with Greg is well known to have had many ups and downs, but the benefits far, far outweigh the deficits. We have flourished together. We’re very good friends. We’ve experienced a life together that it’s very difficult to share with other people. 

We didn’t choose entirely properly at the beginning. We just accepted offers from people and some of those blew up in our faces. And it was from learning from those experiences that we chose Susan as our manager, that we had Kay as our agent, and we avoided a lot of bigger institutions because we had been with bigger institutions and understood that wasn’t for us. But I think that it’s just the will to continue.

 

KB: It takes some adjustments to get it right?

JC: That’s the same way it is in most bands. You have to recalibrate every so often. You have to share more. You have to be emotionally literate and talk and get through the physical and emotional stuff that is inevitable with working hard with people for a long period of time. It’s gotta be worth it You can’t get over it if those things are not right. You can’t change it if you can’t get along with somebody. I certainly had members leave our band, and I’m not sure that they lament leaving us. 

 

KB: Every summer for 24 years, Blue Rodeo plays Budweiser Stage and 16,000 people show up and sing along in your hometown. I probably just answered the question, but what’s the best part of doing that? 

JC: Every year we put it on sale, I think: “Is this going to be the year that people don’t come?” But it has become an annual reunion for people. It was cleverly placed the third weekend in August where you realize that summer is coming to an end, but you’ve still got the enthusiasm of summer in your bones. And people make it an annual [tradition]. They meet up. They come in droves. Twenty people come sit on the lawn or 11 people get seats. I think that we are the soundtrack to that big reunion picnic. It’s something we take seriously. We have to create a different show, but it’s also a jewel at the end of our summer too. We will have worked hard over the summer, going all over the place, and then we have this great tradition of showing up at the amphitheatre, and having this big celebration that we feel good about.