|Blue Rodeo members are, from left, Greg Keelor, Glenn Milchem, Bazil Donovan, Mike Boguski, Colin Cripps, Jim Cuddy and Bob Egan.|
Blue Rodeo is an icon of Canadian music. For close to 30 years, the band members have mined their roots and country influences to become one of the best-loved groups north of the 49th parallel.
With their recently-released 13th studio album, In Our Nature, getting steady airplay on radio across the land, they are currently on a national tour that will bring them to Prospera Place on Monday.
Life is indeed good for the Toronto-based group, led by singers and songwriters Jim Cuddy and Greg Keelor.
But only a short time ago, a physical condition was affecting Keelor's hearing so much its existence was threatened. Years of playing may have been factor, but no matter the actual cause, he was unable to tolerate loud sounds for any period of time, something that can be hard to avoid in his line or work.
"I'll never play electric guitar on stage again," Keelor told eVent. "I was pretty inflicted â€¦ there was a while there, once they got hurt, they were in rough shape for a long, long time."
It was becoming obvious something drastic had to be done, but a combination of rest and recovery and some technological fixes saved the day. Keelor now confines himself to playing acoustic guitar only on stage, which necessitated the addition of newest member Colin Cripps, who's taken over the duties of electric guitar and contributes backing vocals.
According to Keelor, they've also moved any loud amplifiers off stage and added small earbud-style monitors through which each member can hear the others, allowing him to play full shows again.
"I can play (electric guitar) in the studio because the amp's in another room and I can just listen on the speakers. At first it was pretty weird, but now I'm quite used to it. I sort of like not playing electric anymore and just strumming my guitar and singing my songs.
"My ears are always going to be a problem," he added. "They're better now than they were a couple of years ago. I can manage to sing my songs and record music, so I'm pretty good."
With the issue resolved, the multiple Juno-winning band picked up a renewed sense of purpose and continued with their own unique brand of country-tinged pop which audiences have gravitated to ever since their first shows together in the heady post-punk days of the early '80s on Toronto's Queen Street West strip.
Growing up a fan of British Invasion bands as well as those in the nascent Toronto punk scene of the late '70s, Keelor met Cuddy in high school After going to university, they decided to keep at music.
Around 1980, they formed a band called the Hi Fis, eventually moving to New York City for four years to make a go of it there
That experiment ended and upon returning to Toronto, they changed musical directions, leaning towards country influences and changing the name to Blue Rodeo.
Since those first gigs in the Toronto clubs in 1984, the band has since grown both in popularity and musically, all the while staying true to their roots, largely based on the songs of co-writers Keelor and Cuddy. Many of them, like Try, Lost Together, Till I Am Myself Again and Bad Timing have since become staples of genre-crossing radio playlists everywhere.
While Cuddy is known for his soaring voice on some of those hits, Keelor's rougher-edged vocals add another element that offers balance in the other direction. Somehow, however, as with many great musical pairings, it's those differences that add up to more than the sum of the parts.
Although they've been through several members along the way, original bassist Bazil Donovan remains, along with drummer Glen Milchem, who joined in 1992.
Although Cripps has only officially been a member of the band for less than a year, keyboardist Mike Boguski has been there since 2009.
Multi-instrumentalist and former Wilco member Bob Egan joined in 2000, making the band essentially a stable unit.
In Our Nature is the third album the band has recorded at Keelor's farm outside Toronto, which he said made for a relaxing experience all around.
"It's just nice for musicians to get out of the city and look at a skyline that was not man-made," he said. "Just the natural beauty of the world and get away from the pestering details of urban life."
"It worked out well this time."
But as comfortable musically and professionally as Keelor and the rest of Blue Rodeo have managed to make themselves, they aren't taking anything for granted.
After being inducted into the Canadian Music Hall of Fame in 2012, accumulating 11 Juno awards along with more than four million records sold, and earning a star on the Canadian Walk of Fame, Blue Rodeo continues to make great music together.
Their new album only adds to their lustre, with songs such as Mattawa and New Morning Sun already on many playlists. Any hearing issues aside, they look certain to be able to celebrate their unofficial 30th anniversary next year.
Meanwhile, it was announced last week Cuddy and Keelor will be celebrated as Officers of the Order in a ceremony later in 2014, along with 88 other new or promoted appointees.
This tour will also be something of a family affair, with opening act The Devin Cuddy Band, fronted by Jim's son, playing 33 tour stops, including Kelowna.
Who: Blue Rodeo live in concert
Where: Prospera Place, 1223 Water St., Kelowna
When: Monday, Jan. 6 at 7:30 p.m.
Tickets: $48.50-$65.50, plus applicable charges (package price available for groups of four). Available in person at the Prospera Place box office, online at selectyourtickets.com, or by calling 250-762-5050.