By looking at the cast of characters that makes up Blackie and the Rodeo Kings you may wonder how this unique bunch of musicians created something that has lasted over a decade, but vocalist and guitar player Stephen Fearing said it’s a shared love of music and a deep respect for each other that holds them together.
“No one would have ever planned it,” said Fearing from his Halifax home. “No one would have ever looked at us and thought ‘let’s put these guys together.’ But when we got in the studio — and it’s a cliche but it’s true — I just felt strongly that there was something more than just a bunch of musicians coming together who loved this one musician’s music.”
Blackie and the Rodeo kings first formed as a Willie P. Bennett tribute band.
Fearing was introduced to Bennett’s music as a teenager. His older sister Jane came back to Ireland, to the family home one year with a Bennett album and Fearing connected to the music.
“It was one of those random things,” he said. “His music has a lot of layers, which is great when you’re kind of a guitar nerd/geeky teenager and sort of filled with teenaged angst you want something with a certain melancholy to it. At the same time it’s very simple to play. It’s not complicated chord-wise. It’s something you can grasp quickly yet it keeps going and going. As you get older and understand more things about life the songs still work.”
While Fearing was living in Vancouver working on his music and developing his craft as a singer/songwriter he had the unique experience of meeting Bennett, a musician and songwriter he deeply admired.
“It was a little bit awkward when I first met him because I was just another person who knew of him from his records and now as an artist myself when somebody comes up to you and they are really enthusiastic, they only know one part of you, so initially he was kind of stand-offish,” he said.
Fearing had gone to The Classical Joint in Vancouver’s Gastown for their open stage night and Bennett was in the crowd.
“I went up to him and said ‘Hi, I’m a really big fan,’ and he kind of looked at me like ‘Oh, not another male singer/songwriter.’”
Fearing remembers Bennett was wearing a “funny hat” like a khaki hat worn by the characters on M.A.S.H. but more like a fishing hat with fishing lures stuck in it.
Fearing said once Bennett found out he was a musician, he was very generous with his time.
“We became fast friends,” he said. “As I sort of grew as a performer myself I started coming into Toronto more and more and he just said here’s a key to my house, come in and make yourself at home.”
Blackie and the Rodeo Kings has gone on to make seven albums since their first Bennett tribute album.
“I am surprised,” Fearing said about the band’s success
“Colin [Linden] lives in Nashville, Tom [Wilson] is in Hamilton and I’m in Halifax. It’s not really a recipe for a band to continue but we’re closer now that we have ever been and we’re making more headway and achieving more of our goals than we ever have.
“This thing just keeps growing and growing, and getting deeper and richer. I don’t really understand why that is. There are lots of things you can point at but it just comes down to us having a shared love for the same music and we really respect each other a lot. And we don’t have to spend every day of our lives around each other.”
The band has received numerous award nominations and won the Juno award in 2000 for best roots and tradition group.
The New York Times included Blackie and the Rodeo Kings in a list of songs that appeared on President George W. Bush’s iPod.
Blackie and the Rodeo Kings plays two shows at The Royal on Friday, April 27. The first is at 6 p.m. followed by a 9:30 p.m. show.
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