Tag Archives: Willie P. Bennett

The Thursday Outlook – Oct. 19 to 23, 2017

The Band That Kills Hate, Blackie and The Rodeo Kings, is coming back to spread their vibe and their amazing music in our area, with a show on Sunday evening at Meaford Hall.  Along with killing hate and putting on a show that rocks the house, this is a band that represents the best in Canadian song writing.  Originally founded as a tribute to the late Willie P. Bennett, the band was conceived as a fun side project for the three artists (Tom Wilson, Colin Linden and Stephen Fearing) who all have their own careers, and two decades later they still bring that fun of an all-star jam to every show.  Throughout their career they have consistently made a point of shining the spotlight on Canadian songwriters and others from the wide world of music.  Touring with them recently is Tom Wilson’s son, Thompson Wilson, who dispels any hint of nepotism with engaging original songs performed solo on acoustic guitar.  Blackie and The Rodeo Kings is a band that every Canadian music fan should see and there’s no better venue for that than Meaford Hall.

Owen Sound based songwriter, Larry Jensen, whose original songs have spawned a tribute album by the leading lights of the local music scene, will be performing a special concert tonight at The Bleeding Carrot, starting at 7 pm.  This is an ideal small venue to be able to really enjoy the songs and stories he weaves.

Jacelyn Holmes, whose press touts her as a blend of Marilyn Monroe and Stevie Nicks, is at The Huron Club in Collingwood for the weekend.  Following her showcase performance at the 2017 Juno Awards she’s released a smoky blues single, “Fool”, and is working on an upcoming album.

Blackie And The Rodeo Kings Energize a Quiet Sunday In Collingwood

Review by Bill Monahan of Blackie And The Rodeo Kings at The Gayety Theatre, Feb. 26, 2017

On Hurontario Street in Collingwood, normally quiet on a Sunday night, all the parking spaces were filled both sides of 3rd Street, and people were streaming from them to the Historical Gayety Theatre.  Inside, the capacity crowd had arrived early, anxious to see Blackie And The Rodeo Kings.  Before the concert even began it was clear that this was going to be a great show.  There was already so much excitement in the audience and that is a major ingredient in any concert’s success.  We all knew that this concert was a special gift.  This renowned band, celebrating twenty years together, is the closest thing we have in Canada to a Supergroup, comprised of Colin Linden, Stephen Fearing and Tom Wilson, each legendary in his own right.  Just the night before they had kicked off their latest tour with a sold out show at Massey Hall in Toronto, and for them to be playing a relatively small hall in Collingwood seemed too good to be true.

We can thank Steven Vipond, as much a fan as he is a promoter, for going out on a limb to make it happen.  He’s loved this band since buying a cassette of their first release, “High And Hurtin’ – The Songs of Willie P. Bennett” two decades ago, and they love him back.  “If it wasn’t for Steve,” Tom Wilson said at one point in the concert, “We’d be sitting in a motel room in Sault Ste. Marie, watching reruns on TV.”  They’ll be playing there Monday night and thanks to Steve they were able to get part way there tonight and play a show instead of chilling in a motel.

“Spreading the love is what we do,” Tom Wilson said.  The band’s slogan, “This Band Kills Hate” was emblazoned on a backdrop at the back of the stage, and on the T-shirts they were selling.  As Wilson pointed out, they are not a political band.  They had been formed through a mutual love of the music of Willie P. Bennett and the main ingredient that makes them such an uplifting experience to see is the love that they clearly have for each other.

It’s a family thing.  The opening act, with just a handful of original songs, was Thompson Wilson, Tom’s son, whom Stephen Fearing remembers as a four year old in the wings when the band began way back when.  His voice in not like the bass profundo of his father, it’s closer to Ian Tyson.  His songs are immediately likeable, set firmly in the singer-songwriter tradition, and they were delivered with a great confidence and authority.

Before the band began its long set, Stephen Fearing, took a few minutes to tell us about a charity they are promoting on this tour, as part of their determination to “kill hate”.  Care Canada has been working around the world for seventy years to save lives, defeat poverty and achieve social justice, centred particularly on the rights of women and children.  Not only do they have one of the lowest administration rates of any charity, they help millions around the world by lending money to women to expand their horizons, a worthy cause if there ever was one.

And then the music started.  It was, from the first chord, a joyous celebration, fueled by these three great talents and Colin Linden’s long time rhythm section, Johnny Dymond on bass and Gary Craig on drums.  The songs were roaring with energy and full of heart.  The singular talents of each member shone through as they took turns front and centre: Colin’s stratospheric slide guitar, Stephen’s “Irish tenor” and Tom’s deeply resonant bass vocals.  When they did a Willie P. Bennett song they exploded with an energy that surpassed anything that Willie P. had ever done, without losing the cry from the heart that was a central element of every one of his compositions.  And their take on The Band’s “Acadian Driftwood”, which Colin considered “the best song every written about this country” soared.

But every song soared.  The band was loose and “making it up as we go along,” as Wilson said at one point, “This is semi-professional entertainment”.  There were a few times when everything paused while they decided what to do next.  You could hear someone off-mic saying “Okay, we don’t have to do that one, we can do something else…”  But the audience was so into it, these short delays were no problem.  And whichever song they chose, they did a killer performance of it.

Two songs in particular stood out for me.  One was “The Long Walk To Freedom”, written for Nelson Mandela by Stephen Fearing and Reeny Smith, a beautiful evocation of what freedom really means in these “interesting times”.  Another was “Beautiful Scars”, co-written by Tom and Thomson Wilson, performed by both of them with the band, a song about the bittersweet life of a musician on the road.  “I heard Thompson singing around the house something he had written,” said Tom, “And I thought ‘I need to get a piece of that’”.

It was one of those concerts that seemed to end too soon, even though they played for two hours.  Everyone in the audience knew they had got their money’s worth and more.  How lucky we all were to see a band such as this so close to home.

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Blackie And The Rodeo Kings To Play In Collingwood

Blackie And The Rodeo Kings will be playing at concert at Collingwood’s Historic Gayety Theatre on Sunday, Feb. 26th, the second stop on their new tour to promote their latest album “Kings And Kings”, released late last year.  After the kickoff concert at Massey Hall the night before, they will coming up to the southern shore of Georgian Bay at the behest local music promoter Steven Vipond.  “Steve’s an angel,” says Blackie co-founder Tom Wilson, “and you need guys like that in the community who do it for the music”.  Local fans can be grateful indeed to have a chance to see a band of this quality.

Willie P. Bennett

Although they are categorized as “Americana” music, Blackie And The Rodeo Kings are to some extent the archtypical Canadian band.  They began as a gesture of love toward the legendary singer-songwriter Willie P. Bennett (taking their name from one of his songs), who ranked high in their collective esteem.  “Willie’s music was just so powerful,” says Wilson, “but just when it looked like success for him was just down the road, he would always take a turn right into the ditch.  This was our way of supporting what he gave all of us”

The three principals who came together to make up Blackie And The Rodeo Kings, Stephen Fearing, Colin Linden, and Tom Wilson were already highly respected Canadian talents at the time, with Junos, platinum sales and even film appearances in their individual histories.  It wasn’t so much a matter of them hitching their fortunes to Willie P. Bennett’s as it was of hitching his star to theirs.  And this reflects an essential element of the band’s mindset: they exist not just to promote their own (formidable) talents but to share with their audience the talents of other (mainly Canadian) artists for whom they have the greatest respect.

It began with “High or Hurtin’: The Songs of Willie P. Bennett” twenty years ago.  As they continued to record new albums, they added tributes to other great and sometimes underrated Canadian tunesmiths such as Bruce Cockburn, Fred J. Eaglesmith and David Wiffen.  In a band that had excellent songwriters built in, it was inevitable that they would eventually record albums that were all originals of their own.  But that would never be a permanent situation.  Their sixth album, “Kings and Queens” was a collection that brought their favourite female artists to join them on each track.  Along with high profile American artists like Roseanne Cash and Emmylou Harris, they included such Canadian treasures as Mary Margaret O’Hara, Holly Cole, and Serena Ryder.  Their sequel, “Kings And Kings” teams them up with another mix of great talents, male this time, that includes vocal as well as composition credits from Bruce Cockburn, Rodney Crowell, Nick Lowe and Dallas Green, among others.  And they haven’t forgotten Willie P., including on the album his song “This Lonesome Feeling” brought to life by Vince Gill.

Blackie And The Rodeo Kings have become, as a band, a great Canadian treasure in their own right.  But they have never forgotten nor ignored the idols of their youth, stretching back to the days when Colin and Tom haunted the coffee houses of the day to catch performance by the artists they continue to pay tribute to.

These days you can count the Canadians winning Grammy Awards to find ample evidence that Canadian music is appreciated well beyond our borders, but it wasn’t always that way and these three guys have been around long enough to remember how tough it has always been for Canadian talent.  If you listen to songs like David Wiffen’s “Coast To Coast Fever” or Willie P. Bennett’s “White Lines” you get a stark portrait of how difficult it has been in the past for Canadian original talent to succeed.  Wilson says they still end every concert with “White Lines”, a song that inspired him to make music his life’s work.

Tom Wilson with his paintings

Tom Wilson has always been a triple threat creative artists and, like his bandmates, he pursues other projects outside of Blackie.  One of Colin Linden’s recent gigs has been as technical supervisor on the TV show “Nashville”.  And Stephen Fearing, in order to join the others on this tour, has had to insert it into his own solo tour, flying in from the U.K. just before the kickoff Massey Hall show, and then picking up his own tour after this tour ends in mid-March.  Tom Wilson has always been musician, artist, and writer simultaneously.  These days he earns a third of his income from his paintings and he’s currently contracted to Random House for a memoir he’s writing with Dave Bidini of The Rheostatics, due out this fall.

To itemize the careers of these three extraordinary creative artists would require a book in itself but it is worth spending a few moments looking at another Tom Wilson project because of what it says about Canadian music and his personal dedication to it.  That project is a band called LeE HARVey OsMond, formed by Wilson in 2009 as a collective that includes members of The Cowboy Junkies, The Skydiggers and 3’s a Crowd (along with Suzie Vinnick).  Like Blackie And The Rodeo Kings, it’s a band that also carries the history of Canadian folk-rock in its personnel, and it is a band built around a specific vision.