One of Canada's leading roots rock acts, Blackie & the Rodeo Kings is a collaboration between three well-respected blues, folk, and rock musicians, Stephen Fearing, Colin Linden, and Tom Wilson. Fearing is a Vancouver-born, Irish-raised singer/songwriter who returned to the city of his birth in 1981; since 1986, he's released a number of critically acclaimed albums, and is a multiple Juno Award winner. Colin Linden hails from Toronto, and has collaborated with artists as varied as Leon Redbone, Bruce Cockburn, Robert Plant, and the Band, as well as producing albums for a number of artists and releasing several fine solo albums. And Tom Wilson, from Hamilton, Ontario, was the leader of the celebrated blues-rock band Junkhouse before going on to a successful career as a solo artist and songwriter.
Fearing, Linden, and Wilson were friends and colleagues who had frequently appeared on each other's albums, and in 1996, they joined forces to pay homage to Willie P. Bennett, a singer and songwriter from Southern Ontario who won a cult following (and later a Juno Award) for his powerful, evocative story-songs. The trio recorded an album of Bennett's songs called High or Hurtin': The Songs of Willie P. Bennett, and released it under the group name Blackie & the Rodeo Kings, a reference to the title of an album Bennett released in 1978. The album was well received both commercially and critically, and in 1999 the three reconvened for a second album, Kings of Love, in which they covered songs from a variety of different tunesmiths, as well as presenting a few original numbers. In 2004, Blackie & the Rodeo Kings released Bark, their first album dominated by original material, which solidified the group's solid, scrappy fusion of blues, country, and rock influences.
In the fall of 2006, Blackie & the Rodeo Kings issued Let's Frolic, which also featured what had become the group's regular rhythm section, bassist John Dymond and drummer Gary Craig, as well as guest vocals from Pam Tillis. The band cut enough material during the Let's Frolic sessions that a second album of outtakes, Let's Frolic Again, appeared in the spring of 2008. The Rodeo Kings returned to their collaborative roots on 2011's Kings and Queens, in which each of the 14 tracks featured duet vocals from a different female artist, including Emmylou Harris, Pam Tillis, Lucinda Williams, Rosanne Cash, Cassandra Wilson, and Patti Scialfa. It was followed a few years later by the more stripped-down South, which placed the focus back on the trio's songwriting strengths. In 2016, reprising the collaborative format that had served them well five years prior, the Rodeo Kings delivered Kings and Kings, this time teaming up with an assortment of male duet singers, including Nick Lowe, Raul Malo, Vince Gill, and fellow Canadians Bruck Cockburn and City and Colour. ~ Mark Deming