“Nothing but good memories”: Jim Cuddy and Blue Rodeo on Kingston

By Jordan Whitehouse

When Blue Rodeo walks onto the Leon’s Centre stageit might take Jim Cuddy a minute to remember where he is.   

“It’s going to be a long time before get used to calling it Leon’s Centre,” he says with a laugh over the phone from his home in Toronto 

The co-founding frontman of the iconic Canadian band is no stranger to Kingston, though. He went to Queen’s University in the 1970s, eventually earned a degree in English literature, and received an honorary doctor of law degree in 2015. His parents went to Queen’s, too, as did his youngest son, and Cuddy also met his wife there (they had their first date on a Saturday morning at Morrison’s).      

“I love going back to Kingston, every time,” says Cuddy, 64. I think it’s a beautiful place, and it’s nothing but good memories for me.  

Those Queen’s memories begin in 1975when a 20-year-old Cuddy arrived at his student home on William Street. The previous few years of high school and a year of travelling out west had left him “pretty burnt out, he says, so he didn’t do a lot of socializing while at Queen’s and never went to the pub, though he did work as a bartender at the Kingston Curling Club when it was on Clergy Street  

But Cuddy loved his professors and his literary studies. And he loved the peacethe quiet, and, above all, the time that a liberal arts degree gave him to explore the other thing he really wanted to explore — music, particularly folk music.    

He was still relatively new to playing guitar and writing songs when he arrived at Queen’s, but many in his small circle of friends playedOne of them was Walt Macneenow the Vice Chairman at Mastercard, who Cuddy says he learned a lot of guitar from 

He was an absolutely superbly talented musician, and I’d hound him into giving me lessons,” remembers Cuddy. “I’d sit on his porch, just down from Jock Harty Arena, waiting for him. And when he saw me, he’d go, ‘Oh no.’ And I’d say, ‘Just show me one thing, take 10 minutes!’ And he wouldI’d learn it, and I’d keep coming back. 

Although Cuddy had played a few gigs in Picton, it took a few years for him to feel competent and confident enough to get onstage in KingstonThat finally happened at an end-of-year show in 1978 at Grant Hall, where he played a couple of covers and an original with Macnee and another friend.  

Grant Hall was also where Cuddy would see artists like Bruck CockburnDan Hill, and David Bradstreet, but it was the now defunct folk club The Scarecrow, on Princess Street, where Cuddy would return to week after week to see Stan Rogers, Willie P. Bennett, Steve Goodman, and many others  

Press shots. Dundas, ON – July 25, 2016
Dustin Rabin Photography – 2730

“[The Scarecrow] would maybe hold 50 people, but it was a real hotspot,” says Cuddy. “The sounds in the club were so clear, and I had come from a rock background, going to rock concerts, so when I turned towards folk music, the clarity of it and the simplicity of it was so powerful to me. And the way that those people played guitar was just amazing. I was just mesmerized when I saw those acts, very inspiring. 

Not long after that 1978 gig at Grant Hall, Cuddy decided to move back to Toronto to give music a shot for a full year. It took a while to work out, but it eventually did of course. Since forming in 1984, Blue Rodeo has gone on to sell over 4 million albums, win 12 Junos, be inducted into the Canadian Music Hall of Fame, and be named to the Order of Canada. 

That’s a long time to be playing in the same band, and Cuddy admits that there have been times when the repetitiveness has gotten to him. “But then you shake your head and quickly you’re grateful that you make music for a living and that you make it with these people that are so good at it.”   

In Kingston, those people will include Blue Rodeo co-founder Greg Keelor, Colin Cripps on guitar, Mike Boguski on piano, and The Sheepdogs’ Jimmy Bowskill on mandolin, petal steel, and fiddle. The powerful alt-country band Elliott Brood will open 

 “The Blue Rodeo show has been so consistently good for the last few years, real joy fests,” says Cuddy. “And with all of those instruments, a lot of it is just presenting the songs and then letting the guys play. So I think there’s a certain amount of internalized joy on stage just from listening to everybody play and sounding so good.” 

No doubt Cuddy’s history with Kingston and his affection for the city will make it a special show, too.  

“I love playing in Kingston, and I love coming back,” he says. “When I’m back, I always try to take a walk around or a run by the lake. I never get tired of walking that ground.