Tom Wilson talks travel, Blackie & the Rodeo Kings and life

Tom Wilson at Union Station in TorontoTom Wilson may look exactly what you would think a rock star would look like. His personality, though, is blue collar and down to earth. I found Wilson early Sunday afternoon lounging on a metal seat at Union Station as he waited to catch a GO Bus back to Hamilton. We were meeting to discuss his travels for an upcoming article for the “On the Road” series in the Star.

He impressed me for a number of reasons, not least of which was his genuine interest in Julia and me. He asked where we were from and had great things to say — and terrific, albeit unmentionable stories to share — about her hometown (Poughkeepsie, N.Y.) and mine (Kitchener). Once he was on his bus, he emailed to thank us for making him feel comfortable.

Musicians don’t do that. Actually, few people in any walk of life do that.

As well as being gracious, Wilson also spoke thoughtfully about a variety of issues and shared photos of a trip he took to Versailles with his kids on his 50th birthday a couple of years ago, where he had a bit of fun with narcotics at Marie Antoinette’s estate. (He’d just come back from Amsterdam – what do you expect?)

Most importantly, though, is the excitement building toward the release of the seventh Blackie & the Rodeo Kings album, “Kings and Queens,” due out Tuesday, June 14. You may not have heard a lot of music from the band, but I think they’re going to get plenty of critical praise in coming months. Tom teams with Colin Linden and Stephen Fearing in BARK and “Kings and Queens” features vocals from a host of big names: Roseanne Cash, Patti Scialfa, Holy Cole, Emmylou Harris, Sam Phillips, Serena Ryder and Lucinda Williams among them.

“You had to write for those voices and hopefully they would like those songs,” Wilson says about the challenge of penning tunes for the album’s stellar roster of guest vocalists. “We had to jump through fiery hoops to write those songs and Colin Linden had to jump through fiery hoops to knit all together.”

As for the highlight of the process, Wilson singled out the finished product.

“What was a kick was getting some of the mixes back. Getting a track with my voice and Lucinda Williams singing together is pretty cool, you know,” he says of the album’s first song “If I Can’t Have You.”

Canadian bands have a knack for creating outstanding country-rock with a lot of blues and a touch of psychedelia. Blackie and the Rodeo Kings does it a cut above most. On the band’s website, you can pre-order “Kings and Queens” and also listen to some songs from their previous albums (or search for their performances on YouTube – “Water or Gasoline,” “49 Tons” and “Stoned” are highlights from 2009’s “Swinging from the Chains of Love”).

The band’s tour starts with a show at the Living Room in New York’s West Village on the day of the album release. They’ll also be at the always-awesome Ottawa Blues Fest on July 16. No Toronto dates have been announced yet.

The last time I saw Tom play was in 1999 (or thereabouts) at the Bottom Line in Greenwich Village, where he opened for Blue Rodeo in a concert sponsored by the Canada Club of New York. That was after his days with Junkhouse (“Check My Brain”) and before his other main music project, Lee Harvey Osmond. So I look forward to catching a show or two this summer.

As for his travel stories, a couple of the highlights from our talk included the fact he has seen George Clooney’s “Up in the Air” three times and relates to the character’s quirks so well that he aims to board a plane with only a credit card in his pocket. Tom also has a great story to tell about being in the Queen Elizabeth Hotel in Montreal with his parents when John Lennon and Yoko Ono held their famous 1969 bed-in. And when asked where he feels most like a foreigner, he said without blinking or hesitating: “Toronto.”

You’ll have to read the article in the Star’s Travel section to find out why. It’ll come out in a Saturday edition in late June/early July.

[Copyrighted photo by Julia Pelish]

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