As one-third of Blackie and the Rodeo Kings, as a solo artist, as a songwriter, as a sideman extraordinaire with the likes of Emmylou Harris, Leon Redbone and the Band and as a producer of artists such as Bruce Cockburn, Colin James and Lucinda Williams, Colin Linden has established himself as one of the treasures of North American roots music. A precocious youngster, at the age of eleven Linden befriended his musical idol, the larger-than-life giant of Chicago blues, Howlin’ Wolf. Encouraged by the venerable bluesman, a short while later Linden cut his first demo at a friend’s brother’s homemade studio in a suburban Toronto basement. By the time he was fifteen, he had recorded Robert Johnson’s “They’re Red Hot” for Sylvia Tyson’s CBC radio show “Touch the Earth.” A year later, in 1976, Linden performed on national television for the first time. His journey over the ensuing three-plus decades has produced an extraordinary body of work that is emotionally mature, stylistically diverse and, ultimately, extraordinarily moving.
Colin Linden Live!, recorded at the now defunct Larry’s Hideaway in Toronto in August 1980, was the then-twenty year old’s first album issued under his own name. Released by local independent label Ready Records in 1981, the disc sold a few thousand copies and made enough of a noise to get famed New York City impresario Sid Bernstein interested in taking over Linden’s management chores.
The first thing apparent when the laser hits this disc is that the album crackles beginning to end with the energy and influence of the nascent sounds of punk and new wave. Linden, in fact, had been blown away by the first two Elvis Costello albums to the point where he lined up for seven hours to see the British rocker at the legendary El Mocambo gig in the spring of 1978. The performances of “U-Turn,” “Fast Relief,” “Seven Year Itch” and “I’m On The Go” on Colin Linden Live! all display ample evidence of the influence of Costello’s sophisticated phrasing and compositional sense.
A few months before he first heard Costello, Linden had left Toronto legend David Wilcox’s employ and had immediately formed his own band which he initially dubbed The Lucky Charms. By the spring of 1978 the concept had morphed into Group du Jour. The original group was anchored around Wilcox’s rhythm section, drummer Bucky Berger and bassist Terry Wilkins.
That spirit was definitely reflected on the bandstand the evening that Colin Linden Live! was recorded. The core band that night was Berger on drums and bassist David Hayes. Joining the trio on a few songs is saxophonist Jody Golick (dig his muscular solo on the cover of the Supremes’ “Back In My Arms Again”) and, on “Fast Relief,” “I Get The Blues When It Rains” and “Back In My Arms Again,” a second drummer, Bruce Moffet, joins the fray. Although he is not heard on the record, guitarist Morgan Davis also sat in with the band on that halcyon night.
The idea of using two drummers was the brainchild of Terry Wilkins. Group du Jour had recently tried the concept out on one song during sessions for a demo they had cut that was engineered by Dan Lanois and produced by Wilkins. Coincidentally, around the same time, Angus MacKay and Andy Crosbie, from Ready Records, had approached Linden about recording for them.
While mulling over the overtures from Angus and Andy, on the suggestion of one of the great iconoclasts in Toronto music history, Mendelson Joe, Linden decided to cut a live album. Although recording one’s first solo album live is not a typical career move, Linden thought that that very fact might serve to draw attention to the recording and that a live recording would just be that much more exciting.
“There was an essence that we got live,” confirms Linden, “that I hadn’t got in the studio so far. It feels like we were excited.” Colin Linden Live! is a precursor to all of that followed.
Exciting to a fault, the recording brings back a lot of fond memories and holds up amazingly well some thirty years after it was first recorded. Thank you Ready Records for releasing it then and wanting to make it available now.
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