Colin Linden's Music Rich in Love


Blues is in Colin Linden’s blood. His introduction to blues culture, and the turning point in his life, was when a friend of his brother’s turned him on to Chester Burnett (a.k.a. Howlin’ Wolf). Shortly thereafter, in November 1971, an 11-year-old Linden met the blues legend before his Saturday matinee gig at Toronto’s Colonial Tavern. The pair chatted for hours and became fast friends. On Rich in Love, the guitarist/producer’s first solo record in six years, the Renaissance man collaborates with his musical mates and some industry heavyweights; he also finds inspiration from dearly departed friends. The result: a dozen deep cuts that ooze with buckets of soul and lure you to listen. You can hear whispers of Howlin’ Wolf — and many blues icons — who have shaped Linden’s musical journey in each well-crafted note. I recently chatted with Linden. We discussed his new record, the recording process, songwriting, and his work on the hit TV show Nashville. 

David McPherson: Rich in Love has a very organic feel. I understand that the bulk of your latest solo effort was recorded at your Nashville home. Tell us a bit about how this came about? 

Colin Linden: You don’t often know it’s going to happen until it does. It started off with Johnny (Dymond), Gary (Craig), and I setting up in a little room in my house. Blackie & the Rodeo Kings played at The Hardly Strictly Bluegrass Festival in San Francisco, then they came back to my place here in Nashville. I had some ideas on how it could go and felt like I had a bedrock of songs that could be a body of work. I had to go off to a shoot for the TV show [Nashville] and I came back to the house three hours later. The couch had been moved out of my home studio and there was a set of drums there. Janis (my wife) and Johnny had put up a set of curtains; Gary set up a bunch of cushions from the couch to make the room sound a certain way.  That is how we started. We recorded the first two or three songs as a sort of reconnaissance recording. We figured the worst that could happen is these would be demos, but they ended up being the first couple of songs we cut on the record.

The result sounds very organic. The bare-bones approach harkens back to the way records used to be made. Was that deliberate?

It’s a funny thing. These days, making something high fidelity is not as much of a challenge. In the years when I was coming up and learning to record, in the 80s especially, there was a parallel development between the war for fidelity and the Cold War. Sure enough, records sounded colder and colder and colder. Eventually, when the sampling age came, and the digital audio workstation age came in, it became easier to achieve professional sounding recordings in interesting environments. The paradigm shifted. The goal, that it always was in the old days, came around again, which was to do something that had some character. Sometimes the limitation of your environment can bring you closer to something that has some soul and a unique perspective on your performance.

Of the new songs, are there any in particular you are most proud of? How about ‘Delia Come to Me’?

That one is rooted in the old country-blues ballad 'Delia's Gone' from a story point of view, but musically it’s a little bit different. That song came out of me around the same time the State of Georgia executed a man named Troy Davis for a murder that certainly two million people signed a petition saying they weren’t sure if he did it or not, including ex U.S. President Jimmy Carter and the former Pope. It reminded me so much of that old song, which also happened in Georgia, a beautiful murder ballad, but it’s told from the perspective of the person that was alleged to have committed the crime. In that song, he never says whether he did it or he didn’t do it; I always thought he didn’t do it. After I wrote that song, I thought I would like to make another record. That was a big impetus.

Describe your songwriting process.

I still find it a mystifying and fascinating process. You can spend a certain amount of time acquiring skill and the greatest songs usually come from digging as deep as you can and letting inspiration take hold. I don’t really know where they came from. The reason I’m talking so quick about it is I get bashful when I talk about songwriting because when you are playing guitar and 'Desolation Row' [Bob Dylan song] is coming out of the monitor in front of you by the guy who wrote it, it makes you reconsider how high your bar is as a songwriter. I'm just happy to have some songs that to me feel honest and real. Not that I don’t take it serious, but in judging them, you asked, ‘what songs are you most proud of?’ I don’t know if pride is the right word. You feel grateful that you have something that comes from your heart and feels honest and you love singing and you feel something when you are singing it.

Tell me a bit about working on the ABC hit TV show Nashville.

It’s fantastic. We are in the middle of filming show 408 – fourth season, eighth episode. So far, it's going great. The music ... I feel we are getting stronger and stronger with each episode. I'm just about to go teach Jonathan Jackson a guitar part for a difficult one, but he’s a great guitar player, so he’ll be able to learn it well. You just get wrapped up in the work. We’ve only had two episodes on air (episode three aired the night after we chatted) and today we are shooting on location at the charcter Gunner’s house in East Nashville. 

I understand you have a new Blackie & The Rodeo Kings record in the works? 

Yes, it's going to be called: Kings & Kings. We did Kings & Queens a few years ago where we had some of our favourite females do duets with us. Now, we are working on the follow-up with guys this time. That will be full-time non-paying job for the next couple of years! We are pretty deep into it already though. Mostly, just getting 'kings' at this point. I got the tracks and have a few on record already and hope to have a bunch more … we have some really cool people lined up. I can’t let out yet who the kings are, but there are some good ones and some surprising ones. There are some everyone will know and some - maybe be the time record comes out - they will know. Overall, it's a very interesting collection. I'm really happy with how the record is sounding. The tracking came about in a very cohesive and organic way, despite having a lot of guests; it will be a unique sounding record that holds together.

Nice interveiw Dave, I have the new album by Colin and really like it, especially "No more cheap wine".

Agree with Jack that it was a good interview.  I discovered Colin when I heard "From The Water" on a public radio blues show (probably from a promo CD).  Immediately had to get a lot of his catalog.  He is so talented that it is hard to tell which of his skills (songwriting, singing, guitar, production) are the best. He is generally unrecognized by the mainstream music press but admired by his peers.  I like a lot of the Blackie and the Rodeo Kings output also.  "Bluesy folk rock' is the best way to describe his music.

Not to mention his acting skills, as seen regularly on "Nashville". Well!, maybe not, but he has a huge input and impact on the musical content of the show, along with Buddy Miller, so it's just good to see him ocaissionally in the background, either in the backing musicians or just as one of the crowd. I downloaded the latest Blackie & the Rodeo Kings album, last night, and need to make serious time to listen, later today.

I just emailed a friend a link to a good Buddy and Colin discussion of Canadian musicians.

Buddy and Colin are my musical heroes these days.  Both deserve a "Mr. Americana" honor due to the diversity of their music and wide-ranging skills. 

I know that Austin is called "the live music capital of the world" but Nashville has become "Roots Music Central".  It is no longer a city of just country and bluegrass.   Rivals NOLA for diversity and camaradarie among artists of different stripes. 

thanks for sharing that link, fascinating, wish I'd heard it live. Being a 68 year old Brit and living in Northumberland it's easy to miss such pearls. Buddy is another of my heros, saw him once in an old church in old Buckingham and he was magic. Also saw the late 1980's version of The Band at the New Orleans Jazz Fest in 1987. I've yet to see Colin Linden live, but I can keep my fingers crossed. I try not to differentiate between Austin or Nashville or even New Orleans or Memphis or new York or LA, good music is simply good music and I just love it when talented msusicians can blend & fuse the different genres to create even better music.