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  World Of Music


Colin Linden
2006 - Easin' Back To Tennessee biography

Colin Linden wears more hats than you’d find at a Royal wedding, and we're not just talking about the trademark big black hat he favours on and offstage. This musical renaissance man is indeed a multiple threat - as a singer, songwriter, guitarist, and producer. He is in major demand by artists wanting him to produce, write for, and / or play on their records (he has played on 300 and produced 60 albums), yet somehow finds time to both pursue a prolific solo career and play a key role in Canadian roots-rock "supergroup" Blackie and the Rodeo Kings.

If forced at the proverbial gunpoint to come up with just one self-defining phrase, chances are he'd come up with "bluesman". The form that first stirred Colin's musical soul nearly four decades ago sustains him still. "easin' back to tennessee", his tenth solo album, represents the fullest consummation of a lifelong love affair.

"I've been playing country blues, '20s style acoustic blues, since I was a really little kid", the 45-year-old Linden explains. "When I was 11, I met [electric blues pioneer] Howlin' Wolf. One of the things he said to me that really got me onto this path was that 'if you want to play this kind of music you should listen to the people I listened to'. He told me about Charlie Patton and Son House and that generation of artists. That was like opening the biggest door in the world for me, so I just dug in deep. I listened to it and have been playing it seriously for 32 years now."

Colin's thorough and committed exploration of the blues is, he explains, "at the core of everything I do. If I’m playing guitar on a Lee Ann Womack record or playing with Bruce Cockburn, I'm still thinking of Son House and Charlie Patton and Blind Blake. That is the foundation, the deepest root for everything that I do."

He does his long-gone sources of musical inspiration proud on "easin' back to tennessee". The time is indeed right for an album like this. Years spent on a life well lived are reflected in the resonance of Colin Linden's virile and compelling voice, an instrument perfectly complemented by the fluent fretwork that has long been one of his calling cards. As Colin notes, "this is not particularly young people's music. I think it is something you bring more authority to the older you get."

"easin' back to tennessee" features both original compositions written by Linden over the course of his career and inspired versions of tunes written by some of the greats of the acoustic blues. Voice and guitar are placed front and centre, while subtle accompaniment from the ace rhythm section of Larry Taylor (Canned Heat, Tom Waits) and Stephen Hodges (Tom Waits) graces a handful of the tunes.

"I always wanted to make a record like this," says Colin. "I first started thinking seriously about doing it about 15 years ago, and actually did my firstever home recordings on it then." Acoustic blues elements were present on such earlier solo albums as 1994's South At Eight North At Nine and 2002's! Big Mouth, but the style is given full expression on "easin' back to tennessee". The record can be seen as a companion piece to "Southern Jumbo", the critically-acclaimed album Colin released in March 2005. That gem was described by noted musicologist Rob Bowman as "an exceptionally mature, stylistically diverse, and extraordinarily moving work".

Tracks on "...tennessee" were recorded in Los Angeles, Toronto and Nashville, Colin's current base. "Some of the mixes that ended up on the record were done in hotel rooms while I was touring with Blackie," says Colin. "For this kind of music, it is hard to keep the spirit for a solo performance for more than a couple of takes. After that, I'd rather come back to it." Such an approach accounts for the honesty and authenticity of the material. "I found the making of this album liberating, as it was something I never felt I'd got down properly on tape before. It reflects the way I play when I play by myself."

On "easin' back to tennessee", Linden captures the spirit of his early blues heroes, but his approach transcends mimicry. "After a while, the tradition becomes part of who you are, especially when you utilize what you do in different capacities. If I play Son House style guitar on some country record, you begin to feel like you are an emissary of this style that you walk around with. That frees you from feeling like you're an imitator. When the dance floor is full, you have to get them going some way or another, so you pull out what you have in your back pocket. In my case, that is usually Robert Johnson or Son House, the country blues."

The combination of his deep passion, encyclopedic musical knowledge, and a well-trained empathetic ear has also made Colin Linden one of the most sought after roots music producers in North America. In 2005 alone, he produced eight albums, some surely destined to bring more awards into his crammed trophy case. That list includes the Bruce Cockburn instrumental album, Speechless, the! new solo album from his Blackie comrade, Tom Wilson, (Dog Years), the strongstrong-selling Limelight from Colin James, plus upcoming records from fast-rising blues songstresses Janiva Magness and Roxanne Potvin, whose disc will feature guest appearances from the likes of Daniel Lanois, Cockburn, John Hiatt and The Fairfield Four.

Linden has produced earlier Juno Award-winning albums for Bruce Cockburn, Sue Foley, Ray Bonneville, Lennie Gallant and Colin James, while he has taken home Junos for his own solo discs, South At Eight North At Nine and Big Mouth, and for Blackie and the Rodeo Kings' Kings Of Love. Then there are the multiple Maple Blues Awards, his 1999 Toronto Arts Award, and a 1999 Grammy Award nomination in the Best Traditional Blues Album category for the starstudded A Tribute To Howlin' Wolf CD, one Colin conceived, produced and played on.

As a songwriter, Colin has written hits for such artists as Michelle Wright, The Band (the now classic and much covered "Remedy") and Colin James, while his participation in the O Brother Where Art Thou phenomenon increased his Stateside profile greatly. Linden’s version of the Skip James classic, "Hard Time Killing Floor", was used in the hit film, and led to Colin’s participation in the subsequent Down From The Mountain tours and documentary.

Blackie and the Rodeo Kings, the side project formed with Tom Wilson and Stephen Fearing exactly a decade ago, has also become a significant part of Colin's career. The band has made real strides in the U.S., even on to George W. Bush's iPod, and Colin will soon be back in the studio producing their new disc.

He won't be doing a lot of takin' it easy in Tennessee in 2006, but that will suit Colin Linden just fine. This is the 25th anniversary of Colin Linden's career as a solo recording artist, and "easin' back to tennessee" sees him mark this memorable milestone in the most fitting way possible.

About Colin Linden - Full timeline / fact sheet:

January release of "Easin' Back To Tennessee". Jan/Feb tour across Canada with Colin James.

Busiest year yet for CL as producer. Works on recordings for Annie Tate, 21-year old blues sensation Slick Ballinger, Jenna Andrews and Jessi Alexander, Janiva Magness and Roxanne Potvin, as well as new albums for long-time friends Colin James (Limelight) and Tom Wilson (Dog Years). "Southern Jumbo" is released to unanimously great reviews (they’re getting it!) and Colin tours concerts and festivals in both Canada & the US. Colin collaborates with friend and "O Brother" associate Chris Thomas King to write, record and perform "What Would Jesus Do?" - a song to benefit Hurricane Katrina victims... and at long last, Colin fufills his dream of a recording a country blues album-in his own fashion, of course. "Easin' Back To Tennessee" is slated for a January 2006 release to coincide with his hosting of the 2006 Maple Blues Awards.

CL co-writes, records and produces "Villanelle" for Paul Reddick, and continues to tour with Blackie & The Rodeo Kings, whose song, "Had Enough Of You Today" becomes a major hit on rock radio in Canada. Blackie performs on the 2004 Juno Awards with Kathleen Edwards as a special guest. Blackie subsequently tours Canada opening for their new best friend, the legendary Merle Haggard. Colin produces (with the artist) "Bury Him At The Crossroads" for California blues great Janiva Magness. Blackie tours the U.S. through the fall, stopping back in Canada to perform on the internationally televised CCMA awards. Colin records his 9th solo album, and first for the True North label, "Southern Jumbo". This recording features Wayne Jackson & Andrew Love, the legendary Memphis Horns on six tracks. It also features guest appearances by Jane Siberry, Buddy Miller, Jessi Alexander and Kathleen Edwards. Late in the year, he plays on the upcoming Cassandra Wilson album, produced by T. Bone Burnett.

Colin begins this year by producing a third album by Blackie & The Rodeo Kings entitled, "BARK". He narrates the film "The Last Round" about his friend & hero, George Chuvalo's fight with Muhammed Ali. Big Mouth is released in the US, and Sue Foley's "Where The Action Is" sweeps the MAPL Blues Awards and earns CL another Producer of The Year award. BARK is released in the summer and Colin, Tom & Stephen hit the road! Colin begins producing a debut album for reclusive Texas Bluesman, Whitey Johnson, and plays on albums by Emmylou Harris, Leeann Womack and Jessi Alexander. He is hired to be executive producer on a tribute album to Gordon Lightfoot and a blues tribute to Johnny Cash.

CL starts the year by producing "Where The Action Is" for Sue Foley and several more tribute album tracks for Lucinda Williams, including "The Farm" for a tribute to the late German singer-songwriter, Rainer. Is involved with no fewer than 5 Grammy nominations for his work on the Hank Williams tribute album, "Timeless", the Mississippi John Hurt tribute album, and "Down From The Mountain". The Linden-produced, Lucinda Williams track, "Cold, Cold Heart" is nominated for Female Country Vocal Performance. "O Brother Where Art Thou" wins big! Linden tours in support of Big Mouth and on some dates with the Down From The Mountain Tour, and in the summer, he makes his acting debut as "Father Scott" in the Coen Brothers' "Intolerable Cruelty", marrying Catharine Zeta-Jones to Billy Bob Thornton, while playing Simon & Garfunkel's "April Come She Will". "Big Mouth" wins a Juno Award for Best Blues Album. Linden wins Producer Of The Year at the MAPL Blues Awards for Paul Reddick & The Sidemen’s "Rattlebag", which wins a total of 9 Awards. Linden ends the year by producing (with the artist) Bruce Cockburn's, "You've Never Seen Everything" featuring guest appearances by Sarah Harmer, Emmylou Harris & Jackson Browne.

CL does a number of shows supporting and playing with Keb' Mo', including "House of Blues" in New Orleans, and La Zona Rosa in Austin, Texas. Records his 8th solo album, "Big Mouth" with help from special guests, Keb'Mo', Lucinda Williams, Bruce Cockburn, Lee Roy Parnell and Jonell Mosser. Sue Foley's album, "Love Comin' Down" wins the Juno award for best blues album, and wins six Maple Blues Awards. Colin wins Producer of the Year for the fourth consecutive year. Produces new album for Chicago-based singer / songwriter, Susan Werner. Produces two tracks for Lucinda Williams for two more tribute albums - one to Hank Williams and one to Townes Van Zandt. Co-produces new album for Stephen Fearing and two new tracks for a Bruce Cockburn Greatest Hits. "Down From The Mountain", the film of the May 2000 Ryman Auditorium concert of "O Brother Where Art Thou" artists is released, and to celebrate, the cast play a concert at Carnegie Hall in New York City. The film is subsequently released on VHS and DVD, and the soundtrack, featuring Chris Thomas King and Colin performing, "John Law Burned Down The Liquor Sto'" is released on Lost Highway / Mercury Records. Keb' Mo' performs his and Colin's song, "God Trying To Get Your Attention" on the CBS television show, "Touched By An Angel".

Wins three Juno Awards, for Ray Bonneville, Bruce Cockburn and Blackie & The Rodeo Kings, as well as the Maple Blues Award for Producer of the Year (shared with co-producers Morgan Davis and Alec Fraser). Produces and plays on tracks by Lucinda Williams and Bruce Cockburn for a Mississippi John Hurt tribute album. "raised by wolves" released in the United States on Compass Records. Plays at the Ryman Auditorium with others who worked on the "O Brother Where Art Thou" film. This concert is filmed by legendary director, D.A. Pennebaker. Plays several festival dates with Blackie & The Rodeo Kings, including the Edmonton Folk Festival. At this festival, Colin plays with Wilson Pickett, Eric Bibb and Linda Tillery & the Cultural Heritage Choir. Their performance is recorded and is subsequently released on both Linda's and Eric's albums. Writes with Nashville singer / songwriter Kevin Gordon, and four of their co-writes land on Kevin's album, "Down To The Well". Produces and records albums for Stephen Fearing (So Many Miles-live), Paul Reddick and the Sidemen (Rattlebag), longitm friend and inspiration J. Thibodeau (Everyday Shoes) and Andy Scheinman (The Original). A 25-year retrospective of Colin's work, "Sad & Beautiful World" is released by Sony Music Canada, featuring recording of Colin dating back to age 15.

The year starts with Colin, Stephen Fearing and Tom Wilson recording their second album as Blackie & The Rodeo Kings, the double CD set, "Kings Of Love". While in the studio, Colin learns that he has been nominated for a Grammy Award for the Howlin' Wolf tribute album. Wins Producer of the Year and Songwriter of the Year at the Maple Blues Awards. Produces new album, "Breakfast in New Orleans, Dinner in Timbuktu" with / for Bruce Cockburn. Tours with Blackie & The Rodeo Kings, while their single, "Lean On Your Peers" becomes a Top Twenty Rock Radio and video hit. Begins work on a new album for blues guitarist, Sue Foley. Wins "Gabriel Award" in Britain for his work writing, producing and playing on the CBC / BBC co-production of the radio drama, "The Trojan Women". Wins the prestigious Toronto Arts Award for music. Produces "Rhythm of Love" - a new album for Colin"s long-time friend and mentor, David Karl Wilcox. Works on a new film project with producer T-Bone Burnett and the Coen Brothers, to be called "O Brother Where Art Thou". Rick Danko-RIP

Colin spends several months in Nashville, Tennessee, writing and playing with some of Nashville's finest artists. Colin records and plays with Lucinda Williams for the final cut on the Howlin' Wolf project. In February, Colin wins "Producer of the Year" at the first "Maple Blues Awards" and Colin James and "National Steel" win a further five awards. In addition, both "National Steel" and Stephen Fearing's "Industrial Lullaby" are nominated for Juno Awards. Colin's new album, "Raised By Wolves," is scheduled for a spring release. Writes and records with Keb' Mo' for Keb's "Slow Down" album. "Raised By Wolves" is released and the single "Love Everyone" garners significant video and radio play. Produces album for Montreal's Ray Bonneville entitled "Gust of Wind".

Colin starts the year by producing "Flying Jenny," the debut album for Spirit of The West bassist / accordionist, Linda McRae (Stony Plain / Warner). "Through The Storm Through The Night" is finally released in the U.S. on Compass Records / DNA, in France on Skyranch / Virgin Records, and on Demon Records in the UK and the rest of Europe. Colin's song "Love's Like Rain" (co-written with Jim Weider of The Band) is recorded by Kim Wilson (Fabulous Thunderbirds) and Mavis Staples with rockabilly guitar legend Paul Burlison for Burlison's "comeback" album. Colin produces (with the artist) and plays on an acoustic blues album for Colin James, titled "National Steel" (Warner Music). This album features one Linden original, "Before The Dawn." Blackie and The Rodeo Kings are nominated for a Juno Award for Best Roots and Traditional Album (Group). In April, Colin begins production on a new album for his "Blackie" cohort, Stephen Fearing. The resulting album, "Industrial Lullaby" is released on True North / Universal to excellent reviews, substantial airplay, and strong sales. Columbia Records / Sony Music Canada reissues Colin's 1988 album, "When the Spirit Comes," remastered, with new liner notes, and featuring two previously unreleased tracks. In June, "Colin James with Colin Linden" take to the road and tour virtually every major market in Canada. In July, Colin participates as associate producer and featured player on a tribute album for his hero, Howlin' Wolf. The band on this recording is Colin and four members of Wolf's bands - Sam Lay, Hubert Sumlin, Henry Gray and Calvin Jones. As the summer winds down, Colin starts work on his new album, recording in Toronto and New Orleans, and utilizing his band and a crack New Orleans horn section. Late in the year, Colin produces the third album for New England-based acoustic band, Salamander Crossing.

Colin enlists Junkhouse leader Tom Wilson and noted artist Stephen Fearing and forms Blackie & The Rodeo Kings. Under Colin's production, they record "High Or Hurtin'" for True North (MCA), an album consisting entirely of the songwriting of Willie P. Bennett. Colin's guitar playing also surfaces on new releases by Dwayne Steele (Mercury / Polydor), The Band (EMI), Amy Sky (Iron / BMG) and Lawnie Wallace (MCA). Colin produces and plays on the solo debut for Jackson Delta guitarist and singer, Rick Fines. Blackie & The Rodeo Kings' album is released to rave reviews and strong commercial response, inspiring Colin, Stephen and Tom to actually become a live band and tour major festivals across Canada. Colin produces (with the artist) Bruce Cockburn's 23rd album, The Charity of Night (True North/MCA Canada / Rykodisc International). Late in the summer, Colin plays major showcases backing up Grammy award-winning blues artist, Keb' Mo'. BRAVO-TV features a 30-minute profile of Colin for their "Bluesman" series. Blackie continues to tour through the fall and winter, ending 1996 with a New Year's Eve show at Toronto's Nathan Phillips Square by City Hall. The show is broadcast live on CITY-TV.

Completion of Colin's new Sony album "Through The Storm Through The Night," released July 11. Colin performs for the second year in a row on the Juno show, this time playing with country male vocalist winner Charlie Major. Colin receives a gold album for his signature slide guitar on Larry Gowan's song "Time For Love." With the John Bottomley album "Blackberry" attaining rave reviews and top ten airplay, Colin makes a few live appearances performing with John including Much Music. Colin teams up with Colin James on tour throughout Ontario and Quebec. James' new album "Bad Habits" contains Linden cowrite on the song "Real Stuff." Colin performs with Blue Rodeo on their annual year-end show in Toronto.

Colin receives his first Juno nomination and "South At Eight North At Nine" wins a Juno Award, (Canada's major music awards) as Blues / Gospel album of the year. Topping that off was a live performance on the Juno show itself. He also gets back into the producer's chair to work with east coast singer/songwriter Lennie Gallant (Sony Music) for the album "The Open Window," winner of 4 ECMA awards (East Coast Music Awards - Canada) including album and single of the year). And starting in the spring, Colin hits the road in Bruce Cockburn's touring band playing throughout North America as well as England and Europe. BMG Music requests Colin to produce the John Bottomley album "Blackberry." Recordings take place in Vancouver in between legs of the Cockburn tour. Colin also produces another Lori Yates track and one of himself for the Neil Young tribute album issued on Sony in late summer. The fall sees Colin back in the studio for his own next album. As well Colin produces American artist Brookes Williams for an album due in August 1995 on Green Linnet.

Colin tours Canada and U.S. east coast in support of "South At Eight North At Nine," including numerous festival performances throughout the summer. Produces Lori Yates's album for Virgin Music which features several Linden cowrites. Completes recording with Bruce Cockburn on two new albums, "Christmas" and "Dart To The Heart." Songs that Colin Linden has cowritten hit the charts with The Band song "Remedy" going top 5, and the Michelle Wright recording of "Guitar Talk" going to #1 on the country chart. For that accomplishment, Colin became the first recipient of a new SOCAN award given to Canadian writers whose songs have attained #1 stature.

Linden continues touring with Cockburn, including six countries in Europe. Plays on the new "Frozen Ghost" album. Contributes a song to a European slide guitar compilation album. Writes with Vancouver recording artist Colin James for his album due in '95. Participates on guitar and vocals on the recordings for The Band's album "Jericho" which includes Linden's cowrite on their song "Remedy." And (last but not least) records "South At Eight North At Nine," his fourth album and first for Sony Music Canada and his first U.S. release via Deluge Records. The critically acclaimed album features guest appearances by Bruce Cockburn as well as Danko, Helm and Hudson from The Band.

Linden band tours American east coast and takes a side trip to Switzerland for a festival performance. Colin produces album for emerging young blues group Jackson Delta as well as tracks for singer/songwriter Lori Yates. Co-writes with Scott Dibble for the upcoming Watertown album as well as assembling the players and performing on that album. Colin also produces an album for Euro bluesman Hans Theessink which takes him to Texas, Austria, Germany, California and New York! Returning to Canada, Linden, along with members of his band, join Bruce Cockburn's new touring band. He accompanies Cockburn for a taping of "Austin City Limits."

Continues with live and studio work including guitar on Rita Coolidge album produced by Eddie Schwartz. Cowrites with The Band and Canadian country star George Fox. Records and collaborates with producer / writer / musician Ben Mink (K.D. Lang's musical partner).

Linden produces albums for Canadian blues hero Morgan Davis (Stony Plain / WEA) and artist Mendelson Joe (Anthem / Sony). Plays with Rick Danko and Garth Hudson for a wild weekend gig at Toronto's Horseshoe Tavern. Robbie Robertson joins in for Saturday night's encores.

A&M releases "When The Sprit Comes" to critical acclaim. The single "Miles Away From You" reaches top 20 on CAR charts. Linden and band are out on the road in support of album number three.

Signs with A&M Records Canada and records "When The Spirit Comes" album. Colin is assisted by Rick Danko and Garth Hudson of The Band on vocals and keyboards respectively. Colin signs a publishing deal with Warner / Chappell.

Releases "The Immortals" (Stony Plain / WEA) and supports the album with extensive touring and three videos.

Records his second album, "The Immortals."

Linden alternates between band leader and sideman playing with, among others, Amos Garrett, Willie P. Bennett, Gwen Swick, Mendelson Joe, Morgan Davis and African singer Tony Bird.

"Colin Linden Live!" released on Ready Records

Records with 80 year old Mississippi bluesman Sam Chatmon. The resulting album "Sam Chatmon & His BBQ Boys" (Flying Fish Records} is Chatmon's last and Linden's first.

Travels throughout U.S.A. playing guitar with Leon Redbone.

Linden does first solo tour of coffee houses and colleges; later in the year he starts his own band.

Linden travels through the southern states meeting and playing with many of the surviving blues musicians of the 20's and 30's. Leaves school and joins David Wilcox & The Teddy Bears.

Colin becomes one of the youngest musicians to receive national exposure on television and radio in his performances on CBC's "90 Minutes Live" and "Touch The Earth."

Begins performing career playing coffeehouses and folk festivals

Meets blues legend Howlin' Wolf for the first time at Toronto's Colonial Tavern.

Born April 16, in Toronto, Canada.

The Colin Linden's discography:

Easin' Back To Tennessee (2006)
Southern Jumbo (2005)

Big Mouth(2001)

Sad & Beautiful World (2000)

Raised By Wolves (1997)

Through the Storm (1995)

South at Eight North at Nine (1993)

When the Spirit Comes (1988)

The Immortals (1986)

Colin Linden Live (1981)

Sam Chatmon & His BBQ Boys (1979)

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