Colin Linden a serious musician — he not only plays in the beloved “supergroup” Blackie and the Rodeo Kings, he’s an incredibly respected player (he’s played in Bruce Cockburn, Emmylou Harris, and Bob Dylan‘s bands as well as countless others) and has produced many, many records. He’s also a serious eater.
I caught up with Colin on the tail end of a recent Blackie and the Rodeo Kings tour in support of their new album South. Linden, who lives in Nashville, talks about the greatness of Southern cooking, the importance of drinking wine on a daily basis, and why arguing over pie vs. cake is like trying to choose between Howlin’ Wolf and Muddy Waters.
You’re just finishing up a tour. When it comes to food, are you happy to be heading back home or is it fun for you to be eating on the road?
I like eating no matter what, but my wife and I renovated our kitchen last year, so that makes eating at home even better. We still get food in and eat out a fair bit. But we got a Blue Star range and it’s sort of the first range we’ve ever bought so we thought we’d go all the way and get the pro grade one and it’s fantastic.
Who does the cooking in your house?
I do 95% of the cooking. When my wife cooks, she’s a bit on an anarchist, but I think she’s a better cook than she thinks she is. I think that I like to eat more than she does — I’m a little more food oriented. But I think she’s become more that way over the past 30 years.
Have you always cooked? Did you learn how to cook as a kid?
The older I’ve gotten the more interested I’ve become. About 20 years ago the other guys in my band — not Blackie and the Rodeo Kings, but my own band, so John Dymond and Gary Craig and Richard Bell when he was alive, we all really liked smoking food so we all got smokers 20 years ago. We started off by smoking and grilling things and it evolved from that.
In the South that’s a really big thing. I live in Nashville, Tennesee, and it’s been a part of the culture there for a long time. We got turned on to that kind of cooking through Richard Bell. When Richard moved to Canada in 1989, he brought a water smoker with him because he had been living in Alabama and Georgia for many years and he really turned us all on to that way of cooking and eating and it’s been a pretty constant passion for all of us since then. It’s very sensuous eating and the best of it is very nuanced as well. From the first bite you get pleasure.
If you were home right now and I was going to come over for dinner, what would you make for me?
One thing that I would do if it was a lovely night I might grill a New York strip. Or I would maybe grill a beef tenderloin and I’d use a rub from my favourite barbeque place in Austin Texas, the Ironworks. If it was a colder day I might make Coca Cola short ribs in the Le Creuset. My sisters-in-law bought me a Le Crueset slow cooker about five years ago and I really truly love it. If it was a cold night in Tennessee I might do that or a chicken with wine and rice. Pretty simple stuff.
And, I drink wine every day. Pairing food with a really good glass of wine gives me great pleasure too.
Do you sit down and eat with the other guys in your band while you’re on the road?
The communal eating is a big big part of having a good time on the road. Gary Craig and I, the drummer, we kind of design a wine menu for the band. There area a couple non-drinkers, but we keep a selection of wines on hand. We do get catering at the gigs sometimes, usually it’s pretty good, sometimes it’s not so good. When it’s a buyout we try to design a good plan for that, but certainly it is a big part of what we do together. We all really like to eat.
Are you usually able to make it to a restaurant? I guess it can be tough depending on the venue, if you’re set to go on around dinnertime?
We’ve got a bit of a routine going. We like to make sure that if we’re going to be going out that we have enough time to eat. Some of the best ones on this tour have been when we’ve gotten the food in but have had a really nice wine to go with it, at least you’re drinking well.
What’s eating like for you in the studio?
I’ve lost about 60 pounds over the last three years and a big part of that is eating small amounts during the day and then having a good dinner. I’m like a baby — I have to have something every two hours or I’ll cry.
You’ve worked with a lot of people. Do you have any great stories about breaking bread with other musicians?
Certainly, there’s so many. It’s the most fun when you’re working in the studio in a residential situation, where you’re actually living in the same place. Back in the ‘90s I made a number of records at Daniel Lanois’ studio in New Orleans called Kingsway and that was incredibly conducive to really good eating just because of being right in the French Quarter. There were a multitude of great restaurants nearby and it was truly one of the best eating experiences doing that. Generally with the Blackie albums we do our best when we’re in a residential recording studio, even if it’s just my house. We do end up eating a lot. Certainly on some of records we’ve used a good deal of the budget on food. We did the Colin James records, on the Colin James little big band 3 album back in ’06, and that was a pretty successful record, but it was a really successful eating record. You adjudicate your successes in different ways and certainly eating well is a really big part of it.
So, can you actually remember what you ate sometimes when you listen back to records you’ve worked on?
Oh, I certainly can! There are certain tracks on a Colin James record that I remember being fed by Cote de Bouef from a restaurant called Café Figaro in Los Angeles — that definitely had some impact. On the Colin James Limelight album. Even years ago I noticed this. Our band made a record with a singer from Quebec called Ray Bonneville and we were really having trouble cutting the track. Then we broke for dinner and came back and we’d had quite a few glasses of wine and we had gone to a restaurant on Queen Street and we nailed the track and it’s a wild sounding track. And I always think that we were well fed and we were a little looped when we made this one. And it’s a track called “The Changing Sky” on a Ray Bonneville album called A Gust of Wind. Also many years ago when budgets were bigger on records we worked on a record with a wonderful singer from British Columbia who’s passed away named John Bottomley and we ate frequently at a restaurant called Tojo’s in Vancouver, one of my very favourite Japanese restaurants. And if I hear that record, I hear Tojo’s. A lot of the guys really got into eating ginger on that record and one of the tracks sounds like ginger.
Food can actually change the way a record sounds?
Oh yeah. For a long time I worked with a producer called John Whynot, and the production record that we had on records we’d worked on together was “The Dinner Twins” as opposed to Keith Richard and Mick Jagger being The Glimmer Twins.
What is your favourite kind of pie?
Very easy for me to answer. Peach. Peach pie, maybe a little ice cream, that’s enough for me. There are plenty of other pies I love, I love raspberry. And if you have the famed pie and cake debate, cake would probably still win for me. But it’s all relative. Like, if you asked me do you like Howlin’ Wolf better than Muddy Waters, I loved Wolf so much, he was my friend, he was my mentor, but I love Muddy just about as much. So pie, cake, it’s all great.
A man after my own heart, I tell ya. Speaking of which, like Colin, I’m a big fan of that Southern tradition of cooking with Coca Cola, be it in a chocolate cake, glazed ham, or the aforementioned short ribs. This one isn’t directly from Colin, but I’m sure he’d approve of this tasty looking recipe.
Blackie and the Rodeo Kings just finished up a Canadian tour but have some dates scheduled for the U.S. this spring. If you’re not able to catch them, take a look at this video for “If I Can’t Have You,” recorded for CBC Radio 2: