I've often been asked about what it was like growing up around music, both by strangers and friends. I am still trying to figure it out myself, both its impact on me as a musician and its impact on me as a person. I think there are two points of influence, music at home and music as my father's job.
My father's band (Blue Rodeo) broke out before I was born, with their debut album "Outskirts," so I have never known it any other way. I think my siblings would agree with me when I say it normalized itself. We hung out at shows like it was our dad's office, nights mostly. It's taken me until now to realize the effect of that, so I'll start with music at home.
Music at home was an easy one. We would listen to all types of music. My dad had a great CD collection that spanned many genres and many eras. We were all forced to take piano lessons. At first, each one of us hated it more then the other, but as we found music we loved in that CD collection, the study of music became more interesting.
For me, it was Louis Armstrong's "Greatest Hits," mostly stuff with the All-Stars from the later '50s and '60s. There was something about it I still struggle to describe. The swing beat still gives me a feeling inside like no music does, and his trumpet playing was so clear and melodic.
I also fell for the imagery of early 1900s New Orleans -- the parades, the costumes, the music -- so perhaps that was a big part. I found myself starting to play the trumpet, reading books about voodoo and the early days of jazz and New Orleans. At this point I had no intention of being a musician or playing in bands (outside of school).
My love of jazz grew and I jumped around the many genres it contains, Dixieland, Big Band Swing, Be-bop. Then Monk. There was colour in his atonality that again I have trouble putting to words. His style and attitude were intoxicating. Then Oscar Peterson, fastest playing, unbelievable time feel, and Canadian (we'd been brought up as proud Canadians).
This carried me through most of high school and into jazz studies at York. Funny enough, it was at jazz school that I found my second love, country music. The difference was that the country influence was always there, through my dad. He sang George Jones songs when I was a kid, and when I came around to listening to those records, it was nostalgic as well as eye-opening. I sifted through my dad's Townes Van Zandt, Steve Earle, Bill Monroe, Emmylou Harris and Gram Parsons and found myself inspired again, this time to write songs.
I wrote many songs during university (very few of them any good) and after that I started playing gigs at The Cameron House in Toronto, a rocking downtown venue with a real piano.
The son of the original owners had taken it over and a new wave of musicians were coming through. I thought I'd jump in, after all, some great musicians had come through here, Big Sugar, Ron Sexsmith, Molly Johnson, Handsome Ned and many more. I took the best of the songs I had, got a band together with some local players, and we made our first record, "Volume One." The music came out as a hybrid of country and New Orleans Blues, a marriage I am still working on. As I listen I can hear what each note was influenced by.
It has only been in recent years (or even months) that I realized the effect of hanging around the band and the shows as a kid. I recall talking Monk with a former piano player in Rodeo as a kid and him telling me what records to check out. For a brief period Blue Rodeo had a horn section, and it was Richard Underhill who convinced me to go to jazz school.
The current piano player, Mike Baguski, and I talk frequently about music and our favourite rigs. The steel player, Bob Egan, told me all the best spots to go for my musical pilgrimage to Memphis and Nashville, a very inspirational trip. But the most important thing I've learned is from my dad. His professionalism and his endless work ethic are a true inspiration to me and I try to emulate that everyday.
I went to play my first festival of this summer season a few weeks ago, and had a bout of déja vue as we were waiting to soundcheck. I was sitting on some road cases, as I had done as a kid, and I thought, "this is all very familiar." Then they called my name to soundcheck. This broke my déja vue moment -- I was not just here to hang out anymore.
And so I go on my own path now, tracing the same trails across this great nation and I couldn't be more proud. We've toured east and west in support of our first record and are gearing up to do it again.
Devin Cuddy will play at The Piston for NXNE on Thursday June 13th at 11pm a solo show, and outdoors on Cameron St on June 15th at 9pm with a band.