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Behind The Curtain: Colin Linden

By Erin McCallum.

It is well established that artists featured in ‘Behind The Curtain’ are ones who have an existing biographical foundation - which leaves little need to explain their art before exploring further. When considering an artist with a foundation as diverse, accredited, and sustained as Colin Linden’s, the only challenge presented to an investigative writer is deciding what curiosities can be investigated and resolved within the confines of a column. With a career lasting roughly half a century, Linden has spent his lifetime successfully pursuing the music that moves him, and it is easy to find the proof: He has 9 JUNO Awards (and 25 nominations, at my last count), he’s produced 140 albums, played on over 500 albums, and has received a Grammy Award (for his work as Producer for Keb’ Mo’’s “Oklahoma” in 2020). There is more that could be mentioned to lend credibility to the assertion that Linden has been successful in his pursuit of turning passion into profession for a lifetime – and readers who want to discover more of Linden’s bio can most certainly find it. It is regularly encouraged for people to investigate the artists featured here, as it further contextualizes the “Behind The Curtain” content, and I certainly encourage the same for Colin Linden.

It is widely accepted that Colin Linden is a captivating player, in technique, live performance, and in studio settings. For those who listen beyond that captivation, there’s something else going on that seems to be threaded through everything Linden does, whether its music, production, composing, writing, or any other endeavours he embarks on musically. There’s a definitive element to his music that taps into a Blues influence that is synonymous with Roots music – and that grain of truth that strikes a chord. I can hear elements of artists like Bo Diddly and John Lee Hooker in Linden’s recent release, “bLOW”, but its distinctly Linden’s sound at the same time. That is one of the things that I personally find captivating; Linden has always had that “thread”, yet, in some ways, the commercial market had to catch up to him. Colin Linden was creating and playing what many describe as “Americana” before the average person had the genre title in their lexicon. This personal sentiment is what led to wanting to have a discussion with Linden, holding the intention of discovering something more about how he developed his sound, and how it seems to permeate everything he does, musically. When asked if my assessment was fair, Linden offered insight on what might be responsible for that aforementioned “thread” that’s identifiable as his sound heard throughout his work. As he does, portions of his story reveal his thoughts about musical influence in general:

“I don’t think I’m the only person who has come up that way. I came up in a time when Blues, Country, Rock and Folk music all had their place in popular music. I was lucky in the sense that I was able to see a lot of music live because it had its place in popular music – music also had less segregation when it came to where you could find it too, so it was accessible. I think influences and how they develop create your own sound over time. Getting encouragement from your influences also helps you feel like you’re doing something right – it makes you feel like when you are taking from those influences, that you aren’t stealing, or, that you are doing it with their respect, so it encourages you to keep it. Then, when you put yourself in an environment that’s different, you draw on where you come from, and it informs your sound.”

Colin Linden has stepped into a multitude of roles over the course of his career: singer, songwriter, guitarist, frontman, sideman, producer, score composer, film and television score composer. Based on Linden’s views on what shapes an artist’s sound, it makes sense to ask him if there is a general “rule of thumb” that guides him through all his endeavours. He offered this:

“You end up in different environments from being around, and being lucky enough to come across opportunities - and then become a part of that environment. I think it’s important to be respectful to the music, the people, and the environment that you’re in. Don’t forget to be creative too. Maintain curiosity. If you keep learning and try to dig deeper, you don’t get “stuck” in the process, and you keep “fresh”. Don’t just rely on what you already have – keep learning and always look at what you are doing with a respect for the entire environment - if you do that with that fresh curiosity, you have a chance to work in those new environments.”

Knowing that Linden’s career has endured an ever-changing musical landscape, asking him what he thinks allows an artist to have longevity seems appropriate. His answer mirrors his biography in many ways:

“It’s a complex question, with an answer that is different for other people than it is for me. For me, being able to feel and spread the joy while I’m doing it is what allows me to keep making music. When I first started making records, I wanted to be successful with respect to writing, recording, and getting gigs…but in some ways, because I didn’t have big hits, it put me in a direction where I was a sideman, a co-writer, producer, and other things. It took that fact of my albums not getting really “successful” to end up taking these different directions, and I’m really thankful for it. I think there’s an element to longevity to finding out what aspects of music someone can be involved with. I also think that you can be forward thinking and forward acting while honouring what has come before you; vitality is found in that balance between the two, I think.”

It became clear very early in the conversation, and it remained obvious throughout, that Colin Linden’s sound and his story are very closely related. One could surmise that this close relationship is perhaps partially responsible for Linden’s longevity, his ability to step into many factions of music successfully, and manage to evolve musically while remaining identifiable in his sound while remaining true to his musical influences. As the conversation drew to its end, one more (perhaps loaded) question was posed to Linden that left no room for interpretation: I asked him what the one thing is that he wants people to know about him as an artist. His answer:

“If it boils down to just one thing, I’d like people to know that I hope that the joy I feel in the music is felt by the people who listen to it.”

There is much to be gained by way of having conversations with artists who have accomplished the goal of becoming part of the Music Collective in ways that are diverse, long lasting, and true to their intentions. Colin Linden is a very strong example of someone who readers can look to for insight, and this look ‘behind the curtain’ truly only scratches the surface. I trust that the content of this article provides enough for readers to continue wanting to discover more about Colin Linden as an artist on many levels. I highly recommend it, as there are many topics that have been left untouched with respect to Linden’s musical skill, history, approach and philosophy.

As this edition of “Behind the Curtain” draws to a close, I trust that readers of all varieties have gained something more about the artist of mention. This article can be found each month as a regular contribution via the Sound Café with the intention of providing a deeper insight into the Canadian Blues artists who are at the core of the Blues music Collective.

Photo Credit: Harry Dunbar.

Photo Credit: Vince Jones.

Touring blues musician, Erin McCallum's formal post-secondary education was in media studies (news, radio), graduating from Humber College in Ontario, she went on to be mentored by Canadian News Hall of Fame inductee, Robert Holiday, and she is a regularly published writer in music and investigative journalism, having focused on music for the last six years. Erin has an exclusive monthly column in The Sound Cafe featuring musicians and industry professionals from across Canada who work predominantly in the Blues & Roots genres.

Erin McCallum Big Voice. Big Sound.

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