For the last eleven years, Greg Keelor and his songwriting partner Jim Cuddy have recorded some of the most popular songs on radio. Their band Blue Rodeo has sold in excess of two million records world-wide. Gone is Greg Keelor's first full length solo recording.
"I was on the plane coming home from India in May of '96," Keelor recalls, "I realized that it was something I wanted to get out of my system. I had written some songs and they had a certain kind of feel, a certain catharsis in them. After six weeks of sitting with the Guru, I felt that if I had died on that plane I'd have this desire to come back and do a solo album...this lingering thing that would draw me back."
Gone was recorded at Pierre Marchand's Wild Sky Studio outside of Montreal. Pierre has become best known for his work with Sarah McLachlan. The core group that worked on the album's tracks was comprised of Sarah (contributing piano and backing vocals), her percussionist Ashwin Sood, Pierre (playing bass) and Greg.
"I had different ideas of how I wanted to make this record. But then, for the Leonard Peltier record (Pine Ridge: An Open Letter to Allan Rock), we did a recording with Sarah up at Pierre's place and I really enjoyed that process. When we walked in there we didn't know what we were going to do and it just sort of appeared. It was quite magical."
Although he entered the studio with a number of songs, it really wasn't until recording started that the record began to take its form. The first song recorded for Gone was the title track which then became the measuring stick for all of the other songs.
"That song gave a focus to the record. The expression we kept using was 'It's gotta be gone. That's not gone enough.'"
The album is sequenced in the same order that it was recorded, so the listener can actually hear its evolution as it came to life. The first few songs have a spaciousness to them, featuring Greg's haunting voice accompanied only by the occasional piano note or guitar measure.
The a capella "Home" was written in his car as he drove home from a trip to Cape Breton. The track features Greg's lonely voice singing as it had that day it was written.
"I wanted to keep it real simple. I love space in music. Sometimes its nice to let the song sit there on its own, without any distractions."
Eventually more musicians did join the core in the studio and the songs took on a grander scale. The album¹s first single, "White Marble Ganesh", includes cellist Anne Bourne and Michelle McAdorey (formerly of Crash Vegas). The song builds quietly with a hypnotic backing track supplied by the bass, cello and drums eventually adding acoustic and then electric guitars before breaking into an out of control wail in the choruses. This is the album's most straight-forward nod to Greg's trip to India, featuring the refrain "Hare Rama, Krishna, Krishna."
The album's closing track, and the one song not written by Greg, is a unique version of the Talking Heads' 'Heaven.'
"James Gray (Blue Rodeo¹s keyboard player) did it a couple of years ago at OBlue Rodeo & Friends and he wanted to do it 3/4 but we ended up doing it 4/4. I've always loved that song and just his little suggestion of 3/4...We just recorded it live off the floor with everybody and it was just so beautiful. I just love the record going out on that line with those angelic voices."
Although the recording took place in the fall of 1996, Gone had really begun a year earlier. A tumultuous year in the life of Greg Keelor.
Greg had found out that he was adopted and that his birth name was Francis McIntyre. On the day that Blue Rodeo began recording the album Nowhere To Here, a friend called Greg and told him that she had discovered that his real mother was Mary Theresa McIntyre and that she came from Inverness, Cape Breton. Greg was speechless, the phone in his hand and the Blue Rodeo circus whirling all around him. He wanted to leave that very moment for Cape Breton to search for Mary Theresa but he was committed to the recording so he put off the trip until the album was finished.
One day, in the middle of recording, Greg was up a ladder, about ten feet off the ground, when he fell straight back onto his back and head, breaking several ribs and aggravating his already bothersome tinnitus. The fall delayed both the completion of Nowhere To Here and his trip to Cape Breton.
Finally, with the recording finished and its release just a few weeks away, Greg hobbled into his car and headed to Cape Breton. As he drove east, physical changes began to take place in him. His eyesight got progressively weaker until he eventually had to wear two pairs of glasses to see. He was overcome by a thirst that he couldn¹t quench and he developed an insatiable sweet tooth. It turns out that his fall from the ladder had triggered a diabetes that was putting him into a semi-hallucinatory state.He did make it to Inverness in one piece and for the first time he felt that his whole life was headed in one direction.
"I was so happy at that moment. I thought, for sure, that I was going to die."
When Greg went to the church to search for records of his former life, a sign posted on a bulletin board said: "Here is your mother." At that point he felt for sure that he was in the right place. The nuns didn¹t know Mary Theresa but a man working in the church drove him to the house of Hugh McIntyre, a retired truck driver. Hugh's family didn't know Mary Theresa either, but the experience of being in that house gave Greg a brief sense of what life as Francis McIntyre would have been like.
Although he didn't find his mother in Cape Breton, Greg headed home, energized by his adventure. As he drove back to Toronto, he wrote "Home" inspired by the Celtic music of the region.
The next six months were spent on the road with Blue Rodeo, promoting Nowhere To Here. In February of 1996, Greg met the head of the Leonard Peltier Defense Committee, Frank Dreaver, in a downtown Toronto steam bath. Coincidentally, Greg was reading In The Spirit Of Crazy Horse at the time of their meeting. Greg decided to help raise awareness of Leonard Peltier's case by gathering some of Canada's highest profile recording artists for a compilation album titled Pine Ridge: An Open Letter To Allan Rock.
During this time, Greg was also seeing a cranio-therapist who was helping him recover from his fall from the ladder. Conversations with the woman led to a Guru named Papaji whom she had lived with in India. Coincidentally, a neighbor of Greg's up at his farm had also lived with Papaji for a time.
"When these things happen, it's not like you really choose. They say that the Guru will kill you to get your attention...and he nearly killed me to get mine."
Greg did indeed meet his birth mother just before his trip to India. That trip was the final step in the journey which led to the creation of Gone.
"Anything that comes now is just gravy", Greg says reflecting on the recording of Gone. "It was a beautiful experience. It was part of the story...part of the trip. You gotta live through it to get rid of it."