The Rizdales are a hardcore honky tonk band from London, Ontario lead by husband and wife Tom and Tara Dunphy (got to be an Irish connection there somewhere). Their sound is influenced by the classic country greats, such as Ray Price, Merle Haggard and Loretta Lynn, they sing about love, loss and reality without ever taking themselves too seriously. They have released 5 critically acclaimed albums, were handpicked by the Queen of Rockabilly Wanda Jackson to be her Canadian backing band and have played festivals, hole in the wall bars and concert halls from Ottawa to Austin, performing alongside such greats as Dale Watson, The Derailers, The Mavericks, and The Good Brothers.
The Rizdales play country music. Why?
It's what comes naturally to us, probably because it's the music we love. When we sit down to write a song, we don't intend on writing a "country" song, we just write the music and lyrics that move us and once it's all put together, it's a country song. Or rather, an Ameripolitan song!
You both do shows outside of the Rizdales. Does that give you the chance to step outside the honky-tonk direction of the band?
If anything we head even more in that honky tonk direction with our side projects! It's just an opportunity for us to dig a little deeper in to the history of the music, find those little gems that have been forgotten but are so much fun to hear and to play. We save our original material for the Rizdales so the shows we do on the side are a chance for us to play our favourite covers and also find some inspiration.
You have released several albums with original songs but it seems that the Ray Price tribute Blue Ain't The Word has hit a particular chord. Is that something that, on reflection, might seem to take away from your own material or is the album a stepping stone to wider recognition?
Our plan with Blue Ain't The Word was always to honour Ray and we are so proud of the recording and it's success. The songs may not be ours but we play them like they are, and I think the album fits really well alongside our originals. It's funny, so many Ray Price fans that have enjoyed Blue Ain't The Word have become Rizdales fans, picking up our older albums while so many new fans who didn't know Ray Price are now going deeper into his catalogue - it's worked out really well for everyone, I'd say!
When you set out to record the tribute you choose song that meant something to you but you approached them as if they were Rizdales songs. Was making that choice an easy enough process?
Tom and I thought it would be a breeze but as it turns out, Ray has so many songs that we both love that deciding on the final list was really difficult! We went over and over the songs and I think the final selection is a great representation of Ray's music.
For the Rizdales how do you deal with the "Country Music" issue when what you do is far removed from what mainstream Nashville is currently disceminating. Is the Ameripolitan label the way that makes most sense now?
We're very proud to be a part of the Ameripolitan movement, it's a celebration of the true roots of country music that isn't being represented in the mainstream country scene, and more and more artists are beginning to identify as "Ameripolitan" because they don't fit into what "country" has become. The bottom line is that everything evolves, and while it's unfortunate that the name of our music has been hijacked by pop music, what matters is that the music itself is as alive and vibrant as it's ever been.
There seems to be a very healthy and varied scene in Canada with acts like Lindi Ortega and Daniel Romano getting recognition. How has it been for you?
It's been great, we have a fantastic music scene in Canada with so many true music fans that support the artists.
You seem to be serious about what you do but are not taking yourselves to seriously. How do you find the balance there?
We love what we do but we don't ever want anything to be too precious, if you know what I mean. Tom and I have such a great time playing and every recording we've done has been approached with the same idea - lyrically it has to be interesting to us, there's got to be a twist, or some humour to keep it from getting to heavy and musically, we have to be able to recreate it live which means no sweeping orchestras or wild instrumentation. We just want to make honest music that is enjoyable and interesting to the listener and to us.
The Rizdales play as the backing band with Wanda Jackson on her Canadian dates. Sound likea lot of fun.
It is so much fun! We're heading into a string of shows with Wanda in October and she's a real firecracker, she's an incredible performer and a very sweet person. It's been a thrill, we've worked with her for over 10 years now and she always puts on an amazing show.
Growing up when did you realize that Country Music was something you wanted to play and what other influences were you listening to in the past. Do those formative listening experiences have a part to play in how you approach your music now?
Tom grew up listening to country music because of his parents, but the first time the light bulb really went off for him that this was something he wanted to play was when Elvis Costello released Almost Blue. Tom was (and is) a huge Elvis fan and that was a turning point for him, he started going back into his parents library of music and rediscovering all the classics. I was brought up on Irish music, so I listened to the Furey's, the Dubliners, that kind of thing and then I discovered the Beatles and it wasn't until I was about 20 that I started listening to country music. Listening to the Rizdales original material you can really recognize those influences, it just comes out naturally in our writing.
What's the best and worst thing about playing in a band with your partner?
The best thing is working together on something we love and the fact that we get to travel together for our shows and truly share in an incredible experience. The downside is writing can be contentious at times - we're both pretty stubborn when we want something! It's also difficult because we have a family and being in the band together means both of us have to spend time away from our children, something we try to limit as much as possible.
What are the pitfalls of keeping a band like the Rizdales together?
I don't know, we've been doing this for about 13 years now and it's still going strong so I guess we haven't discovered any yet!
You obviously enjoy playing music together and performing. What are the best gigs done to date?
One show that was incredibly special to us was our Ray Price Celebration at the Continental Club in Austin, Texas that took place last July. We had the most amazing musicians take part, Johnny Bush, who was a Cherokee Cowboy, played drums, Redd Volkaert on guitar, Kevin Smith on bass, Neil Flanz on pedal steel plus a bunch of wildly talented friends got up and sang with us. When you're standing on stage with these guys and you've got James Hand singing and a dance floor packed full of folks have a ball, there's just nothing better. We're very happy to announce that our Ray Price Celebration in Austin will be an annual event, and we're heading back next July to do it again!
From your perspective what is the future for country music in the traditional sense?
I think it's flourishing as Ameripolitan music. Dale Watson has done an amazing job of increasing the profile of our kind of music. There are fantastic musicians all around the world playing honky tonk, classic country, western swing, rockabilly, etc. and the Ameripolitan movement has given them a banner, or a name to work under. The music will always survive but for too long people were so busy walking around complaining about the state of "country music" that they weren't moving forward, it was stagnant. That's done now, let the title "country music" stay with the folks who've got it, the name doesn't matter anymore. What matters is the music and it's alive and kicking.
You have plans to tour Europe next year. For many bands it is something that has to be set up with care given the restrictive costs involved. How do you approach both setting that up and the anticipated result?
We're in the planning stages of that now, we're looking for Ameripolitan friendly venues and we're excited to bring our Ray Price show over seas. It's probably the least fun part of the job, arranging all these details and managing the costs, but it'll be worth it in the long run!
Interview by Stephen Averill