Born in 1954 in Inverness County, NS as Francis McIntyre, Greg Keelor was adopted at the age of 3, and grew up with music a constant fixture in his home, listening to the country and folk mixed sounds of eastern Canada and the pop hits of the day on the airwaves.
He learned to play guitar while doing a summer job at a lodge in Lake Louise, and even worked in a restaurant in New York at a time. But it was after moving to Toronto and attending Toronto Collegiate that he met Jim Cuddy. The two hit it off instantly and one of Canada’s greatest and most successful songwriting and performing duos was born, partially due to the fact that Keelor had applied to Guelph University to get into forestry management, but was turned down due to poor grades.
In 1987, Blue Rodeo began a career that continues to this day, penning classic hits like “Hasn’t Hit Me Yet,” “‘Til I Am Myself,” “Try,” “It Could Happen To You,” “Diamond Mine,” and “Five Days In May.” Along the way they picked up every conceivable Juno Award at least once, and have been inducted into the Canadian Music Hall of Fame. By this point Keelor had also earned his producer’s stripes with Crash Vegas’ RED EARTH album, and guested on several others’ albums over the years.
But in 1997 during a break the band was taking in recording and performing live, Keelor released his debut solo album, GONE. Recorded in the Laurentians at Pierre Marchand’s studio, the deep and personal, and sometimes sombre album received rave reviews from both fans and critics alike. Along with the single “White Marble Ganesh,” it also featured the dark piano chord opening of “When I See You,” the inner reflections of “Star of The Show,” and the soulful title track that featured Sarah Mclachlan on backing vocals.
His next solo project wasn’t until 2005. SEVEN SONGS FOR JIM was dedicated to his father, who’d passed away in ’03. Aside from a helping hand on guitar by friend Travis Good of The Sadies, Keelor performed all the instruments, produced it, and wrote it. Critics instantly praised the album for its heart-felt emotion, love, joy, and pain – with all the tracks appropriately about his father and best friend.
“Just This Love” recanted cleaning out his dad’s apartment and reminiscing while going through momentos with the stench of whiskey and cigarettes permeating the air. “Silver Sun,” the opening track, told the story of the day Keelor abruptly left a band tour in ’02 to visit him on his hospital bedside. It also included a version of “Are You Ready?,” which appeared on a later Blue Rodeo album. In the middle of the Blue Rodeo tour schedule, Keelor also managed to sneak in some solo shows over that summer, then returned to his regular gig with Blue Rodeo.
With the band on another break after a lengthy world tour that lasted the better part of a year, and while everyone else in the band was also releasing their own individual side projects, he too returned to the studios and cut his third solo album in 2006, APHRODITE ROSE. He enlisted The Sadies for help while recording, and with the single “No Man’s Land,” “Colour and Rhyme,” and “If You Go” (both written prior to Blue Rodeo‘s existence), it was a departure from his previous solo works, capturing a psychadelic aura that most resembled his output with the band, but not run through the mill of the other members.
Mostly recorded at his home studio outside Peterborough, with hints of British Invasion simplicity, and unlike its predecessors, the album was also less theme-oriented, simply some tunes that until then had never made the cut for solo or band albums. The lyrics were often dipped in social commentary, but the music was less dramatic and sombre than before. He again turned to Sarah Mclachlan for a helping hand on the album, who contributed backing vocals to four songs.
After a few months on the road to promote the album, Keelor took some time off, as did everyone else in the band, before regrouping and returning to the studios for more Blue Rodeo albums. In 2010, he also wrote the movie soundtrack to the western comedy, “Gunless.”
Throughout his career, Keelor has also lent his expertise while working on projects with The Sadies, Ben Rose, Great Big Sea, Carolyn Mark, Melissa McClelland, Cuff The Duke, and Sarah McLachlan, among others – as a producer, songwriter, and guest musician/vocalist.