Before Uncle Tupelo joined the major-label ranks by signing to Sire/Reprise for their 1993 swan song, producer and label impresario Rick Rubin — a man instrumental in launching the careers of the Beastie Boys and Public Enemy — signed a roots band from Minneapolis to his Warner-distributed label, Def American. There, the Jayhawks — at that time, Mark Olson, Gary Louris, Marc Perlman and Ken Callahan — found themselves unlikely labelmates of artists such as Danzig and Slayer.
While it would be a bit much to credit Rubin with an essential role in the evolution of alternative country, his signing of the Jayhawks to a major-label deal should be recognized as a significant signpost. The band’s 1992 label debut, Hollywood Town Hall, earned considerable praise and established Olson and Louris as a songwriting tandem with a glimmering future in front of them.
Three years and a couple of drummers later, the Jayhawks returned with Tomorrow The Green Grass, which earned Olson and Louris still more accolades and a minor hit with “Blue”. But the partnership was not fated to continue: Olson decided it was time to leave the band he, Louris and Perlman had formed ten years earlier and make music with his new love, Victoria Williams.
Olson and Williams moved to Joshua Tree, California, and, along with fiddler Mike “Razz” Russell, began making records as the Original Harmony Ridge Creek Dippers. Louris, Perlman, new drummer Tim O’Reagan and keyboardist Karen Grotberg elected to carry on.
In many ways, though, it is only with the release of their new album, Smile, that the Jayhawks feel fully reborn. The years between yielded some serious soul searching, a remarkable album overshadowed by the death of a label, and a decision to make a career record with the man behind The Wall.
This is an excerpt of the full article which appeared in The Best of No Depression: Writing About American Music, which features 25 of the finest articles from the magazine’s back issues, and was published in 2005 by University of Texas Press to help celebrate the magazine’s 10th anniversary. Due to our agreement with UT Press we are unable to include this article in our online archive.
The Best of No Depression is the only place you can find these articles other than our back issues. Visit the No Depression store to buy your copy for only $10.
The 300-page volume includes co-editor Grant Alden’s award-winning 2001 feature on Billy Joe Shaver, co-editor Peter Blackstock’s 1998 “Artist of the Decade” piece on Alejandro Escovedo, senior editor Bill Friskics-Warren’s 2002 cover story on Johnny Cash, contributing editor Paul Cantin’s deep exploration of Yankee Hotel Foxtrot-era Wilco; and many other high points from our print heyday.
Table of contents for The Best of No Depression:
• Preface, by Grant Alden and Peter Blackstock
• Los Lobos, by Geoffrey Himes
• Alejandro Escovedo, by Peter Blackstock
• Jon Dee Graham, by Peter Blackstock
• Billy Joe Shaver, by Grant Alden
• Ray Wylie Hubbard, by John T. Davis
• Flatlanders, by Don McLeese
• Ray Price, by David Cantwell
• Johnny Gimble, by Bill C. Malone
• Johnny Cash, by Bill Friskics-Warren
• Rosanne Cash, by Lloyd Sachs
• Lucinda Williams, by Silas House
• Buddy & Julie Miller, by Bill Friskics-Warren
• Kasey Chambers, by Geoffrey Himes
• Loretta Lynn, by Barry Mazor
• Patty Loveless, by Bill Friskics-Warren
• Kieran Kane, by Peter Cooper
• Paul Burch, by Jim Ridley
• Hazel Dickens, by Bill Friskics-Warren
• Gillian Welch, by Grant Alden
• Ryan Adams, by David Menconi
• Jay Farrar, by Peter Blackstock
• Jayhawks, by Erik Flannigan
• Wilco, by Paul Cantin
• Drive-By Truckers, by Grant Alden
• Iron & Wine, by William Bowers