Thursday, September 18, 2003

A Pointless Taxonomy of Uncle Tupelo-Related Bands
(excerpted from an email I sent to Ander Monson)

The Wilco/Jayhawks/Son Volt/Tupelo/Golden Smog/Bottle Rockets family tree gets pretty twisted. But I love going on and on about it, so here's the shortest version:

1. Original Uncle Tupelo lineup: Jay Farrar, Jeff Tweedy, Mike Heidorn. Frequently joined by Brian Henneman (the Bottle Rockets) and Gary Louris (the Jayhawks), both of whom were just general pals o' the band.

2. After a couple of Tupelo albums, Mike Heidorn quits and is replaced by Ken Coomer on drums. Tupelo then gets a serious case of bloat for its last album/tour, and adds John Stiratt (bass/guitar- he and Tweedy switch depending on whether Tweedy is singing or not) and a multi-instrumentalist whose exact name I forget but I believe is Max Something.

3. Farrar and Tweedy have a huge blowout, and Farrar leaves. He talks Mike Heidorn out of retirement, and at the suggestion of Gary Louris of the Jayhawks, recruits Jim and Dave Boquist (a couple of St. Paul musicians-about-town) to form Son Volt. Meanwhile, Tweedy and the rest of Uncle Tupelo (or, more accurately, the Tupelo Bloat) rename themselves Wilco and record A.M. with Brian Henneman of the Bottle Rockets playing lead guitar.

4. Making it worse, right around now Tweedy, Louris, Marc Perlman (also of the Jayhawks), Dan Murphy (Soul Asylum), Kraig Johnson (formerly Run Westy Run, briefly rhythm guitar for the Jayhawks, currently Iffy) and Noah Levy (the Honeydogs) resurrect the Golden Smog and record an album. The first Golden Smog album had nearly the same lineup except no Tweedy, and Chris Mars (Replacements, also, by the way, a fairly gifted painter who is now on display here at the MIA) on drums. There would eventually be a third Golden Smog album with pretty much the same lineup except Jody Stephens (Big Star) on drums and Jessy Greene (Jayhawks for quite a while, currently Viovoom, also played violin on a couple of Wilco songs) on violin. And occasional Golden Smog shows would substitute Tim O'Reagan (Jayhawks) on drums. So, for a while, the Golden Smog were basically just a very heavily-augmented version of the Jayhawks.

5. Wilco goes through a sort of continual lineup evolution. For album #2, they drop Henneman (who was only a ringer anyway) and pick up Jay Bennet. Album #3, Max the Multiinstrumentalist gets the boot, replaced by Leroy Bach. Album #4, Ken Coomer and Jay Bennet get the boot- Coomer is replaced by Glenn Kotchke, Bennet's duties are just sort of picked up by Tweedy and Bach. One begins to wonder why John Stiratt can keep his seat next to Tweedy for so long when no one else seems to be able to.

6. Son Volt prefers to do things in a more wholesale fashion. Instead of constantly dropping and adding members, they plod along for a few years until the Boquist boys read online that Farrar has killed Son Volt and is working on solo projects. Whoops.

7. And, through all of that, the Jayhawks incest is pretty heavy; you can pretty much count on Louris and maybe Perlman showing up onstage for an encore whenever Tweedy/Farrar/Son Volt/Wilco play the Twin Cities.

8. Several years ago, I diagrammed all of this out. The final result looks sort of like a brain, with connections leading off to R.E.M., Matthew Sweet, Sonic Youth, the Replacements, and, after several tortured attachments, to Grumpy Alice. heh.

So, yeah, that's all pretty simple, right?

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