The Jayhawks come full circle with a reunion of its classic lineup

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:: The Jayhawks ::

:: eTown - Lincoln Center :: January 26 ::
:: Ogden Theatre :: January 27 ::

By Brian F. Johnson

The music industry has never been real keen on longevity. Sure there are the legends, the hallowed artists whose names will always be synonymous with lengthy and acclaimed careers. But most musicians realize that if they are lucky enough to get noticed, they better enjoy it, ‘cause tomorrow there’ll be a new darling on the block, and they’ll be all but forgotten.

The Jayhawks are one of those bands, or at least it seemed they were destined to be, until a strange twist of fate brought them around full-circle again.

The band that played Americana music 10 years before anyone had come up with that term, emerged from Minneapolis in the mid-1980s. From a city that was launching The Replacements, Soul Asylum, Hüsker Dü and Prince, out came a band that wasn’t really rock and wasn’t really country — sort of like the Byrds or Gram Parsons, but with the acquired knowledge that came from watching a punk scene explode and just start to fade.

“We felt like we were mining this music that was just under the radar in a  funny way, by being such traditionalists — not purists, but traditionalists. In a way, we were kind of being rebels in our own way,” said founding member, guitarist, vocalist and songwriter Gary Louris, in a recent interview with The Marquee.

The Jayhawks had named themselves after The Hawks — as in Levon and the Hawks, the group that once served as Bob Dylan’s backing band, before changing their name to The Band. They quickly amassed a staggering amount of material and after only a few years had put out a couple albums, including Blue Earth on Twin Tone Records. Legend has it that famed A&R representative  and producer George Drakoulias from Def American, was on the phone with Twin Tone Records president Dave Ayers in 1991, when Drakoulias heard Blue Earth playing in the background (or as ‘on-hold’ music, depending on which story you believe) and within a short time had signed The Jayhawks to Def American.

They released two damn near perfect records, Hollywood Town Hall (1992) and Tomorrow The Green Grass (1995), and as they sat perched on the edge of impending stardom, it all started to crumble away.

Founding member Mark Olson left the band unexpectedly in 1995, but Louris and company carried on and released some phenomenal albums, including 2000’s Smile. The album was lovingly reviewed by the New York Times, but the Times also ran that review under the headline, “What if you made a classic and no one cared?”

Lineup changes continued for some time and in 2004, The Jayhawks unceremoniously announced a hiatus.

But three years before that, the ground had unknowingly been laid for The Jayhawks to see brighter days. “Mark and I had been working on and off since 2001, so it wasn’t this huge gap,” Louris said. “We got together shortly after 9/11 to write some songs and that lead to an acoustic tour of some Jayhawks material, which lead to he and I making a record of new songs, Ready for the Flood, under the name Mark Olson and Gary Louris. The outpouring of audiences asking when we’d get back together made it clear that’s what people wanted to hear and I was ready to plug in again and play electric. I was really missing it.”

On top of that, Louris had been contacted about re-issues for his “super-group” star project Golden Smog, which he started in 1989 and has, over the years, featured members of The Replacements, Soul Asylum, Wilco and Big Star, among others. While on the phone with Rick Rubin, Louris said that he asked where the Jayhawks re-issues were and sadly learned that much of the Jayhawks catalog was out of print.

But leave it to the Jayhawks to turn that around. “Everyone from Uncle Tupelo to Leon Red to Golden Smog had all of these best-of compilations and here are The Jayhawks, who were a band I felt were important, with nothing. So through further talks with Rick we got some reissues going, which lead to a reunion (of the “classic” lineup of the Jayhawks), which lead to a new record, which leads us pretty much to this interview,” Louris said. “You know? We had some shows that we played as a band to celebrate the occasion and that set the stage, literally, for us to play together again. And we said, ‘This is fun, but let’s not just play the old songs, let’s play some new songs.’”

The band went almost immediately back into as prolific an era as their heyday, and the resulting album, Mockingbird Time, was released in September 2011. Critics said the album was what they should have recorded as a band in 1996 as a followup to Tomorrow The Green Grass.

But, as Louris said, “The reality is it’s not 1996 and we’re not the same people we were in ’96. The basic DNA is there, but we all had different life experiences and musical experiences, so it’s impossible. I think my son said it best. When he heard Mockingbird Time, he said, ‘It sounds like The Jayhawks, but it’s different.’ It’s the product of many things and the joy of playing together again.”

When The Jayhawks play Lincoln Center in Fort Collins this month, the show will be a taping for the nationally syndicated radio broadcast eTown. In addition to playing new material from Mockingbird Time, the band will also field questions from eTown host Nick Forster.

:: The Jayhawks ::
:: eTown - Lincoln Center :: January 26 ::
:: Ogden Theatre :: January 27 ::

 

Recommended if you Like:

• Gram Parsons

• Uncle Tupelo

• Buffalo Springfield

 

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