Olson, Louris performing once more in harmony


March 11, 2005


As one of the cornerstone bands in the alternative-country movement, the Minneapolis-based Jayhawks were formed by guitarist-vocalist Mark Olson and bassist Marc Perlman in 1985, based on a mutual love for the gritty country sounds of under-heralded heroes such as Gram Parsons and the Louvin Brothers, as well as the country-rock of artists such as Neil Young and Bob Dylan circa "Nashville Skyline."

Guitarist-vocalist Gary Louris joined the fold a short time later, and it was the undeniably powerful combination of his voice and Olson's that won the band a dedicated national following. Initially released by Minneapolis' independent Twin/Tone Records, the group's second album, 1989's "The Blue Earth," garnered critical raves for its beautiful harmonies, subtle guitar work and strong songwriting. It stands as masterpiece of the alt-country genre and it attracted the attention of Rick Rubin's American Recordings.


  • 9 p.m. Saturday
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  • Tickets, $22.50 (18-over show)
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  • The Jayhawks' transition to the major labels wasn't an easy one. Thinking the band's route to platinum success would be similar to that of the Black Crowes, Rubin tapped his buddy, Black Crowes producer George Drakoulias, to oversee the third album by the Minneapolis quartet, 1992's "Hollywood Town Hall." Familiar with the do-it-yourself ethic of indie recordings, the Jayhawks weren't prepared for Drakoulias' Hollywood ways, and he spent a fortune crafting the album and torturing the musicians, eventually replacing drummer Ken Callahan and leaving the band burned out and deeply in debt.

    For all of the troubles during their creation, "Hollywood Town Hall" and its follow-up, 1994's "Tomorrow the Green Grass," are beloved favorites and veritable sacred texts for many fans of the Jayhawks and alternative country, thanks to those incredible Olson-Louris harmonies on tracks such as "Waiting for the Sun," "Two Angels," "Take Me With You (When You Go)" and the transcendent hit single "Blue." But growing frustrations with the big-time music business prompted Olson to quit the band in 1995.

    Olson married the lovably eccentric singer-songwriter Victoria Williams and returned to his indie roots for subsequent solo recordings, while the Jayhawks carried on, led by Louris and Perlman, through a series of lineup changes, a number of other albums (some straying far from the alt-country sound) and their own eventual return to the indies. The group retained a loyal following, but for many fans, the Jayhawks were never as good as they were when Olson and Louris were singing together.

    Now, a decade after their split, the two have reunited for a tour that they are carefully billing as "Mark Olson & Gary Louris, From the Jayhawks -- Together Again."

    The status of the band itself remains a mystery. In late February, Louris told the Minneapolis Star Tribune that the Jayhawks had come to an end.

    "I don't think we're going to do anything else," Louris said. "Everybody just wants to do something else. We haven't completely closed the door, but it's pretty damn close. I'd say it's dead."

    Added Perlman, "I think our discography is what we're most proud of. We poured our hearts into those albums. They're our legacy."

    A few days later, in the midst of his reunion tour with Olson, Louris seemed to reconsider ending the band. In a post to a fan Web site, he wrote, "Let everyone enjoy this tour and see where it may lead. I am having a blast, and who knows where it might lead? I think that the Jayhawks may see another chapter if the time is right, so let's not write the eulogies quite yet."

    For his part, Olson told the Ann Arbor News that his reunion with Louris stemmed from their collaboration on a song for "December's Child," the 2002 album by his band, the Original Harmony Ridge Creek Dippers. "We had a lot of fun, and we figured it would be cool to get together and sing all of those old songs again," Olson said, including about 30 tunes that were written but never recorded for "Hollywood Town Hall."

    Olson added that he'd love to rejoin the Jayhawks, "but first we've got to floor people on this tour. And when I get back in, I'm taking over! No more of that wall-of-sound crap, and Gary's going to start taking my advice!"

    Whether the Jayhawks will continue -- and if so, whether it will be with a return to the golden lineup of Olson, Louris and Perlman -- is anybody's guess. In the meantime, the two guitarists and vocalists are having a blast performing with backing from fiddler and keyboardist Mike "Razz" Russell and drummer Ray Woods, revisiting old favorites such as "Sister Cry," "Crowded in the Wings," "Settled Down Like Rain" and, of course, the soaring "Blue." And fans couldn't be happier.

    Tickets to the duo's Chicago show were selling so fast, promoters changed the configuration at the Park West to add more standing room.

    Whether the reunion is temporary or permanent, and regardless of what you want to call it, the Jayhawks are soaring again.


    Reasons for living

    The indie-rock world remains absurdly obsessed with the question of "selling out," treating the issue of shaking hands with the corporate devil as a simple black-and-white question, when any adult who's spent five minutes in the real world knows that compromises invariably come in infinite shades of gray.

    Newly released on DVD by Palm Pictures, "DiG!" is a documentary devoted to exploring the odd indie mind-set, with plenty of laughs along the way, as well as an enduring morality tale about the dangers of letting success go to your head (especially when the success is modest at best).

    Director Ondi Timoner follows two indie rock bands, the Brian Jonestown Massacre and the Dandy Warhols, focusing on their leaders, former buddies Anton Newcombe and Courtney Taylor, over a seven-year period that finds one group, the Dandies, scoring a major-label deal and a modicum of success, while the other, BJM, spirals out of control in a haze of drug use, rampant egotism and infighting. Needless to say, Newcombe wants what Taylor has, and he resents his former friend for it.

    The two-disc DVD adds commentary by the filmmakers and band members, deleted scenes, music videos and features about where the key players are now.