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.
MARK OLSON &
9 p.m. Saturday
Park West, 322
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
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
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
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