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Artist of the Month: The Jayhawks

by Bill DeVille

March 31, 2013


This year, we’ll be spotlighting a prominent Minnesota musician or band each month with our new Artist of the Month feature. You’ll be able to hear a variety of songs from throughout the artists’ career on both the Local Current stream and the Local Show, and you can read more about the artists' history and their role in the community right here on the Local Current Blog. Our local artist of the month for April is the Jayhawks.

Bio, courtesy of United States of Americana's Bill DeVille:

When you think of alt-country, country-rock, Americana, or whatever you want to call it, the first name you would likely think of around these parts is The Jayhawks. Mark Olson founded the band, inviting Mark Perlman and drummer Norm Rogers into the group. Rogers later left the band to join the punk band The Cows. Gary Louris signed on after seeing the band’s initial gig. He and Olson immediately learned they had a knack for country harmonies. Their voices blended like legendary brother acts the Louvins’ or the Everly’s, though musically the band sounded more like the Flying Burrito Brothers, the Band, or the Byrds.

The Jayhawks began to tear it up it up in Minneapolis clubs such as the 400 Bar, Viking and the Uptown Bar. They released their first album, simply called The Jayhawks (aka The Bunkhouse Album) in 1986. The album became quite a collector’s item until it was reissued on CD and vinyl in 2010. The second album, The Blue Earth (1989) was essentially a collection of demos, but garnered the band enough success that they were signed to the American label, where they made their masterpiece, Hollywood Town Hall (1992). The band’s follow-up, Tomorrow the Green Grass (1995) was every bit as good, even though grunge and alternative were the the norm during that era. The Jayhawks were never a “hip” band, but their music never went out of style.

The band’s country-rock sound was hugely influential around the Twin Cities and elsewhere. They were always my favorite band to see live. Fellow ‘Hawks fans and I would compare notes on their setlists. To their fans, a Jayhawks show was almost a religious experience, and their First Avenue shows were always the stuff of legend! In the late '80s and much of the '90s, the big success stories around here were Prince, Soul Asylum and The Jayhawks.

In 1995, after the Tomorrow the Green Grass album, Mark Olson shocked the band and its loyalists when he quit the group and moved to Joshua Tree, CA to be with his then wife, singer-songwriter Victoria Williams. With Olson gone, the Jayhawks reinvented themselves and headed in more of a pop/rock direction, releasing Sound of Lies, Smile, and Rainy Day Music with Louris captaining the ship and singing the bulk of the lead vocals. Their albums ultimately sold better in the post-Olson years. Quietly, the band went on hiatus in 2005, as Louris wanted to spend more time at home to raise his son Henry.

A few years ago, Olson and Louris reunited and decided to test the waters, booking a small tour.  The shows led to recording their own album called Ready For the Flood. Next thing ya know, The Jayhawks were soaring again, and booked a few gigs with Olson back in the fold.

In 2011, The Jayhawks released Mockingbird Time, Mark Olson’s first recording with the band since 1995, and the the first produced by Louris. The group’s longtime piano/organ player Karen Grotberg also reenlisted. It was a solid effort from the band and a real treat to hear those Olson/Louris high-lonesome harmonies again! The band has been laying low since a European tour in the fall of 2012. The Jayhawks music has a timeless quality to it and has certainly aged well. It will be interesting to see what’s next for one of the most beloved bands in the history of the Twin Cities music scene.

Notable side-projects:

  • Golden Smog: members have included Gary Louris and Marc Perlman, Jeff Tweedy of Wilco, Dave Pirner and Dan Murphy from Soul Asylum, Kraig Johnson of Run Westy Run,  Chris Mars of The Replacements, Noah Levy of The Honeydogs, road manager extraordinaire Bill Sullivan, and Jody Stephens of Big Star. I may have missed a few!

  • Gary Louris released a solo album called Vagabonds in 2008.

  • After leaving The Jayhawks in 1995, Mark Olson released several albums under his own name and formed the Original Harmony Ridge Creekdippers.

  • Drummer Tim O’Reagan released a solo album under his name in 2006.

You might not know:

  • The Jayhawks have employed nearly as many drummers as Spinal Tap. They include founding member Norm Rogers, then Thad Spencer, Ken Callahan was next, followed by session drummer Don Heffington and current time-keeper Tim O’Reagan. I hope I didn’t miss any!

  • Gary Louris left the band for a time in 1988 after being injured in a car accident. Dan Gaarder, later of Trailer Trash, replaced him. Louris rejoined the band after The Blue Earth album.

  • Before joining The Jayhawks, Louris worked as an architect. He is also a crossword puzzle nut.

  • Mark Olson still resides in Joshua Tree, CA, the place where the late Gram Parsons' body was burned.

  • Marc Perlman is a film buff. He had two books published on the subject in 1993.


Related stories:

The Jayhawks perform at the Fitzgerald Theater (2011)

Gary Louris and Mark Olson perform in the UBS Forum (2009)

The Jayhawks perform in The Current studios (2009)

Clean Water Land & Legacy Amendment
This activity is made possible in part by the Minnesota Legacy Amendment’s Arts & Cultural Heritage Fund.