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On Saturday, Sept. 6 at 7:45 p.m. PT/10:45 p.m. ET, Yahoo Live will live stream the Jayhawks' concert from First Avenue in Minneapolis. Tune in HERE to watch!
You can indirectly credit acclaimed producer/American Recordings head honcho Rick Rubin for bringing the Jayhawks together for their current tour.
For more than a decade, from 1992's Hollywood Town Hall through 2003's Rainy Day Music, the Jayhawks recorded for Rubin's American Recordings. During that time, the band was one of the leading lights of what became known as the Americana sound, mixing influences ranging from Gram Parsons and the Byrds to Bob Dylan and the Band.
Several years back, Jayhawks singer/guitarist Gary Louris was helping to put together a "best of" compilation for the all-star side project Golden Smog. "As I was doing it, I found that out that the band that I spent most of my professional career with didn't have a 'best of,' and I delved deeper and I found that most of our records are out of print," Louris says. "So actually I give Rick Rubin credit. I called him and he said, 'Yeah, we need to do that. We need to get a 'best of.' We need to get those records out as reissues and do the whole thing.'"
Re-releasing the band's American Recordings catalog was a long, drawn-out process. With the band's catalog and American Recordings moving from Sony to Universal along with Rubin, various executives at those labels, including Legacy's John Jackson, and Jayhawks archivist PD Larson, helped to shepherd the project, even after it went to a rival label. Earlier this summer, deluxe versions of the band's mid-to-late period releases — 1997's Sound of Lies, 2000's Smile, and 2003's Rainy Day Music — finally saw the light of day. Vinyl versions of those three albums are due on Sept. 30.
With the release of the trio of reissues, Louris reconvened most the band's 1997-era touring lineup — bassist Marc Perlman, drummer Tim O'Reagan, keyboardist Karen Grotberg, and guitarist Kraig Johnson — to tour in support of the expanded editions of those three albums.
"We felt like if we were going to go out and play, now's the time," Louris says. "We don't really have plans to make this a full-time thing or make new records at this point, but it seemed like a fun thing to do. It was a really creative, fun period for the band. The lineup is more of a rock thing."
The band had previously reunited with singer/guitarist Mark Olson in 2011 to support their 2011 release, Mockingbird Time, but they didn't play much material from the late '90s. "A lot of these songs have rarely been played," Louris says.
The original release of 1997's Sound of Lies came at a crucial fork in the road for the Jayhawks. Following the tour to support 1995's acclaimed Tomorrow the Green Grass, with the band seemingly poised for a mainstream breakthrough, singer/guitarist Mark Olson announced he was leaving the band.
"It was around Halloween of '95," Louris recalls. "We had toured quite a bit and we were getting ready to write the next record. In fact, [Olson] was at my house in St. Paul writing. He drove off and went to his hotel or wherever he was staying, and called me back about five minutes later and said, 'I need to come back and talk to you.' It was very sad. He needed to do something different. It was a pretty big shock. After the initial feeling of 'I can't go on,' we kind of reconvened."
The band was able to continue, with Gotberg and O'Reagan rising to the challenge of filling the vocal void left by Olson's departure. "I kind of won the lottery there," Louris says. "Karen has a lovely voice, and Tim is technically probably a better singer than me. He's kind of got the Levon Helm thing going." Today, Louris says "Sound of Lies is a real fan favorite for the real 'Hawk-heads. It probably didn't get its due as far as exposure, and it certainly didn't sell as well, but it's a favorite of the diehards and of the band as well."
For Louris, going back and revisiting Sound of Lies isn't necessarily a pleasant experience. "It comes from kind of a dark place," he admits. "But it might be the most inspired record that we did as far as taking chances. It was a very tumultuous time in my life. I was going through a divorce. There was trouble within the band. We thought it was our last record."
As the title suggests, 2000's Smile offered the flipside to Sound of Lies. "I had a new son, I was remarried," Louris explains. "Things were going great." To oversee Smile, the band called on veteran producer Bob Ezrin, known for his work with Pink Floyd and KISS. "That was my idea," Louris admits. "I guess because I get bored easily. I didn't want to blindly follow what we were supposed to do and play country-rock."
Ezrin might have been one of the more conservative choices for the album. "I remember I contacted Jimmy Jam and Terry Lewis, and Phil Spector," Louris reveals. "I got pretty crazy. I don't like doing cookie-cutter things." While those more off-the-wall choices didn't pan out, Louris was more than happy with Ezrin. "When I was growing up, my favorite record was Killer by Alice Cooper [produced by Ezrin]. And as we got older, members of the band were big fans of Lou Reed's Berlin [produced by Ezrin], so he appealed to us and he was very much into breaking some rules. He's a good friend to this day. He's a great, great guy."
Next came 2003's Rainy Day Music. "Things were starting to crumble a little bit," Louris says. "It was a reaction to the previous record, so it's more stripped-down and it's the only record we recorded live vocals to, ever."
"It can be painful for me to listen to some of them," Louris says of the older material. "I kind of shake my head when listen to the lyrics, because I went through treatment and I had been clean and sober, off drugs and alcohol for about 22 months, and I listen to myself and how self-centered I was and how I was looking in all the wrong places for solutions. It's kind of painful in a way, but in other ways it's cathartic, too."
While the Jayhawks were lauded by critics, mainstream success never came for the band. Their greatest commercial breakthrough was when the song "I'm Gonna Make You Love Me" from Smile landed in a commercial for Ralph Lauren. "That was the most money I ever made," says Louris, who had no problem with the band's music being used in an ad. "It wasn't so much a taboo as back in '92, when we were approached by Levi's to write a song in the same style as 'Waiting for the Sun' and change the words, but we turned that down. In retrospect, maybe we shouldn't have, because it was a cool company… Back in those days it was frowned upon."
Today, Louris has a philosophical approach the band's legacy. "We're not a failure and we're not a super success," he says. "I used to always have a really hard time dealing with anything but being the best. But I think I've accepted what's been given to me. We have a lot of people — not a ton — but there are people who love our band. We can go out and play, and if I can find a place for that in my life, where it's not the dominant portion of my life, I can always go back to it and not deny it.
"As far as going for the gold, I don't think we want to do that anymore. I'm not bitter about it. I think we got what we deserved. We've sold more records than some bands that are better than us."