Donald's Encyclopedia of Popular Music



Rock trio formed c.1986 in Belleville Illinois by Jeff Tweedy (b 25 August 1967), Mike Heidorn (b 28 May 1967) and Jay Farrar (b 26 December 1966), all born in Bellville. Farrar and Tweedy had been friends since high school, the common bond being a love of punk rock. Tweedy's father worked on the railroad; his mother was a kitchen designer; Tweedy worked in a record store and wrote articles for fanzines, while he also practiced the guitar and wrote songs. Before Uncle Tupelo, Farrar had fronted The Primitives, which featured Tweedy on bass, Heidorn on drums and Jay's brother Wade on vocals.

After Wade enlisted in the army, Uncle Tupelo's debut disc was recorded in Cambridge, Massachusetts in January 1990 at the original location of the Fort Apache South Studios. Produced by Paul Kolderie and Sean Slade, No Depression was country-punk, released on Rockville Records. Eleven of the 13 tracks were credited to the trio, the exceptions being Leadbelly's 'John Hardy', and the title track, first recorded about 60 years earlier by the Carter family.

Still Feel Gone was another 13 tracks, recorded in mid-1991 partly at Longview Farm, North Brookfeld, Massachusetts, and the rest at Apache. All the songs were originals, while Gary Louris (of the Minneapolis band The Jayhawks) helped out on guitar and vocals. Uncle Tupelo's third album, the last on Rockville, was called March 16 - 20, 1992, produced by Peter Buck of R.E.M. at John Keane's Studios in Athens, Georgia. Their punk influence had given way to a country roots sound on eight Tweedy/Farrar songs, plus the Louvin Brothers' 'Atomic Power', and traditional numbers including 'Moonshiner', 'Coalminers' and 'Satan, Your Kingdom Must Come Down'.

The final Uncle Tupelo album was Anodyne, on the Sire label (Warner Brothers), produced by Brian Paulson and recorded in Austin, Texas at Cedar Creek Studios in May and June 1993. Ken Coomer had replaced Mike Heidorn on drums, while fiddler and steel guitarist Max Johnson and bassist John Stirratt joined for the recording sessions. (Johnson is Michelle Shocked's brother.) Further supporting the roots-driven musical direction, Lloyd Maines and Doug Sahm were guests on the Anodyne sessions. Apart from Doug Sahm's 'Give Back The Key To My Heart', the tracks were credited to Tweedy/Farrar, though like Lennon/McCartney nearly 30 years earlier, they had been composing separately, Farrar later said 'probably since the first record', the sharing of the credits a contractual matter. They were quarreling over musical and other matters, apparently undecided about who the frontperson should be.

Halfway through the tour promoting Anodyne, Farrar announced he was leaving the band; Tweedy heard the news at second hand. A six-track EP called The Long Cut had a title song drawn from their Austin album, plus tunes taken from the band's 15 October 1993 show at the Vic Theatre in Chicago, where Susan Miller, manager of a local venue the Lounge Ax, was one of the concert promoters; she soon married Tweedy. Volume 7 of The Best of Mountain Stage compilation series, issued in 1994, featured a performance by Uncle Tupelo of 'Moonshiner'.

Tweedy took over the remains of Uncle Tupelo to form the very successful Wilco, and Farrar formed Son Volt, which has had its own following.

Tweedy and Farrer had to sue to obtain the rights to their first three albums, then issued a retrospective compilation 89/93: An Anthology in 2002, and reissued all three albums in 2003.