Third life for Jayhawks has Spanish roots
Thursday, September 29, 2011
NEW YORK (AP) — Fans of the Jayhawks who are happy the band has an unexpected third life probably don’t know how much they owe to producers of the sports film “The Rookie” or Spanish music promoter David Jimenez-Zumalacarregui.
Each played key roles in the band’s reformation because they made the right request at the right time.
The Minneapolis-born rock band, pioneers of what was known as the alternative country movement in the early 1990s, are an active touring unit again and have a new disc, “Mockingbird Time,” released this month.
Even more than the songs, the joy of the album comes in hearing the Jayhawks luxuriate in the signature of their sound: the vocal harmonies of songwriters Gary Louris and Mark Olson. Their voices blend so well — Louris taking the high registers and Olson the low — that they become to Louris’ ears almost like a third voice.
It’s a sound many thought was lost forever in 1995 when Olson quit the band and moved to California. Years of swimming against the musical tide of the grunge era and disappointment that songs like “Blue” and “Take Me With You (When You Go)” had not become hits despite hard work and critical acclaim had taken their toll.
Unlike now, “we were playing in front of audiences who really didn’t know who we were and our goal — the whole reason for being out there — was to try to win them over,” Olson said. “That’s a whole different mindset and I think it got to me after a while.”
He was burned out.
“That’s one of the things we’re going to copyright,” Louris said. “‘Burning out’ is one and ‘soldiering on’ is the other.”
Yes, Louris soldiered on, finding new voices, a less pastoral new sound and releasing three strong albums in the Jayhawks’ second edition.
Enter “The Rookie.” Producers of the 2002 film wanted to include a new Louris/Olson song and the two men agreed. The song wasn’t included in the movie or soundtrack, but they enjoyed working together again. While Louris stayed with the Jayhawks, Olson had his own more acoustic band, the Creekdippers, that had more success in Europe than the United States.
By 2005, Louris was the one feeling burnt and shut the Jayhawks down. “I really felt the band was over when we sold all the gear,” he said.
Louris and Olson continued working together as an acoustic duo and recorded a disc as a team. Wherever they played, they’d hear the same refrain from fans: When are you going to get the band back together?
In 2008, Jimenez-Zumalacarregui asked for the Jayhawks to play a Spanish music festival. He didn’t just request the Jayhawks, he requested a specific lineup, with both Louris and Olson, bass player Marc Perlman, keyboardist Karen Grotberg and drummer Tim O’Reagan.
He braced himself for the usual excuses when a band doesn’t want to work together, but he didn’t get them.
“I thought it was going to be more difficult,” he admitted.
Jimenez-Zumalacarregui had the standing to make such a request because Spain, largely because of his work, was one of the Jayhawks’ strongest markets, and Louris had become a friend; the promoter helped him buy a home there.
The promoter laughingly appreciates his small role in rock history.
“It’s something I have to show to my mother because she still doesn’t know what kind of business I’m doing,” Jimenez-Zumalacarregui said.
The Jayhawks kept the reunion low-key as Louris and Olson began writing songs for the new disc. At the same time, reissues of their 1990s material renewed attention in the band. Whatever the reasons — fans passing the music around, a new generation of people discovering the old discs or fans of the second Jayhawks edition curious to see what it was like with Olson — their audience in many cases is larger now than it was in the 1990s.
“What I’m proud of is that we didn’t just go out and say, ‘let’s play all the old hits,”’ Louris said. “I don’t know how bands do that.”
“They had more success than us,” Olson said. “They’ve had these huge successes so it’s hard ....”
Louris: “So our lack of success...”
“Has played in our favor!” Olson answered with a laugh.
“It’s not so much failure,” Louris said, “but we were really a slow burn. We were really slow and steady and that doesn’t go away.”
The two men talked about their band at a New York restaurant where, by odd coincidence, Roger McGuinn sat at the bar. His work with the Byrds made McGuinn a patron saint of all those who fused rock, folk and country into their own sound. Louris went up to talk about guitars.
The Jayhawks’ reformation is in many ways is a work in progress. Olson got more into folk music after he left the Jayhawks, sometimes much more esoteric than what the old band preferred. Louris likes to plug in his electric guitar, and Olson worries that the louder music can sometimes drown out the Jayhawks’ strengths.
Louris convinced his partner that it doesn’t have to be all or nothing, that there’s plenty of room for what they both like.
They’re also still working out how to work music from the post-Olson Jayhawks era into their sets. Olson seems hesitant here, noting that it took him about 15 performances to find a part in “Tampa to Tulsa,” a Jayhawks song from 2003, and that he sometimes feels he’s imposing himself on songs that worked well without him.
“There’s always somebody there who isn’t here anymore,” Louris said to his partner. “So there’s definitely room for you. The song might have been better if you were there anyway, so I encourage you to find a part.”
As they get older, Louris said they both appreciate more what they have together.
“You realize it’s something that doesn’t come around in everybody’s lifetime, having a kind of chemistry like this,” he said.
EDITOR’S NOTE — David Bauder can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org
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