Small-town Midwestern high school pals Jeff Tweedy and Jay Farrar began playing together in a band called the Primitives before forming Uncle Tupelo. Mixing noisy punk-influenced guitar and feedback with country-tinged melodic twang, Uncle Tupelo was one of the preeminent roots bands that arose in the heartland in the wake of alternative rock.
After playing the local bar scene for three years, Uncle Tupelo signed with the indie label Rockville, which released No Depression in 1990; Still Feel Gone came out the next year. Its compelling live shows gained the group a following that included college radio listeners. The live-in-the-studio March 16-20, 1992 included traditional C&W covers and was produced by R.E.M. guitarist Peter Buck. Uncle Tupelo then signed to Sire for the masterful Anodyne, which showcased Tweedy and Farrar's harmonies and put the focus on country rock, with multi-instrumentalist Max Johnston adding banjo, mandolin, fiddle, and steel guitar.
Tensions had been building between Tweedy and Farrar, however, and in June 1994 Farrar left the band. Under Tweedy's leadership, Uncle Tupelo transmogrified into Wilco [see entry]. Meanwhile, Farrar formed Son Volt [see entry] with original Tupelo drummer Michael Heidorn, enlisting bassist Jim Boquist and guitarist/fiddler Dave Boquist. Uncle Tupelo's legacy extends well beyond these offshoots, though. Along with fellow punk-bred country rockers the Jayhawks, the group was a catalyst for the grassroots alternative-country movement of the mid-'90s. Uncle Tupelo also gave rise to an online discussion folder dedicated to the group and its music. Named for the title track of the band's debut album (a cover of an old Carter Family song), the folder eventually led to the founding of No Depression magazine, which since 1995 has been the principal document of the alt-country movement.
This biography originally appeared in The Rolling Stone Encyclopedia of Rock & Roll (Simon & Schuster, 2001).
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