Tuesday, April 1, 2014

Uncle Tupelo

May 1, 1994.  Important date in Rock and Roll history?  In the grand scheme of things it’s probably not but it should be.  That’s the last time the three original members of the Belleville, IL band, Uncle Tupelo, played together in public.  The show was at Mississippi Nights in St. Louis and it was after original drummer, Mike Heidorn, had left the band but at the end of the show he got behind the kit for one last hurrah.  I’ve been thinking a lot about Uncle Tupelo lately.  A few months back the artist Karl Haglund contacted me about doing an Uncle Tupelo themed show.  Karl is well known for his guitar paintings and we bounced around some ideas of what the show should consist of.  I was kind of at a loss cause I usually work from photographs I take myself of a band or musician performing but that wasn’t going to be possible.  Karl suggested painting their album covers and that seemed like a good idea, so I started on some, still working on them as you can see from the images above. 
Around the same time Karl and I was discussing this, my friend Chris King contacted me out of the blue and said he’d been sneaking over to Belleville, IL to visit his friend Mike Heidorn and I was invited to tag along next time he went.  Needless to say I jumped at the chance to meet and hang out with the drummer who played on three of my favorite albums. 
I came to discover Uncle Tupelo in a backwards fashion.  During their heyday I was too young to attend most of their gigs and I didn’t live in the area.  They were simply off my radar.  It wasn’t until I was given a blank cassette by my friend Tony in 1995 did they begin to creep into my consciousness.  The cassette had Wilco’s first album on one side and Son Volt’s first on the other.  At the time I was living in the hills of Southern Illinois in a cheap store front apartment located in the tiny town of Murphysboro, IL.  I had two jobs, one, writing for the Carbondale based newspaper, Nightlife and two, driving fixed and wrecked Airborne Express vans back and forth from Jackson, MO to Memphis, TN.  For Nightlife I’d write about Cape Girardeau, MO musicians like Bob Camp and bands like Drench (recorded by Lou Whitney).  To get to Cape from Murphysboro I’d take Route 3 and it was about a 45 min drive.  On those drives I’d listen to one tape, the Wilco/Son Volt tape, over and over and over again.  The next year I was given a copy of "March 16-20, 1992" by my friend Marty and from that I began to piece together the two voices I’d been hearing on that first cassette.  By then Uncle Tupelo was ancient history and I don’t think it was quite understood how important they would be from a historical point of view.  But I dove in deep and inhaled their first three albums as if they were new signs of life. 
When I finally moved to St. Louis I loved hearing all the stories about their early days at Cicero’s and personal insights from people I started to get to know.  I had clearly missed out on something special that had started right here.  Which brings us back to Chris King and his invite to hang out with Mike Heidorn.  Giddy would be an understatement, but I try not to show it.  What has ended up happening are informal hootenannies with everyone sitting around his kitchen table with guitars, drinking Stag (of course) and playing songs.  The highlight so far has been singing the Stones “Far Away Eyes” with Chris along with Mike and Fred Friction on acoustic guitars.  I can die happy now.
Now playing – Uncle Tupelo May 1, 1994

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