It’s impossible to talk about The Wallflowers for long without addressing its direct lineage from one of the most profound, influential, and distinctive voices of late twentieth century America. The Wallflowers’ singer/songwriter, Jakob Dylan, is the youngest of musical and social icon Bob Dylan’s five children. That fact unquestionably brought The Wallflowers premature fame and intense scrutiny—while, ironically, distracting attention from the band’s music. It’s a unique burden which Jakob Dylan has borne with reticence, grace, and a stubborn will to have his music judged on its own merits—not as an echo of his rock’n roll heritage. “Absolutely, I think the name worked against me,” Dylan told Rolling Stone ’s Gerri Hirshey. “And I actually found some kind of power in that. I still do. I do not mope and I do not complain. I’ve driven my own path here, and I’m on it, and it’s fine. But… people think it must be easy.”
The Wallflowers’ self-titled debut album was released in 1992 by Virgin Records. Unfortunately, it flopped; reviews were mixed and sales were poor. For most young bands, that would be part of the learning curve. For The Wallflowers, who reluctantly occupied a spotlight which the music press and the record industry reserved for the offspring of a legend, it was devastating. “(M) ost of the band’s members were 22 and weren’t ready for prime time yet,” Geoffrey Himes wrote in The Washington Post in 1996. “The songs had flashes of inspiration and promise, but really didn’t hang together, and most of the publicity dwelt on Jakob Dylan’s parentage rather than the music.” Following its disappointing debut, the band was released by its record label and endured a series of personnel changes. It would be four long years before The Wallflowers released their second album, Bringing Down the Horse. The album’s title, Dylan told Rolling Stone, reflects “what it felt like… trying to make this damned thing. It was like trying to pull down a horse.”
The second time around, The Wallflowers had a new lineup, a new record company, and matured songwrit-ing. They also had all-star assistance from legendary producer (and Dylan family friend) T-Bone Burnett, Sam Phillips, Counting Crows frontman Adam Duritz, Jay-hawk Gary Louris, Heartbreaker guitarist Mike Campbell, and Michael Penn, who also knows a bit about working in the shadows of a famous relation, as he is the brother of actor Sean Penn. The album went double platinum, cracked the Top 10 and the MTV rotation, received favorable reviews, and two Grammy nominations, and spawned the singles “6th Avenue Heartache,”
For the Record…
Members include Mario Calire, drums; Jakob Dylan (born 1969), vocals and rhythm guitar; Rami Jaffee, keyboards; Greg Richling, bass; Michael Ward, lead guitar.
The band formed in the early 1990s and played around Los Angeles—notably in the Kibitz Room at Canter’s delicatessen. After its poorly received first album, the band was released by its record company and underwent a series of personnel changes. The Wallflowers’ 1996 follow-up, Bringing Down the Horse, shattered the Billboard Top 10.
Addresses: Record company —Interscope Records, 10900 Wilshire Boulevard #1400, Los Angeles, CA 90024.
“One Headlight,” and “The Difference.” Dylan credits Burnett with helping to bring dynamics to the songs on their latest album. The songs feature a soulful, rootsy sound bathed in organ, dobro, and pedal steel guitar.
“This time,” Himes wrote,” they were ready. The folk-rock melodies are strong, the playing is clear and muscular, and the production… frames the lyrics’ storytelling imaginatively. Jakob Dylan can never escape comparisons to his dad, but his new music can stand on its own as some of the year’s best.” News-week’s Karen Schoemer likened TheWallflowers’ sound to that of the Counting Crows and the Jayhawks.”(T) he Wallflowers play rootless roots music: vaguely retro country-folk rock, with plenty of’60s antecedents… but with a keen sense of modern production and sturdy hooks. In other words, they’re wildly derivative, but songs like” One Headlight “and” Three Marlenas “feel so comfortably, soulfully right that you won’t care.”
“If there’s one thing missing from Bringing Down the Horse, it’s a slightly stronger sense of Jakob himself,” Schoemer wrote.” His songs are full of quirky characters and wry observations, but they don’t always add up to a coherent perspective.… The transcendent melodies and the band’s furious precision carry him through when he’s too shy to put himself on the line.”
Dylan was raised by his mother, Sara Lowndes, after his parents’ bitter 1977 divorce. He attended the private Windward School in Los Angeles and the School of Design in New York, where he had visions of becoming a painter. He dropped out of art school after four months, however. Ultimately, he was drawn to songwrit-ing.” It was something I felt compelled to do,” Dylan was quoted in Newsweek.” So I just started. Everybody lives under shadows. I obviously have one, but I don’t pretend it’s any worse than anybody else’s.” Dylan has been notably reticent to discuss his upbringing or his personal life.” I feel like I had a normal upbringing—I consider it normal, at least,” he told People.” People have a lot worse things happen to them. The truth is, yeah, it was weird. Relatively interesting, but weird. I could write a book. But I’m not going to.” In an interview with Rolling Stone, Dylan picked up the same theme:” Do I think people are curious about growing up with one of the most influential minds of the 20th Century? Of course I do,” he said.” I get asked all the time,’What was your dad like as a parent?’ And I say,’I’m 27 years old, I’m not a crackhead; I don’t go on afternoon talk shows and spill.’ I mean, you can probably figure it out for yourself that he did a decent job.”
Dylan has said he never felt defeated by the trying events that unfolded following his first album or the long period he spent rebounding from them.” It was almost comforting at that point,” he says,” I spent a year putting this group back together, writing more songs.” In the end, it appears, that’s what kept him going.” Jake loves playing music,” says Wallflower bassist Greg Richling, a Dylan friend and bandmate since high school.” He likes writing songs. No one wants to believe it’s that simple.”
The Wallflowers, Virgin, 1992.
Bringing Down the Horse, Interscope, 1996.
Audio, April 1993, p. 86.
Entertainment Weekly, May 31, 1996, p. 60.
Newsweek, September 2, 1996, p. 68.
People, November 11, 1996, p. 74.
Rolling Stone, June 12, 1997, p. 52.
Washington Post, August 30, 1996.
Additional information obtained from Interscope Records publicity materials.
"The Wallflowers." Contemporary Musicians. . Encyclopedia.com. (December 16, 2017). http://www.encyclopedia.com/education/news-wires-white-papers-and-books/wallflowers
"The Wallflowers." Contemporary Musicians. . Retrieved December 16, 2017 from Encyclopedia.com: http://www.encyclopedia.com/education/news-wires-white-papers-and-books/wallflowers
Members: Mario Calire, drums (born Buffalo, New York, 25 June 1974); Jakob Dylan, lead vocals, guitar (born New York, New York, 9 December 1969); Rami Jaffee, organ (born Los Angeles, California, 11 March 1969); Greg Richling, bass (born Los Angeles, California, 31 August 1970). Former members: Barrie Maguire, bass (born Philadelphia, Pennsylvania); Tobi Miller, guitar; Michael Ward, guitar (born 21 February 1967); Peter Yanowitz, drums (born Chicago, Illinois, 13 September 1967).
Best-selling album since 1990: Bringing Down the Horse (1996)
Hit songs since 1990: "6th Avenue Heartache," "One Headlight," "The Difference"
In the late 1990s, at a time when seminal American rock acts such as Bruce Springsteen and Tom Petty were largely absent from popular radio, the Wallflowers helped keep the classic-rock sound alive with its album Bringing Down the Horse.
The Wallflowers were the brainchild of Jakob Dylan, the son of folk-rock luminary Bob Dylan. In 1990 Dylan formed the Wallflowers, along with guitarist Tobi Miller, keyboard player Rami Jaffee, bassist Barrie Maguire, and drummer Peter Yanowitz. The Wallflowers signed to Virgin Records and released their self-titled debut album in 1992. The album did not sell well, and Virgin dropped the band from its label.
Dylan subsequently reconfigured the Wallflowers, retaining only Jaffe, and replacing the other members with guitarist Michael Ward, bassist Greg Richling, and drummer Mario Calire. Interscope Records picked up this new version of the Wallflowers and released the band's second album Bringing Down the Horse in 1996. On Bringing Down the Horse, Dylan settles into a comfortable compositional voice. Dylan's songs owe much to his father's evocative and literate style, as well as to his father's spiritual heir, Bruce Springsteen. The band retained its classic-rock feel, with clean, driving guitars and swirling organs to the fore, but the new lineup brought an excitement and freshness to the music.
The Wallflowers' new music resounded with listeners. The lead single "6th Avenue Heartache," a classic tale of love-gone-bad with a memorable chorus ("And that same black line that was drawn on you was drawn on me / And now it's drawn me in, 6th Avenue heartache"), established the band on popular radio. The follow-up, "One Headlight," was an even bigger hit, reaching the Billboard Top 10. "One Headlight," a dark, driving tune about the death of a friend, raised the eyebrows of some critics, who questioned Dylan's lyrical chops ("Man, I ain't changed, but I know I ain't the same"). But the song's dramatic sound, punctuated by Ward's swirling slide guitar and coupled with its fist-pumping chorus ("We can drive it home with one headlight"), was undeniable and propelled the Wallflowers to stardom.
Songs such as "One Headlight" and its follow-up "The Difference" filled a void in contemporary radio. The rock style of the Wallflowers had been the dominant sound of popular radio for decades, but it had largely been outmoded by grunge and the increased use of pop's electronic sounds. The Wallflowers picked up the rock mantle with Bringing Down the Horse and brought the sound back to popular radio.
Four years passed before the Wallflowers released their next album, Breach (2000). Aside from the minor hit "Sleepwalker," the album failed to dent the pop charts, and critics assailed the album as lackluster. Red Letter Days, released in 2002, encountered the same fate. Ward departed prior to the album's release; the band filled in with various session guitarists.
Whatever its final legacy, the Wallflowers' landmark album Bringing Down the Horse did much to keep alive the traditions of classic rock for a new generation of radio listeners.
The Wallflowers (Virgin, 1992); Bringing Down the Horse (Interscope, 1996); Breach (Interscope, 2000); Red Letter Days (Interscope, 2002).
"Wallflowers, The." Baker's Biographical Dictionary of Popular Musicians Since 1990. . Encyclopedia.com. (December 16, 2017). http://www.encyclopedia.com/education/dictionaries-thesauruses-pictures-and-press-releases/wallflowers
"Wallflowers, The." Baker's Biographical Dictionary of Popular Musicians Since 1990. . Retrieved December 16, 2017 from Encyclopedia.com: http://www.encyclopedia.com/education/dictionaries-thesauruses-pictures-and-press-releases/wallflowers