Alternative country group
Arootsy rock group that harkened from Oxford, Mississippi, Blue Mountain rose from the pack of alternative country bands that appeared in the 1990s. Borrowing from their Southern influences, the trio blended country, blues, and rock into their own versatile sound, winning comparisons to Neil Young. Anchored by husband-and-wife band members Laurie Stirratt and Cary Hudson, the group disbanded in 2001 when the couple divorced.
Lead vocalist and guitarist Cary Hudson grew up listening to a Jackson, Mississippi, radio station that played a mixture of hard rock and punk. “In the late 70s, they were the only station around to play the Sex Pistols and Patti Smith and Television…,” Hudson told Billboard’s Chris Morris. “I was listening to that stuff, and then playing in country bands, ‘cause [those were] the only other musicians around where I was from—old country guys….” In 1988, he got together with John Stirratt, later the bass player for Wilco, in Oxford, Mississippi, and formed a punk-tinged rock band called the Hilltops. Stirratt called on his twin sister, Laurie, to play bass in the band. “It was the opportunity I had been waiting for,” Laurie told No Depression’s Grant Alden. “I had been trying to play with some people in New Orleans, and it wasn’t really working out. John and I had both played guitar for years, but I’d never played bass before so it was a crash course.” She moved up to Oxford, Mississippi, where John had been attending college, and joined the band.
The Hilltops played together for two years before Laurie Stirratt and Hudson decided to move to Los Angeles. (Black Dog released a collection of the early Hilltops songs in 1996 on Big Black River). The band broke up, and Hudson and Stirratt spent most of their time working at jobs that didn’t involve music and found little to like about Los Angeles. When they formed a new band, they called it Blue Mountain, after a small town near Oxford. Growing more and more homesick, they nevertheless played a few gigs and tried out a variety of drummers. Rivers Cuomo of the group Weezer recorded Blue Mountain’s first demo on a four-track in his basement. But Hudson and Stirratt felt like fish out of water and gave up on Los Angeles in less than a year. “When you get taken out of the environment that you grew up in,” Hudson explained to Jon Maples of No Depression, “You start to realize who you are.… I started hearing country or Southern-type music in my head.… And it made me realize that being able to play that kind of music with soul is important.”
Back in Oxford, Blue Mountain began performing in earnest with drummer Matt Brennan. Soon, Frank Coutch replaced Brennan, and in 1993 the band released their self-titled debut album on their own 4-Barrel Records. “We recorded it for $1,000, and it sounds like a $1,000 record, too,” Stirratt told Maples of No Depression. “But that was probably the best thing we could have done to attract a record label.” Jeff Pachman, director of A&R for Roadrunner Records, a New York-based label specializing in heavy metal acts, took note of the album. When he caught Blue Mountain’s live show, he was anxious to sign them. “They have the capacity to play all kinds of music, and play with a lot of soul, which is pretty good for some white folks.… To me it was a no-brainer…,” he told Maples. Pachman signed the group to a five-record deal in 1995.
Hudson and Stirratt liked the idea of building their careers slowly. They wanted to tour and create a strong fan base and word-of-mouth buzz, because they thought it would give their band a longer life. “You want to work your way up so that you have some clout when you start dealing with a major label,” Stirratt told Maples in 1996. “If you don’t, you’re at (the major labels’) mercy.” Hudson added, “I would have preferred a three-record deal, but you’ve got to give and take….”
Blue Mountain’s first Roadrunner album, Dog Days in 1995, was produced by ex-Del Lords member Eric “Roscoe” Ambel in two weeks and included some rerecorded songs from Blue Mountain’s first album. The group soon began attracting greater attention after the release of the album. The band became part of a burgeoning young roots-rock movement that held great promise. Bands such as Sun Volt and Wilco were on the rise, and record companies took note of their marketability. Blue Mountain began touring extensively, opening for the Jayhawks, Wilco and Son Volt, among others. Billboard wrote: “[Blue Mountain] … combines acoustic purity with Neil Young-styled aggression.” MusicHound Country’ s Daniel Durchholz called the album
Members include Frank Coutch (left group, 2001), drums; Ted Gainey (joined group, 2001), drums; Cary Hudson, lead vocals, guitar; George Sheldon (joined group, 1997), bass; Laurie Stirratt, bass, guitar, vocals.
Group formed in Los Angeles, CA, early 1990s; released independently-produced debut album Blue Mountain, 1993; signed with Roadrunner Records, released Dog Days, 1995; followed with Home Grown, 1997, and Tales of a Traveler, 1999; released Roots on their own Blue Mountain label, group disbanded, 2001.
Addresses: Website —Blue Mountain Official Website: http://www.bluemountain.com.
a “memorable effort from start to finish. The band’s ensemble playing is tight, and Ambel’s production is nearly perfect.” Hudson’s songs were lauded for being “about something”—everything from “Jimmy Carter,” which used the ex-president to pay homage to the summer of 1976, to “A Band Called Bud,” which told the story of the Memphis band, the Grifters. The songs showed a range of country, blues, punk, and rock influences. At live performances Blue Mountain showed off its harder edge, reveling in the seasoned interplay between Hudson’s electric guitar and Stirratt’s bass.
In 1997, the band released Home Grown, with Ambel once again serving as producer. Rolling Stone’s Don McLeese liked the conviction of the album, writing: “[Blue Mountain] combines a sound rooted in its native Mississippi with a spirit of restless yearning that resists retro complacency.” He described “Bloody 98” as a “feverishly bluesy, banjo-driven ramble” and “Babe” as “a sexy romp.” George Sheldon joined the band as the bass player, and Stirratt switched to acoustic guitar and began writing songs with Hudson. The band made the road its home, touring both the United States and Canada. But, with the firing of their A&R representative at Roadrunner, Blue Mountain realized their relationship with the label was weakening. They were one of only a few non-metal bands with Roadrunner and decided they wanted out of their contract. Still, they released one more album, Tales of a Traveler, in 1999, before being released from their contract. Stirratt later noted one of her greatest regrets came with the sequencing of the songs on the album. She told Contemporary Musicians: “Our song sequence made Tales more of a concept album, a story told all the way through. This was the way the record was written. The record company didn’t dig it and pressured us to change it so a more radio friendly song would kick off the album.… It changed the whole mood of the record and took away the continuity.”
“It felt like the whole momentum had really slowed down with that third record,” Hudson told Alden. “We wanted to keep it going, but it wasn’t the right time to try to scramble and write an album’s worth of songs.” Hudson sought out traditional songs for their 2001 independent release, Roots. They recorded the album at Fat Possum Studios, known for its “low-gloss” approach, and included folk classics such as “Rye Whiskey” and “Come All You Fair and Tender Ladies.” “One has but to listen to the joy and verve with which these songs are played to count Roots among the band’s finest, most free, most joyful recorded work,” wrote Alden. The tour that followed the release of Roots marked drummer Coutch’s departure from the band. Stirratt told Contemporary Musicians: “He is one of the best drummers I’ve ever played with.… He never got as much attention as Cary and I did, but our band was never the same after he decided to stop touring with us. It was like losing a family member….” Drummer Ted Gainey stepped in as Coutch’s replacement.
The band was changing at the same time Hudson and Stirratt’s marriage was falling apart. Blue Mountain performed for the last time in 2001. One of their final performances, a live web-cast recorded at Schuba’s Tavern in Chicago, was to be released in August of 2002 by Digital Club Network as Tonight It’s Now or Never. After the couple’s split, Stirratt began work on a record with her twin brother John, and played bass with another Oxford-based band called Tyler Keith and the Preacher’s Kids. Stirratt told Contemporary Musicians that she wasn’t sure about the work Hudson might move on to, but she felt it would involve “playing and recording.”
Blue Mountain, 4-Barrel, 1993.
Dog Days, Roadrunner, 1995.
Home Grown, Roadrunner, 1997.
Tales of a Traveler, Roadrunner, 1999.
Roots, Blue Mountain, 2001.
Tonight It’s Now Or Never, Digital Club Network, 2002.
Mansfield, Brian, and Gary Graff, editors, MusicHound Country: The Essential Album Guide, Visible Ink Press, 1997.
Billboard, June 17, 1995.
No Depression, Winter 1996; January-February 2001.
Rolling Stone, September 4, 1997.
“Blue Mountain,” VH-1, http://www.vh1.com/artists/az/blue_mountain/bio.jhtml (July 7, 2002).
Additional information was obtained through an interview with Laurie Stirratt on July 10, 2002.
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