Decade of Difference

Decade of Difference: Robbie Robertson

Rock and Roll Hall of Fame member Robbie Robertson turns 79 today. His work with the Band helped create the Americana genre and he was key to Bob Dylan going electric in the mid 60s. Robertson was called by Dylan and asked to join as guitarist in his backing band. Robertson refused but agreed to play two shows and included Levon Helm on drums. Although the two shows were not well received, Dylan hired Levon Helm and his band the Hawks, which included Robertson for his next tour.

Fans were hostile to Dylans’ efforts, feeling betrayed by his electrification, but the group persisted. Eventually Dylan and the Hawks spent months playing together in the basement of a house in Woodstock, New York. Eventually an album came called The Basement Tapes, but not before bootleg copies circulated widely, jump starting the bootleg record business.

Robertsons work with the Band at the same time includes composition of four of the bands most famous songs, including The Weight and Chest Fever. Robertson launched his solo career in 1987 drawing on many famous musicians to join on the record.

Robbie Robertson grew up in Toronto and often traveled to the Six Nations Reserve where his mother was from. It was there that family members mentored him on the guitar. As a teen Robertson spent summers working for a carnival and a freak show, experiences he later drew on for his role in the movie Carney. After playing in his own band, Robertson started following rockabilly musician Ronnie Hawkins, who eventually hired him for his road crew.

Eventually Robertson found his way into Hawkins’ backing band the Hawks, where he developed a close friendship with Levon Helm.

Robbie Robertsons’ career has included record production, music for movies and acting. He has worked with Martin Scorsese and many projects, including The Irishman in 2019

2022-07-05T08:11:30-04:00July 5th, 2022|

Decade of Difference: Blondie

Pioneers in the New York new wave scene, Debbie Harry and Blondie moved from the citys’ underground music scene to mainstream success with a series of hit singles in the 70s.


Guitarist Chris Stein joined the Stillettos, a city band and established a romantic relationship with the groups’ vocalist, Debbie Harry. Harrys’ diverse background included time in a folk band along with work as a waitress and a Playboy bunny. The pair formed a new group in 1975 named after the catcalls of ‘Hey Blondie’ from truck drivers passing Harry on the street.


David Bowie and Iggy Pop were big fans of Blondies’ first record, inviting the band to play on Bowies ‘The Idiot’ tour. It was not until the bands’ third album that they found their audience in the US, led by the international hit Heart of Glass.


The late 70s saw Blondie release several hit singles and record platinum sales of their albums. In 1981 the band went on a hiatus and on their return they recorded The Hunter which was poorly received.


The early 80s saw pressure on the band increase to a level that forced a breakup. By late 1982 the band had dissolved into a flurry of legal actions, and Harry was forced to sell her New York mansion due to mounting financial issues. She and Chris Stein finally broke up and Harry pursued a solo career.


By the early 2000s, enough time had passed for a new generation of fans to discover Blondie. The band reformed for new records and a Parallel Lines 30th Anniversary tour and continues touring today.

2022-06-29T11:02:49-04:00July 1st, 2022|

Decade of Difference: The Shins

James Mercer has been the only constant in the Shins, a band he formed in 1996 in New Mexico while a member of another band called Flake. Flake had released some singles and gone on the road with Modest Mouse, but Mercer desired a more focused sound than the collaborative, improvisational sound of his current group. By 1999 Flake has disbanded, allowing Mercer to focus on the Shins.

After hearing the band in concert, Sub Pop records offered the band a chance to release a single as part of the label’s continuing singles release club. When New Slang was released it generated enough positive press to make the Shins first album Oh Inverted World one of the most anticipated indie releases of 2001. The record did not disappoint and achieved sales far beyond the labels’ expectations. Mercer was able to leverage the success of the album through lucrative licensing deals and touring.

New Slang would advance the Shins a second time when it was featured in the film Garden State. Natalie Portmans’ character says that the song will ‘change your life’ in the film, and after the movies’ release, the band sold twice as many copies of their two records as they had prior to the film.

After a decade of the Shins, Mercer put the band on hold to recover from the stress of it all. Removing himself from the center of attention as he was in the Shins, Mecer collaborated with Danger Mouse in the well received project Broken Bells.

When the Shins returned it was without the original band members replaced by a rotating cast of musicians supporting Mercers’ vision for the band.

Recently the Shins reissued Oh Inverted World in a deluxe form to celebrate its 20the Anniversary and this year the band is playing the album in its entirety as part of their ‘21st birthday’ tour of North America.

2022-06-29T11:04:40-04:00June 30th, 2022|

Decade of Difference: Blues Traveler

Blues Traveler formed when John Popper and his friend started a band originally called the Establishment in high school. After a few lineup changes, the group eventually settled on Blues Traveler as their name and moved on to New York after graduation.

First playing the clubs around the city and then on the colleges, all of the band members eventually dropped out of college to focus on music, and after releasing their first album in 1990 they began touring continuously. The group established themselves as a staple on the jam band scene with their improvisational sets and this led to their launching the H.O.R.D.E Festival in 1992.

Inspired by Lollapalooza, the festival was a touring event that featured jam bands and helped identify the strong appeal nationwide of those bands. This led to their release of the album Four which initially appeared to be a disappointment until the single Run-Around was released. The song spent nearly a full year on the sales charts and pushed the album to Platinum status.

After the success of Four, Blues Traveler found themselves with opportunities to perform on movie soundtracks and they did, providing tracks for Ace Ventura: Pet Detective, Blues Brothers 2000 and others.

A lineup change came in 2000 after the tragic death of bassist Bobby Sheehan from an accidental overdose. About the same time the group also expanded with the addition of keyboards.

Blues Traveler released their latest record last week, with Traveler’s Blues receiving a Grammy nomination for best Traditional Blues album. The band continues the busy road schedule, which now numbers over 2000 live performances.

2022-06-27T08:43:39-04:00June 29th, 2022|

Decade of Difference: American Aquarium

An alt country band formed in 2006 in Raleigh North Carolina, American Aquarium spent their first few years touring with occasional time set aside to record, producing two self released albums before 2010.

By 2012 American Aquarium had decided to end things as a band, planning one final album. Burn.Flicker.Die was produced by Jason Isbell, and was far more popular and critically acclaimed than their earlier releases. Barham says about the album: “It’s kind of ironic that the record about not making it is the record that helped us make it.” The band decided to remain together given this success.

It became clear in 2017 that American Aquarium was a band organized around the music of BJ Barham when he announced that the band would cease to exist in its current form. Soon Barham announced a new lineup and went to work on a new album.

Lamentations finally came in 2020 after a midstream switch to producer Shooter Jennings triggered a move on the recording from Memphis to LA. Since then Barham and the band have been busy, releasing three albums in the last two years.

Two of those are inspired by pandemic streaming sessions Barham hosted and consist of country music covers and the most recent is an album of new material. Named for  the now abandoned lifesaving station on the Outer Banks of North Carolina, Chicamacomico has received positive reviews since its release earlier this year. Barham says that “Chicamacomico sounds like nothing we’ve ever done, yet it sits comfortably amongst the rest of our catalog”.

2022-06-23T08:13:23-04:00June 28th, 2022|

Decade of Difference: Shawn Colvin

Shawn Colvin picked up a guitar as a 10 year old and started to learn the music she heard from her parents, mostly 50s era folk artists. She began playing publicly in college at a strip of bars on Main Street near Southern Illinois University.

She slowly built a local and then regional following with her own band, before substance abuse problems derailed her career. Her next step was with a country-swing band, and that necessitated a move away from Illinois to Austin, Texas. A later move to California and into folk music resulted in strained vocal cords and a performing hiatus.

She next returned to music in New York in Buddy Millers’ band and onstage in off-Broadway shows. This led to a spot backing Suzanne Vega and then a recording contract of her own. Colvins’ first record won a Grammy.

1989s’ Grammy winning Steady On was the first of a series of successful records in the 90s, highlighted by the Grammy winning single Sunny Came Home in 1998. The song spent four weeks at number one on the adult contemporary charts, exposing Colvin to an audience beyond the folk scene.

Her current tour takes a look back at her first Grammy winning album on its 33rd anniversary. She is playing the record in its entirety with only her acoustic guitar to accompany her vocals.It is a revisit of the record she released in 2019, an acoustic version of that first record to celebrate its 30th anniversary

2022-06-23T08:15:10-04:00June 27th, 2022|

Decade of Difference: The Jayhawks

Originating in the Minneapolis music scene, the Jayhawks have established themselves as one of the premier groups to rise for the alternative country scene of the 1980s. Gary Louris and Mark Olsen formed the core of the band and although Louris was not a founding member, he joined prior to their first record and began contributing songwriting on the groups second release.

The band’s first major release came in 1992 with Hollywood Town Hall. It was the Jayhawks first appearance on the national sales charts and critics loved the mix of nostalgic sounds fused with modern songwriting and great vocal harmonies. After the Jayhawk’s following album, Olsen left the group leaving Louris in charge. After two more records the band went on hiatus.

Mark Olsen and Gary Louris reunited the Jayhawks for a new record in 2011. Mockingbird Time was the first record from the group in almost ten years. Touring over the following two years led to renewed tension between Olsen and Louris with Olsen leaving the group again. It is just the most visible lineup change for a group that has undergone many of them over their career. 

After many years of opioid addiction, Gary Louris finally chose to seek help. He had developed the addiction after receiving a prescription for the drugs. The group MusiCares, which offers assistance to musicians, paid most of the cost for him to attend Eric Clapton’s treatment center in Antigua.

“Opiates are very hard to come off of, those things stay in your system,” Louris said. “So they weaned me off.


2022-06-07T11:02:27-04:00June 24th, 2022|

Decade of Difference: Yonder Mountain String Band

Fusing progressive bluegrass with a jam band mentality, the Yonder Mountain String Band has cultivated a devoted following over their more than two decades of existence. Their story begins in Illinois where Dave Johnston and Jeff Austin were students at the University of Illinois. Johnston invited Austin, a novice mandolin player, to join his band. Although he could not play anything very well, Austin was instructed to just play fast and loud.

Both musicians moved independently to Colorado but reconnected, forming Yonder Mountain String Band there, playing their first show at Boulder’s Fox Theater. The four-piece band collectively had broad musical tastes, which they applied in equal parts to their new band. The result was a mix of rock, punk and bluegrass that attracted the attention of fans on the jam band circuit. The group released their first album in 1999.


Owning their reputation for great live shows, Yonder Mountain String Band began releasing live albums early on. Now with five volumes, their Mountain Tracks series pulls material from their live shows.

The band has had two personnel changes along the way. Original member Jeff Austin left in 2014 citing creative differences, and more recently Nick Piccininni has replaced Jacob Jolliff on mandolin. It is a new challenge for Piccininni, who had been playing traditional bluegrass.

The bands’ live shows have also changed recently. They have been famous for playing completely different song sets each night for a week or more on tours. But that is changing somewhat, partly because they reassessed some songs that had been vehicles for jamming. Those songs now appear in sets in much shorter form, which means the band is playing certain songs more frequently.


2022-06-07T10:48:37-04:00June 23rd, 2022|

Decade of Difference: Darrell Scott

Darrell Scott began his musical career as a teenager, playing in Southern California before moving to Toronto and then Boston to attend college.

In the early 90s, Scott relocated to Nashville to start a career in country music and appeared on several albums as a session musician and backup singer. By 1996 Scott had his first composition reach the charts with a song recorded by Suzy Boggus. The late 90s and early 2000s saw Scott’s songs recorded by numerous major country and Americana acts, and Scott himself landed a recording contract with Sugar Hill Records.


Much of Scotts’ career has revolved around collaboration, a musical skill he says he learned at an early age. As a kid he played in a family band and found out how to harmonize, play various instruments and generally get along with a group of musicians. It is a lesson well used over Scott’s career.

Darrell Scott’s most recent album of original material, 2016’s The Couchville Sessions is drawn from work he did in 2001 in his living room. Scott had recorded three albums worth of material in about a year, and his record label released the first two, leaving the last unused for 15 years. After meeting Little Feat founding member Billy Payne, Scott realized that he was the perfect final musician to bring the project to completion

2022-06-07T10:42:56-04:00June 22nd, 2022|

Decade of Difference: James McMurtry

James McMurtry’s father, novelist Larry McMurtry gave him his first guitar when he was seven and his mother taught him how to play. While a student at the University of Arizona and in the following years while working as a bartender in Texas, McMurtry performed and recorded his first demo.

This demo came to the attention of John Mellencamp when he was working on a movie written by the elder McMurtry, and he was impressed – choosing to produce James McMurtry’s first album.


James McMurtry says that he became interested in songwriting when he first saw Kris Kristofferson perform. As a nine-year-old he was in the audience at the Mosque in Richmond for a show with Rita Coolidge and Kris Kristofferson. Kristofferson inspired him and coincidentally introduced him to Stephen Bruton. Bruton was playing in the band that night and later he played on McMurtry’s’ first tour and early albums.

McMurtry released The Horses and the Hounds, his first album in six years in 2021. It was written prior to the pandemic and before his father passed away. McMurtry says that he is simply continuing the family business. That business is storytelling, adding that “I don’t want to write about me. I’d rather make stuff up. I’m not interested in me.”

2022-06-07T10:33:28-04:00June 21st, 2022|