Bands' Bands Features Indie Rock 

The Bands’ Bands: Uncle Tupelo

Uncle Tupelo

bands’ band (bӕnds bӕnd)
n 1. a musical group/person who is widely regarded amongst other musical groups/persons as worthy of adoration, despite said group/person’s lack of popularity and success within the music industry and/or amongst music consumers
2. talented beyond comprehension
3. tragically unlucky




Nowadays, Jeff Tweedy (lead singer/guitarist of Wilco) is a household name amongst alternative rockers and house moms alike.  Just last week, while sitting down to enjoy my weekly dose of dry, The Office-esque humor in the newest episode of Parks and Recreation, who else but Wilco’s own Jeff Tweedy happens to pop out of nowhere to get heckled into getting the old band back together by Andy Dwyer and Leslie Knope.  Now, in the Parks and Rec universe, Tweedy used to front the fictional band “Land Ho!,” but all I could think of was how much I wished Johnny Karate (aka Andy) could convince the real Jeff Tweedy to get his real old band back together.  I’m talking about the band that’s credited for founding alternative country as we know it today, Uncle Tupelo.

It’s safe to say that without Uncle Tupelo, today’s underground country-roots punk scene wouldn’t be what it is today.  Bands like Lucero, Bands of Horses, The Gaslight Anthem, Street Dogs and plenty more of the gritty alt-country types within our very own punk scene all blend together their own alt-country variation of what Uncle Tupelo was blasting out a decade prior, from 1989-1994.

Hailing from Middle America in the town of Belleville, Illinois, Uncle Tupelo’s innovative sound came out of necessity to play shows more than anything else.  It’s been said that in order to play bars and gatherings in their town, the band needed a country sound to fit into the town’s scene.  Though Jeff Tweedy and fellow singer/guitarist Jay Farrar were your typical punk-loving high school rebels, there wasn’t exactly a punk scene in their blue collar town.  Fortunately the trio had all of the bases covered in order to bridge the gap between Black Flag and Woody Guthrie.  Tweedy would sometimes use a pick on his bass guitar as seen in the hardcore punk scenes, but he would also play bouncing bass lines found in upbeat bluegrass songs.  Jay Farrar could be found playing guitar licks similar to his treble-y twanging country contemporaries, but he was all about those simple and heavy punk chords and structures.  It was evident that founding drummer Mike Heidorn was familiar the Creedence Clearwater Revival discography, but he couldn’t help but push the band’s originally-tracked tempos into faster, energetic punk ditties when played live.

Most notably, Uncle Tupelo’s influence can be can be heard in the likes of the Southern punk and DIY bands of the early 2000s.  Boston natives, Street Dogs, covered Uncle Tupelo’s bar scene favorite “I Got Drunk,” taking an Uncle Tupelo track and fitting it effortlessly into a contemporary punk setting.  The same potential for “I Got Drunk” is especially apparent in Uncle Tupelo’s early work in the heralded albums No Depression and Still Feel Gone.  Just listen to “Gun” and it becomes noticeable pretty soon that these are the same song structures and raspy country-accented vocals used on present Gaslight Anthem albums.

Unfortunately, like all of the great Bands’ Bands, Uncle Tupelo had a falling out before ever reaching the success amongst music listeners that a genre-founding band ought to.  Shortly after the band released their last album, Anodyne, and began touring, vocalist/guitarist Farrar began accusing Tweedy of everything from having an uncompromising ego to moving in on Farrar’s girlfriend at the time.  This lead to an abrupt and rather ugly split between the two songwriters.  Tweedy would take most of Uncle Tupelo along with him to form his current well-known alternative band Wilco, while Farrar went on to form the less-known Son Volt who stuck closer to Uncle Tupelo’s more country roots in sound.

I’m sure a good number of fans have asked Tweedy whether or not him and Farrar will every talk again, or if there’s any chance of Uncle Tupelo reforming in the future.  His reaction is strangely similar to Tweedy’s response when Andy and Leslie ask about his fictional band, Land Ho!, on Parks and Rec as he explains, “Listen.  It means a lot to me that you guys love the band, and I’m gonna tell you the exact same thing I tell everyone who’s ever asked us to reunite: no.”

Drew Bankert is jealous of Andy Dwyer because he harmonized with 1/3 of Uncle Tupelo and is also married to the goddess known as April Ludgate.  You can follow him here – Facebook, or send him a message at –

You can purchase a CD here from Uncle Tupelo, and Wilco/Jeff Tweedy fans can buy concert tickets here.

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