Listen to Blue Mountain here...
By: Tom Speed
When you're struck by lightning, you don't necessarily know where it came from but you damn sure feel the heat. There are things you can't conjure or cajole into being, and when you catch that proverbial, elusive lightning in a bottle (or it catches you) you're not likely to get another grasp at it if you let it slip through your fingers.
| Cary Hudson & Laurie Stirratt - Blue Mountain|
So when alt-country pioneers Blue Mountain called it quits in 2001 it seemed as though their time had come and gone. The core of the group - husband and wife team Cary Hudson and Laurie Stirratt - had seen their marriage fall apart under the weight of life on the road, and as much as they tried to keep it alive, the breakup of the band eventually followed.
Now, seven years later, the band is back. What started as a couple of "reunion" dates has caught fire and turned into a full-fledged comeback with a full tour docket and a new album in the works. It started with a one-off date at St. Louis' Twangfest. They booked another show in Chicago and got together for what was to be just a few shows. Then lightning struck. Again.
"The band sounded better than ever," says Stirratt. "We're all better musicians now, so that's a big part of it. That made us think maybe we should keep this thing going. Plus, it was just a blast. It was really fun."
The comeback wasn't forced into being, it happened organically and honestly, just the way the band came about 20 years ago when lightning struck the first time.
It was the mid 1980s in Oxford, Mississippi when Blue Mountain grew out of a band called the Hi-Tops - a cover band that played songs by Husker Du, The Replacements and the Meat Puppets. Founded by John Stirratt and Chris Hudson, The Hi-Tops soon invited John's sister Laurie and Chris' cousin Cary to the fold, and changed their name to The Hilltops as they shifted their focus to writing original music. What came out bore the imprint of their alternative and punk influences but also wore the unmistakable traits of their Southern upbringing.
Riding 'Round The County, Drinkin' from a Jar
They came by their new sound honestly. "I'm a true believer in the fact that if you try to manufacture a certain sound it never comes off," Laurie Stirratt says. "You have to write from what you know and whatever comes out is a direct result of your influences and where you live and a lot of things."
"I'm a country boy," adds Cary Hudson. "My first band was a country band. So, when I started writing songs it took on a little bit more of a roots thing. That just kind of came out."
Soon Chris left, and so did John (who later joined Uncle Tupelo and then Wilco). Cary and Laurie moved to California and Blue Mountain was born. "Laurie and I moved to Los Angeles, and that was the first time I had really lived outside of the South," says Hudson. "I really started identifying with my Southern heritage and really started incorporating it into the music. I realized once I got out of the Southern environment that that was my identity. I had to step away from it to see the picture."
The move westward lasted about a year, and the band hit the ground running when they got back to Mississippi, honing their roots-based rock edge. The result of their punk influence coupled with a down-home respect for country and roots music was something that was soon being called alt-country, and Blue Mountain was on the forefront of it. Being labeled as part of that scene is not something the band shied away from, then or now. "There have been times when I didn't like [the term alt-country]," says Hudson. "But, I have to say that I'm really proud to be associated with the bands that are in that category. When people mention the name Blue Mountain along with Uncle Tupelo, the Jayhawks and Jason and the Scorchers that makes me proud."
After a self-released, self-titled debut album, Blue Mountain was signed by Roadrunner Records and released the album Dog Days to great acclaim. Three studio albums followed, but the wheels began to come off after a few years. Life on the road took its toll.
"One thing that was particularly hard on the marriage was that there was so much pressure. The band was all we had," says Stirratt. "We worked so hard for years. We toured all the time. It was our sole source of income. So there was a lot of pressure and I think that caused problems."
After the marriage dissolved, the band continued for a while. They mustered a fine covers record called Roots and a double live album, Tonight It's Now Or Never, that served as what might have been a curtain call. That was the end of the Blue Mountain book. The lightning had escaped their grasp and the story was over.
No Time To Think You're Getting Older
After the split, Hudson released a trio of solo albums and toured extensively as a solo artist and with his Cary Hudson Trio. Laurie moved to Chicago and founded a record label with her brother John, Broadmoor Records. Broadmoor released a John & Laurie collaboration (Arabella, 2004), three albums by John's Wilco side-project The Autumn Defense and a CD by the short-lived band Healthy White Baby, which featured Laurie and Danny Black (The Blacks). Drummer Frank Coutch (one of a series of drummers for Blue Mountain but considered by all to be the final, crucial piece of the quintessential trio) busied himself with another band, The Preacher's Kids. None of them lacked for work.
But, when they hit that stage again: Crack! Boom! There was lightning left in that bottle. After shows in St. Louis and Chicago, they hit Oxford for a two-night stand at Proud Larry's. The band heaved with trademark abandon and touched their more tender tunes with a warm caress. Whatever that intangible quality is - that lighting - that makes a band a band, Blue Mountain still had it.
"Blue Mountain feels like a real band, and there's a real difference between a real band and a singer-songwriter and some hired guns," says Hudson. Stirratt agrees, "It's something intangible to be honest. I've played with other people, and it's just so strange. It just doesn't have the same thing. Sometimes I feel like I was born to play with those two guys, Frank and Cary. It's that combination of those three people that make it."
The offers kept coming, and they kept playing. They still are.
"We don't want to approach this as a nostalgia thing. We're too young for that. We're not young but we're too young for that," laughs Hudson. "The thing we're excited about right now is writing the new chapter. It's fun to play the old Blue Mountain songs but it's time to write some new Blue Mountain songs."
Who knows what this intangible quality called chemistry really is? Why is it that only certain groups of people can create magic that far surpasses the sum of the parts? Is it actually electricity, like those bolts that shoot down from the sky? Is it magic? I've pondered this question for years and not come up with a definitive answer. But, I still think the best way to figure it out is to reach out and try to grab it while you can.
Blue Mountain Tour Dates
10/04/07 Thu Visulite Theatre Charlotte, NC
10/05/07 Fri Hideaway BBQ Raleigh, NC
10/06/07 Sat The Town Pump Black Mountain, NC
10/07/07 Sun Garage Winston-Salem, NC
10/10/07 Wed Hunter Gatherer Columbia, SC
10/11/07 Thu Tasty World Athens, GA
10/12/07 Fri Star Bar Atlanta, GA
10/13/07 Sat 550 Blues Macon, GA
10/19/07 Fri Ruby's Roadhouse Mandeville, LA
10/26/07 Fri Taylor Grocery Oxford, MS
11/02/07 Fri The Basement Nashville, TN
11/15/07 Thu Dave's Darkhorse Tavern Starkville, MS
11/16/07 Fri Two Stick Oxford, MS
11/17/07 Sat Two Stick Oxford, MS
11/29/07 Thu Hal & Mal's Jackson, MS
12/14/07 Fri Chelsea's Baton Rouge, LA
12/29/07 Sat Hal & Mal's Jackson, MS
JamBase | Mississippi
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