A Chat with Gary Louris of The Jayhawks
by Jeremy Glazier
My best friend growing up, Rhett Nowotny, introduced me to The Jayhawks back in 1993 with the release of Hollywood Town Hall. We grabbed our guitars and learned every song we could and to this day, the opening riff on “Take Me With You When You Go” will still hit me with goose bumps.
On August 24th, 2018 I had the pleasure of recanting that story to Gary Louris, singer, guitar player, band mate, and lyrical genius of The Jayhawks, Golden Smog, and too many collaboration projects to mention. I explained to him that I felt like I’d been having a 25 year conversation with him and the Jayhawks through those songs was extremely grateful for his willingness to answer some questions.
“Well thank you” he says humbly. “I was just in Cedar Rapids and took a flight out of there after we played Iowa City.”
Gary was referring to the Ragbrai concert that I attended a month earlier on July 27th. In the shadow of the the Old Capital building in Iowa City, Iowa the Jayhawks lit up the stage to a crowd mixed with Ragbrai bicycle riders and Jayhawk fans of all ages.
This incarnation of the Jayhawks consisted of Gary Louris, Marc Perlman, Tim O’Regan, and Karen Grotberg. They walked on stage to boisterous applause and began to play through a total of 22 songs that cover all the hits and five of the songs from the new album, Back Roads and Abandoned Motels. The album is a mix of songs that Gary had previously co-written with artists like Jacob Dylan, The Dixie Chicks, and Ari Hest to name a few and I asked Gary how this album song selection came about.
“Really it started with John Jackson at Sony Legacy, who helped us out with the reissue back in the late 2000’s….but he became a great friend and said hey, can I sit in with you guys and now he’s in the band. I think he feels like it’s his mission to tell the world about me as a songwriter. That’s what he’s told me, that I’m underappreciated or something.
“He suggested it because we were in between albums and weren’t really thinking of recording yet so it’s his brain child. I’ve been playing some of them at my solo shows, and between me, John Jackson, my manager Jake Guralnick, and our long time friend and assistant P.D. Larson, we started going through the songs and compiling songs that I had co written…and then brought that to the band.”
I mentioned the pre-order snafu, that the signed albums had not arrived before the release date and Gary says “Yeah sorry about that, that was a fuck up by the label and we were actually signing those album covers, the vinyl copies, there in Iowa City, so we have to apologize to everyone that pre-ordered.” I commented that for me it was a great experience to hear the songs preformed live and waiting for the album to arrive was only a minor inconvenience.
Of the five new songs they preformed in Iowa City from the album, Karen sang the co-written Natalie Maines song “Come Crying to Me” and Tim took the vocal lead on the Jacob Dylan co-written “Gonna Be a Darkness”, which appeared on HBO’s True Blood. The remaining 17 songs of the evening were a great mix of each album that included “Waiting For The Sun”, “Tampa To Tulsa”, “Smile”, “Lover Of The Sun”, and “Nothing Left To Borrow”.
A real treat during the concert that July night was a special guest, Kraig Johnson. Kraig, while a member of his own band, is also a Jayhawk alumni, co-founder of the band Run Westy Run and, a member in good standing of Golden Smog. Together they preformed “Big Star”, “Blue”, “I’d Run Away”, and for the encore of the evening the perfectly placed Golden Smog tune “Until You Came Along”.
During my interview I asked Gary about Kraig sitting in and if this was a foreshadowing of another Golden Smog get together for either some shows or another album. “…with Kraig it was a happy coincidence. He was down in Iowa City and does some house restorations and painting with his old friend Dan Davids from Run Westy Run and was restoring some place and said well I’m gonna be there so I said bring your guitar.”
“Were all still friend and love each other, and the same with the Smog were all still friends it’s just a lot of circumstances with peoples schedules…There was a stirring of some golden smog shows recently but Jeff has a book out and and it just wasn’t possible. I don’t know about any further recordings but there is a talk of some shows and that it’s just a matter of finding that sweet spot in the schedules.”
I will keep my fingers crossed that the stars align for future projects and that John Jackson keeps an eye out for more opportunities for The Jayhawks.
I want to extend the warmest thank you to Maria Malta from Sony Music for facilitating the interview and to Mr. Gary Louris for taking the time to discuss the album.
Feature photo by Jeremy Glazier