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Whiskeytown Biography

Whiskeytown Biography

Whiskeytown began in 1994 in Raleigh, North Carolina. After performing punk rock with a band called The Patty Duke Syndrome, Adams found inspiration in the country-rock of Gram Parsons, and started a band with violinist Caitlin Cary, drummer Eric "Skillet" Gilmore, bassist Steve Grothman and guitarist Phil Wandscher. His punk-rock days were touched upon on the title track to Whiskeytown's first album, Faithless Street: "Well I started this damn country band/'cause punk rock is too hard to sing." Faithless Street, released on Mood Food Records in 1996, established the band as one of the genre's leaders, thanks to glowing reviews in publications such as No Depression, and helped the band score a major-label record deal with the Geffen Records imprint Outpost. Faithless was re-released on the imprint in 1998 with nearly a dozen bonus tracks from the era, some of which are new, and others of which showed up on Stranger's Almanac, Rural Free Delivery, and other early EPs in different versions. One track, "Oklahoma," was removed. Adams claimed that the reason for the re-release was the muddy sound of the original version and his distaste for "Oklahoma," which was added to the album despite his objections. Whiskeytown's 1997 major-label debut, Stranger's Almanac, helped to establish Adams' reputation as a songwriter. In the midst of the album's recording, Gilmore and Grothman left, and Wandscher left soon after the album's release. The band cycled through numerous members throughout the next year, including Jeff Rice and Steven Terry, both of whom were involved in the recording of Almanac but left later that year. The band's reputation preceded it in the live setting. In a 1997 Detroit Free Press article titled Whiskeytown: half band, half soap opera, a June 1997 show at Mac's Bar in Lansing, Michigan was described by fans as a half-baked performance.

Despite the band's internal strife, Almanac was a successful album with critics, with the tracks "16 Days" and the Replacements-esque "Yesterday's News" receiving significant radio play. The positive reviews came from increasingly mainstream publications such as Rolling Stone, who claimed at the time, "If there's to be a nirvana among the bands that are imprecisely dubbed alternative country, look to Whiskeytown." Despite the fact that the band only released three albums, none of the albums feature a consistent lineup, with only Adams and Cary remaining constants. Even with the personnel changes, the band managed to add a new core member in multi-instrumentalist Mike Daly, who contributed significantly to the band's sound on their third album, Pneumonia. The album's recording was a much different affair from the first two likely because of the band's constantly changing dynamic. The traditional country of the first two albums, especially Faithless, was largely replaced with a more sophisticated country-rooted pop sound, very similar to Wilco's 1999 album Summerteeth. Also adding to the different flavor of the album was a cast of guest stars, including The Replacements' Tommy Stinson and The Smashing Pumpkins' James Iha. Despite the album's completion and Whiskeytown's sizable fanbase, Outpost Records closed during the merger between Polygram and Universal, and as a result the album stayed in limbo for nearly two years, effectively ending the band.

Lost Highway Records, the roots-minded label imprint of Universal Music, picked up the album after signing Adams (who, in the interim, recorded his highly-acclaimed debut solo record Heartbreaker on indie label Bloodshot Records) and released it in May 2001. Since the band's break-up in 1999, most core members have chosen to remain active in music. Cary, who married original drummer Eric "Skillet" Gilmore, has released three solo albums and created a female folk trio named Tres Chicas. Adams has remained in the spotlight since the band's breakup, releasing numerous solo albums, including three in 2005. He has drawn considerable praise from such legends as Elton John and Phil Lesh for his songwriting. Meanwhile he has maintained his reputation for bad behavior, most notably when he threw a fan out of a concert for jokingly requesting a song by his near-namesake Bryan Adams in Nashville in 2002. Adams and Cary have claimed to be reuniting Whiskeytown on multiple occasions, as recently as 2005, but as of yet, nothing new has been released. The band did reunite for a one-off, impromptu gig after one of Adams' shows is Raleigh, NC, in 2005. Gilmore, Cary, and Adams were joined on-stage by Adams' current pedal steel player, Jon Graboff, and then-bassist Catherine Popper.

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