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Blue Mountain: Alt-Country Pioneers still standing strong
By Sean Smith
Fort Wayne Reader
Blue Mountain might not be a household name, but oftentimes the best bands aren't. Founded in 1991 by Cary Hudson (guitar and lead vocals) and Laurie Stirratt (bass and vocals), Blue Mountain are one of the few bands that are still active from the burgeoning alt-country scene of that era. They released their first album, Blue Mountain, in 1993 and followed it up with four more albums, before releasing their fifth and 'final' album, a live recording titled, Tonight It's Now or Never. After the band split, Hudson released a handful of solo albums on his label, Black Dog Records, while Stirratt released an album with her twin brother John Stirratt (a former band mate of Hudson's in The Hilltops, as well as a former member of Uncle Tupelo and current member of Wilco) and formed Healthy White Baby with Danny Black of The Blacks. The band reunited in 2007 and plan to release two albums in 2008. Midnight In Mississippi will be out in July and anther record of re-recorded originals will be released sometime later in the year. Blue Mountain will be stopping by The Brass Rail for a show on May 4th and, as it turns out, co-owner John Commorato Jr. has some personal ties to the band. I’ll let him take it from here…
John Commorato Jr.: In the early 90s I'd gone to study creative writing in the Faulkner program and that wasn't going so well. I found myself working at a bar, because their drinking age was only 18 at the time and I was 20. I was sitting there during a sound check and I heard these guys cover John Prine. It was a band with an electric guitar and they covered “Grandpa Was a Carpenter” and I went up to them and I was very enthusiastic and the guy said, “We really need a merch guy. You're kinda tired of watching the door at one place, how'd you like to watch it at a bunch of places?” Sure, I'm just getting ready to drop out of school anyways. At any rate, they were immensely talented people.
At the time, they were engaged. The lead guitarist/multi-instrumentalist/writer/vocalist, Cary Hudson, is a phenomenal guitarist. His fiancé, at the time … they met and they formed this band together and a relationship. A drummer has always been a revolving door type of thing. We just kind of all went out throughout the Southeast on very limited tours. Weekends, then extended weekends and weeks. I was a fan/merch guy working for beer. It just kind of worked its way up into t-shirts. We did open quite a few dates for Uncle Tupelo who were working on March 16-20, 1992 at the time.
For anybody that liked early Wilco, early Ryan Adams and Whiskeytown, Blue Mountain are the precursors to that, along with Uncle Tupelo. They're contemporaries, friends and family of latter day Uncle Tupelo. The last time I saw them all play together was in Bloomington. It was 10 years ago at the Upstairs Lounge, where Blue Mountain opened for the newly formed Wilco and John and Laurie did a duet together. Their other sister happens to be a professor of photography at IU. So, there's a nice Indiana connection and I've stayed in moderate touch with them over the years. They were essentially nice people giving a kid a chance to see a part of the country I'm utterly unfamiliar with. They hooked me on Do It Yourself rock 'n' roll and country-punk and turned me onto Uncle Tupelo and, ultimately, Wilco. Tony Margherita was around and very much a character. Jefferson Holt would come up from Athens and check out the shows occasionally.
There's a tendency, I think, among artists, musicians and writers to look back at a period of their glorified youth and kind of see it through rose colored glasses, but this really was a weird little time in this little town of 10,000 residents and 10,000 students. Among those permanent residents was John Grisham, who had just published The Firm. Willie Morris, who was living a little further south in Yazoo City and had just published a photo documentary on William Faulkner, with William Eggleston taking the photos. Barry Hannah was down there and had just written Bats Out Of Hell. Joe Brown had just written a biography about being a fireman and gotten a book deal for that. Anne Rice was just down a little bit more in New Orleans. It was just a really literate and musical time. We were forty five minutes south of Memphis, so we constantly had the Memphis connection going on. It was just a really cool place to be.
They literally lived on the backside of William Faulkner's woods, where his house was. It was a restored mansion and you could walk the trails. Cary and I, on nice, fall afternoons, would walk around Faulkner's property and discuss music, the South, Delta blues and punk. We appreciated each other's cultures. It was a good friendship. I'm sure they made much more of an impression on a 19 year old kid than I did on them and what seemed very old at the time, because he was a whopping 28 and I think she was 25. They were definitely my oldest friends and if it hadn't been for them I don't think I would have had the guts to try to open a rock venue and get national underground bands. They had a strong work ethic. I'm so glad that, given their ups and downs and similar artistic ups and downs, nearly 20 years later my business partner and I are able to host them in our space and that they were able to get themselves back together despite personal and professional issues. They're doing well with a new label and new manager. They're no longer together, in terms of man and wife, but together as creative and touring partners. It's a really nice homecoming.
Blue Mountain plays at The Brass Rail on Sunday, May 4 with Andy Friedman and The Other Failures (see story on page BLAH).