Uncle Tupelo was a popular music group formed in 1987 in Belleville, Illinois. The founding members were Jay Farrar (guitar, harmonica, vocals), Mike Heidorn (drums), and Jeff Tweedy (bass guitar, guitar, harmonica, vocals). Other members included Bill Belzer (drums), Ken Coomer (drums), Max Johnston (banjo, dobro, fiddle, mandolin, steel guitar), and John Stirratt (bass guitar). Often hailed as the fathers of alternative country--a term that Farrar has recently avoided--there is little doubt that their music has had a great impact on the evolution of both the country music and alternative rock genres. Blending styles as diverse as hardcore punk in the style of Black Flag and The Minutemen with country instrumentation and harmony in the spirit of the Carter Family, their sound was immediately considered by many to be the genesis of a new genre. Another oft-cited influence on Uncle Tupelo is Neil Young, evidenced by Uncle Tupelo's frequent live performances of Young standards like "Down By The River" and "Everybody Knows This Is Nowhere". The band's use of working class themes, imagery from Middle America, and traditional American music forms was presented with a decidedly modern rock sensibility. Their instrumentation and production, particularly on the Peter Buck-produced March 16-20, 1992, have earned them much critical praise. Members of Uncle Tupelo went on to form the bands Wilco and Son Volt.
The group released four full-length albums during its four-year recording career. No Depression (1990), Still Feel Gone (1991), and March 16-20, 1992 (1992) were originally released on the (now defunct) independent record label Rockville Records (a sister label of Homestead Records). Their major label debut, Anodyne (1993), was released by Sire/Reprise. A remastered compilation of their work, 89/93: An Anthology (2002), was released by Sony, followed by the coordinated re-release of the entire Uncle Tupelo catalog in 2003 by Columbia/Legacy and Rhino.
Each of their four albums has unique qualities. No Depression is a mix of covers of folk songs, and punk/folk originals. Still Feel Gone is their only album of all original tunes. March 16-20, 1992 was recorded and produced by R.E.M.'s Peter Buck, and is an acoustic album of half traditional folk songs, half original songs. Anodyne was recorded in live takes in the studio, with no overdubs.
Initially Farrar was the group's creative force, and consequently did most of the singing as well, but towards the end of their run, Tweedy became more or less Farrar's equal when it came to songwriting and singing duties. The band broke up in May 1994, when Farrar left the band. Farrar had announced his plans to manager Tony Margherita to leave prior to the final tour, but continued on with the tour as a favor to Margherita. Farrar has since cited a previous personal conflict with Tweedy as a reason for ultimately leaving the band.