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Whiskeytown was an alternative country band formed in 1994 from Raleigh, North Carolina. Fronted by Ryan Adams, the group included members Caitlin Cary, Phil Wandscher, Eric "Skillet" Gilmore, and Mike Daly. They disbanded in 2000 with Adams leaving to pursue his solo career. Whiskeytown gradually expanded its sound outside the confines of alternative country while still maintaining its alternative roots.
The band only released three albums, yet none of the albums feature a consistent lineup, with only Adams and Cary remaining constants.
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.
Faithless Street era (1995–1996)
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 Strangers 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.
Strangers Almanac era (1997–1998)
Whiskeytown's 1997 major-label debut, Strangers 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 Brad 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." In January 1998, the band taped a live performance for Austin City Limits.
During the tour for Stranger's Almanac, the entire band was fired at a concert in Kansas City. The only people who started and finished the tour were Adams, Caitlin Cary, Mike Daly and tour manager Thomas O'Keefe.
Pneumonia and the band's demise (1999–2001)
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 .
Post-Whiskeytown and talk of reunion
Since the band dissolved, 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. She currently has a duo group called The Small Ponds with Matt Douglas of Raleigh band The Proclivities.
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. In February 2001, original Whiskeytown guitarist Phil Wandscher joined Adams at a Seattle show to perform two songs. It was the first time the two had appeared onstage together in 3½ years.
Adams and Cary have claimed to be reuniting Whiskeytown on multiple occasions, as recently as 2010, but nothing new has been released yet. A scheduling conflict was blamed as the reason for the reunion not taking place. The band did reunite for a one-off, impromptu gig after one of Adams' shows in 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.
Ryan Adams, born in the military town of Jacksonville, North Carolina, has referenced Jacksonville multiple times in song, both with Whiskeytown and as a solo artist. The two most notable references as Whiskeytown are Faithless Street's "Midway Park," named after an off-base military housing community outside of Camp Lejeune, and "Jacksonville Skyline" from 2001's Pneumonia, which speaks of the "neon signs, car dealerships and diners" that are prevalent throughout the community, which is described as a "city with a hopeless streetlight." Adams' new band, Ryan Adams and The Cardinals, carries the name of the mascot of Jacksonville High School, which Adams attended. The Cardinals have also recorded an album titled Jacksonville City Nights from which the song "The End" deals explicitly with Adams's feelings for his hometown.
Ryan Adams – vocals, rhythm guitar
Caitlin Cary – fiddle, vocals, percussion
Eric "Skillet" Gilmore – drums, percussion
Steve Grothmann – bass guitar
Phil Wandscher – lead guitar, vocals
Ed Crawford – guitar
Steven Terry – drums, percussion
Brad Rice – electric guitar
Mike Daly – bass guitar, keyboards, guitar, mandolin, vocals
Jeff Rice – bass guitar
Jenni Snyder – bass guitar
Chris Laney – bass guitar
Bill Ladd – pedal steel guitar – studio session musician, appeared on "Theme for a Trucker," Wim Wenders' movie "End of Violence"
Mike Santoro – bass – Former member of "The Steves," a band from Northern New Jersey
Chris Riser – lap steel guitar, pedal steel guitar – 1994-95, also a member of Chapel Hill's Pine State
Nicholas Petti – pedal steel guitar – 1995-96, also a member of Chapel Hill's Pine State
Jon Wurster – drums
James Iha – guitar