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|Also Known As:||J Tweedy, Jeffrey Scot Tweedy, Tweedy||Died:|
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A major figure in the alternative country and rock communities since the early '90s, Jeff Tweedy was a member of the pioneering Americana band Uncle Tupelo before finding greater success as the founder of Wilco. The Illinois native teamed with Jay Farrar while in high school, eventually forming Uncle Tupelo in the late '80s; its heady combination of punk and country was a key influence on the alt-country scene for three years before internal tensions drove the duo apart in 1994. Tweedy then formed Wilco, which initially struggled to find its footing before embracing a wide array of sounds and influences, from '60s pop to improvisational art rock. Wilco's rise to the top of the American rock music scene was fraught with turmoil: Tweedy's mercurial tastes and struggles over the band's direction threatened to capsize the group, but by the 2002 release of Yankee Hotel Foxtrot, Wilco was firmly cemented as one of the most successful and creative rock acts in the country. Throughout his lengthy career, Tweedy's introspective lyrics and restless creativity underscored his status as one of pop music's most prolific and freethinking hitmakers. Born Jeffrey Scott Tweedy on August 25, 1967 in Belleville,...
A major figure in the alternative country and rock communities since the early '90s, Jeff Tweedy was a member of the pioneering Americana band Uncle Tupelo before finding greater success as the founder of Wilco. The Illinois native teamed with Jay Farrar while in high school, eventually forming Uncle Tupelo in the late '80s; its heady combination of punk and country was a key influence on the alt-country scene for three years before internal tensions drove the duo apart in 1994. Tweedy then formed Wilco, which initially struggled to find its footing before embracing a wide array of sounds and influences, from '60s pop to improvisational art rock. Wilco's rise to the top of the American rock music scene was fraught with turmoil: Tweedy's mercurial tastes and struggles over the band's direction threatened to capsize the group, but by the 2002 release of Yankee Hotel Foxtrot, Wilco was firmly cemented as one of the most successful and creative rock acts in the country. Throughout his lengthy career, Tweedy's introspective lyrics and restless creativity underscored his status as one of pop music's most prolific and freethinking hitmakers.
Born Jeffrey Scott Tweedy on August 25, 1967 in Belleville, Illinois, he was the youngest of four children by railroad employee Bob Tweedy and his wife, JoAnn, a kitchen designer. His mother gave him a guitar at the age of six, but Tweedy did not begin to experiment with the instrument until almost a decade later, when a bicycle accident left him with the time to learn a few chords. In 1981, he befriended Jay Farrar, a fellow classmate at Belleville Township High School West; they bonded over a mutual love of roots and punk rock, and Farrar invited Tweedy to join his rockabilly band, the Plebes. At Tweedy's suggestion, the band dropped its rockabilly sound for a broader musical palette, and adopted a new moniker, the Primitives. When Farrar's brother, Wade, who served as the band's singer, left in 1986, Tweedy, Farrar and drummer Mike Heidorn re-launched the group as a three-piece under the name Uncle Tupelo.
In the late '80s, the band began playing the bar circuit on Missouri's Delmar Loop district, where it attracted a small but devoted following with its mix of country, classic rock and early punk/alternative influences like Hüsker Dü, the Minutemen and Black Flag. They issued a 10-song demo tape titled Not Forever, Just for Now, in 1989, which led to a contract with Giant/Rockville Records. Uncle Tupelo's first full-length album, No Depression (1990), wielded enormous influence over the burgeoning alternative country music scene; its mix of stripped-down roots rock and elements of classic country - steel pedal guitar and banjo - with Tweedy and Farrar's mournful songs about small town life struck a chord with college music listeners and critics alike. Such similar-minded groups as the Bottle Rockets, the Old 97's and Drive-By Truckers would later adopt Uncle Tupelo's sound and lyrical scope, while a popular magazine covering the scene would borrow the album's title for its own moniker.
Uncle Tupelo would record three more records over the next three years - 1991's Still Feel Gone, the Peter Buck-produced March 16-20, 1992 and their major label debut, Anodyne (1993). The latter album proved to be the band's biggest success, reaching No. 18 on the Billboard Heatseekers charts, but also their swan song. Tweedy's excessive marijuana and alcohol use created tensions with Farrar, who announced that he was leaving the band in 1994. They battled their way through a final promotional tour before calling it quits, with Farrar forming the alt-country band Son Volt and Tweedy forging ahead with Wilco, a group he founded with musicians John Sirratt, Max Johnston and Ken Coomer, all of whom had performed with Uncle Tupelo in its final years.
Though hopes were high for both acts, it was Son Volt that found initially success, earning a top 10 hit on the Billboard Mainstream Rock Tracks chart with "Drown," from their first album, Trace (1995). Wilco's debut, A.M., found fewer listeners and only reached No. 27 on the Heatseekers chart. But their next release, Being There (1996), embraced a wider variety of musical elements than their established rock-country soundscape. The creative departure was fueled in part by Tweedy's need to address the growing pressures of his real life - he was married and a new father, and trying to pay a mortgage. What resulted was a blend of alt-country, psychedelia, punk and personal lyrics - some of which addressed the tumultuous breakup of Uncle Tupelo - that echoed the Rolling Stones' equally sprawling masterpiece, Exile on Main Street (1971). The album was featured on numerous best-of-the-year lists, while also providing Wilco with its first hit, reaching No. 73 on the Billboard 200.
At the encouragement of new band member Jay Bennett, Tweedy and Wilco teamed with UK folk rocker Billy Bragg to record an album of unreleased Woody Guthrie songs. Six days of recording yielded two albums, Mermaid Avenue (1998), which netted a Grammy nomination for Best Contemporary Folk Album the following year, and Mermaid Avenue Vol. II (2000). During this period, Tweedy also reunited with Golden Smog for its second album, Golden Smog (1998), which reached No. 34 on the Heatseekers chart. The constant schedule of recording and touring put considerable strain on Tweedy, who poured his anxiety over marital strain into the melancholy pop of Summerteeth (1999), Wilco's third album. He also relied more heavily on Jay Bennett than the other band members for the album, which created additional tensions within the group. Summerteeth performed only moderately well upon its release, but the band forged ahead with its next album.
During this period, Tweedy teamed with improvisational musician Jim O'Rourke, best known for his work with Sonic Youth, to form a new group, Loose Fur. His affinity for the new act had a chilling effect on Wilco: he was unsatisfied with the band's new material, and dismissed both longtime drummer Ken Coomer and Jay Bennett over the direction of the new album. O'Rourke was invited to remix several songs for what would eventually comprise their fourth LP, Yankee Hotel Foxtrox, but changes within the group's label, Reprise Records, led to the rejection of the album and Wilco's dismissal from the Reprise roster, which were detailed in the acclaimed documentary "I Am Trying to Break Your Heart: A Film About Wilco" (2002). The Elektra imprint Nonesuch picked up the group and the album, which went on to become the most successful release in Tweedy's musical career, with over 500,000 copies sold.
The acclaim for Yankee Hotel Foxtrot led to a remarkable period of activity and success for Tweedy and Wilco. He and his bandmates teamed with the Seattle band The Minus 5, whose rotating lineup included Peter Buck and Ken Stringfellow from the Posies, to release Down with Wilco (2003), then returned to the studio with Wilco for their fifth studio album, A Ghost is Born (2004), which peaked in the Top 10 on the Billboard 200 and reaped two Grammy Awards, including Best Alternative Music Album. That same year, Tweedy issued a book of poetry, Adult Head, before recording live tracks with the band at Chicago's Vic Theater that would be released on Kicking Television: Live in Chicago (2005). After recording "Sunken Treasure: Live in the Pacific Northwest," a DVD of Tweedy's solo performances, Wilco scored their highest chart release with Sky Blue Sky (2007), which debuted at No. 4. Their next album, Wilco (The Album) (2009), repeated the chart success while also scoring a Grammy nomination for Best Americana Album, while its follow-up, The Whole Love (2011), was nominated for the Best Rock Album Grammy.
During this period, Tweedy also found time to work with soul legend Mavis Staples of the Staple Singers, producing her Grammy-winning 2010 album You Are Not Alone and its follow-up, One True Vine (2013), which provided Staples with her highest peaking solo chart release by reaching No. 67 on the Billboard 200. Tweedy then formed a new group, Tweedy, with his son, Spencer. The band, which also featured McCaughey, released its double-LP debut, Sukierae, in 2014, the same year Wilco released Alpha Mike Foxtrot, a collection of rarely heard tracks recorded between 1994 and 2014, and What's Your 20?, a best-of compilation culled from the same period.
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