Happy Anniversary: Wilco, A.M.

Monday, March 28, 2016
Happy Anniversary: Wilco, A.M.

When alt-country legends Uncle Tupelo broke up, optimistic fans immediately began to wonder what wonderful new music might result from Jeff Tweedy and Jay Farrar going their separate ways. They got the first half of their answer 21 years ago today, when record store shelves were graced with the full-length debut from Tweedy’s new band.

As fans know, Farrar went off with Jim and Dave Boquist and former Uncle Tupelo drummer Mike Heidorn to start a new musical entity which would come to be known as Son Volt. Tweedy, meanwhile, continued onward with the remainder of Wilco’s final line-up – which consisted of drummer Ken Coomer, multi-instrumentalist Max Johnston, and bassist John Stirratt – and started the band we know as Wilco.

Upon entering the studio, it didn’t take long before Tweedy realized that he needed to expand the membership, which led to Brian Henneman of The Bottle Rockets being added as lead guitarist, and bassist Daniel Corrigan and Lloyd Maines also took part in the A.M. sessions. Henneman wasn’t around the long haul – he was replaced by Jay Bennett not long after the album was finished – and most of the other members only stuck around for a handful of years (Johnston left in 1996, Coomer in 2000, and Bennett in 2001), but Stirratt continues to fight the good fight alongside Tweedy to this day.

As for A.M. itself, most Uncle Tupelo fans – though not all, certainly – tend to concede that, although it was good, Son Volt’s Trace was better. According to Henneman, that might’ve been why Tweedy upped his game with the next Wilco album. “It was like watching a prize fight at that point,” Henneman told Greg Kot in his book Wilco: Learning How to Die. “It’s like Jay had something to prove with that first album, an urgency to it that none of his albums since have had. I felt he had a chip on his shoulder, and it shows up in the music. It was stunning. It was humbling. I think that kicked Jeff in the ass.”

Apparently it did: Wilco’s next album, Being There, received no end of critical acclaim, earning four-star reviews around the world and kicking the band up to a whole new commercial level.