by Aaron Gailbraith
Uncle Tupelo were an alt-country band formed in 1987 by Jay Farrar and Jeff Tweedy. It has been said that it was like having Neil Young and Bob Dylan in the same band. Tweedy brought Young’s knack for mercurial but memorable hooks. Whilst Farrar’s cryptic, intense ruminations and personal revelations have more than a passing resemblance to Dylan.
Jeff Tweedy said in an interview, “We probably have more influences than we know what to do with. We have two main styles that have been influences. For instance, we like Black Flag as much as early Bob Dylan and Dinosaur Jr. as much as Hank Williams … To us, hard-core punk is also folk music. We draw a close parallel between the two. We’ll play both in the same set if we get a chance. We don’t have any biases as far as music is concerned.”
Their first album “No Depression” (with the A.P Carter title track) has been cited as one of the most important albums in the alternative country genre. The periodical “No Depression” took its name from the album and “No Depression” is sometimes used as a synonym for the genre.
In 1991 they opened for The Band at a few shows.
Their third album “March 16-20 1992” includes their take of “Moonshiner” using Bob’s 1963 lyric changes.
There are also several unreleased Dylan covers available online including this amazing take on “A Hard Rains A-Gonna Fall” and a fine version of “Wallflower”.
Following the release of 4th album “Anodyne” the relationship between Farrar and Tweedy soured to the point where they could no longer work together. The band split, Farrar went on to form Son Volt, and Tweedy took the rest of the band and formed Wilco.
Son Volt continued in the alt country vein, with an emphasis on traditional American Music. Over the next 20 or so years they released 10 albums and several Eps.
An absolutely stunning version of “Going, Going Gone” was included on the “Switchback EP” in 1997.
Jay Farrar kept up a concurrent solo career along with his Son Volt activities. He has performed several Dylan tracks in concert including “Absolutely Sweet Marie” and “Rainy Day Woman #12 & 35”
At the same time Jay was forming Son Volt, Jeff Tweedy and the rest of Uncle Tupelo reformed as Wilco.
In 2003, Wilco released the utterly brilliant “Yankee Hotel Foxtrot” album. The track “Bob Dylan’s 49th Beard” appears on the bonus disc “More Like The Moon EP” and then on the Rarities collection “Alpha Mike Foxtrot”.
And things got weird And I started growing Bob Dylan's beard
- Jeff Tweedy – Bob Dylan’s 49th Beard
Jeff’s haunting solo version of “Simple Twist Of Fate” appeared on the “I’m Not There” soundtrack album in 2007.
In anticipation of the 2008 US presidential election, Wilco released a downloadable version of Bob Dylan’s “I Shall Be Released” that they performed with Fleet Foxes. The MP3 was available as a free download from the band’s website in exchange for a promise to vote in the election. It too was included on the rarities box “Alpha Mike Foxtrot”.
In 2013 Wilco (along with future New Basement Tapes member Jim James) joined Dylan on the AmericanaramA tour. They shared the stage on several occasions singing The Band classic “The Weight”.
“We played that song in a different key every night,” a bemused Tweedy reveals. “It was never in the same key. The tour manager would say, ‘It’s in A flat tonight.’ Or we’d already be out onstage, and we’d talk to Tony Garnier, the bass player, and somehow ask him which key and he’d say, ‘A flat.’ And that’s in front of a lot of people. But Dylan never told us. I think he likes putting himself and his band into a corner, to see if they can play their way out.”
They also performed a wonderful version of “Let Your Light Shine on Me”.
In 2014 Tweedy was asked to write music for a set of unrecorded Bob Dylan lyrics—a project which, without his involvement, became the New Basement Tapes.
But before that happened Jeff was so inspired by these Dylan lyrics that were shared with him that, over the course of two days, he wrote and recorded an album’s worth of songs using and drawing from the Dylan lyrics. The producers ultimately went in a different direction with the project.
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