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10 years later, Uncle Tupelo is still ahead of its time

By Brian Baker, March 2003

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They had also become a much more savvy band and proved it not by becoming more complex, but by stripping down their sound to its elements.

"I didn't really pay attention to the process of the next record being good because I figured, 'These guys write good songs...it'll be fine,'" says Heidorn, 37. "Lo and behold, even doing half covers like that, I thought it was the best record. We had stepped it up professionally in the studio. I just thought it was a very natural progression of learning how to record and the sounds we were getting back and knowing what and when to play and not overplaying. Luckily, we didn't stop for those couple of years in a row to think about any process or progression. We just played what we were living and experiencing at the time."

Heidorn left just after the third album to be with his family, supplanted by Ken Coomer. Also adding Max Johnston and John Stirratt, UT released the stellar "Anodyne" in 1993, but nothing could save Uncle Tupelo from the increasing friction between Tweedy and Farrar.

Their musical relationship and friendship ended with the dissolution of the band - Tweedy built Wilco from the remains of the last generation of UT, and Farrar reconnected with Heidorn to form Son Volt.

The reissues of the first three UT albums resulted when lawyers for Tweedy and Farrar sought an accounting of royalties from Rockville.

In court, the label admitted its bookkeeping was shoddy and the judge ruled for the band, going so far as returning the rights to the albums back to Tweedy and Farrar.

The pair then casually looked into labels to reissue the music, ultimately settling on Sony's Legacy imprint.

The reissues are slightly remastered for a brighter sound and offer rare and unreleased songs as incentives.

Although UT is widely credited with catalyzing the nascent country/punk movement in the early '90s, Heidorn, now a production artist for a legal newspaper near St. Louis, insists that the band wasn't carrying the flag of any revolution when they began plying their trade.

"It's strange to hear Uncle Tupelo mentioned because what we were doing was in such a long line of musical history," says Heidorn. "People are wrong in starting with us and saying we started anything because we were just picking up the ball, starting with Woody Guthrie and on to the early '60s and the Flying Burrito Brothers that we were influenced by. We didn't start a genre. We contributed to a long line of fairly good music. That's the way we looked at it at the time - doing what was right for the song."

But influence is a funny creature. The combination of this band at that time clearly made an impact that goes beyond Heidorn's assertion that Uncle Tupelo was merely the last one to country up the rock.

"Because of our age, we might have made people more aware of the pedal steel or whatnot, but I still think we were just one of a lot of bands, and some even better than us," says Heidorn steadfastly. "I thought the Long Ryders had a good tone, and Jason and the Scorchers and Rank and File. We were learning our instruments playing these records. How that influence happens is a strange thing. I'm glad that we were able to be mentioned with those bands. That's flattering."

Even with the perspective of time and the prism of his subsequent experience with Farrar in Son Volt, it's difficult for Heidorn to fathom the importance that many people place on Uncle Tupelo.

"Just knowing my own musical prowess on the drums, I didn't think we'd have that good of an album," says Heidorn about his early perception of the band's potential. "We were playing for small bars, and it was fun. It was always growing. Each time we went back to a city, there would be more people, and it seemed to constantly grow. As far as knowing we were making an impact in the bar scene, well, yeah. We were just having fun, and luckily the fans were right there along with us for the ride. We were fortunate to have a little fan base that we garnered. It was hard work getting it. We had to go out there in front of people, and they really supported us so well. But I didn't think these records would be getting this type of attention after the fact. Not at all."

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