The Long Ryders were formed Thanksgiving 1981 by four musicians in Los Angeles influenced by Gram Parsons and the Byrds, country, and punk rock. The band featured friends and cofounders Sid Griffin (guitar, autoharp, harmonica and vocals) and Greg Sowders (drums and percussion); recent Virginia transplant Stephen McCarthy on guitar, steel guitar, mandolin, banjo, and vocals; and Barry Shank, bass and vocals.
Bass player Shank quit early on to return to graduate school for his doctorate and was replaced by Des Brewer. This line-up recorded and released an EP in 1983 called 10-5-60 (PVC Records) produced by ex-Sparks’ guitarist and former Beach Boys’ engineer, Earle Mankey. The EP was so well received they toured the U.S., but not before Brewer had dropped out and was replaced by Tom Stevens, solidifying the now-classic Long Ryders’ line-up.
Signed to the (then) hip indie label Frontier Records, the band recorded their debut album Native Sons with the acclaimed Henry Lewy (Joni Mitchell, Van Morrison) producing. More importantly to the band, Lewy had also worked with the Flying Burrito Brothers on their classic Gilded Palace Of Sin album. Together the Long Ryders and Lewy delivered an album described as “a modern American classic” by Melody Maker, and soon found themselves on the cover of the New Musical Express as well as playing live on the BBC’s influential Whistle Test TV show.
After touring the States for much of 1984 Europe was theirs for the taking March - April 1985. Sold out show followed sold out show; the band’s popularity was second only to The Smiths on the UK’s influential NME charts.
Signed to Island Records in early summer the Long Ryders released their second album, State Of Our Union, in September 1985 - and soon found themselves number one in the American College Radio/Alternative charts for four weeks running. Their anthemic “Looking For Lewis And Clark” crashed onto the UK Singles Chart and became their signature song.
The following year was spent consolidating their success. In America R.E.M. told them, “as soon as we get through making the Replacements famous you guys are next!” In Spain they headlined a Barcelona festival to over 100,000 fans that was broadcast live on national radio. In Canada the Toronto Daily Mail called them, “the best thing to happen to roots rock since The Band.” In Italy they played eighteenth century opera houses and gave press conferences as if heads of state, and in Great Britain the Long Ryders were considered family to their fans and a breath of fresh air to the UK’s rock critics.
After a spring tour to work out new songs, the Long Ryders released Two-Fisted Tales for Island in early summer 1987. Produced by Ed Stasium (Ramones, Smithereens), it gave them a U.S. radio hit with “I Want You Bad” and touring again commenced. U2 asked them to open shows on the North American leg of their Joshua Tree tour and the high life beckoned.
Alas it was not to be. Tom Stevens left the road to be with his young family in August, and by Christmas Stephen McCarthy had also departed. Island asked Griffin and Sowders for another album but without their band mates their hearts were not in it and they foolishly, if honorably, declined. The band scattered to Indiana (Stevens), Virginia (McCarthy) and England (Griffin), with only Sowders remaining in Los Angeles.
A reunion tour consisting of a handful of dates in England, Ireland, and Spain took place in 2004. A live album documenting the occasion recorded at their triumphant London gig was subsequently released called State of Our Reunion Live 2004 (Prima Records).
In 2014 the Long Ryders played their first L.A. show in 27 years, the one-off Earle Mankey Appreciation Concert. A short run of dates in Spain followed in December of that year. On January 22, 2016, England’s Cherry Red Records released a 76-song, four-CD box set of the Long Ryders, Final Wild Songs, some two-plus years in the making. The entire band contributed a track-by-track breakdown for the set, which featured the original albums’ tracks as well as demos, singles, and rare live recordings all re-mastered, plus other package bonuses. To support the retrospective’s fantastic press reviews, the band toured Europe the last week of April and first week of May playing to ecstatic fans and enthusiastic media.
In November the Long Ryders returned to America to do a highly anticipated short run of the East Coast - their first U.S. tour in 29 years. More dates are booked for Europe and the U.S. West Coast beginning April 2017, including an appearance at the Stagecoach Festival.
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