Rock’n’roll reunion tours come in many shapes, whether it’s the classic rock band cashing in on decades-old nostalgia, or indie-rock darlings tromping though the clubs trying to recover a spark of their old glory. But expect something different when estranged Jayhawks principals Gary Louris and Mark Olson start their first tour together Friday (Feb. 18) in Ames, Iowa.
“I don’t see ourselves as one of the people who ‘get the band back together and make some money,'” Louris said. “Mark and I just want to sing together again. There’s something about the way we sing that is bigger than the sum of its parts.”
As the main songwriters for the Minneapolis-based band, Olson and Louris took the country/rock fusion of the Byrds and Flying Burrito Brothers and turbo-charged it with a driving rhythm section and beautiful soaring harmonies. But just as the Jayhawks looked like they were ready to break into the mainstream, Olson, fed up with the music business and touring, quit the band in 1995 after 10 years.
The Olson-Louris tour is not a Jayhawks reunion tour per se; bassist Marc Perlman and drummer Tim O’Reagan are not involved. “We might do that at some point, but I would prefer this to be less of a reunion tour,” Louris said. “I want the focus to be on Mark and I singing together.”
The outing, including a three-night stand at New York’s Bowery Ballroom, ends March 12 in Chicago. “The first plan is to do this tour,” said Olson. “We’ve been talking about writing some new material. I would like to sit down and make a record.”
The Jayhawks emerged from the mid-’80s Minneapolis club scene, but unlike the punk-inspired rock that propelled the Replacements, Husker Du and Soul Asylum, Olson and Louris’ influences went back to Sun Records and artists like Willie Nelson and Gram Parsons.
As the Jayhawks’ popularity grew, Olson began to tire of what Louris calls “the dog and pony show” of the record industry. He had also recently married songwriter Victoria Williams and moved to the desert east of Los Angeles.
In October 1995, Olson flew in to work on the next record with Louris in Minneapolis. “I remember him leaving my house on Halloween after we’d been writing,” Louris said. “And about five minutes later, he called me and said, ‘I gotta come back and talk.’ I knew what he was going to say. It was an emotional situation.”
Olson went on to make a series of modest acoustic folk records with Williams on his own. And Louris reconvened the Jayhawks without his partner. “We’d agreed at the time that there would be no Jayhawks without Mark,” Louris said. “But after the dust settled, we wanted to keep going. Mark had a huge problem with that.”
In fact, they didn’t speak for six years. “I still had some emotional investment in whatever I’d done with the group,” Olson said. “It was just better to separate for a while.”
But in 2001, Louris and Olson were asked to write two songs for the Dennis Quaid film “The Rookie.” The producers didn’t use the songs, but one surfaced on Olson’s 2002 album “December’s Child” and it ignited a creative spark within them.
“I didn’t realize how much I was going to miss him until the last few years, especially onstage,” Louris said. “But in the last six or eight months we started talking on a regular basis. We have a bond beyond music.”
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