10,000 Maniacs Biography

This US band originally comprised enigmatic vocalist Natalie Merchant (26 October 1963, Jamestown, New York, USA), backed by Robert Buck (b. 1958, Jamestown, New York, USA, d. 19 December 2000, Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, USA; guitar), John Lombardo (b. 30 September 1952; guitar), Dennis Drew (b. 8 August 1957; keyboards) and Steven Gustafson (b. 10 April 1957; bass). Merchant, Buck, Drew, and Gustafson first started playing together in Jamestown, New York in February 1981 under the name of Still Life, adding Lombardo and changing their name shortly afterwards. The title was derived from the 1960s horror movie, 2, 000 Maniacs. They initially specialized in cover versions of songs by such bands as Joy Division and Gang Of Four, but would later change from a rock pop format to one that encompassed folk and world traditions. Drummer Jerome Augustyniak (b. 2 September 1958) joined the line-up following the release of 1982’s Human Conflict Number Five EP, and helped record the band’s debut album, Secrets Of The I Ching. BBC disc jockey John Peel endorsed ‘My Mother The War’, and it appeared in his Festive 50 selection for 1983.

The band was signed to Elektra Records in 1985, and after a well-received UK tour recorded The Wishing Chair with Joe Boyd as producer. Lombardo left the band in 1986 following more strenuous touring. There was a change of producer for In My Tribe, with Peter Asher stepping in, as he did with the subsequent release, Blind Man’s Zoo. The production change obviously worked, with the highly acclaimed In My Tribe breaking into the US Top 40 in 1987, going gold in 1988 and platinum the following year. ‘Peace Train’ received a great deal of airplay, but following alleged death threat declarations to American servicemen by Yusuf Islam, formerly Cat Stevens, the writer of the song, the band insisted that any re-pressing of the album should exclude the aforementioned track. Blind Man’s Zoo went into the US Top 20 in 1989, achieving gold status the same year. Following the release of Blind Man’s Zoo, the band remained on the road from June to December of 1989. This consolidated their standing as a highly original outfit, albeit one utilizing several musical influences. This was superbly demonstrated with Our Time In Eden, particularly the lilting ‘Noah’s Dove’ and the punchy brass of ‘Few And Far Between’. Merchant’s ‘Jezebel’ featured string arrangements by Paul Buckmaster. Hope Chest was a remixed compilation of the band’s first two independently released albums.

In September 1993, Merchant departed to develop her solo career, commenting ‘There is no ill will between the members of the group, this is a natural passage.’ Shortly afterwards, the band enjoyed their biggest US success when a cover version of Patti Smith’s ‘Because The Night’, taken from MTV Unplugged, Merchant’s last recording with the band, reached number 11 in the singles chart. The 10, 000 Maniacs persevered by recruiting former member Lombardo and singer/violinist Mary Ramsey (b. 24 December 1963), with whom Lombardo had spent the intervening years recording as John And Mary. This line-up recorded two pleasant but unremarkable folk rock collections before Buck succumbed to liver disease and died in December 2000.

Source: The Encyclopedia of Popular Music by Colin Larkin. Licensed from Muze.