Cowboy Junkies Biography

Toronto, Canada-based musicians Michael Timmins (21 April 1959, Montreal, Quebec, Canada; guitar) and Alan Anton (b. Alan Alizojvodic, 22 June 1959, Montreal, Quebec, Canada; bass) formed a band called Hunger Project in 1979. It was not successful and, now basing themselves in the UK, they formed the experimental instrumental outfit, Germinal. Returning to Toronto, they joined forces with Timmins’ sister Margo (b. 27 January 1961, Montreal, Quebec, Canada; vocals) and brother Peter (b. 29 October 1965, Montreal, Quebec, Canada; drums). As the Cowboy Junkies (which was simply an attention-grabbing name), they recorded their 1986 debut, Whites Off Earth Now!! (comprised predominantly of rock and blues cover versions) in a private house and released the album via their own Latent Recordings label. Their second album, The Trinity Session (1988), was made with one microphone in the Church of the Holy Trinity, Toronto, for $250. The band’s spartan, less-is-more sound captivated listeners and, with little publicity, the second album sold over 250, 000 copies in North America after being re-released by RCA Records. The tracks included a curious reinterpretation of ‘Blue Moon’ called ‘Blue Moon Revisited (Song For Elvis)’ and the country standards, ‘I’m So Lonesome I Could Cry’ and ‘Walkin’ After Midnight’. Lou Reed praised their version of his song ‘Sweet Jane’, and in 1991, they contributed ‘To Lay Me Down’ to a tribute to the Grateful Dead, Deadicated. Their previous year’s album The Caution Horses, included several vintage country songs, which, true to form, were performed in their whispered, five miles-per-hour style.

The extent of the Cowboy Junkies’ fast-growing reputation was sufficient for them to promote the 1992 album Black Eyed Man at London’s Royal Albert Hall. By the release of 1996’s Lay It Down, their debut for Geffen Records, the band had firmly settled into such a distinctive style that it was hard to see how they could expand their appeal to reach a wider audience. Critically acclaimed and cultishly adored, the album was recorded to the highest standards. Michael Timmins’ understated guitar was very much the lead instrument, with barely a hint of a solo, perfectly complementing Margo Timmins’ eerie vocals. Miles From Our Home (1998) was too well recorded for some, although there was no denying the quality that permeates everything the band releases.

The live Waltz Across America documented highlights from the 1999/2000 North American tour, and was initially released only on the band’s website before being made available on the revived Latent Recordings label. The Cowboy Junkies made their recording debut for their new international label Zoë (an imprint of Rounder Records) with 2001’s Open, their best collection of songs since 1993’s Pale Sun, Crescent Moon. Their second Zoë release, One Soul Now, followed in summer 2004. The following year’s Early 21st Century Blues featured some strongly anti-war material, including cover versions of material by Bruce Springsteen, John Lennon and Bob Dylan. In November 2006, the Cowboy Junkies performed an anniversary concert of the Trinity Sessions at the same venue with guest appearances from Ryan Adams, Vic Chesnutt and Natalie Merchant. The resulting album, released at the end of 2007 in a year that had also seen the arrival of a new studio album, was packaged with accompanying documentary and concert films.

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

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