As he picked through the reel-to-reel tapes of the Jayhawks' first recording, Gary Louris sounded somewhat embarrassed the other day that the 1986 album is only now seeing the light of day again.
"It made a lot of money for people on eBay over the years -- but not for us," the Jayhawks co-leader quipped. "We probably should've done this sooner, and tried to."
The record in question is known to fans as "The Bunkhouse Album," made at Control Sound Studio in south Minneapolis for Bunkhouse Records, a small label run by then-manager Charlie Pine. Only 2,000 copies were pressed on vinyl, and, Louris said, "I think Charlie kept a few boxes for himself."
After decades of having fans ask about it (and bootleg it), the album -- officially titled "The Jayhawks" -- will finally be reissued Tuesday on Lost Highway Records. It's the first time "The Jayhawks" has been available on CD or digital format (legally), and only one of the songs was ever officially released ("Falling Star," on last year's anthology, "Music From the North Country").
The band didn't think about reissuing its debut "because we were focused on what we were doing in the '90s," Louris explained. "I started years ago saying we should put it out, but it fell on deaf ears -- in part because I was dealing largely with [producer/label executive] Rick Rubin, who has 100 things going on at once. And then it got mired in lawyers."
While hardly on par with the classic albums the Jayhawks made in the '90s, the remastered "Bunkhouse" collection has all the charm of a successful first date.
"The Liquor Store Came First" and the Flying Burrito Brothers-styled "Cherry Pie" show a young rock band getting its twang on long before alt-country came into vogue. More sophisticated fare such as "Let the Critics Wonder," "King of Kings" and "Falling Star" capture Louris and then-chief singer Mark Olson developing their harmonizing and writing skills together. Louris credited the band's drummer at the time, Norm Rogers (now a manager at Brit's Pub), for "giving us a punky kick." He also praised Pine (with whom he has lost touch) for "really getting us organized and being a positive force for this band."
Louris summarized: "Some of those songs, we're trying a little too hard to sound like somebody else, but some of them are brilliant in their own right.
"It's a band in search of its sound, but I think it really shows Olson, in that period, was very prolific. I was a bit in awe of him. He would come up with so many songs and was charismatic -- still is, too."
Another Louris/Olson CD
Olson and Louris are about two-thirds finished with a follow-up to last year's well-received all-acoustic duo disc, "Ready for the Flood." Olson also has a new solo disc, "Kite of Many Colors," coming out in July. As for Louris, he is producing an album for Boston folkie Dar Williams, playing assorted solo gigs (including one in Wabasha, Minn., on Saturday) and co-writing with other singers in Los Angeles and Nashville.
"Be careful what you wish for," he deadpanned, pointing back to his intent to "try other things" when he disbanded the Jayhawks in 2005.
After reuniting last year in Minneapolis for the Basilica Block Party, Louris, Olson and the Jayhawks' mid-'90s lineup are getting together again for three shows at First Avenue on June 19-21. The gigs initially were timed to the expanded reissues of the Jayhawks' mid-'90s albums, but those releases have been delayed. Still, Louris said, "I think finally getting this record out is achievement enough, something definitely worth celebrating."
Chris Riemenschneider • 612-673-4658