The Long Ryders were formed Thanksgiving 1981 in west Los Angeles, California. Kentucky born guitarist Sid Griffin left his sixties punk band The Unclaimed after having bonded musically with former Boxboys drummer Greg Sowders at a jam session in the notorious ON Klub in Silverlake. The other guitar player was Steve Wynn but he left to form the Dream Syndicate whereupon Virginia’s Stephen McCarthy, a country music lover new to L.A., stepped in after answering a “Musician’s Wanted” ad in a local Korean free newspaper.
The original bass player was Barry Shank but he quit to return to graduate school and was replaced by ex-pat Englishman Des Brewer who owned two budgies. This lineup recorded and released an EP in 1983 produced by ex-Sparks guitarist/former Beach Boys engineer Earle Mankey called 10-5-60 and it was so well received they decided to tour the USA. Des Brewer dropped out at this point to continue his career as a longshoreman in San Pedro and was replaced by Indiana’s Tom Stevens, a former candidate in the NASA “Right Stuff” space program in Houston.
Signed to (then) hip indie label Frontier the band recorded their debut LP Native Sons with the late, great Henry Lewy producing. Lewy had worked with the Flying Burrito Brothers on their classic Gilded Palace Of Sin LP as well as with the Association, Barbara Streisand and Van Morrison. Lewy had enjoyed a long, fruitful studio partnership with Joni Mitchell. Together the Long Ryders and Lewy came up with an album called “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 Whistle Test TV show.
After touring the USA for much of 1984 Europe was theirs for the taking in March/April 1985. Sold out gig followed sold out gig and the band were second only to The Smiths in the alternative charts of the day. (They remain second to the Smiths even now.) Signed to Island Records in early summer the band released the album State Of Our Union in September 1985 and soon found themselves number one in the College Radio/Alternative charts for four weeks running in their native land. Their single “Looking For Lewis & Clark” crashed into the charts and became their signature song.
The following year was spent consolidating their success. In America REM told them “soon as we get through making the Replacements famous you guys are next!”, in Spain they headlined a Barcelona festival to over 100,000 which 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 in early summer 1987. Produced by Ramones/Smithereens whiz Ed Stasium, it gave them a radio turntable hit with “I Want You Bad” and the touring began again. U2 asked them to open shows on the North American wing of their Joshua Tree tour and the high life beckoned.
Alas it was not to be. Bassist Tom Stevens left the road to be with his young family in August and by Christmas Stephen McCarthy left to write musicials. Island asked Messers. Griffin and Sowders for another album but without their old compadres their hearts were not in it and they foolishly if honorably declined. (Griffin and Sowders will happily make Island that album now if they are still interested. Call us!)
Since then The Long Ryders have graced us with several reissues, The Very Best Of The Long Ryders (Prima Records Ltd.), released June 2004, and October 2008 saw the release of Live 2004: State Of Our Reunion, a nineteen track reprise of the Ryders legendary reunion tour.
In 2014 the Long Ryders played their first L.A. show in 27 years, the Earle Mankey Appreciation Concert. A short run of dates in Spain followed in December of that year.
On January 22, 2016, Cherry Red Records in London released a four CD box set of the Long Ryders. A tour of Europe took place on the last week of April/first week of May and a West Coast tour of the USA followed.
On February 15, 2019, Cherry Red Records in London released the first new Long Ryders album in over thirty years, Psychedelic Country Soul. (In the USA the album was released by Omnivore.) And you know what this means… it means the band will hit the road for live performances. So put that wighat on yo’ head and get ready to rock da joint.
Ask anyone in Wilco, the Black Crows, the Jayhawks (who employed Stephen McCarthy on their final albums and tours) or Slobberbone and they will tell you: don’t miss The Long Ryders if they come to your town. Their unforgettable live shows are spoken of in the same breath as were the live shows of such classic acts as The Faces, Sam & Dave, or even their friend Tom Petty’s in-concert act.