December 17, 2009 – 12:52 pm

There was a time when roots rock ruled, where bands such as the Long Ryders and Green On Red (remember No Free Lunch and Gee Ain’t It Funny How Time Slips Away?) outplayed most things in the record stores. And for Live! Music Review editor Bill Glahn, there’s just no plain riding’ off into the sunset for Sid Griffin and his band.

The first time I ever spoke to Sid Giffin was before a Long Ryders show at the Chestnut Cabaret in Philadelphia. I don’t remember the circumstances leading to the meeting, but a label rep most likely arranged it. At the time, I owned Alternative Records in Bucks County, PA and the Long Ryders albums (along with Green On Red) received more in-store play than probably the 100 closest competitors combined. I was a huge fan. We sold a lot of Long Ryder albums. The conversation went something like this…

“Hi Sid, I really dig you guys.”

“Well thanks. We really appreciate your support.”

Not something any artist would ever remember and not something any fan would ever forget.

The next time I shook hands with Sid was in 1996 at an SXSW showcase at Maggie Mae’s West in Austin. Sid and I had a mutual friend from England (where Griffin now lives) named “J” that produced some high quality Beach Boy bootlegs. J, knowing me to be a Long Ryders fanatic, took me along for the show and a get-together afterwards with Sid and his lovely wife, reed player Kate St. John. Griffin, I learned, was a bootleg connoisseur of sorts and a schooled journalist.

From that encounter, Sid Griffin became the go-to guy anytime a bootleg by Gene Clark, The Byrds, Gram Parsons or similar release landed on my desk. His reviews appeared frequently in L!MR and were always insightful, dosed not only with sharp critical analysis, but also ample historical notations of the type that only a serious student of the genre could provide.

Some of those reviews will be forthcoming in later columns of The Best of Live! Music Review. But it isn’t Sid’s writing that is the subject of this week’s article. It’s the music of the Long Ryders.

No MAFIAA Needed: Independent Artist Download of the Week

Picture by Mike Kostek.

In 2004, yielding to fan desires, the classic Long Ryders lineup regrouped for a European tour. This tour is documented on the Prima Records release, The State of Our Reunion - Live 2004. ( Sid Griffin, being a serious music fan himself, knows that fans often crave more than what can be found on official releases. In that spirit, four tracks not on the official release can be found as free downloads on his website including high energy covers of the 13th Floor Elevator’s “You’re Gonna Miss Me” and Dylan’s “Just Like Tom Thumbs Blues.” ( The first words Sid Griffin ever spoke to me were not idle ones. If only the MAFIAA appreciated fan support as much.

L!MR Memories

One of Sid Griffin’s post-Ryders bands, Western Electric, did a 10-date tour of the States in 2000. One of the stops was St. Paul, MN where L!MR Roll the Tapes columnist Tom Fisher lived. It was a good excuse to catch up with Sid and to hang out with Tom, one of my favorite people in the world. Tom was an avid taper and trader. I had sent him a copy of the Western Electric album a few months prior and he had been blown away. When we met up with the band at the Turf Club, Tom had his tape deck in tow.

Over dinner, Tom asked Sid if it would be OK to tape the show. No problem.

Tom was a very humble individual with a real calm tone to his voice - an instantly loveable guy who lived and breathed music. Sid took to him right away.

About half way through the set, Sid stepped up to the mic and stated, “I want to dedicate this next tune to my old friend Bill and my new friend Tom. I just want to tell them how much I love them before the FBI finds out what they’re doing.”

There was something more than just humor in that line. And the emphasis on that “something more” came through in spades with the version of Gene Clark’s “Straight From the Heart” that followed.

Tom always considered the tape of that show to be the prize of his music collection and a highlight of his music world.

What many people don’t know about Tom is that he spent his entire adult life in service to others. Tom passed away four years ago. I miss him dearly, as do a great many other folks. If there is a single instance, more than any other, that I can cite to validate the existence of Live! Music Review, it would be playing a minor role (a conduit, so to speak) where someone who had given so much love to the world was on the receiving end this time. Rest in peace, Tom. Thanks, Sid.

(Bill Glahn)

And now, to the archives…

Rambling Notes, October 1999

[Editor’s note: Sid Griffin wasn’t the only Long Ryder to contribute to the pages of L!MR. When the first Long Ryders CD bootleg appeared, bassist Tom “Bingo” Stevens wrote about it on his website. ( Tom was gracious enough to allow L!MR to reprint his essay in our Rambling Notes column. A review of the bootleg he cites was contained in the same issue.]

By Tom Stevens

Bootlegs. I love ‘em. It’s August of 1971 again, I’m 14, at a music camp at Ball State University in Muncie, Indiana. I’m walking hand in hand into a record store near the campus with Laura Berry, a beautful, frizzy light brown-haired violinist from Fort Wayne I’d just met. On a wire rack to the right of the counter was a rack of bootlegs. James Taylor, Cat Stevens. Yeesh, I thought, folk’s sure getting popular. I wound up purchasing a Jimi Hendrix record and leaving, no doubt to engage in more pleasures of the 14-year-old flesh with my new sweetie Laura.

Hearing the same records over and over got boring. The thought of hearing my faves in the raw was a welcome promise when I first read about the existence of bootleg LPs in Hit Parader magazine. It was about how pissed Led Zeppelin (or their manager) was over their bootlegs.

Later when I was in a band that a lot of people came to see play, I found myself bootlegged. Strange. When you’re listening to other people’ performances on a bootleg, you expect them not to be up to professional standards, which is exactly what intrigued me. Slickness is falsehood, guts are everything.

The buzz I got listening to The Beatles “Kum Back” or the Stones “Live-r Than You’ll Ever Be” was indescribable. Now, while listening to an audience tape of me, I was reminded of the first time I heard a tape of myself talking into a tape recorder at a young age. Like meeting a new person, or in this case, a new band.

I personally allow taping at all my gigs. The last big venue I played there was a sign saying “no taping/no photography” like it was a proprietary thing. Who knows how many brilliant, earthshaking performances have been lost forever over the centuries due to that mindset. Speaking of proprietary, a big moralistic complaint about bootlegs is that the artist sees no money from it. Wrong, bucko.

Canadian radio plays (and subsequent royalty checks) from my unreleased song “Silence” made me release it legitimately on Points Revisited. Through the miracle of bootlegging (or in this case, tape trading) some radio station in Canada was playing my song, and reporting it to MI, who in turn was sending me checks. Go figure.

As I write, The Long Ryders were just honored by their second bootleg and first boot CD. This was taken from a Bottom Line in New York FM broadcast from 1987, at the start of my last tour with them. I thought it was a terrific piece, better than the live BBC disc that was taken from the UK leg of that fateful tour.

The Long Ryders, despite being praised in the press, have up to now never been a cash cow for anyone, so I knew immediately that whoever it was that put out that disc did not consider the profit motive (or lack thereof) but rather, took the risk on sheer love of the music. All I can say is, thanks.

The End Of The Trail (Massive Attack CD-R #990129, 68:12)

By Steve Oberhaus

Venue: states The Bottom Line, New York City, July 5, 1987, but actually May 7.

Sound Quality: A low-gen copy of a (formerly incomplete) well-circulated concert, this recording accurately reflects the sonic qualities of this FM broadcast. Which is a shame, because the sound engineer that mixed this recording for broadcast ought to be shot. The overwhelming “arena” ambiance applied to the recording doesn’t fit the intimate nature of this band at all. To hear live Long Ryders from this period under the best of circumstances I recommend that the reader search out the British official release “BBC Radio One Live In Concert” (Windsong WINCD 058) which contains eight tracks from a concert at the Mayfair Club, Newcastle, UK on March 6, 1987.

Tracks: Prairie Fire, Lights of Downtown, Man of Misery, Stitch in Time, State of My Union, Harriet Tubman’s Gonna Carry Me Home, Capturing the Flag, Long Story Short, Baby’s in Toyland, I Want You Bad, Spectacular Fall, I Had a Dream, You Just Can’t Ride the Boxcars Anymore, Gunslinger Man, Looking for Lewis & Clark, Prisoners of Rock ‘n’ Roll, 10-5-60

Comments: Don’t let my comments about the sound quality dissuade you from considering this disc for purchase. As bootlegs go, it ain’t half bad. And, as far as Long Ryders bootlegs go, well, as criminal as it may be, there just isn’t anything else to compare it to. There’s an old vinyl piece from a 1985 UK show featuring a fair audience recording, another recently released CD of average audience quality (also from ‘85) called “Five Card Draw,” the official boot “Metallic B.O.” and a fair representation of live tapes in circulation among the ever loyal Long Ryders fan base. Lacking from my own collection is a complete show recording from ‘87 beyond a few average-sounding audience tapes. Lacking, that is, until now.

You would never know the importance of the Long Ryders based on their chart accomplishments. Their best showing was in the UK where their State Of Our Union album made the Top 40 album charts. But ask any upstart alt-country practitioner about influences and it isn’t long before the Long Ryders enter the conversation. If you take the “No depression” movement back to its beginnings you’ll find that the whole thing started just about the time the Long Ryers were winding down.

In 1986 a band called Chicken Truck cut about 90 minutes of demos that pulled its most obvious influences (Neil Young, The Byrds, Gram Parsons, early ’60s country) from the same places as did the Long Ryders. Incorporated within those sounds, however, were a strong backbeat, faster tempos, and a punk ethic that the Ryders had introduced into the genre about a half-decade earlier.

Chicken Truck was led by a young Missourian from the Ozark hills south of St. Louis named Brian Henniman who would introduce these sounds about a year later to the already punkish Uncle Tupelo. Henniman became Uncle Tupelo’s roadie and the rest is history. What had been known in the mid-’80s as the Paisley Underground was given a new title for a new generation. With a change of bass players, Chicken Truck reformed as The Bottlerockets. Uncle Tupelo disbanded to form two new bands, Son Volt and Wilco.

Neil Young offered the world two choices - to burn out or to fade away. As this disc proves, the Long Ryders chose neither. While the band members have hinted at low morale and industry indifference as the reasons for their breakup, these problems don’t seem to carry to the stage where the Long Ryders give a riveting performance (ditto on the official BBC disc) from start to finish.

Aptly titled, this disc from the band’s last tour shows a band at the top of their game. No signs of self-destruction. No signs of faded glory. The audience gets their money’s worth and then some. Blessed with three excellent song writers (Griffin, Stevens and Stephen McCarthy), the Long Ryders at this point had four great albums to pull from plus a rousing cover of Neil Young’s “Prisoners of Rock ‘n’ Roll.” The result is a concert with no dead spots and a worthy addition to the Long Ryders legacy. Perhaps an official release someday?

2009 Update #1: Original master tapes from the Bottom Line performance were located and it was indeed released officially as “Three Minute Warnings: The Long Ryders Live in New York” on Prima Records with superior sound quality. This note from the Sid Griffin website: “Interestingly enough those original master tapes ran out with some ninety seconds left in the concert so the tail end of 10-5-60 on Three Minute Warnings is actually a digital edit from The End Of The Trail bootleg!

2009 Update #2: The Long Ryders regrouped for a one-time performance in Atlanta earlier this year. Original member Barry Shank even showed up to join the band on his much loved tune “Ivory Tower.” Fan videos can be found on Tom Stevens website.

2009 Update #3: Esther Mae Griffin, born during the period Sid was writing for L!MR, is a budding star in her own right! Caught on stage in Madrid, 2006. (from


  2. allrighty..let`s have that long ryders boot as an upload..

    By sluggo on Dec 17, 2009

  3. This comment might be a sidetrack from the article, but too bad. I knew Tom. I don’t know what else to say. He was an extremly intelligent, compassionate and really knew music. I had the pleasure to meet Bill over at Tom’s apartment a couple of times. When Tom turned me on to Western Electric, it helped take away the recent stresses of a divorce and job loss. Seriously, that music was/is a balm. Thank you, Tom. I still owe you.

    By todd on Dec 19, 2009

  4. @sluggo The End of the Trail is available officially in upgraded quaity as Three Second Warnings. You can find purchase info on the Sid Griffin website listed in the article. Please support those indie artists that share downloads of non-LP tracks with their fans, such as the Long Ryders.

    @BigO Thanks a bunch for the upload of the Stanford show. Very cool!

    @Todd I met a lot of music fans and traders at Tom’s apartment. Think I remember you but names are fuzzy for me. Thanks for your testimonial! Very appropriate and not a sidetack at all. I love hearing these stories.

    By bill glahn on Dec 22, 2009

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