A boozy, side-project covers band which gradually evolved into a kind of roots-rock supergroup, Golden Smog was a loosely-affiliated unit comprised, at various times, of members of Soul Asylum, the Replacements, Wilco, the Jayhawks, Run Westy Run and the Honeydogs. The group first came together in the Minneapolis area in the late '80s as a country-rock reaction to the punk and hardcore sounds that dominated the Twin Cities' musical scene at the time; eventually Golden Smog became something of a fixture at local clubs, where they played a handful of shows annually. From the onset, the line-up was mercurial, although Run Westy Run vocalist Kraig Johnson as well as guitarists Dan Murphy (Soul Asylum) and Gary Louris (the Jayhawks) were relative constants. Smog shows were usually thematically-based, in keeping with the tongue-in-cheek nature of the project; one performance was devoted exclusively to Eagles covers, while another paid homage to the Rolling Stones, and was billed "Her Satanic Majesty's Paycheck."
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Somewhat unexpectedly, a five-cut covers EP, On Golden Smog, appeared in 1992. While the closing track, a rendition of Thin Lizzy's "Cowboy Song" sung by Soul Asylum roadie Bill Sullivan, followed in the project's original devil-may-care spirit, the remainder of the record was considerably more focused, keeping in line with the primary musical work of the band members--who, this time out, were essentially Johnson, Murphy, Louris, Jayhawks bassist Marc Perlman and ex-Replacements drummer Chris Mars, along with Soul Asylum vocalist Dave Pirner (on a cover of Bad Company's "Shooting Star"). Even more unexpectedly, the next Golden Smog effort--1996's full-length Down By the Old Mainstream--was made up largely of original material composed strictly for the project. With a line-up that included Johnson, Murphy, Louris, Perlman, Wilco frontman Jeff Tweedy and Honeydogs drummer Noah Levy (all of whom recorded under pseudonyms as a result of contractual obligations), the record bore few reminders of the Smog's beer-soaked origins, instead revealing a more mature and thoughtful band breaking free of the restraints of their day jobs and having some serious fun in the process.
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