On the Side: Peter Buck

Last week, over at the Star Maker Machine blog, I posted about a band called Tuatara that features R.E.M.’s Peter Buck

That got me thinking about Buck and his seemingly endless work on side projects outside of his main work with R.E.M. Today I’m going to take a closer look at Peter Buck and some of the work he’s done on the side

First, though, we have to start with R.E.M. The band from Athens, GA is my favorite of all time, and that will never change. I love Michael Stipe’s murky lyrics on those early IRS Records releases. Bill Berry and Mike Mills form a tight rhythm section on those releases as well, all while providing some beautiful harmonies and counter-melodies for Stipe to sing over. Of course, the foundation for all of this comes from Buck’s chiming Rickenbacker guitar.

Two of the best examples of Buck’s guitar sound are found on “Pretty Persuasion” from 1984’s Reckoning and “These Days” from 1986’s Life’s Rich Pageant (my favorite R.E.M. album).

R.E.M.: Pretty Persuasion (Buy Album)
R.E.M.: These Days (Buy Album)

In 1984, Buck, Berry, and Mills from R.E.M. hooked up with songwriter Warren Zevon (“Werewolves of London”) to form an underground supergroup called The Hindu Love Gods. The ad hoc quartet released one single in 1985 and then reconvened in 1987 to work on Zevon’s solo album, Sentimental Hygiene. One night during the Hygiene sessions the musicians stayed late in the studio. With the aid of a little alcohol, they recorded an album that would finally be issued in 1990 as a self-titled Hindu Love Gods release. The album mostly is made up of boozy electric covers of classic blues songs… and an interesting take on Prince’s “Raspberry Beret.” This album will be re-issued by Rhino Records August 26th.

Here is that Prince cover and a raucous version of Willie Dixon’s “Wang Dang Doodle.”

Hindu Love Gods: Raspberry Beret (Buy Album)
Hindu Love Gods: Wang Dang Doodle (Buy Album)

In 1992, Buck stepped into the studio with Uncle Tupelo as producer of their album March 16-20, 1992, an acoustic album named after the dates it was recorded. The members of Uncle Tupelo lived at Buck’s home in Athens during the recording sessions and would arrange material with Buck at night so they could have songs ready to go for the studio during the day. The mandolin played by Tupelo sideman Brian Henneman on the record is the same one played by Buck on R.E.M.’s mega-hit “Losing My Religion.”

Presented here are the instrumental, “Sandusky,” and the bootlegger’s anthem, “Moonshiner.”

Uncle Tupelo: Sandusky (Buy Album)
Uncle Tupelo: Moonshiner (Buy Album)

In 1996, Buck joined his friends drummer Barrett Martin of Screaming Trees, bassist Justin Harwood from Luna, and horn player Skerik from Garage a Trois to form the band Tuatara. Tuatara plays instrumental music that blends elements of jazz and rock into a type of world music that often has a decidedly Eastern feel. Again, I posted more on Tuatara over at Star Maker Machine.

Here are two tracks that were co-written by Peter Buck. “Land of Apples” comes from the 1997 debut album Breaking the Ethers, while “L’Espionnage Pomme de Terre” is from 1998’s Trading with the Enemy.

Tuatara: Land of Apples (Buy Album)
Tuatara: L’Espionnage Pomme de Terre (Buy Album)

One of Buck’s longest running side projects is a band called The Minus 5. Formed in 1995, The Minus 5 is fronted by Scott McCaughey of The Young Fresh Fellows and features a rotating cast of musicians, almost always including Peter Buck. McCaughey has long toured with R.E.M. as an extra musician, so the pairing with Buck seems natural. In 2003, McCaughey and Buck collaborated the band Wilco for a Minus 5 album called Down with Wilco.

The album draws heavily from 60’s pop acts like The Beatles and The Beach Boys. Two fine examples are the bouncy “Retrieval of You” and the more sombre “Daggers Drawn.”

The Minus 5: Retrieval of You (Buy Album)
The Minus 5: Daggers Drawn (Buy Album)

Buck’s most recent collaboration with McCaughey was released earlier this year on Yep Roc under the name, The Baseball Project. For this project, McCaughey joined with Steve Wynn of The Dream Syndicate to pen a collection of songs about our national past time. Buck was enlisted to play guitar on the album. The song posted here, “Past Time,” pays tribute to several fondly remembered characters and events of baseball lore. “Past Time” recalls Oscar Gamble’s afro, Pete Rose’s collision with Ray Fosse, and Denny McClain’s short-lived recording career.

The Baseball Project: Past Time (Buy Album)

This is by no means an exhaustive or complete list of Buck’s work over the last 25 years, but I think it’s a nice place to start. Buck’s primary band R.E.M. released Accelerate earlier this year, a collection of rocking, politically conscious songs that has been hailed as a return to form for the band. And although R.E.M. is still going strong… I’m sure we’ll see some more side projects from Peter Buck in the future.

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