10,000 Maniacs

  • Alternative rock band formed in 1981 from Jamestown New York. The primary members during the 80s and 90s were Natalie Merchant (piano, lead vocals, lyrics, songwriting), Rob Buck (guitars, songwriting), John Lombardo (guitars, songwriting), Dennis Drew (keyboards, backing vocals, songwriting), Steve Gustafson (bass guitar, backing vocals) and Jerry Augustyniak (drums, backing vocals, songwriting).
  • Drew, Gustafson and Buck formed a band named Still Life in 1981, along with a drummer and a vocalist. Lombardo joined the group a few months after they formed. The vocalist soon left, and Gustafson invited 17 year old Merchant to take over the vocals for the group. They changed the name of the band to Burn Victims, and then to 10,000 Maniacs after learning about a 1964 horror film titled Two Thousand Maniacs. Several drummers came and went, until Augustyniak joined in early 1983. They initially performed cover songs in concerts, but over time, they began to perform their own songs, with Merchant writing lyrics and Lombardo writing melody.
  • In 1982, they recorded an EP titled Human Conflict Number Five, releasing it on their own independent label. The following year, they recorded their debut album, Secrets of the I Ching, again releasing it on their own label, with only 500 copies made. It caught the attention of the music press in the UK, and the song My Mother the War received some air play and became a minor hit in England. They performed at small venues in the U.S. and UK, developing a fan base with their alternative rock sound.
  • In 1984, a music talent manager discovered them, and by November that year, they were signed to a recording contract. They recorded their second studio album, The Wishing Chair, in 1985. It was not a commercial success, but it received favorable reviews from the critics, and the song Scorpio Rising got some airplay on MTV. Lombardo left the group in 1986 due to creative and political differences, forming a folk duo with Mary Ramsey named John & Mary. 10,000 Maniacs continued on as a five member group.
  • Their breakthrough came with the In My Tribe album, released in 1987. It remained on the Billboard 200 album chart for 77 weeks and eventually it was certified 2x platinum. Their first single to chart was Like the Weather, which peaked at #68 on the Hot 100, followed by What’s the Matter Here?, which reached #9 on the Modern Rock Tracks chart. Their next album, 1989’s Blind Man’s Zoo, became their highest charting album, peaking at #13 on the album chart. It was certified platinum, and it included the single Trouble Me, which reached #3 on the Modern Rock Tracks chart.
  • While recording their next album in 1991, Merchant informed the other members that she intended to leave the group in two years to focus on a solo career. The album Our Time In Eden was released in 1992. Mary Ramsey from John & Mary played violin and viola on the album – John & Mary often opened for 10,000 Maniacs at concerts. The album reached 2x platinum status. It included their only #1 hit, These Are Days, which topped the Modern Rock Tracks chart. It also included Candy Everybody Wants, which peaked at #5 on the Alternative Airplay chart. That year, they performed both songs on Saturday Night Live.
  • As Merchant’s departure in 1993 approached, the group performed at the MTV Inaugural Ball for President Clinton, and in April that year, they performed on MTV Unplugged. A live album was released of the show, and it became their best selling recording, with sales of over 3 million copies in the U.S. Their acoustic cover of Patti Smith’s Because the Night was released as a single, and it peaked at #11 on the Hot 100, their highest charting crossover hit.
  • After Merchant left, Lombardo rejoined the group, and Ramsey took over as vocalist. They released albums in 1997 and 1999. Their cover of Roxy Music’s More Than This was a modest hit, peaking at #25 on the Hot 100. In 2000, Buck died from liver failure, and the band took a break.
  • In 2002, Gustafson, Drew and Augustyniak reformed the group with new vocalist Oskar Saville and guitarist Jeff Erickson. They performed occasionally at festivals. In 2007, Ramsey rejoined 10,000 Maniacs, replacing Saville, and in 2015, Lombardo rejoined, bringing the group to six. Albums were released in 2013 and 2015 and EPs were released in 2011 and 2016, and the group actively toured. They recorded new music during the summer of 2021, and their 40th anniversary tour started in September 2021.
  • 10,000 Maniacs still has a following, though I think that their days with Natalie Merchant were their best. She did well early on with her solo career (her debut album Tigerlily was 5x platinum). Here’s their MTV Unplugged performance of Because the Night (yet another Bruce Springsteen-penned classic).

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