The Afghan Whigs
The Afghan Whigs are an American rock band from Cincinnati, Ohio, originally active from 1986 to 2001, who have since reformed.
The group – with core members Greg Dulli (vocals, rhythm guitar), Rick McCollum (lead guitar), John Curley (bass), and Steve Earle on drums – rose up around the grunge movement, evolving from a garage punk band in the vein of the Replacements, Dinosaur Jr., and Mudhoney to incorporate more soul influences into their sound and image.
After releasing their first album independently in 1988, the band signed to the Seattle-based label Sub Pop, before releasing their major-label debut and fourth album, Gentlemen, in 1993.
Pitchfork described them as "one of the few alt-bands to flourish on a major label" in the 1990s.Dulli frequently claimed in interviews that the Afghan Whigs would never get back together following their dissolution in 2001 but the group announced in 2012 that they would reunite for a series of major concerts.Early Years and Big Top Halloween (1986-1988)Greg Dulli (vocals, rhythm guitar), Rick McCollum (lead guitar), John Curley (bass), and Steve Earle (drums) formed the band in Cincinnati late in 1986.
The Afghan Whigs had evolved out of Dulli's previous band, The Black Republicans, a band that Curley later joined.
Curley would introduce Dulli to McCollum, a frequent jam partner who was famed on the local Cincinnati scene for his innovative use of effects pedals.
McCollum and Dulli would bond over their shared love of R&B, and in fact the first song The Afghan Whigs ever rehearsed was a cover of The Temptations’ “Psychedelic Shack”.
Dulli later described the intent behind The Afghan Whigs was to exist as "a cross between the Band, the Temptations, and Neil Young playing with Crazy Horse."In the wake of The Black Republicans’ breakup, Dulli had decamped to Arizona where he composed half the material for what would become Afghan Whigs’ debut album Big Top Halloween (1988), self-released on the band’s own Ultrasuede label.
"We were running through what were basically the first songs I'd ever written in order to do some demos, so we were playing really loose," Dulli recalls.
"And then all of a sudden, I found out John was having covers made." While only a thousand copies of Big Top Halloween would be pressed initially, one of them managed to capture the attention of Jonathan Poneman – the co-founder of influential Seattle-based indie label Sub Pop – which signed Afghan Whigs in 1989.
Initially, Sub Pop planned for the Whigs to only release a one-off single, but that soon led to a full-blown record contract with Sub Pop.Signing to Sub Pop and Up In It (1989–1990)Upon signing to Sub Pop, The Afghan Whigs became the first non-Northwestern U.S.
band to record for the Sub Pop label.
In 1990, Sub Pop put out Afghan Whigs’ second album Up in It: largely recorded by Nirvana producer Jack Endino and featuring the college-radio hit “Retarded,” Up in It received a favorable reception with music critics upon release.To support the album’s release, Afghan Whigs went on a package tour with grunge originators Mudhoney and Boston underground band Bullet LaVolta Up in It was followed by a limited edition single released by No.6 Records under the name 'Ornament' which included vocals by Scrawl singer Marcy Mays (who would later contribute lead vocals to future Afghan Whigs’ classic “My Curse” off the album Gentlemen).Congregation and Uptown Avondale (1992)With the 1992 album Congregation and a covers EP, Uptown Avondale, the band intentionally evolved what would become their signature sound, blending soul with psychedelic sprawl and punk abandon.
Critics noted the combination of Stax and Motown influences with indie-rock sonics on the band's own material.
Uptown Avondale featured covers of hits by soul acts such as The Supremes.Videos for notable Congregation songs like “Conjure Me” and “Turn On The Water” would receive airplay on MTV, which began to regularly cover The Afghan Whigs as a new band to watch.
Afghan Whigs would also tour extensively during this period, including a U.S.
jaunt with Scottish indie rockers Teenage Fanclub.Signing to Elektra and Gentlemen (1993)Building on the buzz that welcomed Congregation, The Afghan Whigs soon signed to a major label, Elektra Records, following a bidding war that resulted in a contract so lucrative, it featured a clause that allowed for the funding of a Dulli-scripted feature film.
that ultimately was never made.
For their major label debut, The Afghan Whigs ensconced themselves in Ardent Studios in Memphis, where Big Star, Bob Dylan, Led Zeppelin, and ZZ Top had recorded.
The result of those sessions was the 1993 album Gentlemen.Gentlemen received positive reviews from the likes of Rolling Stone,: critics would go on to praise it for its unflinching, self-flagellating lyrics and a decisive stylistic break with the grunge style epitomized by Nirvana and Mudhoney.
Gentlemen would place at No. 17 on The Village Voice’s "Pazz & Jop" critic's poll for 1993.Gentlemen proved to be The Afghan Whigs’ most commercially successful release.
The singles "Debonair" (a Modern Rock Top 20 hit) and "Gentlemen" received regular airplay on MTV and college radio; another album track, “Fountain and Fairfax,” also appeared on the television series My So-Called Life in 1994.
The lead vocals on "My Curse" were sung not by Dulli but female singer Marcy Mays of Scrawl – allegedly because the lyrics documenting the violent dissolution of a relationship were so personal, Dulli couldn't sing it.Black Love era (1996)Following the promotion of Gentlemen, The Afghan Whigs further expanded into the public eye.
In 1996, Dulli served as executive producer for the soundtrack for the Ted Demme film Beautiful Girls.
The Afghan Whigs appeared in the film as a bar band, and contributed two songs to the soundtrack: Frederick Knight’s "Be For Real" and Barry White's "Can't Get Enough of Your Love, Babe".
Dulli also was the only musician other than Dave Grohl to appear on the debut album from Foo Fighters.Eventually, however, work began anew on Afghan Whigs’ fifth full-length album, which would be called Black Love upon its release in 1996.
The band started writing demos in March 1995; the actual recording, meanwhile, took place in both Seattle and Memphis-based studios, and featured new drummer Paul Buchignani, who had replaced Steve Earle.Although previous releases explored liquor-drenched obsession, secrets and misery, Black Love stepped into a darker, seedier and complex side of Dulli’s persona, passionately taking his obsession with murder and paranoia to their logical ends.
Dulli himself noted that the songs had a conceptual framework that reflected the structure of a film, influenced by noir-influenced writer James Ellroy and violent neo-noir films like Blood Simple; other influences included pulp fiction novels, Kenneth Anger’s Hollywood Babylon, and the crime photographs of Weegee.
Other lyrical inspirations included the troubled life of Temptations singer David Ruffin for the song “Blame, Etc.”; album opener “Crime Scene Part One,” meanwhile, was allegedly influenced by the story of then-unproduced screenplay for the film The Million Dollar Hotel.Commercially, Black Love peaked at No. 79 on The Billboard Top 200 chart.
The album also received critical praise for capturing the power of the Whigs’ live show in a studio recording; its lush yet funky musicality garnered comparisons to the Rolling Stones in their 1970s-era prime and standing out once again from the day’s more conventional alternative rock.
in its distinctive embrace of black-music idioms.
The Whigs promoted Black Love with extensive touring, including a jaunt of large venues opening for a Neil Young tour that also featured Jewel.Legal dispute with Elektra and Signing to Sony/Columbia for 1965 (1998)In the wake of Black Love’s commercial disappointment, The Afghan Whigs claimed neglect and dishonest business dealings with their label, Elektra, and eventually the two parted ways, with the Whigs signing to Sony/Columbia for their next album, 1965.
The unamicable parting would cause Dulli to be treated for depression, providing subject matter for songs like “Neglekted,” which had originally been named “Sylvia” as a swipe against then-Elektra head Sylvia Rhone, that would feature on the band’s next full-length effort.Recorded in New Orleans at Daniel Lanois’ famed studio after a year’s hiatus where Dulli began another project known as The Twilight Singers, 1965 – named after the year both Dulli and Curley were born - would end up as the final Afghan Whigs album.Influenced again by film noir, as well as the gritty wordplay of rappers like Nas, 1965 would receive positive reviews in the press, praising in particular the band’s continued flair for blending soul styles with rock.
In addition to their own headlining dates, Afghan Whigs went on tour with Aerosmith as the classic-rock group’s opening act.
During the live dates for 1965, Dulli was attacked following an Austin, Texas concert date and suffered a head injury that left him in a coma; two months after Dulli’s recovery, however, Afghan Whigs returned to the road.Breakup (2001)In 2001, The Afghan Whigs broke up by circulating a press release announcement which was picked up by the major music press: in it, the band claimed their geographic disparity and family obligations of its core made it impossible for them to create new material together.
In further interviews, Dulli clarified that theirs was an amicable split, and didn’t necessarily represent an “official breakup.”ReformationsIn 2006, The Afghan Whigs temporarily reunited.
The 1965 lineup recorded two new tracks ("I’m A Soldier" and "Magazine") featured on their retrospective titled Unbreakable: A Retrospective 1990–2006, released on June 5, 2007, through Rhino Records,[6\] which critics noted rated on a par with the band’s material released during its prime.The band would not reform again until December 7, 2011, when a press release from the promoters of All Tomorrow's Parties announced that The Afghan Whigs would reunite and play at their I'll Be Your Mirror events on May 27, 2012 in London, followed by an appearance at Asbury Park, New Jersey on September 22, 2012.
A week later it was announced that the band would also be performing at both Primavera Sound festivals in 2012.
In April of that year, it was also revealed that the revitalized Afghan Whigs would be playing the 2012 edition of Lollapalooza.
Dulli clarified in interviews that playing Afghan Whigs with Curley on a 2010 solo tour and meeting with McCollum anew during that period directly led to the possibility of reforming for live performance.On May 22, 2012, the reunited Afghan Whigs (minus Steve Earle - drummer) made their debut performance first on “Late Night with Jimmy Fallon”, playing one new song, the soul cover “See and Don’t See,” and old favorite “I’m Her Slave” from Congregation.
The reunited Whigs played their first full concert the next night, however, at Manhattan venue The Bowery Ballroom, receiving critical accolades from the major media.
“Regardless of how the surprising reunion of the Afghan Whigs turns out, their show last night at the Bowery Ballroom will go down as the '90s alt-rock heroes' greatest concert ever,” Glenn Gamboa wrote in Newsday,; meanwhile, Steve Kandell noted in a SPIN review that “their first show together since then, at New York's Bowery Ballroom last night, felt less like an easy nostalgia trip than a reminder of problems we, perhaps selectively, forgot we ever had.
…Leader Greg Dulli was leaner, meaner, fitter, and in better voice at 47 than even during the band's heyday… From the opening strains of "Crime Scene, Part One," all the old drama and menace and hurt feelings and failings were right there, palpable and visceral, all couched in the equally palpable sense of relief that none of us are that fucked up anymore.” The Afghan Whigs’ first new recording released during the 2012 reformation, “See and Don’t See,” has also received considerable airplay on influential stations such as Sirius XMU, KEXP, XPN, and KCRW since its release.
On July 16, the band released their second new recording, a cover of Frank Ocean's "Lovecrimes." Like the previous release, the song was made available as a free download from the band's website.In 2013 at SXSW, The Afghan Whigs headlined The FADER FORT and played a collaborative set with surprise guest Usher.
John Curly claims that moment solidified the possibility that the band would record together again and that following their SXSW performance they began compiling ideas for new material.
On January 27, 2014, the band's official mailing list announced an April release date for the first album of new Afghan Whigs material in 16 years and the band's return to the Sub Pop roster, titled Do to the Beast.On February 18, 2014, the band announced that Rick McCollum was no longer a member of the group.
Guitar parts on Do to the Beast were performed by numerous musicians including Dave Rosser, Jon Skibic and Mark McGuire amongst others.
LegacyThe influence of The Afghan Whigs has been noted on a number of musicians spanning genres and formats, including The National, The Gaslight Anthem, The Horrible Crowes, Interpol, The Hold Steady, My Chemical Romance and Jimmy Eat World.
Also, Italian indie-rock band Afterhours, who extensively toured the US between 2006 and 2011, under the auspice of Greg Dulli, cites Afghan Whigs as their influence.On June 23, 2009 an Afghan Whigs tribute album was released, featuring contributions from Mark Lanegan, Joseph Arthur, and 11 other artists influenced by the band.ThemesSince the band’s Up in It era, certain themes have been noted as developing Dulli’s songwriting for The Afghan Whigs and beyond – in particular, his mixing of black humor with dark topics such as drug addiction, abuse, and suicidal thoughts, which often seem more personal and provocative due to their frequent embrace of the first person.
As well, Afghan Whigs’ classics also are rooted in exploring power battles in sexual and romantic relationships.
Gentlemen in particular has been cited for its frank and uncomfortable exploration of masculine tropes and expectations, including elements of sadomasochism and alienation.
Songs like "My Enemy" off Black Love, meanwhile, tackle big issues like revenge, slander, and survival.Dulli’s songs with Afghan Whigs also betray a fascination with and sympathy for the anti-hero, which he attributed to an influential conversation with his grandfather during childhood: "I remember as a kid watching a cowboys-and-Indians movie and I was rooting for the cowboys… My grandfather asked me why, and I said, `Because they're the good guys.' And my grandfather explained to me that the Indians were fighting for their land and that the cowboys were trying to steal it from them.
Then he said something to me that I never forgot, which was, `Good people aren't good all the time and bad people aren't bad all the time.' I've been exploring that gray area ever since, the idea that saints can fall and sinners can transcend."CoversThe Afghan Whigs are known for their cover songs as well as their original material – in particular, freely reinterpreted songs from the soul music and R&B canon that they were exposed to in their youth.
The Afghan Whigs have never restricted their choices in covers by genre, however: even from their earliest concerts, they have been known to cover songs like The Rolling Stones’ “Cocksucker Blues” and Neil Young’s “Like A Hurricane”, as well as tracks made famous by The Supremes, Prince, PJ Harvey, The Fugees, and TLC.
Congregation includes a version of "The Temple" from the soundtrack of Jesus Christ Superstar and were also known to perform Pink Floyd’s album The Wall in its entirety.
The Afghan Whigs’ most recent recording was a cover a rare 1970 soul song by Marie “Queenie” Lyons, “See and Don’t See,” although the band continues to explore contemporary material as well, such as “Love Crimes” by current R&B iconoclast Frank Ocean, which was debuted on the band’s 2012 reunion tour.33? BookIn 2008, writer Bob Gendron published a critical and scholarly exploration of The Afghan Whigs’ Gentlemen as part of the 33? music book series exploring influential albums from pop history.
Gendron’s book included extensive interviews with band members and others within Afghan Whigs’ circle around the creation and impact of Gentlemen.Other projectsDulli has recorded and performed with Mark Lanegan as The Gutter TwinsDulli continues to record and tour with his evolving collective The Twilight Singers and as a solo artistDulli also has been executive producer on a number of works by Italian indie-rock band Afterhours on top of acting as their sponsor for a number of US tours between 2006 and 2011.Curley is the bassist of Fists of LoveMcCollum is the guitarist, vocalist, and songwriter for Moon MaanHorrigan is the bassist for Brendan BensonSteve Earle is the drummer for rock band Moonbow, featuring Dave McElfresh (also guitar and fiddle for Hank Williams III) and lead singer Matt Bischoff (also known for his role as a contestant on the television series "Survivor")Earle is the songwriter, lead singer, and rhythm guitarist of Earle GreyDulli does most of the lead vocals on the soundtrack to Backbeat, a 1994 film about the beginning days of the Beatles.
Dave Grohl (Nirvana), Don Fleming (Gumball), Mike Mills (R.E.M.), Thurston Moore (Sonic Youth) and Dave Pirner (Soul Asylum) accompany Dulli as a "supergroup" playing the Beatles early live staples (none of which are actually written by the Beatles).