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Tim O’Reagan feature

| June 30, 2006

Tim O’Reagan
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Despite their personnel issues and disabling encounters with the vast and varied exigencies of the record industry, The Jayhawks produced, both live and on record, perhaps the most consistently fine pop music of their era (with or without Mark Olson).

We might soon find that one reason is the band’s players were talented enough to have their own careers. Mark Olson and Gary Louris have been together again, touring as a duo. Bassist Marc Perlman is said to be working on a record of his own, and post-Olson drummer Tim O’Reagan has just released his self-titled debut on The Jayhawks’ label, Lost Highway.
Longtime fans may also want to know that keyboardist/pianist Karen Grotberg is busy working and being a mom, but she found time to provide some keyboard color on a few O’Reagan tracks.

All The Jayhawks, including Olson, contributed to Tim O’Reagan‘s “Highway Flowers,” so the dormant band’s fans might naturally expect it to be the standout track. They underestimate O’Reagan. In fact his finest songs — “These Things” and “Plaything” — bookend the set, and there’s plenty of material between to demonstrate, much as he contributed to The Jayhawks, they may have underutilized his talents.

To be sure, his former bandmates happily made room for his material. Their 1997 Sound Of Lies featured O’Reagan singing his own “Bottomless Cup.” Rainy Day Music, from 2003, featured two O’Reagan originals, the memorable “Don’t Let The World Get In Your Way,” and “Tampa To Tulsa.” He also takes partial writing credit on five other Jayhawks songs.

And there are no hard feelings. Far from it. Asked if he would consider rejoining The Jayhawks, O’Reagan says, with a laugh, “I would if they asked me, but they haven’t asked me. I think they’re trying to not be The Jayhawks. I think [Louris and Olson] just wanted to keep it simple and play their songs together, which is understandable.”

For his part, O’Reagan is happy to be stepping out from behind the drums, playing his own songs, and struggling, temporarily, with the art of being a frontman. “It’s a completely different animal than just being behind the drums,” he says. “You worry about how you’re being perceived visually, which is very distracting at the moment. I hope that I can overcome that, because it’s kind of a pain.”

Clearly he’s catching on, though. “If you get the impression that people like what you’re doing, that takes the pressure off. I’m sure it’s gonna come easier with time and I think it’s pretty plain that if you relax your presentation is better and you sound better. Knowing that, it’s easier to get there, I think.”

Right now he’s mostly speculating. As of this writing, O’Reagan has performed only a couple of shows, including a No Depression magazine showcase at the South By Southwest music conference. That night, in the window-wrapped 14th floor banquet room of a hotel, with the lights of the capitol and the bustle of 6th Street as a backdrop, the warmth of the crowd’s reception melted O’Reagan’s initial self-consciousness by the middle of the second song. Many present were longtime Jayhawks fans, eager to support his debut, but it’s likely he’ll be received as well anywhere there are fans of Beatles-influenced pop, with a Midwestern, especially a Minneapolis, pedigree.

O’Reagan wasn’t always so pop-driven. His first instrument, at age 10 or 11, was a set of monkey-skin bongo drums his Air Force dad brought home from a tour of duty. “I just started beating the hell out of those things to records and stuff,” he says. He even entertained a fantasy of becoming a Latin-music percussionist before his interest shifted to the soul music his elder siblings were bringing home. “That’s what I kind of enjoyed listening to,” he says, “and to this day it’s kind of the stuff that’s still the most interesting for me.” But he adds, “It’s fun to sing and play and try to imitate some of those soul performers, but I’m not comfortable doing that. So I went with the whiter music, I guess. I know that sounds silly, but I think that’s what occurred. Besides that I’m a huge fan of singing and harmonies and melodies and jangly guitars.”

Linda Ray

For the rest of the O’Reagan feature, find the July issue of Illinois Entertainer.

Category: Features, Monthly

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