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10,000 Maniacs is a United States-based alternative rock band, formed in 1981 and active with various line-ups since that time. Their best-known member is Natalie Merchant, who left the band in 1993 to pursue a solo career.
The band was formed as Still Life in 1981 in Jamestown, New York, by Dennis Drew (keyboards), Steve Gustafson (bass), Chet Cardinale (drums), Robert Buck (guitar), and Terry Newhouse (Buck's ex-wife and vocalist). Steve Gustafson invited Natalie Merchant, who was 17 at the time, to do some vocals. John Lombardo who was in a band called The Mills (along with brother guitarist/vocalists Mark Liuzzo and Paul Liuzzo and drummer Mike Young) and used to play with Still Life occasionally was invited to join permanently on guitar and vocals. Newhouse and Cardinale left the band in July, and Natalie Merchant became the main singer. Various drummers came and left. The band changed its name to Burn Victims and then to 10,000 Maniacs after the low-budget horror movie Two Thousand Maniacs!.
They performed as 10,000 Maniacs for the first time on September 7, 1981 - Labor Day, with a line-up of Natalie Merchant, John Lombardo, Robert Buck, Dennis Drew, Steve Gustafson, and Tim Edborg on drums. Tim Edborg left and Bob "Bob O Matic" Wachter was on drums for most of the 1981 gigs. Tired of playing cover songs - though oddly enough their first notable American hit was a cover of the Cat Stevens song "Peace Train" - the band started to write their own music, usually with Natalie Merchant handling the lyrics and John Lombardo the music. In February-March 1982, with Jim Foti on drums, the band recorded an EP album called Human Conflict Number Five. More gigs followed in 1982. It was during this time that they lived in Atlanta, Georgia for a short while at the encouragement of friends who said that many gigs were available there. After raking leaves and selling their plasma to pay rent, the band moved back to Jamestown in November 1982.
At the beginning of 1983, Jerry Augustyniak joined the band as their permanent drummer. The Maniacs met Augustyniak when they played in Buffalo, New York, where he was in a punk band called The Stains. Between March and July, the band recorded songs for a second record, Secrets of the I Ching - their debut full-length album, which was pressed by Mark Records for the band's own label Christian Burial Music. The record was well-received by critics and it caught the attention of John Peel - DJ at Radio BBC Radio 1 in London. One song, "My Mother the War" turned out to be a minor hit in United Kingdom, and it entered the independent singles chart. During 1983 and 1984, touring was a way of life for the band, which included gigs in the UK.
Peter Leak, an Englishman living in New York City, became interested in the band, made contact and was made their manager. With the help of Leak and Elektra Records A & R man Howard Thompson, 10,000 Maniacs signed to Elektra in November 1984. In the spring of 1985, they recorded their second full-length album, The Wishing Chair, in London at Livingston Studios, with Joe Boyd as producer. Though the album was not a blockbuster hit, its status as the band's major label debut did win it some notice, and it received significant critical acclaim.
"Because the Night" excerpt:
Co-founder John Lombardo left the band during a rehearsal on Monday, July 14, 1986. The remaining five members started the recordings of a new album in Los Angeles, with Peter Asher as the producer. In My Tribe, a more pop-rock oriented record, was released on Tuesday, July 7, 1987, hit the charts where it stayed 77 weeks, peaking at #37 and established a large US audience for the group and was also well received in the UK. The next album, 1989 Blind Man's Zoo hit #13 and went Gold, further increasing the group's following. In 1990, with the help of John Lombardo, they remastered their first two records Human Conflict Number Five and Secrets of the I Ching and released them as a compilation called Hope Chest: The Fredonia Recordings 1982-1983. John Lombardo and Mary Ramsey, who had formed a folk act called John & Mary, opened gigs for the Maniacs on the Hope Chest Tour in 1990. In 1991, during the recordings of a new album, Natalie Merchant revealed to the other members that she would be leaving for a solo career in two years' time. In 1992, Our Time in Eden was released. On Wednesday, April 21, 1993, 10,000 Maniacs recorded MTV Unplugged and Natalie Merchant announced her leaving the band on MTV on Thursday, August 5, 1993. The MTV Unplugged (10,000 Maniacs album) album was released in October 1993. The band also played President Clinton's Inaugural Ball in January 1993, with Merchant a vociferous supporter of the Democratic Party.
In late 1993/early 1994, the remaining members of 10,000 Maniacs (Augustyniak, Buck, Drew, and Gustafson) asked John & Mary to join the band and continue on. The revamped band began performing new material almost immediately, initially calling themselves John & Mary, Rob, Steve, Dennis, & Jerry, before they were to legally regain control of the name 10,000 Maniacs.
10,000 Maniacs released two albums with Mary Ramsey on vocals. In 1997 they released Love Among the Ruins on Geffen Records and followed up in 1999 with The Earth Pressed Flat on Bar/None.
In December 1998, lead guitar player Rob Buck took some time off from the band, moving to Texas to focus on a new project called League of Blind Women. The band recruited Buffalo-based Michael Lee Jackson of the band Animal Planet to step into the lead guitar role. Buck returned to the band in the summer of 1999, though fans noticed a huge change. The man on stage sure sounded like Rob Buck, but he didn't look like Rob Buck. The once robust man on lead guitar had aged and lost a lot of weight.
On Friday, November 3, 2000, 10,000 Maniacs played with the Buffalo Philharmonic Orchestra, in Buffalo, NY. It would be the last concert they would perform with Rob Buck.
On Tuesday, December 19, 2000, founder and lead guitarist Robert Buck died of liver failure at the age of 42. He was buried in Mission Cemetery in Sugar Grove, Pennsylvania.
The band took a break. Steve Gustafson and Dennis Drew, with Jeff Erickson - guitar started a band called The Mighty Wallop!. Jerry Augustyniak joined a band called Only Humen. On Wednesday, December 5, 2001, a 10,000 Maniacs line-up comprising Steve Gustafson, Dennis Drew, Jerry Augustyniak, John Lombardo, and Mary Ramsey played on a benefit concert in Toronto, with Rob Buck's former guitar technician Jeff Erickson on lead guitar.
In 2002, Steve Gustafson, Dennis Drew, and Jerry Augustyniak decided that they wished to continue on with a new lead singer. John Lombardo showed up at the first band practice, found out that the band had hired Jeff Erickson to play lead guitar and Oskar Saville of the Chicago-based band Rubygrass to sing, and quit the band. This lineup toured sporadically between 2002 and 2006, playing a greatest hits show at various festivals. Mary Ramsey rejoined the current edition of 10,000 Maniacs for several dates in 2006, playing viola and singing backing vocals.
In Summer 2006, John and Mary re-formed a folk-rock band called the Valkyries, they appeared August 26 and 27 at the Elmwood Village Festival of the Arts in Buffalo. The Valkyries are composed of several longtime Buffalo music scene stalwarts.
On Tuesday January 27, 2004, Elektra/Asylum/Rhino Records released Campfire Songs: The Popular, Obscure and Unknown Recordings, a two CD set compilation, with 31 digitally remastered songs, four of them demos and one unreleased. The second disc contained B-sides and outtakes throughout the band's career up to that point, including many covers. Jackson Browne's "These Days" and Tom Waits's "I Hope That I Don't Fall in Love with You" were among those included, as was Cat Stevens's Peace Train which had been removed from later U.S. pressings of In My Tribe.
Oskar Saville left 10,000 Maniacs in late Summer, 2007 and has been replaced by former Maniac Mary Ramsey for the final show the band has this year.