The Long Ryders were formed in late November 1982 out of the ashes of the Los Angeles punk scene. Kentucky born guitarist Sid Griffin left his band The Unclaimed after having bonded musically with former Boxboys drummer Greg Sowders at a jam session in a Mexican transvestite bar in Silverlake. The other guitar player was Steve Wynn but he left to form the Dream Syndicate whereupon Virginias Stephen McCarthy, a country music loving newcomer to L.A., stepped in after answering a Musicians Wanted ad in a local Korean newspaper.
The original bass player was Barry Shank but he quit to return to graduate school and was replaced by Australian Des Brewer. The band recorded and released an EP in 1983 produced by ex-Sparks guitarist and former Beach Boys engineer Earle Mankey called 10-5-60 and it was so well received they decided to tour. Des Brewer dropped out at this point and was replaced by Indianas Tom Stevens, a former candidate in the NASA astronaut space program in Houston.
Signed to hip indie label Frontier the band recorded their debut LP Native Sons with Henry Lewy producing. Lewy had worked with the Flying Burrito Brothers on their classic Gilded Palace Of Sin LP as well as with the Association, Barbara Streisand, Van Morrison and Lewy had enjoyed a long studio partnership with Joni Mitchell. Together the Long Ryders and Lewy came up with an album called a modern American classic by Melody Maker and soon found themselves on the cover of the New Musical Express as well as playing live on the BBCs Whistle Test TV show.
After touring the USA for much of 1984 Europe was theirs for the taking in March/April 1985. Sold out gig followed sold out gig and the band were second only to The Smiths in the alternative charts of the day. Signed to Island Records in early summer the band released the album State Of Our Union in September 1985 and soon found themselves number one in the College Radio/Alternative charts for four weeks running in their native land. Their single Looking For Lewis & Clark crashed into the charts and became their signature song.
The following year was spent consolidating their success. In America REM told them soon as we get through making the Replacements famous you guys are next!, in Spain they headlined a Barcelona festival to over 100,000 which was broadcast live on national radio, in Canada the Toronto Globe & Mail called them the best thing to happen to roots rock since The Band, in Italy they played eighteenth century opera houses and gave press conferences as if heads of state and in Great Britain The Long Ryders were considered like family to their fans and a breath of fresh air to the UK's rock critics.
After a spring tour to work out new songs The Long Ryders released Two-Fisted Tales in early summer 1987. Produced by Ramones/Smithereens whiz Ed Stasium, it gave them a radio turntable hit with I Want You Bad and the touring began again. U2 asked them to open shows on the North American wing of their Joshua Tree tour and the high life beckoned.
Alas it was not to be. Bassist Tom Stevens left the road to be with his young family in August and by Christmas Stephen McCarthy was gone as well. Island asked Messers. Griffin and Sowders for another album but without their old compadres their hearts were not in it and they foolishly if honorably declined.