In March I get to present at the Lost Southern Voices Festival, a “two-day celebration of lost and underappreciated Southern writers.” The people running the festival wisely including songwriters in this category, and I’ll be talking about John Croslin of The Reivers. My own band was lucky enough to tour with them in the summer of 1991, and ever since then I have been one of the many music lovers who wonder why that band didn’t become huge.

I’ve spent the last few weeks immersed in their first four records, falling in love all over again with the way Croslin’s gruffer vocals play against the smooth tones of Kim Longacre, as the band easily moves between musical styles. On these more recent listens I have noticed how many of the songs are steeped in nostalgia, and how many of the lyrics look at the way time works for or against us; maybe that is something I needed to be older to appreciate. As I’ve listened, and started to map out my paper, I have been thinking about a couple of key lessons I learned from listening to, and traveling with, The Reivers.

1. This first one is a bit hard to admit for a published author, but I did not know their band was named after a Faulkner novel until Croslin told me. (One my many clueless moments on the road—like the time I asked the bass player in Pearl Jam if he was in a band, too, or told Hootie & the Blowfish they shouldn’t sign with Atlantic.) This inspired me to do a little research on Faulkner, which is how I learned The Reivers was his last novel, and that his career actually bottomed at one point, to the point that most of his books went out of print. That bit of news that helped reassure the then fledging writer inside me: hey, even old man Faulkner was unappreciated for a while!

None of this inspired me to read the book. As I Lay Dying and the first fifty pages of The Sound and the Fury had proven tough going indeed; in fact, I still haven’t dived back in to the swampy marsh of Faulklandia.

2. The Reivers, then known as Zeitgeist, released their first record on what was our first label, the beloved dB Recs, before signing to Capitol Records. This was very much the path that most Alternative/Indie Rock bands wanted to follow in the late 80s/early-to-mid-90s: start in the “minor leagues” with an independent label, and then embrace the machinery (and expense accounts) of a major label. Their 1991 tour, however, was in support of the record they made after being dropped by Capitol and returning to dB. This story could have made me worry about the state of the musical universe; if a band as good as The Reivers could make it a major label and still not “make it,” what did that say about our chances? Stories of bands being dropped by major labels had to be ignored by bands trying to be signed by major labels, though. If you let news of a highway fatality keep you from driving across the country, you’d never get anywhere, right?

So instead I watched how hard they worked every night. The shows were tight and high energy; the band schlepped their gear (with the help of their one tour employee, the fantastic Biff Parker), hawked their own merch, and talked with the loyal fans who packed the clubs; and, most importantly, I thought their newest record was their best. I watched most of their sets that tour, trying to learn ways that I could become better at what I did.

I suppose that’s the youthful optimism a young drummer needs, working hard to turn a possible cautionary tale into a story of inspiration. I was sure The Reivers would just land on a new label, the way a great first baseman signs with a new team after becoming a free agent. When I heard, as the tour was drawing to a close, that the band was going to break up, I was stunned.

I’m glad that they reunited for a few shows, and put out another record. I hope that the experience was as satisfying for them as it was for Uncle Green, when we reunited to play without any expectations of major label checks or appearances on MTV. At the end of the day, if the members of the band and their music all manage to survive, a victory of some kind has been achieved.

Thanks to the great video system Club Lingerie had in place, even way back then, there are clips of both bands from the same night: July 24, 1991.

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