Exactly 15 years ago today, Whiskeytown ceased to be a “band” in the way that word is usually meant. It happened at a show in Kansas City, three dates before the end of the initial run of touring for 1997’s Strangers Almanac album. Tensions were high even before the show, things got worse onstage and a blowup ensued. Ryan stormed off after reportedly telling the stunned crowd it had just witnessed Whiskeytown’s last-ever show.
That wasn’t entirely true, because there was still a Whiskeytown after the dust settled. But it was a group, not a band, and well on its way to becoming the Ryan Adams Project. Even though Ryan insisted that wasn’t what he wanted, it was the undeniable truth. Over the next two years, Whiskeytown’s lineup became a revolving door with a near-constant shuffle of utility players coming and going from one tour to the next.
Probably the most momentous result of that 1997 implosion was the banishment of one of Whiskeytown’s original cornerstones, Phil Wandscher, whose primary role had been as Ryan’s guitar foil. As recounted in this 2005 interview, Phil endured a tough stretch after getting the boot from Whiskeytown, moving to Seattle and going back to the world of wage-slave dayjobs. He also struck a tone of measured conciliation when asked about his old bandmate:
People always ask me what it was like being in a band with Ryan. By now, I don’t think I need to fill in any more of the details. He’s a talented guy, I wish him all the luck in the world, and I hope he’ll figure it all out as he gets a little older. It’s a humbling experience to leave a situation like that and have to go back to the real world, making salads in a restaurant. But I also think that keeps you real, and more people need those experiences. You’ll only be successful if you can be a down-to-earth person that people can relate to. I get more praise from people at shows now than I ever did in Whiskeytown because there was so much other [expletive] going on: ‘Man, it was so cool when you [expletive] that song up, and he smashed the guitar!’
By then, Phil was already well into bouncing back with his post-Whiskeytown band, Jesse Sykes and the Sweet Hereafter, which remains a going concern (here’s a review I did of the last JSatSH album, from 2011). Phil has also done some studio work with a few well-known peers, including Death Cab For Cutie and Nada Surf. The last time Phil and I spoke was when I interviewed him for “Losering” in early 2011, and he had some interesting and occasionally harsh things to say. He also told a pretty hilarious story about what it was like to open for Ryan at Red Rocks in 2007.
But you’ll just have to read the book for that.
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