The Old 97's are an alternative country band from Dallas, Texas. Formed in 1993, they have since released nine studio albums, two full extended plays, shared split duty on another, and have one live album. Their most recent release is The Grand Theatre, Volume Two. They are recognized as pioneers of the alt-country movement during the mid to late 1990s along with bands such as Uncle Tupelo, Drive-By Truckers, Whiskeytown, The Jayhawks, and The Bottle Rockets.
Initially a popular Dallas bar band, the Old 97's toured the country after releasing their first album, 1994's Hitchhike to Rhome and 1995's split EP release Stoned / Garage Sale with fellow Dallas band Funland on Idol Records. In Chicago, they caught the attention of Bloodshot Records and were signed to record their next album. 1995's Wreck Your Life brought them to the attention of Elektra Records, who hoped that alt-country could be a new post-grunge fad. Lead singer Rhett Miller, born in Austin, later lived in New York City and Los Angeles. Many of the band's songs include local Texas references, with New York City, Los Angeles, and Chicago appearing as well.
Most songs are written and sung by Miller, with bassist Murry Hammond picking up the vocals on one or two tracks per album. Hammond also handled a number of country covers, especially in the band's earlier years. Hammond also performs gospel at his local church. The band's 2004 album Drag It Up also includes a song written and sang by guitarist Ken Bethea, "Coahuila."
The band has never reached the level of success expected of them by the music press and was one of the acts purged from Elektra after the merger of Time Warner and America Online. In 2005, Blender magazine ranked the band's most successful single, 1999's "Murder (Or A Heart Attack)", as the 176th greatest song "since you were born." However, more recently, their music has been featured in a number of hit movies and TV series, including The Break-Up ("Salome", "Melt Show", "Timebomb"), Ed ("Question", "King of All the World"), Scrubs ("Question"), and Veronica Mars ("Adelaide", "Four-Leaf Clover", "The New Kid").
Rhett Miller has recorded four solo albums, with 2002's The Instigator receiving substantial airplay on alternative-oriented radio stations. He toured with Neil Finn in 2004. Miller's second major commercial album, The Believer, was released in February 2006. Murry Hammond's solo album, I Don't Know Where I'm Going But I'm on My Way, was released April 21, 2008.
The Old 97's have been heralded as a great live band, although they claim never to rehearse their act. They included five live songs as a bonus disc on Satellite Rides, and released a live double CD set recorded at historic Gruene Hall in 2005, Alive & Wired.
Rhino Entertainment released Hit by a Train: The Best of Old 97's, an eighteen track compilation of songs from the band's beginnings through 2001, featuring liner notes and an essay by rock critic Robert Christgau.
Satellite Riders is faux "tribute band." It's actually an alias the band performs under when contractual obligations prevent them from using the Old 97's name. The recording of "Timebomb" from the live album Alive & Wired was made available for download along with other alt-country songs for the music video games Rock Band and Rock Band 2.
Their most recent in-studio project, The Grand Theatre, was released in two volumes. The first The Grand Theatre, Volume One was released on October 12, 2010. The second The Grand Theatre, Volume Two was released on July 5, 2011.
In 2013 the band released an EP containing two tracks with vocals by country music legend Waylon Jennings entitled Old 97's & Waylon Jennings. Rhett Miller called the previously unreleased tunes with Jennings "the band's 'holy grail.'"
Rhett Miller - lead vocals, rhythm guitar,
Murry Hammond - bass guitar, occasional lead vocals, backup vocals,
Ken Bethea - lead guitar, backup vocals, lead vocals on "Coahuila",
Philip Peeples - drums and backup vocals