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John Stirratt is the bass player and a founding member of the legendary alternative rock band Wilco. In addition, he is the founder of indie rock band The Autumn Defense and for the past year has been touring with acclaimed singer-songwriter Ray LaMontagne. In short, Stirratt has been a player in the music industry for some 25 years. We recently caught up with Stirratt, comparing his life as a touring musician with that of a Tour de France cyclist, not to mention his love for his Faehnrich Falter Super Star folding bike and his efforts to connect bike paths in northern Massachusetts.
John, you are one of the founding members of the Grammy Award-winning band Wilco, which for the past 20-odd years has been one of the hardest-working bands in the business. Take us back a bit to how it all started and how you got to where you are today. Well, I met Jeff Tweedy in his previous band Uncle Tupelo in what can only be described as a sort of 1980s DYI mentality. I was at the college radio station where I went to college in Oxford, Mississippi, and a friend of mine got this cassette and on the back of the cassette was a phone number. We really loved the music and so we called the number. It was Tony Margherita, who is still the manager of Wilco today. We told the band that we had a cool club in town and offered to open for them if they came and played. And that’s how we met. That’s how it worked back in those days and that’s how a single phone call changed my life.
They came and my band, The Hilltops, opened for them. We got to be friends. They brought us around the Midwest and we opened for them quite a bit because, well, there was already quite a buzz about that band. I ended up joining the band but soon it split into two groups. One was Son Volt, who just put out another album this year. And the other was Wilco. That was 1994.