Jeffrey Scot Tweedy (born August 25, 1967 in Belleville, Illinois, United States) is an American songwriter, musician and leader of the band Wilco. Tweedy joined rockabilly band The Plebes with high school friend Jay Farrar in the early 1980s, but Tweedy's musical interests caused one of Farrar's brothers to quit. The Plebes changed their name to The Primitives in 1984, and subsequently to Uncle Tupelo. Uncle Tupelo garnered enough support to earn a record deal and to tour nationally. After releasing four albums, conflicts between Tweedy and Farrar caused the band to break up in 1994.
In 1994, Tweedy formed Wilco with John Stirratt, Max Johnston, and Ken Coomer. Wilco has released six albums and found commercial success with their albums Yankee Hotel Foxtrot, A Ghost Is Born, and Sky Blue Sky. The band also released two collaboration albums with Billy Bragg and one with The Minus 5. Jeff Tweedy has been the recipient of two Grammy Awards, including Best Alternative Album for A Ghost Is Born. Tweedy has also participated in a number of side groups including Golden Smog and Loose Fur, has released a book of poems, and has released a DVD of solo performances. He was originally influenced by punk and country music, but has recently reflected more experimental themes in his music.
Tweedy has been afflicted with migraine headaches since childhood. Treatment for the migraines led to a dependency on painkillers, for which he underwent successful rehab in 2004. Tweedy also has been open about the fact that he suffers from clinical depression and panic attacks.
Jeff Tweedy was born in Belleville, Illinois on August 25, 1967 as the fourth child of Bob and Jo Ann Tweedy. Bob Tweedy worked at Alton & Southern Railroad in East St. Louis while Jo Ann was a kitchen designer. Jo Ann bought Tweedy his first guitar at age six, although he did not begin to play it seriously until he was eight. In 1981, when Tweedy was fourteen years old, he befriended Jay Farrar in an English class at Belleville Township High School West. All of the members of Farrar's family enjoyed playing music, causing Farrar to already have knowledge of the musical elements of rock and roll. By this time, Tweedy was a fan of The Ramones and country music while Farrar enjoyed The Sex Pistols.
Farrar was in a band called The Plebes with his brothers Wade and Dade, which Tweedy joined in order to qualify for a battle of the bands competition. Tweedy pushed The Plebes away from the rockabilly music that they had been playing, which caused Dade Farrar to leave the band. The band renamed themselves The Primitives in 1984, taking their name from a song by garage rock band The Groupies. Wade Farrar sang lead vocals and played harmonica, Jay Farrar played guitar, Tweedy played bass guitar, and Mike Heidorn played drums. In late 1986, the band decided to change their name to Uncle Tupelo, because a more popular British band was also using the name "The Primitives". The Primitives went on hiatus in 1986 after Wade Farrar left the band to finish his engineering degree at Southern Illinois University. While waiting for Wade to return from campus, Jay, Tweedy, and Heidorn formed Uncle Tupelo.
At his parents' request, Jeff Tweedy enrolled at several universities, but dropped out of them so that he could concentrate on Uncle Tupelo. While moonlighting as a record store clerk at Euclid Records in St. Louis, Tweedy met Tony Margherita. After Margherita saw the band perform at an acoustic concert in 1988, he decided to become the band's manager. The band began playing regular shows at Cicero's club near Washington University with other bands playing in a similar style. Uncle Tupelo recorded a ten-track demo tape entitled Not Forever, Just For Now in 1989, attracting the attention of Giant/Rockville Records. The independent label signed the band, and Uncle Tupelo's first album, No Depression, was released the next year. The title song, originally performed by the Carter Family, became strongly associated with the alternative country scene, and became the name of an influential alternative country periodical.
During times when Uncle Tupelo was not touring, Tweedy and Farrar played as Coffee Creek, a short-lived cover band with The Bottle Rockets' Brian Henneman and Mark Ortmann. Around this time, Tweedy began developing problems with alcohol abuse, leading to tensions between Tweedy and Farrar. While he never refused to play a gig, Tweedy was forced to sit out in place of Henneman at some performances. Tweedy quit drinking entirely after meeting future wife Sue Miller, although he replaced this habit with smoking marijuana. After releasing Still Feel Gone, the band formed a friendship with Peter Buck of R.E.M., who produced their third album March 16-20, 1992 for free. Uncle Tupelo left the Rockville label in favor of Sire Records (Warner) later in 1992 because Rockville refused to pay the band any royalties for their albums. After the signing, Max Johnston and John Stirratt joined the band as Mike Heidorn was replaced by Bill Belzer who was later replaced by Ken Coomer. The five-piece band recorded Anodyne, which sold over 150,000 copies and debuted at number 18 on the Billboard Heatseekers chart, but was the last album Uncle Tupelo released.
In January 1994, Farrar called Tony Margherita to tell him that the band was breaking up, saying that he was not having any fun in the band anymore and was not getting along with Tweedy. Tweedy was enraged that Farrar decided to break up the band without notifying him, and this led to a series of harsh verbal exchanges. Farrar and Tweedy agreed to a final Uncle Tupelo tour, but the concerts were marred by the two not participating in each other's songs. The band decided to play Tweedy's "The Long Cut" on Late Night with Conan O'Brien, which further distanced Farrar and Tweedy. Farrar began to assemble a new band named Son Volt with Mike Heidorn, Joe Henry, bassist Jim Boquist, and his brother Dave Boquist. At the same time, Jeff Tweedy formed Wilco with Stirratt, Johnston, and Coomer.
Wilco was signed to Reprise Records (Warner) and began recording A.M. almost as soon as the band was formed. After recording, Tweedy was introduced to Jay Bennett, who then joined the band. Also during this time, Tweedy quit smoking marijuana after a particularly bad experience with some cannabis brownies. A.M. did not fare as well commercially in comparison to Son Volt's first album, only reaching number 27 on the Heatseekers chart while Son Volt's debut Trace hit the Billboard 200. Dan Murphy of Soul Asylum invited Tweedy to join him in a supergroup named Golden Smog with Gary Louris and Marc Perlman of the Jayhawks, Kraig Johnson of Run Westy Run, and Noah Levy of The Honeydogs. Under the pseudonym Scott Summit, Tweedy released Down by the Old Mainstream with Golden Smog in 1996.
Tweedy and Wilco began to explore new styles and broke from the style of previous recordings on the seminal sprawling double album Being There in 1996. Tweedy did not write music for many of the songs ahead of time, and welcomed unexpected sounds into the recording. Wilco recorded nineteen songs for the double-CD album, and wanted the label to release it with a retail price comparable to a single-CD release. Being There was a commercial success, selling 300,000 copies and peaking in the top half of the Billboard 200. Reprise records invested $100,000 in the single "Outta Mind (Outtasite)", but received little radio exposure. While on tour, Tweedy began to spend time reading books by William H. Gass, Henry Miller, and John Fante. As he read their books, Tweedy decided to place more of an emphasis on writing. Representatives in the A&R department of Reprise wanted a radio single from Summerteeth, and Wilco reluctantly agreed to a re-working of "Can't Stand It". The single was a top five hit on adult album alternative radio stations, but failed to cross over to a larger audience.
Before the release of Summerteeth, the daughter of the late folk legend Woody Guthrie contacted folk rock singer Billy Bragg, who in turn contacted Tweedy about recording an album of unreleased Woody Guthrie songs. Tweedy was indifferent to the idea of working with Bragg, but Jay Bennett's enthusiasm about the idea convinced Tweedy to get the band involved in the project. As a result of Tweedy's feelings on the political nature of some of the lyrics, Bragg recorded mostly political songs while Wilco recorded more neutral songs. Almost all of the songs that appeared on Mermaid Avenue and Mermaid Avenue Vol. II were recorded over a six day period in December 1997. The first Mermaid Avenue album and a second Golden Smog album (Weird Tales) were released in 1998, Summerteeth was released in early 1999, and Mermaid Avenue Vol. II was released in 2000. Tweedy received his first Grammy nomination when Mermaid Avenue was nominated for Grammy Award for Best Contemporary Folk Album in 1999.
Tweedy has been prone to chronic migraines throughout his entire life, forcing him to miss forty days of elementary school in one year. These chronic migraines caused Tweedy to become dependent on painkillers. While he attempted to regulate his use of painkillers, he was never able to stop their use for more than five weeks. Tweedy attributes this to comorbidity with major depressive disorder and severe panic attacks. In 2004, he entered a dual diagnosis rehabilitation clinic in order to receive treatment for an addiction to prescription painkillers. Tweedy quit smoking the next year; John Stirratt claimed afterward that this significantly improved the focus of the band.
Tweedy is married to former talent booking agent Sue Miller. Tweedy first met Miller when he was trying to get Uncle Tupelo booked at Cubby Bear, where Miller worked. Miller opened a club in Chicago named Lounge Ax in 1989, and booked Uncle Tupelo for sixteen shows over four years. Miller and Tweedy began dating in 1991 and they were married on August 9, 1995. The Tweedy's have two children: Spencer Tweedy (born December 16, 1995) and Sam Tweedy (born December 22, 1999). Spencer has been the drummer for pre-teen rock band The Blisters since December 2003. Spencer has also recently formed a new band called Tully Monster with friends Hayden Holbert and Henry Mosher. The band has played major events such as Lollapalooza, which Jeff and Wilco headlined, and also at the opening of Millennium Park in Chicago. On December 16, 2008 Spencer Tweedy joined Wilco on stage at Madison Square Garden to play drums on their song "The Late Greats," while opening for Neil Young. Before the song, the entire crowd sang Happy Birthday to Spencer Tweedy, as it was his 13th birthday.
In early May 2009, former Wilco member Jay Bennett sued Tweedy for breach of contract. Bennett died from undisclosed causes on May 24, 2009.