The early ’90s was a frustrating time for me, musically speaking. (Also on a number of other fronts, but hey, we’re talking about music now.)
The debut of those depressing mopes Nirvana and the other Seattle bands — a.k.a. grunge music — had alienated me from what was going on in rock circles; hip-hop had never appealed to me in any way, so its increasing ascendancy and far-reaching influence annoyed me; and between the boy bands and the rise of a certain kind of male balladeer I can only describe as “whiny,” pop music had gone completely to hell. But I wasn’t yet ready to lock my tastes in amber and content myself with listening exclusively to the oldies, so I found myself casting about for… something… anything I could call “my music.” I even dabbled a bit with country, if you can believe it. I found I enjoyed a lot of older stuff from that genre, notably the 1970s “outlaw” acts like Willie Nelson and Waylon Jennings. But Garth Brooks and other contemporary country stars — in particular, Brooks and Dunn and their damn “Boot Scootin’ Boogie,” one of the most irritating (and thus, naturally, catchy) songs I’ve ever been subjected to — were dragging that genre toward a sort of phony sound that was absolutely intolerable to me, so I quickly dropped my explorations there.
It was getting pretty depressing scanning around my radio dial vainly searching for a sound I liked. And then one day I stumbled across a new station called “The Mountain” (I can still remember the call letters: KUMT, 105.7 on the FM dial). According to the scant handful of references I’ve been able to find online, The Mountain’s format was something called “adult album alternative,” a mixture of classic rock from the genre’s earliest days up through the ’80s, with some blues and folk and soul thrown in for good measure. There were deep album cuts from artists I knew for only one or two songs, and stuff by artists I knew but never heard anywhere else on the radio, like the Grateful Dead and Jimmy Buffett. The Mountain was the station that finally identified Marc Cohn as the singer of “Walking in Memphis,” a mystery I’d been trying to solve for at least a year at that point, and it was the station where I first heard Shawn Colvin and Keb’ Mo’ and Sheryl Crow and Melissa Etheridge. The Mountain reminded me very much of the fictional KBHR radio on the television series Northern Exposure, if the comparison means anything to you. It was just plain good music. Naturally it was doomed.
An archival article from 1999 says that “KUMT had never been focused enough in the overloaded Wasatch Front radio market” — that lack of focus being what made it interesting, in my opinion — “and also never attracted a sizable audience.” So overnight, The Mountain switched to 1970s soft rock in the vein of Bread, and thereafter went through a succession of other formats that were progressively less appealing before finally ending up as a right-wing blabfest hosting Beck, Limbaugh, Hannity, and others of that ilk. The world moved on.
But every so often… on a night like this one, when the rain is dripping from the eaves outside and the house is growing cool around me… a night when I can’t help remembering the sultry dreams I used to have of living in places a lot more colorful than Salt Lake where I would dance the night away with girls in skintight jeans and sip beer from long-neck bottles beneath the red and blue light of neon signs… I remember The Mountain and the music that expanded my repertoire beyond the hair metal and ’80s pop I still love, but can’t listen to constantly. Music like this song here, by a cat named Sonny Landreth:
That’s not an official video — as far as I can determine, Landreth doesn’t make videos. And I honestly don’t know a lot about him, other than he’s an acknowledged master of slide guitar and has worked with Jimmy Buffett, among others. But I know I love that sound. And I know this is what I used to call good music, back in the day when it didn’t seem like there was a lot of that to be found…