Along with luminaries like R.E.M.
, the B-52's
, and Pylon
, Love Tractor helped establish the college town of Athens, GA, as a mecca of alternative music in the early '80s.
Comprised of guitarist Michael Richmond, multi-instrumentalist Armistead Wellford, drummer Kit Schwartz, and guitarist Mark Cline, the band's earliest material was instrumental, if for no other reason than that they could not afford a PA system. However, the approach set them clearly apart from other acts on the crowded Athens scene, and helped win them a deal with DB Records. 1982's Love Tractor documented their formative approach, which touched heavily on fusion and even cocktail music. By their 1983 follow-up, Around the Bend, Richmond was taking the occasional stab at singing; after the 1984 EP 'Til the Cows Come Home, Love Tractor resurfaced in 1987 with This Ain't No Outer Space Ship, a full vocal exercise that also found the group tackling a cover of the Gap Band
's "Party Train." The quartet enlisted Mitch Easter
to produce 1989's Themes from Venus, which, while comprised largely of vocal tracks, did contain the instrumental "Nova Express," effectively bringing the Love Tractor story full circle. Accordingly, in 1991 the group decided to take a break from the music business; they re-formed periodically, and began writing and performing new material for a projected album. During their hiatus, Wellford played in Gutterball
with Steve Wynn
, Bob Rupe, Sparklehorse
, and the House of Freaks
traveled, studying Italian opera and ancient languages, while Richmond studied art history. After several failed attempts at completing their "comeback" album, Love Tractor returned in 2001 with The Sky at Night, which featured original members Richmond, Wellford, and Cline
; former R.E.M.
drummer Bill Berry helped out with percussion chores. In 2005, a new and revamped lineup of Love Tractor -- with Richmond joined by new members Billy Holmes, Ben Holst, Tom Lewis, and Darren Staley -- recorded a new album, Black Hole, which found Richmond and company exploring a new musical direction influenced by progressive rock. Green Winter followed in 2006. ~ Jason Ankeny, Rovi