Bill Belzer moved to Portland, Ore., recently but he has a long and illustrious music history in this town -- bands from Grumpy and Mongol Beach Party to the New Amsterdams.
He was also the drummer in Uncle Tupelo for two cups of coffee. (He even made it into a photo in "89/93: An Anthology," an Uncle Tupelo collection.)
Belzer was at Lollapalooza this weekend with the Terrible Twos, a kid band that's an off-shoot of the New Ams and who played at the Kidsapalooza stage.
Jeff Tweedy and Wilco showed up at the same stage and played some kids' music, too. And Belzer sat in on drums during "New Madrid," a number off "Anodyne," Uncle T's final album, according to a writer from Brooklyn Vegan (who apparently hates this kind of kids music).
In September 2002, we ran this story on Belzer and the Uncle Tupelo connection:
In October 1992, Bill Belzer was living a wild dream. For starters, he was the new drummer for Uncle Tupelo, one of his favorite bands.
"That was a hero thing for me," he said Tuesday, "I was pretty much in awe of them."
Belzer, a Kansas City native and Rockhurst High graduate, replaced drummer Mike Heidorn just in time to join Uncle Tupelo on Michelle Shocked's "Arkansas Traveler Tour," which included two big-name openers and at least one world-class venue.
"We opened every show, then Taj Mahal played, then the Band (minus Robbie Robertson) and then Michelle Shocked," he said. "We were on the tour for the first five or six shows. Our last one was at Carnegie Hall."
"One of my last memories of that tour was standing outside Carnegie Hall in the rain, in a flannel shirt thinking, 'We could have been better.'
"The show got a good review in Musician magazine, though. They said something like, 'Uncle Tupelo's pessimistic rock went over well.' "
Belzer's trip from midtown Kansas City to Carnegie Hall was the culmination of some luck, a connection and some perseverance. He first played drums in the Mongol Beach Party, a "pre-ska dance band" that was popular around Kansas City in the late 1980s and early 1990s.
Through some friends from St. Louis, he'd heard that Heidorn had left the band, which was putting the finishing touches on "March 16-20, 1992," its folky third album. "So I got to the task of learning every song," he said, meaning he sat down and charted everything from the band's first two albums.
"I'd seen them a couple of times," he said. "They encapsulated what I liked about music as a young person in his early 20s - they rocked hard. I had no idea that they were going down such an intense folk route on the new album."
Belzer ended up talking to Tony Margherita, the band's manager, who gave Belzer's phone number to Jeff Tweedy, now the leader of Wilco.
"I talked to Jeff three or four times," Belzer said. "We had a lot of things in common musically. We both liked the Byrds, Uncle Dave Macon."
Belzer ended up auditioning for the drummer's job in mid-1992. By October, he was on the road with the band - thanks in part, he said, to an endorsement from Mark Greenberg of Kansas City's lounge-rock pioneers, the Coctails.
Within a year, Belzer was replaced by Ken Coomer (who was recently let go from Wilco).
"After leaving the 'Arkansas Traveler Tour,' we regrouped, did some one-off shows and then did a European tour with Sugar," Belzer said. "By then, I was feeling lots of anxiety, being on the road with people I didn't really know. Jeff and Jay (Farrar) weren't really communicating at that point, and I didn't have the skills to deal with that."
In early 1993, Belzer got the call from Tweedy: The band had hired Coomer to replace him.
"I was hurt and angry," Belzer said, "but it was the right thing to do."
Today, Belzer is the drummer in Tijuana Crime Scene, a chamber-pop band that also includes Alex Brahl, the tour manager and soundman for the Get Up Kids, Mark Young of the Appleseed Cast and Ron Hayes of Kill Creek. The band expects to release an album early this winter.
Belzer still hears from Uncle Tupelo diehards - especially in cyberspace - but he has largely kept quiet about his tenure in one of the '90s most enduring cult bands. He got some recognition recently in "89/93: An Anthology," a collection of Uncle Tupelo songs: There's a photo with him, Tweedy and Farrar, and he's mentioned in the liner notes.
"I don't really talk about it much," he said, "but I had some great experiences. During the Arkansas Traveler Tour, we had these all-star jams, where all the bands came on stage and played at the end of the show. I'll never forget playing the drums on 'The Weight' while Levon Helm sang and played the mandolin."