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Taking their name from a low-budget horror film, 10,000 Maniacs came together in Jamestown, New York, with singer Natalie Merchant and guitarist John Lombardo teaming up to pen folk-infused pop-rock songs rich with social consciousness and literate emotion. The band’s independently released album attracted the attention of Elektra A&R man Howard Thompson and 10,000 Maniacs made their Elektra debut with 1985’s The Wishing Chair, recorded in London with producer Joe Boyd (The Incredible String Band, Fairport Convention, Nick Drake) behind the board.
Lombardo parted ways with the band in 1986, leaving Merchant to collaborate on songs with guitarist Rob Buck. Though they’d long been critics’ favorites and college radio darlings, 10,000 Maniacs’ popular breakthrough came the following year with the release of the RIAA two-times platinum-certified In My Tribe. Again collaborating with a producer with historical connections to Elektra/Asylum – in this case, Peter Asher, whose credits include Linda Ronstadt, James Taylor, and Bonnie Raitt. Tracks such as “Like The Weather” and a cover of Cat Stevens’ “Peace Train” were massive hits, making Merchant an iconic star known for her passionate vocals, introspective lyrics, and outspoken social activism.
The platinum-certified Blind Man’s Zoo was released in 1989, followed in 1992 by the band’s most eclectic collection, Our Time In Eden. The two-times platinum-certified album placed Merchant’s versatile voice against an orchestrated backdrop of strings and brass (provided by James Brown’s legendary horn section). The album featured what would be one of the band’s biggest hits in “These Are Days,” which reached #1 on Billboard’s “Modern Rock Tracks” chart.
10,000 Maniacs celebrated their success – as well as the 1992 election of President Bill Clinton – with a performance at MTV’s “Rock N’ Roll Inaugural Ball.” On a day filled with memorable moments, Merchant’s unforgettable duet with her good friend Michael Stipe on “To Sir With Love” was a widely acknowledged high point.
In 1993, the band released its three-times platinum-certified MTV Unplugged, but Merchant has already announced her departure from the band to pursue a solo career. Though founding guitarist Buck passed away in 2000, 10,000 Maniacs remains active today, recording and performing in various and ever-shifting permutations.