As you can probably tell from my posts, I was (and am) a big fan of the old Athens sound, beginning with the B-52's and R.E.M., and branching out to less-well-known but still vital bands from that era like Pylon, Oh-OK and Buzz of Delight. Love Tractor was an Athens band that appeared very late on my radar, probably because what they were initially into was a bit removed from the other local bands of that time.
The band was formed in April 1980 by two local guitarists, Mike Richmond and Mark Cline, more as a way to alleviate the boredom of living in the one-horse town Athens was back then, rather than creating/joining a new musical movement. The two began gigging around Athens as a duo, accompanied at first by a drum machine. But along the way, they began adding members on bass and keyboards, and shed the drum machine for a succession of flesh-and-blood drummers (including, briefly, a pre-R.E.M. Bill Berry) before settling on Kit Schwartz behind the kit.
The major difference that set Love Tractor apart from the other bands vying for stage time at the 40 Watt Club and Tyrone's back then was in their sound - Love Tractor was a TOTALLY instrumental folk-rock band; no vocals whatsoever in their performances.
However, the worst band I saw there was a couple of weeks ago, when I went to the restaurant for a bite to eat and a couple of drinks. I got there fairly early in the evening, and while I ate I watched the band set up - just a quartet of nondescript young guys, sporting the apparently de rigueur look of torn jeans and scraggly post-secondary school goatees. I was looking forward to some decent music, but these guys completely disappointed me. Their entire set consisted of fifteen-twenty minute-long meandering "jazz explorations", with each player seemingly just doing his own thing. There was no visible connection/acknowledgement between the players, and as such, their music did nothing to draw the audience in. After a very short while, their music moved from boring to annoying, and I fled the venue much earlier that usual.
So, I can sort of imagine what Love Tractor was facing during their early years of playing in Athens. Cline has admitted in interviews that his was never "the most marketable band". With its shows, the band never really built up the sort of buzz and mythology that surrounds the early efforts of the B-52s (i.e., the legendary Valentine's Day party) or R.E.M. (practicing in the abandoned church). It seems that they were more admired than loved in town.
The relative success of this record, coupled with DB Records' increasingly shaky financial posture, led to the band's move to the larger Big Time Records (America) label in 1986. Their first release on their new label was 1987's This Ain't No Outerspace Ship. This album was Love Tractor's first full-scale foray into vocal rock, and in my opinion they pull it off with great success. Their sound on this record can be described as sort of a funkier R.E.M., with Richmond's twangy voice well suited to songs such as "Beatle Boots" and "Outside With Ma".
As fortune would have it, I moved to Athens shortly after this album came out, and the record was being championed by WUOG, the local independent college station. They played "Outside With Ma" to death, so much so that I fell in love with it. If I recall correctly, I bought this album on vinyl at either the Wuxtry, the famous local record shop, or at the local college co-op/music store located just down the street. It wasn't until years later that I replaced my vinyl copy with a CD version.