The rise of the Indigo Girls in 1989 was a happy reaffirmation of the enduring appeal – and commercial viability – of intelligent acoustic-based music.
It didn’t hurt the Indigo Girls – Atlanta natives Amy Ray and Emily Saliers – to have talented friends in high places, such as the members of fellow Peach Staters R.E.M. who appeared on the duo’s major-label debut album, Indigo Girls.
R.E.M. also helped break the girls by offering them the high profile if intimidating gig of opening during three weeks of R.E.M.’s Green arena tour. Armed with their acoustic guitars, the Indigos managed to avoid being swamped in the big halls and won over thousands of new fans each night.
With only moderate airplay, their album went gold, and Epic re-released their indie debut album, Strange Fire.
The duo met in Decatur, Georgia, when Saliers, recently transplanted from her native New Haven, Connecticut, was in sixth grade and Ray in fifth.
The two women began performing together in 1980 as Saliers and Ray, playing amateur nights at an Atlanta bar, covering standard folk-pop fare while gradually working in their more unconventional original material.
When both ended up at Atlanta’s Emory University three years later, they renamed themselves The Indigo Girls. They issued a home-grown single, Crazy Game in 1985, an EP in 1986 and an LP, Strange Fire, in 1987, all on their own Indigo label.
With some reluctance, the pair signed with Epic in July 1988. By the following November, they were in Los Angeles, cutting their album with producer Scott Litt. He solicited contributions from Utopia bassist Kasim Sulton, Patti Smith Group drummer Jay Dee Daugherty and percussionist Paulinho DaCosta, among others.
For years, Amy and Emily made incremental improvements on a timid recorded sound that rarely captured their onstage charisma. Their seventh studio album, Come On New School (1999) hit a career peak by simplifying their poetry and rocking out, without abandoning their spiritual roots.