How The Band Rusted Root Got Its Start

Last Updated on February 21, 2022 by Lil Ginge

Rusted Root is a worldbeat-based alternative rock band that formed in 1990 in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, and found success starting in the mid-90s. It was founded by Michael Glabicki, singer, songwriter, and guitarist, along with Liz Berlin, a percussionist.

The band began as a house band at a club in Pittsburgh’s South Side called Jack’s Back Room where the band held a weekly gig. But they would go on to achieve true success and fame by 1994 with the release of their debut major label album When I Woke.

Rusted Root has recorded a total of eight albums, sold three million records worldwide, and played music on the road for decades. They have also been featured on various motion picture soundtracks including Ice Age, Twister, and Matilda, along with television soundtracks like New Girk, Ally McBeal, and Charmed.

The Early Formation of Rusted Root

The alterna-worldbeat rock-based musical band Rusted Root began when its lead singer and songwriter Michael Glabicki, and percussionist and vocalist Liz Berlin met at a political rally in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. Glabicki was a college dropout who lacked a plan and a path to achieve it. But he spent a couple of years learning how to be a songwriter and developed a vision for the future playing music.  

At the previously mentioned political rally, the pair of Glabicki and Berlin found a mutual love and interest in diverse musical instruments. They decided to start a musical project that would feature them both on vocals and began a search for other musicians to join them.

Bassist Patrick Norman was a jazz fan studying at the University of Pittsburgh, while drummer Jim Donovan was also at the University studying classical drumming. Glabicki and Berlin recruited the pair into their new musical project which they now called Rusted Root.

Expanded Personnel and Recording of Debut Album

In 1993, the band found an additional member: Jim DiSpirito, an ethnomusicologist and percussionist. DiSpirito had gone abroad to study music in India. He joined the foursome of Rusted Root, and the band started to develop a following in local music clubs.

Rusted Root released their debut album Cruel Sun independently in 1992 on the label Blue Duck. The album, clocking in at 57:42, was produced by the band as well as Dave Bryan. The album boasted a number of tunes that would become Rusted Root classics including “Send Me On my Way”, and “Cat Turned Blue.” It would also go on to sell over 100,000 copies.

Rusted Root’s Debut Major Label Album When I Woke

The success of its indie label debut led Rusted Root to score a major-label contract with Mercury Records. They would go on to record and released their debut major label record When I Woke in 1994. The album went platinum in the United States. It clocked in at 58:45 minutes and was produced by Bill Bottrell.

When I Woke featured tunes like “Drum Trip” (3:45), “Ecstasy” (5”02), and “Food and Creative Love” (4:13), along with re-recorded versions of “Cruel Sun” (8:00), “Send Me On My Way” (4:22), and “Cat Turned Blue” (3:43). In addition to Glabicki, Berlin, Donovan, Norman, and Dispirito, it also boasted John Buynak (who also joined the band in 1990) on guitars, winds, banjos, percussion, and backing vocals as well as Jenn Wertz on back vocals and percussion.

Ultimately the album would find chart success, hitting a peak position of 51 on the US Billboard 200 and #1 on the US Heatseekers Albums chart. “Send Me On My Way” was a successful single, charting at #72 on the Billboard Hot 100 singles chart and certified platinum in the United Kingdom. The song has become increasingly iconic as a piece of 90s pop alternative rock culture over time.

If you enjoyed this blog post on the early biography of Rusted Root, check out this piece I wrote on blues-rock singer, songwriter and guitarist Joanne Shaw Taylor.

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