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The Catalyst interview: Tommy Stinson

Bill DeYoung

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The story of the Replacements (1979-91) is full of false starts, half-truths and what ifs. A gloriously sloppy rock ‘n’ roll band out of Minneapolis, the band emerged fully-formed, charged with the energy and aggression of punk, and charmed with a brilliant singer/songwriter (Paul Westerberg) out front, whose incisive, cutting lyrics and earworm melodies elevated the Replacements several notches above their contemporaries.

(Granted, in the 1980s, there wasn’t a lot of competition in the “honest and hard-charging American rock band” category, but the Replacements had an undeniably ragged allure, and loads of promise.)

The band’s legacy is undisputed. Heard today, the records still rock along a razor’s edge.

But the Replacements never really caught on during their time on earth – mostly because they were, by their own admission, drunk, apathetic and anarchic.

Their shambolic stage shows – they often left songs half-finished, and/or fell over each other from excessive alcohol use – left the band labeled “box office poison.” Tom Petty fired them as his opening act midway through a tour.

The group was banned from Saturday Night Live following a chaotic, boozy performance capped by a live-on-air F-bomb. They were signed to a major label (Sire Records) but refused to appear in the video for what was supposed to be their breakthrough song.

This is old news to Tommy Stinson, who’ll perform a 7 p.m. solo concert Thursday at the St. Petersburg Shuffleboard Club (“I love that place!”), with violin and harmony vocals from (show opener) Karla Rose.

Stinson, 57, was the Replacements’ bass player (he dropped out of high school to go the road with them). He’s also a guitarist, a singer and a songwriter who’s made a handful of great records, as the founder and frontman for Bash & Pop, and Perfect, and as a solo artist.

Time’ll do that to you. Post-Replacements, Stinson spent 16 years playing bass with Guns N Roses, then another seven as a member of Soul Asylum.

His latest project is a two-man Americana/country band with guitarist Chip Roberts, Cowboys in the Campfire. “He has also grown into a songwriter on par with Westerberg, his former singer from The Replacements,” raved Americana Highways.

Find tickets for Thursday’s performance here.

 

St. Pete Catalyst: I read a quote from you somewhere. You said you weren’t interested in the music business, and you had nothing to prove. So why are you still working when you don’t really have to?

Tommy Stinson: You know, I still like the process. I still like playing and performing and I still enjoy writing and recording, and all of that stuff. So it doesn’t really matter to me outside of that. I like to do what I do, and I’m lucky enough I can do it any way I want to, really, at this point. Or not! I can take it or leave it, really. But I’m a very social person. And yeah, I still like the process of it all.

 

You like to avoid being pigeonholed – the music you’ve put out runs the gamut. For example, Cowboys in the Campfire is very cool, but also very different from other stuff you’ve done. What’s your approach – ‘This is what I feel like this week’?

Pretty much! (laughing) The Cowboys in the Campfire stuff, pretty much it delegates itself on its own. If Chip and I come up with something, or if I come up with something that I have him play on, and we think ‘This would be kind of cool to throw in the set,’ we’ll just throw it in there very haphazardly and just see how it rolls, you know?

 

Going all the way back to the Replacements, ‘haphazardly’ seems like a great word to use …

(laughing) That word there is pretty much in every aspect of my being!

 

It always seemed to me – forgive me if I have this wrong – that the Replacements were their own worst enemies. The band could have been so much bigger, but it never happened because it was haphazard and you guys shot yourselves in the foot a million times … how do you look back on those times? Prideful? Regrets?

I do look back with a certain amount of pride, for sure, and not one regret. We did what we knew best how to do, as far as we could do it and as long as we could do it. And with all of our, uhh, social graces and everything else in tow – or lack thereof, really – we did what we set out to do and from there, whatever else is gonna happen, happens.

I think we put our best foot forward. Mind you, we were pretty messed-up people to begin with. We all come from broken backgrounds and that kind of thing. What best we knew of life, and how to do anything, we did it.

The Replacements , 1985 (from left): Singer/guitarist Paul Westerberg, bassist Tommy Stinson, drummer Chris Mars and guitarist Bob Stinson. Tommy’s older brother Bob was fired from the band a year later, due (reportedly) to addiction issues. He died in 1995. Publicity photo.

The Saturday Night Live debacle … big break time. Was there ever the thought ‘Well, we maybe could have handled that a little better …’

You know, we didn’t really care about that. We were more into the idea of ‘OK, how are we going to make this entertaining? How are we going to do this?’ We played by our own handbook. As faulty as that is, and was, can be, it’s the best we knew what to do with. And that’s how we existed. Being social malcontents or whatever you want to call us – we were all of the above, probably – it’s just we didn’t know any better. We didn’t particularly give a shit to play the game. And show up, and do what everyone else was doing to become more successful with their music. We just had to be ourselves.

And ourselves was on the line. I think when you look at the history of it, we were an honest band. We couldn’t put on airs about f—in’ anything, whether it was tying our shoe or playing f—ing Saturday Night Live.

 

I could imagine the label was going ‘What the heck is wrong with these guys?’

They probably were. A lot of times, the label was right there with us. We hung out with [Sire Records president] Seymour Stein and others from the record label. They weren’t as screwed up as we were, in any way, but they accepted us, that we were just the best that we could be. I mean, we didn’t have anything in us to do any more than we did in any particular way.

That’s not to say Paul don’t have regrets about himself, I’m just telling you from my angle. Where I’m sittin.’ I think we did everything the best we could. A ball f—ed in barnacles and everything with it, you know?

 

The later tenures you did in Guns N Roses and Soul Asylum, was there an element there of ‘I better clean up my act … Gotta play the game a little’?

(laughing) Not really, ‘cause both bands knew what they were hiring. They both knew what they were getting for their dollar, if you will. The Soul Asylum guys I grew up with, so that’s a whole different thing on its owns. But Guns, they knew the history, they knew what I was about. It was part of the allure, I think, in that regard. Because I was one of them.

 

You’re playing some pretty weird venues on this little solo tour this week. Here in St. Pete, you’re playing the Shuffleboard Center. The Imperial Wine Bar in Orlando. A barber shop in Melbourne. Was there a method to the madness behind playing funky places?

Totally, totally. When I play my own shows, I make more of the money. If I play other venues, they take up to half of the f–in’ take. I can’t really tour for that. In my world, if I’m going to go out and play shows, I gotta do X amount of things to make it worth me doing. So it’s in terms of ‘Well, what’s the best way of doing this for me to make the most out of it?’ And that’s the way I do it.

I’m a social beast, so there’s an intimate part of me playing some of these shows that, y’know, people don’t normally get when they go see their favorite musicians or whatever, that kind of crap. Again, I get off on that part. It kind of fuels my creative juices in a way.

It’s much more satisfying, and a lot less work, to do it this way.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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