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TOMMY GETS HIS TONSILS OUT: Q&A With The Replacements/GNR Bassmaster Tommy Stinson

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BY JONATHAN VALANIA Tommy Stinson was the bass player in the The Replacements. He also played bass in Guns N’ Roses for nearly 20 years, and Soul Asylum for two albums, and played guitar and sang and wrote songs for Bash N’ Pop and Perfect and made solo albums. (For the in-depth 411 on Tommy Stinson’s life after The Replacements, check out this Rolling Stone profile from a couple years back.) But above all things Tommy Stinson was — along with his brother Bob on guitar, drummer Chris Mars and singer-guitarist Paul Westerberg, arguably one of the greatest songwriters of the last 40 years — in The motherfucking Replacements. You kids gotta understand what a big fucking deal that is/was. At the height of their powers, The Replacements were a perfect storm of glitter, hairspray and doom. Live, they were shambolic and alcoholic, on record they were dog-eared glory, the original inglorious bastards. They were junkyard dogs with hearts of gold. The Replacements were made to be broken. And they were good at breaking things: themselves mostly, but also the will of their audience, their unshakable bond with rock critics, their indie cred, the unrealistic expectations of major labels and the maxed out expense accounts that went with them, and on a good night, the ceiling on greatness. Because when the booze was in the seventh house and Westerberg and the Brothers Stinson aligned with Mars — The Replacements were the greatest rock n’ roll band on Earth. Period. The end. In advance of Stinson’s performance at South Philly Van Club on Wednesday with his acoustic duo Cowboys in the Campfire, we got him on the horn to talk about the past, the present and what comes next.

PHAWKER: Alright, we’re rolling. This the interview with Tommy Stinson. It is March 12, 2018. So we finally speak. Long time a fan. First time a caller. Thanks for doing this. Excited to speak with you.

TOMMY STINSON: Yeah, sorry it took so long to hook it up.

PHAWKER: No worries, it happens sometimes. Where are you guys right now?

TOMMY STINSON: We’re in St. Petersburg, Florida. I’m out by the pool, trying to hide from the rain here, so you’re gonna hear a little music in the background. Is that gonna be alright?

PHAWKER: That’ll be fine. So, let’s start with the obvious question. Tell me a little bit about Cowboys in the Campfire [pictured, below]. What is this all about?Tommy+Stinson+Press+Photo

TOMMY STINSON: Yeah, the Cowboys in the Campfire came from collaborating with Chip Roberts for the last ten years. We decided if I had some time down the road that we’d, you know, do a duo thing, where it’s just him and I stripped down and play some songs, write some songs, stuff like that. I was busy with Guns ’n Roses and the Replacements and things like that, and we didn’t really get a chance to do it. Literally sat down to do it about two years ago. And, you know, we both found ourselves coming up on summer and going, well, what have we got going on? We’ve got nothing going on this summer, so we got in the van, booked some shows, and went out as Cowboys in the Campfire and had a lot of fun doing it. And, you know, we’ve done it now for a couple of years, trying to build a little following for it, and we’re gonna work on a record here over the next month or so. Then hopefully put that out by the summer.

PHAWKER: So is it mainly covers? Originals?

TOMMY STINSON: Originals. I mean we do “Foggy Mountain Breakdown.” That’s an old folk song that we joined up. And, you know, some other things, original stuff. We might do a couple covers here and there as we go along. We might throw in “Working Man’s Blues” by Merle Haggard at some point. We like that one a whole lot.

PHAWKER: Will there ever be another Bash & Pop album down the line?

TOMMY STINSON: Yes, there will be. I will probably—we’re gonna start working on a new Bash & Pop record in April.

PHAWKER: Excellent. So I’m calling you from Philadelphia. You were living here a few years back. I thought I’d ask you the obligatory question. What, if anything, do you miss about the Philadelphia area?

TOMMY STINSON: You know, I don’t really miss where I lived when I lived in Philadelphia. We were living in Media. I likedBASH+N+POP_REG.+ED+PROOF it okay over there, but, you know, it’s not my kind of scene, you know, a little older, kind of retiree community for the most part.

PHAWKER: It’s pretty Trump-y out there, yeah.

TOMMY STINSON: Yeah, but I got some friends there, you know. Some friends that I’ve known a long time. My buddy, Matt Cord [who DJ’d at WMMR for many years and now works at 95.7 Ben-FM]. I’ve known him for thirty some years. He’s a good old buddy. Yeah, but other than that not really missing a whole lot of it.

PHAWKER: Are you still living up in Hudson River Valley?

TOMMY STINSON: Yeah, live in Hudson, New York.

PHAWKER: Can I ask you some Replacements questions?

TOMMY STINSON: Sure.

PHAWKER: Okay. My friend, Bob Mehr wrote, in my opinion, the definitive Replacements biography, Trouble Boys. I was wondering if there’s anything in that that you’d like to correct or address otherwise?

TOMMY STINSON: You know, he pretty much did the job on that. I’ll be honest with you: I haven’t read it. I lived it, so ITrouble Boys Cover figured that’s probably all I need to do is that. Probably some time on the road I’ll read it, but I lived it. A lot of the stuff in there that starts off the book is kind of painful, so I don’t really want to retrace those steps. But, you know, I trust Bob did a very accurate accounting. He researched it long enough and did his very best to make sure he got everything as right as he could, and I think that’s probably close enough.

PHAWKER: I thought he really did your brother [Replacements guitarist Bob Stinson [pictured, below, in dress], who passed away in 1995]  justice. He really created a very rich and complex portrait of your brother, he didn’t just paint your brother as some kind of rock ’n roll casualty or just a fuck up or something like that. A real person came through there.

I was also surprised to learn that your brother came up with that awesome lead on “I Will Dare,” which is my all-time my favorite Replacements song. And your brother’s lead on that is one of my favorite guitar parts of all time — that deep, dulcet Duane Eddy vibe.

TOMMY STINSON: Yeah, well he had a lot of different things going on inside of him that would be surprising if you go back and look step by step at the early history [of the Replacements]. He was—when he was into something, he really put his all into it and was quite an amazing guitar player actually.

PHAWKER: So, I wanted to share a live Replacements anecdote, I’m sure you get this kind of thing all the time, so please indulge me. Saw you guys at the Ritz in New York City in 1986 when Tim came out. You guys were in the middle of playing a slow, quieter song. Paul has a lit cigarette dangling from his lip, and this is back when clubs still trusted you with the actual can of beer instead of pouring it in a harmless plastic cup. This guy throws a can of Rolling Rock from the back of the room, which was really far away, and it must’ve been really full for it to travel that far, and it hit Paul right in the forehead. He didn’t miss a note. The cigarette didn’t even fall out of his mouth. I was just like: ‘Rock ’n fucking roll!’

TOMMY STINSON: That’s a good one.Bob Stinson Dress

PHAWKER: I’ve always wanted to ask you guys, what was the deal with loud plaid suits?

TOMMY STINSON: You know, we all just kind of had a thing for plaid and like that, just always had a thing for it. We were always looking at the Slade videos and pictures. They’re all wearing, you know, crazy plaid outfits. That might’ve had something to do with it as well.

PHAWKER: Slade. That makes sense. I wanted to ask you about working with [legendary producer, best known for his work with Big Star/Alex Chilton] Jim Dickinson on Pleased To Meet Me. I actually interviewed him for a Big Star story years ago, and we got to talking about his time working with The Replacements and he was telling me about you guys had punched a hole in the wall at Ardent Studios [in Memphis, where all the Big Star tracks were recorded] somewhere, then, when you guys were totally drunk, you would just like puke in that hole in the wall. You remember this?

TOMMY STINSON: No, he’s full of shit on that one. We definitely didn’t punch a hole in the wall, and we definitely didn’t puke in the studio. That was—he kind of liked to spin some lies back then about different things just for, you know, comic relief.

PHAWKER: He was a master raconteur.

TOMMY STINSON: But, yeah, no, that didn’t happen. [laughing] He was a fun cat to work with and also could be very fucking cantankerous. And when he got cantankerous, we actually kind of got a kick out of it. Like ‘He’s just kind of having an existential meltdown right now, and it’s kind of funny.’ We’d kind of watch with slight amusement. No, I mean, he was all Jim, all day, every day, and I mean that with great reverence.LET IT BE

PHAWKER: What do you remember about making Let It Be?

TOMMY STINSON: Oh, that’s so long ago. I can’t even [laughing]. We might want to steer away from tour stuff because, I’m going to be honest with you, I don’t remember a whole lot. It was so long ago. I really have to pick my brain too much for that.

PHAWKER: Where do things stand now with the Replacements reunion? I thought the shows were great.  I was just astonished at the size of the crowd when you guys played in Philadelphia. It was like the Replacements were ten times more popular in death than they ever were in life.

TOMMY STINSON: Yeah, that surprised us as well, and we had a lot of fun with that. It was fun, you know, but I don’t know if we’ll ever do it again.

PHAWKER: So, there’s no plans to do shows some time in the future?

TOMMY STINSON: Nah.

PHAWKER: Sorry to hear that. Last question: The Replacements raised a lot of hell and got into a lot of trouble in the name of punk rock or rock ’n roll rebellion and left behind a long trail of wreckage. What is your one big regret from all that time? If there’s something you could go back and do over again and not do or do differently?

TOMMY STINSON: You know, I don’t have any. I have no regrets about what we did, how we did it, because I think we were as honest as we could be, and sometimes honesty comes with a price.

COWBOYS IN THE CAMPFIRE PERFORM @ SOUTH PHILLY VAN CLUB MARCH 28TH

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