Saturday, February 3, 2024

On the road with The Replacements in the mid 1980s

A young Paul Westerberg dropped off a four-song demo one day to a guy working at the Oar Folkjokeopus record store in Minneapolis. That worker was Peter Jesperson, who has written about his life in music promotion in his new book Euphoric Recall. Jesperson was instantly blown away by what he heard. When he offered Westerberg a chance for his band, The Replacements, to record an album, Paul was shocked, thinking he might get a gig out of it, and said, “You mean you think this shit is worth recording?”

Here are some other great nuggets from the book's long section on my fourth favorite band:

The first time Jesperson went to see the band, they were playing a sober show at a church. But when he arrived, drummer Chris Mars said they got kicked out for having pills and booze and wouldn’t be playing, plus their bassist Tommy Stinson fell out of a tree earlier in the day and couldn’t make it. The first time he did see them live, they didn’t have their act together but embodied everything Jesperson loved about rock n’ roll. Tommy was 13 and played well along with lots of jumping and yelling “fuck” into the mic. The next gig was written up in a Minneapolis weekly, and it was the first 'Mats show ever recorded (by Jesperson), and the consensus was that this group had “it.”

While he was making one of the band’s first flyers, Westerberg nixed saying anything about “rock n’ roll,” but approved the phrase “low class rock.” At one of their first gigs, Westerberg announced, “We are the Placemats,” and over time that turned into a shortened nickname for the band: the ‘Mats. 

It’s amazing that the debut album, Sorry Ma, Forgot to Take Out the Trash, took about seven months to make considering it’s a punky and raw record, but the band was getting better every day and so lots of re-recording at various places happened. Plus, Tommy was still in junior high and Bob Stinson had a job as a cook so neither could record on weekdays. Even though Bob was all about being a loud-fast band, when he and the others heard the ballad “If Only You Were Lonely,” - which took about 15 minutes for Paul to record - they all agreed it would make a great B-side to first single “I’m in Trouble.”

Paul’s artistry was beginning to flower as he got to spend more of his time focused on the band. One day in Duluth, he pulled Jesperson aside and quietly told him he had written his best line yet: “I can live without your touch if I can die within your reach.” Those moments were interspersed on that tour with harsher ones, all of which Jesperson witnessed first hand, including Bob getting violently shocked gripping to a mic stand and his guitar in Lawrence, Kansas and Paul being rushed to a Minneapolis hospital after a coughing fit in the car that was diagnosed as the result of his intense singing mixed with amphetamines. From then on, Paul always had to rub Ben-Gay on his chest before performances. That event also led to his writing of “Take Me Down to the Hospital.”

Poster from the rowdy show I saw in St. Louis
Early ‘Mats shows were pretty consistently great. But at a show in Detroit, the band turned their amps up so loud and drove everyone, including the soundman, out into the lobby. Paul kicked a glass of whiskey into Jesperson’s face when he asked the bandleader to fix the volume and the two never discussed the incident afterwards. When they made their way to a week of shows in and around New York City, the author and the Stinson brothers stayed in Hoboken with Ira Kaplan and Georgia Hubley who were starting their own band at the time called Yo La Tengo. They played with a variety of great bands during that week, including the Del Fuegos, Husker Du, and the Violent Femmes. 

After Jesperson went on the road for a few months to manage R.E.M., the band, especially Paul, seemed to be a little unhappy about his varied allegiances. It didn’t help when the two bands shared several bills that summer of 1983 and Michael Stipe’s band appeared to be universally adored while The Replacements, and their sloppy and loud playing, received lukewarm receptions. At one point Tommy called his mom asking for a plane ticket home so he could quit the band. He was talked into staying and Paul wrote the song “Sixteen Blue” about his young bass player.

They headed into the studio to begin recording what would be Let It Be, and Jesperson’s R.E.M. connection proved valuable when Bob couldn’t figure out a guitar part for “I Will Dare." Peter Buck stepped in. And of course the iconic shot of the band on the cover was taken around this time on the roof of the Stinson house. 

Jesperson outlines many tour stop antics, including how the band always knew to expect the guy in the wild slacks in Oklahoma City, which was Wayne Coyne, who was forming his band The Flaming Lips. During a particularly bad performance at CBGB’s, Westerberg was informed that Gene Simmons was there. The band launched into a very loose version of KISS’s “Black Diamond” and Simmons immediately departed. In early 1985, the band took its first swing through Florida and felt very unwelcome, with a show in Orlando being shut down by police before it even started, with the fuzz declaring that “we don’t want any punk rock in Orlando.” In Oklahoma City again, Tommy Stinson got drunk and a policeman saw him hanging off a backstage door and hauled him in to the station for underage drinking. He missed the show and Wayne Coyne took Jesperson to the station at 3 a.m. to bail Tommy out. An officer also warned Jesperson about himself being so drunk, and Westerberg (of course a drunk himself, albeit a younger one) told him the next day he better watch his drinking or he could lose his job.

As recording for the band’s first album after being signed to Sire Records took off, Alex Chilton produced a bit of the material and even sang harmony on the “dial” part of “Left of the Dial.” Everyone agreed that Tommy Ramone would be the producer. They would have six weeks booked to record Tim, which was an incredible amount of time by ‘Mats standards. As they were about to begin, Westerberg told Jesperson he would not be allowed in the studio and it was only years later that he read the reason being that he had gone on the road and managed R.E.M. back in 1983. Bob Stinson was also not around for much of these sessions, and it seemed he didn’t have his heart in the songs or maybe even the band anymore. Why the band named the album Tim remains a mystery, with the only clue being that Westerberg once told Jesperson that it was such a “nice name.” 

When the band got the call to perform on Saturday Night Live, everyone was flabbergasted. The band was locked into the NBC studios all day on the preceding Thursday to practice and SNL handlers were horrified when Bob Stinson asked for some beer - at 10 a.m.! Jesperson snuck down the block to grab some. Producer Lorne Michaels was livid when Westerberg said the f-word barely audible off mic during the live performance of “Bastards of Young,” but they still played “Kiss Me on the Bus” for their second song and it went off fairly well. They didn’t stay long at the fancy and uncomfortable afterparty.

Back out on tour, the band graduated from van to RV, but when Jesperson returned the trashed vehicle to the dealer, he had to pay a whopping $16,000 for repairs, including the ripped-out toilet the band had thrown onto the freeway. In April 1986, at a band meeting that Chris Mars and Bob Stinson refused to attend, Jesperson was officially fired. No real reason was given, but Jesperson suspects it was because of his excessive drinking or maybe Westerberg thought he had been holding the band back from success. 

He would go through a few more years of addiction before kicking the habit in 1991. Then Jesperson would spend many years transforming Twin/Tone Records and then New West Records both into successes. Some of the great records he’s produced over the years include ones by Peter Perrett, Soul Asylum, and Bash & Pop. 

Read my first and third articles about this book also.

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