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2003.08.21 - The Albany Times Union - The Sideman Out Front (Tommy)

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2003.08.21 - The Albany Times Union - The Sideman Out Front (Tommy) Empty 2003.08.21 - The Albany Times Union - The Sideman Out Front (Tommy)

Post by Blackstar on Sat May 30, 2020 11:05 pm

The sideman out front

Replacements and Guns N' Roses vet Tommy Stinson takes a turn in the spotlight

By GREG HAYMES, Staff writer

Rock 'n' roll offers the perfect ecosystem for the growth of that robust perennial, the Outsized Show-Biz Ego.

The spotlight supplies the heat and light. The seemingly endless supply of alcohol and drugs -- not to mention backstage pizzas and deli platters -- provide the nutrients. And audience applause, fan adoration and media attention furnish the -- well, the fertilizer.

But what about the journeyman rockers? The second bananas who don't have the hunger, the smarts, the stomach (or all three) to play politics, wrest power and grab glory? What about the guys who stand just on the spotlight's outer edge, hammering out the riffs that rock 'n' roll runs on?

Guys like Tommy Stinson.

In the garden of rock star egos, Stinson has been in the company of redwoods since the tender age of 12, when he was recruited by his older brother, Bob, to play bass in his Minneapolis garage punk band, the Impediments, which also included drummer Chris Mars and guitarist-vocalist-songwriter Paul Westerberg. The band soon changed its name to the Replacements, and in 1981 unleashed its beer-soaked debut album, "Sorry Ma, Forgot to Take Out the Trash," on Twin/Tone Records.

With Westerberg at the helm, the group released a series of increasingly well-received albums: 1983's eclectic "Hootenanny," the '84 critical breakthrough "Let It Be" and their acclaimed '85 major-label debut, "Tim." While the band's songcraft evolved, its legendarily drunken performances and equally notorious feuds made mainstream success elusive.

"I mean, the Replacements stuff that we did, I'm still proud of," says Stinson, who heads into Valentine's in Albany on Sunday night. "It's all great, fine, good, all that -- but Paul just wasn't a team player: He wrote the songs, and we played them."

Pinup boy

What Stinson lacked as a bass player -- and he may never be a master technician of the Tony Levin school -- he made up for in rock 'n' roll heart and marquee-idol looks: The Replacements' entry in "The Spin Alternative Record Guide" hailed him as "the all-time indie-rock pin-up boy."

A foot soldier in the Replacements' drunken, ramshackle platoon, Stinson remained onboard even after his brother Bob was fired, ostensibly for substance-abuse issues, just as the band was on the verge of its big commercial breakthrough, 1987's "Pleased to Meet Me." (Bob Stinson died in 1995 at age 35.)

When the act finally called it quits after 1990's "All Shook Down," Stinson was the first member to form a new band, called Bash & Pop. In 1993, the new act released the well-received disc "Friday Night is Killing Me" on Warner Bros., the label that had coaxed the Replacements out of indie obscurity. Stinson seemed poised to finally step out of his role as second banana and into the spotlight. But it was to be the band's only recording.

"The Bash & Pop thing would have continued on had I not lost interest in the record company more than the band," explains Stinson. "It was pretty much my solo project, anyway. I had a couple of guys who played on the record, but most of the instrumentation was just me. But what ended up happening was that I moved out to L.A., and my drummer went back to Minneapolis."

On the West Coast, Stinson started forming another version of Bash & Pop, which evolved into a new act, Perfect. "It turned into much more of a band thing," Stinson says. Perfect "was closer to my vision of what I wanted to be doing at that time, rather than being a solo artist or anything like that."

Biting the dust

In 1995, Perfect put out the EP "When Squirrels Play Chicken," on the decidedly scruffier Restless label.

The band's name turned out to be less than prophetic: "That was frustrating, too, because just as we made our record, we were getting screwed by the record company," Stinson says. "So that band bit the dust, too."

A pattern was developing: Acclaim followed by implosion. More disturbing, the life cycle of Stinson's bands was getting shorter and shorter.

"It's always frustrating when that happens," Stinson says. "But you know, there are a million and one bands out there doing the same thing -- equally, if not more, talented" than Stinson's acts. "Everyone gets screwed at one time or another -- and in some cases, many times. But it's all part of the deal. It's what you sign up for when you play rock 'n' roll."

But Stinson was so frustrated that he dropped out of the music business for a while. When he was eventually lured back into the spotlight in 1998, it was to accept an invitation from Axl Rose, who was tinkering with a new incarnation of Guns N' Roses.

If Stinson had a difficult time with Westerberg, the prospect of working with the notoriously demanding, tantrum-prone Rose seemed freighted with trouble. After all, Rose's original GNR mates had already jumped ship after releasing 1993's covers album "The Spaghetti Incident," leaving the singer-songwriter adrift in a rock 'n' roll Sargasso. Rumors abounded about endless studio sessions and lineup changes.

Sure enough, last year's eagerly awaited GNR tour -- which made a stop at the Pepsi Arena in November -- was beset by constant troubles: a tour-kickoff riot, slow ticket sales, numerous cancellations and, finally, the decision by Clear Channel Communications -- only the most powerful promoter in the business -- to pull the plug. What's more, the band's epically overdue new album, "Chinese Democracy," still lacks a release date.

"It's been going great," Stinson declares.

Huh? Really? "It's closer to the end of the record being completed than it is the beginning," he says. "And we start back up in rehearsal mode in the middle of September, which is a good sign to me that the record's going to be ready to come out soon, and we'll be out on the road again touring behind it soon after that.

"I'm not drinking the company Kool-Aid on all that. That's all straight info. I guarantee that the album's coming out. Hopefully, it'll be out sometime before the end of the year."

Going solo

In the meantime, Stinson is taking another grab at the gold ring. He spent two months earlier this year recording his first-ever solo album. This weekend's Valentine's show kicks off a three-week sneak preview tour.

"Stylistically speaking, I think the album is not probably very different than anything that I've ever done -- be it Perfect, Bash & Pop or maybe even the Replacements, I suppose," Stinson says of the still untitled album.

"But I think it's probably my most honest record. It's a little self-indulgent, and the songs are pretty introspective. It's the most freed-up that I've ever been making a record. It's just an eclectic bunch of little songs, you know?"

Stinson not only penned all the songs, but it will be the first record that he's released under his own name, rather than a band name. "I produced it, and I played most of the instruments on it except for drums and some guitar things," he says. The bassist recruited a few friends, including drummers Josh Freese of A Perfect Circle; guitarist Dave Phillips of Frank Black and the Catholics; and two GNR bandmates, guitarist Richard Fortus and keyboardist Dizzy Reed.

At Valentine's, hometown heroes the Figgs will open the show with a set of their own. Then Stinson will take over, performing a batch of his new songs solo before being joined by the Figgs. "We'll play some of the Perfect and Bash & Pop stuff, a couple of their songs and a few covers. We're just going to have some fun," Stinson says.

Not do or die

While Stinson, now 36 years old, certainly hopes that he can finally make a splash with his upcoming solo album, it's no longer a desperate, do-or-die proposition.

"I have no regrets, you know? I wouldn't trade in any of those experiences," he says. "I've done a lot of the things that I've always wanted to do. Not everything, of course, but I've certainly had more things going for me and more success than most people ever have in their careers.

"I think that over the course of the next two or three years, I'll probably be busier -- doing Guns N' Roses and my own stuff -- than I've ever been before. And I welcome that.

"I feel like I'm doing good. I'm in a place now where I can write honest music and feel free enough to put it out -- regardless of what the outcome might be."

He'll take Rose over control-freak Westerberg

Having played lengthy stints with both Paul Westerberg and Axl Rose, bassist Tommy Stinson is in a unique position to answer the burning question: In the Battle of the Rock Star Egos, who is a better band boss to work for, Paul or Axl?

"Well, Axl is definitely a better person to work for. He doesn't really act much like a boss, however. He's more of a bandmate, making it a we're-all-in-this-together kind of situation.

"Whereas Paul was definitely more single-minded. (Laughs.) Paul's got a bigger ego than anyone I've ever worked with. And he's more self-conscious than anyone I've ever known.

"Axl is definitely way more of a collaborator than Paul will ever be," Stinson says of his current employer. "With Axl, I feel like I'm actually part of a band. We're all writing these songs, and we're all playing them. I just feel more a part of it.

"Axl checks his ego at the door. He comes in and he gets involved, you know? That's a way better vibe to make music with."

*

ROCK ROLE

TOMMY STINSON with the Figgs and Jake Brennan

When: 8 p.m. Sunday

Where: Valentine's, 17 New Scotland Ave., Albany

Tickets: $10

Info: 432-6572

https://web.archive.org/web/20030831043336/http://www.timesunion.com/AspStories/story.asp?storyID=162597&category=ARTS&newsdate=8/21/2003
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