More than a Guns & Roses ‘replacement’
Tommy Stinson anchors Guns & Roses with decades of experience, an endless supply of enthusiasm and a big rock & roll heart.
Tommy Stinson Photo: Courtesy/PR
Tommy Stinson chortles into the phone in his Berlin hotel room earlier this
month. He’s just been asked if he considers his role as bass player in Guns
& Roses to be his “day job.”
“Funny you should say that right now,”
he continued, laughing, alluding to the travails of life on the road and the
famed American hard rock band’s most recent show two days earlier at the 02
Arena in London.
Members of the audience, angered at perennially tardy
front man Axl Rose causing an hour’s delay, threw objects onstage when the band
finally appeared. A miffed Stinson yelled into the microphone, “If you throw any
f****g thing on stage, we’ll go home.”
The show eventually calmed down to
normal G&R bedlam level, marred only the next day when Rose reported that
valuable jewelry had been stolen from his dressing room (It was later returned
by an overzealous fan).
“Well, you know, goofy shit happens on
There’s always something,” said Stinson. He admitted, however, that
in the infancy of G&R’s summer tour, which will see the band performing in
Israel at Park Hayarkon on July 3, he was having a rough start.
an easy gig, let’s put it that way. It’s tough to maintain your equilibrium and
get your gig legs on again after being off the road for a while,” said Stinson.
“I wasn’t really ready to be touring again, but you kind of figure it out –
after all, this is what we chose for an occupation.”
a lifer as far as music goes – he’s been a professional musician, on tour or in
the studio, for 30 of his 45 years, first in the 1980s as cofounder (at age 13)
and bassist for legendary Minneapolis rockers The Replacements, then as front
man for his own roots rock bands like Bash and Pop and Perfect, and today,
juggling a comfortable maverick solo career. He took on his Guns & Roses
bass player and onstage foil for Rose in 1998, years after the first incarnation
of G&R, featuring the controversial singer and Slash, had
“I’ve been in Guns & Roses longer than any band I’ve
ever been in. I have passion for it as well as [for] my own career – I love them
both,” he said.
With spiked hair, a skinny build and an effervescent
attitude, Stinson has long personified the rambunctious rock & roll spirit.
Famed producer and session musician Jim Dickinson, who played piano on The
Rolling Stones’ song “Wild Horses” and produced the 1987 landmark album by The
Replacements, Pleased to Meet Me, once said, “There are people who say Keith
Richards is the walking embodiment of rock & roll, but it’s really Tommy
Stinson said he never did quite figure out what Dickinson
meant, but treated it as a compliment.
But today, however, Stinson is not
feeling very rock & roll – he’s feeling his offstage middle age.
45, the touring around the world stuff is getting a little old, and I’m getting
tired,” he said. Then realizing how it probably sounded, he quickly added, “I’m
not going to complain about it, it’s a good job if you can get it, and I got it.
But traveling is just not as attractive as it was when I was a
Traveling as a kid didn’t mean the luxury hotels, jets and
amenities afforded him today as one of rock’s top touring attractions – it meant
primarily being holed up in no-frills, smoky vans or buses with The
Replacements. While it may not have been the optimal environment for an
impressionable teenager, Stinson said the alternatives might have been
“To some degree, I feel I missed out on my childhood – I grew up
real quick, and sometimes I feel a bit of remorse,” said Stinson, who grew up in
Minneapolis tagging along after his older brother Bob.
“But I was kind of
heading down a bad road when my brother taught me how to play bass. I was
already getting into lots of trouble, and [if] he hadn’t done that, I would have
been a disastrous teen – I wasn’t headed to the prom, let me put it that
HE WAS headed to a modicum of rock stardom, however, as his
guitar-playing brother asked him to join the band he was forming with fellow
Minneapolis teens Westerberg and drummer Chris Mars.
As notorious during
their decade together for their alcohol-fueled behavior and ramshackle shows as
they were for their ragged but stellar albums filled with brilliant songs penned
by guitarist/singer Paul Westerberg, the Mats, as they were called by their
legions of faithful fans, never achieved the mainstream and commercial success
equal to their critical acclaim.
Stinson attributed it to their stubborn
refusal to play the show business game in an era in which most bands were
assembly line, MTV-groomed.
“I don’t know if we would have been the
biggest band in the world, but a lot of our actions were selfdefeating, much of
it really silliness about being contrary to everyone because we didn’t want to
conform,” said Stinson. “A lot that was asked of us that didn’t feel right, we
simply didn’t do. In the end, that comes back to get you in the ass, especially
when you’re dealing with a major record label.”
Still, they were labeled
“the last great band of the 1980s” by Musician magazine in a late 1980s cover
story, prompting a miffed Jon Bon Jovi to huff, “who the hell are The
Replacements?” And today, you can’t read an edition of Rolling Stone or Pop
Matters without a Replacements reference being used to describe a new album by
any young, heart-on-their-sleeve guitar band.
Despite their darling
status among rock historians, Stinson doesn’t expect the band to ever be
nominated for membership in the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame.
“If we did,
I probably wouldn’t pay much mind to it. It’s like the Grammys – we were
nominated for one at some point, and we didn’t think much of that either,” he
Whereas contemporaries like The Pixies have cashed in on reunion
tours, Stinson predicted that despite lucrative offers, the cockeyed integrity
that summarized The Replacement years, along with too many X factors (brother
Bob died in 1994, drummer Mars is a successful painter, guitarist Slim Dunlap
suffered a stroke recently, and the reclusive Westerberg remains holed up in his
Minneapolis home, sporadically releasing basement recordings) would prevent any
regrouping of the band. He disclosed, though, that he and Westerberg were
collaborating on a track for a compilation of Dunlap songs to raise funds for
“Paul and I always end up doing things together, but I don’t
think there’s any point to a reunion,” said Stinson. “There’s such baggage, more
so for Paul. I still think he’s a little bummed out his career didn’t skyrocket
after the Mats broke up. He’s had to deal with competing with his past, and for
him it was kind of tough.”
Not that the always-moving Stinson would ever
find the time for another project. In addition to his G&R role, he joined
his old Minneapolis friends Soul Asylum as a bassist on tours and their most
recent album, and he recently released his second solo album, One Man Mutiny, an
endearing hodgepodge of acoustic countryish tracks, Faces-like rockers and
engaging duets with his fiancée, singer Emily Roberts.
Emily is a work in progress,” said Stinson. “I always loved the sound on those
old Kinks records, with a female singing way in the back.
It had a
shimmering quality and I kind of wanted that. It definitely adds something
different than I have ever done before.”
THE COMFORTABLE, unassuming
charm of the album is typified by the acoustic title song, which was recorded
using a piano in a Belgium hotel restaurant during a 2010 G&R tour, with
band mates Dizzy Reed and Richard Fortus.
“We played it a couple times
and rolled the tape. I was traveling with my computer set up for recording, and
we did it quick and flat-out,” said Stinson.
A portion of the net
proceeds from the sale of the album is earmarked for the Timkatec Schools in
Haiti, damaged in the 2010 earthquake. Stinson visited the country last year and
has adopted the schools as his pet project, holding an on-line auction and
raising over $40,000 for the schools, which have housed and provided skilled
trade education for abandoned and orphaned youths in the Pétionville district of
Port-au-Prince for over 10 years.
“I saw what had happened in that
country and it just kind of got to me,” said Stinson. “My manager and I visited
and got hooked up with the school. I met the kids and fell in love with them. I
wanted to do something meaningful, not just throw money to the Red Cross. What I
can do for the school will go a long way, it’s one of those things that I can
do, and it comes easy for me to give back.”
So much so, that on the
afternoon before Guns & Roses’ infamous London show at the beginning of the
month, Stinson announced via Twitter and Facebook that was going to perform on a
street corner near the arena to raise funds for the schools. He and local
British guitarist Matt Ryder busked for nearly an hour, with passersby throwing
nearly $500 into their open guitar cases.
“It was awesome,” said Stinson.
“I kind of threw it out there to see who would bite. I had never done that
before, but always had this romantic notion of what it would be like to go
busking, so I fulfilled that one. And we raised 317 pounds, just for standing on
a street corner singing. That’s not bad.”
Stinson said that he’s
considering repeating his street corner performance while he’s in Israel for the
first time next month, or perhaps even play an unannounced guerrilla show in a
club, most likely in Jerusalem, if his schedule allows. Maybe now, it’s becoming
a little clearer what Jim Dickinson was talking about when he said that Tommy
Stinson was rock & roll.