CDL Welcomes Tommy Stinson to Song Fest
By Chris Berggren, CDL Administrative Assistant

Tommy Stinson, CDL’s 2022 Song Fest headliner, can chart his musical path directly through his brother, Bob. At 11 years old, Tommy picked up a bass guitar in Bob’s room. Bob asked if he wanted to learn how to play it and Tommy answered, “Sure.” He later attempted to change his mind, realizing the strings hurt his fingers, but Bob needed a bass player for his neighborhood band, and so he was able, through bribery and coaxing, to get Tommy to stick to it. “Which obviously was a savior of my life,” Tommy admits. “I’d already been to jail like three times… so I was really going down a bad path.”

The band that Bob Stinson started in south Minneapolis in 1979 eventually became known as the Replacements, one of the most revered bands of the 1980s. “The Replacements was just a group of dudes from the neighborhood,” Tommy recalls. “Paul (Westerberg; guitar and vocals) lived down the street from Chris, Chris (Mars; drums) lived down the street from us.” The band crammed itself into a corner of the Stinson’s basement and would stay down there for hours, making as much racket as they could. Bob was proficient on guitar, but the entire band was figuring it out as they went, particularly Tommy, who was seven years younger than the other three members. They played parties and dive bars to cut their chops and were eventually signed by a local label, Twin/Tone Records. Tommy credits the band’s chemistry, particularly that between his brother and Westerberg, for the early success. “They were grateful opposites in a way,” Tommy muses. “If you listen to that first Replacements record (Sorry Ma, Forgot to Take Out the Trash), my brother’s guitar against Paul’s sort of punk rock, raw-nerves thing—the juxtaposition of those was pretty astoundingly nuts.” 

The Replacements expanded their musical repertoire on their second album, Hootenanny, and by their third record, Let It Be, were attracting major label interest. The band signed with Sire Records and released Tim in 1985. Commercially, it was a step forward, but the band’s reputation was catching up with them and Bob Stinson was sacked, due to persistent drug and alcohol dependency, prior to 1987’s Please to Meet Me. Sire expected mainstream radio success, but was left disappointed. “Why R.E.M. became so popular and the Replacements really didn’t, is that they knew how to pull themselves back and play the game,” Tommy says. “We were not astute enough to pull ourselves back and play the game. We pretty much just bulldozed through the game until we made it our own, and sadly, our game became our demise, as well.”

After two more records on Sire, the Replacements famously broke up on stage near the end of a 4th of July performance in Chicago’s Grant Park in 1991. Tommy claimed the end was inevitable, but it also marked the first time in his musical life that he wasn’t a member of the Replacements. Free of all constraints and able to focus on his own songwriting for the first time in his career, Tommy made an album under the Bash & Pop moniker, called Friday Night Is Killing Me. His hope was that the band would have the same camaraderie as the early Replacements, but he was unable to find the right mix. Instead, he started from scratch with a new band, Perfect, which eventually fell apart after getting the runaround from their label, who reneged on releasing the band’s first full-length album. 

From there, Tommy took a most unexpected step, joining Axl Rose in his reformed Guns N’ Roses. He helped record Chinese Democracy, remaining a member of Guns N’ Roses from 1998 until 2014, longer than his original tenure with the Replacements. Though, speaking of, that same year Tommy left Guns N’ Roses, he and Westerberg reformed the Replacements. They spent two years touring and reaping the success that had eluded the band in the 1980s. When the Replacements disbanded for a second time, Tommy did the same thing he’d done after the initial breakup, he made a Bash & Pop record, Anything Could Happen. Over the years, he’s also released a pair of solo albums and collaborated with BT, the British electronic musician, on the whimsical, instrumental soundtrack for the 2007 movie Catch and Release. His latest project is playing in a duo with Chip Roberts in Cowboys in the Campfire. The finishing touches are being applied to their first album.

It’s been over 40 years since Tommy Stinson first picked up that bass guitar in his brother Bob’s room, but the impact of that moment has certainly played a vital role for two legendary bands, and has led to all kinds of wonderful music. Chelsea District Library is thrilled to welcome Tommy Stinson to the library on Saturday, October 22. The day will feature songwriting workshops and opportunities for young musicians to play for an audience, culminating with a Q & A (hosted by annarbor 107one’s Martin Bandyke) and live performance from Tommy Stinson at the Prairie House at Robin Hills Farm. We hope to see you all there!