Stinson is currently in the studio banging out a new record for his band Cowboys in the Campfire along with John Doe, Chops LaConte, and Stinson’s former uncle-in-law, Chip Roberts.
Tommy Stinson. Man, I’m tellin ya, the cat’s got a lot of history packed into the 53 years he’s been stompin’ on this planet. Just dig this: He has fronted the frenetic, pop-tweaked alternative rock bands Bash & Pop and Perfect; he’s played as a member of Soul Asylum, and he’s been on Axl Rose’s speed dial as bass player for Guns N’ Roses. But most importantly, he’s a founding member of The Replacements.
In spite of themselves, The Replacements’ legacy is locked tight. With its loud guitars, beautiful command of melody, and lyrical prose, The Replacements stand alone as alt-rock pioneers. Founded in Minneapolis in 1979, there is no denying the band’s influence on alternative rock and rock music in general.
It was a rough-hewn, at times, punk take on rock ‘n’ roll, one that each member of the band adhered to and adopted for their own.
After the band’s break up in 1991, solo records by Stinson, Paul Westerberg, Slim Dunlap, and Chris Mars started bubbling up with a distinct undercurrent of accessibility that sounded like The Replacements. They were influenced by their own influence. They were not impervious to their own band’s hooks. And who could blame them? It’s just who and what they were. Especially Stinson.
“I’ll tell you what,” Stinson says. “From the time I was in The Replacements until now — I hate to say this, and it sounds kind of gratuitous — there's a little Tommy Stinson in everything I played on.
“And as I get older and change up my thing a bit, everything that I do now still has traces of things I learned or played on in The Replacements days. I really haven’t evolved that much. I’m not a Neanderthal anymore. I’m more of a chimp, or a chump anyway. I haven’t changed a whole lot.”
Stinson carries himself proud and righteous. It’s what his fans have come to expect from the man.
“I think they expect me to be me, the best I can be,’ he says.” And I think that's pretty much the bottom line.” But did he fit in that aforementioned stint as bass player with Guns N’ Roses?
“I didn’t. And that was kind of the point,” Stinson says. “That's the beauty of what Axl did on that record. He went to the Island of Misfit Toys: ‘These are the guys I should be making a record with.’ So he threw a bunch of misfits together to see how bad it could get. Yeah, that was the genius he had in that realm.”
That version of G’n’R is now kaput, with most of the original members back playing together and “doing their thing,” according to, and thanks in part, to Stinson.
“I actually had to walk away,” he says. “I had some personal issues that I had to attend to. And I think that forced Axl’s hand. ‘OK, let’s do this thing,’ and he and Slash and Duff had it out and got it out and figured out what to do.”
Regardless of what band or genre he’s playing in, Stinson knows it’s always been about the songs. His songs are little power pop-rock jewels that sparkle whenever and however they are played. But Stinson doesn’t have a set way for creating them.
“It’s really informal and haphazard,” he says.
For instance: a dream.
“I woke up from a dream at four in the morning,” Stinson says. “In the dream these kids were making fun of me. And we were walking in this mall, and I heard this pop song by a young female artist. I thought the song stunk but I liked the melody. And I remembered the melody and started making it into a song. I had the whole song written by 6:30 which is completely bananas to me — following the dragon into that cave. But it worked out and I like it.”
Though the songwriting is a bit of a magical mystery, the demise of The Replacements is not.
“Part of the problem we had was as people, not as the band,” Stinson says. “Part of the thing we couldn't do was shake hands and do the record company thing. ‘Whose dick do you have to suck to be a pop star?’ I hate to be crass but that’s really what it came down to. We weren’t good at pretending we’re something we ain’t.
“There are scant moments of influence by popular bands, but we just weren’t good at conforming in any way. Our best stuff was when we were the most honest. I don’t think the cards were stacked against us. We just couldn't play the game.”
Stinson concedes that wounds were self-inflicted. Maybe if they’d played along a little they would’ve been bigger than they ever were.
But maybe not. “We might not have had the legacy we have if we had been really huge,” he says.
From 2012 to 2015, The Replacements had a brief but successful reunion and subsequent tour, but Stinson balks at there being another one.
“I don’t know,” he says. “I don’t know. I never say never say never. But I don’t see it.”
Frank De Blase is CITY’s music writer. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.