Icons of Rock: Bob Stinson

Here at CoS, one band that constantly pops up in our favorites is no other than the Minneapolis, Minnesota quartet that was The Replacements. Led by virtuoso singer/songwriter Paul Westerberg, there’s no denying the group’s legacy and the influence it contributed to the alternative rock genre that breeds new bands to this day (my own included). While Westerberg existed in the band as the primary songwriter, it was their former lead guitarist, Bob Stinson who kept the band’s high energy and balls out rock n’ roll in check, especially during the band’s third and fourth albums, Let It Be and Tim.

The legacy of The Replacements began at Bob and Tommy Stinson’s house on 2215 Bryant Ave. in downtown Minneapolis in 1978 (see my recent photo to the right). Bob gave his younger brother Tommy a bass guitar to keep him out of trouble and out of the more sinister areas of the city. Afterward, the brothers befriended fellow Minneapolis native Chris Mars, who became their drummer. After hardcore jamming on Kiss, Yes and Ted Nugent covers, the trio named themselves Dogbreath and looked to hire a singer. Around this time, Paul Westerberg, while working downtown as a janitor in a senator’s office, would frequently walk past the Stinson’s home to hear the band rocking out extensively.

Eventually after a lengthy process in which Dogbreath auditioned singers, Westerberg joined the band on second guitar and vocals in 1979. They changed their name to The Impediments and played a wild, drunken show without Tommy in 1980 at a church hall. Dissatisfied with the band, the owner threatened to have them banned from every venue in town. So as a result, the name changed and history set its course. The seeds of what would become one of the best bands to emerge from the underground were sown into the sand.

With the beginning of The Replacements already set, the band had numerous factors as to why they stood out amongst their contemporaries. Westerberg was a gifted songwriter as well as an honest and approachable singer. Tommy Stinson was only twelve years old when he joined the band, and to his credit became one helluva bass player that fit the band’s sound as well as their electric stage presence. However, the biggest thing came from Bob’s lead guitar. Channeling his love for classic rock bands and older 50’s rock & roll, Stinson created a hybrid of sloppy guitar shredding and bluesy and melodic passages that could really hit home. Stinson knew how to channel his emotional capacity into a brash Fender Telecaster and make it sound wicked awesome, and his lead carried most of the band’s catalog. As a result, the dynamic duo of Stinson and Westerberg slinging axes together created some of the most powerful and passionate music ever.

While Stinson possessed genius guitar skills, he also had a dark side to his personality, as well. It’s a known fact that The ‘Mats obtained a reputation for playing notoriously drunken live shows. As much as the band’s brilliance surpassed them, their reputation for drinking also carried a heavy stigma. Stinson’s drinking and eventual heavy drug usage began to manifest itself during the recording of the band’s third record Let It Be in 1984. The album was a major success critically, but failed to see a major commercial impact. However, the spirits were bright for the band as they were able to sign a major record deal with Sire/Warner Brothers the following year.

In 1985, the band released arguably their best record, Tim. While the record possessed many traits of “trademark Bob Stinson” (Hold My Life, Bastards Of Young and Left Of The Dial) many of the lesser “rocked out” songs became more prominent (Swingin’ Party, Here Comes A Regular). Following a rip-roaring (and albeit drunken) performance of “Bastards Of Young” & Kiss Me On The Bus” on Saturday Night Live, the band was forever banned from performance and it seemed to become the catalyst that sealed the fate of the Minneapolis maniacs.

Shortly after the performance, tensions rose between Stinson and Westerberg to the point that their relationship became unfathomable to repair. Stinson at heart was a rocker and never cared for Westerberg’s slower material and as a result, it caused major problems. On top of that, Stinson’s alcoholism became incredibly stressful on the group. Much like the Lennon/McCartney genius partnership, Stinson/Westerberg ceased to exist and in 1986, Stinson was fired from The Replacements.

After his acrimonious departure, he formed his lesser known, but locally famous quartet, Static Taxi in 1988. While the band produced quite a bit of material, they never released it officially at the time. It was quite a turn as Static Taxi took a much more experimental approach to the music. For starters, Stinson solely played guitar, both lead and rhythm. Genres such as funk, dirty rock & roll, surf rock, spaghetti westerns and overall sloppy guitar solos dabbled the young quartet’s edgy sound. Perhaps because of this, Static Taxi never had much success outside of Minneapolis, and with Westerberg disbanding The ‘Mats in July of ’91, Static Taxi also broke up as well.

Eventually, Westerberg and Stinson mended their friendship, but not much followed afterward for Stinson. He performed in many other local Minneapolis bands and lived life somewhat of a vagabond, crashing to and from friends’ houses and the like. Sadly however, Stinson’s depression, alcoholism and drug abuse finally caught up with him and on February 18th, 1995, he died at the age of thirty-five.

The material that Stinson recorded with Static Taxi wouldn’t see an official release until 2000 with the release of their debut record Stinson Blvd. which is a damn fine record. For the gentle giant and lovable Minneapolis native, Robert Neil Stinson definitely belongs in the crypt of guitar gods. His blistering solos gave The Replacements the edge they needed to keep rock n’ roll alive. Tunes like “Gary’s Got A Boner,” “Customer,” “Take Me Down To The Hospital,” and the somber “Sixteen Blue” truly showed how intelligent on the guitar he was. It’s truly a shame he’s gone from this world after fourteen years, but he left behind some incredible music for millions to behold. For those interested, the song “Good Day” by Paul Westerberg is dedicated to him and it’s such a fitting tribute to a one-of-a-kind musician, and you might want to give it a spin.

Further Reading:

Acid Logic – Bob & Tommy Stinson
The Replacements: All Over But The Shouting: An Oral History by Jim Walsh

The Replacements – Customer/Rattlesnake
(live @ 7th Street Entry, 09/05/81)


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