By Jeffrey Lee Puckett , @JLeePuckett | Published 7:00 a.m. ET July 18, 2017 on courier-journal.com
Tommy Stinson entered the world of rock ‘n’ roll at age 11 when he was given a bass by his older brother, Bob, who was trying to keep him out of trouble.
Whether that worked or not depends on your definition of trouble.
By the time he was 13, Stinson was in The Replacements, a band famous for two things: Its music, which galvanized a generation of insolent outsiders, and a chaotic lifestyle fueled by vast amounts of drugs and alcohol. Trouble would follow.
The Replacements lasted a decade and released four essential records, along with a couple more that contained at least a handful of remarkable songs.
Now 50, Stinson is an icon amongst (mostly) men of a certain age. He spent years in Axl Rose’s weird incarnation of Guns N’ Roses, reunited with Replacements singer and songwriter Paul Westerberg for a monumental reunion tour a few years ago, and has an excellent, if occasional, band called Bash & Pop.
Even more occasional is Cowboys In the Campfire, a project with Chip Roberts that lets Stinson hit the road for low-key acoustic shows that allow for plenty of fan interaction.
The tour is coming to Louisville Monday, July 24 at Surface Noise Records and Stinson promises some tall tales. He may get more than he bargained for.
Surface Noise owner Bill Barriger was briefly adopted by the Replacements in 1987 when he ran away from home to dodge an angry girlfriend and stayed on the road with the band for weeks. He saw some things, even if Stinson can’t quite place him.
“I think I’ll remember him when I see him in person,” Stinson said, laughing. “When was that, 1987? Oh man, I don’t know. 1987 was pretty crazy.”
One night, Barriger, Stinson and Replacements guitarist Slim Dunlap were hustling people for money playing pool at a redneck gay bar in Birmingham, Alabama, called Club 21. While two men made out on the next table over, Stinson made one unlikely shot after another until some regulars wanted to fight.
“Tommy wasn’t a great player but once he got drunk he could be really good,” Barriger said. “We were playing slop that night and everything he hit would go off three rails and then fall in. We were pissing people off.”
“That’s a familiar tale, dude, and sadly so,” Stinson said, laughing. “I remember waking up in my clothes with a wad of ——- cash in the pocket of my shirt and make-up on. I go to the bus and Slim grabs me by the shirt collar and says, ‘I’m never ——- playing pool with you again, you —-!’
“Apparently I kind of went into black-out mode.”
Fans who buy a $100 meet-and-greet ticket to Monday’s show will get to spend a couple of hours with Stinson and Roberts at a local bar. The show will be limited to 50 tickets, which means the already cozy Surface Noise will be wall to wall crowded. You can bring your own bottle.
“To be really honest, a house gig or a small club gig is is really good because it’s intimate and you can tell more stories,” Stinson said. “And it’s really low overhead.”
Because this is Tommy Stinson, Cowboys in the Campfire has its own story.
Roberts is Stinson’s former uncle-in-law and their friendship has survived a messy divorce. They began writing together years ago just for fun but last year found themselves with nothing to do so they named themselves after one of Roberts’ cowboy paintings and hit the road.
“We started having a real hoot with it,” Stinson said. “We do short trips because Chippy doesn’t like driving a whole lot and I don’t drive at all, but it’s a lot of fun. We just try to make as much racket as we can with two guys and guitars.”
Stinson and Roberts have a batch of songs they’ve written together and plan to record next year, and those comprise the bulk of the Cowboys shows. Roberts performed on Bash & Pop’s most recent album and co-wrote the title track, “Anything Could Happen.”
“Our idea here is to get away from the Bash & Pop stuff and get more of our own thing going,” Stinson said. “What we do is interpret some stuff from the past and we have our new songs, but our stuff is really not that much different.
“Ultimately, what people like about it is that we’re always having so much fun with it.”
Reporter Jeffrey Lee Puckett can be reached at 502-582-4160 and [email protected].