By Wayne Bledsoe, USA TODAY NETWORK-Tennessee | Published 12:00 p.m. ET July 20, 2017 on knoxnews.com
In 1978, Tommy Stinson joined his older brothers band. Tommy was only 11 years old, but the group, which later became known as The Replacements, needed a bass player.
Not long afterward, The Replacements became one of the most beloved shoulda’-been-huge bands in rock ‘n’ roll history. Since the band’s break-up, Stinson has released albums with his own bands Bash & Pop and Perfect, released two solo albums and spent nearly two decades as bassist for Guns N’ Roses. He’s currently touring with Chip Roberts under the name Cowboys In the Campfire as well as the reformed Bash & Pop, with which he released the album “Anything Could Happen” in January.
“It’s been a very long adventure that seems to have no end,” Stinson said in a phone call. “That’s a good thing. I’m lucky in that way.”
“Lucky” might not be the term that would come to mind when discussing Stinson’s career. Writer Bob Mehr’s 2015 book “Trouble Boys” featured the surviving Replacements, family, friends, fans and foes recounting tales of the Minneapolis-founded band’s less than stellar luck and reckless self-sabotage. The book includes accounts of Tommy’s brother Bob Stinson being abused by stepfather father and Bob later suffering from alcoholism and, eventually, being let go from the group he founded. The book was surprisingly candid and didn’t try to hide the band’s many mistakes.
“If you read ‘Trouble Boys,’ that’s a pretty accurate,” Stinson said. “We sat down quite extensively to make sure that we didn’t have to deal with people getting it wrong. You know, there were times that were sucky. It was kind of painful to go back and revisit some of that stuff, having survived it all, and all that, but it needed to be told to get the facts out. That Jim Walsh book (“All Over But the Shouting”) had portrayed us in such an ill way and such a wrong way … and was completely wrong and (expletive)-up. So ‘Trouble Boys’ was actually kind of a response to how (expletive)-up that book was.”
Paul Westerberg was the lead singer-songwriter of The Replacements and it took the disbanding of the group for Stinson’s own songs were heard.
“I started writing pretty early on,” he said. “Just my own stuff. I think the first song I wrote was on upright bass, just like a rockabilly number, actually. I just kept doing it. I thought, ‘Why would I NOT write songs on my own? Why would I just sit here and just play Paul’s songs all the time?’”
Tommy Stinson says he’d begun writing as far back as The Replacements’ 1983 album “Hootenanny” and there were several songs recorded during the 1987 album, “Pleased to Meet Me,” the first album after Bob Stinson was asked to leave the group.
When Stinson’s first post-Replacements album, Bash & Pop’s “Friday Night Is Killing Me” was released there was some surprise at how much Stinson’s own songs sounded like The Replacements.
“We all had the same influences in a lot of ways and we grew up together in that way,” Stinson said. “Everything within that rubs off on you. People ask me all the time, ‘Was Paul an influence on your songwriting?’ I’d be lying if I said no, because I grew up with the guy. There’s going to be elements in everything that I do that sound like The Replacements or Paul Westerberg in a way. It’s just part of the deal.”
While Stinson has recorded two solo albums, he says he always prefers being in a band.
“It’s a lot more enjoyable to just go into a studio and say, ‘Here’s a song. Here’s a melody and let’s go hack it out as a band’ and let everyone put their stamp on it.”
Some of that feeling surely comes from growing up in a band. He says that sense of camaraderie wasn’t hurt when his older brother had to leave The Replacements due to alcohol and other problems.
“Chris (Mars) and Paul and I got more tight as a group after Bob left the band,” Tommy Stinson said. “It made us have to stick together and then Slim (replacement guitarist Slim Dunlap) came along and helped that spirit a little bit.”
While Stinson says his brother, who died in 1995, taught him an enormous amount, he’s just now realizing how influential he was on others.
“A lot of guitar players that I know were really blown away by Bob and learned, wrongly or not, a lot from him. He left a really good mark, especially those early records. My brother’s playing on ‘Sorry Ma’ (The Replacements’ debut album, “Sorry Ma, Forgot to Take Out the Trash”) was just outrageous. I can’t really so much listen to all the songs, per se, but his guitar playing, you just go ‘What the (expletive)?’”
Stinson said he still loves creating music as much as ever, maybe even more.
“I’ve grown up doing it so that now it’s just a natural part of my every day,” he said. “I don’t get up and grab a guitar and start writing songs and (expletive) like that. I wait to get inspired by something or something comes to my mind that I gravitate toward. But it’s just kind of become part of me. Once you get to that place in life you say, ‘I can pretty much do whatever I want with it’ and hence I am. I’m traveling around with Bash & Pop and traveling around with my uncle Chip, by marriage, with this Cowboys in the Campfire thing. I can do whatever now. I’ve already put in my sweat equity as a young guy and people either like it or not.”
His daughter, Ruby Stinson, is an aspiring pop singer.
“She’s got a great voice and a good songwriter. Watching her go through wanting to do the pop star thing, she’s kind of pragmatic about it and she knows she might not get as lucky as I’ve been. I’m grateful. I work hard at it. I do my best with all the little bits that I can and I just try to keep busy at it. And it ain’t an easy gig. Nothing easy about traveling around. Even at my age, 50 years old, it’s taken it’s toll on the old body. … Now I just want to find a way to do my own thing and keep doing it and make a living at it. It doesn’t take a lot for me to live right now, but if I can just keep doing what I like doing and it pays the bills I’ll do it forever.”
He also says he’ll probably always work with his old Replacements partner Paul Westerberg though the years. The two finished up a Replacements reunion in 2015.
“We always come back to each other at some point. We broke up in ’91 and I was already playing on his second solo record. We always go back to the place we started.”
Tommy Stinson: Cowboys In the Campfire
When: 6 p.m. Sunday, July 23
Where: Magnolia Records, 214 W. Magnolia Ave.
Tickets: $20-$40, www.magnoliarecordstn.com