Wednesday, February 22, 2012

Slim Dunlap

Likely many/most of you have heard the terrible news that Bob "Slim" Dunlap recently suffered a major stroke. He is now on the tough road to recovery, after doctors have determined nothing can be done surgically. Soon he'll go through therapy in efforts to regain his skills, with the huge support of his innumerable friends, family and fellow musicians he's played with over decades. For further details, Chris Reimenschneider wrote in Star Tribune blog, Artcetera article: "Twin Cities Music Hero Slim Dunlap Hospitalized by a Stroke" The existing Slim Dunlap Fan Club page has been growing rapidly, and a place we can find community, reach out to the Dunlaps and stay in touch.

Not only is Slim a stellar musician, he is truly one of the sweetest people I've ever had the rare chance to meet. He's renowned for his solo music, such as his terrific records, "The Old New Me," and "Time recent shows such as the reunion of his band for his 60th Birthday this summer at King's Wine Bar, his work the Replacements and bands with Curt Almsted (Curtiss A) such as Thumbs Up, then punk band The Spooks, who were one of the first three bands chosen to release a record, "1980 - 1990" in 1978 on Twin Tone label, and one of the first, if not the first, band to play the legendary Longhorn Bar.

Over the past couple years, I've gotten to work with and become good friends with his son Louie, who is also one of the sweetest people in the world, a great soundguy, musician, cook and all-around nice, humble guy with an wry sense of humor like his Dad's, a real chip off the block. In spite of how devestating the damage, today I heard from Louie, a couple positive things, I will keep you posted. I like so many who know them, love the Dunlaps and, because I've been thinking about Slim and the his family a lot, and the Curtiss A regular Thursdays residency show at Nick and Eddie, my mind keeps going back to one of my favorite moments. In late 2010, had the opportunity to interview Slim about the early music scene and his work playing guitar with Curtiss A, and his philosophy about performing live music and songwriting. I thought I'd share this with you.

 CC: Tell me about when you first heard/saw Curtiss A?
SD: I saw Thumbs Up with Curt at the CC Tap, that was the first night I ever saw them. The minute I heard their band, I had such a great time that night . . .I used to see them at the Tempo Bar. They were a breath of fresh air because they played songs, a lot of pop songs I'd heard and liked. I was always fascinated by bands that had harmonies. They had multiple lead vocalists that I liked. Bands didn't usually have multiple lead vocalists that could carry the song like they could. I heard a rumor the guitar player was leaving the band, and it was a crusher for me because I really liked his guitar playing in the band. I thought I'd audition not having any chance because he was good, even if you don't get it, you're doing better off to have gone and bust through that fear wall, and through some pure luck I got the gig and enjoyed the years immensely playing with them when I did. It was fun to play with Curt, because he had no . . . most band leaders would teach you how they wanted it and that was how it had to be, or they would get discouraged with your efforts.

It was fun to play with Curt because he would always be in a state of adapting things to the band. You didn't have to do it the same way every time, because he didn't do it the same way every time. It fostered a feeling that there's no one way to do the song, we can play around with it. I've kind of carried that over and tormented all the musicians that worked with me, because you're always working on a song when you do it live. Until you've recorded it, its not written in stone. Curt would always come up with parts of songs he didn't alert to you that he was going to try, he kept you on your toes. I admired that. To dare to change something in front of a live audience is something a lot of bands don't dare to do. All the bands I've been in and liked, aren't always the same every time. I always liked to keep things moving and different.

CC: Tell me more about the Longhorn Bar and the early Minneapolis original and punk music scene. . . SD: The audiences there didn't come with the preconception of hearing songs, how they sounded on the radio. People usually came to clubs to hear songs like they sounded on the radio. the Longhorn had a new angle, where they didn't want to hear what was on the radio - they wanted to hear something new, different. So, you had to impress the audiences differently. It made bands different, made bands try harder. Not just be good enough the booking agent would book you, good enough people would see you. You had to have a good draw. You had to keep impressing people. You couldn't rest on your laurels. It caught on in other clubs. It helped develop our music scene.

CC: Tell me about Twin Tone record label . . .
SD: There were other labels, but Twin Tone was a kind of tastemaker label. If Peter [Jesperson] was interested in it, you knew other people would be interested in it. All songwriters need a window to create their vision in. There is always someone like Peter who plays a role in guiding what that vision is. You can't do it self-contained. You kind of need someone to bounce it off of, to say "Is this any good?" There is no one capable of writing only great songs. Even the best songwriters write horrible clinkers. You've got to have somebody close enough to you to tell you a song is not a good song, without you getting angry. All artists need the wall to bounce off of. Creating music opens the door to other music you can create. That's a step-by-step process. A lot of songwriters starting out are terribly shy about it. In any great artist, the role of the audience is downplayed somewhat. When there's a music scene, there's a hub of what the writer was writing towards. All songwriters are better for having an an early, loyal audience that can give him their enthusiasm, and then his direction, where if he's going off on a bad angle. . . Everyone that creates cannot be the judge of their own material. The audience is a wonderful thing. You can't completely go where they want you to go, you have to follow your own heart sometimes. The music scene that Minneapolis developed is largely due to the wonderful audience that developed that would support it and hear your songs, even if you had a bad gig. People here know a good band when they hear it, they know a bad band when they hear it. They're not afraid to tell you. Its a good thing. Its kind of why we have higher standards.

CC: What were those audiences at the Longhorn like?
 SD: Minneapolis audiences were impressed by something different. It maneuvered bands toward what audiences were expecting. It was a higher threshold. It pushed bands to be better than they ever would have been, if they were cover bands, like a lot tried to be back then. It's largely owed to the crowd.

CC: Please say more about playing with the Spooks?
SD: The Spooks was Curt's original angle. He had cover bands going at the time, but the Spooks became his original venue. He came up with key songs for the Spooks in a short time period. It was fun to play completely new material with Curt. The Spooks was the first or second band to ever play the Longhorn. So Curt gets a lot of credit for generating the scene. There were the Suicide Commandos, who kind of came out of left field and inspired a lot of bands to dare to be different. But Curt's right up there with one of the early bands to take the plunge wholeheartedly being an original band, not a cover band.

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