Peter Jesperson On His First Replacements Show: ‘They Were A Revelation’ (Book Excerpt)

Photo of Replacements
FOUR ON THE FLOOR: The Replacements circa early 1980s with (from left) Paul Westerberg (on floor), Tommy Stinson, Chris Mars and Bob Stinson. Photo by Michael Ochs Archives / Getty Images

As the new release and heated discussions of The Replacements’ Tim: Let It Bleed Edition, featuring new remixes by Ed Stasium from the band’s 1985 major label debut, Tim, demonstrate, an awfully lot of people still care immensely about this relatively small, shambolic rock band from Minneapolis from the 1980s.

The Replacements’ combustible combination of messy, irreverent, hooky rock seemed not to give two Fs about anything and helped birth some of the greatest music of that era and would presage a more formalized U.S. indie rock scene that followed. Punk throwaways like “Gary’s Got a Boner” or “Tommy Gets His Tonsils Out,” ballads like “Unsatisfied,” “Within Your Reach” and “Androgynous,” a cover of KISS’ “Black Diamond” and anthems like “Bastards of Young” or “Answering Machine” are just a few choice cuts from an incredible catalog showcasing Paul Westerberg’s genius songwriting and sublime vocals as well as the band’s (Bob and Tommy Stinson and Chris Mars) ability to roll with anything and everything (and sometimes nothing).

The band’s manager and original label head, Peter Jesperson, has chronicled his life in music in a new autobiography entitled “Euphoric Recall: A Half Century As A Music Fan, Producer, DJ, Record Executive and Tastemaker” (out Nov. 14 on Minnesota Historical Society Press).

Book Cover JESPERSON M9781681342719

Jesperson in 1980n first heard an early Replacements’ demo, which would change his and their career trajectories. At the time, he was managing Minneapolis’ Oar Folkjokeopus record store and DJing at Jay’s Longhorn Bar.

He would go on to manage and sign them to Twin/Tone Records, the label he’d cofounded, which also had Soul Asylum, The Suburbs, Babes In Toyland and the Jayhawks, among others.

He would also tour manage R.E.M. and later moved to L.A. to work for New West Records alongside artists such as Kris Kristofferson, Vic Chesnutt and Steve Earle,
Jesperson saw something early on in The Replacements’ music few others did andhe somehow managed to hitch his wagon to the bucking bronco that was the band’s tumultuous star. Here, we find out that the first gig Jesperson went to see of theirs hat a sober church was canceled due to “pills and booze.” When he finally did see them perform at The Longhorn he called it a “revelation, embodying nearly everything I loved about rock ’n’roll.” Nearly 45 years later, it’s clear Jesperson wasn’t the only person to feel that way and thank goodness he helped guide and promote them and their incredible music.

One day in May 1980, a young man walked up to the counter at Oar Folkjokeopus, handed me a cassette tape with “The Replacements” written on it and asked if I’d give it a listen. I could never have predicted how much of an impact that moment would have not only on my life but on the lives of so many other music fans. I’m eternally grateful I received that tape, and then had the privilege to work with this extraordinary group for years to come.

At that time, between my work at Twin/Tone and the Longhorn, I was inundated with submissions from bands, some hoping for a booking at the club, others for a record deal. About a week or so after I received The Replacements’ demo, I gathered up a pile of cassettes, a boom box, and a stack of Oar Folk paperwork and shut myself away in the back office. I put in one tape after another while I worked. As usual, it was a mix of styles and quality. But when I popped The Replacements’ four-song demo tape in, it was like something out of a storybook. From the very first listen, I could tell the recordings were head and shoulders above any new submission I’d gotten in a long while. The band’s performance was downright startling. Just twenty or thirty seconds into track number one, “Raised in the City,” I could barely believe my ears. When I caught the lyric, “I got a honey with a nice tight rear/ She gets rubber in all four gears,” I rewound the tape to the beginning and listened again, just to be sure I heard it correctly. I thought, Holy crap, this is like some kinda X-rated Chuck Berry song! The other three songs—“Shutup,” “Don’t Turn Me Down,” and “Shape Up”—knocked me out too.

As soon as I finished listening to the tape, I called my two best pals—Linda Hultquist and Steve Klemz—and said, “You gotta come down here right now and hear this demo I got. Either I’ve lost my mind or it’s the best thing I’ve heard in ages.” When they arrived and I played the tape, Linda and Steve reacted much like I had. Their corroboration reassured me that I wasn’t crazy and this was indeed something special. Still, I needed to listen a few more times and think about it beforeI got back to the band.

I played the four songs repeatedly over the next few days. I grew more convinced that this band was uncommonly good. So, one afternoon I pulled out the piece of paper I’d gotten with the tape. There was a name on it—Paul Westerberg—and a phone number. I called and reintroduced myself to Paul, told him I loved the demo, and asked if the band was hoping to record a single or a full album. After a pause, Paul replied, “You mean you think this shit is worth recording?” I suddenly realized he’d given me the tape in hopes of getting a gig at the Longhorn, not as a pitch to Twin/Tone. I said I did think the songs were worth recording, and I was sure I could help the band get a show at the club as well. In the meantime, I said, I’d love to see them live as soon as possible and asked when they were playing next. Paul said they didn’t have anything booked at the moment, but he’d let me know. Paul called back a few days later and told me they had a show in a couple of weeks at the Bataclan, a sober club at a church in south Minneapolis.

Peter Jespseron
Peter Jespseron, North Hollywood, California. 14 June 2023. Photo by Greg Allen

In the interim, I practically memorized the demos and played them for a handful of my closest music buddies. I liked the recordings so much I was having a hard time thinking about anything else. Could the band really be as great as I thought they were? Was there a catch? The church gig was on 26th Street, about twenty blocks east of Oar Folk. I was on needles and pins and wasn’t sure what to expect, so I went alone. As I approached the front door, I saw a dark-haired teenager sitting on the steps looking dejected. When I started up the stairway, the kid said, “You must be Pete. I’m Chris, the drummer. We ain’t gonna play; we just got kicked out.” A minute later, two of the other band members sheepishly wandered out. I recognized Paul from the store. He introduced me to Bob Stinson, the lead guitarist. Apparently, the bass player couldn’t make it. He’d been climbing a tree earlier that day, fell, and tore a muscle in his arm. I was disappointed not to see them play, but I was glad my first live experience wasn’t one with a missing band member.

It turned out the guys had been caught with pills and booze. The manager of the Bataclan was in a rage and told them to get out. The band was worried they’d blown an opportunity with me as well, but I assured them it wasn’t an issue, and that I’d get back to them soon about a date at the Longhorn. As I walked back to my car, I chuckled a little at what had just happened.

The Replacements’ first appearance at the Longhorn was Tuesday, July 1, 1980. I’d been raving about them for weeks and had played their demo in the record store, so when they took the stage at 9:30, the room was filling up nicely. I was hoping the band would be great, but what I saw and heard that night was something else. They didn’t have their shit together onstage—they had crappy equipment, took too long between songs, and didn’t tune their instruments often enough—but they were a revelation, embodying nearly everything I loved about rock ’n’ roll music.

The ingredients for greatness were there from the beginning. The songs were crude but impressive; the band members had an undeniable chemistry and an uncontrived irreverence; they were smart, wildly entertaining, and really funny. Bob in particular could be positively clownish, all the while doing these searing leads that seemed to come from a different universe than any guitar player I’d heard before. I was shocked when I met the bass player, Bob’s half-brother, Tommy Stinson. He was only thirteen years old. But he played well, despite being airborne for most of the set—grounded just long enough to periodically yell “fuck!” into the mic. Chris Mars was the anchor, hunched over the drums, always ready for whatever the other three threw at him. And then there was Paul, who looked like a square peg in a round hole. Though he played spot-on rhythm guitar, he seemed uncomfortable— teeth clenched as if he was trying to will himself into the front man role right before our eyes. And yet somehow he pulled it off, with panache.

There is no recording of that night, but I remember the song selection was a mix of covers and the Replacements’ own songs. Some great originals, like “More Cigarettes” and “Raised in the City”; others, like “Get on the Stick” and “Off Your Pants,” were acceptable placeholders until better songs came along. The covers included the Syndicate of Sound’s “Hey Little Girl,” “So Long” by Slade, and the Kinks’ “All Day and All of the Night.” And they did three Johnny Thunders songs. When I first encountered the Replacements, it was like they wanted to beJohnny Thunders’s Heartbreakers.

The show was raw, but it blew Stark, Hallman, and me away. A record deal was inevitable in our minds, and the band was all for it too. The next move was to bring them into a proper studio.

Excerpt from “Euphoric Recall,” by Peter Jesperson, which will be released Nov. 14 and published by Minnesota Historical Society Press.