Minneapolis, September 1973 to January 1977
After being discharged from the Air Force in August of 1970, I returned to the University of Iowa in Iowa City to resume my education and my old job at a local bookstore. After three somewhat erratic years, I emerged armed with a prestigious General Studies degree. An Air Force friend of mine was living with his wife in Minneapolis. Shortly before I was due to graduate, he wrote to say that there was a lot of film work there, and that if I didn’t have other plans, I could come and stay with them until I found a job. This seemed perfect. I had hopes of finding work in the film world, but no practical thoughts on how to achieve that. Staying in Iowa City as a “professional student” had a certain slacker appeal, but I knew I wasn’t ready to give up just yet.
I’d finally managed to buy a stereo of my own, a portable KLH that packed up into a kind of compact briefcase for travel. I got a lot of use out of this machine and took it with me when I made the move to Minneapolis in the fall of 1973.
The photo above shows me in my first of three Minneapolis apartments. Note the records on display lined up on the floor against the wall. Easy to flip through. I’m sure I acquired most of these in Iowa City, because at the time of this shot I hadn’t been in the city very long. The Allman Brothers Band at Fillmore East is in front of the first row. It’s a hell of an album. I’ve always loved their version of “Stormy Monday.” When I want to hear something from this album, that’s the cut I’ll play.
Will the Circle Be Unbroken, the Nitty Gritty Dirt Band’s monumental tribute to bluegrass music, was released in November of 1971. It features an amazing collection of musicians, including Doc Watson, Vassar Clements, Earl & Randy Scruggs, Maybelle Carter, Merle Travis, and Roy Acuff. I got it in Iowa City and it’s been with me ever since. One of my favorite cuts is “Down Yonder,” which starts off with Doc Watson talking with other musicians about what song they’re going to do. They decide on “Down Yonder,” and there’s this incredible moment when they’re getting ready to start and Doc Watson says to Vassar Clements, “How does it go, Vassar?” This immediately kicks off the number in exuberant fashion. It gets me every time.
Still in Iowa City I came across an album by the Sir Douglas Quintet called Mendocino. I found it in a record cut-out bin in a downtown drugstore for 50 cents. There was something about it that I thought I should check out. Doug Sahm (aka “Sir Douglas”) was from San Antonio. His band’s music was Tex-Mex all the way, but the Sir Douglas Quintet name had been taken to make it sound like a British band. No one who heard them would ever make that mistake. Anyway, the Mendocino album was such a bargain. I especially love the title cut. Listen to Augie Meyers on organ!
About three weeks or so after moving to Minneapolis, I found a job with a 16mm motion picture lab where the work included TV spots (anyone remember K-Tel?) and medical films for the University of Minnesota. Most of my co-workers were in the same age range and we shared many of the same interests and preferences. We saw each other socially as well as at work. In a way, it felt like being back in college. Music and movies were focal points for us, always topics for discussion and debate.
In a recent blog post on David Bowie, I told how I first heard his music in Minneapolis in the house of friends from work. Another time I remember being alone in the third floor room of a different house, lying on a mattress on the floor with large stereo speakers on either side of my head listening to the Velvet Underground’s “Sister Ray” at high volume. I knew the song and loved it. This seemed like just the thing to do.
“Sister Ray” sounds like it’s punching its way out of a soggy cardboard box. It’s brutal, heavy, and kind of great. Here are a couple of apt comments re “Sister Ray” made on YouTube:
Sounds like they’ve been playing it 12 hours straight the moment it starts.
…the song gyrates between cohesion and chaos like seven different times in 17 minutes. This is like a Formula 1 driver going 225 miles an hour, losing control of his car 7 times, not crashing and still winning the race.
The Guthrie Theater, with a capacity of 1,437, was originally attached to the Walker Art Center. The years I was in Minneapolis, the Guthrie had theatrical productions and musical performances. The first couple of concerts I attended were were due to a Duke Ellington concert that didn’t happen. I’d seen that Ellington was going to perform at the Guthrie on Saturday and Sunday, January 19 & 20, 1974. My parents were planning to drive up from Iowa to visit that weekend. They loved big band music, especially my mother, so I decided to get tickets for the Saturday concert. My mother couldn’t quite get her head around the fact that they were actually going to see Duke Ellington in person. As it turned out, they didn’t. Ellington was ill and the concerts were cancelled. He was to die that May.
This was a disappointment, but instead of getting a refund for the three tickets, I elected to get tickets for two upcoming concerts at the Guthrie. The first was Jackson Browne and Linda Ronstadt on February 2. Late for the Sky wouldn’t be out until that November, but Jackson Brown was well known. Linda Ronstadt was giggly and seemed nervous, though this could have been part of her stage persona. She already had released three studio albums. It was a good show.
I then saw Herbie Hancock on May 6, followed by Commander Cody and His Lost Planet Airmen on May 19. I’d completely forgotten about the Commando Cody concert, except I know I saw Hoyt Axton at the Guthrie, so I must have been there for that gig.
That was it for Guthrie Theater concerts until October 6 when I saw Randy Newman and Ry Cooder, and then the Keith Jarrett Quartet on December 22. I filled the time between Guthrie dates at other venues.
A group of us from the film lab loaded into a van and drove to Eau Claire, Wisconsin for a Mothers of Invention concert at the University of Wisconsin campus on April 26. Dion was the opening act and he had a rough time of it. This was Dion DiMucci of Dion and the Belmonts, whose music includes “Runaround Sue,” “The Wanderer,” “Ruby Baby,” and “A Teenager in Love.” He was accompanying himself on acoustic guitar in this large auditorium space, and many in the crowd were not having it. I was appalled when they began heckling. They’d come to see Frank Zappa and the Mothers, not someone out of rock ‘n’ roll history. Had to wonder what genius had put this booking together. Well, Dion is still standing, still making music, so there’s that.
I remember seeing Jerry Jeff Walker on May 24 at the Cabooze, a very interesting music venue that I think was built around an actual railroad caboose. I went there frequently, mainly to hang out. That night I’d wanted to go out, drink beer, and hear live music. I’d previously defined Walker by “Mr. Bojangles,” which I thought was pretty light weight. Couldn’t have been more wrong. He ripped the place up and then some.
My concert attendance slacked off in 1975, though I continued to buy records and play them by myself or with friends. It’s what we’d do, get together and listen to music. I’d show up at parties armed with a stack of LPs I thought everyone should hear. I’d also see local bands in neighborhood bars. Records I bought mostly came from two stores, Oar Folkjokeopus (aka Oar Folk) and the Electric Fetus. I wrote briefly about Oar Folk in the first installment of this music saga. It was only a few blocks from my first apartment and I went there a lot. Electric Fetus was a little further away. Didn’t go there as much, but both stores had an excellent inventory.
The only significant concert I attended in ’75 was a doozy — Bruce Springsteen at the Guthrie Theater on Sunday, September 21. Born to Run had been released on August 25 to a great deal of fanfare. A month later he appeared in the same week on the covers of Time and Newsweek. He was on his way to becoming a very big deal.
It was a great concert. What makes it even more memorable to me is that the day before had been my dad’s funeral in Iowa. He’d died that Thursday in a hospital in Omaha, Nebraska. I’d be lying if I didn’t say that I was glad I was able to make it back to Minneapolis in time for the concert. That probably sounds cold or uncaring to some, and maybe I shouldn’t admit it, but there it is. I miss my dad a lot and wish I’d known him better. Bruce Springsteen was just what I needed under the circumstances.
Sometime in 1976 I learned that Woody Herman and his band would be doing a concert. I don’t remember the date or the venue, but when I checked yesterday I saw that he’d performed many times at the Prom Center in St. Paul. I’m assuming that’s where it was. My mother had grown up loving big band music of the ’30s. She flew up from Iowa and we went to the show, which she loved. The next day we were on a bus in downtown Minneapolis when I saw Woody Herman in a trench coat walking along the sidewalk. I didn’t say anything to my mom, but I fantasized that we’d rush off the bus after him and have a nice encounter. Didn’t do it, but it was nice to imagine.
March of ’76 was a triple header for me. I saw Patti Smith at the Guthrie on March 7, The Who at the St. Paul Civic Center on March 14, and Roxy Music at the Guthrie on March 18.
Patti Smith’s album Horses had been released on October 10, produced by John Cale with a cover photo by Robert Mapplethorpe. Horses got a lot of attention and it more than justifies it. Somehow I’d scored a front-row seat at the Guthrie. The stage isn’t raised much, so it felt like I was right there. I saw her perform as often as I could after I moved to New York. Turned out that Lenny Kaye, Smith’s lead guitarist then and now, was living in the building I’d moved into. It was a kick seeing him in the lobby or elevator.
The first cut on Horses is “Gloria,” which tells us with its first words that this is something different, “Jesus died for somebody’s sins, but not mine.” The energy in the song builds and takes you in a rush.
Okay, that does it for “Before New York.” Stay tuned for “New York Soundtrack,” which will wrap up this series. Be safe. — Ted Hicks