It was Sunday, October 31, 1988.
Mark, Bill and I were in the basement of a house on Dupont Avenue, in the “Wedge” neighborhood in South Minneapolis.
And it was the time of my life.
After Bill called me in September, the three of us – Mark, Bill and I - got back together and started playing again. It worked out very well, actually – all of us worked nights (Bill and Mark were short-order cooks, and I, of course, was in the bars).
One day in early October, we heard that a couple of musicians who lived around the corner had built a recording studio in their basement. Mark and Bill’s sister’s boyfriend’s band, in fact, had just recorded an album there. The price – $15/hour for an 8-track recording studio – was right…
…assuming we planned everything out perfectly.
And so the plot was hatched. We figured that among us we could pool maybe $200 to put into recording…something. That boiled down to about 12-14 hours of recording time. In that time, we figured we’d need to…:
- put down basic tracks – the three of us doing the rhythm guitar, bass and drum parts
- dub lead and background vocals and any extra instruments.
- Finally, “mix down” from eight-track recording tapes to two-track stereo “masters” to be put onto vinyl or cassette or whatever we ended up doing.
We talked with one of the owners – “Ron” (who was the lead singer of an anarchic, Red-Hot-Chili-Peppers meets Grateful Dead band, the “F**king S**t Biscuits”), and booked three of the slowest nights of the recording week and, as it happens, the recording year – nights when the studio’d be happy to get any revenue at all – Wednesday and Thursday (I took a couple nights off from the bar), and tonight.
Wednesday night, we booked six hours to bang out basic tracks. We settled on five songs: four of mine (“Fourth of July”, “Long Gray Wire”, “Great Northern Avenue” and “Five Bucks and a Transfer”) and one of Mark’s (“Black Window”).
How tight were we? In three hours, we had ‘em all done, and managed to put down the lead vocals for a song or two.
Thursday night, it was overdub time. Four hours (which Ron, being a good mensch, let us stretch to five and a half. I think he was having fun). Mark and I finished the lead vocals pretty quickly, and then it was on to overdubbing. I put down the lead guitars on all of the songs – I managed all of them in one or two takes, except “Fourth of July”, which involved switching guitars and playing one slide-guitar solo between a couple of verses. Then, an organ part on “Fourth of July” (two takes and out, and it sounded great!), and a completely-extemporized piano part on “Long Gray Wire” that sounded a little like Ian Hunter if he’d had a stroke. Next, Bill and I knocked out the background vocals for “Great Northern”, which took a take and a half – we’d been doing the song for almost two years. With the last hour or so, Mark and I noodled around with percussion parts for “Window”, which had morphed from a straight-up minor-key rocker into a psychedelic escape and evasion drill; a bucket of broken glass and me talking through a set of headphones to sound like a police radio completed the effect.
And tonight? The mixdown.
Whether through artistic perfectionism or sheer boredom, Ron wound up throwing in two hours for free, on top of the six we’d booked (and could afford).
And damn, it sounded good. We left the studio around 3AM, and walked around the corner to the band house, lugging our gear about a block, very happy with the results.
Hope, as they say, springs eternal.
Well, hope for my career as a rock star did not spring eternal. Indeed, my career as a Minneapolis Underground Rocker was very near an end, although I wouldn’t know that for a while. But Mirror Image Studios seems to be pretty much eternal, and it couldn’t happen to a nicer bunch of guys. I found their website a while ago, and Ron still runs the place, in the same house it was in 20 years ago. They list the band, as well as me. No, I didn’t do a solo album – but I did record there on my own. A lot.
But that comes later in the story.
It’s fun reading the list of some of the people who’ve recorded there, before and since – lots of names that had faded into the recesses of my memory get yanked out and slapped awake:
- Babes in Toyland – a friend of mine dated Lori Barbero before they became famous – back when a chick named Courtney played in the band.
- The Fuckin Shitbiscuits – ibid. Famous for shows more anarchic than the Replacements – and done entirely straight. Ron didn’t even drink beer, as I recall.
- Neomort – I had a roommate who knew these guys.
- Ingrid Chavez – When she first moved to Minneapolis, she worked at a coffee shop with a friend of mine. We talked. She mentioned she had a demo tape. I hit on her. We had a good laugh. Two months later, she was better known as Prince’s girlfriend.
- Strange Friends, Perfect Strangers, – in later attempts at starting a band, Bill and Mark and I played with a bunch of these guys.
- Lisa Wray – I saw her opening for GB Leighton, I think, on one of my first dates after my divorce.
- Dumpster Juice – I know some of these guys, but I can’t remember how.
- Tina and the B-sides – one of the great losses the Cities’ music community ever suffered.
- The Blue Up – The band that was the beginning of the end of the Twin Cities’ punk scene.
- Mofos – hosts of a zillion great nights at the Uptown.
- The Flaming Ohs – I jammed with Bob, their drummer, many times. Last I heard of him, he was running worst “open stage” night in the history of music, at the late, unlamented Fernando’s.
- Rifle Sport – the first band I ever saw performing when I moved to the Cities.
- Powermad – I met a bunch of them at a party with a speed-metal-singer roommate of mine.
- Tequila Mockingbird – never saw ‘em, but I always loved the name.
- Jeff Walker – he sat in on guitar during the last gig I ever played on a stage with a band in the Twin Cities – with “The Supreme Soviet of Love”, in 1996 at the Turf Club. Amazing guitar player.
- Boiled in Lead – one of the greats bands in Twin Cities music history.
- John Fenner/Mubla Buggs – Friends of friends. Like Phish for people who aren’t as serious and straightlaced.
- Paul Metsa – the GB Leighton of the eighties.
- Duck Kicking Vulture – perhaps the scariest night I spent in a bar in my life, at the First Avenue in 1986.
- Mitch Berg – Who?
- John Q Public – That’d be us. We changed our name to Joe Public soon – but I’m getting ahead of things.
- Run Westy Run – I never knew how much I hated The Doors until I went to about ten Westies gigs. But their first single, “Dizzy Road”, is one of my favorite records ever to come out of the Twin Cities.
- Dezzy Dickerson – speaking of your Prince connections…
- Destroy All Monsters, The Sluts, Beat the Clock, The Neitzches, Halo of Flies, Glennrustles, Spam Grievance, That Darn Kat, Swingin Teens, Farm Accident, Bone Club, The Sizzling Eggheads – all had about eight seconds of Twin Cities Reader-induced fame. I knew some of them, but didn’t make a big deal about it.
- Cheap Dates – as above, but really bad.
- Cows – Incredibly depressing noise-thrash band; like Sonic Youth on meth. But great guys.