Unless you’re an industry insider or an aficionado of ’80s American Underground rock, you may not recognize the name Peter Jesperson, but chances are you’re more than familiar with his work. As one of the founders and an A&R man of Minneapolis’ Twin/Tone Records, Jesperson was instrumental in discovering and developing some of modern rock’s most influential bands, none more so than The Replacements.
When Replacements guitarist Slim Dunlap suffered a stroke coupled with other complications, Jesperson — now a VP at New West Records — sought to produce and auction off a limited series of split 7″ 45s to raise money for Dunlap and his family. What began as a small singles series not only attracted more artists once word got out but also resulted in the closest thing yet to a reunion of the Replacements: a five-song EP featuring Replacements members Paul Westerberg, Tommy Stinson, and Chris Mars. As the first release for auction approaches, Consequence of Sound spoke to Jesperson about the project, the state of Slim’s recovery, and, of course, working with the Replacements again after all these years.
First off, how is Slim doing? Is he recovering?
He’s not recovering is what the real point of this is. Chrissie, his wife, actually just sent me a note that we’re incorporating into our website, the Songs For Slim website, basically. This is in the family’s words, so I don’t have to tell you my interpretations. She says:
“On February 19th, Slim suffered a massive right brain stroke complicated by a fall, which caused a hemorrhage in the left brain and was further complicated by extensive brain swelling. He was hospitalized for nine months, and his recovery has been slow, hindered by pain, paralysis of the left side, and the inability to swallow. He’s currently at home being cared for by his family and a team of aides, nurses, and therapists. His sharp intellect, wit, and photographic memory are all, thankfully, intact. Insurance does not pay for long-term care, and the general prognosis for Slim is that he will likely need around-the-clock care for the rest of his life.”
So, that’s the sad reality of it. I went to visit about three weeks ago. At that time, we had about nine songs done for this project. I got to play him the tracks. It was really startling, as somebody I’ve known for almost 40 years and one of my dearest friends, to see him in this condition was really hard and very intense and very emotional. But I have to also say there were some wonderful moments. He’s so moved by everybody’s participation and this project. When I played him the songs, I’ll never forget the look in his eyes. He was absolutely blown away.
Obviously, it’s a big deal for the Replacements to get back together and record. And they didn’t do it the same way they recorded in 2006 a couple of songs for a “Best of” that they added some new recordings to. And I thought they were really good songs, good performances, and I was really proud of what they’d done, but this is a whole different kettle of fish. They went in and they somehow captured the old spirit of the ‘Mats, the Replacements. It was really quite startling to me when I first heard the songs. I think Slim heard that in the tracks as well. A really amazing experience.
I spent three days with him, going to visit first thing in the morning and then letting him have some time to rest, and then I’d go back in the middle of the afternoon and spend as much time as seemed appropriate. We got to hang out and listen to other music. The new Bob Dylan was something he wanted to hear all the time. He doesn’t really talk very clearly, and it was hard for me to understand what he was saying. In fact, a lot of the times when he would say something to me, I couldn’t understand it, and Chrissie, his wife, would lean over and have to have him repeat it, and she would interpret for me just because she’s so much more used to the way he’s talking now, which is really just a very quiet whisper. He doesn’t talk normally at all. In fact, she calls herself the Slim Whisperer, which I thought was a nice way of putting it.
He’s not doing well; he’s not making progress, not making great progress, but I also can say, that after knowing him all these years, I saw my old friend Bob in there. Hopefully with time and therapy and good medicine and good care and keeping his spirit strong, which is a big part of what we’re doing here with this project, it’s really giving him the will to live, or helping to give him the will to live. Anyway, that’s a long answer to your short question.
Being surrounded by that much love has got to mean something to him.
It was beautiful, too, just to hang out and see so many… I moved away from there in ’95, and I don’t get back as often as I would like, so it was great to see people coming through the door. Tim O’Reagan from the Jayhawks would pop in or Jim Boquist — Son Volt is what he’s best known for — or Westerberg or whoever, just people coming by to visit. A lot of people have really been shocked and startled, and it’s brought a lot of people together, to tell you the truth, and that’s part of what this project is.
Whose idea was it to do a benefit album for Slim, and how did you and New West get involved?
Well, I was involved with the band from the early days, and plus Slim was a really dear friend. We knew immediately that this was going to be complicated and impossible for them to pay for, all the rehab. Luckily, their insurance was really good, covered the hospitalization, and took really good care of him. They got him through some tough times. When he had the stroke, he fell and hit his head. The stroke was on the right side of his brain, and then he hit his head on the left side, which caused the hemorrhaging and the brain swelling, which meant they couldn’t do the same kind of medical treatment they would normally do for a stroke, like thinning blood and what not, because he was bleeding internally so badly. It was such a terrible situation.
What became clear very early on was that it was going to be a long haul for him in rehabilitation, and now we know it’s probably going to be going on for the rest of his life. But at that time, in February, we were just thinking, how can we help them raise money? My first thought was let’s get some people to record his songs so that he’ll get some publishing money, and we can work on a project that we could sell to make him some money.
But the first thing I thought, I didn’t want to do a “tribute” album. For two reasons, a) they’re so ubiquitous these days and b) they’re so unpredictable. They’re unpredictable with super well-known artists, and so you got somebody who’s not all that well known, like Slim, best known for being in the Replacements. He did dozens of great musical things around Minneapolis that he isn’t known so much out of town for. The idea of putting a compilation tribute record together, I thought, what if we did that, and it didn’t sell, and it ended up being an embarrassment? I wanted to figure out something unique that could really work.
It actually came out of a conversation. The real structure of what we’re doing came out of a conversation with the GM here at New West [Michael Ruthig]. It’s a company I’ve been with since ’99. I thought if we’re going to do something, I was hoping that we could do something from New West. I sat down with the GM shortly after the stroke and said this is obviously something that’s really affected me, and I’d like to try and do something to help, and I wondered if New West would want to participate, but I don’t want to do a tribute album, blah blah blah. And he said, “Wow!” He’s got a great marketing brain. We kicked some ideas around and basically came up with the idea to do a series of split 45s in limited editions and to auction them rather than sell them through normal retail channels, to try and get the best revenue stream we could for Slim and his family. That was, pretty simply, it.
We certainly thought the Replacements would be a great, or the guys from the Replacements, would be great people to lead the charge. They kind of come and go with their communication between the three of them, Tommy and Paul and Chris, so we weren’t sure what would happen there. But we thought if we could get them, maybe all three, to record tracks or whatever. So, we threw it out there. Tommy and Paul decided they wanted to do a track together. They invited Chris to join them.
Chris is not really playing anymore; he’s a painter now. Look at his website, chrismarspublishing.com; it’s a startling catalog of paintings. And they’re very macabre. It’s a long story why he’s painting the way he does, and it has to do with mental illness in his family that he was aware of from a sibling and things like that. There was some darkness around that in his life, in his early life, and it affected his artistic slant. Anyway, he’s done these amazing paintings. We joke about it all the time; he got in the right business. He’s made more money than anybody. He’s quite a successful painter. The last time he had an art show here in L.A. my wife and I went and there were maybe 30, 40 paintings, and they all had price tags on them ranging from $8,000 to $40,000, and they were all sold. He’s doing very, very well. This month, he’s going to Sundance to represent an animated art piece that he’s done, a film; he’s got an art show in Paris he’s going to later this month. He’s really quite successful.
So, anyway, we thought, maybe we’d fold Chris into this plan both musically and for cover art. When it came down to it, because Chris just doesn’t really play the drums much anymore, he politely declined joining Paul and Tommy in the studio and said, “But I’d like to record a track by myself, if that’s ok,” and I said, “Of course.” He did a track, one of Slim’s kind of oddball songs called “Radio Hook Word Hit”. Chris played all the instruments. When he’s sitting at home playing a drum kit, he felt comfortable doing it, whereas he didn’t feel good… he doesn’t want to play live anymore, and he didn’t feel good about going into a proper studio and jamming with his old band mates, which we all understood.
It’s not problems with the other two; it’s just that he has other things that he is doing?
Yeah. Well, certainly, there was some friction when the band broke up. Chris left the band before they broke up, so obviously there was some friction back then. But most of that has been mended now, and everybody’s on pretty good terms. He didn’t feel comfortable going into the studio but wanted to contribute, so he recorded his own song. The interesting thing was when Paul and Tommy went in to record; they were slated to record a song called “Busting Up”, and they did it, and it just felt so good. I wasn’t present for it, but apparently it felt so good, they just knocked out three other covers by other people; they’re not Slim covers. Very spontaneous, off-the-cuff, they did a song Hank Williams is known for, actually, written by Leon Payne, called “Lost Highway”. And then they knocked off an interesting track called “I’m Not Saying”, which Paul had learned from an old Nico 45.
Nico prior to being with the Velvet Underground did sort of a pop record for Andrew Loog Oldham’s label, Immediate, in England, and did a song called “I’m Not Saying”, which interestingly enough, was written by Gordon Lightfoot. Paul had been obsessed with Nico eight or 10 years ago and devoured all of her recordings, including that rare early single. So, he spontaneously threw that out to the boys, and they knocked that out. Oh, my God, that one really is especially good. And then for a capper, they did an old Broadway show tune called “Everything’s Coming Up Roses”, originally done by Ethel Merman. They do just a blast of a version of it. It’s great.
When Tommy called me up, I asked how the session went, and he said, “It went great. We ended up with four songs; do you want to do an EP instead of putting us on one side of a 45?” I was, if you think they’re good, I’d like to hear them, but I’m sure I’ll trust your judgment. So, when he sent me the tracks, I was absolutely blown away. Then we were all talking, Chris and Tommy and everybody, and we decided, why don’t we take Chris’s song and put it on with the four that Paul and Tommy recorded and we got five songs by a sort of new version of the Replacements and an ex-member of the Replacements, and we’re just going to call the whole thing the Replacements. And so, that’s what it is.
You mentioned recording nine songs. Is that including the ones for the split singles, or is that including songs that didn’t make the EP?
No, Paul and Tommy recorded four, Chris recorded one, and when I went to Minneapolis, I had four other songs finished by that time by other artists.
So, why not make a whole album with all of those songs?
Well, because the plan was to do a series of 45s, and, of course, being the Replacements, they deviated from the plan (we both laugh). It’s just in their nature to not do what they’re told, so to speak. We had already sketched out the plan to do a series of 45s, and we had a whole bunch of people on board by that time. We got 18 or 19 artists confirmed now with more coming in. We had plans already, and also, nine songs doesn’t really make an album, and we had other people that were recording at various times. I’ve got some people that’ve finished tracks. I’ve got some people that have basic tracks done and haven’t put vocals on, etc. And we’ve got people who haven’t even begun recording and may not be able to record for another couple months.
We’re planning on doing these once a month. The Replacements EP goes up for auction on Tuesday, January 15th. The first 7” 45 will go up for auction on the 15thof February; the second 7” will go up for auction in March, etc. So, it’ll be an ongoing thing. Once the auctions close, we’ll put up the tracks digitally, so they’ll be available for people to buy as a single, or a la carte, if they prefer. After we had gotten this really in motion and we had started talking to the other artists about it, and we wanted to have some artist agreement for everybody to sign off on, we thought why don’t we ask if people are amenable to it, if everything goes well and there seems to be enough interest, maybe we compile all these tracks on an album down the road a piece and see how that does. So, it’s just kind of a wait-and-see thing. And then one other little twist.
When everybody realized how great these Replacements tracks turned out, we started feeling guilty about the fact that we were auctioning these things and not giving indie retail a shot at being involved. Indie retail has been the staunch supporter of the band from the get-go, back in 1981. So, just in conversations we said, if we did a commercial version of the Replacements EP, it would make some additional money for Slim. That’s what the whole point of this is, so everybody agreed. Once the auction closes for the 10” vinyl EP that we’re doing, the tracks go up digitally, and then two or three months later we’re going to put out a commercial 12” version of it.
The 10” will be very collectible, limited edition of only 250; the cover’s incredibly fancy and very difficult to navigate. We’re at the printer right now. It’s got silver foil and red foil, and it’s got a cutout in the cover. We’ve got a bunch of things that are going to be inserted into the package, like some old photographs that we’re reprinting, a poster of Slim, a painting of Chris Mars’. It’s going to be, dare I say, uber deluxe.
Any chance of having a one-off concert event or mini-tour to go in support of it?
That’s more their business. New West is donating our label services and our time. That is really in the hands of those guys. If they wanted to, they will. I don’t know if that is going to happen. It’s certainly, obviously, with the Replacements auction starting next week, it’s not going to tie into that. They may do some playing. Paul and Tommy have already talked about doing some additional recordings just because they had such a good time, and these turned out so good. I think it’s possible, yeah. But not in the immediate future. There are no specific plans.