Life still sounds good for GNR's Tommy Stinson

Modern-day replacement
By REYAN ALI  |  February 18, 2011

Tommy Stinson

STILL ON THE DIAL How would I not sound somewhat Replacements-like, being that I grew up in it?”

Bass in hand, Tommy Stinson has been part of two notorious and revered rock-and-roll legacies. Three decades ago, he was a founding member of the Replacements, Minneapolis's great punk hope. He was there for their raw 1981 debut, Sorry Ma, Forgot To Take Out the Trash, plus the boozed-up spectacle that was a 1986 Saturday Night Live performance, spats with leader Paul Westerberg, their early-'90s break-up, and the creation of dozens of stellar songs that defined college radio. Then in 1998, he added another lineage, replacing Duff McKagan in Guns N' Roses. His first contributions to be heard by long-suffering Guns fans were the bass lines to "Oh My God," from the End of Days soundtrack. For the next decade, Stinson rode shotgun beside Axl Rose in the money-sucking saga that was Chinese Democracy. Almost incredibly, he remains GNR's bassist.

Moody frontmen aside, his famous bands have little in common, but Stinson finds some common ground. "Initially, both bands were very much what rock and roll is about," he says over the phone from Philly. "What we did in the Replacements wasn't really all that different, except that they actually wrote together. There was a danger to it. It kind of comes from the drugs and alcohol and the way you see things when you start off. They're both similar in that very regard. Other than that, vastly different."

Stinson's legacy isn't entirely based on playing back-up. He's also chiseled out a side career as a guitarist and singer, creating a repertoire of hooky alt-rock songs in side projects Bash & Pop and Perfect and, most recently, in work released under his own name. (He also played with Soul Asylum around 2005.) His lead work seesaws between sweet and brash in a way that conjures a certain musician he spent years with, but he doesn't mind the easy Westerberg invocations. "I mean, shit, I was a little kid when we started in the Replacements. I learned a lot from him as well as the music he was into plus [manager] Peter Jesperson's influence. I'm not trying to sound like him or any of that kind of thing, but I can tell you right now: how would I not sound somewhat Replacements-like, being that I grew up in it, unless I was really trying to separate myself?"

Stinson sounds easygoing enough to coexist with a volatile egomaniac like Rose. A life in rock and roll has taught him a few things, and not giving too much of a shit is probably number one. A bevy of pursuits helps keep his main gig from getting stale. When not globetrotting with Guns N' Roses, he picks his own music up off the back burner. He self-financed 2004's VillageGorillaHead, his solo debut, so he could retain total control, and he's planning to do the same with his second record, which is due soon. "It might be a little more rootsy, and it might be more rocking," he says of the new album. "I've got more slide on this than the last one."

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