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Minnesota music legend Tony Glover, West Bank stalwart and national icon, dies at 79

Tony Glover onstage with the Replacements at Midway Stadium in 2014. (Steven Cohen)
Tony Glover onstage with the Replacements at Midway Stadium in 2014. (Steven Cohen)

by Jay Gabler

May 30, 2019

Tony "Little Sun" Glover, whose folk and blues stylings influenced generations of American musicians but had a special impact on those who shared his Minneapolis neighborhoods, has died at age 79 due to natural causes, the Star Tribune reports. A fierce harmonica player well-known for his musical partnership with Spider John Koerner and the late Dave Ray, Glover was a significant figure in the international folk revival of the 1960s: an influence on peers including, most notably, Bob Dylan.

Acolytes like Dylan, the Rolling Stones, the Doors, the New York Dolls, Bonnie Raitt, Patti Smith, the Replacements, and Beck continued to show their appreciation as they developed into well-known stars, while Glover and his closest associates built on the musical community they'd fostered in the West Bank neighborhood of Minneapolis. Ray died in 2002, and Koerner just this Wednesday announced a "1,000th moon celebration" at the Cedar Cultural Center.

Born in Minneapolis, Glover joined Koerner and Ray in 1963. Their debut album, that year's Blues, Rags and Hollers, is a seminal document of the folk revival, winning fans including the Beatles. If the New York pole of the early '60s folk scene emphasized commercial polish and the Harvard Square pole went for academic rigor, Koerner, Ray and Glover made the Minneapolis scene a place where genuine appreciation for traditional music could co-exist with a wicked sense of fun.

Jim Morrison biographer Stephen Davis calls Blues, Rags and Hollers "the coolest, hardest-rocking record of the whole folk revival," noting that it raised the profile and prestige of Elektra Records when that label picked it up for national release. Known for partying hard, Koerner, Ray and Glover not only helped to shape the sound of the folk revival, they sparked the raucous and iconoclastic spirit that fellow Minnesota musicians like Dylan and the Replacements would become infamous for.

Noted for his harmonica technique, Glover gave lessons to Mick Jagger and wrote several harp songbooks; the Replacements pulled him on stage to blow a bit during their triumphant Midway Stadium show in 2014. (Paul Westerberg introduced Glover as "an actual musician.") Over the course of his career, Glover also played with the likes of the Doors and the Allman Brothers, remembering of the latter: "Boy, those guys were so loud. The only way I could tell I was playing — I could feel my lips buzzing."

Glover remained a West Bank institution, locally beloved and happily easy to find playing with various peers in numerous duos and other configurations everywhere from the Cedar to The Current studio. Nationally and internationally renowned, he remains most famously associated with Bob Dylan, who played at his house and shared coffeehouse stages with Glover, Koerner, and Ray.

A journalist and DJ as well as a musician, Glover captured invaluable early recordings of Dylan, some of which have been released as official or unofficial bootlegs. The opening track to Dylan's first "Bootleg Series" box is a version of "Hard Times in New York Town" recorded by Glover, and an upcoming release in the series will reportedly focus on Dylan's coffeehouse years in New York and Minneapolis, drawing extensively on Glover's tapes. In 1963, according to biographer Robert Shelton, Dylan said Glover "feels and thinks and walks and talks just like I do."

In a 2005 interview with West Bank music historian Cyn Collins, Glover remembered the first time he and his bandmates played for a big crowd, in Philadelphia in late 1963. "It was raucous and fun," he remembered. "We were fired up. We were loaded for bear, and we came out and kicked ass. Not everybody stayed because it was a long night. But the ones that stayed were like, 'Oh, wow!' It was really encouraging, like, 'People do like this. It’s not just a Minneapolis thing.'"

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