Tommy Stinson on 'Sorry Ma, Forgot to Take Out the Trash,' Bob Stinson's guitar playing, and surviving COVID

The Replacements' first album, "Sorry Ma, Forgot to Take Out the Trash," turned 40 on Aug. 25, 2021. That morning, Mats bassist Tommy Stinson joined The Current's Jim McGuinn to talk about its recording, the upcoming box set, and his favorite song on the album. Plus: the story of his brother Bob's organ ending up in the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame. (Jim McGuinn | MPR)
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Tommy Stinson on the Replacements' first album, Bob Stinson's guitar playing, and surviving COVID-19
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The Replacements' first album, Sorry Ma, Forgot to Take Out the Trash turns 40 today. Bassist Tommy Stinson joins Jim McGuinn to talk about its recording, the upcoming box set, and his favorite song on the album. Plus, the story of his brother Bob's organ ending up in the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame.

Jim McGuinn: It's The Current and it's Jim McGuinn with Tommy Stinson. How are you, my friend?

Tommy Stinson: Good. Good morning.

Good morning! Tommy from the Replacements, Guns N' Roses, Perfect, Bash & Pop. I know I'm missing more.

Soul Asylum!

Soul Asylum. Of course! Yes. And a Minnesota native. Not living here anymore, but a native to here. And today we're chatting because — it's hard to believe, but this is the fortieth anniversary of the release of Sorry Ma, Forgot to Take Out the Trash, the debut from the Replacements. And I can't even imagine what it's like for you to hit a milestone like that.

I haven't really given it all that much thought, except that Bob Mehr called me up. He asked me if my mom or my sisters would take part in doing a walkthrough of the house on 22nd and Bryant for a virtual thing of some sort. I thought that was kind of funny. And it's like, well, that's weird. Forty years ago, today.

Yeah. Forty years. I mean, you were what, 14? 15? When that record first came out?

Well, let's see, that would put me at about 14 and a half [or] 15 years old.

Wow. I mean, it's the first record you made, obviously. You're a kid. And what are your memories of even being in the studio at that time and making the first Replacements album?

It was weird. On the one hand, you think, "Wow, we've actually made it. We're in a studio recording. Whoo hoo," and all that. You get all that kind of excitement. And you kind of go, it sounds crazy in here. It's nothing like when you're sitting in front of your amps in the basement, and everything's loud, and you're used to a certain thing. It took a little adjusting to get used to the studio way of doing things, and that it was so much different than playing live or rehearsing in the basement.

And how long had you been even playing bass by that point, when you guys were going in the studio for that record?

I guess it must have been about four years. I think Bob basically started showing me how to play when I was 11. He'd just come back home from being gone for a spell. Yeah, four years or something?

'Cause there's some really fluid baselines for — I can't even imagine being 14 and coming up with those lines, and then knocking them down in the studio. Do you remember, were those tracks [recorded] live? Or was it tracked like more modern albums are done now, where it's sort of an instrument at a time?

No, all that stuff was completely live. I think the only thing that ended up getting overdubbed at any point was some of the vocals, and I'm not even sure if all the vocals were overdubbed, to be honest with you. I think some of them are pretty much just as they were. It was like just like ok, hit it and run.

Who came up with the the album title? Sorry Ma, Forgot to Take Out the Trash — where did that come from?

I want to say it came off a note that we had to leave, because we had a gig or something. One of us [wrote], "Sorry Ma, forgot to take out the trash." I know it was one of my responsibilities at one point.

It's become a iconic album, in some ways, just to capture an attitude of of youth. And even there early on. I mean, later, Paul would write "Tommy Gets His Tonsils Out." But right there at the top: "I hate music/ Too many notes/ Tommy says so." You know, was that weird for you to be written into the songs that you guys were writing?

No, not really. We were working with what was in front of us. And I think to Paul's credit, at that point, he was fairly prolific. I don't know what exactly was getting him going, except the idea that maybe we might get out of the basement and get into the clubs at some point, and maybe make a record. But you know, there was a lot of stuff. That record had more songs and more outtakes and things like that than probably every record after it, because of how busy we got. We really hit the floor running.

There's a ton of songs on the record, but then there's demos, there's outtakes. There's songs that never came out. And I know in the box set, there's a live show from 7th St Entry from that era, as well. And I want to say there's 27 tracks on the set [list]. I mean, you guys ripped through your sets back in those days?

Yeah, each song was about two minutes long at best. [laughs]

So do you remember, when the record was done, was there a gig at that time? Or was there an in-store?

I don't remember exactly. I would assume — and I can't remember at the moment — that we did it at Oar Folk, probably. And it could very well have fallen on a school night for me. Because I was still going to school then. "I gotta swing by for a little while before it's time to go to bed," you know? Showing up to class in the morning after playing the Entry the night before was quite a trip.

"You were watching Happy Days; I was playing the 7th St Entry last night. Oh, my God. So the box set that is coming in October, I mean, do you spend much time on these collections? Like, do you go through and listen to a lot of the outtakes and the extra stuff, or is it kind of a shock to you when the records come out?

I'll be honest with you, I don't listen to 'em. I'm cool with the content, and I'm cool with the people that are putting it together, 'cause I trust them implicitly. I mean, I've known Peter [Jesperson] for 42 years or so now. I trust him with my life. And Bob Mehr, another one. I don't know if I trust him with my life, exactly, but I do trust his taste. And he's done a good job by us with the book, I think.

I still travel around a lot and do shows and have been all over the world. And what is still remarkable to me, and why I'm cool with these things so much, is that it's funny how relevant we still seem to be amongst a lot of young — I meet kids that are like, their parents had turned them on to us, and they're now going into that era of rock in a way they wouldn't have checked out, whether it was us, Husker Du, or anything else. There's kind of a funny relevancy to it that's inspiring. So why not? Why not give them some extra bits that they might learn something from, or get some insight into the makings of the beast?

Yeah, you may have had no idea at the time —

Zero idea.

But it's the kind of record that is like a blueprint for garage bands that are getting started and have a lot of ideas and want to express them. You know, there's a lot going on in that record, fast and furious.

Everything we did, we worked at, to a degree. But a lot of stuff — like I said, Paul was fairly prolific. So we didn't spend a whole lot of time hacking things up before we solidified them, in a way. The only real wild card, as far as differentiations, would be my brother's guitar playin'. He had a way of coming and going in the songs that was uniquely him.

And was Bob's playing different every time? Like, usually [in] a band, you kind of hardwire the parts together, right? But you get the sense that [with] Bob, take one and take three could be so radically different.

Exactly right. I mean, he more played around with the parts than playing the parts. And that was the magic of him, in a way. At times, him and Paul might have butted heads a bit on that. I think there was a bit of a power struggle between the two of them, as far as I could tell. And at the end of the day, we get what we get. And a lot of times, it'd be great. My brother was a great guitar player. So he had a lot to offer, if he was willing to offer it. [laughs] That was more where the trickery came into play.

He seems like he was the intangible that could really push the stew in a lot of directions, depending on where he was at the moment. You recently helped celebrate your late brother, Bob Stinson's legacy with an event at the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame around his old organ, right?

Yeah, it was his kidney. I'm kidding. You know, this thing had been sitting in my mom's basement after he passed for a while, and then my mom wanted to refinish the basement, 'cause it was leaking. So it sat in Soul Asylum's storage space for the better part of 20 years, and they needed to get rid of it. And one guy we know wanted it first. We'd put an ad out on the internet. "Hey, Bob's organ, come get it if you want it," because it takes four guys to move. It's an old Wurlitzer from the '40s, I think. And then the Hall of Fame wanted it. So then I had to call the first guy and say hey, you know the Hall of Fame called and said they want this thing, and it'd make my mom happy if it went there. How do you feel about letting them take it instead of you taking it? And he was like, "Well, I'd be a jerk if I didn't let them take and put it up there and make your mom happy." So yeah, they came and picked it up. They refurbished it. We played a gig last Friday. My group Cowboys in the Campfire — it's a duo, me and Chip Roberts — we just went up and had my other buddy Tony Kieraldo, who plays keys and piano and stuff like this. He came up and played the last part of our set on it, and it was fun. My mom showed up, and everyone had fun. And I came home and got COVID again.

Sorry to hear that.

Yeah, beat the odds on that one.

That's one thing you and I share. We're both breakthrough COVID cases.

Isn't that a pisser?

Crazy. Provided you recover — and you do seem like you're on the road to recovery — are you going to be playing some shows this fall? And what's coming up next?

Yeah, you know, I got a couple of things scattered about now. I'm half-thinking of coming back to the Minneapolis area and doing a Midwest run with Cowboys in the Campfire before it starts to get too crazy out there. If I were to do that, I'm looking at the end of October. I got a date being held for me right now at the Turf Club, if that should work out. So we'll see. Like you said, if I don't croak before. [laughs] And the Cowboys in the Campfire record, hopefully, will come out before the end of the year.

Cool. Well, it's Tommy Stinson from the Replacements, Guns N' Roses, and a lot of other bands. But before you go, I want to ask one more thing about Sorry, Ma, this album we're celebrating today on its fortieth anniversary. Do you have a favorite song from that record? Is there one song that you go, "Oh, yeah, that's the one we nailed," or "That's the one we didn't nail," or whatever?

It's funny you should ask that. I was thinking about it last night, 'cause I know we were gonna talk. I think "Customer" might be it. Bob's solo on it is just so nuts and so magical. I remember, all of our sets, going, "What? Did that really happen?"

Thank you for joining us. It is the 40th anniversary of the release of "Sorry Ma, Forgot to Take Out the Trash" by the Replacements.

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