Official Minnesota Music History
to the 80s Minneapolis Music Scene
a personal history
by Arlo Hennings
Tinsel Town.pdf (excerpt from my memoir Guitarlo)
Back in Minneapolis, disco fever finally ran its course, cooled off, and died out by 1979. The musical recovery was aided by the growing influence of punk and new wave music, which overlapped the disco era. At first, I didn't understand the raw edge, back-to-the-rock basics of punk’s three-chord guitar style. But the energy, rebelliousness, and spirit of the sound hooked me. Then, catching the new wave, I finally found a way to plug back into my own music.
A handful of local entrepreneurs and artists in Minneapolis set out to make a splash. Low rent, a good local economy, the explosive success of Prince, and a supportive fan base made Minneapolis, like Seattle, a great spawning ground for new music. Unclassified as a “movement” the music scene became known collectively in the press as the "Minneapolis Sound." Though critics argue that the Minneapolis Sound was penned by R&B artists like Prince, and Jimmy Jam and Terry Lewis, I believe that other styles contributed to the mix, including rock, blues, and folk. No one can say for certain who started the Minneapolis Sound, but everyone involved had ownership of “the scene.” Dubbed the "third coast,” the Minneapolis music scene exploded into an impressive underground economy consisting of hundreds of clubs, bands, agents, studios, managers, distribution and record companies. I worked with many of them.
three of the many contributors to the Minneapolis Sound
a young Prince composes, circa 1977 /Owen Husney former manager-why is Arlo in my office?
Jimmy Jam and Terry Lewis producers left/St. Paul Peterson - Arlo you're too old to play with Prince
Home bash port for the Minneapolis alternative rock music makers was the triangular area of Minneapolis known as the Wedge neighborhood. The CC Tap bar, which anchored the intersection there at 25th and Lyndale Avenue South, became a popular hangout for musicians.
By 1979, I had an electric guitar and knew how to use it. I started a band called Vitamin Q and played lead guitar during its five-year run. Playing new wave hits of the era, the band became one of the most popular acts in the Midwest. Vitamin Q's original claim to fame came from my song “Me Magazine,” about the “me generation.” In 1981, the song appeared on the "Best of the Twin Cities Beat" album and TV show.
Yanni - Arlo you need a hairy chest
|30 years ago in the middle of the Wedge neighborhood I had an 8-track recording studio. I chose to lend a hand to artists; to provide opportunities for those less gifted in the department of carving a niche for themselves, which helped to preserve fine expressions of the spirit calling unto itself.|
Vitamin Q was even better known for their rehearsal space. Pulling on experience from my rock festival days, I helped to transform the group’s warehouse space into a concert hall that provided free access to original groups. The space became known as "On Broadway" and gained recognition as a critical spawning ground for developing talent.
From the time I was 15 years old, I had also dreamed of becoming a writer. So, in addition to working with the band, in 1983 I self-published a chapbook of poetry, titled Tomorrow Never Answers (out of print). I distributed it to area book and record stores, and sold it from the stage. My book received a feature write-up in the Twin Cities Reader magazine, and, to my delight, was carried by my old pen pal, poet Lawrence Ferlinghetti, at his New City Lights bookstore in San Francisco.
Mom, Dad, I'm going to Harvard! / Marsh Edelstein -You don't need an education. Work for me!
After Vitamin Q disbanded in 1985, I teamed up with an aspiring, young music producer, and a future business partner, Marty Weintraub. With his help, I recorded a double album, and accompanying 40-page story titled, Burden of the Beat: The Eyelid Movie — a libretto that parodied the idea of wanting to be rock star. The project received favorable reviews. The Minnesota Historical Society documented the work (AV collection disc #175-A). The Plains Art Museum in Moorhead, Minnesota, offered me a grant to exhibit the multimedia piece. The Forum newspaper in Fargo, North Dakota, said the project was "worth seeing and hearing." In addition, the Minneapolis Star and Tribune and the Saint Paul Pioneer Press, nominated the work for their top-10-picks of that year. It was also archived by the Minnesota Historical Society. It survived better there than the albums that were lost in a fire at the Oarfolkjokeupus record store. The project has been reissued in CD-R format available at GoJohnnyGo Records and soon on vinyl too.
Within the scent of CC Tap’s grill grease, I later branched out and established Thump, my own recording studio. With that mission, Thump Studios emerged as a creative center for songwriters within the triangular vortex of the Minneapolis Sound.
Back in 1969, one of Minnesota's first music business entrepreneurs, 19-year-old Patrick Raines (manager of Al Jarreau and Aimee Mann) gave me a job and, until I couldn't count the change back correctly, I sold pop, checked coats, and took door fees. I helped to build a dance hall in Burnsville, Minnesota called the Prison. The Prison was part of the late 60s Minnesota ballroom era. It became a hot spot for local, regional, and national bands. It was a place where bands, such as the Delcounts, the Underbeats, Crow, Castaways, and the Grasshoppers, broke ground for successful national careers. The business looked easy from my vantage point where the venue was magically sold out. When the show was over the band got a percentage of the door money. However, Raines (and sometimes with agent impresario Marsh Edelstein) walked out with big bags of cash for doing nothing more than throwing a party. The Prison also proved to be my first job at (or doing) A&R (being a music talent scout). I considered the job to judge the bands a big responsibility and I spent most of my time listening to records sent to the venue for audition. Right or wrong, I used my own ear to decide who got to perform. I loved the energy and didn't care about being paid.
|Raines took his promoter ambitions a step further in the summer of 1970 when he rented the football field-sized Parade Stadium and hired twenty national bands. It was my first rock festival. Frisbees, beer, other substances, and a long line-up of great bands kept the 10,000 concertgoers happy. I was told that the last act of the evening was driving a farm tractor across the field towards the stage. A longhaired, super hippie guy waved to the crowd. "Who's that?" I asked Raines. "That's Shawn Phillips," he replied, "Go over there and make sure he doesn't fall when he steps down from that tractor." My friends considered Phillips to be the Dalai Lama of rock. I was too star-struck to talk to Phillips, so I just pointed to an anvil microphone case for him to step down on to. He laughed, and jumped down to the ground from the tractor, like it was a horse. He nodded to me, with a smile. "Much obliged," he said in a deep Texan drawl. The crowd burst into a cheer as he walked past me onto the stage. Busy running errands for the promoter, I only caught bits and pieces of Phillips's mystical-like songs Spaceman and Woman. Those songs and others got airplay on the local radio station KQRS, and they stuck in my head. An introduction to your Phillips album could be leveraged for romance. During the early morning hours, I remembered hearing Second Contribution coming from a bedroom.||
Shawn Phillips - immensely popular in Minneapolis was not part of the local music scene
Phillips gives special thanks to Arlo LIVE at the MN ZOO http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=qQL37yoizws
|I did not become an instant fan. Phillips's concert ended an hour and a half later. The crowd applauded and stomped a demand for an encore. Phillips took a long bow and told Minneapolis how much he loved them. 25 years later I became Shawn Phillips's manager for 18 years.|
|My destination at Woodstock was the star tent, and it wasn't very difficult to get past the stoned backstage security to hang out there. Most of the crew were either too wrecked, or exhausted to notice a mud-clad 16-year-old stumbling around trying to build his vision of working in the music business. In front of the stage, a sound-mixing riser rose out of the mud above a sea of people. To protect it from rain, the equipment was covered by a makeshift tarp. Beneath the tarp, a person with thick sideburns and glasses, wearing an Australian-like outback hat was desperately trying to control the direction of the music. I didn't know it at the time, but working the controls was not Crocodile Dundee, it was my future South African promoter, David Marks. I was fueled with more inspiration, having come close enough to touch many of my music heroes; like Pete Townshend and Joan Baez; even though they were all too busy being frustrated with the festival organizers to pay attention to the young rocker in the corner of the tent. Woodstock had shown me more than any other music festival of the time the possibilities of bringing together people through music. The idea of raising social awareness and creating personal harmony through music stuck with me and became a lifelong ambition. Three days later the empty fields of Woodstock farm was now mountains of trash. One cultural tsunami had risen and crashed. I made my way back to the interstate and let out the wild thumb. Thumb against the blade of a pocketknife. Thumb as shiny fingernail of reflected camel eye. Thumb as safety-pin-sized out-of-tune fiddle, plucking a cricket’s song. I finished the summer of 1970 working as a stage hand for the outdoor rock festival, The Peoples Fest aka Stevens Pointe, Wisconsin. I spent my time fulfilling the personal requirements of the festival contract riders. I served sitar master Ravi Shankar hot tea. He noticed my three-day unwashed body and dilated pupils, and smiling, kindly shook his head. I guided Buffy Sainte-Marie up the steep stage stairs and nearly dropped her and her guitar. I spilled a glass of water on Ted Nugent's guitar amps power box. The police were moving in to shut down The Peoples Fest, the promoter left without paying the crew, and I stood there wondering if this was “the end” the Doors sang about, and no better symbolized by the angst-driven, mayhem-based group from Detroit, Iggy Pop and the Stooges. As Iggy slashed himself with glass, and was carried like an Egyptian king above the heads of his stoned disciples, destruction would become the new mother of the multi-day, rock festival.|
In 1970, Allen Fingerhut (heir to the Fingerhut catalog company), opened a nightclub in downtown Minneapolis called the Depot (later renamed First Avenue in 1979). The former Greyhound bus depot (thus the name “Depot”) became the first nightclub in the city to serve both alcohol and rock music. I followed my love for the live music vibe throughout the 70s by mostly sneaking into the famous nightclub. Until the drinking age was dropped to 18 years old, I was underage and I didn't have the money for a ticket. I would need to know how to get in without paying. I solved the problem: One guy would get in with a ticket, go upstairs to the bathroom and open the window. Then I would climb up on the marquee sign and slip into the bathroom window. It was by this means that I kept my see-and-be-seen mojo for belonging to music alive. If only those were my acts performing at the club, I anticipated, trying to think like a music businessperson. It seemed like every group on their way up, like Prince, performed at the club. I kept my scene maker skills up to snuff, and I spent most of my early adult years at that venue. But, walking the music biz-walk and talking the music biz-talk would take place down the street at the CBGB's of the Midwest-The Longhorn.
In 1979, I was introduced by roommate, Steve Knaeble to a visionary guitarist named Bruce Allen. The short, self-effacing, MCAD art student was starting a post-punk band he dubbed the Tsetse Flies. Bruce asked me to jam for the rhythm guitarist spot. I passed the initial audition and joined the band. The line up at that time consisted of Bruce Allen, lead guitar/vocals; Michael Halliday, the shy, learning the bass guitar, with the rock star look that chicks dug and minimum for any successful rock band; and Hugo, my roommate, the effervescent down to earth pal we all need, (Huck) Klaers, on drums. We jammed in the basement of a house we rented at: 3545 Minnehaha Ave (not Podanys) as stated in the book "Complicated Fun". The second version of the Flies with Johnny Knaeble on rhythm guitar took place at Podanys. For the next 6 months the band did not perform in public nor recorded. Many had watched us practice, however. Checking on our progression was a humble, gregarious, inventive guitarist, and underground Minneapolis music scene impressario, Chris Osgood. His band was called the Suicide Commandos. The Commandos played their own songs and other odd rock gems. We admired Chris and looked up to his group as a role model. Meanwhile, we all worked odd jobs. I worked selling office supplies with an unknown and future major label singer named J.D. Steele. Later, Bruce and I argued over a song called Jazz Don't Make it With Me. However, he did write a song called "Do Right," which I taught my own band to play.
I liked the new rock the Commandos played like the Clash, Ramones, Roxy Music, Lou Reed, Elvis Costello, Brian Eno, Talking Heads, Devo, and Blondie. (Costello later dated roommate Steve Knaeble's sister, Kathy). Failing to understand Bruce's unique vision he had to do what was best and asked me to leave. We remained good friends throughout his amazing career and I will always consider it an honor that I cut my music teeth with him. Beej Chaney and Chan Poling filled my spot and brought the sound Bruce was looking for and called the new band The Suburbs. Looking for a guitar gig, I asked my wife's cousin Paul Peterson (St. Paul) who was performing with one of Prince’s groups The Time. At age 24, he told me I was too old to gig with Prince.
Later in 1979, I started my own combo called Vitamin Q (1979-1985). Pulling on experience from my Prison Dance Hall days, I helped to transform Vitmamn Q's warehouse rehearsal space into a concert hall that provided free access to original groups. The space became known as "On Broadway" and was the recipient of feature stories that acclaimed the venue as a critical spawning ground for developing talent.
In 1983, I
joined folkie, Poppa John Kolstad's Mill City record distributors at minimum wage
with no benefits sales manager. As a record distributor, I promoted and distributed over
100 independent labels. Including, a fledgling new label owned by school teacher turned label entrepreneur Bob Feldman. He named
the label Red House after his house. Looking for reassurance on his first
Greg Brown release he called me daily for guidance and reminded me that
the local bookstore was sold out of their six copies. I worked at that post
for two years until launching my own business: Hennings Multimedia.
High on vision, low on guitar ability, I performed for over 5 years in various venues
Courtesy Larry Hutchinson Video Productions
Left As Is - video
Burden of the Beat - music tracks
sell office supplies!
The owner of Knut Koupee claimed I owed him $250 for this ad
Believing in the commercial potential of six Minneapolis songwriters, Marty and I shopped their material to Los Angeles record companies. With no connections, a $500 limit VISA card, months behind on my $350 per month rent, and a car borrowed from my dad, I banged on the doors of Hollywood for months. Then in 1989, the president of PolyGram International Music Publishing liked what he heard and signed my company to a production deal. It was my first major success story in the music business. I was catapulted from the backing of a hamburger grill to a music industry giant. The St. Paul Pioneer press ran a feature on our accomplishment and called it one of the most significant boons to happen to the Minneapolis music scene. My contract stipulated that I was to find and develop talent who could produce tomorrow's hits. In other words an A&R man (talent scout).
Arlo and Marty 1989
In 1991, after two years with them, my contract with PolyGram was not renewed (it felt like two minutes), due to a merger between PolyGram, Island, and A&M records. The beginning of the 90s was significant in the music business because that's when the conglomeration of the labels began. The new PolyGram was eventually eaten up along with several other labels, like Motown. What followed was Universal Music; the largest monopoly on creativity ever created in the popular music record business. Also, during this time Prince had to become the formerly known as, Twin Tone records went under, The Suburbs broke up, First Avenue fought to stay open, the Longhorn and Duffy's closed as well as many others, and others involved in the "biz" simply burned out or faded away.
I tried to make a go of it with several local music business start-ups like Entercorp and Matthew Benjamin Productions. Most of the artists and businesses I worked with failed to pay me; consequently I ended the 80s like I started, an experiment; the wave receded, and I walked below the lamplight versus the limelight. It was time to rebuild and re-evaluate the next step on the long and winding road of show biz. I was in my 40s and starting over again. In an effort to give my music business experience academic credibility, I achieved a 4-year music business-based Baccalaureate of Arts degree. In addition, to further share my experience on paper, I also earned a Masters degree in Creative Writing. As part of my second post wave transition I moved from my ratty, but historic, one-bedroom recording studio apartment to a house in the suburbs. In the meantime, I had my first child, which further put the brakes on the idea of moving to the coast for a job in the media. During this time I held my life together by working various dead end jobs again. I'll never forget the one night, as a limousine driver, I drove Prince and Carmen Elektra around. On another run it was a carload of senior high school girls. One girl asked me in a derogatory tone, "So what else have you done besides drive a limo?" I answered, "I signed artists to record contracts." She laughed hysterically and commented how funny I was. My humor apparently was worth an extra $10 tip. I understood what Louie Perez, drummer of Los Losbos meant when he said "I went from being a Grammy-award winning artist to fifteen minutes later pushing a cart in Ralph's Market and buying some Pampers."
By the early 90s, the music that lit the charts on fire and carried a lasting
affect on today's songwriting ended (at least for me) in one long sustained power
chord. Like the trash piles that followed Woodstock; the countless
parties; the deals; the dreams; the music; the groundbreaking films by
Chuck Statler; were all on the cutting floor of an existential
rockumentary. After the acoustic tsunami had swept over the city, the
dream that Minneapolis could become the "Nashville of the North"
was washed away in the sand; the strident wave that engulfed the zeitgeist
of the Minneapolis 80s music scene seemed to disappear into the smoldering CC Tap
hamburger cloud from which it came.
Can we call the 80s Minneapolis music scene a movement? I believe it was, in some respect. Critics have only gone as far as highlighting the popularity of the new wave music. Maybe my story will help to push the question. Perhaps historians in the future will look back at what happened in a different light and reclassify the narrative.
I resurfaced in 1994, and for the next 18 years managed the music career of Shawn Phillips. I currently resides in East Jawa Timur, Indonesia where I work in association with the Jakarta based label Indojazzia.net as their SE Asia rep. In additon, I released my memoir,Guitarlo in 2016.
Thump Studios - top right apartment (Sue Mclean, promoter lived two house to the left)
Arlo and Sue at the Minnesota Music Hall of Fame Awards
Paul Metsa holding the Burden of the Beat
Lyles Bar and Grill
During the mid 80s, working
part time as a short order cook at Lyles Bar & Grill, I financed a
music company that consisted of an 8-track recording studio, a telephone,
and business card.
"It's closing time, front door out!" Howie, bartender.
Quote upon becoming a division of PolyGram Music International
"All we had was the music," Hennings said. "We believed the music would speak for itself. This could be a catalyst for Minnesota. Who knows? This is how Nashville got started." - (1989 St. Paul Pioneer Press)
Arlo Hennings and Marty Weintraub
Download .PDF Bio by the Minnesota Music History Channel
Arlo Hennings Bio Timeline
A list of 1980s shakers and doers