Having Redeemed His Punk Reputation in Portland, Tommy Stinson Goes Country

By tackling a country- and blues-based sound for his new project, Cowboys in the Campfire, Stinson says he’s completing a cycle.

From basements to stadiums and everything in between, Tommy Stinson has left his mark on venues across the world. But not every city has received an apology after he passes through.

As the bass player for the Replacements, the legendary and erratic Minneapolis punk band, Stinson earned a legacy of infamy in Portland after a badly flubbed gig in 1987. It was so bad, the band wrote a song apologizing for it. But as he gears up for his fourth Portland performance since 2015—a run that began with the reunited 'Mats performing at Crystal Ballroom—he believes his local reputation is finally redeemed. And by tackling a country- and blues-based sound for his new project, Cowboys in the Campfire, Stinson says he's completing a cycle.

"Country and blues are always the fucking beginning of rock 'n' roll anyway. So when our bands either break up or whatever, you go right back to the beginning again," he says. "It's the nucleus of what we've grown up doing."

At 51 years old, Stinson says he is finally coming into his own as a songwriter. Perhaps that's why he's spent the last year looking forward rather than backward.

In October, the Replacements reached a commercial peak with their first official live album, For Sale: Live at Maxwell's 1986. Despite its success, Stinson admits he's not ready to listen to it yet. The recording marks one of the final shows he played with his older brother, guitarist Bob Stinson, who died at age 35.

"It's gonna be hard," Stinson says. "I know he's really good on it, but it's going to be an emotional bid to sit down and listen to it."

Instead of capitalizing on the success of a hit record and re-reuniting with Paul Westerberg, Stinson has focused on other, lesser-known projects. He got back together with his first post-Replacements band, Bash and Pop, and released Anything Could Happen in January.

Now, he's touring with his uncle-in-law, Chip Roberts, in the duo Cowboys in the Campfire. After Stinson got divorced, the pair remained close friends. Their current tour finds them playing atypical venues that put them inches away from the crowd, performing stripped-down versions of his solo material.

It's the kind of face-to-face intimacy that's impossible to achieve in the clubs and theaters he's played for the majority of his four-decade career—not to mention the stadium gigs of his 18 years with Guns N' Roses.

"It's a rewarding bit because you get to see how it really impacts the fans. They're right there on your tail," Stinson says. "You're close enough to smell them and feel them and really hear what their reaction is to what you're playing."

For Stinson, slowing down is not an option.

"There's no me that's going to be sitting around at home that's going to be gratifying unless I'm making music," Stinson says. "I've given up all the lofty goals of being rich and famous and all that crap, and I just kinda do what I do."

SEE IT: Tommy Stinson's Cowboys in the Campfire play Speck's Records & Tapes, 8216 N. Denver Ave., on Friday, Nov. 24. 7 p.m. $20-$100. All ages. Get tickets here.

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