Perhaps you were one of many who jeered the news that Tommy Stinson had joined Axl Rose as a member of the reconstituted Guns N’ Roses back in 1998. While Replacements diehards screamed bloody treason — wasn’t this the same Stinson who’d mockingly asked, "You wanna see my Axl Rose impression?" during the ’Mats final show in ’91 — cooler heads recognized the logic behind the decision. After all, a job playing bass in GNR is a hard gig to pass up, especially for someone like Stinson, who’s listed "rock star" as his full-time occupation since the tender age of 14.
Despite his many years in the business, 37-year-old Stinson’s current tour (with Boston-based garage trio the Figgs) is a coming-out party of sorts, as he’ll be previewing material from his forthcoming solo debut. After nearly a quarter century in rock ’n’ roll, the collection will mark the first music released under his own name.
Stinson might not have ventured into solo waters but for the hospitality of one Charles Thompson (aka Pixies main man Frank Black), who tossed Stinson the keys to his LA studio before departing for an extended tour this past spring.
"Yeah, Charles let me use his place and all his gear while he was gone, so I sort of seized the moment and called in favors from all my friends," says Stinson of the project, which includes contributions from GNR running buddies Richard Fortus and Dizzy Reid as well as a host of other Hollywood luminaries. "I’d been writing stuff for the past few years and now I’ve got about 16 or 17 songs recorded. It all kinda fell into place and just made itself into a record."
Stinson says the new material falls somewhere between the besotted Faces-meets-Replacements sound of his ill-fated but fondly remembered ’90s outfits, Bash & Pop and Perfect. But, he says, "It’s really all over the place. There’s some left-field stuff and some real downer, sort of sissy songs on it as well. Mostly it’ll be the kind of thing I can translate with just an acoustic guitar, so that I can go to a coffeehouse in Denver and play the record by myself if I wanted to. Not that I’m gonna do that, necessarily."
Stinson is negotiating with a number of labels to release the yet-untitled disc in February. But don’t expect a full-fledged promo push to follow. Stinson insists that despite Guns N’ Roses problem-plagued 2002 tour, he and the band will be back on the road next summer in support of their 10-years-and-$9 million-in-the-making epic, Chinese Democracy.
"It’s gonna be tricky," he says, "but if I can work it out I’ll be doing both GNR and my solo thing pretty solidly for the next couple of years."
Another Stinson-related project which will see the light of day next year is Perfect’s much-heralded "lost" album, 7 Days A Week. The record, made with famed Memphis producer Jim Dickinson in 1997, was hotly tipped as Stinson’s post-Replacements breakthrough. Despite a wave of anticipation, Restless Records unceremoniously — and somewhat inexplicably — shelved the project.
"That’s just one of those fuckin’ things, and it happens to every other band in LA," sighs Stinson. "We made a record, spent a lot of money doing it and it seemed like the record company was gonna man up and give it a real push. Then, at the last minute, everything fell apart.
"Right about that time the GNR offer came up. And I just decided, ‘Fuck it. I’m gonna go play with a band for a while.’ And that’s what I’ve been doing for the last five years."
One band fans shouldn’t expect to see Stinson playing with is the Replacements. Last winter the Internet was alight with rumors of a Stinson/Paul Westerberg tour — one that would, in typically perverse fashion, have retraced the steps of 1959’s tragic Buddy Holly/Ritchie Valens/Big Bopper "Winter Dance Party" package.
"It got as serious as one kind of funny phone call," recalls Stinson of the Westerberg-proposed jaunt. "We joked about it and I came back and said, ‘I really don’t have time to do it right now, but thanks anyway.’ And that was the end of it. Then somehow that turned into ‘Axl wouldn’t let him do it!’ and all this bullshit that [Paul] put out in the press. It was really fucked. I can’t say it made me real happy; it didn’t make Axl very happy either. But in reality it never got any further than the one conversation."
Unlike Westerberg, who’s seemingly warmed to the notion of a Replacements reunion in recent years, Stinson remains decidedly cool toward the idea.
"I just wish people would leave it alone. The only reason anyone does reunions is to make money, or because they’ve got nothing else going on. And that’s not the case for me right now," says Stinson, who’s reportedly been paid seven figures for his services by Rose.
"Mainly, though, I just don’t have the inspiration to go hang out with Paul and Chris again and do the Replacements thing. To be very blunt, I don’t miss them in that way. I love Paul, he’s my oldest friend in the world. But my life is infinitely better than it was back then, and I like it that way."
Fair enough. But on the eve of his first-ever solo tour, isn’t Stinson a bit worried that some of Axl’s notorious stage fright may have rubbed off on him?
"Duuude," drawls Stinson comically. "I got rid of stage fright when I was about 15 years old. I don’t think that’s gonna be a problem."
Tommy Stinson and the Figgs perform Wednesday, Aug. 27, at Small’s (10339 Conant, Hamtramck). Call 313-873-1117 for info.Bob Mehr is a freelance music writer. E-mail [email protected].