Tommy Stinson was, famously, the teenage bassist in the brilliantly and at times unruly ‘80s rock ‘n’ roll band The Replacements. Then, for 16 years, he held down the bass slot in Guns N’ Roses, playing stadiums with one of the world’s biggest bands.
Now, Stinson is half of Cowboys in the Campfire, who play unorthodox venues, often in backyards, on tours that can be as short or long as they desire, write songs and will make a record when it feels right.
That’s far from a rock star thing. But, it’s good enough for Stinson, a 45-year music-veteran at age 56.
“I still just enjoy it for what it is,” Stinson said. ”Singing and writing songs, that’s not the cure for cancer. But it helps a lot of people. It helps me, you know. It’s been all I’ve known to do since I was a kid. It’s my little thing…Pretty lucky I get to do it. I get to go out and do my form of art, whatever that is and make a living at it, roughly.”
So how did Cowboys in the Campfire, the duo with guitarist Chip Roberts, come about for Stinson, who, after the Replacements broke up in 1991, went on to be a member of Soul Asylum along with Guns N’ Roses and led two bands, Bash and Pop and Perfect?
“Chip and I became fast friends when we met like 15 years ago,” Stinson said. “Slowly we started playing together, doing shows and between our different schedules and stuff like that. After a year or so doing that, he came up with this idea for a name for it and for us as a duo and it stuck.
“So we’ve been doing Cowboys in the Campfire for a while now, for a few years, five years, six years, something like that,” he said. “After all these years touring around, just in our spare time, we made a record. Now we’re out to promote it. It’s kind of that simple.”
The songs on the aforementioned album, “Wronger,” feel like they could be Stinson songs from Bash and Pop or Perfect, with the power pop rock ‘n’ roll shifted toward rockabilly and country. But the acoustic based arrangements of the songs have led many to characterize “Wronger” and Cowboys in the Campfire as Americana–a designation that doesn’t fit.
But Stinson doesn’t care what people call Cowboys in the Campfire music. He knows, at heart, he’s a rock ‘n’ roller.
“At this point, in my career, I don’t really give a f***,” Stinson said. “It’s more ‘this is the record we made. This is what we got. This is what we’re promoting’…I certainly don’t care what they want to classify it as.
“Since the beginning of my career, this has always been a thing whether we’re punk rock or rock and roll,” he added. “What radio format are we supposed to fit and all that has been a lifelong issue that, quite frankly, I’ve never given a crap about. I just kind of do what I do when I do it.”
That punk rock or rock ‘n’ roll conundrum was created by The Replacements, who were formed in 1979 by 11-year-old Tommy on bass and his older brother Bob on guitar. Adding drummer Chris Mars, then singer-guitarist, songwriter Paul Westerberg, the punk band put out its debut album “Sorry Ma, Forgot to Take Out The Trash” in 1981.
By the 1983 release of “Hootenanny” and 1984’s “Let It Be,” their final two independent albums, the Minneapolis band was touring, The Replacements then signed to Sire Records and released a handful of classic albums that have made them one of the most hailed and influential bands of their era before splitting in 1991.
Westerberg and Stinson regrouped for a series of shows from 2013 to 2015 and, over the last decade, Warner Brothers, which owns Sire, has done boxed sets that expanded the albums “Pleased to Meet Me,” “Don’t Tell a Soul,” “Sorry Ma, Forgot to Take Out The Trash” and a newly released edition of “Tim.”
So is there any other Replacements news?
“Funny enough that we’re still awkwardly relevant in some ways,” Stinson said.” There’s always s***in the works. Warner Brothers, they’ve done a really good job with those sets. So there’ll be other stuff coming down the pike, I’m sure. Then, who knows? I don’t see us doing any more shows or any of that. We did that bit. I think we kind of wore out our welcome with the last one. But you never say never.”
Cowboys in the Campfire don’t play any Replacements songs – Westerberg, after all, wrote those. Nor does Stinson look back at his past with that band or Guns N’ Roses – “I’m not nostalgic about f**k-all right now,” he said.
Instead, he’s going with his own flow, performing in backyards to 40 or 50 people who turn up to see him and Roberts do their thing.
“I’ve done everything and it’s done me,” he said. “It’s been a long road to where I’m at right now and, you know, I’m just kind of enjoying the ride. I’m not trying to be anything, not looking for anything as long as people still like my music, whatever I’m putting out, and still come to, I’ll go on playing. That’s about it.”
Tommy Stinson’s Cowboys
Campfire on the Porch at Hobee’s in San Jose
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