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Fall apart together: A conversation with Tommy Stinson

Tommy Stinson will play Franklin May 31. Garret K. Woodward photo Tommy Stinson will play Franklin May 31. Garret K. Woodward photo

Leaning back into his chair, Tommy Stinson tilts his head and gazes towards the sunset falling behind the Blue Ridge Mountains. The legendary rocker just finished a show on the side lawn of Yonder Community Market, located on the outskirts of Franklin. 

“It’s pretty kooky when you think about it,” Stinson told The Smoky Mountain News with a slight grin. “I consider myself pretty lucky that I’ve lived this long and done all that. After all these years, I look back and it’s a little nutty.”

Longtime bassist and founding member of The Replacements, Stinson has spent most of his life immersed in rock-n-roll and the music industry at large. Stinson was only 11 years old when he picked up the bass and started playing gigs, eventually forming The Replacements at age 13 in his native Minneapolis, Minnesota.

It was 1979 when The Replacements roared onto the scene. A high-octane blend of British punk and new wave coupled with a thick thread of rock (akin to Faces, Rolling Stones and Big Star) the group was fronted by singer-songwriter Paul Westerberg, one of the most revered artists of his generation — a space inhabited by contemporary peers like R.E.M. and Dinosaur Jr.

For Stinson, he was just a young kid when The Replacements were catapulted into the mainstream radio and TV realms of the MTV generation throughout the 1980s with searing melodies like “Can’t Hardly Wait” and “Bastards of Young.” But, by 1991, the band had imploded — its music, legend and lore as vibrant today as ever.

Following the dissolution of The Replacements, Stinson fronted a couple of rock outfits in the early/mid-1990s before landing a spot as the bassist for Gun N’ Roses, a position he held until 2014.

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Since then, Stinson, now 57, has pursued a flourishing solo career, with his latest Americana/indie-folk project, Cowboys In The Campfire, releasing the album “Wronger” last year.

Smoky Mountain News: When you look back on those early years, what really sticks out? I mean, you were a high school kid in a very badass band that did very big things.

Tommy Stinson:  The point when I dropped out of [school] — the middle of 10th grade — to go tour. I was just talking to my mom about it earlier. My mom had to sign a document giving our manager, Peter Jesperson, sort of guardianship over me so that he could take me across state lines for shows. I think it was right around 1983. It was a crazy time.

The kicker was we were already playing clubs and we were already making money doing it. So, it was like, “I can go to school and try and find something that I like that I’m going to make money at or I’m making money now and I just follow this and do that and make a living at it if I can.”

And my mom kind of was like, “Well, it’s keeping you out of jail.” Because I’d been in so much trouble when I was 10, 11 years old. It was, “Cool, all right, now you got something to do. Go do that and stay out of jail.” And that kind of worked.

SMN: There must have been some part of you, whether you realized it or not, that made a decision of, “Hell or high water, this is what I’m doing. Everything else is just details.”

TS: Yeah, I mean, obviously I wanted to do it. It was fun. The idea of being able to travel around, play music and get paid for it, be sort of the life of the party and all that. You couldn’t have written the script better than that, you know?

SMN: What does it mean for you, at this phase in your career, to still be out there playing music and to still have people show up?

TS: Dude, it means that I am free. I can go everywhere, anywhere, show up and play a gig and enjoy myself doing it because I still love what I do. It’s rewarding. I’m grateful for it.

It’s been a long adventure and a lot of fun. And I like these kinds of shows [like Yonder Community Market]. They’re low maintenance, which is key after years of traveling the world. No hassle. Plug and play. Chat with people. I’m a pretty social person, so I’d be doing that anyways. [Laughs].

And, after all these years of doing it, it hasn’t been lost on me — how fun it is still.

Want to go?

Rock legend Tommy Stinson and his Cowboys In The Campfire band will perform at 7 p.m. Friday, May 31, on the outside lawn at Yonder Community Market in Franklin.

General admission is $25 per person, with VIP options and upgrades available, including a meet-and-greet with the band.

The market is located at 151 Hillcrest Ave. Offering local provisions, hours of operation are 10 a.m. to 8 p.m. seven days a week. 

Embracing their motto of “Always family friendly. Always a good time,” Yonder will be showcasing an array of local, regional and national touring acts this summer and fall.

Concerts are free and open to the public (unless otherwise noted). Donations encouraged. Bring your own lawn chair. 

Wine, craft beer and cider are also available for purchase onsite, alongside a wide selection of organic snacks.

To purchase tickets and/or to learn about live music events and other upcoming happenings, call 828.200.2169 or go to eatrealfoodinc.com.

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