The Twin/Tone Story

I have twisted Peter Jesperson's arm to write this will have to be an ongoing project,

here is his first installment (6/98)

The start...

In 1977 the rock music scene in Mpls./St. Paul, like a handful of other cities across the country, was erupting with bands. A couple of local guys, Paul Stark - an engineer/producer and a musician by the name of Chris Osgood, discussed starting a label to record some of these bands. They had already worked together on two audacious 45s by Chris' band The Suicide Commandos and were eager to take on a larger challenge. Looking for a third partner they approached Charley Hallman for both his enthusiasm and some necessary financial assistance. Charley's day job was writing about sports for St. Paul's daily paper The Pioneer Press but he also moonlighted as a rock critic and wanted to dabble further in the music biz. As the three began to formalize plans The Commandos accepted a major label offer from Phonogram's Blank Records and Chris suggested that I take his place. Being manager at the record store Oar Folkjokeopus and deejaying at underground night spot The Longhorn I had a pretty clear view of what was happening. In January of 1978 Paul, Charley and I formed a partnership. The objective being to record the best bands in town. We decided on the name Twin/Tone Records.

Preceding Twin/Tone and the catalysts I'm about to spell out below the scene was primarily dominated by top forty cover bands and the white blues and folk of the West Bank. The group that bridged those scenes and the one about to begin was called Thumbs Up lead by Curt Almstead and Gary Rue. They were mostly a cover band too but not the standard commercial fare of the day. They were into the British Invasion, the American Pop spawned by it and the creme de' la creme' of classic Rhythm & Blues.

And, for starters, there were four things that made Twin/Tone possible:

  1. Band: The Suicide Commandos
  2. Record store: Oar Folkjokeopus
  3. Music journalist: Andy Schwartz
  4. Live venue: Jay's Longhorn

To me, Chris Osgood (leader of The Commandos) is probably the most important rock person in Twin Cities music history. He was a catalyst and he invented something; he made it cool to be a rocker AND a smart guy. And that's what he bred, directly or indirectly. Paul Westerberg, Steve Almaas, Gary Louris, Steve Kramer, Chan Poling, Mark Freeman, Danny Murphy, Dave Pirner, Grant Hart, Bob Mould and countless others.The band was ahead of it's time with original material in a fast and furious (and often funny) style. When the 1st Ramones record came out we all thought "Cool, someone else is doing what The Commandos are doing!" They literally cut a path where there hadn't been one before and toured nationally when tour stops were few and far between. "New York, Cleveland, Denver and Los Angeles was about it" says bassist/singer Steve Almaas. "Cleveland because of Pere Ubu and Denver because of the original Wax Trax Record Store." I think local musicians today who've never even heard The Suicide Commandos owe them a great debt.

Oar Folkjokeopus was much more than just a record store - even if I do say so myself (I helped run the joint from '72 - '83). Record collector Vern Sanden bought what was already one of the best stores in town, North Country Music, and changed the name to reflect his obsession with the cool and obscure (Oar was a solo album by Alexander Spence -original Jefferson Airplane drummer/Moby Grape founder, guitarist and Folkjokeopus was an album by eccentric British folk singer Roy Harper). Vern allowed it to become a clubhouse for musical misfits of all kinds. The ad in the yellow pages read "Rock 'N' Roll Headquarters For The Midwest" and that was no exaggeration. It was the first store in the area (we used to have people regularly driving up from Chicago for instance) to stock an eclectic inventory of hard to find imports and domestic indie labels well in advance of the punk rock explosion of '76-'77. But the store didn't just cater to the underground. There was a broad selection from the fifties to the commercial fare of the day. We even moved a lot of disco records in our day! It was a hang for diehards like Steve Almaas and Ernie Batson. Gary Louris, Dave Pirner and Marty Keller. Tony Glover and Bob Stinson. Can't resist an anecdote here: little known fact - Bob was a voracious reader of all things rock and could often be found sitting on the bench in the window on 26th Street absorbing magazines and biographies in his singular way. After reading an interview with Little Richard in the NME he remarked to me that he hadn't known rock 'n' roll began "in a gay camp." When I looked at the story myself Richard was quoted as saying that a lot of rock 'n' roll's mannerisms and theatricality had stemmed from gay camp. Bob's brain just worked differently from anyone else I'd ever known. It was always a blast to have him around. Anyway, the store was more than just a hangout. The bookers from The Longhorn and later Duffy's and 1st Avenue/7th Street Entry rarely booked a show without bouncing it off someone at Oar Folk. How many people could they expect? How much should they charge? Who would be a compatible opening act? Should they do more than one night? I'll never forget in 1979 Hartley Frank (who took over the club after the former owner went to jail!) calling me one day at the store saying he had been offered a band from England he thought he'd heard us raving about called The Only Ones and, sensing they were "big, " he had tentatively asked for two nights. Selfishly I told him that yes we absolutely had to have them more than one night when one would've easily been sufficient. Luckily, the core audience of a hundred or so were happy to pay to see them both nights so the club didn't do too badly! And, the importance of the location of the store cannot be underestimated - the corner of 26th and Lyndale in south Minneapolis. Now legendary bar The CC Club was kitty corner. Vegetarian restaurant The Mudpie was next door. Everybody lived in the 'hood. I know people even moved there to be part of it. It was once referred to as "the Haight-Ashbury of The Twin Cities. " We used to joke that if a bomb was dropped on that corner it would've wiped out 90% of the local music scene!

Seth Andrew Schwartz (Andy), was from NY, went to school in Beloit, Wisconsin and ended up living in Mpls from fall of '72 to fall of '77. He was the first of many visionary local journalists. He wrote the first serious dissertation on The Commandos, had the first Ramones record before ANYBODY and was a walking encyclopedia of music present and past. He worked the counter at Oar Folk from '75 - '77 and sang and played guitar with excellent cover band Rockola. Andy went on to found The New York Rocker magazine and currently works at Epic Records as a Director Of Editorial Services.

The spot for live music was downtown on Hennepin and Fifth Street underneath a parking garage. It opened in 1977 and was called Jay's Longhorn run by one Jay Berine. It probably held 250 comfortably and there was core of 50 -75 people who came nearly every night for the first year or more. The first National act as I recall was Mink Deville but the list is endless; The B52s, Pere Ubu, Charlie Burton and Rock Therapy, Talking Heads, Blondie, The Boomtown Rats, The Police, Richard Hell And The Voidoids, The Dead Boys, Rockpile, Elvis Costello, The Buzzcocks, The Only Ones, The Stranglers, Shoes, and (Fred Smith's) Sonic's Rendezvous Band. The top of the local pops was split between The Suicide Commandos, Flamingo and Curt Almstead.

- to be continued...

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