It’s clear that Phillips was kind of a “my way or the highway” type of personality, which works up to a point, but led to the demise of Sun and Phillips spending the rest of his life as a wealthy radio station owner and finally a rock n’ roll gadfly. Phillips comes across to me as a benevolent (to some) dictator, who didn’t really want to play ball with anyone, so just dropped out of the record business—but what a run while he was in it. His personal life is wild—he basically stayed married to the mother of his two sons, but lived with a long-term mistress, and other shorter term gal pals, for decades.
The last quarter of the book is a slog, as Sam tries to burnish his own legacy after the death of Elvis. The accolades start rolling in as people get nostalgic for “the Sun Years” (all that stuff was put out by the guy he sold the company to for a million dollars). All in all, it’s a worthwhile read and fun to listen to some of the more obscure Sun artists—The Sun Records Story—a lot of it is on YouTube and streaming services.
Trouble Boys: The True Story of the Replacements by Bob Mehr
Boy I feel old. This books dissects a big chunk of my youth and I feel like I’m reading about the Beatles in Hamburg. Cripes, was it all that long ago? Yes…yes it was.
I thought I knew all there was to know about the Replacements, but this right here is the definitive book. Usually I don’t like an extended examination of the younger years in rock bios, but when Tommy Stinson is recruited to join the band at 12, well you can’t get around it. This book is chock full of interesting early stuff—previous band names Dogbreath, and The Impediments. I never thought of how close to the edge of poverty they lived until they got their Sire record deal. Even then, Bob Stinson seems to never have given up his job as a restaurant cook. Of course, Bob was soon booted.
Mehr goes through each record in great detail. I knew Twin Tone was low budget, but the stories surrounding the label hammer that point home in spades. The author also casts a dubious eye on the production values for Tim and its “tinny” sound. It’s rock legend now that the Mats sabotaged their own career, but the crap they pulled again and again is staggering when it’s presented on page after page. There’s some good backstage stuff—Bowie sees Tommy and Paul Westerberg all dolled up before a TV appearance and remarks “Aren’t you the bright young things!” Tommy sees some SoCal mohawk-wearing dudes at a show and deadpans, “Oh wow…punk rockers.” Paul tells a hair band that Flying Vs will give them VD.
The author also describes various shows, both good and band. Their infamous stint as openers on a Tom Petty tour gets quite a few pages and, for those of you who saw some of those shows, you’ll get a kick out of the details. Personal aside: He mentions an early at St. Cloud State’s Atwood Center show that my buddies and I and about 15 others attended. And an outdoor 1983 Navy Island show in St. Paul that included R.E.M., Lets Active, The Suburbs, and local heroes, The Phones, which was the best day of my life up to that point.
There’s plenty of stuff to get bummed out about—not only is Bob Stinson’s sad demise told in great detail, but Paul had serious, serious alcohol issues that are explored in more depth here than I’ve ever read. There’s material from and on everyone from Jim Dickinson, who produced Pleased to Meet Me in Memphis, to Dylan, to Peter Buck, and the Young Fresh Fellows. I can highly recommend this one—and again, it’s a great excuse to dig out Hootenanny, Pleased to Meet Me, Stink, even All Shook Down—damn it’s all good to me.