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Paul Westerberg

+ {Grandpaboy} + {The I Don’t Cares}

A name not as well-known as it should be, given his long-term captaincy with seminal American alt-punk band The REPLACEMENTS, as a solo artist, PAUL WESTERBERG was hardly top dog in his attempts at positioning himself up there with his unsung heroes ALEX CHILTON, BIG STAR and JOHNNY THUNDERS. Nevertheless, for his followers, singer/songwriter/guitarist Paul could do no wrong, capturing as he did, the energy and zip of modern rock’n’roll.
Born December 31, 1959, in Edina, Minnesota, Paul’s only escape from a mundane job as a janitor for US Senator David Durenberger, was to hook up with a garage band. In fact, on passing a basement, bounding sounds of a group performing a YES song spurred him on to stir the pot by telling the lead singer, that Messrs Chris Mars, Bob and Tommy Stinson were about to sack him; the apparent vacancy was filled by Paul.
Subsequently signed to Minneapolis-based Twin/Tone Records, The REPLACEMENTS went from strength to strength, releasing in the process, seminal sets such as `Sorry Ma…’ (1981), `Hootenanny’ (1983) and `Let It Be’ (1984), before succumbing to major label Warner Bros. affiliate Sire (run by Seymour Stein). Not so awe-inspiring after 1985’s `Tim’, but still a band waiting for a stroke of luck (or a hit!) to move them up the pecking order of “rock” bands, albums such as `Pleased To Meet Me’ (1987), `Don’t Tell A Soul’ (1989) and a near-solo `All Shook Down’ (1990), were only just punching above their weight. It all came to a grinding halt the following year when WESTERBERG trailed CHRIS MARS out of the door and into respective solo careers.
A man wanted for a glittering array of subsequent soundtrack contributions, kicking off with two tracks, `Dyslexic Heart’ and `Waiting For Somebody’, utilised on Cameron Crowe’s cult, post-grunge Gen X movie, `Singles’ (1992), an alcohol-free WESTERBERG was finally out of the starting stalls once again. In reference to J.D. Salinger’s Nine Stories novel, the session-friendly 14 SONGS (1993) {*7} was exactly what it said on the tin, and a Top 50 breaker to boot. Co-produced by REPLACEMENTS retainer Matt Wallace, the chapters in this episodic book of rock were either easy-on-the-ear pieces `Runaway Wind’ and `Dice Behind Your Shades’ or the fiery retro-grade rockers `World Class Fad’ (a single released twice!) and `Knockin On Mine’. Although the writing was faultless, the record lacked the unkempt charm of old, and any chance of a full REPLACEMENTS reunion suffered a serious setback as Bob Stinton (sacked from the band in ‘86) succumbed to a drugs-induced heart attack in February 1995.
WESTERBERG found limited acceptance once again – at least in the way of lasting Top 50 chart fame – for 1996’s EVENTUALLY {*6}. A mixed bag of sorts that went from producer/session man Brendan O’Brien to Lou Giordano, it featured an ode to Bob Stinson (`Good Day’), but on too many occasions (with the exception of `You’ve Had It With You’ and the close-to-the-heart churner `MamaDaddyDid’), Paul couldn’t quite get into top gear.
After hiding behind a few pseudonymous alter-ego “GRANDPABOY” singles, `I Want My Money Back’ and a self-titled EP, a slide along the corporate label ladder to Capitol Records unveiled SUICAINE GRATIFACTION (1999) {*6}. He’d settled down again between albums, marrying for a second time; on this occasion the bells rang out for mother of his child (Johnny: born 1998), Laurie Lindeen (better known as guitarist with ZUZU’S PETALS). A fan since his REPLACEMENTS days, bassist DON WAS was only too happy to twiddle the dials here, a skilful bloke who could spring a Midas touch on the otherwise simplicity of the depression-freeing `It’s A Wonderful Lie’, `Best Thing That Never Happened’ and `Final Hurrah’.
One couldn’t disguise the fact (well, one could for a while!) that his moonlight project GRANDPABOY, was just what Paul needed – a return to basic, anthemic rock with a twist of punk. Early in 2002, the relatively mysterious (until now), GRANDPABOY unleashed his MONO {*6} set (recorded in er, mono), although most fans opted for his near simultaneous release, STEREO {*7}, which was billed by Vagrant Records under his more commonly-known moniker. While “Mono” was obviously raw and retro-fied, harking back to say, the Stones’ “Exile…” days, the latter was the complete article and returned him into the Top 100. Self-produced and recorded in his basement, WESTERBERG slipped on his rock & roll shoes on the likes of `Baby Learns To Crawl’, `Let The Bad Times Roll’ and `Got You Down’.
The following October saw a similar, simultaneous release of a solo set (COME FEEL ME TREMBLE {*5}) and a bluesier set (DEAD MAN SHAKE {*6}); the latter credited once again to WESTERBERG’s alter-ego GRANDPABOY (and released on Fat Possum Records). Both were pretty much in line with his previous studio tinkering, the former reeling out a patchy collection of heads-down guitar mangling: its best moment coming with a singular cover of JACKSON BROWNE’s `These Days’, and the latter consisting of an equally lo-fi clutch of bluesy songwriting experiments and engaging covers, among them JIMMY REED’s `Take Out Some Insurance, JOHN PRINE’s `Souvenirs’ and HANK WILLIAMS’ `I’m So Lonesome I Could Cry’.
In 2004’s FOLKER {*6}, WESTERBERG was taking his alternative-rock introspective back to its trad roots; `My Dad’, `Lookin’ Up In Heaven’, `Now I Wonder’ and `What About Mine?’ soul-searching in a way only PETTY, an early ROD STEWART or his idol CHILTON could achieve.
While Paul virtually dismissed the valid point of delivering tracks for – what basically was – a family flick, OPEN SEASON (2005) {*6}, the man attempted to compose several easy-on-the-ear roots-pop dirges alongside some Various Artists fillers. `Meet Me In The Meadow’ kicked off the album in fine fettle, while `Love You In The Fall’ and `I Belong’ churned along nicely; the latter track (alternatively sung by PETE YORN) closed the set. The anthemic, PETTY-like `Better Than This’ carried the WESTERBERG torch, while the sing-a-long `Right To Arm Bears’, proved Paul had lost none of his old rocking qualities.
From there on in, the singer would sell his songs to the Amazon mp3 market, who were “kind” enough to sell 49:00 (2008) {*7} when digital distribution caused problems. The idea was cutting edge for at least one party involved, giving fans a chance to purchase the item(s) for 49c – hence the title. The half-hour-long `3oclockreep’ (2008) repeated the pattern for TuneCore, although fans found it was pieced together with REPLACEMENTS tracks from ’88.
Inevitably, the lure of the big bucks saw Paul, Tommy and Co reconvene in 2012 as the long-overdue and sadly-missed REPLACEMENTS, for whom they performed around the world. Still going strong as of September 2015 but with no immediate plans to release recordings as a full album, Paul – now divorced from Laurie in 2014 – teamed up with the delightful and sprightly JULIANA HATFIELD to become The I DON’T CARES. Issued in the opening month of 2016, WILD CARD {*7} was pretty much what one would expect from a pair of alt-rockers: a good ol’ shindig hootenanny of post-Gen X rhythm & blues. Benefitting from a long-ish lay-off from the public eye, the witty `Wear Me Out Loud’, `Sorry For Tomorrow Night’ and `Dance To The Fight’ were arguably worth the admission price.
© MC Strong/MCS 1994-2008/GRD-LCS // rev-up MCS Aug2016

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