Testors band photo, from their 1980 single "This is Mine"
Interview, Part II by Jack Partain
PSF: How close were you and Bob Stinson? Were you surprised by his death? Also, I suppose, when it comes down to it, which place holds stronger place in your heart, New York or Minneapolis?
SV: Bobby? Again? O.K. Now you will get the story of us two! Bobby Stinson, the only band member I ever went to a psycho therapy session with! There is a lot to tell, my words here are the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth! As you know Bob was the lead guitarist from the group The Replacements and after they booted him out, he joined my band. Along with being a genius guitarist, Bob was also one of the strangest, sweetest and nuttiest characters I have ever met. I could write a whole book about him! Here are a few notable elements of an intense, highly charged and funny story.
Like I said earlier, I had a group together in Minnesota called Sonny Vincent And The Extreme. Every few months we would play a show in Minnesota either in Minneapolis or St. Paul. At one of these shows, it was at a club called the Upper Deck, I met Bob Stinson. It was a double bill with my band and The Replacements. After the show, Bob came up to me and said "I want to join your band." He said he would leave his band. He drunkenly explained to me that him and I could make a band together. Bob seemed sincere but I had to consider a few things. Bob was in a band that had done a lot of work, they had a very cool album out and just that week they had a fantastic review in the Village Voice. I figured Bob was probably pretty drunk and I told him "Hey Bob, at this point I'm pretty much screwing around business-wise and to me, it looks like something is ready to break for you guys, why the hell would you want to quit now?" Bob said, "Because I want to play your music." I'm not trying to say anything here about myself or my music, this is just how it went. Well of course I didn't go for it and I didn't encourage Bob to quit his band. I thought the Replacements were really talented and they deserved everything they were working for. Of course I didn't take Bobby's offer and just said "You're nuts!!" That was the start of our long friendship...
Later, The Replacements kicked Bob out of the band and at that point, me and Bob started talking seriously about putting something together. Bob was in various band formations with me. In all the formations we put together, the dynamic between our playing was usually the same. I was the singer and also played guitar, Bob was the lead guitarist. I would play the basic root chords while Bob would play most of the leads and fills as well as cranking on the chords. His playing was amazing, often genius.
But there is a whole story to his playing. To say it in a short form, when he was on it was unbelievable. Stuff you never heard before. But when he was off he would often not even hit the notes in the right key! This being said, I have to make it clear again that Bob was a guitar genius and a major shredder. Although sometimes inconsistent, he played in a way that was magical and transcendental. Big words, but true. The main thing was his feeling and realness within the song. He also played with a ferocious amount of concentrated energy, that would more often than not send a song right over the top. And another thing that set him apart was his natural kind of 'symphonic' approach when structuring his parts. This set him apart from most players, although his other side of chaos and unpredictability probably alienated people who wanted a more classic conservative approach in their guitar heroes.
Playing with Bob was a kind of 'schizoid' experience because sometimes it would really be great and other times it could be pretty awful. A lot of this had to do with alcohol and some of it was just "classic Bobby." This legacy of "Savant-ness" as we called it, the behavior existed when he was in The Replacements as well. Anyway, my adventure with Bob was about to begin! Challenging to say the least.
We formed the group Model Prisoners that went through two lineups. The first thing I noticed was that when Bob was way drunk, he often played guitar like he was a beginner so I convinced and even forbid him from drinking before a show. Bob was kinda looking up to me like a sort of big brother figure and he liked it when I laid out rules for him. The problem with Bob not drinking was that when he was completely sober and straight, he played even worse! I soon found out that Bob was one of these special types of geniuses that could unlock his immense talent only when he had the right amount of alcohol lubrication. If he drank too much, it was terrible. If he didn't drink at all, it was worse. But with the right amount of drinks under his belt, he was doing brilliant stuff on the guitar that was never heard before. Like as if he was wandering around in the cosmos and bumping into new planets.
The second formation of Model Prisoners was myself, Eric Magistad and Jeff Rogers, who had also been in Sonny Vincent and The Extreme with me. Eric was a kid from Minnesota who was totally thrilled to be playing in the band. He was a huge Replacements fan and even carved up his desk in high school with a knife writing 'The Replacements.' So you can imagine he was on cloud nine when we asked him to play bass! But soon he was becoming very disillusioned. Bob, like I said, was brilliant and bringing a special element to my music but at the same time, he was also showing up drunk to rehearsals. We usually had to drive to his place and wake him up to get him to the rehearsal room. The routine would go like this. I would drive and pick up Eric first, then Jeff and we would drive to Bob's place. Then we would send Eric up to Bob's apartment. Bob was usually sleeping off a hang over or watching TV and at first he would tell Eric to 'Fuck Off!!' He knew if he didn't come downstairs Eric would have to get me and I would go up there and motivate Bob by either giving him cold coffee or making some action that would irritate him so much that he would figure its easier to get up than be tortured. So usually rather then let Eric get me, Bob would yell at Eric for a few minutes, even sometimes punch him, but he would finally come downstairs. This was always the best scenario because when Bob showed up on his own, he was usually pretty tanked.
We played a number of shows together, mostly in the Midwest areas like Minnesota, Wisconsin and places like Chicago. Normally after a show, Bob would stay for hours in the girls' bathroom. At first I would say "Hey, where's Bob?" Then I would see him later and say "Hey man, where were you all night?" and he would reply "In the girls bathroom, that's where they all go." That was one of Bobs cracked methods of meeting a girl. Unusual for mankind, but perfect for Bob. Hanging around in the girl's room, saying whacky things! And if he met a girl in the main social area of the club, more often that not he would say as a first sentence of introduction "Could you lift up your shirt?" Although this never really got much response from women other than disbelief or disgust, sometimes Bob would hit the jackpot and I would observe him from across the room with a wild girl in front of him lifting up her shirt and showing him her tits! Amazing!
Something I want to make clear at this point is that I am telling you stories about my friend Bob and being forthright and accurate in order to give you a little glimpse of this man. But in no way am I trying to put him in a bad light or try to make him seem unattractive to his fans or people reading this. I loved Bob dearly and I miss him. And if I am honest here, you will get a better view of him, for real.You also have to know that he was like so many other damaged people in the world, but for all his mistakes and screw up's, I can tell you he had a heart of gold. That being said, Bob also had many juvenile tricks. In the beginning, directly after shows he would go to the promoters of the show and collect our money without our knowledge ("Yeah, Sonny told me to get the cash"), before any of us knew what he was doing. He would run off with our gig money and we wouldn't be able to find him for a week or more! Soon everyone wanted to kick Bob out of the band. Not me, mostly Eric! I finally had to call Bob and tell him the sad news that the other guys wanted to kick him out. Bob started crying on the telephone saying that we can't kick him out. He said he loved playing with us and he was sorry for everything, "But please don't kick me out". I got off the phone and decided I would be a fool to kick out a brother who was crying tears because he loved music so much. I called everyone in the band and I made a plan for us all to go to a therapist together to try to get Bob more healthy and easier to work with. People thought that was pretty funny, a band going to therapy together! But we tried it. It kept us together for a while but still the crazy shit didn't stop, from all of us! Soon, he was influencing even Eric and the whole band was BECOMING Bob!
Eventually, we simply stopped rehearsing as it was becoming more and more difficult to get Bob out of bed and Eric had become a shattered person. Instead of practicing, me and Eric just started hangin' around as pals for a few months, going out to clubs and stuff. Then I put together a new line up called 'Shotgun Rationale' as well as joining Moe Tucker's band as her guitarist. Shotgun Rationale was doing a lot of tours in the U.S., Canada and Europe and at that point, I had given up on the "band" concept and we had a rotating lineup (Bob, Cheetah, Greg Norton, Mort and many others). I liked it this way because I could invite people into it without any long-term expectations. Later, I moved to Europe but still recruited various musicians from New York and Minnesota to join me on European tours with Shotgun Rationale. At the time, I also did U.S. tours and sometimes visited Minnesota, from time to time. Whenever I went to Minnesota I would contact Bob and we would hang out together. He always said "Hey Sonny, you bring all these guys with you to tour Europe but you never ask me!! Come on, I wanna tour with 'ya!". Finally I invited Bob. We did a tour of Europe together somewhere in the mid-'90's and sure enough, it was totally insane. To Bob's credit, he really practiced the music hard before the tour, he wanted it to be great. And it was, but it came complete with every sort of crazy madness imaginable!
I have memories of Bob copping drugs from an audience member while on stage during our show, him going into a whore house to drink because he would be out of our reach and control in there. Police, puking, broken guitars, blood, nakedness, tears and insane shows. I often get together with friends from those times and I even have to double check with them to see if I am imagining some of the preposterous things.
A mutual friend of mine and Bob's was Jamie Garner. Jamie actually at one time lived in the same apartment with Bob and years later, I found myself asking Jamie questions like "Hey Jamie do you remember Bob always ate his meals with two chairs, one chair to sit on and one to put his plate on?" Jamie said "Yeah, he did that all the time". You see I often have to recheck these memories because sometimes they seem too bizarre. Bobby never ate his meals at a table, it was ALWAYS two chairs! Bob also had the ability to pull many beers out of his pockets at the best moments. In fact, the first day I went out drinking with Bob he even pulled a fried chicken leg out of his pocket and ate it. That's not so strange but in Bob's case, there was always a twist. He pulled an UNWRAPPED fried chicken leg out of his trouser pocket. It was just in there next to his keys and stuff. I guess he was saving it for the perfect moment. There he sat at the bar with me, chomping on that chicken leg. It had pocket fuzz and old tissue on it! Bob was a strange motherfucker and I guess to an extent so am I, so we got along fine. He was a rare person and I miss him. Sometimes I'm doing something fun and I often think of him and wish he could be there with me. We did many things together, we had side jobs painting houses, we were constantly being pulled over for speeding in my '59 Cadillac and we were ALWAYS in trouble with the police, but throughout all of this, Bob would crack jokes that were very funny dry jokes.
I knew he loved music and he always expressed that. He once asked me "Sonny, would you die for music?" I didn't know exactly what he meant but from my point of view I said "No." Bob then looked at me with a very deep, soulful, yet sarcastic look and said "Yeah, well I would". And in some universe where that would be required, I knew that Bobby would have died for music. Bob was really unique and special. I hate it that he is gone. I'll always miss him.
PSF: You've worked with a ton of important musicians like Moe Tucker, the Asheton's, Jad Fair, Stinson, etc. What makes you so versatile? Also, I know you've answered this a hundred times as well, but how was it working with Ms Tucker?
SV: I'm gonna just skip this question. My head is spinning from the Bobby story. Now you ask me about Moe? All I will say is Moe's influence on me has definitely made me a better person than the one I would be if I had never met her. If you ask about "What makes you so versatile?" All I can say is that although there is a lot of ego involved in the whole scenario, for me the most important thing is the music. Perhaps people can feel this when we are together.
PSF: How many releases have you been involved with either as a band leader or a collaborator? Since there are so many, i wouldn't hold a rough estimate against you! Of all of your projects, which do you consider the most fully realized?
SV: I'm not sure, something like seventeen albums and some singles. Turns out that the ones I like are the ones that were recorded the crappiest. For some reason, I can hear what they could have been like had there been more money for a better studio! And the Testors stuff, mainly because we recorded all the Testors stuff ourselves without any outside influence at all.
PSF: Have you ever recorded and released a song that you later regretted?
SV: There was one song that made me feel shy when I listened to it. One in particular was from the Testors times called "Purpose." Then I had a dream that Jimi Hendrix said he liked it, so ever since then I felt differently about the song. I know that sounds maybe weird and I'm not a very esoteric person but now I listen to the song from a different perspective.
PSF: I read somewhere that you're pretty much sober now. Has that made you a better artist?
SV: No, but I suppose suffering has. Certainly the way it looks on the surface is there are tons of fun and wild times, but there is also the dark side of all this.
PSF: You're a pretty legendary figure with some wild stories. Have you ever heard any stories from fans or journalists about yourself that were not true?
SV: Yes, sometimes I get worried that I am not social enough and I try once in a while to reach out. After one of my shows in Hanover, Germany, I was walking around the club amongst the people who had just watched me play and I saw a guy with a leather jacket and on the back it said 'Ramones.' I thought "Ahh cool a Ramones fan, I can relate to that." So I guess I went up to the guy and said something like "Hey man I have a CD over there in the merch that has a ghost track with Joey and Dee Dee talking, I want to give you one of those CD's." I was simply just trying to connect in a way and be friendly. I remember I consciously sort of put my hand on his shoulder as I spoke with him, you know like pals. I always saw Mick Jagger and Keith Richards doing that, you know the "pals" thing. So I tried it. Then I gave the guy the CD and he said "thanks". Well a few weeks later I discovered that he wrote about it in a blog and he said he was wondering why I had come up to him and he was also wondering if I was gay!! So that's my luck, I try to mingle a little bit, so as to not appear like the arrogant guy and suddenly I'm friggin gay!
PSF: How many days a year do you spend on tour these days? What has been your worst experience on tour? Is there are gig or show that you would rank as your favorite/most memorable?
SV: I'm on tour a lot. Most of the time, I suppose. My favorite show was when I did a full performance of Testors songs in Chicago with the Rocket From the Crypt guys and I realized the people in the audience knew the words to the songs. My worst experience is when the transportation breaks down and you do super human efforts to make it to the show and people think you are arriving either fashionably late or that you don't give a fuck! One time in Rennes, France, we arrived very late after our tour van broke down 500 miles away. Just to get there to Rennes was a monumental effort where we were all behaving like generals and lieutenants, trouble shooting and improvising. We finally made it to the show by renting three cars. Later, I read a review of the show and although the person who wrote the review liked the performance, you really wouldn't believe their perception of our arrival. They reported something like this "Yes they arrived criminally late and as they sauntered into the venue we could hear them complaining about the hotel." We didn't even have time go to the hotel! Sometimes I think I must just look like I am up to no good in some people's eyes. Although I never missed one show in my life... well actually, I did miss one, but only one. The time I met a girl before the show and she put a MoJo on me and we drove off. But she was some strange Voodoo lady and I was not totally responsible. That is another story that is really too complicated but I would say that people should not always dismiss Voodoo as something regulated only to tales and superstitions.
PSF: You seem to be an enemy of major record labels. What is your opinion of "illegally" sharing music over the internet?
SV: I have no real set opinion about that. My opinion changes from day to day. I like it that people can hear the music. I think it sucks that I'm broke unless I'm playing live.
PSF: In a recent interview you mentioned a strange incident involving your MySpace page and some objections by a major label, some battle over who owned the rights to what song? Care to retell that story?
SV: It was very fucked. I got a notice from MySpace that I was posting content that was owned by UMG (or was it WMG?). Anyway some mega giant publishing concern had made a mistake. Or the myspace filter had made an error and they insisted that I take my song down or face legal proceedings. They said if I wanted to contest the determination, I was to send my name, home address, social security number etc. I wrote them and said that WMG were the ones illegally using reference to my title and that the president should send me his name, home address and social security number. It went on for months. In the end, there was no way to fight them, I either had to do as they asked or not be able to use my song. So I filled out the dispute form and they did some research. After 6 months of hell, trying to explain to them that WMG was wrong and 6 months of working at it and being pissed off, they finally admitted their mistake and wrote to me with "Sorry for the inconvenience." It was very inconvenient since I owned all the rights and they were sending me mails that said I was committing a crime!
Anyway, there are other things like that still going on. One giant publishing company is claiming the rights to around 60 of my songs. They claim they were sold those rights. But they don't know (or seem to even care) that someone tricked them and sold them the rights without my permission by forging a contract. But again they say I would first have to sue the scammer and then they would release their claim. It's a Buttle/Tuttle system! (ED NOTE: reference to the film Brazil)
Anyway, its all too much for me, I can't let it bog me down. I'm a musician not a litigator. Maybe someday I will get some whiz kid lawyer interested in tracking this stuff and I can have some justice with it all. It seems that at the moment, only giant companies can sue other giant companies!
PSF: Why is punk rock important nowadays and do you see any of that original spirit in any music you hear nowadays?
SV: After all, it is a suitable word (unless in jail of course). I don't know how or if it's at all important these days, I suppose it is because some things are really intolerable and some of the punk rock bands still give a voice to those concerns. People are controlled more and more by fear and with that you can get them to kowtow and agree to any conditions. Probably a time will come when they can clearly see that they have been roped in by the media and see that they have been reduced to being only consumers. Void of any influence of integrity or spirituality of any kind. It's obvious that all the talented minds are not presently in government, all the young talent has been recruited into the industry of consumerism. Many hours spent trying to figure out how to market products to the right people. But I believe people need more than products, gizmo's and sports viewing. I guess the original spirit is there in music and art but the desperate edge seems a bit blurred. Complacency is easy. For me, I still can't navigate my way through society. I'm always seeing the cracks in things and I never seem to fit in.
PSF: You've reformed the Testors for a few shows. Any chance of any new recordings?
SV: That might be something to do, but I haven't played with the guys in years. Haven't done much of anything with them in a long time. It certainly wil be great to play Testors songs with them. But as for recording, there would have to be something there to document. I know this will maybe sound romantic or perhaps so very deep or that maybe I am trying to be too concerned with all this stuff about integrity and all that, but I am serious. If we get together and I feel some edge, some passion or desperateness, then maybe I would like to record. I'm not going to make an album just because we can play our intstruments. If I make a Testors album, it will have the same criteria as our early recording. So I don't know at this point.
PSF: Something I've always wondered about punk rock is how the music, which was ostensibly destructive and in a lot of ways self destructive and possessed with a desire to tear down the identity of the "rock star" and even the artist, eventually came to be about individual personalities in many ways. I mean, today people remember individuals like Stiv Bators, Johnny Rotten, Johnny Thunders, hell, even Sonny Vincent, more than they remember the bands that they were in. Why do you think this has happened?
SV:That sure can be complicated and there is a tendency for people to idealize artists or worse, turn them into figures easy to digest. "Oh this one is a junkie, yeah and those guys said bad words on TV and puked on a carpet." But for me, from the beginning to the end, it's all about the music and the soul. For example, you bring up Johnny (Thunders), but no matter how many stories go around about his junkie behaviors and all the characterizations that go with it, he had so many levels, some of it very deep and personal. He covered a lot of ground in his music emotionally. And no matter if people think that punk rock was just a snotty bunch of people flipping off society. For me, the music will always be there to tell the true story. And the legacy of the music will always be there. It's not gonna be in the solos and the stories, but in the whole music itself. People will always be floored when they discover Johnny's album So Alone, or hear the Dead Boys/Peter Laughner song "Ain't it Fun" or the Sex Pistols stuff. There is a lot more in there besides just smashing some glass and being angry. Although that is appropriate as well.
PSF: What's going on this month, this year?
SV: Well, the Testors reunion shows and I am doing lots of shows in Europe this year with my European line-up. Also I have a new album out this month called Bizarro Hymns. All new songs. Scott Asheton plays on one of the songs. It's on a cool label. A small label run by one cool guy. A label run by passion and not by greed. Just perfect, in my view of things. It's called Still Unbeatable Records. First label that actually is going to present a record release party for me. Haaa! I'm stoked!
Also see Sonny's website
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