The Minneapolis music scene was once again in mourning on Thursday (Sept. 14) following news that former Hüsker Dü drummer Grant Hart has died at age 56. The heartbeat of the hugely influential rock band that blazed a trail across the indie scene in the early 1980s thanks to such instant-classic albums as 1984’s Zen Arcade and 1985’s Flip Your Wig, Hart was remembered as a kind, generous musician as well as a ferocious drummer, soulful singer and peerless songwriter.
Billboard reached out to The Replacements bassist Tommy Stinson, who fondly recalled his teenage days of sharing a van and stages with Hart and the simple, but crucial lessons he learned from the drummer.
What’s your earliest memory of Hüsker Dü?
Back in the day we used to all travel together and do shows in Madison, Milwaukee, Chicago… I remember traveling a lot with those guys, whether we were in the same van or playing tons of shows together. One of my favorite memories was a show we did at O’Bannon’s, maybe in 1981 or 1982 and I remember it was a super fun gig. We always had this sort of mutual admiration for one another’s bands with a good, healthy dose of competitiveness. It was a really healthy, fun camaraderie, like a couple of basketball teams going at it.
1981? You must have been a teenager at the time, right? Do you have any clear memories of his playing style from then?
Yeah, I was probably 15 or something. I never could quite figure out how he did it, but he’d be playing and singing and sometimes he would swallow his tongue a little by accident. He’d be worked up into such a tizzy that he would get caught up and his tongue would roll back into his throat and then it would pop out and he’d keep going. There was a certain amount of wonderment at how he did it. These guys played real fast and he was singing so fast, which is kind of a nutty thing when you’re a drummer.
You talked about being competitive. Were you a fan of their music? Could you appreciate what he did?
It was a funny thing. To be honest I wasn’t the hugest fan of their music, but I liked his voice the better of the two of them on certain things. Back then I was so young compared to everyone else I was kind of on my own island. They were all young men and I was this kid in my kid brain.
What made his playing so special?
I was always mesmerized by his kick drum. He is the only drummer I remember from that era who had a wackier kick drum pattern than [former Replacements drummer] Chris Mars. They both played somewhat untraditionally in that way, almost think of a jazz drummer and then have them play punk rock. Both of those drummers were very unconventional in the way they played their kick and snare patterns, but he had one that was even wackier than Mars. I always wondered, “How do they get from here to here?”
Did he, or the band, have any influence on The Replacements?
Sure they did. They influenced us in two ways. In one way we kind of were slumped into that hardcore scene early on as part of dumb luck, but I think they influenced us more in another way, too. It might be that they encouraged us as much to not be punk rock. You could hear it in songs like “Go” from [the The Replacements’ debut EP] Stink.
Did you ever see him around after those early days?
I would see him around a bit and I probably saw him more than the other guys. Every time I went to Minneapolis he was always hanging around checking out bands. He was always on the scene either playing or just hanging out.
What do you think his legacy is for Minneapolis musicians?
He was a total sweetheart. They were all, for the most part, sweethearts. People have been texting me and calling all day because they’re all so bummed. My manager called and he was almost in tears. He left us a pretty big legacy. Hüsker Dü is up there along with the ‘Mats in terms of their influence on bands. People remember him as a really good guy.