A lot of influential people have come out of the Minneapolis music scene, but one of the more exciting stories is that of Peter Jesperson. A behind the scenes icon during the 1980s, he is largely credited with discovering and breaking the fabled rock band The Replacements, was manager of the legendary Oar Folkjokeopus record store, and founder of the indie label Twin/Tone Records. Jesperson was born in 1954, and claims that after all the musical mayhem he has been through, one of his fondest memories is buying The Beatles first recordings as they came out in the 1960s. “It’s hard for people to realize from this distance what an impact that had on some of us,” he says.
Jesperson’s first real job in the music business came when he was 18 delivering Great Britain’s New Musical Express (NME) around Minneapolis and St. Paul. “Delivering those magazines, a job I actually got through my dad’s publishing company, was actually where my connections to the scene began.”
By the time he was 23 (1977), he and his friends Paul Stark (a local recording engineer) and Charley Hallman were starting the DIY record label Twin/Tone Records and contemplating how the big labels were doing things. Twin/Tone became the first home for influential Minneapolis bands The Replacements, Soul Asylum, The Jayhawks, and The Suburbs. Twin/Tone has also been credited with helping start the Minneapolis punk rock scene, which also centered around two of Jesperson’s other haunts: Oar Folkjokeopus record shop and Jay's Longhorn Bar. He managed Oar Folk (as it was locally referred) from 1973 to 1983, and because it was the main place carrying punk rock records, it became a hangout for the now legendary local bands Hüsker Dü, The Replacements, the Suicide Commandos, and Soul Asylum.
As the often repeated story goes, Paul Westerberg (enigmatic frontman of The Replacements), gave Jesperson a cassette tape of songs he and his nascent band had recorded. At the time, Westerburg claimed, he was just hoping to get a show at Jay’s Longhorn Bar. Jesperson fell in love with the tape, talked it up to friends and employees, and got The Replacements that gig at Jay’s Longhorn Bar. Twin/Tone signed the band afterward, to some disgruntlement among other up-and-coming and more seasoned punk rock bands like Hüsker Dü.
Jesperson became not only the label manager for the The Replacements, but their manager, road manager and de facto booking guy until legendary agent Frank Riley came on in 1983. He became, in many people’s opinion, the 5th Replacement and helped steward them through the five years of debauchery and local glory that produced “Sorry Ma, Forgot to Take Out the Trash” (1981), “Hootenanny” (1983), “Let It Be” (1984), and “Tim” (1985). “Tim” also marked The Replacements debut on the major label Sire (a subsidiary of Warner Bros.). The aftermath of “Tim” also resulted in the firing of both founding member and influential lead guitar player Bob Stinson and also Jesperson. “It was like being thrown out of a club that you helped start,” Jesperson later commented. “Everybody was drinking and doing more drugs than they needed to” (Azerrad, Michael, “Our Band Could Be Your Life: Scenes from the American Indie Underground 1981-1991” (2001)).
In the aftermath, Jesperson was broken-hearted and took a job in his friend’s dad’s warehouse. For four years he dabbled in a few music projects (including working with Pete Buck of R.E.M.). Buck had become a close friend of both Jesperson and The Replacements and became a frequent visitor to Minneapolis. Yet Jesperson continued to mostly find his solace through booze and his record collection. He descended into addiction and ultimately ended up on Hennepin County Medical Center as part of their three-week treatment program. He has been sober ever since.
In 1995, the sober Jesperson moved to California and continued to work with Twin/Tone and his new imprint, Medium Cool. In 1999, he joined New West Records, as the first employee for the new label. At that point, Twin/Tone-Medium Cool had ceased signing new artists and became a back catalog label. Jesperson began to focus his golden ear for what is new and interesting through his role at New West. At New West, he became instrumental in bringing out records by Drive-By Truckers, The Old 97s, Jason Isabell, John Hiatt, and Steve Earle.
When asked about favorite artist discoveries during his almost 20 years at New West Records, Jesperson doesn’t hesitate to mention Daniel Romano, the young Canadian savant who has put out a host of critically acclaimed alt-country records through New West and, more recently, has flowered into a genre-busting songwriting genius. Jesperson says, “I think Daniel Romano may be a candidate for one of the most talented people on the planet. I have just really enjoyed everything I have ever come across that he has done. I can’t wait to see where he goes. I can tell you he has multiple albums already recorded. If it were up to me I would put out a Daniel Romano album once a year.”
What of his relationship with The Replacements? He still has a close relationship with all the band members and talks frequently and visits when back in Minneapolis. He worked closely with them producing all eight re-issues on Rhino.com, which were released in 2008. The work involved listening for hours to additional material recorded during the original sessions, identifying outtakes and material for the releases.
When asked about rumored new Replacements recordings in the can, Jesperson says, “Indeed there are some recordings done with Kevin Bowe and some with Dave Minehan (who played guitar in the re-united Replacements), but the general consensus among the band was the spark just wasn’t there. These will likely never be released.” He adds, “I think the closest the old band has come to catching lightning in the bottle was part of the Songs for Slim project,” a series of recordings put together by a host of influential bands to help with healthcare bills associated with Slim Dunlap’s health challenges.
The Replacements’ contribution in 2012 resulted in a five-song 12-inch record that included two Slim Dunlap songs and three covers: Leon Payne's (by way of Hank Williams) "Lost Highway," “The I’m Not Sayin’” by Gordon Lightfoot (by way of Nico), and one by Stephen Sondheim/Jule Styne. Jesperson adds, “I think if you played that [“The I’m Not Sayin’”] for someone that did not know, they might think it was recorded back in The Replacements heyday. When you listen to that, the band sounds really electric and Paul’s vocal is so strong.” The band had come into the studio simply to record a Slim Dunlap tune originally, but after the blood was flowing, the band was feeling good and decided to run through a couple cover tunes. Jesperson says, “It’s sort of a beautiful thing. There was no intention to do this. They were together united around wanting to do something for Slim, and it just happened kind of spontaneously.”
Jesperson currently is working on projects unaffiliated with New West Records, including the most recent Bash & Pop record (Replacements bassist Tommy Stinson’s band) and is working on a re-issue project with Soul Asylum.
He is also working with Paul Stark to reinvigorate Twin/Tone records. They helped to put out the legendary Minneapolis punk band Suicide Commandos’ first record in 30 years. Jesperson says, “We are still kind of feeling out what we are going to do, but we are definitely interested in looking into some new projects.”
Peter Jesperson’s Website
Twin/Tone Records Website
Ocooch Mountain Music Website
Also check out the book “The Replacements: All Over But the Shouting: An Oral History” by Jim Walsh, Voyageur Press, 2009.