Followers and fans of the Twin Cities music scene since the mid-1970s know the name Jim Walsh. The longtime music writer for City Pages, the St. Paul Pioneer Press, MinnPost and the Southwest Journal (along with any number of freelance assignments from around the country) was at Ground Zero for the explosion of talent that happened in his hometown.
The budding music fan from South Minneapolis began raiding his brother’s music collection in 1974 when he was just 15 years old.
“I remember listening to ‘Frampton Comes Alive’ a lot and it was probably my first introduction to live music, that and ‘At Folsom Prison.’ And it was so magical for me as a kid; these were adult people who went to concerts, and I hadn’t really done that yet.”
He was listening, however. And preparing.
“All that music was on my turntable at the time and you know, a mile away, Prince Rogers Nelson was growing up and eight blocks away Paul Westerberg was growing up. Bob Mould was moving to St. Paul, and Dave Pirner and Danny Murphy were ripping it up in Kenwood.”
Walsh was there to see all of them arrive. First as a musician himself, later as a writer, but always as a fan, he saw The Suicide Commandos, The Replacements, Hüsker Dü and The Suburbs on stage at now legendary Minneapolis watering holes like Jay’s Longhorn Bar & Grill, Duffy’s, and the Uptown Bar & Grill. He got to know the great past and present characters of the Twin Cities music scene like Bob “Slim” Dunlap, Curtiss A and Willie Murphy. He’s seen the great performances in the spectacular arenas and holes-in-the-wall dive bars. He’s known the legends, the has-beens and the never-weres, the bar owners, the tech guys and, most importantly, the fans. Walsh has had more than a few stories to tell.
Now, many of those stories have been collected in two books, published a couple months apart at the end of 2016. The first, “Bar Yarns and Manic-Depressive MixTapes: Jim Walsh on Music from Minneapolis to the Outer Limits,” is a collection of his writings, columns, and reviews with those local publications along with a few stray dispatches for various national papers and magazines. The second, “Gold Experience: Following Prince in the ‘90s” is a focused collection of his work as he chronicled, mused upon and spoke with Minnesota’s late, great purple legend.
At 7 p.m. Wednesday evening, Walsh will be at Content bookstore to sign and read from both books. That event will be followed by a special performance at the Contented Cow along with his old friends Matt Arthur and The Bratlanders.
Walsh had not originally intended to produce two books so close together, but circumstances dictated that he share what he has right now.
“I wrote a column for the Southwest Journal two New Year’s Eves ago,” Walsh said. “It was about intention setting and sort of the positive vibes that can come with that. And in that piece I wrote that I’m determined to make a new record with these songs that I have written, and to publish a couple of books.”
He was already an author, having penned an oral history about the seminal Minneapolis band The Replacements, “All Over But the Shouting,” in 2007. But the public wanted more.
“I just sort of put one sentence in that column that I wanted to publish more books, and a guy who works in the publishing industry read it. The dude got a hold of me and said, ‘I want to be your agent. I’m starting a literary agency and I’ve loved your writing for a long time.’
“I just said, ‘Cool. Let’s go.’”
The agent pitched different ideas to the University of Minnesota Press, which eagerly signed Walsh up for a collection of his columns and musings over the course of his career. Then last spring another idea sprang from tragedy.
On April 21 Prince passed away at Paisley Park, his Chanhassen home and studio. When a grief stricken and sentimental Walsh went to look up the things he had written about the Purple One over the years “pretty much as a full time beat,” he had a hard time finding anything.
“None of this stuff is available online, and it doesn’t exist anywhere, really. And, you know, it’s scholarship and news that not everybody was privy to,” Walsh said. “I was fevered, because I thought the stuff might die with me, so I said to my editor, ‘We need to do this.’
“Prince was my age and you don’t know what the next day brings. I felt it was really important, to get the interviews and the things I bore witness to in the 11 years that I covered him, out there.”
He’s happy to have the books done, and is looking forward to what’s coming next.
“I have a new record coming out on May 20 called, ‘Songs for the Band to Learn,’ and it’s as representative of my voice in song as anything I’ve ever recorded,” Walsh said.
And he’s pleased to have his writing published as a pair of books. Writing about music is a “sacred interaction,” he says, between the writer, the artist and the fan, and he feels it is what he was meant to do. Especially in his beloved home state.
“When you’re born to do this, you’re born to connect with the rest of the tribe, and to describe that universal experience,” Walsh said. “I just feel very lucky to have landed as a scribe and songwriter in this area, because it’s unlike any other area I’ve ever heard of.”