50 cool facts about the Minnesota music scene

Top 20 best Minnesota musicians: The complete list
Cedar Cultural Center named best world music venue
Minneapolis music scene named second-best in the U.S.

Here's a not-so-secret fact about Minnesota music: People love to talk about how much they love the scene here. Musicians from both out-of-state and the Twin Cities have gone out of their way to pen odes to our town and its vibrant community, from Atmosphere to Lucinda Williams Tom Waits to Mark Mallman, who just dropped his new single, "Minneapolis," this week.

What's all the fuss about, anyway? We decided to crack open the history books and a few back issues of City Pages to compile a list of lovable facts about the last several decades of Minnesota music, ranging from the obvious (yes, Prince and Dylan made the list) to some lesser-known facts that just might surprise you. 

Read on, and feel free to leave your own factoids in the comments. We love this stuff.

50. The song "Funkytown" by Lipps Inc. was about the band's desire to leave Minneapolis for New York.

49. Before Epic was an event center it was called the Quest, a club owned by former Prince bodyguard and business manager Gilbert Davison. 

48. The late Sonia Peterson, founder of Hairpolice, is responsible for creating many a rock star's famous 'dos, including that of George Clinton and the lead singer of Information Society (who was her longtime boyfriend).

47. Janet Jackson credits the city of Minneapolis for much of her early success.

46. Ms. Jackson worked closely with production duo Jimmy Jam and Terry Lewis, who rose to fame in the '80s recording Twin Cities acts like Mint Condition and Alexander O'Neal and national musicians like Janet's brother Michael, New Edition, Boyz II Men, and Patti LaBelle in their Flyte Time Studios. Flyte Time was also the name of their early-'80s funk band, which later morphed into the Time.

The Loring Pasta Bar, formerly Grey's Drug Store
The Loring Pasta Bar, formerly Grey's Drug Store
City Pages file photo

45. Before moving to New York City, Bob Dylan lived above what is now the Loring Pasta Bar in Dinkytown, then Grey's Drug Store.

44. In 1969, Tom Jung and Herb Pilhofer opened Sound 80 in Minneapolis, the first studio in the world to engineer and release digital recording. Sound 80 went on to record many Grammy Award-winning musicians, like Bob Dylan and Cat Stevens.

43. In addition to historically being a Midwest hub for genres like hip-hop and indie rock, the Twin Cities also have a rich classical music scene. The St. Paul Chamber Orchestra, for example, is the only professional, full-time chamber orchestra in the country.

42. Famous musicians used make appointments with Let It Be Records owner Ryan Cameron to sift through his private collection in the basement of the legendary but now defunct shop on Nicollet. The store closed in 2005 to make way for a condo project that never took off. 

41. Before starting popular hip-hop/indie rock/folk band WHY?, lead singer Yoni Wolf and Twin Cities-based Andrew Broder pioneered a similar eclectic sound in a collaborative called Hymie's Basement. The band was named after Hymie's Vintage Records, a Minneapolis music store where much of their only album was recorded.

40. Prince recorded portions of Purple Rain during a live performance at First Avenue in 1983. Enough said.

39. In the late '90s, Bassgasm promoter Woody McBride, Sound In Motion founder Jack Trash, and Compass booking agent Rich Best (who is now VP of booking at Live Nation) formed a trifecta called "Mile High" promoting DJ parties in the Twin Cities. From 1997 to 2002 (give or take), they threw some of the sickest dance events Midwest and put this region on the rave map. One for the record books: The "Soundburnt" all-night party at Roy Wilkins in St. Paul.

38. In 1968, a Hibbing-born musician outsold the Beatles. The Minnesota-related version of the Fab Four was named Gary Puckett and the Union Gap and bore no relation to Kirby.

37. Sound 80, the legendary studio that gave birth to Bob Dylan's "Blood on the Tracks," is considered the world's first digital recording studio. It's now the headquarters of Orfield Laboratories and home to an anechoic chamber considered "the quietest place on earth."

36. Yanni attended the University of Minnesota in the late 1970s and played keyboards for several local rock bands.


50 cool facts about the Minnesota music scene

35. Tom Waits released two songs with local references in the title: "Christmas Card from a Hooker in Minneapolis" and "9th & Hennepin."

34. Eccentric radio personality Dr. Demento was born in Minneapolis, where he started growing his massive record collection at the age of 12. A DJ specializing in comedy and novelty music, Dr. Demento is responsible for bringing "Weird Al" Yankovic into the national spotlight.

33. Our own City Pages was initially a monthly music magazine called Sweet Potato, which debuted in 1979 with a cover story on the Cars.

32. One of Prince's recording projects, the Family, which featured vocalists St. Paul Peterson of the Time and Prince's onetime fiance Susannah Melvoin, recently re-emerged as fDeluxe and released a new album of original material.

31. The Twin Cities' most renowned and award-winning gospel group, the Grammy Award-winning Sounds of Blackness, will celebrate their 40th anniversary next month with a concert at the Mall of America Rotunda on October 18.

30. Many know that First Avenue earned its status as a Minneapolis landmark by serving as the backdrop for the movie Purple Rain. But did you know that the backstage area is not, in fact, a series of winding hallways and dressing rooms? To the contrary; backstage consists of two very modestly sized greenrooms, one barely the size of a walk-in closet.

50 cool facts about the Minnesota music scene

29. Speaking of First Ave, the iconic star-studded building got its start as a Greyhound bus station, which the club paid homage to last year by naming its new restaurant the Depot Tavern. The Depot was also the name of the club when it first opened in 1970.

28. Bob Dylan isn't the only folk artist with ties to Minnesota; the Twin Cities is also home to a long-running and bustling roots scene that is centered around the West Bank neighborhood of Minneapolis. Dylan and Bonnie Raitt are both said to have been inspired by one of our most prominent West Bank blues acts, Koerner, Ray, & Glover, whose surviving members "Spider" John Koerner and Tony Glover still occasionally perform together on the West Bank to this day.

27. One of our other major contributions to the national folk scene is the St. Paul-based label Red House Records, which has distributed records by label co-founder Greg Brown, Utah Phillips, Robin and Linda Williams, and Twin Cities natives like the Pines and Storyhill.

26. Okkervil River frontman Will Sheff spent his formative songwriting years in St. Paul, where he attended Macalester College. Some of his first gigs were in front of small handfuls of patrons at Dunn Bros. coffeehouses in Uptown and St. Paul.

25. Our jazz scene has earned recognition in part because of our vast and talented experimental community; bands like the Bad Plus and Happy Apple have both been lauded internationally.

24. The now-defunct Longhorn Bar in downtown Minneapolis served as the breeding ground for both the Twin Cities new wave and hardcore punk scenes in the late-'70s, spearheaded by the Suicide Commandos and their friends the Suburbs. Both bands have reunited in recent years and now regularly play shows together.

23. Likewise, the Uptown Bar was one of the focal points of the metro area's developing rock scene in the '70s and '80s. Bands like the Replacements and Soul Asylum regularly played warm-up gigs at the bar before heading out on tour. The Uptown was demolished in 2009 after its owners sold it to a development company. It is now an Apple store.

22. Replacements songwriter Paul Westerberg penned the song "Skyway" as an ode to Minneapolis's indoor, above-ground tunnel system. Years later, 89.3 the Current's Mark Wheat cited it as one of the things he was most curious to explore when he moved from the UK to Minneapolis, simply because of the song.

21. Seminal trio Hüsker Dü was the first hardcore band to sign to a major label.

20. At a recent Foo Fighters concert in St. Paul, Dave Grohl cited Bob Mould, Grant Hart, and Greg Norton as a major influences, saying that "This band wouldn't be here if it weren't for a legendary band called Hüsker Dü."

19. Soul Asylum also has roots in the hardcore scene; they started as funk-meets-thrash metal band Loud Fast Rules.

18. The "heyday" of Minneapolis music is said to have peaked in the mid-'80s. In 1984, Prince's Purple Rain, the Replacements' Let It Be, and Hüsker Dü's Zen Arcade were all listed in the top 10 of the Village Voice-curated Pazz & Jop poll.


50 cool facts about the Minnesota music scene

17. The cover of the 'Mats' Let it Be features the members lounging on the rooftop of a house in Uptown Minneapolis, where Tommy and Bob Stinson lived and the band rehearsed. The now-iconic picture was taken by longtime Twin Cities music photographer Dan Corrigan, who currently works as the house photographer at First Avenue.

16. Atmosphere's hometown ode "Say Shh" (a hidden track off 2003's Seven's Travels) was the first song to ever be played on 89.3 the Current when it went on air in 2005. Just a few weeks ago, Minneapolis mayor R.T. Rybak also playfully considered declaring it the city's official song.

15. Lucinda Williams also included an ode to the city, simply called "Minneapolis," on her 2003 album World Without Tears.

14. Lucinda married her Minnesotan husband, Tom Overby, on stage at First Avenue during a 2009 concert, sandwiching the ceremony between her regular set and her encore.

13. Minneapolis-based hip-hop label Rhymesayers has become such an omnipresent force in the local community that their artists have prevailed as the #1 pick in the Star Tribune's year-end Twin Cities Critics' Tally for six of the past seven polls.

12. Mark Mallman set out to perform the world's longest song with the third installment of his Marathon series last fall; he enlisted over 100 local musicians to help him play one continuous, 78-hour song at the Turf Club.

11. The current #1 single on the Billboard charts, Adele's "Someone Like You," was penned with the help of Twin Ciites native Dan Wilson (Semisonic, Trip Shakespeare).

50 cool facts about the Minnesota music scene

10. Distinctive singer and ukulele player Tiny Tim died of a heart attack on stage at the Women's Club in  Minneapolis in 1996. He is buried at the Lakewood Cemetary near Uptown.

9. Before Rhymesayers, Red House, and Twin/Tone, Minnesota was home to Soma Records, a label that earned a reputation for hitmaking after releasing 45s of the Trashmen's "Surfin' Bird" and the Castaways "Liar Liar" in the mid-'60s. Soma founder Amos Heilicher is referred to by musicians of that era as "the godfather of the Twin Cities recording industry."

8. Another '60s garage rock band, the Monks, have become a cult classic among Minnesota music fans. Their experimental approach to rock music helped them to stumble on the phenomenon of guitar feedback and they are said to have influenced Jimi Hendrix.

7. Remember the Friends theme song, "I'll Be There By You"? It was co-written by Duluth's Phil Solem, who still performs as half of the Rembrandts and as a solo artist here in Minneapolis.

6. The late Micheal Larsen, a.k.a. Eyedea, first rose to prominence as a battle rapper, and in 1999 he became the second-youngest rapper to ever win the nationally renowned Scribble Jam freestyle battle at the age of 17. Dubbed "America's largest hip hop festival," the Cincinatti-based Scribble Jam was organized by Kevin Beacham, who now works for Rhymesayers and hosts a weekly hip-hop program on 89.3 the Current.

5. Marcy Playground, best known for their 1997 radio hit "I Smell Sex and Candy," is fronted by Minneapolitan John Wozniak and the band takes their name from the Marcy Open grade school in the Marcy-Holmes neighborhood, near Dinkytown. Though they are often considered a one-hit wonder, the band is still active to this day.

4. During the World War II era, the Minnesota-born the Andrews Sisters broke out nationally with their harmonic rendition of the swing classic "Boogie Woogie Bugle Boy" and became icons of their time. In 1979, they were parodied on Sesame Street as the Androoze Sisters, a trio of dancing, singing pigs.

3. West Bank punk club the Triple Rock Social is owned by Dillinger Four's Erik Funk and his wife Gretchen. D4's Fat Wreck Chords labelmates NOFX penned an ode to the club, "Seeing Double At The Triple Rock," and the song's music video was shot inside the venue.

2. Courtney Love was a short-lived member of influential all-girl Minneapolis rock band Babes in Toyland. She was kicked out shortly after joining the group and formed Hole soon afterward.

1. The Beatles only performed once in Minnesota, in front of 28,000 fans at the Met Stadium (now the site of the Mall of America) on August 21, 1965. The hotel where the Fab Four stayed was reportedly understaffed and mobbed by fans, leading Minneapolis Police Inspector Donald Dwyer to tell the Minneapolis Star, "Those people are the worst I have ever seen visit this city." Dwyer was convinced that the Beatles were "luring" underage girls to their hotel rooms and threatened to arrest Paul McCartney for having a young woman in his room (she turned out to be a 21-year-old from Cleveland). Now that would have been a story for the history books...

50 cool facts about the Minnesota music scene

Compiled with help from Kevin Hoffman, Andy Mannix, and Jen Boyles.

Top 20 best Minnesota musicians: The complete list
Cedar Cultural Center named best world music venue
Minneapolis music scene named second-best in the U.S.

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