Roughly 22 years ago, local producer Jim Dickinson holed up in Ardent Studios with a trio of notorious rock-and-roll troublemakers — the three surviving members of Minneapolis' Replacements — to make a record.
The album that resulted, Pleased To Meet Me, arguably rivals the White Stripes' White Blood Cells as the best made-in-Memphis album by a nonlocal artist. It wasn't the commercial hit the band's major-label overlords anticipated, but it was an artistic triumph.
This week, Rhino Records will reissue the album (and the rest of the band's output for Sire Records), with bonus tracks and new liner notes. To commemorate the occasion, Dickinson took the Flyer on a trip down memory lane.
Flyer: How did you get the assignment to work on Pleased To Meet Me?
Dickinson: Through their management. I don't think the Replacements knew who I was. What bass player Tommy Stinson told me later — they'd just fired lead guitarist Bob Stinson [Tommy's brother] — was that they'd come to Memphis to break up. They'd had it planned that they were going to kind of theatrically combust. But we got to cutting demos, and it started working. They had never played as a trio, but it seemed to work, and so we started the project.
Tommy articulated it better than [lead singer Paul] Westerberg. He said they wanted to make an adult record without compromising. I've always viewed rock-and-roll as children's music anyway, and I guess that's what they thought they were doing. They were pure punk aesthetic. Westerberg told me as we started that he wasn't going to give me 100 percent, because I didn't deserve it. I'd heard that notion expressed by black R&B artists, but I'd never encountered it myself, so I took it as a challenge.
Did their reputation precede them?
Oh yeah. They were notorious drunks. To their credit, they tried to play sober, and they could not do it. They had learned to play drunk as kids. Westerberg was about to get married and kind of semi-sober up. His world was about to radically change. But I got the tail end of the real Paul Westerberg. His voice changed after that.
This was the first record without Bob Stinson. How much was his absence noted or acknowledged?
It was a constant issue. I wanted to call the record Where's Bob?, but nobody thought that was funny. I told the management, bring him on. I want Bob. They would just make the sign of the cross and leave the room.
There's a linear, melodic thing on the Replacements' earlier records. That is Bob. That's nowhere on my record. That's my regret. That and the fact that [Westerberg] didn't give me an anthem. There's no "Bastards of Young." I got some real good songs, but I got no anthem.
Were they hard to control outside the studio, or was that not your concern?
Well, they didn't have driver's licenses. When we were done, they would stagger off into the night, and I never knew if they were going to show up the next morning.
You've got about eight blocks from Ardent to the former Holiday Inn on Union at McLean.
Yeah, and they could get in trouble in those eight blocks, believe me! They could score dope before they were out of the parking lot. They were amazing. You know that line in "Can't Hardly Wait": "Lights that flash in the evening/through a hole in the drapes"? That's about that hotel.
"Nightclub Jitters" and "Can't Hardly Wait," in particular, have what were unusual arrangements for them at the time.
The saxophone on "Nightclub Jitters" is Prince Gabe Kirby, who worked over at the dog track and had been a salesman at Lansky Brothers. He also had a band on Beale Street. The horns were a real touchy subject. I had been dictated by the [record] company that "Can't Hardly Wait" was going to be the big song. Everybody knew it. I had gotten a telegram — that's how long ago it was — the first day (and which one of the guys at Ardent was stupid enough to deliver to me in front of Westerberg), saying, "This is the big song, blah blah blah. What about the Memphis Horns?"
So, to introduce the horns as an issue, I brought in Prince Gabe. They loved him right away. In fact, you hear the applause at the end of "Nightclub Jitters"? That's them applauding for him as he's walking back into the control room. It just stuck to the tape, and it sounded right.
But the day I was going to do the Memphis Horns [on "Can't Hardly Wait"], Westerberg and Tommy got on a plane and flew home. Westerberg's still pissed off about the strings. But you know, when he would reference Alex Chilton, he was referencing Big Star. I wanted to take it all the way back to the Box Tops. That's what those strings were to me.
Your son Luther of the North Mississippi Allstars plays guitar on "Shooting Dirty Pool." How old was he, 14?
Yep. 14. When I was doing the movie Crossroads with Steve Vai, Luther had learned a lot of those Steve Vai tricks. The laughing thing. I can't remember what they all were. Luther had names for them. He said, "Well, what do you want me to do, Daddy?" I said just make the Steve Vai sounds. And that's what he did.
What did the band think about that?
Westerberg loved it. It was just off the wall enough for him. In fact, the line in the song "You're the coolest guy I ever did smell" ... he's talking about Luther. Luther was wearing aftershave lotion. He didn't know you weren't supposed to wear it in the studio. He came in smelling, and Westerberg nailed him!