Finding My Way to Tommy Stinson and Peter Jesperson

by | Jun 11, 2024 | AMERICANA & BLUES, MUSIC, ROCK & INDIE

As any exciting story begins, it was a Monday night and my plans had just been canceled. With the news of my new availability, I decided to take up a friend on an offer. The scene takes me to a familiar spot, a beautiful home across the river with a small lit sign guarding the driveway. In large letters, “Chilton House,” and resting below it, “Peter Jesperson and Tommy Stinson.” 

Walking in, I find myself the youngest person there—myself, a fresh 21, and most of the crowd about double that (with a decent amount triple)—but we are all here in common cause and origin. We had our lives changed by music and want to see the towering figures that influenced that change. The atmosphere is exciting and warm, with people meeting and instantly bonding over their shared reasoning for attendance. The Chilton House owners and organizers, Angi and Rob Pannell, introduce individuals and make everyone feel welcomed for the night’s event.

Photo by Griffin Smalley

Presented on two stools are two of Minneapolis’ finest and proudest sons, two titans of the alternative music world: Tommy Stinson and Peter Jesperson. Tommy Stinson is best known for his youthful performance in the underground yet acclaimed band The Replacements. Any American indie rocker should know their predecessors, and many would eagerly state that they look up to the iconic group. Tommy started the band when he was barely in middle school and quickly became known for his amazing performances and extremely high energy on stage. Following over a decade with the band, Tommy found credits in a number of successful groups: Bash & Pop, Perfect, and even Guns N’ Roses, before settling into his current group, Cowboys in the Campfire, who serve as a modern rival to any early rock & roll band.

To his right is one of the hardest workers in music, Peter Jesperson. Peter’s story is premiered with his founding of the pivotal Minneapolis record label Twin/Tone. Under his founding and guidance, he put the city on the map of music and even challenged much bigger cities with the bands he signed. After logistically leading the wild Replacements for a number of years, he tour-managed college-rock superstars R.E.M. and eventually merged his label with a much bigger company in L.A. Here, he was able to take on even more groups and continued to put out influential and groundbreaking records. Looking for a new challenge and inspiration, he once again had the courage to work at another label, New West Records. The last few years have found him residential and writing. His new book, Euphoric Recall: A Half Century as a Music Fan, Producer, DJ, Record Executive, and Tastemaker, recounts his herculean work in the music world.

Finding My Way to Tommy Stinson and Peter Jesperson by Griffin Smalley_RVA Magazine 2024

In his new book, Jesperson covers his extensive music career, but rather than monologue on the pivotal moments that helped change American music, the topic he seems to return to throughout the evening’s talk is the little moments: himself and Tommy goofing around in the van or Replacements singer Paul Westerberg sharing a cigarette while showing each other music. Those are the truly pivotal moments. Not putting forward a big album or signing a great contract, the real life-changing times were five boys (himself and the four Replacements) in a van bumping down to Duluth or St. Cloud. A thousand moments like that are why the duo was able to become such monumental figures. It was never about fame or intention; it was people making genuine connections and helping one another. This can be seen in the venue tonight. Angi and Rob Pennell are two die-hard music fans who have had their lives changed by music from these two men, as well as countless others. The Chilton House has allowed them to make personal connections with many of these figures and, in turn, change their lives by giving them opportunities to speak and perform to intimate, yet consistently full, crowds of like-minded music fans.

The world of alternative music may seem grand and mythological, but it is made up of individuals that you find are not too different from yourself. When you come face to face with the music that shaped you, music that you physically looked up to, it might not be more than 5’7”. You might go into a speaking tour expecting larger-than-life stories, but it was always just five kids bumping down the road in a van.

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Griffin Smalley

Griffin Smalley

My name is Griffin Strummer Smalley and naturally with that name I am a massive music fan. Primarily you can find me fronting local punk band Artschool! As a fresh 21 year old I am currently cutting my teeth in music, writing, and painting. Keep on living!

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