Drunken chaos, pointless destruction, great music: The Replacements roadie talks

Paul Westerberg and Bill Sullivan on stage.
Paul Westerberg and Bill Sullivan on stage. (Wayne Valdez)
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"On the road," says Bill Sullivan, "somebody was always looking at your stuff and wanted to steal it."

That might have been the single constant in an otherwise rollicking, unpredictable life on the road with the Replacements, one of rock's most notorious bands in the 1980s.

Sullivan saw it all and participated in a lot of it as the Minnesota-based band's roadie. Now, he's written some of it down in a new book, Lemon Jail: On the Road with the Replacements.

He decided to write his own book after turning down interviews with other authors. Sullivan said he wanted to see if he could write a book himself — and maybe make a few thousand bucks.

The book offers an inside perspective on the drunken chaos, pointless destruction and great music that the Replacements created. Even diehard fans may learn a few things from Sullivan's stories about how the Replacements rolled.

The Lemon Jail

That's the name Westerberg gave his van, the first the band used on tour. The "lemon" referred to the quality of the vehicle and "jail" to the amount of time they spent in it.

Sullivan was usually at the wheel as the band crisscrossed the country for gigs. The van's interior was squalid and hacked to meet their needs. The seats in back had been removed. The band sat on the amps, cases and cabinets that were laid on the floor with patio chair cushions as padding.

Since stopping at rest stops took too much time, the "lemon jail" also served as a rolling urinal.

Don't tell us what to do

When the band was in a particular frame of mind they would bring Sullivan up on stage to take over as lead singer. He would never sing Replacement songs. Show tunes like "If I Only Had a Brain" and "Do the Clam" were some of his favorites as was "Eighteen by Alice Cooper.

When they toured with Tom Petty, Sullivan was told by the band's new managers to stay off the stage. When Westerberg heard about that, he took it as a challenge and invited Sullivan to sing right away.

Were the Replacements trying to sabotage their own career?

"If there were record label people (at a show) or fancy hat people, Paul might throw them a clinker," Sullivan said. "Or if you open for Social Distortion and all the tough punkers in L.A. that think they're special are there, Paul would play everything country just to piss 'em off.

"But when we got to Tuscaloosa and when we go to Columbus where the people were, when it wasn't just guest list, he killed it for those people."

Chuck the guitar picks

Picks were an essential tool for a guitar band like the Replacements, but Westerberg was fussy about where to find them.

Westerberg "didn't want his picks taped to the mic stand like people would do, the extra picks taped on the mic stand," Sullivan said.

He thought that was just poser rock and roll bull. So, right when he would get out there with his guitar, I'd kind of see where he was going to settle himself on stage.

And I would just throw a handful of picks down on the ground nearby him cause he would lose picks and he'd start looking around for it on the ground, I noticed.

And you're not going to find one pick on the ground and I would tell the light guy to shine light on his feet and then when he would look down for the pick, there it was 'cause I had like a dozen of them.

Where (bassist) Tommy (Stinson) would want them on his stand. He wanted to pick them off. He wanted to throw them to the crowd. He had a whole dance and a thing. Like one note, toss it to the crowd.

Stealing

Sullivan was perpetually hacked off by the hangers-on who tried to lift stuff from the band, and it was a point of pride to stop it.

"Whether that's what they do professionally, whether they're a junkie or whether they're just a fan that thinks that one of your pedals would make a good souvenir, you know," he said.

"People may think I'm exaggerating, but one hundred percent of the time somebody was trying to steal your stuff. So, I prevented things like that."

Sullivan's book was true enough to the reality of The Replacements that drummer Chris Mars wrote a promotional blurb for the book.

It reads in part: "Bill Sullivan captures the spirit and chaos of the earliest and best years of the band because he lived it right alongside us. A true kindred spirit, a fifth member if you will, Bill got what we were about from the git-go, to the point where it would not have been the same journey without him."

Bill Sullivan will be at the Loon Cafe in Minneapolis for a book launch event on Wednesday, April 18.

Enter The Current's Lemon Jail giveaway

Use this form to enter The Current's Lemon Jail giveaway between 9:45 a.m. CDT on Monday, April 16, 2018 and 11:59 p.m. CDT on Sunday, April 22, 2018.

Five (5) winners will receive one (1) hardcover copy of Lemon Jail: On the Road with the Replacements. Three (3) back up names will be drawn.

Prize retail value: $22.95

We will contact the winners on Monday, April 23, 2018. Winner must accept by 10 a.m. CT on Tuesday, April 24, 2019.

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