Rock and Roll Book Club: 'When the Stones Came to Town' collects vintage images of rock gods in Minnesota


'When the Stones Came to Town' by Fred Case with Eric Dregni.
'When the Stones Came to Town' by Fred Case with Eric Dregni. (Jay Gabler/MPR)

When The Simpsons’ Nelson Muntz walked out of a screening of Naked Lunch, he complained, "I can think of at least two things wrong with that title."

The title of When the Stones Came to Town isn't quite so misleading, but potential readers should be aware of a couple of important details. First, photographer Fred Case's new retrospective isn't just, or even mostly, about the Rolling Stones. Second, although most of the book covers shows in Minnesota, the eponymous town is actually Copenhagen, Denmark.

With that cleared up, When the Stones Came to Town is actually quite an eye-opener. Case, who grew up in Mounds View, collects images from a career in concert photography stretching from Buddy Holly's last show — in Clear Lake, Iowa on Feb. 2, 1959 — through the mid-1970s, when he shot a typically wild show by Willie and the Bees outside the Cabooze in Minneapolis.

Of course, concert photography wasn't Case's only career. The text, as told to Eric Dregni, chronicles a bumpy life of sex, drugs, and rock and roll. The sex included a teenage fling with a 20-something Minneapolis server who introduced him to Chicago blues records; Case was soon stealing his dad's car to drive down and see Howlin' Wolf.

Case saw some tough stuff in those days. How tough? He saw a man slit another guy's throat. "Almost cut his head off!" A neighborhood senior took the young Case in and served him meatloaf. "We didn't even hear any sirens for the murder until after I finished my meat loaf."

Remembering those years, Case summons an entire forgotten Twin Cities geography. Did you know that Jerry Lee Lewis and Bo Diddley played a bar called Mr. Lucky's at Nicollet and Lake, now the site of the infamous street-blocking Kmart? Did you know that the Minnesota Boat Club on Raspberry Island used to be a burlesque club called the River Serpent? In the mid-1970s, Case paid a couple thousand dollars to hire Muddy Waters (!!!) to play his birthday party there.

The young Case joined a street gang: the Greasers, the Minneapolis equivalent of the Rockers. They fought the Baldies, sort of the Minnesota Mods; another gang, the Animals, "didn't care about music." He stole a gas card to get sent to jail instead of Vietnam, then when he got drafted anyway, he smuggled beer onto the base and finally succeeded in being drummed out of the service as "undesirable."

Not the most glamorous way to stay out of Vietnam, but it worked. Case's story picks up back in Minnesota in 1970, when he moved into a bathroom in a house across from the Guthrie Theater. That gave him a perfect darkroom, although he acknowledged the vats of chemicals couldn't have done much for his health and certainly didn't help his love life.

He had other things to focus on, though: in the early '70s, the Guthrie was one of the most important concert venues in Minneapolis. Case just started walking in to shoot shows, correctly assuming that if he brought a lot of camera gear, no one would ask questions. Eventually he earned the trust of promoter Sue Wiel, and he had a permanent in.

When the Stones Came to Town includes photos of the Grateful Dead hanging out backstage at the Guthrie with a trio of Swedish flight attendants, James Taylor alone onstage with his dreadnaught, Elton John's first Minnesota show ("I didn't take any more photos once Elton undressed for me"), Ian Anderson of Jethro Tull playing the flute while balancing on one leg ("exuding sex and fertility"), John Sebastian sipping a bottle of Bud, Miles Davis looking combative ("Who the hell gave you permission to take my picture?") after playing the entirety of Bitches Brew, and Captain Beefheart playing his Trout Mask Replica show ("Captain Beefheart spoke in gibberish; he was a Martian").

Case also covered numerous shows at the Minneapolis Auditorium, a venue that's since been replaced by the Minneapolis Convention Center. The Who turned up in their full 1970 glory (though Roger Daltrey, remembers Case, "was never close to Robert Plant's act for excitement"), Arlo Guthrie on guitar after being told to knock off the piano playing at the Triangle Bar (a West Bank spot that's now a homeopathy clinic), and a positively angelic Linda Ronstadt barefoot onstage in a halter top.

The Depot, later known as First Avenue, opened in 1970; Case only shot one show there, but it was a good one. He hung out backstage with Rod Stewart and the Small Faces, one of many times the photographer ingratiated himself to artists by offering to supply them with a psychoactive substance. The band ran out of beer (shocker), and Case drove Ron Wood down to the original Fuji Ya by St. Anthony Falls, where Case was working as a janitor. The restaurant was closed, but Case used his key to grab a couple cases of Asahi while Wood stared at the falls, transfixed.

Case sold a camera to pay for a trip to Denmark, and ended up hanging out with the Stones in '73. Despite inspiring the book's title, that section is actually one of the volume's least interesting: the Rolling Stones have been well-documented, so we pretty well know what life for that band was like in the Nixon years. He then made it back to Minnesota, got thrown into Stillwater for dealing drugs, and got on with his life.

The book closes with glimpses of a last few shows, including Scarlet Rivera leading a band outdoors on the University of Minnesota campus in 1977, and an easygoing party on an island in Lake Minnetonka (a sort of extension of the West Bank scene).

"The photography and the music gave me the feeling of freedom I needed," remembers Case, who'd just been released from prison. "Every photo brings back a memory and a story. This is the cross the photographer must bear."

Fred Case and Eric Dregni will be presenting When the Stones Came to Town at upcoming venues including Inver Glen Public Library (Jan. 21), Gallery 122 at Hang It (Feb. 8), and Waldmann Brewery & Restaurant (Feb. 13).

Upcoming Rock and Roll Book Club picks

Tune in to The Current at 8:30 a.m. (Central) every Wednesday morning to hear Jay Gabler and Jill Riley talk about a new book. Also, find Jay's reviews online.

Jan. 22: A Song for You: My Life with Whitney Houston by Robyn Crawford

Jan. 29: Acid for the Children by Flea

Feb. 5: The Beatles A to Zed: An Alphabetical Mystery Tour by Peter Asher

Feb. 12: Time is Tight: My Life, Note by Note by Booker T. Jones

The Current's When the Stones Came to Town giveaway

Use this form to enter The Current's When the Stones Came to Town giveaway between 7:45 a.m. Central on Wednesday, Jan. 15, 2020 and 11:59 p.m. Central on Tuesday, Jan. 21, 2020.

Four (4) winners will each receive one (1) hardcover copy of the book When the Stones Came to Town: Rock 'n' Roll Photos from the 1970s. Three (3) back up names will be drawn.

Prize retail value: $29.95

Winners will be notified via e-mail on Wednesday, Jan. 22, 2020. Winner must accept by 10 a.m. Central on Thursday, Jan. 23, 2020.

This giveaway is subject to Minnesota Public Radio's 2020 Official Giveaway Rules.

You must be 13 or older to submit any information to American Public Media. The personally identifying information you provide will not be sold, shared, or used for purposes other than to communicate with you about American Public Media programs. See Minnesota Public Radio Terms of Use and Privacy policy.

5 Photos

  • Linda Ronstadt at the Minneapolis Auditorium in 1970.
    Linda Ronstadt at the Minneapolis Auditorium in 1970. (Fred Case)
  • Willie and the Bees at the Cabooze in the 1970s.
    Willie and the Bees at the Cabooze in the 1970s. (Fred Case)
  • Miles Davis backstage at the Guthrie Theater, 1971.
    Miles Davis backstage at the Guthrie Theater, 1971. (Fred Case)
  • Elton John backstage at the Guthrie Theater, 1970.
    Elton John backstage at the Guthrie Theater, 1970. (Fred Case)
  • Chuck Berry at the Carlton Celebrity Room.
    Chuck Berry at the Carlton Celebrity Room. (Fred Case)

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