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Guns N’ Roses Bassist Tommy Stinson Talks Bridge School, Replacements Reunion

In Music
Tommy Stinson. // Photo by Dan Pulcrano.

Tommy Stinson. // Photo by Dan Pulcrano.

Guns N’ Roses’ acoustic set at this weekend’s Bridge School Benefit concert is one of the most-talked-about additions to Neil Young’s annual event and marks their first appearance at Shoreline Amphitheater in 21 years.

It’s particularly sweet for South Bay fans after the aborted Chinese Democracy tour resulted in the cancellation of GNR’s New Year’s Eve show at the HP Pavilion ten years ago—and they haven’t been seen here since.

Guns N’ Roses bass player of 15 years Tommy Stinson showed up in San Jose Thursday night and shot some pool at South First Billiards with Anya and The Get Down guitarist Matthew Gonzalez, then rolled over to the Blank Club where it was, ironically, ’80s night.

Stinson’s former band, the Replacements, helped displace electronic Brit-pop as the dominant music of that era, launch the alternative rock movement and inspire bands like Green Day.

GNR’s longest surviving bass player, Stinson is no stranger to the valley, having played One Step Beyond, Cactus Club and the Blank Club as a member of the Replacements, with his 1996 band Perfect and more recently as a solo artist. This will be his first time stepping out on the Shoreline stage. And he’s looking forward to the non-paying gig, which supports a school founded by Neil and Pegi Young to teach communication skills to disabled children.

“It’s about the kids,” he says. “Of all the different types of things we do, charity stuff is the most fulfilling.”

Stinson has been prolific recently; in addition to performing with Guns N’ Roses, he’s completed three recording projects, including his second solo album (“more rootsy than Guns stuff.”) and a new Replacements effort.

A Minneapolis native, he joined his brother’s band when at age 11 and was a touring professional musician in his early teens, with all the rock star abandon. He remembers one time in London, “they gave us our per diem in pound coins. We didn’t really understand what they were. What the fuck is this? We were yelling the mantra, where’s the pot roast and Cadillacs? We were whipping the coins off the roof of the hotels like they were pennies and dimes. It was a week’s worth of pay.”

The Replacements disbanded when Stinson was 27, and his brother, Replacements lead guitarist, Bob Stinson died less than four years later.

Tommy moved to Los Angeles and was recruited by Axl Rose in 1998 for the marathon 10-year effort to produce the Chinese Democracy album. After a rocky initial return to touring, GNR began a heavy touring schedule, with more than 100 dates in 2010 and 2011. “We went to Moscow, Israel, Istanbul, Romania, South Korea, all kinds of crazy places,” he says. “And India’s coming up.”

He moved to New York state last year with his wife Emily and their four-year-old daughter. He recently recorded an album in his home studio with his 22-year-old daughter, Ruby, who works in the Manhattan fashion industry. “I played all of the instruments. She did all of the singing. I’m just hoping my four year old doesn’t want the same path, because I’ll be too old by then,” he laughs.

This summer he recorded an EP with former Replacements bandmate Paul Westerberg that has fueled speculation of a reunion, something Westerberg hasn’t ruled out. “’ I’m closer to it now than I was two years ago, let’s say that.” Westerberg told Rolling Stone earlier this month.

Stinson said the EP, recorded to benefit former Replacements guitarist Slim Dunlap, who had a severe stroke, went well. “It’s like 21 years hadn’t passed. We didn’t overdub anything. We just played live, like we were doing a show almost. The way we used to do things.”

“When Paul and I get together and play, there’s a certain chemistry that’s undeniable. It’s just a very special, finite thing that we have. Many bands never get that. They can get in a room together and play, but that’s it. There’s a certain chemistry that he and I have that goes beyond that.“

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