A Record Store Day exclusive and upcoming digital release provides a crucial snapshot of a long-lost touchstone of Minneapolis alt-rock
This year’s edition of Record Store Day has come and gone but one special slab of vinyl that was part of the slew of releases will linger well beyond that one day: Riches To Rags by Bleeding Hearts.
A Minneapolis juggernaut hatched from the Stones-obsessed mind of then-twenty-something guitarist, singer and songwriter Mike Leonard in 1990, Bleeding Hearts cranked out a bar-band-energized slop ‘n’ roll racket that naturally shared much common ground with their peers, the legendarily shit-faced and ingenious hometown heroes, the Replacements. A lot of the Bleeding Hearts’ melodic crunch had to do with a familiar face slinging the guitar and unleashing a glorious maelstrom of catchy hooks and solo shredding pyrotechnics: former Replacement Bob Stinson.
Bleeding Hearts recorded its lone album back in 1993 and this recently unearthed gem—never-before released in any format—has finally seen the light of day, albeit three long decades overdue but so worth the wait.
Riches To Rags is an epic showcase of Leonard’s knack for beer-soaked melody, Stinson’s effortless six-string heroics and the rock-solid rhythm section of bassist Rob Robello and drummer Pat McKenna. It’s a monumental document of Minneapolis alt-rock that fits neatly next to the post-Replacements output of that vibrant period: Paul Westerberg’s 14 Songs (1993), Friday Night Is Killing Me by Tommy Stinson’s Bash & Pop (’92), Chris Mars’ Horseshoes and Hand Grenades (’92) and The Old New Me (’93) by Slim Dunlap. There isn’t a single clunker in the very Mats’ian titled Riches To Rags set; a masterpiece through and through that is testament to the genius of the late great Bob Stinson beyond his work in the Replacements.
The Globe connected with Leonard, who was sporting a Bob Stinson T-shirt, on Zoom to talk the long road to the release of Riches To Rags, recollections of living with Bob and being in a band with him, that infamous SPIN article, recording the album and more.
Riches To Rags will also be available digitally on June 3rd via Bar/None and Fiasco Records.
Is Riches To Rags finally seeing the light of day a dream come true, for lack of a better term?
Mike Leonard: Well, that or we always kind of planned on it coming out or thought it would come out. It’s a little bit more of a surprise that it ended up being thirty years. Either way, we’re definitely glad that Bar/None is putting it out and it’s finally getting out there.
How did it materialize that the record would actually be released after all these years?
It was early in the pandemic and (Fiasco Records’) Sunshine (Dunham) had been looking for someone to partner with to put it out for some time so she hooked up with those guys (Bar/None) and that’s when I heard about it. Sunshine was instrumental in handling that part of it and then once Bar/None came on board, it was like, “Okay, what do we need to do first?” I had the master tapes still. We ended up transferring one of the masters to digital so we could do a little bit of remixing and stuff.
The recording sounds fantastic with super-sharp production.
It was originally recorded really well at Terrarium Studios. Tommy Roberts engineered it. We always felt like the original recordings were great. There was just a couple of things in the original mixes, like we crammed the original mix when we did it back in ’93. It was like an all-nighter (laughing) so it was really tweaking some of those mixes on the second half of the of the session.
When you guys recorded it back in ’93, did you then shop it to labels with the hope that someone would put it out?
Basically, we recorded the first half of the record in March of ‘93 and then we finished the second session was in August. But in between the two, we signed with Fiasco Records with the intent of it being released. It was towards the tail end of that that after that summer, Bob left the band and I ended up joining a different band and moved out of state for a while and it just got put on the backburner.
Was it the Magnolias that you joined?
Yeah. Riches To Rags was mixed and mastered but we never did have the artwork back then. At any rate, we had totally planned on putting it out and then it got put on the backburner and with Bob not being in the band, Sunshine got us a show at CMJ. I think it must have been the fall of ’94, ’93 and Bob by that point was out of the band. So, John Freeman from the Magnolias filled in for him. The big question why it didn’t come out then is anyone’s guess (laughing)!
Did you crank out the songs that make up Rags To Riches in a short period of time or did you already have them in your arsenal?
It’s funny, I was trying to put a map in my head of the sequence of events. It seemed like it was a long period of time but it was probably like eighteen months, which when you’re like twenty-one or twenty two, that’s like forever. We had most of those songs prior to Bob joining. The funny thing was, when I first approached him about playing with us, he was dragging his feet and was like, “You should get Jamie Garner from the Leatherwoods to play” and I was like, “No, no. We want you, Bob.” We ended up dragging him down to the practice space and he was a little bit loaded and we’re playing super-loud and it was just kind of this…noise. After about forty minutes, I was like, “Okay… who is this Jamie Garner guy?” (laughing). And we went straight from the rehearsal space to The Uptown Bar where Jamie was working and Bob introduced us. He ended up playing with the band for nine months.
So Bob didn’t end up joining Bleeding Hearts, at least not yet.
The band evolved a little bit while Jamie was the guitar player with me and I think Bob saw us a couple of times during that period and Jamie ended up moving to San Diego. Then at that point, Bob was like, “I want to play with you guys.” And that’s when he joined us.
Was Bleeding Hearts your own main band back then?
Yeah, that was pretty much the first band that was my band. We had given up on looking for a singer and I was like, “Okay, I guess I have to be the singer.” (laughing)
Obviously, the Replacements influence is on Riches To Rags as well as the Stones, Soul Asylum and Hüsker Dü. Am I on point there?
Absolutely. Originally, I was totally into the Stones and classic rock in high school and that’s what I was learning to play guitar. Then it was discovering bands like The Clash and then around that time discovering all the local new music from The Suburbs to Hüsker Dü to The Suicide Commandos. I think you can probably hear all that on the record (laughing).
Had you seen the Replacements live when Bob was in the band?
I had never seen Bob in the Replacements, unfortunately.
I think I saw them the first time around ’87. I guess that would have been Pleased To Meet Me. I think I saw Bob with Dog 994 at the Uptown. That was a local band and they did a couple of Replacements songs from Sorry Ma. It was around that time that I moved uptown and started hanging out at the Uptown Bar a lot that Bob was a regular there. I started rubbing elbows with him and then I had this chance incident where the guitar player that was playing with us at the time, his car started on fire after a show—like he was driving home and his car started on fire. The next day he calls me and quits the band and says, “My guitar and my amp all burned in this car fire.” I thought he was full of shit! Then a light bulb went off and I was like, “Oh, I should ask Bob Stinson! I see him all the time at The Uptown Bar.”
AUDIO: The Leatherwoods “Jamboree”
Was that when Bob recommended the other guitar player, Jamie Garner?
Yeah, that eventually led to the other guy (laughing). Jamie Garner was in a band called The Leatherwoods. They were from Topeka, Kansas. They were an incredible band who were kind of like the “it” band at the time. He had parted ways with them so it was great playing with him, for sure.
How did the dynamic change from Jamie leaving to when Bob entered the picture?
It was funny, it was a night and day difference between the first time Bob and I got together and the second time. The first time, I was dragging him down to the rehearsal space and you could tell he was not that interested. Then the second time he walked all the way up Lake Street in the middle of winter, like fifty blocks and he was bright red. He was determined to join the band. He came over and I showed him all the songs and he learned them all in an hour.
Were those the songs that wound up on Riches To Rags?
A lot of them and there were a number of songs that were written after Bob joined but a lot of them were there that night. Bob was right on the spot–pretty much all of the ideas and stuff on guitar that we ended up using on those songs all came from that one night. Bob was like, “We should harmonize a guitar solo here” and “we should do this this.” I would show him a guitar part and then he would just put a little tweak on it and make it more.
It sounds like it was a seamless transition for Bob joining the Bleeding Hearts.
Exactly. It was weird because he’s got such an unorthodox, weird sound. A lot of times you would think, “Where is he getting this stuff from?” At the same time, he could (snaps fingers) pick things up really, really quickly, too. He could play an AC/DC-type guitar solo really easy if he wanted to. But more often than not, he’s playing the scale on the wrong fret but he made it work, or something weird like that.
Are there songs in particular on the record where you’re in awe of a solo Bob did or some other incredible guitar work?
There’s a few. The solo he plays on the song “Gone,” that was recorded live with the band. That one wasn’t an overdub or anything. I think it’s one of his best solos. We’ve been playing a little bit lately, getting the old band back together, and I tried to learn that. Some of that stuff, I don’t even know what he was thinking when he played it. It was just off the cuff, live, with the band. There was another one on the guitar solo on “100 Ways.” He did an overdub guitar solo in the middle and when he recorded the overdub, Tommy, the engineer noticed. He says Bob plays this little run at the end of it and he goes, “Bob is playing the exact same run as he played in the live take of the solo but it’s harmonized, like it was mapped up perfectly.” So he used that. I don’t think Bob planned on harmonizing his guitar solo but it just worked out that way.
The stuff of Bleeding Hearts legend is that you and Bob were roomed together, too, during those years.
Yeah, he moved into my one-bedroom apartment and took over the couch and that was probably about a year or maybe a little over a year that that lasted.
Was you and Bob living together turn out to be the beginning of the end for him in the band?
I was thinking, initially, it may be easier to keep him on the straight and narrow, so to speak. But it definitely caused some friction, too. We had some good times, though.
Bob’s substance abuse problems have been well-documented in Bob Mehr’s Trouble Boys and that infamous SPIN article but you saw it firsthand. Did the legend of Bob Stinson and that stuff overshadow the Bleeding Hearts back then in your mind?
It is all documented in the SPIN article and stuff. He did a few interviews where he was pretty much practically bragging about some of his habits. This press would come out and we would be hoping for good press for the band and we were like, “God, he’s talking about shootin’ up!” It was definitely like a double-edged sword. It was tough because it wasn’t like Bob joined the band and the doors flew open and everyone wanted to book us because Bob was in the band. It almost cut both ways. It always became kind of like the tag to the band, like, “Bob Stinson’s in the band.” It was a cool thing at first but then it could be one of those things that would definitely take the spotlight on it.
Was Bob still doing the crazy on-stage antics he was known for in the Replacements in the Bleeding Hearts?
I actually bought him this pink kind of dress thing. He actually wore it a few times. I don’t know how crazy you would call it but we would be like, “Do we want to give Bob a microphone onstage or not?” He would sing some backup vocals but then he would always talk into the microphone and say, “Can I get some more volume…valium please?” That kind of stuff. Yeah, he was still Bob for sure (laughing).
When you lived with Bob, there must have been a lot of blasting of music. What did you guys listen to? I know Bob loved Yes.
He definitely would put on Yes “Roundabout” from time to time (laughing). He liked a lot of the early Johnny Winter. It’s funny because he set up like three sets of speakers. It was like a wall of speakers in the apartment and it was it was like a P.A., like a club or something. It was funny because he would wake me up sometimes and would be just listening to the same little section of the song, like over and over, like fifty times, picking up the needle and putting it back down, and it’s at full volume.
Did you have the same musical tastes as Bob?
Well, probably the Johnny Winter more than the Yes. He actually got me into Urge Overkill because he was getting into a lot their records at the time.
Having been much younger than Bob, it must have been a thrill for you that you were in a band together and rooming with him.
He kind of took the same approach with me that he probably took with Tommy because Tommy’s a lot younger than him, too, and he was the one that whipped Tommy into shape and taught him how to play bass. He had that big brother mentality, like, “Yeah, I’ll do it like this.” It was definitely cool, that part of it, for sure.
Did he bring up the Replacements with you at all?
He would sort of roll his eyes and didn’t want to talk about it. But then at other times, he would bring up certain things so I got to hear a fair amount of stuff. He would share things like how he fought Paul really hard about which version of “Answering Machine” was on Let It Be. I guess Bob fought really hard for a band version of that song and they ended up using the one that is just Paul without the band. Bob would talk about how when they were recording the overdubs for Tim that he was just lying on the floor, on lots of drugs, flat on his back, playing a guitar solo…things like that (laughing). He would reminisce and draw up certain tidbits of information here and there. But then lot of the time he would act like he couldn’t be bothered to talk about the Replacements.
Back to the record. Are there moments on Riches To Rags that jump out at you? After all, it was over three decades ago and you were in your early twenties.
Yeah, it’s crazy that it’s that long. Yes and no. There are some things that you cringe about it. I think definitely the biggest thing that stands out is when Bob joined, we were we were all ten years younger than Bob but we would drag Bob down to the practice space probably two or three times a week, which is unheard of now. If a band does anything, it’s a bare minimum approach to rehearsals. Back then, it was like we definitely had the material super-tight and I think that comes off on the record. When we came in, we went into the studio with a head of steam and just blast and do all those songs in one or two takes each. The first session, we actually did more. I think we did eight songs in the first session and then five in the second session. That was when Bob was really on point, like really focused. I didn’t have to worry about had he been drinking or anything like that. He was really together and he stuck around for the whole session. It wasn’t like he was just disappearing and it was like, “Where’d Bob go?” He was there for us doing backup vocal overdubs. For some reason I had the idea to have these bongos on at the end of this song and it’s him that plays those little bongos and it’s him that does the whistle at the beginning of one of the songs because we had the idea to have this whistle and no one could do that whistle except Bob. I remember Bob being instrumental in how the bass went on “From Riches To Rags.” He would get really specific ideas about bass parts or drum parts. You’d think he was just into play his strange guitar parts but he would get behind the drums and say, “You gotta do this at the end of the song” and he’d try to show our drummer how to play it. But he was the one that came up with that bass part for ‘Riches to Rags,” which was really cool.
Did you make any changes on the new issue of the record as you went through the remix treatment?
Going through the original and listening to the masters, a couple of the songs there had been guitar overdubs that I had done and on one of the songs in particular, I went back and heard Bob’s original solo. I don’t know if I didn’t like it at the time but I just decided to go back to the original Bob solo and get rid of this overdub. So, we actually brought out some of the songs back to the original Bob’s takes and just made a couple of adjustments there. Kind of cool because I I think some of the stuff when I was young, I may have had an expectation of what I wanted it to sound like and at the time, I wasn’t happy with it. But now hearing it years later, I’m like, “The original tape was fine. We didn’t need to do an overdub. Just put out the Bob take.” People want to hear that anyway (laughing).
There’s also a good story with how Sunshine originally signed Bleeding Hearts to Fiasco records back in the nineties.
She called the apartment from a plane. She was flying from L.A. and I think she saw the SPIN article and then she was like, “Wow. I’m going to call these guys.” She somehow got my phone number and this is before cell phones, called the apartment and Bob answered the phone and so she just started talking to Bob. Then when Bob tells you this is happening, you’re kind of like, “What?!” Bob was like, “This girl Sunshine called and she wants to sign us!” (laughing)
So when that SPIN article came out, Bob was in the Bleeding Hearts?
Oh, yeah. I get it jumbled up in my head, too. We had recorded the first session for what would become the record in March. This was after March and his brother Tommy’s band was Bash & Pop at the time so Bob got us a show opening up for Bash & Pop at the 7th Street Entry so we were excited about that. Then around that time, I guess SPIN reached out to Bob about doing the story. So we have this big show opening for Bash & Pop, SPIN is coming into town to do this article and we were like, “Wow, this is great!”
Then the article came out and I just remember Bob being a little sheepish about it but at the same time it seemed like they already had the article written, like the angle of the article.
Yes, the portrayal of Bob was devastating and the pictures of him didn’t shed him in the best light either.
The photos were taken on the roof of the apartment building by Daniel Corrigan and they’re actually pretty good photos. But, yeah, the one that was used for the cover of that article, it wasn’t the cover of the magazine, but the close-up of his face: it was cold but it was really, really bright sun. It’s just the direct sunlight and the super closeup that made him look really old. It didn’t help that he asked Charles Aaron to go buy him drugs. He kind of fed the whole thing. It was a little bit of a letdown. We thought this is going to help the band out and instead he dismantled us (laughing)!
AUDIO: Bleeding Hearts “Happy Yet”
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