Contributor to the Minneapolis and Indonesian Music Scenes
by James Joyce
Back in Minneapolis, disco fever finally ran its course, cooled off, and died out by 1979. The musical recovery was aided by the growing influence of punk and new wave music, which overlapped the disco era. At first, Hennings didn't understand the raw edge, back-to-the-rock basics of punk’s three-chord guitar style. But the energy, rebelliousness, and spirit of the sound hooked him. Then, catching the new wave, he finally found a way to plug back into his own music.
Counter to what Tom Wolfe labeled as the narcissistic “me decade,” the genre of new wave was pushing its way down a rogue stream. Unlike the self-mutilation, panic-driven angst of early punk, new wave was characterized more by fashion and attitude—or lack of one. Androgyny, mousse wet, black shoe-polish hair, vampire-pale skin, skinny ties, James Dean-type leather jackets, girls in tight pants, drum machines, and synthesizers made up the style and the sound. In the United States, the new wave music branched out into several main tributaries including Minneapolis, Seattle, New York, and Los Angeles.
A handful of local entrepreneurs and artists in Minneapolis set out to make a splash. Low rent, a good local economy, the explosive success of Prince, and a supportive fan base made Minneapolis, like Seattle, a great spawning ground for new music. Unclassified as a “movement” the music scene became known collectively in the press as the "Minneapolis Sound." Though critics argue that the Minneapolis Sound was penned by R&B artists like Prince, and Jimmy Jam and Terry Lewis, Hennings believed that other styles contributed to the mix, including rock, blues, and folk. No one can say for certain who started the Minneapolis Sound, but everyone involved had ownership of “the scene.” Dubbed the "third coast, and "Nashville of the North,” the Minneapolis music scene exploded into an impressive underground economy consisting of hundreds of clubs, bands, agents, studios, managers, distribution and record companies. Hennings worked with many of them.
In 1968, one of Minnesota's first music business entrepreneurs, 19-year-old Patrick Raines (manager of Al Jarreau and Aimee Mann) gave him a job and, until he couldn't count the change back correctly, sold pop, checked coats, and took door fees. He helped to build a dance hall in Burnsville, Minnesota called the Prison. The Prison was part of the late 60s Minnesota ballroom era. It became a hot spot for local, regional, and national bands. It was a place where bands, such as the Delcounts, the Underbeats, Crow, Castaways, and the Grasshoppers, broke ground for successful national careers. The business looked easy from his vantage point where the venue was magically sold out. When the show was over the band got a percentage of the door money. However, Raines (and sometimes with agent impresario Marsh Edelstein) walked out with big bags of cash for doing nothing more than throwing a party. The Prison also proved to be his first job at (or doing) A&R (being a music talent scout). He considered the job to judge the bands a big responsibility and spent most of his time listening to records sent to the venue for an audition. Right or wrong, he used his own ear to decide who got to perform. Hennings loved the energy and didn't care about being paid.
|Hennings' first music business job in 1967 was working the soda fountain for Minneapolis promoter and manager Patrick Rains.|
Hennings did not become an instant fan. Phillips's concert ended an hour and a half later. The crowd applauded and stomped a demand for an encore. Phillips took a long bow and told Minneapolis how much he loved them. 25 years later, (1994) Hennings became Shawn Phillips's manager for 18 years.
|Arlo Hennings and Shawn Phillips holding multi-platinum awards for Phillips' "Second Contribution" recording|
Hennings next destination after Patrick Rains was the Denver Pop Fest (June 1969). By August 1969 he was beneath the stage at Woodstock, and it wasn't very difficult to get past the stoned backstage security to hang out there. Most of the crew were either too wrecked, or exhausted to notice a mud-clad 15-year-old stumbling around trying to build his vision of working in the music business. In front of the stage, a sound-mixing riser rose out of the mud above a sea of people. To protect it from rain, the equipment was covered by a makeshift tarp. Beneath the tarp, a person with thick sideburns and glasses, wearing an Australian-like outback hat was desperately trying to control the direction of the music. Hennings didn't know it at the time, but working the controls was not Crocodile Dundee, it was Shawn Phillips future South African promoter, David Marks. Hennings was fueled with more inspiration, having come close enough to touch many of his music heroes; like Pete Townshend and Joan Baez; even though they were all too busy being frustrated with the festival organizers to pay attention to the young rocker. Woodstock had shown him more than any other music festival of the time the possibilities of bringing together people through music. The idea of raising social awareness and creating personal harmony through music stuck with him and became his lifelong ambition. Three days later the empty fields of Woodstock farm were now mountains of trash. One cultural tsunami had risen and crashed. Hennings made his way back to the interstate and let out the wild thumb. Thumb against the blade of a pocketknife. Thumb as shiny fingernail of reflected camel eye. Thumb as a safety-pin-sized out-of-tune fiddle, plucking a cricket’s song.
His next outdoor fest was in 1970 working as a stagehand for The Peoples Fest aka Stevens Pointe, Wisconsin. Hennings spent his time fulfilling the personal requirements of the festival contract riders. He served sitar master Ravi Shankar hot tea. He noticed his three-day unwashed body and dilated pupils, and smiling, kindly shook his head no. Hennings guided Buffy Sainte-Marie up the steep stage stairs and nearly dropped her and her guitar. He accidentally spilled a glass of water on Ted Nugent's guitar amps power box. After a motorcycle gang began raping the hippie chicks, the police were moving in to shut down The Peoples Fest, the promoter left without paying the crew, and he stood there wondering if this was “the end” the Doors sang about, and no better symbolized by the angst-driven, mayhem-based group from Detroit, Iggy Pop and the Stooges. As Iggy slashed himself with glass and was carried like an Egyptian king above the heads of his stoned disciples, destruction would become the new mother of the multi-day, rock festival. The summer of 1970 ended with his last multi-day outdoor fest, Wadena, Iowa.
Near CC Tap, Twin Tone and Wide Angle record companies opened up and helped put Minneapolis on the music map. Next door to Twin Tone, Cookhouse studios (which recorded a demo for Paula Abdul) recorded many local artists like Hennings. Oarfolkjokepopus, the main underground record shop, helped distribute the new sound.
By 1978, Hennings had an electric guitar and knew how to use it. He was introduced to a visionary guitarist named Bruce Allen and he was starting a punk rock band he dubbed the Tsetse Flies. Allen asked Hennings to jam for the rhythm guitarist spot.
Later Hennings started a band called Vitamin Q and played lead guitar during its five-year run. Playing new wave hits of the era and a few originals, the band became one of the most popular acts in the Midwest. One of the first bands to play the legendary Jay's Longhorn, Vitamin Q's original claim to fame came from his song “Me Magazine,” about the “me generation.” In 1981, the song appeared on the "Best of the Twin Cities Beat" album and TV show. Furthermore, pulling on experience from his rock festival days, Hennings helped to transform the group’s warehouse space into a concert hall that provided free access to original groups. Their space became known as "On Broadway" and gained recognition as a critical spawning ground for developing talent. In 1981, the D'Art Magazine, Minnesota Daily, Vol. 2, No. 25, Feb 4, published a feature article on the venue called, "Q Could Stand for Question Mark."
|Arlo Hennings and Marty Weintraub - Thump Studios|
After Vitamin Q disbanded in 1985, he teamed up with an aspiring, young music producer, and a future business partner, Marty Weintraub. With his help, Hennings recorded a double album and accompanying a 40-page story titled, Burden of the Beat: The Eyelid Movie — a libretto that parodied the idea of wanting to be a rock star. The project received favorable reviews. The Minnesota Historical Society documented the work (AV collection disc #175-A). The Plains Art Museum in Moorhead, Minnesota, offered him a grant to exhibit the multimedia piece. In addition, the Minneapolis Star and Tribune and the Saint Paul Pioneer Press nominated the work for their top-10-picks of that year. The project has been reissued in the CD-R format available at GoJohnnyGo Records.
|Paul Metsa holding Hennings "Burden of the Beat"|
In 1986, Hennings joined folkie, Poppa John Kolstad's Mill City record distributors as sales manager. As a record distributor, he promoted and distributed over 100 independent labels. Including, a fledgling new label owned by school teacher turned label entrepreneur Bob Feldman. Feldman named the label Red House after his house. Looking for reassurance on his first Greg Brown release, he called Hennings daily for guidance and reminded him that the local bookstore was sold out of their six CD copies. Hennings worked at that post for two years until launching his own business: Hennings Multimedia.
|John Kolstad (left) Bob Feldman (right)|
1989, believing in the commercial potential of several Minneapolis songwriters, Hennings shopped their music to Los Angeles record companies. With no connections, $500 limit VISA card, months behind on his $350 per month rent, and a car borrowed from his dad, he banged on the doors of Hollywood for months. Finally, the president of PolyGram International Music Publishing liked what he heard and signed his company to a production deal. It was my first major success story in the music business. Hennings was catapulted from the flame of a hamburger grill to a music industry giant. The St. Paul Pioneer Press ran a feature on his accomplishment and called it one of the most significant boons to happen to the Minneapolis music scene. Calling him a liar, Jon Bream at the Star & Tribune refused to run the story. His contract stipulated that he was to find and develop talent who could produce tomorrow's hits. In other words an A&R man (talent scout).
Hennings PolyGram office was located at Owen Husney's (formerly Prince's manager) American Artists complex, 312 Washington Ave. During his time as co-publisher and A&R man, he placed several artists on major labels and saved the independent label Twin Tone Records from bankruptcy by finding them a new national distribution deal on Restless. In addition, he filled local attorney offices and recording studios with his business. Artists from Willie Murphy to The Rembrandts auditioned their music but Paul Metsa who wrote "I can't get a break" never knocked. Hennings wanted to sign everyone. In 1990, the Minnesota Music Academy asked him to present the Artist of the Year Award, Ann Reed, Red House Records winner.
1991, after two years with PolyGram Hennings contract ended (it felt like two minutes), due to a merger between PolyGram, Island, and A&M records. The beginning of the 90s was significant in the music business because that's when the conglomeration of the labels began. The new PolyGram was eventually eaten up along with several other labels like Motown. What followed was Universal Music; the largest monopoly on creativity ever created in the popular music record business. Also, during this time Prince had to become the formerly known as, Twin Tone records went under, The Suburbs, Replacements, Husker Du broke up, First Avenue fought to stay open, the Longhorn and Duffy's closed, Flyte Tyme shuddered their doors, as well as many others throughout the music eco-chain, the Minneapolis Sound "biz" simply burned out or for the most part faded away except a couple Major label signings in the early 90s like Babes in Toyland.
Hennings tried to make a go of it with several local music business start-ups like Entercorp and Matthew Benjamin Productions. Most of the artists and businesses he worked with failed to pay or disappeared; consequently, he ended the 80s like it started, an experiment; the wave receded, and he walked below the lamplight versus the limelight. It was time to rebuild and re-evaluate the next step on the long and winding road of show biz. Hennings was in his 40s, a bit long-tooth for show biz, and starting over again. In an effort to give his music business experience academic credibility, he achieved a 4-year music business-based Baccalaureate of Arts degree. In addition, to further share his experience on paper, he also earned a Master's degree in Creative Writing. As part of his second post wave transition, he moved from his ratty, but historic, one-bedroom recording studio apartment to a house in the suburbs. In the meantime, he had his first child, which further put the brakes on the idea of moving to Nashville to take a job with PolyGram Music. During this time, he held his life together by working various dead-end jobs again. He will never forget the one night, as a limousine driver, he drove Prince and Carmen Elektra around. On another run, it was a carload of senior high school girls. One girl asked him in an uppity tone, "So what else have you done besides drive a limo?" he answered, "I signed artists to record contracts." She laughed hysterically and commented on how funny he was. Hennings humor apparently was worth an extra $10 tip. He understood what Louie Perez, drummer of Los Losbos meant when he said: "I went from being a Grammy-award winning artist to fifteen minutes later pushing a cart in Ralph's Market and buying some Pampers."
As bad as things appeared Hennings did not lose sight of his original Woodstock dream: to raise social awareness and create interpersonal harmony through music. There would be more songs and other artists? The drum would beat again but, for how long, and where would he have to go to find it?
Among the many dead-end jobs, he worked to make ends meet one was driving a limo. On his way back to the limo headquarters, dispatch buzzed. A group of VIPs in the kingdom of Prince needed a ride to a reception at the First Avenue nightclub. He headed back out in the fast lane.
Hennings pulled up to a purple-painted house with a large, purple windmill in the back yard. Two people came out the front door of the stately, but not an extravagant house. Hennings opened the limo door for the couple. He had never met Prince up close before. He had rented his studio and his cousin St. Paul Peterson was in one of his bands. Prince’s real height was not hidden by his platform shoes. Hennings was 5 feet 7 inches tall, and maybe Prince's head touched the bottom of his chin. Prince gave a half-smile and nodded. Hennings loved his purple suit. It was a cross between Disney and porn fantasy. Prince’s sexy date, Carmen Electra, the glamour model looked good in anything. Hennings thought one of her boobs was bigger than Prince’s head. She followed Prince into the back seat. Hennings jumped behind the wheel. The perfume inside the limo was thicker than a Minnesota summer night.
“Where would you like to go Mr. Prince?” Hennings caught himself, blushing.
“First Avenue, backstage door,” Prince answered.
On the way, Prince and Electra made small talk. Much of which was about celebrities until Prince changed the topic to business and Hennings ear was now the steering wheel. He forgot to raise the vanity glass divider between the front and back seats. Prince didn’t notice that Hennings could hear everything.
“Do you like the name for my new band, “The New Power Generation?” Prince asked Electra.
“It’s cute,” she giggled. “Just like you.”
Prince sighed, “I’m really fed up with my record company, Warner Brothers. They want to control everything I do. They’re slave drivers and I am their nigger.”
“Do you have any ideas about what you can do?” Electra said.
“If they want PRINCE they can have him. Maybe, I will give them the rights to my name and fuck it,” Prince complained.
“What will you do without your name?” she asked.
“What will I do without you?” Prince shot back.
Hennings looked into his rearview mirror and they were making out. He thought the timing awkward to butt in and ask for a job. So, he kept his thoughts funky, set on the music. “Raspberry Beret,” Hennings hummed his favorite song by Prince.
He pulled the super stretch into the garage behind First Avenue. Several security guards were waiting for the royal couple. He opened the back door and they were escorted off to his private booth above the danceteria.
“Hey, how do I get paid?” Hennings asked one of the guards.
“Figure it out,” he shrugged.
The next day, Hennings called the manager at Prince’s, Paisley Park studios. The manager apologized and dispatched payment for the limo and another check for him. It was signed by Prince in the amount of $500.00.
Next to his name, he made a little glyph.
That night was the most money he had ever made driving limo.
By the early 90s, the music that lit the charts on fire and carried a lasting effect on today's songwriting ended (at least for him) in one long sustained power chord. Like the trash piles that followed Woodstock; the countless parties; the deals; the dreams; the music; the groundbreaking films by Chuck Statler; were all on the cutting floor of an existential rockumentary. After the acoustic tsunami had swept over the city, the dream that Minneapolis could become the "the Third Coast" was washed away in the sand; the strident wave that engulfed the zeitgeist of the Minneapolis 80s music scene seemed to disappear into the smoldering CC Tap hamburger cloud from which it came and decades later Jay's Longhorn and First Avenue remembered.
Can we call the 80s Minneapolis music scene a movement? He believed it was, in some respect. Writers have only gone as far as highlighting the popularity of the indie underground scene, Prince, and venues. Maybe Hennings story will help to push the question. Perhaps historians in the future will look back at what happened in a different light and reclassify the narrative.
From 2000-2009, Hennings took a nonmusic related business development position for a weather data services company. In 2009, during the height of the Great Recession the company folded and Hennings, then 56 years old, could not find a new livable wage job. He sold off everything and left for Bali in 2011.
Meanwhile, Shawn Phillips retired and all those stories and more can be found in his book "Guitarlo".
When Hennings is not in Minneapolis he resides in East Jawa Timur, Indonesia. His words can be found in Indonesian media outlets such as the (Bali Advertiser, Tirto, and the Indonesian Expat Magazine.) His music contributions can be found on his own Indonesian Jazz label (Indojazzia), which landed a young pianist from Bali, Eric Sondhy, on worldwide music charts, plus his own critically acclaimed CD Jawa Warrior. In addition, he is the curator for the music podcast show 107.3 2Ser Australia, featuring the latest in cutting edge music from the Indonesian archipelago. Furthermore, he is the first foreigner to participate in the Indonesian music awards (AMI). Hennings also managed the International critically acclaimed Indonesian band, I Know You Well Miss Clara. Finally, he was the Director of Business Development for the Ubud Concert Series and the Indonesian Music Expo (IMEX), and a testament to his newfound popularity with Indonesians are thousands of followers on social media.
Hennings is the author of “Guitarlo” an award-nominated memoir that includes his experiences living in Minnesota and Indonesia.
|Guitarlo - available where ever books are sold|
Interview KFAI RADIO 1985
Interview KFAI RADIO 2017
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