Local Current Blog

From Bowie to ZZ Top: The acts that influenced Run Westy Run

Run Westy Run circa 1990. Photo by Dan Corrigan.

Minnesota alt-rock lifers Run Westy Run were formed around 1985 by the three brothers Johnson: Kirk, Kyle, and Kraig. Over the next decade-plus, the group did stints signed to legendary independent labels SST and Twin/Tone, garnering production credits on their albums from R.E.M.’s Peter Buck and Hüsker Dü’s Grant Hart. They never gained the popularity enjoyed by their slightly older contemporaries in the Replacements and Hüsker Dü, but they did build a strong local following through their formidable live shows. The group called it a day in the late 90s, but reunited last year and have been operating more-or-less steadily since.

As the band prepare to play a headlining show at First Avenue this Friday, lead guitarist Terry Fisher talked about the band’s musical influences. Fisher gave a picture of a band defined by “a mix of the alternative and the classic mainstream,” influenced by both the pomp and circumstance of 1970s rock—which Fisher loves—and the comparative austerity and intensity of the punk-induced underground of the following two decades, which Fisher’s bandmates the Johnsons listened to.

One artist Fisher said the whole band could agree on was David Bowie, who he sees as bridging the classic rock and alternative sensibilities. “David Bowie kind of fits both those molds,” Fisher said, ” Ziggy Stardust and all that, we all love that.”

During my phone conversation with Fisher, Kraig Johnson was nearby listening to indie darling Cat Power.

“Pixies, actually, we started listening to the other day,” Fisher said. “That’s always fun music.”

“I love Al Green, Motown,” Fisher said. “When I listen to music I like to listen to a lot of Motown, classic stuff.”

Fisher said a recent acquisition of his was the album Music From Across the Way, by the German big band leader James Last. “[He] put out a record and it’s a bunch of cover songs, George Harrison, John Lennon songs, Neil Diamond, stuff like that.”

“We used to love to play ‘La Grange’ by ZZ Top,” Fisher said. “I was just tryin’ to get the guys to cover some Stones songs recently, but I don’t think they were goin’ for it, like ‘All Down the Line’ from [the] Exile on Main Street record. I actually was listening to that recently, and I really got into that.”

“I’ve been watching YouTube videos of a lot of bands, which is always fun. Thin Lizzy, love that. Back in the day, when I was in high school, it was the concert arena was huge, going to the arena rock shows, so I kinda grew up with a lot of that, personally.”

“I looked up some Badfinger,” Fisher added. “I was watching some of that stuff, like ‘Baby Blue,’ great pop song.”

“The Johnsons, they were always alternative,” Fisher said. “[They’d say], ‘Check this out,’ and show me, like, the Cramps, Fleshtones, things like that.”

Fisher added that one of his biggest early influences were 1970s stalwarts Led Zeppelin. “I was the biggest fan Jimmy Page head. I’ve backed off of that in the last five years, kind of switched over to what Ron Wood and Keith Richards were doing on guitars, but yeah, I was heavily influenced by Led Zeppelin.”

Austin Gerth is a member of the class of 2016 at Concordia College. He also writes for Concordia’s student blog, The COBBlog; and Concordia’s student newspaper, The Concordian.