Local Current Blog

Hidden music history landmarks: A Minneapolis bike tour

Bob Stinson memorial bench (all photos by Jay Gabler/MPR)

Any tourist can find First Ave, and a quick Google search will take you straight to the house where the Replacements shot their Let It Be cover. If you’re a Minnesota music fan ready to take a deeper dive, though, hop on your ride and follow this trail to just a few of the many local music landmarks hidden in plain sight.

Prince’s childhood home

2620 8th Ave. N.

Prince lived in a handful of different houses during his childhood, and exactly zero of them were the Snelling Avenue house seen in Purple Rain. By all means, go see that one too, but to get a sense of where the magic really happened, go to North Minneapolis and pause for a moment at this one-level house where Prince lived from about age seven to his early teens.

This is probably the house where Prince first took a serious interest in music. His family — parents John and Mattie, with Prince and his younger sister Tyka — moved here in 1965. When the couple divorced in 1967, John moved out and Prince was able to spend much more time at his dad’s piano. This is likely the house where he wrote his very first songs.

Ten O’Clock Scholar site

14th Ave. and 5th St. S.E.

In Bob Dylan’s Dinkytown days, the Ten O’Clock Scholar was the place to be for aspiring (or actual) folkies. Usually referred to as simply “the Scholar,” this was Minneapolis’s first coffeeshop. Dylan played there, and was sometimes kicked off the stage, when he was a freshman at the University of Minnesota in 1959 and 1960.

“The folks that gathered at the Scholar were philosophers, alcoholics, grad students, writers, poets, wannabe writers and poets, hangers-on, musicians of all kinds,” remembered photographer Bill Savran. “Strummers, singers, tambourine shakers, bongo thumpers, mouth harpists and so on.”

A few years after Dylan left for New York, the Scholar moved to the West Bank and later closed entirely. Stand in the Subway parking lot, and you’ll be right about where Dylan, Spider John Koerner, Tony Glover, Dave Ray, and other local legends once strummed.

Industrial Exposition Building site

101 Central Ave. S.E.

You’d be forgiven for walking past the serene, tree-lined Lourdes Square Townhouses a million times without ever realizing you were passing a landmark of classical music history. The site — on Central Ave. between Main St. and Ortman St. — was home for half a century to the Industrial Exposition Building, one of the most majestic lost Minneapolis buildings.

The grand Renaissance-style building, with a 240-foot tower as its climax, opened in the 1880s and was demolished in the 1940s. It was the site of the 1892 Republican National Convention — but more importantly for music fans, it hosted the first-ever performance of the Minnesota Orchestra (then known as the Minneapolis Orchestra). On Nov. 5, 1903, founding conductor Emil Oberhoffer led the orchestra in a program that included Schubert’s Unfinished symphony and Rossini’s William Tell overture.

Jay’s Longhorn Bar site

14 S. 5th St.

Jay’s Longhorn Bar closed in the 1980s after just a few years in business, but if it was still around it would have a killer location: right on the Green Line. Behind this void of a façade lies an Xcel Energy storage facility that used to be Minneapolis’s version of C.B.G.B.

Not only did local legends like Hüsker Dü and Curtiss A and the Suicide Commandos play there, in its brief late-1970s heyday the venue hosted Talking Heads, the Police, the B-52s, Iggy Pop, Blondie, Grace Jones, and Elvis Costello. Bruce Springsteen never played there, but he famously played pinball there during a Suburbs show — later befriending the band.

Ole Bull statue

Loring Park, just south of the intersection of Harmon Pl. and Maple St.

This might be the city’s only statue dedicated to a musician. It’s not exactly hidden, but good luck discerning the identity of this fiddler: it’s Ole Bull, a famous 19th century Norwegian violinist. He never actually lived in Minnesota, but he came through town many times and was beloved by the local Norwegian community. Bull died in 1880, and the statue was erected in 1897.

If you want to round up a couple more hidden music landmarks while you’re in the Loring Park area, you can also pass by the Bird restaurant, which as Nick & Eddie was the city’s hottest music hangout circa 2010, when everybody who was anybody came to check out the Wednesday night Marijuana Deathsquads shows. Across the park, at 430 Oak Grove, Prince cut some historic recordings circa 1977 in the office of his first manager Owen Husney.

Kay Bank — Soma — Twin/Tone building

2541 Nicollet Ave.

Next to Pancho Villa Mexican Restaurant is a building that’s given birth to some of the most beloved music ever to come out of Minneapolis. Originally a movie theater, this building was converted to Kay Bank studios and housed Soma, a signature label of the 1960s garage rock scene. The Trashmen’s “Surfin’ Bird” and the Castaways’ “Liar, Liar” were recorded there.

Later, 2541 became home to Twin/Tone Records — the indie label with a roster including the Replacements, Soul Asylum, the Suburbs, Babes in Toyland, and many more. For a period in the ‘80s, Hüsker Dü officed in part of what’s now Pancho Villa’s space. Contrary to many assumptions, though, Grant Hart’s solo song “2541” isn’t actually about this building. “It was just a f—pad,” Hart said at a recent show.

Nacirema Club

3949 S. 4th Ave.

If you see a show by Morris Day and the Time, chances are you’ll hear Day ask the crowd to “go back to 1984, and take a trip from the Northside of Minneapolis to the Southside, to the Nacirema Club.”

The Nacirema (spell it backwards) Club was a converted duplex with a basement that became a BYOB musical hotspot for the local African-American community in the 1970s. As told in Andrea Swensson’s forthcoming book Got to Be Something Here: The Rise of the Minneapolis Sound, Jimmy Jam and Terry Lewis used to play there with their early band Flyte Tyme. For a while they had a regular gig opening for Wee Willie Walker and the house band, which had Prince as an attentive listener and occasional collaborator.

Bob Stinson memorial bench

Waterway between Lake of the Isles and Lake Calhoun, just off Midtown Greenway

End your tour at one of Minneapolis’s most poignant music landmarks: a park bench dedicated in honor of Replacements guitarist Bob Stinson, who died in 1995. The bench, dedicated in 2000, sits in one of Stinson’s favorite spots to engage in an activity not commonly associated with the ‘Mats…sit quietly.

This article was produced as a part of a collaboration between The Current and The Growler, a monthly craft beer lifestyle magazine covering the best stories in beer, food, and culture. Find this article online and in print in the April edition of The Growler.

  • Bucky

    TC music history tour articles always seem to neglect the site of the former Sound80 studio in the Seward neighborhood of Minneapolis (29th Ave S near 27th Street?). Lots of famous recording sessions happened there in the 70’s and 80’s including artists like Dylan (parts of ‘Blood On the Tracks’), Lipps Inc. (‘Funkytown’ sessions), Cat Stevens (parts of ‘Izitso’) and Suicide Commandos (‘Make a Record’ sessions). The building has since the 90’s belonged to Orfield Laboratories.
    https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Sound_80

  • Tom Gilsenan

    I would include Sound 80, too. So many musicians recorded there. Doobie Brothers used Sound 80 for a live radio broadcast in 1971. Also, I would add the original site of Coffeehouse Extempore at 2200 Riverside and the site of the old Parade Stadium (near Walker Art Center)