Local Current Blog

Curtiss A on Cactus Blossoms’ musical tribute: ‘They seem to enjoy my raw approach’

Curtiss A at home. (Jay Gabler/MPR)

The Cactus Blossoms recently released the first single from their upcoming sophomore album, Easy Way. “Please Don’t Call Me Crazy” has a retro vibe to it — and not just because of the tremolo-soaked guitars. The song is a tribute to one of the Twin Cities’ veteran rock stars, Curtiss A.

Curtiss A, born Curt Almsted, began gigging in the Twin Cities in the ’60s. Throughout his career, Almsted made connections with anyone and everyone in the local scene. For someone who has opened for Prince at First Avenue, Almsted wasn’t in the industry for the fame or the fortune. He played in a number of bands and released three solo albums on Twin/Tone records.

Almsted remains an influential figure in the local scene for musicians like the Cactus Blossoms. Brothers Page Burkum and Jack Torrey told Rolling Stone about the story behind “Please Don’t Call Me Crazy.”

“Part of the inspiration was this local legend named Curtiss A,” Jack Torrey told Rolling Stone. “He does an annual John Lennon tribute that everyone in town loves, and he’s been playing punk and rock and roll since the late ’70s. So it’s looking at the world through the eyes of an old rocker in the age of Facebook.”

While Almsted is decidedly “not on the computer,” his girlfriend alerted him to the Rolling Stone article. However, he had already been aware of the song before reading the piece. He recently saw the Cactus Blossoms perform the song live, which they dedicated to the Twin Cities music veteran.

Almsted says that he met the Cactus Blossoms around five years ago. “We have a mutual admiration,” said Almsted. “They seem to enjoy my raw approach. They’re there almost every gig they can be, and the same with me,” he said, noting the Cactus Blossoms’ January residency at the Turf Club. Despite the fact that he babysits for his grandson on Monday nights, Almsted affirms that he is “going to try to be there as many Mondays as I can be.”

Not many musicians earn the accolade of having a song written in their honor, but Almsted doesn’t seem fazed by the attention. After all, Bill Sullivan’s book about touring with the Replacements recounts how in every town that they visited, the band would try to find “the Curtiss A” of that scene to hang out with. “I don’t know exactly what that means,” said Almsted. “I think it just means that I was real, and I treated them with respect, and I guess I know how to have fun. I don’t know,” he laughed.

While he isn’t concerned with learning how to use new musical technology, Almsted is inspired by the freedom of expression in the Twin Cities scene. “Anybody from here, even if I’m not into them, I’m very appreciative of the fact that they have the freedom to express themselves,” he said. “I feel like one of the luckiest guys ever because I get to be from the Twin Cities, and all of this great junk was from here. And it’s still coming.”

In addition to being an influential figure in the local music scene, Almsted has also hosted one of the Cities’ longest musical traditions: a yearly tribute to John Lennon. This Saturday will mark the 39th time Almsted has hosted the event, which he began the year that Lennon died.

What keeps Almsted going almost 40 years later? “The tradition of it,” he said. Amidst the constant grind, Almsted looks forward to bringing people together every year for a night of fun. “I’d rather have the fun right that’s here right in front of us when we can have it,” said Almsted. “We can worry about the important things after we’ve had our fun.”

This year, Almsted is introducing an all-ages performance to the event for the first time. After the performance on Saturday night, he will return to First Avenue on Sunday morning to perform the music of the Beatles for kids and their families.

“It will be interesting to see kids relate to these things from the early ’60s — that’s a long time ago,” said Almsted. “But a beat is a beat. So I’m going to look forward to that and encourage the kids to have fun. If it works, I’ll probably do it again next year too.”

Colleen Cowie runs the blog Pass The Mic.