In mid-January, Colin Campbell learned that Tommy Stinson, Minneapolis music legend and former bassist for the Replacements, was giving away an organ that belonged to his late brother and Replacements founding member, Bob Stinson. For free.
“All three of us Campbell brothers in the Shackletons are crazy ‘Mats fans,” Campbell said. “[Stinson’s web manager] said it’s 300 pounds, so if you can get it, you can have it. That was a good enough deal.”
Campbell plays guitar and sings alongside his two brothers in the Shackletons, mixing garage rock, blues, and punk. The brothers cut their first EPs with the help of Ed Ackerson, and were raised on the Minnesota punk rock scene of the 1980s. “We didn’t start a band to make records, we started a band to play crazy shows. [That was] the Replacements’ cup of tea,” Campbell said.
The band were planning on adding the organ to a collection of instruments housed in the studio space they inhabit and — pre-COVID — opened to other local musicians. Campbell laughs that he was trying to save the instrument from becoming a silent trophy. “I didn’t want that organ to go to someone who would just show it to his friends when they come over to drink,” he said.
On the other side of the country and a few decades prior to the Shackletons’ founding, Greg Harris stood watching the Replacements perform at City Gardens. Like Campbell, he remembers feeling like the band spoke directly to him.
“They were real. They were asking the same questions and expressing the same frustrations that we were feeling and had the same sense of fun and exhilaration, too,” Harris said. “It was great music — really powerful rock and roll.”
So when Harris, now President and CEO of the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, also saw Stinson’s announcement about the organ, he knew it belonged at the Hall of Fame. “When these sorts of items are acquired [by the museum], the key is whether they can tell a story,” Harris said. “There’s something magical about an organ like this. It’s got an excitement and an energy to it.”
Bob Stinson acquired the Wurlitzer electric organ (model 4410, from the late ’50s or early ’60s) after leaving the Replacements. “My brother — it wasn’t his main instrument by any stretch but he did mess around with that organ quite a bit,” Tommy Stinson said from his home in Hudson, New York. “He had this on his own well after the Replacements. It wasn’t on any Replacements records.”
When Bob died in February 1995, the organ was brought into the brothers’ mother’s basement where she would play it occasionally, Stinson says. In 2005, it was moved to a storage unit belonging to Soul Asylum. In January, friends advised Stinson to advertise the instrument on social media and see if there were takers.
“The only thing I was thinking — and my mom was thinking about this too, was that it would go somewhere where people were going to play it and enjoy it,” Stinson said. “I got a call from Greg Harris and he was like, ‘man, we would love to have that organ,’” Stinson remembers. “He said they would take care of it and people will get to know about the history of the Replacements. I said ‘That sounds fantastic, but I already gave it to someone.’”
So what about Campbell?
“The day after I [got approved to take the organ] I got out of the shower and had a voice message from Tommy Stinson,” Campbell laughed. Stinson explained the situation; as compensation for the lost organ he even offered a guitar amp once used for touring, and later mailed some Replacements merch. Harris also got in touch and offered a tour of the museum’s collection.
“I was really surprised that Tommy himself called me up to check if it was okay if the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame took the organ,” Campbell explained. “That’s obviously a better home for it. I didn’t want it to collect dust.”
In the absence of dust or a case, Harris says the organ is in a relatively new space in the museum called “the Garage.” Visitors and bands can jam on vintage gear such as Fender Telecasters, Gibson SGs, as well as a pinball machine designed and donated by Slash. “You can actually make music and touch the same keys that a wonderful musician had been playing, whose music meant a lot to you,” Harris said. “This aligned with Tommy’s thinking because in giving it away, he wanted somebody to be able to play it.”
Harris said the process of getting the organ to Cleveland — getting in touch with Stinson through his Zuzu’s Petals connection (guitarist Laurie Lindeen was formerly married to Replacements’ frontman Paul Westerberg), Tommy seeking approval from Campbell, Campbell’s willingness to help load the instrument into the van — reminds him of the do-it-yourself culture at the core of rock and roll.
“Part of the journey of this organ is a testament to people opening up their hearts,” Harris said. “We fired it up as soon as it arrived here. It sounds great.”
The Rock and Roll Hall of Fame and Museum is open daily with COVID-19 precautions in place. Harris says visitors have already come by specifically to see the organ, which will be professionally cleaned and updated with new tubes and power cord. But Harris doesn’t want to mess with it too much.
“It still has the gaffer tape on the keys, little sharpie marks for Bob’s notes,” he said. “We’re going to keep it just like that and hopefully play it as much as possible — allow it to live and breathe.”
Update @tommy_stinson Thank You for donating brother Bob’s wurlitzer to @rockhall got it @soulasylum storage brought it to museum, fired it up & banged out #TheReplacements fav @TimParnin lead, Mark drums Mike organ, I’m bashing bass! We will preserve it & let visitors play it! pic.twitter.com/IrzfZsgw39
— Greg Harris (@rockhallceo) January 31, 2021
Stinson said he’s now on the lookout for Bob’s last guitar and amp. If those were to ever surface, Stinson says the Hall of Fame is the first place he would call. Harris agrees. “If those things were to ever surface, we would be honored to preserve them and share them with fans forever,” he said. “Any iconic instrument like that — the value, the emotion that’s in those instruments and the connection they bring, that’s the magic.”
Also currently on view at the museum is an exhibit called “Kick Out the Jams: The Music of the Midwest,” where visitors can find artifacts from the Jayhawks, Soul Asylum, and Hüsker Dü, among other Minnesota artists.