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Twin Town High (vol. 8)
Local legend gets his due
Wednesday 23 March @ 01:40:08
Spider John Koerner was inspiration for Dylan, Rolling Stones
by Nancy Sartor
Let’s face it: musically speaking, Minnesotans are a spoiled lot. We’ve been indulged for decades with more quality, homegrown gems than a super-sized field of genetically-modified corn. From Dylan and Prince to the Replacements and Soul Asylum (and too many in-between and beyond to mention here), the Twin Cities music scene has thrived for years.
Stoic, well-mannered Minnesotans may be reserved when it comes to giving props
to the locals (glitz and glamour belong on the coasts), but we know how to support
our own. Sure, Duffy’s is long gone, but just across the street the ‘ole
Hexagon lives on. This neighborhood watering hole-turned-hipster-band-bar has
been enjoying a live music renaissance ever since well-connected musician Chris
Dorn took charge of booking acts.
Yeah, the notorious Longhorn Bar is but a drug-addled memory, but not even bankruptcy
nor the ever-encroaching, homogenized Clear Channelfication of downtown Minneapolis
can kill First Avenue. Dirty and proud, this landmark concert venue sits stubbornly
on its namesake corner, like multiple piercings on a rebellious teenage brow.
And OK, Rev 105 is dead. But new-kid-on-the dial, 89.3 FM (The Current), has
proven they’re a public radio station dedicated to playing more local
music in one DJ shift than most Twin Cities stations play in a year. So far,
the Current’s enjoyed huge support from the community, easily meeting
its first-ever pledge drive goal after only two months on the air; in fact,
raising more than $100,000 before the official fundraising kickoff.
Yes, we take care
of our own. But in a town sometimes saturated with local talent, do some artists
get missed? Overlooked? Perhaps, but if documentary filmmaker Don McGlynn has
anything to say about it, that won’t happen to “Spider” John
Koerner. This Friday, McGlynn will showcase his latest work—the world
premiere of “Spider John Koerner: Been Here … Done That” at
the Oak Street Cinema.
“Minnesotans like to be proud of their artistic traditions and they tend
to support them,” says McGlynn. “But when someone’s here much
of their life, the locals may take them for granted—but they shouldn’t.”
McGlynn says one of the main reasons he made this movie was “to document
John more—visually—so that people outside his current sphere could
be more aware of him,” adding, “He does have a following here of
course, but I wanted to draw attention to him so that people like you will go,
‘hey, he’s pretty good. I’m glad I discovered him.’”
Koerner was a seminal part of the folk/blues scene in the 1960s. As a member
of the legendary trio Koerner, Ray and Glover, and as a solo artist, he toured
North America and Europe extensively. These days Koerner plays regular gigs
in Minneapolis, Boston and Florida. “Sun: Spider” occupies a modest
but permanent spot on the marquee above the Viking Bar in the Cedar Riverside
neighborhood on the West Bank.
Yet, paradoxically, there are some locals who remain unfamiliar with Koerner’s
music, despite historic praise from super-peers like The Beatles, The Rolling
Stones and The Kinks. In his autobiography, “Chronicles,” Bob Dylan
cites Koerner as a major inspiration. David Bowie touted Koerner, Ray and Glover’s
first Elektra Records release Blues, Rags and Hollers as profoundly influential.
And since kudos in the music world are not age or gender discriminatory, add
Beck and Bonnie Raitt to the list of artists who sing Koerner’s praises.
Where does all this love come from?
“[In the 1960s] Koerner, Ray and Glover were pretty much the first white
group that said, ‘this is the American musical tradition of blues and
folk music and we’re gonna perform it because we love it,’”
recalls McGlynn. “What happened was, it opened the door to an enormous
number of other emerging musicians, like The Beatles and The Stones and The
Kinks—that was sort of the British invasion aspect of it. They [Koerner,
Ray and Glover] opened the door and we all know what the Rolling Stones did
with their love of the blues.”
Don McGlynn has made more than 25 documentaries, or “music biographies”
as he calls them. His subjects range from Dexter Gordon and Charles Mingus to
Louis Prima and Glenn Miller. He’s also covered the pop sounds of the
Mills Brothers and the techno stylings of a 24-hour electronica event in Copenhagen,
Denmark. But the Koerner project was special to him.
“One of the reasons I made this film was to get back in touch with my
roots, to see my family and to honor the Minnesota music scene.” Born
and raised in the Twin Cities, McGlynn remembers discovering the music of Koerner,
Ray and Glover in the 1970s. He left Minnesota to study film at the University
of Southern California and didn’t begin filming the Koerner story until
2002, well after he’d established himself as an award-winning documentarian.
With the death of Dave Ray in November 2002, McGlynn says the Koerner film took
a dramatic shift. “We started shooting in January 2002 and by the end
of the year Dave had passed away,” McGlynn remembers. “About seven
years ago, John had a heart attack. And just like in a Frank Capra movie, money
started piling in from all over the world to help him with his medical bills.”
Koerner made a full recovery from emergency triple bypass surgery in January
of 1998. As McGlynn says, “Dave did not escape. John did, and I think
people should take that as their cue to appreciate John right now.”
McGlynn shot about 50 hours of film—all on digital video. Nine hours of
music footage alone offered him, “…a ton of stuff. And in a number
of cases, like rehearsals, we got all of these different musicians playing with
John and a lot of very offhanded, but very revealing things come up.”
Distilling all that footage to less than 100 minutes was no easy feat. “The
biggest problem was listening to all the music, finding the best performances
and figuring out how they told the story, John’s story,” says McGlynn.
“But I’m happy with the choices we came up with. I think they show
his diversity and give viewers a good picture of his whole career.”
McGlynn is also pleased with the venue for the film’s world premier. “I
was really happy to play at the Oak Street Cinema,” he said. “When
I lived here it used to be called the Campus Theater, which I liked because
they showed a lot of great art movies. But right next door was one of the first
places where Koerner, Ray and Glover played. It was called the Coffee Break.
There’s a certain poeticism to that.” ||
“Spider John Koerner: Been Here … Done That” runs Fri.,
March 25 through Thurs., March 31 at the Oak Street Cinema, 309 Oak Street SE
in Minneapolis. Showtimes are Fri. at 7:30 p.m.; Sat. through Thurs. at 7:30
and 9:30 p.m.; with earlier showings on Saturday at 1:30, 3:30 and 5:30 p.m.
Filmmaker Don McGlynn will be present at the Friday, Saturday and Sunday night
screenings; and Spider John Koerner will be on hand for Friday’s premiere.
Koerner will also be performing at 8 p.m. on April 2 at the Cedar Cultural Center
with Tony Glover. For ticket information call the Cedar at 612-338-2674.
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