Paul Westerberg was not on track for stardom in the fall of 1979. Having dropped out of the Academy of Holy Angels high school a few months before graduation, Westerberg had no GED, no drivers license, and no prospects. Despite this, he was employed at a fairly esteemed workplace, sweating it out in the offices of Republican Senator David Durenberger, albeit as a janitor.
Due to his lack of transportation, Westerberg often walked down Bryant Avenue in South Minneapolis to get home. One day, Westerberg heard a cacophony of noises coming from one of the house’s basement. Inside was a band called Dogbreath. It would be the start of something beautiful.
The group that he happened upon was a strange lot, to say the least. Obviously in charge was Bob Stinson, the burly and mulleted guitar player. Westerberg had met drummer Chris Mars before, but couldn’t see well enough inside to catch his friend. But it was the tiny bass player, Bob’s brother, Tommy, that raised the most eyebrows. Mars was young, but Tommy was an actual child at no older than twelve.
The group were ragtag. Bob, by being the oldest and having the most abrasive personality, was the de facto leader. Westerberg heard the racket coming from the basement and made some observations: the band could barely play, they were playing prog-rock covers, and they had no singer. But there was something that compelled Westerberg to come back and hide in the bushes to hear them continue to fumble with the Yes song ‘Roundabout’.
“What got to me was the sheer volume and the wild thunder,” Westerberg told Bob Mehr in Trouble Boys: The True Story of the Replacements. “That was a major attraction: the balls of a band to play that goddamn loud. I mean, you’d hear bands around occasionally. But this was different. It was like ‘Holy fuck — what is this?'”
Eventually, Mars and Westerberg’s mutual friend Scott Williamson convinced the two to play together, and when Williamson drove Westerberg to the house that Mars’ band practised at, Westerberg immediately recognised it as the house that he had been spying on. As it happened, the band’s occasional other members were absent that night, leaving just Westerberg, Mars, and the Stinson’s.
The rest would be history, but not before a name change and a formal drop of the prog-rock covers in favour of Westerberg’s punk rock originals. The band would have a few poorly received gigs as The Impediments before their blacklisting forced them to choose a new name: The Replacements.