Charles Helm, former Walker music consultant and longtime director of Performing Arts at the Wexner Center for the Arts, remembers Tony Glover, an icon in Minneapolis’s West Bank blues scene, who passed away this week at age 79, and his impact at the Walker.
Like many in the Twin Cities we were saddened to learn of the passing this week of Minnesota music legend Tony Glover. A pioneer of folk blues, master teacher of blues harmonica (ask Mick Jagger), insightful scholar and writer, and keeper of the flame, Tony loomed large on Minneapolis’s West Bank scene and made connections around the globe with a wide spectrum of key figures in the music world.
Tony and his cohorts, Dave Ray and John Koerner, performed multiple times at the Walker between 1974 and 1990. These concerts often ended up being their major annual local showcase in front of bigger adoring audiences than could squeeze into the West Bank haunts they fired up. But many local fans might not know about Tony’s appearance with Patti Smith at her Walker debut poetry reading in December 1972. Prior to forming her band the Patti Smith Group, Patti was a burgeoning poet who, encouraged by her then-boyfriend, playwright Sam Shepard, injected some rock action into her Rimbaud-inspired literary riffs with electric guitar accompaniment from Lenny Kaye, then a record store clerk. Lenny would evolve into Patti’s right hand man in the Patti Smith Group and first accompanied Patti during a 1971 poetry reading at the Poetry Project at St. Mark’s Church in New York City, opening for Warhol scenester Gerard Malanga. As Lenny Kaye recalled, “She wanted to shake it up, poetry-wise, and she did.”
Providing the spark for her Walker debut reading just the following year, Tony tipped off the Walker’s legendary performing arts programmer, Suzanne Weil, to Patti’s rising talent and unique style and volunteered to supply an appropriate jolt of musical support alongside recent NYC-to-MN transplant Susan Martin. Here’s a couple great photos from that night showing Tony oozing with cool and laying down some licks while backing up Patti’s ecstatic outpourings of rock poetry in the Walker Auditorium. A few years later, in 1976, when Suzanne Weil booked the fully fledged Patti Smith Group for their triumphant Walker sponsored gig at the Guthrie, Patti returned that favor calling Tony onstage to join the band in a fiery rendition of the timeless rock anthem “My Generation.” Gone, but not forgotten.