Rare North Star music: Minnesoda



There is an unspoken Golden Rule in Australia.  When you detect a North American accent you say something like this: “Do I detect a Northern accent? Canada, right?”  Or this: “Let’s see, you’re from Canada right?” Or even: “I love the skiing in Canada.”


Everyone is trying to be nice.  No one wants to make the perceived faux pas of pegging someone American, given the low stock that tag trades in overseas. So even though they’re sure you’re from the States, they inevitably drag out the Canadian reference.


Once upon a time I liked that practice. Now I find it funny. Whenever someone asks me about my origins (in itself not an easy question to answer) I loudly proclaim that I’m an American from Minnesota. That then leads to ‘where is that exactly?’


“Where Bob Dylan and Prince come from,” I say.


“Ah. Cool.” End of conversation.


City Pages, the once-alternative newspaper of the Twin Cities, last year compiled a list of Minnesota’s Top 20 Musical Acts of All Time. Besides being shocked that Prince outranked Dylan (I mean c’mon. Raspberry Beret is better than Blowin’ in the Wind?), I was taken aback by how many acts I had never heard of.  And where was Leo Kottke?


Well, in the spirit of celebrating the music of the North Star State, let me share with you a rare record I came across on a strange thing called the internet several years ago.  The band and album share the corny name Minnesoda, which apparently was the idea of some ‘smart guy in a suit’ at the record company. And the music they played was once known as ‘white boy funk’, not too dissimilar to the Blood Sweat and Tears and Chicago (before they became so wet with Top 40 intentions).  Minnesoda’s music is rawer and probably closer in feel to what could be heard in any West Bank bar on a Saturday night.


A quartet of brassmen on tenor sax, flute, trumpet, and trombone augment the usual rock lineup in this octet, fronted by John Elms‘ credibly high-octane, lusty upper-register blue-eyed soul vocals. There’s sometimes an almost big band-like dexterity to the horns, yet the more jagged, at times hyper, thrust of the guitars and drums give it a solid funk base. The melodies are often more ominous than they usually are in this kind of fare, frequently jetting off into unexpected, improvised-sounding horn interjections and key changes. Only the adventure film theme-like “Flexible Flyer,” and the uncharacteristically reflective, jazzy ballad “Party” slow the tempo down much. Minnesoda might belatedly attract the interest of some collectors owing to the presence of the trumpeter Ed Shaw. That’s the same Ed Shaw who played bass in the Monks, the 1960s band of ex-GIs who played in monks’ costumes and did an album of weird proto-punk in Germany that attracted a devoted cult following decades later. (AMG)

This is a blast from the past as well as a bit of a shot in the dark, because where are these guys now? In an old folks home in Anoka? Sunning by the pool in Acapulco? Helping the homeless in Detroit?


Wherever they are, they never registered anywhere near the City Pages, list of great Minnesotan musicians. More’s the pity.

Minnesoda 1

Track Lisitng:

01 Let`s Get It On

02 Smokin’ Bitch

03 Misery Isn`t Free

04 Shop Talk

05 When’s My Season

06 Flex

07 Child’s Play

08 Partly

09 Maggie



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