Short version:

Rich Mattson is a musician/songwriter and producer/engineer living in Sparta, Minnesota. He began performing in 1980 at the age of 13, and took up songwriting shortly after that. Since then he has led and played with several bands, most notably the Glenrustles (1988-1999) and national touring act Ol’ Yeller (2000-2013). In 1991 he opened his own recording studio in Uptown Minneapolis, and over the years has worked with hundreds of artists. Currently he is leading a cosmic folk rock group called “Rich Mattson and the Northstars” and collaborating with his partner Germaine Gemberling. He also continues to record and produce music at his recording studio, Sparta Sound.

Epic long version:

From Easy Tilt to the Northstars, Flowerpot to Sparta Sound, beyond and back:

A story of the best bands in my mom's world
by Rich Mattson

rich 1981 Embarrass Fair, age 14

When I was 20 years old, I finally got the hell off the iron range (northern Minnesota), and moved to the hometown of my favorite band, the Replacements. This was in 1987. I had been dreaming of this for many years, thinking how great it was, having a music MECCA right here in my home state. For about six years prior to this big move, I was playing covers in high school bands. One of them was called the Imports. We did have about twenty original numbers with that band, all recorded on cassettes, and we all wanted to move down to "da cities" and become rock and roll stars. We had no idea what we were getting into.

the Imports

I moved first, then the drummer, then the bass player (Russell Bergum), and eventually, the KEYBOARD player (Jim Kennedy). Our first gig was at FERNANDO'S on 15th and Lake Street. What a disaster. What a let-down. Then we played NEW BAND NIGHT at the 7th St. Entry, where future rock luminary Ed Ackerson was our soundman. Ed LOVED us! We were IN!!! Then, some things happened. It was like that old Bryan Adams song--Jimmy quit, Timmy got married. I shoulda known we'd never get far... Well, at the time I was glad that band ended. It was weird new wave ART ROCK and I wanted to do something else. My next move was to become a SOLO ACOUSTIC performer, and try the "coffee house" circuit.


My first gig doing that was at the Gioco cafe, in Dinkytown (later renamed Espresso Royale).

The "show" was pretty good, and some of my friends came to see me play. Two of the friends were Russell Bergum (the ex-Imports bass player, who was all into new wave and Paul McCartney), and my brother, Glen. Glen had graduated fom high school a few days before. I was at the graduation ceremony and party and while at home, I saw Glen and our dad come close to kicking the crap out of each other. I said, "Glen,when I go back to da cities, why don't you come with me, eh?" He did. Anyway, back to the Gioco cafe. After I played, Russell expressed interest in playing his stand-up bass that he kept from high school with me on some songs. I said "sure, why not. We're NOT gonna play no NEW WAVE, though. We're gonna play what I want to play." Then later that night, Glen expressed interest in playing some percussion with Russell and I. He said, "We'll call ourselves the Glen-Russells, with a 't'." The Glenrustles were born. We had no idea what we were getting into.


Well, Glen got himself a snare drum with his graduation money, and took two twigs and fastened a tambourine to it, then took a coat hanger and fastened a pot lid (no pun intended) to it and attached that to the snare drum. Then we found some maracas. Glen had his drum kit. At this point, he was playing with sticks cut from our back yard. We lived in Columbia Heights, north of Minneapolis. It was the summer of '88. We were out of the nest for good and writing tons of tunes. We practiced three or four times a week. It was a new sound.

On September 25, 1988 we had our first gig as "Rich Mattson and the Glenrustles". It was at the Gioco cafe. Then we played the New Band Night again, the Uptown Bar, the 400, and worked on recording an ALBUM. In November, '88 (sometime around there) Glen and I found a house to rent on 28th & Harriet, in the UPTOWN neighborhood (where all the cool musicians lived). It was awesome, and CHEAP. The basement was like a concert hall. We had neighbors only on one side, and they were MUSICIANS, TOO! And there was a RECORDING STUDIO across the street! We got two roomates, one of them being Jim Kennedy (the old Imports keyboard player), and the other a bass player/record collector named Jimmy the Sloocher. Jim Kennedy learned how to play guitar over the few months since the Imports broke up, and genius that he is, decided to join our band, and play guitar, banjo, piano, and fiddle. The only one he COULDN'T play was the fiddle. He returned it to the music store the next day.

original glenrustles

We set up the "studio" (my 4-track) in the living room and recorded our debut ALBUM in one night. It turned out to be a nine song cassette. All we ever wanted was to be on TWIN/TONE. That never happened, but that's another story. We dubbed those cassettes in my room, one after the other until we had 200 of them. We even got our name in the City Pages (weekly entertainment rag) with a blurb written by the great Jim Walsh.

We kept after gigs, playing goofy places like the Valli Pub (a pizza place), Fernando's, the Seward Cafe, eventually getting into the 400 Bar, and the Cabooze. Our main venue, though, was that basement. We had parties, parties, PARTIES!!! Every other weekend, at least. The strangest mix of people showed up; punkers, deadheads, skinheads, cokeheads, metalheads, you name it, they were represented. Nothing bad ever happened, (save for the time "Baggs" shit his pants on the stairs) and nothing ever got stolen or broken--nothing we cared about, anyway. Those were strange days, indeed. We built up our eclectic following. Many of those faces I still see at shows today.

Early in 1990, Russell announced that he was moving to Chicago. I was a little upset, but not much because Russ was always studying and way more into school. He wasn't a dope-smoking moron like the rest of us. The big problem was finding a replacement. Also right about this time Jimmy K. decided to finish school in Bemidji, so he too was leaving. Now I was worried.

Glen was working at the "Leaning Tower of Pizza" with Greg McAloon, who said he played bass and guitar. It took about a month to get him into the basement to jam with us, but when he finally did, we had a new sound. It was good. Glen had been practicing on a full kit that we bought for $50 from some hippy. I rediscovered my old Gretsch guitar and Peavey/Plush amp combo. We decided, somehow, to "plug in", as it were. All of a sudden we were an electric 3-piece rock group. We instantly recorded another ALBUM at Leo Whitebird's studio across the street, and went to work dubbing those tapes. The gigs were starting to roll in. We still played our parties, too, although our house was slowly turning into a total shit-hole.

Sometime early in 1991 I managed to get a van that had no holes in the floor, a good heater, and only leaked oil a LITTLE bit. Now we were hell-bent on taking our show on the road. We had the van, we had the demo tapes, we even had a little press from our hometown--what were we waiting for?

Our first couple of "tours" were to Chicago and back, with our friends DOG-994-some of the biggest maniacs in Minneapolis rock history. It was the six of us putting along down I-94 laughing our asses off. I can't say (remember) much about the tours, except that we didn't make any money--I mean we DIDN'T MAKE ANY- you know how some people say they didn't make any money, yet they got paid $25? Well, we didn't make ANY money. In seven shows, I'd have to say we performed to about 25 people, half of which were club employees. Sound bad? Hell no!! It was a kick in the ASS!! We had a great time. We were young, stupid, and drunk. We went back and did it again, countless times. Later in the Glenrustles' career, we started calling going on tour an "exercise in futility".

glenrustles on tour O'Cayz Corral, 1991

We met some great people and bands on the road, and some awful people and bands, too. Most of all, we had fun. God, there's some pathetic road stories in the Glenrustles. Just amazing. No label support, no radio support, no guarantees, just the bond of friendship, and ROCK AND ROLL. Ah, memories--Glen laying face-down in some park in Chicago, going to the Western Union in some godawful neighborhood in New Orleans, sleeping in the van in January outside Madison, the sound of Jimmy puking...all the glory of rock superstardom. We eventually did start to get paid for our roadtrips, but it was never quite like being home in Minneapolis, where we were beginning to pack 'em in...

Anyway, where was I? So we were a 3-piece power trio for most of '91 and some of '92, until Jimmy Kennedy came back from Bemidji with his business degree. He re-joined the band, now playing guitar full-time. We recorded and released a couple singles that year, and sent out a lot of demo tapes to big time record labels. Twin/Tone was floundering, and we didn't even want to be on that label anymore. We had 7" records out on UPRISING RECORDS! They were a little label run by some friends from Detroit we met on the road. Really good guys, even though we tortured them when we stayed at their houses. We were a belligerent, cantakerous bunch, and our Iron Range way of fun was a little more outrageous than your average joe's.

Glen had started his own band, called the Peasants sometime in '92, and the house on Harriet was abandoned. We were practicing in my new basement, a couple blocks from the old party house. The new basement was smaller, and had two rooms in it, and I decided to make it into a recording studio. I took out a $1900 loan from my Grandad and bought a 12-track recording/mixing machine, slapped up a window between the two rooms, and went to work full-time recording friends' bands. Flowerpot was born. I charged $10 an hour for studio time. At first it wasn't sounding so good, but I learned fast and found out how to get the most out of my cheap-ass gear. I experimented a lot on my own, recording a lot of tunes that never got released in any form, save for the errant demo type tape floated out to those stupid record labels.

Backstage, First Avenue, 1992

In April of '94 the Glenrustles did another tour to Chicago and back when things got a little too crazy. Glen was trying to drive the whole band insane. Like he wanted us to kick his ass. On the way to Milwaukee we decided, after almost ditching him at the Wendy's Oasis, that he should leave the band. We went to Milwaukee and Glen chanted "DAHMER, DAHMER, DAHMER" the whole time. We stuck to our decision.

Upon returning to Minneapolis, we started auditioning drummers, and settled on our good friend Rob Gilboe. Now there wasn't a Glen or a Russell in the Glenrustles. It never occured to us to change the name...we were too famous.

With Robbie in the band, we decided to save all our gig money (something my brother never allowed us to do) and make the ultimate ALBUM, and make c.d.'s! In late '94 we went into the Third Ear Recording complex and began recording what would become BROOD, our first "real" ALBUM, with Tom Herbers producing. It took about a year to record the whole thing, as we spread out the recording dates (so we could pay as we went), and make it the perfect ALBUM. We still played our usual two to three gigs a month local, with a road trip once a month, to Duluth, LaCrosse, or Chicago. I owe a lot to Tom Herbers, the sessions recording that ALBUM taught me a LOT about how to get proper sounds.

glenrustles 1995

Once BROOD was completed, we sent out a lot of tapes, thinking "of course we'll get that record deal now!". We didn't, so we put it out on our own SMA (Start Making Albums..or Suck My Ass..depends who you're talking to) Records. I've got a kickass collection of rejection letters if anyone would like to see 'em. It's kinda funny. Well, BROOD went over like gangbusters around the twin cities, and we paid off the manufacturing costs in 2 months. Local papers gave it nice reviews, and it was good to get some recognition, for a change. The national reviews were kind of luke warm, though, so we went right to work on the next ALBUM. This time I took what I learned from Tom Herbers and recorded the whole thing at my own studio. We stretched the recordings out over a year, recording songs as they came, over the winter of '95 and spring of '96. Those were tough times for me, personally, and it shows in the writing. The band was kicking holy ass live, and packing rooms all over town. We even made some waves in Chicago, by now. Yet with all our ass-kicking and half-baked promotional efforts, nobody in the "business" seemed trustworthy. We couldn't find a booker, we couldn't find a label, we coudn't even find a manager, let alone someone to sell t-shirts that wasn't full of hot air and/or beer. I was becoming bitter. And maybe even (God forbid!) a little jaded. A lot of promises were made and broken. In Stone, the second ALBUM came out in the summer of '96. To this day it remains some of our biggest supporters' favorite. Jim Meyer wrote a really nice review of it in the Star-Tribune, and it was nominated for "best rock album" at the Minnesota Music Awards. Over the next year, big changes would take place in the Glenrustles' camp...

Sometime in the summer of '94 I got disappointed in my dayjob. It seems my employers wouldn't live up to their handbook and didn't give me a raise which, according to the handbook, was guaranteed if you were a good employee. I was a driver for a courier company. I was great at it. Always on time, with speeding tickets to prove it. I didn't mind that job, but one day, after receiving my limp little paycheck I up and quit halfway through my shift and didn't look back. I took the chance that maybe I could get by on studio and band earnings. Turns out I was right. I wouldn't recommend quitting like that to anybody, but I guess I was pretty pissed off at the time.

A short while after "IN STONE" came out, late 1996, Robbie decided, over much brainstorming and turmoil, that he didn't want to be in a band anymore. It was nothing personal, he just had to "get on with his life". So, weighing my options, which were A)start a whole new band, or B)just get another drummer and keep the GLENRUSTLES going. I decided to check out the latter first. Glen was first to volunteer his services. I was surprised and tentative about it at first, then said, "what the heck?" Since leaving the band, Glen and I had become better friends, better brothers, and we'd both GROWN UP a little. Glen was finally getting over the fact that Kurt Cobain was dead. Also, Jimmy Kennedy was seeming less and less interested in what rock and roll had to offer him. He had become more interested in playing jazz piano, something he had done since I "discovered" him playing Floyd Cramer in his parents' basement. This was Jim's true calling, I figured, and I didn't call him when Greg and I went on to practice with Glen on drums again.

So now we were back to the old POWER TRIO, and it felt good, kinda. I didn't like having to cover all the guitar parts and singing too, while playing with what was becoming known as a bunch of party animals. I'm no Jimi Hendrix. I didn't know how I ever did it before. Things were different now.

We kept recording, all through the changes, and never stopped playing shows. Something was always on the books. We did some shows as a three-piece, after one of them Graham Gregorich, an old aquaintence from the 'range, said how he'd LOVE to play guitar with us. After one particularily disastrous night, I gave him a call. I made him two cassettes of songs to learn, and within a week he had them all LEARNED. We had a new sound. It was good. To wipe the slate clean, a third ALBUM, Fire At Night, was released in December '97. This album consisted of stuff we recorded with Rob & Jim and some with Glen. Some of the songs Glen played drums on were recorded the night he re-joined the band. A couple other songs were recorded with our friend Leo Kuelbs on drums, and a couple more didn't even have any other Glenrustles on them at all. Only one song, "Whole Lotta Nothing", has the entire new lineup on it: Me, Greg, Glen, and Graham.

glenrustles 1997

So, Fire At Night came out in the midst of the Christmas season, in 1997, and was virtually ignored by all the press. Big deal. It wasn't super-consistent. It was a weird record. Time will tell. Personally it's my favorite GLENRUSTLES ALBUM.

Throughout '98 we re-formed the Glenrustles with our new guitar player, wrote a whole bunch of new songs, recorded 'em, logged in around 65 gigs, (mostly LOCAL) and looked at our happy, friendly place at the bottom of the rock HEAP.

At some point during the year we mixed down a bunch of songs and, noticing that each album we release has an extra word in the title, agreed to call the collection "Honey Grease and Neptune" (4 words, fourth album-get it?). The more we played locally the less people showed up to see us. I was beginning to tire of the local scene and seriously thought about my future in music. Was I going to just keep on recording bands and play locally, or was I going to get the heck outta Minneapolis? The rest of the Glenrustles were always pretty indifferent as to where we took it. Greg and Graham were beginning to settle into normal home (40-hour work week) life, and Glen had "HIS BAND" to keep him busy.

Right as we were finishing "Honey Grease and Neptune" I bought a house with my (then) wife in Northeast Minneapolis. It was a tiny little place, with a 2-stall garage. It was all we could afford, all we "qualified" to afford, anyway..I called up by good friend Greg McAloon the bass-playing taskmaster carpenter and asked him, "Hey Club, do you think it would be possible to build a recording studio in a 2-stall garage?" His reply, "Anything is possible." So Flowerpot III was born, in a garage in Northeast Minneapolis. Many of my favorite recordings would come out of that little room we built.

In November of 1999 I took a road trip out east with my lil' yellow dog Pookie to visit my cousin Mark (the guy who got me started on this path to rock and roll obscurity) and to clear my head..step back a little. During my visit to Connecticut we spent some time in NYC, bopped around the coast a little, and did some jamming. I decided that when I got back I would try something new.

I had thought of the name Ol' Yeller back a long time ago when Robbie Gilboe left the group and I was pondering starting a new band. I liked the name because, as I was over 27, that is OLD, and seeing that I screamed myself hoarse by the end of every gig, well, that's the "yeller" in me. Also I just love my yellow dog. Hey, the old Disney movie was pretty good too!


When I returned from the east coast, I found my friend Dale Kallman had returned from Montana, where he had been living deep in the backwoods, surviving off roots and berries and fresh fish. Dale, a multi-instrumentalist, had always displayed a natural ear for music has a great voice, and seeing he had adopted a big monstrous yellow lab bitch it was automatic that he be the bassist in my new group.


Keely Lane had long been my favorite local drummer, and I had the opportunity to record him with his country band Trailer Trash on several occasions. I talked to him about playing on some of my songs, just in the studio. Our sessions together worked out so well, and we got along so good that I HAD to have him in the new band. Keely readily accepted, and committed himself to our new sound. He had no idea what he was getting into...

At first we toyed with having Greg McAloon and Graham Gregorich on guitars, therefore making it a THREE GUITAR ONSLAUGHT, and patterning ourselves after the Buffalo Springfield, but the old Glenrustles laziness permeated rehearsals and I quickly grew frustrated with organizing 5 guys. Also, I had bigger goals of touring RELENTLESSLY, and I knew Greg and Graham wouldn't be up for it in the long run.

While having troubles keeping Greg and Graham interested in the Ol' Yeller project, I met a guitarist named Randy Casey. Randy talked big and played guitar like nobody I have ever jammed with. We got together a few times and he agreed to join the group. His wife at the time was a big-time talent manager and she had some big ideas for us too, which I thought was pretty cool.

ol yeller 2000

Throughout 1999 and into 2000 I had about 20 basic tracks I was working with. I recorded the guitar and drums with Keely, sometimes overdubbing Dale's bass, sometimes playing everything myself. Once Randy joined the band, we recorded around 6 songs live in the studio for our debut album. We kept working on the stuff, eventually releasing the self-titled Ol' Yeller album in February 2001.

Everything was going great. We were rehearsing a lot, like I wanted to, we had tours planned, then Randy bailed on a big New York residency at the MERCURY LOUNGE, due to lack of funds. But Dale and I liked the idea of being total bums in the big apple, and went out there anyway, for a month. Keely's gal had a baby boy, so Keely stayed home too. This was a great trip for Ol' Yeller. We decided to keep it an efficient touring machine, and go three piece with me covering all the guitar parts. I was writing within my vocal and guitar playing range, and people were digging the sound.

So the rest of 2001 was spent touring, rehearsing, and recording new songs as they came. Another album, "Nuzzle", was released in February 2002. We toured our butts off (by my standards) behind that one! We had no idea what we were doing (er, getting into) but we went out of our minds to book ourselves all the way to any coast for as long as we could go, which fortunately was never more than 3 weeks at a time. That one 3 weeker from Texas to Mississippi to LA and back was murderous! No a.c. in the van! It was mid-June! I was pleased as punch to play the TROUBADOUR though! That and driving the coastal highway #1 was worth it all. Dale and I did all the advancing for the shows, we became quite the team but were having a hell of a time balancing all that work with playing as well. After awhile it got pretty frustrating doing both. We worked on hiring a booking agent, a label, a publicist, we hit SXSW every year and met a lot of people, promising all kinds of things. Mostly again, delivering hot air. Dale is a few years older than me, and our style of touring was wearing him down. It took a lot of stamina. We'll get to that in a bit..but let me tell you, there were a LOT of good times on the road, and we were actually breaking even financially.

Ol' Yeller 2002

We didn't look back, took no prisoners, left no stoner left unturned-on, wore blisters through our axes, and all that, then came home and recorded more. It became a cycle I got purty comfortable with. We'd record whenever we had a chance, one or two songs at a time. Before you know it, we have 16 or so songs to meld into an album. The next one down the conveyer or through the cosmic airwaves was "Penance", with all those tales of cheatin', sneakin', and thinkin' too hard about life and what everybody else has on their minds. It's good to get all that stuff out, but I don't get stuck in the roles. Generally I'm genuinely happy.

Anyway, the story.. "Penance" was a giant leap forward in getting our name around, and even scored us international licensing with the wonderful Blue Rose Records in Germany. Over 2003 we kept the touring machine rolling, wearing grooves in the trail we were traveling to NYC, to Austin, over there to Mississippi, back in KC again, try this place in Athens Ohio.. Over the winter Dale was getting a little crunchy, and we almost booted him out a couple of times. He would drop the ball if he figured noone was listening and noone cared. I'd get mad at him onstage, and I'd feel terrible later about it. The pace was too much. We were becoming one of those bands that argue. One night at an acoustic gig in Northeast it all came to a head and we wound up calling each other "asshole" between songs. Dale had quit having fun at it and his bullshit meter was a little too sensitive. When I think about it, I don't think anyone ever cared about Ol' Yeller as much as Dale Kallman. He just can't bear playing in Springfield Illinois to 3 people or St. Cloud MN with the football game on the bigscreen. We had quite the brotherhood going on, but we were beating our proverbial heads against the proverbial wall. The Nuzzle-Penance era was an amazing time in the life of my mom's favorite band. In hindsight, I don't know if he quit, or if I fired Dale. We needed a break from each other. Well, the day after he quit (or got fired) we had a show in Duluth so I hastily threw the Glenrustles in the van and made it a Glenrustles show instead. A tour was looming on the immediate horizon so while we were in Duluth, I asked Greg McAloon if he would go on tour with us, and maybe even be in the band. I didn't have to twist his arm, Greg was ready to play again.

That tour, in February of 2004, was a much more laid back vibe, less worries, less hand-wringing/head holding and I knew we were going somewhere good. Greg doesn't do harmonies, so I practically broke my Gretsch in half making up for the lost vocal parts.. Keely and Greg get along like puppies at playtime. Before we left I called an old friend of Greg, Keely and mine. Just to put the bug in his ear.."So Andy, we were thinking about adding a guitar player.." Andy Schultz from Hibbing is the guy. I knew his band Betty Drake was going through some tough times, 2 of its 4 members moving out of state, and it would be hard to imagine a guy like Andy not actively playing the guitar in a band. The timing was just right. I had been a fan of Andy for many years, and his acceptance to join the ranks of the Yellers meant a lot. The full-on new lineup made its debut March 12 2004 at the 7th Street Entry. Everybody commented on what fun we appeared to be having. Together we completed the "SOUNDER" album, scraping together a few leftovers from the Dale Kallman days and recording a good chunk of it from March to August 2004 with the new lineup. SOUNDER was released on September 7. 2004 to rave reviews and many great accolades. We were honored with the MMA award for "Best Americana Group" shortly after, and the album made many "best of 2004" lists. However nicely we were treated in print and around the twin cities, the tours we embarked upon that year were pretty dismal, attendance-wise. The places where we still really seemed to click were New York City and anywhere in Texas. Somehow, everywhere in between seemed different. Something about college towns; they're supposed to be great "markets", but the kids move in and out of there within a year, and with those changes comes a new tide of musical taste. It seemed to me that the "americana" tag wasn't so cool anymore. 2004-05 were the years that the sampler pretty much took over rock and roll. Either the sampler, or very very very very very quiet and precious singer-songwriters with little tinker-toy instruments. We just thumbed our noses at the trends and kept on doing what we do best, which is rocking. And we got louder.

Somehow, in the midst of all this "Sounder" support, we got roped into playing at wedding receptions for friends and/or fans. Over the summer of 2005 we played 4 or 5 wedding receptions. Here I was now, the wedding singer! We still do play weddings. Thing is, Keely, Andy and I all cut our teeth playing in cover bands. Those songs don't leave you. Greg's motto is, "If you can hum it, you can play it" and he can hum pretty much anything on the radio. I didn't set out for Ol' Yeller to be a cover band, but it helps with the bills sometimes. Sometimes we'd wind up in the strangest places imaginable, and honestly, the stranger the better for me. The best is when the wedding party keeps asking for more ORIGINAL music. That is cool.

Later in the summer or 2005 as my marriage fell apart, I got the wild idea of moving out of the city, and started looking into houses further north. The idea was that I could operate from anywhere. With today's technology, why be bound to city living if I want to live in the country? Well, I followed through, and in October of '05 I bought myself a church up by my old hometown of Eveleth! I went to work on renovating it straightaway, making it into a studio with living quarters. I spent that whole winter remodeling it myself with money I made selling the church's pews. I named the new studio SPARTA SOUND, as it wasn't no Flowerpot any more.

In the meantime, Greg had started his own construction company, Andy became a dad, and Keely decided to pursue his dream of being a Nashville drummer! Suddenly I felt as if the band was going to be no more! I was distraught. Towards the end of the winter, sick with the flu, I wrote my bandmates a letter (not an email) asking them if they still wanted to do this Ol' Yeller thing. It was all too dramatic, but up in my little rock and roll paradise I was feeling abandoned by the guys I was building it for. Well, bygones being bygones, my good pals Greg and Andy understood my plight and stood by me in the search for our next drummer, as Keely was certainly out and moving to the country music capitol of the world. He got a great gig straight off the bus in Nashville. Yes, he is that good.

The first band I had record in my new studio was the Gleam. These guys are great friends of mine, and their singer (Zack) and I spend hours talking music and ideas. We really got down to brass tacks one night and he recommended with an iron fist that we try out a guy that drummed for them for one show. I saw that gig and thought the drummer was over qualified for the Gleam..but probably could play the Ol' Yeller stuff damn good. "You gotta get Buck", Zack repeated, again and again. He was referring to Ryan Otte (the Gleam had nicknames for them I am Dickie Skins..I even drummed for them for one show). Ryan Otte played in this great band called Little Dirt that I ran sound for once, and I remember seeing him at Ol' Yeller shows too. I gave him a cd with 21 songs on it, we got together 2 weeks later and played 18 of them without stopping. He beat us up. And he joined Ol' Yeller.

The rub of this new drummer story is that we had so much music recorded with Keely to get out.. With all our personal stuff making time fly by I hardly noticed it took 2 years to put together the last Ol' Yeller ALBUM, which I called "GOOD LUCK", as in "Good luck with that." I heard that phrase, on average, probably 10 times a day every day from July 2005 to May 2006 as I bid farewell to the big city. Keely did too. So did Andy, as did Greg with their respective businesses in the carpentry field. The album, "GOOD LUCK" was more or less Ol' Yeller's swan song. We received 3 MMA awards in 2006 with that album. And I was named "Producer of the Year!"

After I moved back up north, the band was more difficult to keep together than I thought it would be. Everybody was "growing up" and getting on with life, and getting busy. I was still writing songs, and making demos of the songs onto Andy's 4-track Fostex, having a good time at it, drinking Tisdale wine, all by my lonesome. I'd send the songs down to the band, but when we got together we'd never have the time to run through them or work on parts. I cobbled together a solo album, "Inspiral Notebooks", that I released on my 40th birthday. I started thinking about getting some guys together from up in my neck of the woods for an original project.

In the spring of 2007 I recorded some acquaintences from Duluth, a band called HOTEL CORAL ESSEX. The principal songwriter in the band was Tony Derrick, a brooding guitar torturer with a soulful singing voice. I flipped over his tunes, and the cd got stuck in my player for months on end, some of my favorite recordings in my new place. Their cd came out, sorta, and the band wasn't doing a lot of work. The next time Tony came to record, he came by himself and he and I worked up another 5 or 6 songs. He was bothered by the state of his band, wanted to play more shows and record and work on music more. The bass player, Jason "Kokes" Kokal, from Hotel Coral Essex showed up for one of Tony's sessions and we got along great. During a break in the session, I brought up the idea that maybe the three of us should join forces and start up something new. I played them my demos. They readily agreed, let's start a band!

We tried out a few drummers from Duluth but we weren't clicking with any of them right off the bat. I had recorded a cover band from the Iron Range called the Six 9's, and the drummer was a younger guy who had all the chops and musical knowledge of someone more my age (by God, I was 40 years old). His name? Derek Rolando. A very talented fellow with plenty of time on his hands to rock, and a great outlook. The best part is that he lives 4 miles away from the studio! I gave him a cd of mine and Tony's demos and we got together for the first time early in 2008. It clicked right away. Smiles all around, we had ourselves a band. What to call this new group? While I was recording my demos on the 4 track I started calling the project "Rich Mattson and the Tisdales," after the cheap wine I was drinking. I threw that name out there, "How about we call it the TISDALES?" There were no arguments there, it had a nice ring to it. And I believe at the time we were on our 4th bottle of Tisdale.

The Tisdales began work on recording an album straightaway. I would spend the day getting the studio set up for their arrival and we would knock out the tunes to tape every week. We released a cd single, "Faces" b/w "Brass Knuckles" to coincide with our arrival. Our first show was on the 4th of July 2008 at Pizza Luce in Duluth. After that we went all-out, recording and booking shows. One of our first shows was at the North vs. South Music Festival in Kansas City MO. We were well-received everywhere we went. Our first album, "Bakers Dozen" was released on November 25th to encouraging reviews. In June of 2008 we took off on tour and went all the way from Duluth to the other end of I-35, San Antonio Texas, and a bunch of places in between. Another album, "Out With the New" was released March 9, 2010. More songs and recordings were always in the works.

We kept getting together, usually on a Wednesday night, to write songs, jam, and record. I have had great times with the Tisdales. We played loud. I put my old worn out Gretsch away and picked up a cheap Telecaster with a Bigsby and set about destroying that for awhile.

Apart from the Tisdales, shortly after my relocation to Sparta, I started playing folk music with my old friend from Minneapolis, Baby Grant Johnson. We started out doing acoustic shows together and going back and forth, him playing a song, then me playing one. After a few of these gigs we decided to learn songs together and dedicate ourselves to keeping the folk tradition alive, and take some road trips together. We called ourselves the BITTER SPILLS, a name I'd been kicking around for awhile that suited our style and sound. Grant is one of my best buddies, and we dig deep for old folk chestnuts to perform. Between 2006 and 2010 we released 4 volumes of folk songs, made available only at shows or directly from us. The best of these 4 volumes (traditionals and originals) became our only commercial release, "Folk Song Favorites". Grant and I still get together to this day and play those old folk songs that we love so much.

The Bitter Spills (with Pookie)

In 2011 and 2012 the Tisdales worked up another album, to be called "Supercaldera". It was released in June of 2012. A great album, probably our finest, it was more or less dead in the water as the band sort of fizzled out that summer. Hard to pin down exactly what happened but we still get together and make some noise now and then, and there weren’t any hard feelings.

Germaine Gemberling was recording in my studio a lot beginning in 2007 with the Magpies and Shotgun Daisy. She is one of the kindest and most enthusiastic people I have ever met, and one hell of a singer. After a few years of working with her, and eventually playing some gigs with her, we fell in love and we started the band Junkboat. Aside from Junkboat, we started playing as an acoustic duo..pretty much anywhere, anytime. Germaine moved to Sparta in the winter of 2010 where we work on music and tend to the studio business, and enjoy each other's company. She's such a great motivator and someone who is pretty much "up for anything." What a great person to have as the love of my life.

After the Tisdales disbanded and Germaine and I started writing together, I got it in my head to record some of her more country-style songs with Keely and Dale (Ol’ Yeller), and our new pedal steel playing pal Mike Randolph. The result was Germaine’s “Generator” album. Meanwhile I had songs piling up and Ol’ Yeller was having fun playing together again so we recorded the album “Levels” and released that in 2013. The reunion was short-lived, although we did get down to SXSW that year and played a lot of shows. It was tough to keep the band going while we lived so far apart.

Later in 2013 I decided I wanted to put together an acoustic group, UP NORTH, to perform sort of a retrospective of my work. I also wanted to focus on the work Germaine and I were doing and excelling at. I decided to call the band Rich Mattson and the Northstars..a name I threw out off the top of my head but turned out to be the name of the band who played at my parents' wedding (the Northstars)! My good nephew Curtis Mattson was recruited to play the drums (as he knows my entire catalog of tunes), and Eli Bissonett was brought in on the violin. In search of a bassist, I went on a whim and called up (original Glenrustles bassist) Russell Bergum, who was only performing with the Mesabi Community Orchestra at the time, aside from his residency as Doctor of Sports Medicine at the Virginia (MN) clinic. To my surprise, Russell was ready and willing to play again! So here we are, "full circle" as they say..and what a fun group. The original lineup with the Northstars released a single, “This Town (Ghost Town)” b/w “Points North” in October 2014, and a full-length eponymous album in June of 2015. It still stands as a fine testament of our original “cosmic folk” sound, with Russell’s inventive upright bass lines, and Eli’s sublimely composed violin parts.

Shortly after that album came out, Russell moved to Rochester to work for the Mayo Clinic and was replaced by Kyle Westrick, who Germaine and I knew from Ely. While changing bassists, I picked up a new/old Gretsch and was itching to play electric guitar again. Eli wasn’t keen on the excessive volume and was also beginning a teaching career at UMD, and decided to move on with his life. I called upon Ryan Young, who was on a break from Trampled By Turtles, to fill his shoes. Ryan accepted, and although he lives in Crystal MN, a long way from Sparta, he played tracks on our next album, “Starmaps,” which we released in October of 2016. Russell played bass on most of the album, emailing tracks from Rochester, and Kyle played on a couple songs too. It was a strange experience to put together “Starmaps" with tracks emailed from Rochester and Crystal, but it remains one of Germaine and my favorite recordings.

The next one we were determined to record together, as a band. And that is how “Aeroplane Mode” came to be. Released a year after “Starmaps,” in October 2017, the songs were all recorded at Sparta Sound with Curtis drumming and a very enthusiastic and electric Kyle on the bass. Ryan did most of his violin tracks in Sparta, and some at his Neon Brown recording studio, in Crystal. Germaine and I put many hours into getting it just right. We were becoming quite a solid unit. The band was playing 3-4 times a month, and traveling all over the state, from Grand Marais to Bemidji to the Twin Cities and beyond. In the fall of 2017 Curtis landed a teaching job in Stillwater MN. After much consideration, he announced to me that he was leaving the group to focus on teaching. He also promised to fill in if ever we need him. Of course I understood, as this was his calling, and my nephew gracefully bowed out of the Northstars shortly after the release of “Aeroplane Mode.” The silver lining in that dark and worrisome cloud was that my good friend and Ol’ Yeller cohort Keely Lane was ready and willing to fill the seat behind the drums on Curtis’ departure. So it goes, and Trampled By Turtles reunited and went into full-time touring mode so we more or less dropped the violin from the lineup over the course of 2018 and the Northstars sound grew more electrified and rocking.

Curtis on the drums!

In May of 2017 I bought my dream guitar, a fireglo Rickenbacker 330. I had a Rickenbacker 360/12 back in 1987 that I gave up to buy a motorcycle a year later. It wasn’t a fair trade, I sold the guitar for much less than what it was worth (although it was exactly what I had paid for it). Since parting with it, I swore someday I would get myself a 330 (slightly different shape), and a 6-string at that. Little did I know it would take until I was 50 years old to afford myself that gift. My friend Ross Steinberg helped me find one in Minneapolis, and I am still amazed at how we managed to find one as nice at this. Once I got it home I couldn’t put it down, and it was like new life was breathed into my hands and suddenly I could play new things on the guitar that I never imagined possible. Of course I had to get a tremolo arm in order to keep in pace with the Gretsch somehow..and I still do use the Gretsch for some things (reunion gigs, Neil Young tribute gigs, recording) but that Ric has been my main axe since the first song I played on it (“Man In the Corner Shop” by the Jam).

I wrote a lot of new songs with the Rickenbacker, and was ready to put out another album in the fall of 2018, but decided not to rush it and put some extra time into the tracking and mixes for “Totem,” released January 2019. We continued playing all over the state, and made a couple road trips, one with our friends Rich Yarges and the Pop Mechanics down to Kansas and back, where we met the Headlight Rivals. Soon we returned to Kansas for some shows with them.

In January of 2020 we set out to record a new batch of songs, and did another session in February. I am so glad we did it when we did, as by early March, all our great shows that we had booked for the spring and summer got cancelled due to COVID-19. We did manage to play a few outdoor shows, last minute bookings through the summer of 2020, but what a tough year for us all. I spent the time whittling away on our recordings and finishing our latest, "SKYLIGHTS." I called an old friend, Joel Almberg, who had suggested working with him to put it to vinyl, and now I've finally, after all these years, got my own full-length vinyl record coming out in 2021. I couldn't be prouder of this album, and can't wait for folks to hear it..and can't wait to drop that needle down on it for the first time!!

After all these years being in bands it's still a blast. I can't imagine living without this creative outlet and the bond of playing music with friends. The bands I've been in all through life have been my best friends, to coin a term from the '60's, my "soul brothers." Of all the groups I've played with I can't think of one enemy of all the players. That's what happens when you keep it real and the money doesn't ruin everything. In retrospect, if I think about "What if such and such a band would have gone big-time," I think it probably would have wrecked everything, and we would have spent all the money by now. Maybe that's a cop-out, but it's certainly not something I dwell on. I'd much rather have friends and the enrichment that playing music and working with music people offers. I’m an artist. I’m cool with that.

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While we're here on the bio, I might as well mention all the other bands in my life, some proud moments, some funny stuff, some hobbies...Other than the aforementioned bands, I've managed to stay pretty busy with side projects and playing some parts on my friends' albums.

1981-September 1982: Easy Tilt Eveleth, MN
Mark Saari (my cousin); guitar and vocals
Rich Mattson; guitar and vocals
Marsh Thompson; bass
Tim Leseman; drums and vocals
*Prior to this lineup, Mark and I used to jam with me on bass, and Dennis Frye on drums. Other "jammers" around this time were Russell Bergum, Kris Kvaternik, Wade Bendarik, Paul Mayasich, Jim Rosati, John Viikensalo...

1982-1984: Alibi Longmont, CO
Mark Shultes; bass
Jamie McGregor; drums
Lorn Potter; guitar and vocals
Rich Mattson; guitar and vocals
*When I was in 10th grade the Mattson family up and moved to Colorado. We were soon to be back in Eveleth, but those two years really blew my mind!

1984-1987: The Imports Eveleth, MN
Rich Mattson; guitar and vocals
Tim Leseman; drums and vocals
Russell Bergum; bass and vocals
Jim Kennedy; keyboards and vocals
Tom "Monk" Cerar; guitar and vocals, summer 1984
Jim "JJ" Rosati; guitar and vocals, 1984-1985

Summer of '84: This band had no name, but all we did was play U2 songs with a few Alarm and Clash tunes thrown in for good measure.
Ray Sherrod; bass
Jeff Lutz; drums
Rich Mattson; guitar and vocals

1987-1988: Eleven Long Haired Friends of Jesus In A Charteuse Microbus Columbia Heights, MN
Paul Seeba; guitar and vocals
Tim Krutchowski; drums
Jim Kosluchar; bass
Rich Mattson; guitar and vocals
*We were all roomates who moved from "da range" to "da cities", and we all played music, so what the hell? We changed our name for every gig (all 4 of 'em).

1989-1990: the Groundskeepers Minneapolis, MN
Frank (Robert) Fitzgerald; vocals and guitar
Rich Mattson; guitar and backround vocals
Peter Anderson; drums
*Frank Robert wrote all these great tunes and all we did was practice. He went on to form a new band every 6 months and probably still is...great stuff though, I tell ya...

1991-1992: Thick Minnesota, USA
Alex Minotte; drums
Jim Kennedy; guitar, bass and vocals
Dan Aronen; guitar, bass and vocals
Rich Mattson; guitar, bass and vocals
*This was a fun little cover band that played parties and bars from Bemidji to Biwabik. Usually a 3-piece, they would call themselves "Thick and Rich" when I sat in.

1990-2005: World On A String Minneapolis
John Eric Theide; piano, guitar, vocals
Rich Mattson; guitar and vocals
Robbie Gilboe; drums
Greg McAloon; bass
Peter Anderson; drums
Jim Gruidl; guitar and vocals
Dave Boquist; bass, fiddle and vocals
Micheal Mackelreth; bass and vocals
Randy Broughten; pedal steel
Glen Mattson; drums
Patty Jansen; bass
*This was a Neil Young tribute band that played once in a blue moon. I must pay tribute to the man who taught me how to play the bass, drums, rhythm and lead guitar, and vocal harmonizing, not to mention respect for the acoustic guitar. Before Neil, all I liked was Ted Nugent and Van Halen!

1993-1996: Beangirl Minneapolis, MN
Steph "Tulip Sweet" Dickson; vocals and bugle
Rachel Berven; piano
Jason Deming; drums and dingers
Shannen Lach; bass and vocals
Peter Nicolai; accordian and vocals
Dale Kallman; trombone
Dan Haeg; the original guitarist
Rich Mattson; the next guitarist
Jim Kennedy; the last guitarist
Rob Stealcheat; conga
Terry Judson; Terry Judson
*I played in this band for only a couple months, but I recorded two ridiulously fun albums with them and made a lot of very good friends.

1995-1996: Beyond Zebra Minneapolis
Jason Logan; vocals and guitar
Mike "Chicki" Crego; drums
*Scott Allen; bass
*Rich Mattson; guitar and vocals
Grant Johnson; guitar and vocals
Greg Ebel; bass and vocals
*Very much a band before me and Scott Allen signed on to go on a big month long south to east coast tour!

1997-1999: The Odd Minneapolis
Tom Siler, aka "Tommy Obsession"; lead vocals
Mark Mallman, aka "Count Rockula"; keyboards and vocals
Dan Haeg, aka ; guitar and vocals
Jason Deming, aka "Scott Jaffee"; drums and vocals
Rich Mattson, aka "Reggie Pype"; bass and vocals
*This was my first real gig playing bass with a band. We got voted number 1 best new band in the "Picked to Click" critics' poll in City Pages in 1998 and that was the beginning of the end. God it was fun though..

Fall 1999: WHOGASM Minneapolis
Christy Hunt (Roger Daltrey)
Dan Haeg (Pete Townsend)
Shawn Walker (Kieth Moon)
Rich Mattson (John Entwistle)
*A Who tribute band that only played one mind-blowing show, at the Turf Club.

1998-2000: Kirk St. James Minneapolis via Dallas TX
Kirk St. James; vocals and guitar
Rich Mattson; bass
Ken Devoe; drums
this is the band that went on the west coast Supersuckers tour whence I got to play at the WHISKY A GO-GO! Other members included:
Johnny O'Halloran; bass or drums
Tom Cook; drums
Rob Gilboe; drums
Jaques Wait; bass
*Kirk moved to Minneapolis after Tenderloin broke up and recorded some stuff at my studio. Then we did some shows together. Now he's back in Dallas Texas.

Danny Commando y los Guapos
1999-2002: Minneapolis
Dan Haeg; vocals and guitar
Jon Davis; bass
Baby Grant Johnson; guitar and vocals
Bob Anderson; trumpet and melodica
Rich Mattson; drums and vocals
*Somehow I got roped into playing drums with my buddy Dan, and stuck with it for 2 years!

1999-2001: Jason Sack Band Minneapolis
Jason Sack; vocals and guitar
Rich Mattson; guitar and vocals
Pete Boulger; drums
Micheal Leggs; bass
Jim Kennedy; keyboards
Jim Crego; guitar (fill in)
*Jason was the leader of Beyond Zebra.

2002-2004: the Blue Violets Minneapolis
John Ewing; vocals and guitar
Steve Brantseg; vocals and lead guitar
Tom Cook; drummer guy
Johnny O' Halloran; bass 1996-2001
Micheal Whitten; keyboards
Rich Mattson; bass
*These guys, also known as the John Ewing Band, are good friends of mine. I recorded all three of their albums and knew all the songs, so I filled in on bass when Johnny O' Halloran was busy.

2004: The Gleam, Minneapolis
Zachary Kordusky; vocals and guitar
Tim Wreck; vocals and bass
Dickie Skins (Rich Mattson); drummer guy
Eric Gustafson; drums (2002-2004)
Butch; drums (2004-2005)
Bonson; drums (2005-present) I played drums for one gig and bass one or two?..but I help produce their records..

Winter 2005-2012: The Prodigal Sons (of the Iron Range)
Mark Saari; vocals, bass and guitar
Rich Mattson; vocals, bass and guitar
Glen Mattson; drumber
This was a side project with my brother Glen on the drums, and cousin Mark playing guitars. We played 100% "Goodtime Music". That is, if the crowd can't sing along, we don't play it.

Summer 2010-Present: Germaine Gemberling, Sparta MN
; vocals, acoustic guitar
Rich Mattson; guitar, vocals
**other players from Germaine’s albums and live shows:
Mike Randolph; pedal steel guitar
Eli Bissonett; violin
Keely Lane; drums
Dale Kallman; bass

Summer 2010-2014: Junkboat, Sparta/Minneapolis/Ely MN
Germaine Gemberling; vocals, acoustic guitar
Rich Mattson; lead guitar and vocals
David K. Loy; drums
Al Schroeter; bass .....This is Germaine's ROCK BAND. She writes the songs and the boys in the band kick 'em out!

Summer 2006-Present: The Bitter Spills, Sparta/Minneapolis MN
Baby Grant Johnson; vocals, 12 & 6 string guitars, resonator guitar
Rich Mattson; vocals, 6 & 12 string guitar, harmonica .... Folk duo with my good buddy, keeping the folk tradition alive!

January 2013-Present: TIRED EYES* and/or BROKEN ARROW† - Neil Young Tributes
Alan Sparhawk; vocals, guitar*
Rich Mattson; guitar, vocals
Glen Mattson; drums, vocals
Dale Kallman; bass and vocals
Jim Guidl; guitar, vocals†

Summer 2012-whenever: The ChaChaCha’s
Rich Mattson; Acoustic guitar, vocals
Warren Pulford; Harmonica, congas .. this is a fun duo that plays some lake and bar gigs up north, mostly covers and good time music.

Winter 2014-???: Rangers On Merlot
Joe Louma; drums and vocals
Al Oikari; keyboards, guitar, lap steel, vocals
Rod Dockan; guitar, bass, vocals
Rich Mattson; bass, guitar, vocals
We’ve played 2.5 gigs so far, mostly up in the Lutsen/Grand Marais area. A fun band of friends.


2011-present: Dave Rave and the Governors
Dave Rave; vocals and guitar
Craig Teiken; vocals and guitar
Rich Mattson; vocals and guitar
Terry Isachson; guitar
Chad Mittag; guitar, bass, vocals
Tom Cook; drummer
Mike "The Hammer" Johnson; drummer
Keely Lane; drummer
David Loy; guitar
Charley Varley; bass
Germaine Gemberling; vocals
Edie Baumgart; vocals, label
Dave Rave, the Canadian rock star and legend, has been coming to Sparta Sound twice a year, in January and June to record, and write songs, and play shows around MN. He is a true inspiration to everyone around him.  

Also while we’re here, here’s a list of some bands/artists I have shared a stage with over the years:

The Jayhawks
Soul Asylum
Trampled By Turtles
Uncle Tupelo
Sun Volt
The Church
Slim Dunlap
Charlie Parr
Ryan Adams
Golden Smog
Babes In Toyland
Reverend Horton Heat
North Mississippi All Stars
Robert Randolph
The Flamin’ Oh’s
Dead Man Winter
Curtiss A
Bob Mould
Grant Hart
The Honeydogs
Two Cow Garage
Drivin’ and Cryin’
Corey Chisel
Belfast Cowboys
Grand Champeen
Tyler Keith and the Preacher’s Kids
The Thorns
Run Westy Run
John Doe
John Dee Graham
Meat Puppets
Built To Spill
Roger Cline and the Peacemakers
Mason Jennings
Beatle Bob
Alison Moorer
Bill Kirchen
The Gear Daddies
Martin Zellar
The Carpenter Ants
Sam Miltich
Ike Reilly and the Assassination
Mike Nicolai
Bill Bulinsky of the Electras
White Iron Band
Sherwin Linton
Dan Israel
Bob Whootton

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