Mitch Griffin had a nice surprise for the small New York record label that tracked him down in Minneapolis, asking about a 1980 single by his old power-pop band the Jacks.
The 7-inch record had grown into a sought-after collector's item, and the company was interested in reissuing it.
"Sure, that'd be great," Griffin said, then offhandedly added, "Oh, and by the way, we have about 35 other unreleased tracks — some of them with some pretty interesting players on it."
Those players happen to include Minneapolis rock royalty.
Tommy Stinson of the Replacements — only 15 years old at the time of recording — Bob Mould of Hüsker Dü and Chris Osgood of the Suicide Commandos are listed among the credits on the newly issued Jacks LP, "Make 'Em Cry (1978-1985)," from reissue imprint Reminder Records.
While those Minnesota all-stars are only featured on two or three songs apiece, they're enough to spark interest from indie-rock nerds everywhere in Griffin's mostly forgotten band, which also performed as the Tulsa Jacks and originated in Oklahoma.
"We were a band spread between many locations," said Griffin, who moved to Minneapolis in 1980, a couple of years after the Jacks came to town to headline Jay's Longhorn Bar.
Before that, the group had relocated to Cleveland, where Griffin (singer/drummer) and chief collaborator Walter Kleinecke (singer/guitarist) frequently gigged with pioneering bands like Pere Ubu and the Pagans.
In Oklahoma, the Jacks befriended power-pop pioneer and songwriting great Dwight Twilley. His influence is heard in a lot of their tunes, including "Just Like Yesterday" — the single that went on to be a favorite of collectors and is now a highlight on "Make 'Em Cry."
"That song was basically recorded live, and it's very close to what we sounded like at that time," said Kleinecke, who is back living in Tulsa.
Kleinecke had returned there in 1980 and started a new lineup of the group without Griffin. They remained good friends, though, and Griffin invited his Okie pal up to Minneapolis in 1981 to make more music together. That's when they wound up working with some future all-stars at Blackberry Way Studio in Dinkytown (now home to Blue Bell Knoll; the old owners of Blackberry Way still run a label with that name).
Mould, Stinson and Osgood had gotten to know Griffin from his job behind the counter at Oar Folkjokeopus record store, then an epicenter of Minneapolis' punk/indie-rock scene.
"Bob was in the store a lot," Griffin recalled, "and Tommy was just this annoying kid who'd always be hanging around. We had no idea they would go on to be rock stars."
However, Stinson did make rock-star-like demands for his participation in the sessions: He needed a ride to and from his mom Anita's house, plus a treat from Dairy Queen on the way home.
"He was literally paid in ice cream," Griffin quipped.
A memorable 'Vacation'
The collector-turned-label-proprietor behind Reminder Records, Jeremy Thompson called the inclusion of the Minneapolis cast "pretty cool and unusual." But he also stressed that's not why he wanted to release a whole LP of the Jacks' lost recordings.
"Especially those two bands, the Replacements and Hüsker Dü, it's so rare to have them playing on anyone else's recordings individually, much less together," he said. "But that's just a fun little side note. These recordings definitely stand up on their own."
Mould and Stinson both appear on the reverb-heavy tracks "(You're) So Wrong" and "All Around You," each reminiscent of Big Star's rowdy melodies with a tinge of paisley pop flavor.
"Even that early on, I think you can hear Bob's distinctive style of guitar playing," Kleinecke said, also praising Osgood's contributions on two other tracks (one with Mould on bass).
"The Suicide Commandos were actually the much bigger band at the time."
Those Minneapolis recordings did see daylight on a cassette coyly titled "Walter's Vacation," but just a small glimmer of light: "I think I probably sold 25 copies of it at Oar Folk and not much more," Griffin noted.
With the distance between band members — and the lack of a record deal — the Jacks eventually faded away by 1985.
Griffin continued playing with Minneapolis bands in the '80s, including stints with Curtiss A, the Warheads, Boiled in Lead and the Neglectors. He went on to enjoy a longtime career as a sound engineer, first with Twin Cities Public Television and now at Timberwolves games.
The absence of the latter gig during the pandemic actually proved to be something of a blessing. "I probably wouldn't have had the time otherwise to hunt down all these tracks," he said. It took "many, many phone calls and a lot of detective work."
The old analog tapes — including a dozen tracks recorded in Tulsa and Cleveland — wound up in various cities, including San Diego, New York and Austin, Texas, as studios' assets were bought up over the years. Then they had to be cleaned up and converted to digital.
"Some of the tapes were quite literally nearly disintegrated," Kleinecke said. "It's really to Mitch's credit [the album] wound up sounding as good and cohesive as it does."
It turned out so well, in fact, that Griffin and Kleinecke were inspired to start working on new music together with latter-day Jacks guitarist Jerry Casey. There are no formal plans to release anything yet, though. After their previous recordings sat on the shelves for four decades, they don't seem in any hurry this time around.
"We just never got heavily initiated into the music business," Griffin said, "and Walter actually kind of avoided it.
"That was probably a good thing for us in the end. But I think it's unfortunate this stuff never got heard before now."