A photograph published with the obituary notice for John Fredrick "Fred" Case gives you a hint of the bohemian, picaresque, unconventional life that he led: It's a mugshot taken after he was arrested in Minneapolis in 1964 for shooting out store windows with a homemade gun when he was a teenager.
Fred Case was a juvenile delinquent, a car thief and a drug dealer in his youth, according to friends, relatives — and his own biography.
As a hippie, he fully embraced a drugs, sex and rock 'n' roll lifestyle. His counterculture adventures and misadventures ranged from getting kicked out of the army, painting water towers across the Midwest, riding a motorcycle across Europe, living in Copenhagen and driving across the country with a collection of old brass beds to sell in San Francisco.
After he sobered up, he even achieved a degree of respectability.
His passion for going to concerts with a camera, talking his way backstage and hanging out with rock and roll legends like the Rolling Stones and the Grateful Dead resulted in a book published in 2019 by the Minnesota Historical Society Press: "When the Stones Came to Town: Rock 'N' Roll Photos from the 1970s," with co-author Eric Dregni.
Case, a Minneapolis resident, died March 17 of complications from injuries from a car crash. He was 77.
Case was born in Mount Vernon, N.Y. But he grew up in Mounds View after his father got a job as a chemist at 3M. He apparently spent his childhood in Minnesota doing his darndest to give his parents grey hairs.
"He would borrow dad's cars, not necessarily asking," said his sister Kay Walfoort.
In his book, Case said he started stealing cars at the age of 14, once stealing a car with a friend so he could drive to Clear Lake, Iowa, to catch what would turn out to be Buddy Holly's last performance at the Surf Ballroom on Feb. 2, 1959.
As a young man, Case rented a ramshackle little house on Minneapolis' West Bank, which became known as the "Sign House" after Case covered the exterior with old metal advertising signs. The house became such a local landmark that it was once featured on the front page of the Minneapolis Star. An architectural magazine cited it as an example of urban decay.
"He was a curator, a collector, a dumpster diver, whatever," said Buddy Scroggins, a next door neighbor and a friend from those days.
Scroggins remembers once taking a trip with Case in a 1953 Chevy Suburban, driving through Minnesota, Montana, Idaho and Washington, looking for adventure and old brass beds that they strapped to the roof of the vehicle and resold in San Francisco.
"We were drunken hippies and every night, we'd go to a local bar and invariably he'd be taken home by some young woman," Scroggins said. "Living with Fred was like living in a Kerouac novel."
Scroggins sobered up in 1978 and later became an airline pilot. Case quit drinking about two years later, after he got busted for a drug charge, showed up to court drunk and was thrown into jail for 30 days to sober up, according to Scroggins.
Case made a living as an auto mechanic, worked for a roto-tiller distributor and sold collectibles. Once in a while he got a rock and roll picture published in a music magazine.
His book, which has chapter titles like "Elton John's Red Bikini Briefs," and "Miles Davis Yells At Me," is full of stories like taking musician Ron Wood on a beer run, partying with photographer Richard Avedon and hiring bluesman Muddy Waters to play at his birthday party on Raspberry Island in St. Paul.
Dan Disner, a friend, said Case was a magnetic storyteller who would embellish his tales. But his book has the photos to prove that he was there when Rod Stewart was shirtless backstage at the Depot (later First Avenue) or when a bunch of flight attendants hung around backstage at the Guthrie Theater with the Grateful Dead.
"If something looked like it might be fun, he would do it," said Case's partner, Carol Peltier.
Case is survived by sisters Kay Walfoort, of Scandia; and Clara Anne Martin, of Waynesville, N.C.; brother George Case, of Gillette, Wyo.; daughter Lisa Seviola; and son Michael Sopkowiak.
A celebration of life is being planned for later this spring.