I hadn’t heard of Martin Zellar before he came to school, but I got a brief history lesson from my teachers. In the 80’s Minnesota rock was starting to gain mainstream attention. Zellar was the frontman for the Gear Daddies, a band that rose to fame among the likes of Hüsker Dü, and the Replacements. At the time, Minneapolis was hot.
After three studio albums, a performance on David Letterman, and three years of touring, the Gear Daddies peacefully broke up. Zellar started playing with a new group, Martin Zellar and the Hardways. They released their first album in 1994, and have been together ever since. Zellar has enjoyed a long lasting career, and a loyal Minnesota fan base. He sat down with my Songwriting II class, listened to our songs, and shared some words of wisdom.
Zellar was very complimentary; he said the songs were fantastic. There’s a lot of talent in our class, and it was cool to hear that validated by a successful songwriter. He said that what a lot of my classmates got right, was having a memorable chorus he could sing back. Zellar’s own music is defined by story telling, and he talked about the importance of being a good listener. He said that a lot of his songs come from stories others told him.
For the first Minnesota Storytellers, Martin Zellar and the Hardways took the stage at the Earley Center for Performing Arts. They had two acoustic guitars, a bass (played by Zellar’s son), and a drummer who mostly used brushes. Zellar sang lead, and the drummer occasionally harmonized. They played their brand of country and rock, old songs and new. I am only recently familiar with his repertoire, but I was happy to hear “Stupid Boy,” and “Wear Your Crown.” They did not play that damn zamboni song, which was fine by me.
Every two songs or so, Professor LeGere would come onstage and ask questions. They talked about breaking from a small town, and the importance of their Minnesota community. Zellar said that some Minnesota bands were kicking down doors and his band could kind of sneak in behind them. When the Minnesota rock sound was hot, labels were sending out A&R guys just to find their own Minnesota band. The community had defined a sound, and everyone wanted a piece of it.
Zellar is definitely a story teller. He gave quite a bit of backstory between songs, and told us about his time with the Gear Daddies. My favorite was when LeGere asked if they had any “debaucherous tour stories,” and they talked about playing at Carleton College and throwing a tray of food against the wall, making a mess. They felt so bad about it they cleaned it up themselves. “We’re just nice Minnesota boys,” Zellar said. It was also funny to hear that when their label was called about them performing on Letterman, the head of promotions had never heard of them. Overall, this was a pretty cool event, and I look forward to the next one.