Jay Berine of Jay’s Longhorn Interviewed
By Jimmy Steinfeldt/Photography
HOLLYWOOD (Perfect Music Today) 4/7/19/–Jimmy Steinfeldt: How does it make you feel when people compare Jay’s Longhorn to CBGB and Max’s Kansas City?
Jay Berine: I guess it’s somewhat of an honor to be considered in that league. Those are actually places I was able to visit a couple years after the Longhorn. It was definitely fun to go there. They are definitely legendary.
JS: Did you make a conscious effort to book Punk, and New Wave bands or was that just the genres that were popular in the late 1970’s?
JB: It was a combination of things. I wanted to have a club that played live music. I hadn’t yet heard Punk or New Wave. I heard a couple of local bands including Flamingo who I was friends with. Another friend of mine Larry was manager of the Wax Museum record store in Robbinsdale and he turned me on to a lot of bands. We went to Uncle Sam’s (which became Sam’s and then became First Avenue) every single night looking for music. At that time there weren’t enough clubs. Hardly any live music clubs. There were places that had what we referred to as Holiday Inn bands because that’s either where they had played or where they should have been playing. So basically I wanted to have a club where we could see the new, good bands. I had no idea how many bands there were of that nature (Punk, New Wave.) I had spent a few years looking around for a club to buy but it seemed prohibitively expensive.
Around mid 1976 I started to look further into it and finally on June 1st 1977 I opened the Longhorn. I somehow managed to find this bar and buy it. Prior to that I owned a disco, Scotty’s on 7th. I only owned the disco for two months but I learned about the bar business and I dated my first cocktail waitress and decided bars were the business for me. Reggie Colihan of Big Reggie’s Danceland had become a well known business broker. He called me and told me the Longhorn was for sale. I met the old timers who were selling the place. I paid them what they were asking which was everything I had as a down payment and I struggled to make the payments after that. My employees were stealing from me. Cash, booze, steaks. I was young and innocent. I thought if I was nice to people they would be nice to me. This bar had originally been Nino’s steak house back in the early 1970’s. Back then they spent a fortune putting in a beautiful commercial kitchen and remodeling the place. They even had their own branded wool carpet with a Longhorn steer image woven into it. The place was decorated with cow heads and wagon wheels on the walls. They even had plates with cow heads on them.
JS: What were the major things you did to the Longhorn to change it into Jay’s Longhorn?
JB: We moved the music room downstairs and moved the game room upstairs (pool tables, pinball machines, etc). Paul Stark put in a sound system and I think he built the stage and he rented me some JBL studio monitors. Peter Jesperson started spinning records. By the way the previous club known as just the Longhorn was a Jazz club and many famous Jazz acts had played there. The Jazz band Natural Life had played there a lot. In fact even after we turned it into Jay’s Longhorn for six months people kept calling asking “When’s Natural Life going to play again.” Al Wodtke my manager would say “Never! We’ve been a Rock N Roll club for six months, Jazz sucks!”
JS: Describe what the layout was like.
JB: We were located at 14 South Fifth Street in downtown Minneapolis. The Longhorn was huge because it was built under a six story parking ramp. It was basically the basement of a parking ramp. You came in the door and walked down six or seven stairs to a landing where there was another door. Beyond that door was the lobby where we placed a desk to collect cover. On the left was the main bar. Red vinyl booths and red velvet wall paper and wagon wheels and cow heads and Nino’s cow head carpeting. Across the hall from that was the music room. All the way straight back was the dining room and kitchen. Upstairs was a smaller space where we had moved the game room. The total capacity was 750.
I didn’t have money to change the name. A friend of mine was a sign painter and he also lettered everyone’s racecars including mine. He came over one day and just painted Jay’s above the word Longhorn. He did the same on the sign out front and that was the extent of the name change. I remember having matchbooks printed with the new name and phone number.
JS: Why did you want to go in the disco, nightclub, bar business?
JB: I had always been an entrepreneur. I have never been happy working for anyone other than clients. I wanted to have my own business. When I was a little kid I had a lemonade stand. I started selling the tomatoes from my mother’s garden there. I was playing store at seven years old. I’ve always had that shopkeeper personality. I got into drag racing when I was in high school because I loved cars. I found a place where I could buy parts for my car wholesale. Nobody likes to pay retail. Then my friends started asking me to get them this or that part. It turned into a business and later I sold the business at a profit. I used that money to do nothing for a while. I sold at the right time because right about then the gas crisis hit and gas cost a fortune. Then car parts went way up in price and inflation ran wild so the racecar business was badly affected.
Around this time I saw the need for a bar with music. I had been going out every night after working at the speed shop. My friends and I were looking for bars with bands and there just weren’t any. I realized a bar/nightclub could be fun! Also anyone who walks into a busy bar thinks it’s a gold mine. I remember one night at the Longhorn I was at the front with Al Wodtke and a drunk customer came up and said “Wow you guys must have made a million dollars tonight!” And Al said “Yes, but we spent two million.”
JS: Describe what it was like to book a national band to play a local bar.
JB: It was really easy. We didn’t have to figure out how to do it or who to call or any of that stuff. It literally just happened. Local promoters like Randy Levy, and Sue McLean walked into the bar and sold us Mink DeVille. We got Elvis Costello for $750 and the show sold out in ten minutes. We sold the tickets manually just standing with a roll of tickets and people walking up. We limited it to four tickets per person. The promoter Dick Shapiro came in and sold us bands. The phone just rang. People wanted to play there.
Another important point to make is that bands that were new would start their tour in New York and also be on Saturday Night Live. Eventually they’d get to Minneapolis. The record stores and record companies were doing huge promotions in those days. Jay’s Longhorn ended up on the front page of The Reader, City Pages, and The Minnesota Daily. We’d be in the Sunday and Thursday entertainment section of the Star and Tribune. This went on week after week after week. . Of course I thought it was never going to end.
Babes in Toyland
JS: Can you describe the impact Jay’s Longhorn had on three local bands: Husker Du, The Replacements, and The Suburbs?
JB: Husker Du played the Longhorn late in my era when Hartley Frank started to take over the club so I didn’t know them well. As to The Replacements, Peter Jesperson either brought them in or found them there and they too would have come along around the time I sold the bar.
JS: Jay I have to say that I think both Husker Du and The Replacements have a very special place in their hearts for Jay’s Longhorn.
JB: Thank you Jimmy. The Suburbs I can speak to at length because I knew them well. They played at the bar a lot including one of their first gigs or maybe their very first gig. To be honest, at first, I didn’t like them and I didn’t want them back. Maybe I didn’t understand them. Maybe they were too raw at the time or I wasn’t ready. In those days I didn’t watch a lot of the bands anyway. The Suburbs managed to do what today we call gorilla marketing. Every one of their fans would call the Longhorn several times daily and ask “When are the Suburbs going to play gain?” I finally relented which I guess is lucky for all of us. They started playing again and I fell in love with them and have great memories.
JS: I’d like to ask you about two Minnesotan’s. I don’t think they played Jay’s Longhorn but I’d like your insight. Prince, and Bob Dylan.
JB: My first sort of encounter with Prince happened after I sold Jay’s Longhorn and went to work at Duffy’s. I managed the bar and did the booking for Danny and Leslie Johnson in the early 80’s for a couple of years. After we’d close up the bar all the bouncers and bartenders and I would go to a party somewhere or we’d go to breakfast. Usually to a party and then to breakfast. When you work at night you can’t go home from work and go to sleep so you hang out with all these musicians and bar people. One night one of the bartenders said she had gotten invited to a party in North Minneapolis (coincidentally where I grew up) and Prince was going to be playing there. I had never heard that name before. I said OK like I did for most everything else. We drove through North Minneapolis for an hour and never found the party. We didn’t have the address. There was no GPS or cel phones then. Some time after that Prince would come into Duffy’s as would Andre Cymone, Alexander O’Neal, Shangoya, and other local music artists.
Some manager called me when I was working at Duffy’s “Hey I have a special celebrity and we need to get him in.” He wouldn’t tell me who it was. I said “If you can’t tell me who it is I can’t get him in.” “Well, it’s Bob Dylan.” I said “Well, OK.”
JS: In your opinion why did a music scene explode around this time in a small market like Minneapolis?
JB: I have no idea. I really don’t other than I guess the right people with talent were there at that time. I think all the things drove one another. Having a place to play. Hearing bands encouraged other people to start their band. Also some how the word got out to other places like New York and then the Minneapolis scene just grew exponentially. It grew because we all wanted it to.
JS: what are your thoughts about the Dylan Hicks song Longhorn Days?
JB: I had never heard it until many years later. I thought it was appropriate regarding my days at the Longhorn. Later on I heard he said it’s not actually about the bar. So I don’t know. I guess your mission Jimmy is to track him down and find out.
JS: Any thoughts about the reunion that was held on May 16, 2015?
JB: I was invited and wasn’t able to make it. It’s really great that people are still interested. Mark Engebretson in Minneapolis made a movie called Jay’s Longhorn: A Documentary which will debut at the Parkway Theater in South Minneapolis on March 31, 2019. They also had a concert at the Parkway a few weeks ago featuring a number of the bands.
JS: Tell us something about Duffy’s, Uncle Sam’s, and First Avenue.
JB: I loved working at Duffy’s. I probably have as many stories about Duffy’s as the Longhorn. I went often to Uncle Sam’s which of course became Sam’s and then became First Avenue. I remember the bands Jesse Brady, and also Cain with lead singer Jiggs Lee. They were perhaps the largest drawing local bands in the mid 70s. These bands would sell out Sam’s or First Avenue for a Friday, Saturday, and Sunday night stand. I’d go all three nights. Hang out with the guys afterwards.
JS: Was some of the fun working at Duffy’s that you didn’t own the place?
JB: Yes, I’ve always taken my work seriously and take responsibility if something goes wrong. So it’s nice not to be the owner when the rent is due, or the liquor bill is due, or the payroll is due, or the health inspector is at the door.
JS: Any thoughts about some the people I also knew and worked with around this time when I started my photography career?
JB: Randy Levy. He’s a great guy and great businessman. He’s stayed in the concert business for 100s of years when many couldn’t last for six months. I bought a lot of shows from him. Peter Jesperson is a wonderful guy one of the most key people at the Longhorn and a huge influencer. Steve McClellan I’ve always had great respect for. He too is a great businessman. He’s managed to stay at it and do well for so many years. I can also mention Lori Barbero of the band Babes in Toyland who I thought was really cool and I had a crush on. I didn’t’ get to know her really well but she was always there at the Longhorn.
JS: To wrap things up do you have a favorite story or two?
JB: Here’s a couple of stories that come to mind. I partied with everyone, but one of the best nights of my life was the first time Talking Heads played. After their show my girlfriend Margaret (who collected cover at the door) and I went to the Radisson hotel where we had put up Talking Heads. David, Tina, Chris, Jerry and I went to David’s room where David pulled off the wall a giant mirror from above the dresser and put it on the king size bed and we partied! I don’t know how long this went on but later Chris, Tina, Margaret and I ended up back at my condo at the Towers and we just kept the party going long after the sun came up. When Talking Heads came back to Minneapolis on the next tour they actually asked for us.
I didn’t watch a lot of the shows at my own club. I’m camera shy. I’d much rather put on the show then be the show. I would spend a lot of time in the office where it was quiet and where it wasn’t all smoky. One of the things people today don’t know is people used to smoke in bars. The haze and the smoke smell in the club was unbelievable. Therefore often people and bands would visit me in my office and we’d have our own little party.
One night one of the waitresses came to my office and said “I don’t want to scare you Jay but there are a couple of guys out in front of the building with shotguns.” I don’t think dialing 911 had been invented yet so I just called the police. Being the drugged and curious fool I was, rather then staying in my bullet proof locked office I had to go out front to see what was going on. By the time I walked outside the police had already arrived and there were more coming. It was like they were filming a movie. There were cop cars coming from everywhere. Coming the wrong way down the one-way street three abreast. They were coming out of alleys. I think they were coming out of man-hole covers.
It turned out all that had happened was there were a bunch of guys who had been drinking at our bar and they had been trap shooting earlier in the day. Some of the guys had decided they were going to go home and the rest had decided to stay. The guys going home took their shotguns out of their car and went out front and called a cab. They were drunk and waving their shotguns around which didn’t help matters. After these guys explained all of this to the cops the cops actually gave these guys their guns back and let them go because that’s how the world used to be Jimmy.
Jimmy Steinfeldt Photography