Electric Fetus looking back


Early days at the Electric Fetus: fuzzy memories and ‘rock criticism taken to the extreme’


Shopping for records
Customers at The Electric Fetus in Minneapolis browse for new music. (MPR Photo/Nikki Tundel)
I was the third record buyer for the Electric Fetus, back in 1972-’73. I got the gig at the recommendation of the second record buyer, Jim Gillespie, back when the Electric Fetus was on the West Bank. Jim was something of a mentor, as a music critic for the University’s Minnesota Daily, and as the record guy at the Fetus. His written reviews were wandering narratives with surprise endings that sometimes had nothing to do with the record at all, in the grand style of Lester Bangs and R. Meltzer. Behind the counter, he may as well have served as inspiration for that Jack Black character in the film High Fidelity. If you bought a record at the Fetus, you had to pass muster. Jim would signal approval with a raised eyebrow or half-smile, or give a thumbs-down with a nasty bad-taste-in-mouth grimace. This was not the typical buyer-seller transaction, but rather rock criticism taken to the extreme. I distinctly remember feeling immense relief when I purchased Bob Dylan’s Self Portrait, Van Morrison’s Moondance, the Allman Brothers Band, and Leon Russell in one fell swoop and Jim gave me the raised eyebrow and the ever-so-slightest semblance of an approving grin. I will admit to passing judgment on customers in a similar manner sometimes when I first stood behind the counter, but I quickly learned I was no Jim Gillespie. By the time I’d left a year later, I concluded a thumb’s up or thumb’s down at the cash register might not be the best way to maintain good customer relations.

Working at the Fetus allowed me to quit my ice cream truck gig and launch my so-called writing career. Rolling Stone magazine, the music bible, was sold at the store, and I read it religiously. I added Creem magazine at the suggestion of a distributor. Whenever there was downtime at the store, I was either listening to all the new music I cared to listen to or was reading about it. On a lark, I sent in an unsolicited review to Creem of the Sir Douglas Quintet’s Rough Edges, a quickie release by Mercury Records meant to capitalize on Doug Sahm’s Atlantic album for Jerry Wexler, which featured Bob Dylan. My review deemed the duct-taped compilation superior to the much greater hyped Atlantic product. A few weeks later, I received a check for $30 and a letter from Lester Bangs egging me on to write more. That, and snow in early May, prompted me to go back to Texas, to Austin, to write about music, which I’ve been able to do.

Memories of my days at the Electric Fetus are appropriately fuzzy: Danny and Keith, the elders; Dean, the cheery floor manager; Bob and Debby working the Other Side; Nancy the administrator watching the Watergate hearings on a tiny black-and-white TV down in the basement; the transcendent day Stevie Wonder’s Talking Book was released; discovering the wonderful world of cut-outs; getting to know Dougie at Select-o-Rax and the other record wholesalers sales people; exchanging ideas with Vern from Oar Folkjokeopus and folks from all the other indie record stores around the Twin Cities; being a willing guinea pig to consumer road test hash oil pipes for the Fetus sales reps who worked the Upper Midwest; hanging out at Keith’s farm up in the lake country (OK, that’s a joke; all of Minnesota is lake country); witnessing friend-of-the-Fetus Dave Snaker Ray playing deep Delta blues at the store’s fifth birthday; tackling my first shoplifter. I remember a whole lot, actually, considering my tenure was brief.

My successor, Bill Wade, was more stable. He put in more than 40 years at the Fetus.

I’ve been back three times. In 1981, the band I managed at the time, Joe “King” Carrasco and the Crowns, played Minneapolis and I dropped by, just as I did last summer. In 2008, I did a talk and signing at the store for the Willie Nelson biography I wrote, and had a moment. As I walked inside the door, I caught a big whiff of Nag Champa incense, that distinctive dank patchouli scent, and I got all weepy. “It still smells the same!” I said, surprised that I felt so emotional. The record department manager told me he didn’t even notice the smell anymore unless he goes on vacation and is away from the store for at least a week.

So I’m returning to the North Country for the Big Five-Oh, even though I won’t know or recognize all but about five people. I’m going to be staying with Jim Gillespie and his family and hopefully go with him to First Avenue and to the gathering for past and present staffers. Showing up is the best way I can express my gratitude. Working at the Electric Fetus really was one of those “best job I ever had” kind of deals. I’m coming back because it’s where I really learned about music. And I’m coming back because I want to know if it still smells the same.

Joe Nick Patoski is the author of biographies about Willie Nelson, Stevie Ray Vaughan, Selena, and the Dallas Cowboys, and the director of the music film documentary Sir Doug & The Genuine Texas Cosmic Groove. He is host of the Texas Music Hour of Power 7-9 central Saturday nights on Marfa Public Radio.

Related Stories

  • 50 facts about the Electric Fetus The Electric Fetus’s five decades are filled with encounters with musical legends and fragments of Minnesota history. To celebrate the Fetus’s fiftieth birthday, here are 50 Fetus Facts.
  • Interview with Electric Fetus co-founder Ron Korsh In 1968, Ron Korsh co-founded the Electric Fetus with his friend Dan Foley. The Current recently caught up with Korsh at his home in Washington, D.C. Among several interesting facts and recollections, Korsh talks about the inspiration for the name ‘Electric Fetus,’ about what made him leave retail for architecture, and how – coincidentally – how he designed the house where drummer Bobby Z now lives.

1 Photos

  • More than musicThe incense selection at the Electric Fetus (MPR Photo/Nikki Tundel)
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Willis Alan Ramsey in NPR Music



The Follow-Up
The price of perfection is cheap, if that’s all you spend your money on.
April 9, 20186:01 AM ET



He walked into the restaurant with the pronounced limp of an old warrior, which he attributed to a bad back, and mentioned a history of self–medication with alcohol. A friend had given him a blister pack of steroids and a prescriptive anti-inflammatory that he examined as he slid into a booth at Threadgill’s in south Austin, Texas. The thick head of hair had turned gray and the sloe-eyes drooped a little more. But that infectious smile remained, same as ever.

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Margaret Moser, Queen of Austin, Is Dancing In The Light

Here’s a story I wrote about my friend Margaret Moser for The Record: Music News from National Public Radio



June 18 was the beginning of a weeklong Open House at Tex Pop, the South Texas Museum of Popular Culture — a storefront wedged between a head shop and convenience store in an aging strip center at the corner of Margaret and Mulberry in San Antonio. Inside, in the largest of three rooms, museum founder and director Margaret Moser is seeing her first visitor of the day, Kathy Valentine. In an adjacent room, Moser’s mother Phyllis Stegall and a niece greet arrivals as they wait their turns. The mood is somber, which on any other day could be attributed to it being a Sunday morning, except that everyone here knows Moser is living on borrowed time. The one exception to the caliginous vibe is the day’s person of interest and honor — she’s smiling, laughing, holding hands, hugging, listening to and telling stories. Having the time of her life.

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Here & Now Visits Texas Music Hour of Power

Jeremy Hobson of National Public Radio’s Here & Now program visits with the Texas Music Hour of Power for DJ Sessions

Joe Nick Patoski is our guide through the music of Texas — from western swing to zydeco to Tex-Mex.

Patoski (@joenickpatoski) hosts the “Texas Music Hour of Power” out of Marfa Public Radio, and tells Here & Now‘s Jeremy Hobson about why he believes in “salvation through Texas music.”

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Texas Music Hour of Power Sat nites 7-9 pm central KRTS Marfa & KXWT Odessa-Midland, 3-5 pm central KEOS.org and anytime here






Every Saturday nite, yours truly hosts the Texas Music Hour of Power, showcasing all kinds of Texas sounds created over the past century of recorded music. The show runs two hours because Texas spans two time zones and frankly, the music is too dang big to limit it to one hour.

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Sir Doug film review in MUSICFILMWEB

thanks to Brendan Toller for this fine review of Sir Doug & the Genuine Texas Cosmic Groove  MUSICFILMWEB review link



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Sir Doug film playing Barcelona, Fort Worth and Houston


Three big film festival screenings are coming up for the film I directed Sir Doug and the Genuine Texas Cosmic Groove

Wednesday, November 4 Sir Doug will screen at In-Edit Barcelona, the music documentary festival InEdit

Saturday, November 7 Sir Doug will screen at the Lone Star Film Festival in Fort Worth


Friday, November 13 Sir Doug will play the Houston Cinema Arts Festival


I will be doing a Q and A after these screenings.

Mil gracias to the Mill Valley Film Festival in northern California for hosting us and screening the film on October 11-12


and mega mil gracias to the Santa Fe Independent Film Festival for hosting us and for three consecutive sold out screenings, and for the festival’s Audience Choice Award.


More screenings are coming, along with (hopefully) a distribution deal.

Longterm goal: get Doug on the nominee list for induction into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame this time next year. Here’s a link to sign the petition. Please pass it around. Groove Doug Sahm into the Rock Hall



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Roy Orbison Museum in Wink




The Roy Orbison Museum in Wink isn’t easy to get to, since it’s not close to anywhere but Wink. But we made an appointment in advance, by calling 432/527-3743, and arranged to meet Edith Jones, who would open up the museum upon our arrival, opening up the World of Roy to a couple curious visitors.









Wink is a classic oil patch town that despite the steady stream of fracking trucks in and around the community, has clearly seen more hubbin’ days. Roy Orbison’s family moved to Wink when he was in junior high school. He was born in Vernon, the same hometown of Jack Teagarden, the King of the Blues Trombone, and Paul English, Willie Nelson’s drummer. The family moved to Fort Worth before moving again to Wink following the end of World War Two.

Roy quickly found his place working on the high school annual, starting in junior high, where he illustrated annuals with his sketches.






















During his senior year, the Wink Wildcats were Class A state champions in Football, whose path to state Roy illustrated here

















He formed his first band, the Wink Westerners in high school which became the Teen Kings when the band switched from playing western music to playing rock and roll.








Popular throughout West Texas and the South Plains, the band had their own television show in Midland and in Odessa, and backed up Slim Whitman for a spell when that entertainer found himself stranded without a backup band. The Teen Kings first recorded in Dallas for the storied Jim Beck, then made their way to Memphis, where they recorded for Sun Records, the same label that recorded the first tracks of Johnny Cash, Elvis Presley, and Jerry Lee Lewis, and also recorded in Clovis, New Mexico for Norman Petty, who recorded Buddy Holly and Buddy Knox, among others.


OrbMusBalmo OrbMusWesterners OrbMusWinkClock OrbMusWinkWesternAd










He emerged as a solo artist under the tutelage of Fred Foster of Monument Records, who broke Roy as a singing star, taking his talent to England in 1963 where he toured with a new band called the Beatles.








Throughout his career, he never forgot where he came from.













Edith Jones moved to Wink after Roy had departed. She and her husband wanted to restore the Rig Theater next door to the museum. After that effort stalled, she’s become active in the Roy Orbison Museum and helping to organize the annual Orbison festival, which for the first time in twenty-six years, was not held in  2015. [Bands interested in appearing at Wink for 2016 should get in touch with Edith now]








Edith is a great tour guide and told some good Roy stories. She even let us try on a pair of Roy’s sunglasses, whose lenses were so coke-bottle thick, I got dizzy just putting them on.















We also bought some t shirts from past festivals and a Roy Orbison  koozie. Edith graciously gave us a small sample of “Pretty Woman” perfume that was developed by Roy’s second wife and widow, Barbara, now deceased.











Edith told us about the time Carl Perkins came to the museum. He was dressed in all white and managed to not dirty himself despite the dust and the dirt that are part and parcel of the Permian Basin. Carl donated to the museum these autographs that the Beatles gave to him.







We left a donation in the jar by the door in thanks for Edith’s time and knowledge.  If you go, you should too.





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Armadillo Rising, Sun Apr 19 Wittliff Galleries, San Marcos

Come join us, y’all

Austin’s Music Scene in the 1970s


This free public event celebrates the Wittliff exhibition Armadillo Rising, which documents the breakout years of the Austin music scene. After an opening reception, the program will feature a Armadillo World Headquarters founder EDDIE WILSON and music journalist JOE NICK PATOSKI, who will discuss the extraordinary times in the Armadillo’s history as the cosmic capital of Austin’s burgeoning music scene. They will be joined by cultural historian JASON MELLARD, who will serve as moderator.

UPDATE! – A portion of the documentary, The Rise and Fall of the Armadillo World Headquarters by MARK HANNA and RICHARD GAYLORD, will be shown during this event!

The Wittliff’s Homegrown music poster exhibition catalog, which includes an essay by Patoski titled “It All Started Here,” will be available for purchase, as well as other books by the participants, who will sign copies after the discussion.

ATTENDEES are asked to RSVP to thewittliffcollections@txstate.edu to receive further information including parking instructions.

For special assistance or questions, call 512-245-2313, ext. 0.

[Image] Detail of closing-night poster for the orginal Armadillo World Headquarters, © 1980, Micael Priest

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