The Wallets – A lifetime groove


The Wallets, a popular band from Minneapolis, Minnesota, played original music from 1980 – 1989. Over that ten year period the band expanded and contracted in size, moved to New York City for two years then back to Minneapolis, and toured extensively through the continental United States. Steve Kramer was the founder, composer and leader of the band. Being a visual artist he often incorporated his artwork into the live shows, album covers, posters and t-shirts.

I joined the band at the invitation of Steve Kramer, our fearless leader, in December 1980 (The band had already been performing for about a year with a different bassist). I flew to Minneapolis from NYC, where I had been living for the past 5 years playing bass guitar in Marbles, and had 2 rehearsals with the band. We then played three nights in a row at Jay’s Longhorn. At the time the band had a 4 piece horn section, two keyboardists, a conga player, 2 girl backup singers “The Wall-ettes”, a guitarist, drums and bass. It was a monstrous groove machine. As a bass player it was quite an education.

Blue Castanets – Live at Trax NYC 1981


Jimbo – Live at RIBCO 1986

The Back Story

Steve Kramer and I were good friends in high school days and we jammed together often with guitarist Steve Brooks. Those 2 guys could improvise on snatches of riffs and melodies for hours. It was like Kandinsky and Stravinsky playing tiddly winks. I valiantly tried to give the music some structure with my bass playing but it was pretty loose.

THE HURRICANE BOYS – 1971 (Steve Brooks, Duncan Hannah, Jim Clifford, Steve Kramer)

We added our friend and former classmate, Duncan Hannah, on drums and named ourselves The Hurricane Boys. After a few months we hooked up with Erik Anderson on drums for a brief stint. Erik opened up the universe when he’d hit those cymbals! We played huge house parties, one of which was broken up by police helicopters.

In January and February 1973, Steve Brooks and I got college credits for playing/jamming along with Steve Kramer in a house in South Minneapolis (January), and then in beautiful Reid Chapel on campus at Lake Forest College (February). We compared our improvisations to Indian ragas. It all culminated in an 8 hour all-night performance, “Tones in Time”, at Bennington College, Vermont, with Bill Dixon, an avant garde jazz trumpeter, as our advisor. Rod Gordon (he sat next to me in 2nd grade at Kenwood Elementary School and later became a keyboardist for The Wallets) gave us a ride from Lake Forest, Illinois, to the East Coast for our Bennington College showcase in his ’63 Studebaker. We stopped along the way in NYC to visit Duncan Hannah, who was going to school there.

King of Kings (excerpt) – Reid Chapel 1973

Once after we jammed all day in Reid Chapel, I had my college projectionist gig in the evening, which was screening a silent film, The King of Kings (1927), by Cecil B. DeMille. All three of us were crowded into the projectionist booth listening back to our recording of the day’s jam not aware that it was being broadcast into the theater while the film was running. “Mental Transcendental” would be an apt description of the viewing experience. You can get a taste of it here.