Blue Guitar Highway by Paul Metsa (Book Review)

The state of Minnesota has given America at least two cultural gifts: Bob Dylan, and Garrison Keillor and his Prairie Home Companion radio program. It is also the birthplace of the performer known as Prince, as well as Judy Garland and Charles Lindbergh.

Beginning in the 1980s, Minnesota –- specifically, the Twin Cities -- developed a music scene that brought forth bands as diverse as the Replacements and Hüsker Dü.  Along with Seattle, the Twins metro area has contributed to the national alternative/indie rock and mini folk booms of the 1990s, as well as a nationally recognized hip hop scene a decade later.

Paul Metsa, a folk and blues/rock performer and social activist, is well known in his home state – a native son comparable to early Bruce Springsteen and his beloved New Jersey. Unfortunately, his name rings few bells beyond its borders. Perhaps this book will change that.

He began performing with his folk/blues/rock band, Cats Under the Stars, in 1982 (not to be confused with Jerry Garcia’s band of the same name). In 1984, he released “Paper Tigers” his first vinyl album.

Metsa has been a featured performer at tributes to Woody Guthrie, Texas Farm Aid, and the Million Mom March. He’s been honored numerous times by his home state, with seven Minnesota Music Awards, and was named Americana Artist of the Year in 2005. His professional career is well documented in this book, as are the careers and fortunes of many musical and literary contemporaries.

After more than 40 years of immersion in the Minnesota and Midwestern music scenes, Metsa decided to write Blue Guitar Highway, a literary memoir that details his personal life, his immersion in music, and the many musicians and characters he’s met along the way. As such, the book – which is well written – is loaded with anecdotes that are by turns funny, mordant, or just plain informative as they paint pictures of a regional music star’s life in the Minnesota music business.

The title of the book suggests a trope on Blue Highways, a classic road memoir by William Least Heat-Moon published in 1999. Like Heat-Moon’s book, wherein he describes a journey along America’s back roads – its “blue highways” on old maps -- Metsa’s book is, in a sense, a celebration of music’s back roads as lived by a locally famous musician/writer from the Iron Range.

The anecdotes are entertaining, the self-deprecating humor is often captivating, and the music trivia is mostly entertaining to those of us who know little about the music and the culture of Minnesota in the middle of the last century. The book contains a complete discography of Metsa’s work, as well as a comprehensive list of all the performers he’s played with over the years. -- Michael Cala 

(originally published in Sing Out! 2011)


Publisher: University of Minnesota Press

ISBN: 978-0-8166-7642-2

Hardcover, 288pp

$24.95 (list)

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Created by No Depression Feb 17, 2009 at 9:06pm. Last updated by No Depression Sep 24, 2012.