Somewhere around the Summer of Love, two Irish-American brothers - Jimmy and Terry (that's me) Walsh - from South Minneapolis started a band called The Two Tornadoes. Early songwriting attempts featured lyrics that were mostly based on bodily functions. The lads spent little time practicing music, preferring to practice signing their autographs instead.
The band broke up due to the usual artistic differences. Jimmy wanted to concentrate on writing about burps, while I preferred to explore the lyrical potential in gassers. We went our separate ways, but continued to be thrown together in years to come, either due to fate, or to the fact that we shared the same room.
When we pooled our money together to buy a tape recorder with a radio BUILT RIGHT IN it was a major turning point. We got quite good at hitting Play and Record simultaneously right after the DJ stopped talking, and hitting Stop right before he started blahblahblahing again. We tried to get perfect recordings, and it could be really difficult. I never got a complete version of "American Pie" or "Sugar Sugar", but I did capture "I Think I Love You" once, I think.
I started playing piano, mostly Elton John songs, and played at my high school talent show with my leg shaking so much I couldn't hold down the damper pedal. I joined a band as a singer/harmonica player in 1980, and we practiced regularly for months, perfecting our forty song set list along with a handful of originals. The band (after much fruitless debate and one almost physical confrontation) was called The Exceptions. We played one show, at our old high school, and I totaled my Mom and Dad's Chevette driving to the post-gig party.
After that The Altared Boys were born, a trio constantly in search of a fourth member. I tried to play guitar and sing, Jim Hanneman played guitar, and Jim Meyer played drums until we found a drummer, then switched to bass. After the drummer left, we found bassist Amy McCumber, and Meyer switched back to drums. We would practice for months to play one gig, usually opening for REMs or The Neglecters (bands featuring my brothers), then we'd stop for six months before repeating the process. Meyer's critical ear knew exactly how the drumming should sound, and he became discouraged when he realized how long it would take him to reach that level. Hanneman went to law school, and I started playing solo at the Uptown Bar. Around this time I also played a couple of shows in cover bands with two friends of Amy's: Bart Bakker and Joe Loskota.
There were about 4.3 seconds when I might have been wrongly considered the next big thing, or maybe just as a guy who knew someone who worked with the next big thing's cousin. In the mid-eighties the cool indie labels would have none of my "Sugar Sugar" inspired writing. It was the era of Loud Fast Rules and Loud Loud Loud Loud Guitars. Daunted, but still stupidly ambitious, I moved to New York, and played in the clubs of Greenwich Village while trying to pay rent by working at Tower Records, selling cassettes. Four months later I was back home in Minneapolis, my tail firmly between my legs.
I took a job at a record store one door down from the Uptown Bar called (yecch) Great American Music. They made us wear ties and take our orders from a former shoe salesman who prefaced every lecture with the word "basically". I decided to work there in order to delve into the extensive catalogs of two artists I admired very much, but who were too prolific that it to even think of being able to purchase all of their music: Bob Dylan and Van Morrison. People would come into the store and smile when they heard Blonde on Blonde or Saint Dominic's Preview coming out of the speakers instead of the GAMCO (Great American Music Corp) PlayTapes that Mr. Basically tried to force us to put on. They were awful! Short slices of crappy songs with some shill D.J. between cuts telling us "what's Hot and what's Now!" After working there for a year, Dylan and Van were like old friends. Happily, I also met a few real life life-long friends at this stupid corporate record store.
One day in 1989, I was dressed in my tie behind the counter, and Bart Bakker walked in specifically to talk to me. He wanted to start a band. Joe Loskota was reportedly on board, so we only needed a drummer. Bart suggested we ask a friend of his from a cover band. Dave Haugen was a nice guy who owned a van, and he fit in like the missing puzzle piece.
The band needed a name, and several spectacular choices were whittled away until we were left with two candidates: "Endless Tongue", and "2 A.M. Ralph".
And so 2 A.M. Ralph was born. Gigs were few and far between, and never profitable. It became very clear that I would have to come up with all of the dough myself if we were ever going to make a record. We flip-flopped on the band name, doing shows as Terry's Tiny Town and Terry Walsh's 3D House of Pancakes before reclaiming half of 2 A.M. Ralph's name and dubbing ourselves Terry Walsh and 2 A.M.
We began recording tracks for our first album. I scraped money together slowly for the sessions with engineer/producer Tom Herbers. After five years and seven studios, the LP was outdated, and the CD "Harriet" was born. It came out in 1995 and sold around fifty copies. We've sold a few hundred over the years, and gave away many more. The used record stores used to be very well stocked with copies of Harriet.
Bart moved on to play with another band. Joe got married and had a son. Dave and I kept playing and writing together. Bassist Jeff Litke joined up and we played some pretty good gigs as a trio, thanks to booking agent Brian Swanson. I started accepting credit card offers and we went back to Tom Herbers' studio to record what would become "Work and Hope", a nice CD full of songs I 'm still proud of, but very few people ever heard. It seemed to be doomed from the start. The cover was designed by a friend, and the band name is hidden in a way that would make Nigel Tufnel proud. The date on the back of the CD says 1996, but it was released in January of 1997. It was old before it was even released. Cripes!
After filling in as Slim Dunlap's bassist on a tour supporting Son Volt, then playing a couple more shows as 2 A.M. with Bart back on bass, I quit playing music. It was the saddest time of my life. I thought I should just try to grow up and put those childish guitars away forever. I took a job at Hello Booking with Brian, and before long realized that I couldn't work in or around the industry without becoming seriously depressed. I was sending out promo material and contracts for my friends' bands. I needed to move on.
I was working as a dispatcher for a limousine company and listening to a radio broadcast of a Minnesota Vikings preseason game when the station went to a commercial. They played the usual quick blast of bumper music. Only this time it wasn't the usual music: it was my harmonica coming out of the radio. I flew out of my chair in the little office and shouted "They're playing my song!!" It was "Your Way Out" from Work and Hope, and it sounded remarkably passable, just as good as other bumper music you might hear. An old friend from childhood, and then again in high school - a guy named Pat Swift - had tossed me a lifeline. WCCO-AM wound up using 2 A.M. songs on all of their sports broadcasts for the next five years. It made me feel like a real musician again. I had a new injection of the poison in my veins.
A short time after that, Brian Swanson called me and invited me to join himself and two other guys - bassist Rodney Toogood (who I knew from Brian's old band The Idlewilds) and drummer Dave Kirby - in what Brian called a "go nowhere, do nothing little rock and roll band." He said it was really just an excuse to get out once a week and drink beer. It was a great deal. We only played songs we wanted to play, and we had no intentions of gigging. We did wind up playing a couple of weddings. And we did open for Cheap Trick once!
In the summer of 2001, we began learning a pile of Van Morrison songs, laying the foundation for what would become The Belfast Cowboys.
Because a nine-piece band would rarely play any shows if we had to clear all nine of the players' schedules, we quickly found backups at every position except mine. The original guys from 2 A.M. were recruited to join the Belfast Cowboys, a smaller group (called St Dominic's Trio, despite the fact that we usually play with more than three players) was formed to play in smaller pubs around Minnesota, and we've been playing together regularly since 2002. It's been a surprisingly nice run, including shows in New York, Chicago and Ireland and a couple of opening slots for rock legends that actually found us playing in front of thousands of people.
We released two CDs in December of 2008: "The Belfast Cowboys" (all Van Morrison songs), and "Switch", St Dominic's Trio's album of all original material. Since then we've played well over a hundred shows every year, and between gigs and day jobs slowly cobbled together The Belfast Cowboys' 2015 release, "The Upside to the Downslide". It's a mix of original songs and five somewhat obscure Van selections, with one Nick Lowe tune thrown in for good measure.
I'm amazed at my own good fortune. Thirty years ago I was already worried about being too old to ever be able to work in this business. Now I feel like we could play for the rest of our lives. Thanks to everyone who ever helped, encouraged or listened, or even just took the time to read this whole long and rambling bio. I sure do appreciate you. If you come to a show, don't forget to say hi.