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The McMinamins—A True Rock and Roll Family

By Chris Manson April 19, 2007 Issue

This started out being a piece about bluesician Hans McMinamin’s School of Rock—makes sense, considering they show the Richard Linklater film of the same name on TNT every other night. But when I get to Hans’ place round the back and upstairs at the Shores Shopping Center, I notice three articles from previous issues of The Beachcomber that featured McMinamin in some form or other. Not that I don’t appreciate seeing my articles posted around town — see also Blue Orleans, my absolute favorite restaurant on Earth.

But Hans really wants to draw my attention to his wife Susan’s recording career. A singer of considerable force and a first-rate interpreter, Susan McMinamin has often been overshadowed by the men in her life — like onetime Rolling Stones guitarist and ex-husband Mick Taylor. It was through Taylor that Hans first met his partner in music and life. Susan was six months pregnant with her daughter Emma—“big as a house and touring with Mick’s band.” During a stop along the border of Germany and the Netherlands, Hans and his blues mentor Ziggy Christmann approached Susan. The two men had driven a long way hoping for an audience with the man who played all those great guitar parts on Let It Bleed, Exile on Main Street, and, er, Goats Head Soup.

“Mick said he didn’t want to see them. He told me to tell them he had gas or something,” Susan says. Later, Susan got Hans and Christmann backstage passes. The rest, I suppose, is history. Hans gave up a 23-year gig with his German blues band to be with Susan and Emma in the United States. Emma joins her mother on the CD on a duet of Rademes Song from Elton John’s Aida. “Emma can pick up anything,” Susan says. “She’s got that raw talent thing.”

Emma’s biological father Taylor contributes some slide guitar to Another Place in Time, a collection of seven originals and a half dozen very interesting cover choices. Other guest musicians include Guitar Crusher — a frequent visitor to this area — Rick Derringer, Alvin Lee, and the Tower of Power horn section. Hans played most of the guitar, bass and piano on the recording.

“We were playing in Berlin with Crusher on New Year’s Eve 2006,” Susan recalls. “Willie Jackson, a former Motown producer was there, and he knew a lot of the old blues guys. He said to me, ‘I have a feeling you’ve spent your whole career supporting men.’” Jackson offered to finance a Susan McMinamin album. Hans produced, directed and coordinated the whole thing after Jackson failed to come through on the money end. “(Jackson) was a catalyst, and everyone’s excited about the finished product, so we’re not complaining,” Susan says.

Adds Hans: “The album was a very quick thing. We had the worst situation at the time. By the time we had the studio scheduled, Susan’s mom was very ill.” Nonetheless, they managed to lay down some terrific tracks. “It goes back and forth with different styles—heavy rock, Led Zeppelin kind of stuff. I worked to see if I could transcribe I’m Not That Girl (from the musical Wicked) from orchestra to guitar. I’m not a big fan of musicals, but I like albums where you go from one song to the next and say, ‘Wow! They can do that, too!’ Commercially, it might not be a success…”

“But who cares?” Susan interrupts. The entire project was recorded in about a week. The McMinamins hope to put a band together to support the album next year. They are currently shopping the disc to some of the European blues labels. Susan also plans to teach vocals at the School of Rock. Hans currently provides instruction on guitar, keyboards, bass and harmonica to students ranging in age from six to 80.

Susan was drawn into the worlds of theater and music when she joined a government-supported youth theater group in Orlando. “It was part of a program for the arts that supported underprivileged kids. One of the other people in the group was Wesley Snipes. We wrote our own shows and musicals.” The group performed at the opening of the Orlando International Airport, appeared at Disney World, and “anywhere else that would take us.” The Reagan administration pretty much did away with funding for the arts, and soon the young performers went their separate ways.

“I was 16 when I lied my way into a rock band,” Susan says. “I’d overheard this group saying they needed a singer that night, and I got the gig.” In addition to her love of musical theater, she got good exposure to rock through secret late-night viewings of Wolfman Jack’s Midnight Special television program with her brother. Susan once told a teacher she intended to marry Alice Cooper. She loved Styx and still has a great admiration for Ann and Nancy Wilson of Heart. “They’re the only girls that can rock out and be feminine. They always seemed to have a sweet, gentle D.W. Griffith starlet quality, but they wrote some pretty intricate stuff.”

She toured with an Orlando band called Trimaris that opened for acts like Molly Hatchet, Pat Travers, and the Outlaws. “I was only 17, but they were all wonderful to me,” Susan says.

Hans still plays at least four nights a week, mostly at Pandora’s in Grayton Beach and the Old Florida Fish House in Seagrove Beach. Of course, Susan often joins him on stage. “The goal between us is she’s a great singer and I’m a decent guitarist, so let’s do something,” Hans says.

Chris Recommends (Jazz Appreciation Month Edition):
Dexter Gordon: Go.
Louis Armstrong: The Hot Fives and Hot Sevens
Miles Davis: Jack Johnson
Sonny Rollins: Saxophone Colossus
John Coltrane: Blue Train

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