Bob "Slim" Dunlap epitomizes the journeyman musician who plays for the fun of it, when his day gig allows. However, even casual listeners know his name for one reason: landing the "hot seat" assignment of succeeding the Replacements' late, troubled guitarist Bob Stinson. But there's more to Dunlap's story than his experience with that legendarily star-crossed Minneapolis quartet might indicate.
Dunlap gained his first local attention by playing with eccentric singer/songwriter Curtiss A (Curt Almsted) in the late '70s. Starting with a 1978 EP by Almsted's punk rockish Spooks, he graced all but one of Almsted's Twin/Tone efforts (typified by quirky outbursts like his single, "I Don't Wanna Be President"). By then, Dunlap had a reputation as an intuitive, reliable musician who could fit any situation, a quality that attracted the Replacements' Paul Westerberg. Dunlap declined the vacancy when the Replacements let Stinson go in June 1986 -- but later reversed himself, citing his admiration for Westerberg's songwriting as the main reason. Only a churlish zealot could pooh-pooh the benefits of having a schooled musician in such a reckless band, which grew tighter and more accomplished during the Pleased to Meet Me (1987) and Don't Tell a Soul (1989) eras. (However, Dunlap had little input on the former album, which had been largely completed before he joined.)
Dunlap's modest manner helped to ease the feelings of hardcore fans unmoved by the rationale given for Stinson's departure. Yet his talents found little outlet on the final Replacements album, All Shook Down (1990) -- on which Westerberg sidelined the band and enlisted session players to augment the album's stark, bare sound. The Replacements folded for good after a lengthy spring and summer tour in 1991. After the breakup, Dunlap toured with former Georgia Satellites loudmouth Dan Baird. He followed up with his long-overdue solo debut, The Old New Me (1993); to nobody's surprise, it showcased an inspired, rootsy sound and incisive songwriting that had not been expressed during the Replacements era. His second album, Times Like This (1995), took the same charming, low-key route.
While a third album never materialized, Dunlap continued to play live in the Minneapolis area, and remained a beloved figure in the Twin Cities music scene. In February 2012, Dunlap suffered a massive stroke that left him unable to walk, speak, eat solid food, or play music. As his medical expenses grew, friends and fans came together to help Slim with his bills. Paul Westerberg and Tommy Stinson cut an EP as the Replacements titled Songs for Slim, with the proceeds going to Dunlap and his family. The EP led to a series of singles with noted artists covering Dunlap's songs, including Jeff Tweedy, John Doe, Steve Earle, Lucinda Williams, Patterson Hood, and Jakob Dylan. Tracks from the single series were collected on the 2013 album Songs for Slim: Rockin' Here Tonight: A Benefit Compilation for Slim Dunlap. In 2015, The Old New Me and Times Like This were reissued on vinyl in a special two-LP set. ~ Ralph Heibutzki