About joetougas

I'm half of The Frye.


Indianford, Wisconsin. Sundown and the Showboat

Across the street from Sundown, nothing feels fine.

The Frye went separate ways this weekend, Ann to family in Illinois and me to family in Wisconsin.

On Saturday afternoon, I asked my dad and Wendy the Expecting to indulge me on some afternoon nostalgia and we drove through Edgerton and Indianford, the area where I rode bikes, got bored, swam and grew up.

Indianford is the setting of our song, Fish Fry. A couple of miles from my family’s former place on the Rock River, it’s a patch of a town, really, two bars — Sundown and The Showboat —  and a bridge. I loved it. It’s where I first heard a bar band do its thing — Country Ivy played at the Sundowner’s Snowmobile Club corn boil. They played inside the air-conditioned bar and did songs like “Running Bear” by Sonny James and “Looking Out My Back Door.” I tried to stay inside and watch as long as I could. It was crowded and loud. I think I was the only one watching the band.

Later, I worked at a great restaurant across the bridge, Tibbie’s (“Where Chicken is King”). Talk about owning the world. We’d broil steaks, deep-fry chicken and go bonkers keeping up for some frantic stretches on weekend nights, then swipe a few six packs and hit the river for a late-night boat ride to wherever. Tibbie’s isn’t around anymore.

It was Friday night and I just wanted to be back home.

It was Friday night and I just wanted to be back home.

The bridge covered a dam that was getting blasted by the high river water Saturday afternoon, and a bunch of people were fishing along the shore.

Every day I think of you and that bridge outside.

Every day I think of you and that bridge outside.

Back on the interstate it struck me that we’d left a nursing home, which was housing the woman who’d get mad if I rode my bike across Highway 51 to Indianford. Wendy the Expecting is bringing a little boy into the mix next month to start everything all over again. I had been taking in the river air and feeling like it was just last night that me and Dan and Hal turned off the last of the fryers and led waitresses, bus boys and dishwashers into another night that ended with the sunrise.

Time does a lot of unsettling stuff and it doesn’t always allow for afternoons such as this one.  I’m grateful it did, and for who I was with making that trip.

And I’m really glad that kid watching Country Ivy got to be in a bar band.

Last Night in Memphis

I’m grateful we found ourselves here this weekend, in Memphis. Because while a Civil Rights Museum isn’t going to console or answer anything like Friday’s obscenity, it does give evidence that there is a great will among us, a will that won’t allow us to say: Fine. You got us. We’re done.

On a weekend of so much confusion and what I can only assume is hopelessness and cold for so many, the National Civil Rights Museum – centering on the death and politics and Dreams of Dr. King – reminded me that we can and will move on past so much, including gunmen.

With a small group of friends and family, we walked among the words and footage and the intense amount of detail covering King’s life. The place also leaves you with messages that linger like poetry, messages about how the man with the rifle didn’t stop anything except another man whose work, Dream and love continue. The gun and its carrier are black and white footnotes, forgotten but for the curators.

I can’t say it was comforting. But it was something. Hopeful, maybe. Like hopefully we’ll have the will to start talking seriously about how nobody needs these goddamned guns.


Before dinner on Sunday, we watched a blues band do its thing at an outdoor place on Beale, where blues bands are everywhere and tourists bounce from one place to the other for a song or two. We watched Cowboy Neal and the Real Deal. Great name and a solid band. Doing “Sweet Home Chicago,” “Thrill Is Gone,” and other standards along with some nice originals, too.

At one point, a skinny older guy who was strolling through the sparse afternoon audience hawking the band’s CDs took over at the mike. He sang a few, commented on the nice weather (overcast, a little mist in the air) appealed for some tips and then mentioned Connecticut.

Beale 1

He was about as eloquent and clumsy as anybody could be on such a topic, but he hung in there about what a strong country we are, the USA, and how we’ll keep everybody in our thoughts and prayers and how we will stand strong if we stand with each other.

He then told his band mates the next song, in G, was “Stand By Me.” The bass and drum started, and he came in and sang that song like I’ve heard it a million times and like I’ve never heard it before.

If the sky that we look upon

Should tumble and fall

And the mountains should crumble to the sea

I won’t cry, I won’t cry

No I won’t shed a tear

Just as long as you stand,

Stand by me.

Goodnight from Memphis, Tennessee.

Back to Tennessee

Welcome to Memphis, he says.

Welcome to Memphis, this totally says.

Mankato was freezing this morning. I had to use a snow shovel to pry open the pickup truck’s ice-locked door. The windshield had the texture of rock candy and you could even hear it scoff as the helpless plastic scraper slid across its surface.

The wind hurt like hell and the day was just beginning. But it didn’t matter. This was the first day of the week in which we’re driving south to play in Memphis. We’re leaving later this week and playing Friday night at the Poplar Lounge, then a private gig Saturday for FedEx and fighter pilots. There will also be time Sunday for fried chicken, Sun Studios and Shangri-La Records.

This is the make-up gig that had to be rescheduled from October, when my appendix decided to flare up and split the scene on the week we were to leave. That distraction did little to temper the excitement about the trip that was explained ever-so-passionately in an October blog entry.

So we’re ready, again, with a little more to give than in October. There’s the new  Christmas tune some of you have heard, “Single King,” which is based on this piece of flash fiction from a few years ago. Ann suggested turning it into a song and I’d say we’ve done so with nice results. (No recording exists yet, but trust me, it’s good enough to ruin your holidays.) The Poplar will also see the world premier of a tune titled “Make Myself.” It’s a catchy little rumbler that’s about being done, just done, with it all.

Chipper stuff, and you should be there. But if not, we’ll tell you all about it on New Year’s Eve at Wine Café. .

OK. Time to pack. The next entry will likely be from Memphis, or while en route with the righteous rig from Keepers RV. It would be great if we all kept in touch, so follow along by subscribing to this blog or @joetougas on Twitter. Send encouraging messages if you care to and we’ll put them to good use.

Thank you very much.

Bruce, Little Steven and The Reason it Works

They believe. It’s as simple and eternal as that.






They have been together for years, more than anyone would think. They have had long nights, good nights, amazing nights, profitable nights, dog nights and nights that felt like it was all going nowhere But never a bad night, not together.

They met over a cheap but sacred thing in common – the odd desire to make a connection with certain spirits in the night that are stirred by rock, soul, country and the perfect phrase. Spirits of love and mystery, lust and loneliness, heartbreak and solace to name a few.

They believe. You can see it in their eyes, their body language. They are indeed two hearts.

They’ve changed and stayed the same. It’s time together as currency, now built to a point where they can spend it night after night and only grow richer.

There’s new material added all the time, breathtaking and relevant and honest. Yet they will always play and honor those early years because that’s when believing didn’t have an obvious payoff. That’s when believing was a gamble.

Look at them now. It’s about still believing in and meaning something, everything, to each other. That’s the reason they can somehow stand amid all that equipment and in front of all those people and connect and come across like good news over a cold beer. It’s personal, to every soul in the room.

They are Bruce and Steve, who play here once every few years and just pulled off a stunning two-night stand in St. Paul.

They are also Ron and Billy. Kit and Dave. Betty and Ocho. They are Eli and Jason and Amy and Bix and Dave and Mary and Marv and Shane and Pete and April and Chuck and Colin and Laura and everybody else in the Free Press’ Thursday Entertainment section who are out there and at it again because they, too, have found a reason to believe.

. . .

Join the freshly inspired Frye at ChiliFest for Vets and Rett, Saturday, Nov. 17 at 11 a.m.

Heartburn Hotel

The Memphis trip is postponed until hopefully mid-December. Had  a little medical crisis Saturday morning that required surgery Saturday afternoon. Acute appendicitis. It showed up late Friday night as a very tight ache and I guessed it was something I’d eaten and would be knocked out with Tums and Pepto-Bismol. I think it was the first time in my life that Pepto-Bismol didn’t save the day.

Saturday morning I only had to Google once to convince myself to hit Urgent Care — something about the phrase “potentially fatal” — and in a few hours I was being admitted and lined up for surgery. They wouldn’t even let me leave to grab my phone charger.

During the prep and CT scan, I was asked twice about The Frye, so I knew I was in caring, sensitive hands.

Around 4 p.m. I woke up in my own hospital room, where I dozed in and out and kept an eye on AMC’s Walking Dead marathon. My surgeon visited Sunday morning and said all went well, to stay down for a few days, not lift anything over 20 pounds for four weeks and if possible to push the Memphis plan back a week.

So, since the three holes in my gut are telling me to please be still, the band is rescheduling that trip. I am home now, lying flat, hopped up on goofballs, eating light and watching TV. I’d much rather be at work knowing we’re leaving for Memphis Thursday, but I’m also damn certain we’ll be on that Mystery Train sooner than later.


Approaching Memphis again

In April my friend Keith Adams and I both turned 50 and drove to Memphis for some music. It was an ideal place to celebrate a pair of personal milestones, this city so full of its own.

The drive down was a blast. We drank lots of pop and talked about what it is we’re doing with our lives so they feel like lives.

With Keith it’s immersing himself – quite successfully – in artisan cheese making. He’s getting awards and accolades worldwide, and it was good to hear him talk with such pride and excitement because that’s what The Frye has been giving me over the past six years. So at 75 miles an hour we were bonding over songwriting and organic Camembert, making it clear we were too old to be screwing around or apologizing for finding value in such things. It is time to take being happy seriously, and vice versa.


Two days later I was taking a walk along a fairly bland stretch of road near the place we were staying and saw a little house with a small hand-painted design out front: Shangri-La Records. It was a vinyl collector’s dream house — hell, it was anybody’s dream house — with these sweet-smelling old and colorful albums and great Memphis music memorabilia covering three rooms.

I found a Neil Young rarity – Journey Through The Past – when a voice behind me said: “Joe Tougas?” I turned and it took me a second or two to recognize Jamie, former Mankatoan and Fillin’ Station barista who a few years ago fronted one or two very noisy bands in town and always seemed like a nice kid. He asked what I was up to and I told him about the birthday jaunt. He told me he now lived in Memphis and when I asked what he did, he said: “I tend bar and book bands.”


So now The Frye is set to play Oct. 19 at the Poplar Lounge, where Jamie tends bar and books bands. It is a dive, for the most part, a dark bar with a small stage. But it is a dive bar in Memphis – Elvis. Johnny. Sun. Stax. Booker T. Everybody. We’re bringing some friends and family and Keepers RV Center is sponsoring the tour.

I’m not sure what to expect. But I know what I’m looking forward to, and I hope I’m not distracted too much by the excitement of the night to enjoy it. I’m looking forward to putting our songs into some sacred air.

Then I’m looking forward to playing Memphis again.

And again.

Mood Indigo

Friday night changed the way we look at things.

We had been feeling excited and lucky to be opening for Indigo Girls and The Shadowboxers at the Vetter Stone Amphitheater. Our friends helped us make a big deal of it and a lot of you reading this assured us it would be fine, fun and great. But in the back of our heads, we had no idea how it was going to go.

We’re talking semis, national touring people, millions of dollars of equipment and … two voices, one guitar. Would we sound tiny? Or worse, tinny? Would we annoy stage managers? Audience members? Would I remember to bring the damned capo?

Fast-forward to being in the little makeshift greenroom and being told by the sound tech: “You’re on in three minutes.”

Three minutes later, we walked on.

And something clicked.

Now that it’s over, we’re ready to do it again as soon as possible. Thanks to the Indigo audience – likely the largest we’ve played for – we know we can pull it off, “it” being holding our own on the stage ahead of a respected and fiercely good national act. So I believe we’ll be taking future steps with a changed view of things, of us. A stronger view. The view that says this is for real, this feels right and who can we play with next?

Oh, and:

Ann and the Girls.


Friday, Wine Café, Mankato.

There was peppery Greek red from Linda, bluesy harmonica from Billy on a J.J. Cale song, a big turnout (and Sam the sharp-dressed staffer afterward suggesting why — “you didn’t suck”), a request for a photo (never mind there was some joke behind it, it felt cool to be asked), Dan playing great stuff on the overhead when we finished (was it Dylan’s “Tell Tale Signs?” or were we just talking about that one again?), Carl cruising in on the last song and missing “Hydraulic” in which we name-drop Tune Town in the chorus, Jim sharing his pizza with me when we finished, the greatest slice of pizza ever. And again wondering how two hours feels like 15 minutes.

Returned later that night to catch a bit of Kit Kildahl’s CD release party. Got to enjoy a chat with Kit, who’s always been a kind and supportive guy, which is a rare trait among the super-talented. We talked loud and briefly about the honor it is to do music, the food it provides the soul and the value of staying positive.

Enjoyed watching Drew Lyon rightfully accept congratulations on his Free Press piece on Kit and Stevie “Boom Boom” Vonderharr, and got wowed by Steve Murphy joining the boys and sizzling away on blues guitar.

Saturday, Grand Kabaret, New Ulm.

We arrived to be greeted not only by a sound tech who remedied a buzzing acoustic amp pronto, but the Mankato Area Frye Percussion Collective already in place. These are friends who make the trek from Kato every time we play in New Ulm. And there were others, Curt, Suzanne and even former landlords of mine as well as some who caught us for the first time the night before and trekked to New Ulm to do it again.

All the ingredients that have made our previous shows at the Grand actually grand were there, namely the legendary attentiveness of the Grand’s audience and the pride Cassie, Topher and the rest of the staff have in working the place. Performance- wise there were challenges including the unease and then exhilaration of finger-picking “Vincent Black Lightening” and deciding to honor a request for “Blackbird” before recalling if I remembered the whole thing.

And then there was Ann’s beautiful reading of “Diamonds and Rust,” easily a highlight of the night if judged by a large group of people suddenly going completely quiet and rapt. We had a blast explaining the extraction of “Fish” from our name and then following it with what was probably our best-ever version of “Fish Fry.”

And, ultimately, the best part: Finishing three hours and realizing we’d used the Grand’s sound system. Meaning there was no PA and speakers etc. for us to tear down and haul into the pickup.

So we’ll consider that our vacation, with more “work” coming Thursday at Savoy and Saturday at Pub 500.

Saturday night

Eddie Money didn’t stroll in for a post-concert stint with a local band, but fortunately a lot of other people were with us from beginning to end at the Wine Café Saturday. This is getting to be a common complaint of mine, but it went by too fast.

A sore throat kept my prairie yelps and back-alley falsettos to a minimum, but the middle ground wound up blending nicely with what Ann was doing, which was taking control and saving our sound.

We recorded the first few tunes of the night, but the recorder clunked out somewhere during “Hydraulic,” and it’s a shame because we played a few led by Ann that we haven’t done in a while – “Favorite Ache,” “Blue” and “If Only.” Three songs from Konsbruck, recorded WWWSFF (When We Were Still Fish Frye).

And they were great. I’m not sure what I was thinking going with “Ohio” with a bummer throat, but it worked OK. Wish I could say the same for “Jackson.”  Funny how a bad throat will not affect a Neil Young tune but can seriously threaten Johnny Cash.


Six years ago, when we were playing Tuesday nights at McGoff’s, writer and poet Ron Gower and his wife Anne would drop by to see us on an almost-regular basis. And sometimes they were the audience. Anne enjoyed requesting songs – she really liked “Cardboard Boxes.” The encouragement we got from Anne and Ron helped us feel like we actually knew what we were doing, as though we could someday get people to come see us on a Saturday night.

Early in the evening last night, Ron came into the Wine Cafe and sat at a little table near us. He had a bottle of beer and took in about four or five songs before heading out. We’d all said goodbye to Anne in May of this year, at a celebration of her life that involved stories and songs. It was unforgettable, and we were touched to be invited and proud to provide a couple of tunes we hoped she’d like.

So last night we were of course proud that Ron dropped by. And we remain thankful.