“Cooler Then” written by Robert Dunlap
Produced by: Dave Pirner, Steve Sutherland and Paul Pirner
Arrangement: Dave Pirner
The Happy Roosters:
Dave Pirner: Guitar & Vocals
Paul Pirner: Vocals & Bass
Steve Sutherland: Drums
Ben Glaros: Guitar
George Ortolano, Stealth, New Orleans, LA
Tom Herbers, Creation Studio, Minneapolis, MN
Tommy Tousey , Silver Ant Studios, Minneapolis, MN
Mixed by Dave Pirner and George Ortolano at Stealth, New Orleans, LA
Mastering by Mark Chalecki at Little Red Book Mastering, Los Angeles, CA
Bob “Slim” Dunlap is a hero for many reasons. His song “Cooler Then” is a favorite, so when we got the call to cover it for Slim Town Singles, we jumped at it. My brother Dave whirled in with a vision of what our version of the song should be. It was Dave, Steve on drums, and I was playing Karl Mueller’s bass. There was a lot of synergy going on, it was actually the first time Dave and I recorded anything together. Tom Herbers, the engineer/guru on just about every decent Minneapolis rock record you’ve heard (including the original recording of “Cooler Then”) also volunteered. Jim Boquist, though he couldn’t be there for the sessions, helped us figure out some of the guitar intricacies. “Anything for Slim,” he said. We heard that a lot throughout this process. We recorded the drums and bass at Creation Audio in the same room Slim recorded his version. Tom shared a story about how “Cooler Then” came to be: It was a different song, and when it was done, Slim walked into the control room and told Tom to wipe everything except the drum track. He then proceeded to construct “Cooler Then” on that drum track, which is why it has its quirky, unconventional feel to it.
Tom and Dave left town, and Steve and I headed over to Tommy Tousey’s Silver Ant Studios to continue with additional vocals and guitars with Ben Glaros. Glaros absolutely killed it, playing a mid-60’s Les Paul I had acquired from Slim back in 1994. That guitar is a major digression in the story that goes back to when I first met Slim. Fumbling though my fifth year of college, my parents bribed me by offering me any guitar I wanted if I graduated. I wanted a black Les Paul because of Jimmy Page and Slim Dunlap. My folks held up their end by reaching out to our good friend Abby Kane, who said her friend “Bob” was selling a black Les Paul. At the time, I had no idea who “Abby’s friend Bob” was. We drove to a cool little crib in Linden Hills. She rang the doorbell and out walked this familiar, bug-eyed, shaman-looking dude with the warmest smile I’ve ever seen, and he absolutely enveloped her in a hug. Abby introduced me, he shook my hand and said, “yeah, yeah, yeah, man. Come in, come in, come in.” I liked that he said things in threes. We walked into his living room, he introduced me to Chrissie and pulled out the guitar, still in its case. The handle on the case had been cut off and replaced with yellow plastic cord wrapped in duct tape. “That’s a Bill Sullivan special,” he said, pointing to the rigged handle. “That’ll never break.” Suddenly, everything came into focus…Sweet Billy Sullivan was the road manager for The Replacements and Soul Asylum… “Abby’s friend Bob” … was… Slim mother#%$@ing Dunlap. He pulled out the guitar, strapped it on and talked while playing, looking at it like a baby. “Great guitar, never goes out of tune. Try it.” I strummed incredulously and asked a few question of no significance. I asked him how much it might cost. “I have an offer from a collector, “ he said. “But if you promise me you’ll play it, I’ll give it to you for…”. I finished school for that guitar.
Recording Slim’s song for this project, with his guitar, with my brother and friends, seemed like a path with little resistance. Slim’s always been a community builder like that. After our initial sessions, Dave and his engineer George spent a good amount of time drilling down into the track in New Orleans. Mark Chalecki, when approached about mastering, said “I’d be happy to donate my time for Slim Dunlap.” Steve did yeoman’s work on fine-tuning and managing. Throughout the process, the operational phrase was, “we have to be sure that when we present this to Bob, he doesn’t say, ‘what did you do to my song?’”
On a spring day in early May, we went to Bob’s house and nervously played it for him. He gave it a thumbs up. We all hope we did the song–and him–justice. Anything for Slim.