ADVERTISEMENT

ADVERTISEMENT

'Blue Guitar Highway' packed with colorful music details and things uniquely Minnesotan

Belly up and get to know this gregarious Minnesotan Paul Metsa is a Minnesota original, a quintessential Iron Ranger with Finnish roots. He had a guitar, he had a dream, and he had ambition, all of which took him from a garage-band musician in Vi...

"Blue Guitar Highway"
"Blue Guitar Highway"

Belly up and get to know this gregarious Minnesotan

Paul Metsa is a Minnesota original, a quintessential Iron Ranger with Finnish roots. He had a guitar, he had a dream, and he had ambition, all of which took him from a garage-band musician in Virginia, Minn., to stages in Minneapolis and beyond. He eventually returned to his home state, and last year the University of Minnesota Press published the story of his life in "Blue Guitar Highway."

Metsa spent many miles on that highway, traveling a long way from the town where he played his first guitar, which had a cowboy and horse stenciled on it. When he was growing up in Virginia, his dad sold insurance, his mom was a nurse, and his beloved grandfather lived above Zimmerman's (as in Bob Dylan's uncle) Electric and ran the Roosevelt Bar.

He left the Range to study music at the University of Minnesota and spent most of his colorful life in the Twin Cities, working his way into the music scene as a guitarist and songwriter. He eventually made enough connections to land a day job booking acts at Famous Dave's Barbeque and Blues for seven years. His far-reaching contacts in the business, along with his insatiable appetite for new musical experiences, led him to gigs in New York, New Orleans, Los Angeles, Iceland, and Siberia.

Along the road, he had entertaining encounters with folk-, blues-, rock-, and other luminaries, which include the likes of Arlo Guthrie, Leo Kottke, Aaron Neville, Jerry Garcia, Bruce Springsteen, and Tom Arnold. His performances and political interests also threw him into the paths of Minnesota legislators Norm Coleman, Tom Rukavina, and Paul Wellstone.

ADVERTISEMENT

The book includes the obligatory confessions about a musician's almost inevitable forays into the back alleys of alcohol, drugs, and gratuitous sex. Some of the most memorable and moving passages, however, are about his experiences closer to home: dealing with family tragedies; adventures with his beloved dog, Blackie; and his passionate efforts in the movement to save the original Guthrie Theater in Minneapolis.

Packed with colorful details about music venues in Minneapolis and on the Range and with references to things uniquely Minnesotan, "Blue Guitar Highway" offers lots of local appeal.

On a broader plane, Metsa's book is an anthem to professional musicians who live to play. He writes of a sort of brotherhood of musical artists who support and watch out for each other because they understand the passion, the rigor, the challenges, and the rewards of their chosen profession. His heartfelt tributes to those who influenced him in his musical pursuits are numerous.

Though the book falls into the "memoir" category, it doesn't offer a story arc to Metsa's life. It is more a collection of autobiographical vignettes, reflections on music and musicians, and family stories, and is perhaps best enjoyed a chapter or two at a time. So belly up to the bar now and then, and get to know this gregarious Minnesotan, a born storyteller.

Maureen Maloney is a librarian with the Duluth Public Library.

Maureen Maloney
Maureen Maloney

What To Read Next