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The suave piano man and the maniacal guitarist were the frontmen. But floppy-haired guitarist Bruce Allen was the heart and rhythm machine of the Suburbs, one of the most creative and finest live Minnesota bands of the past 35 years.
Allen not only defined those rhythmic dance grooves that made the 'Burbs such a sensation in clubs and on college campuses in the 1970s and '80s, but he designed the band's iconic logo -- five generic men in a circle. Allen, 54, died Monday night surrounded by family and friends. He had undergone triple bypass surgery last year and numerous other complications, including severe kidney stones and symptoms of hemophilia.
Allen had been admitted to Hennepin County Medical Center last week with internal bleeding and organ failure. He was taken off life support around 7:30 p.m. Monday and died around 9 p.m.
The rest of the Suburbs issued a press release Tuesday morning praising Allen for "contributing his unique guitar skills and warm and funny personality to a band and moment in music that many have recognized made a difference in Minnesota pop culture."
Suicide Commandos guitarist Chris Osgood, who performed with Allen in the more garagey band the X-Boys for the past 20 years (most recently in August), said Bruce had been "consistently cheerful" playing gigs in recent years despite his failing health.
"He was a great bandmate, a great fly-fishing buddy, and just a great friend, period," Osgood said.
The Suburbs came together in 1977, five guys from Wayzata, Deephaven, Minnetonka, St. Louis Park and New Hope. They became regulars at the Longhorn, Minneapolis' landmark punk club, and recorded "In Combo" and "Credit in Heaven" for Twin/Tone, the pioneering Twin Cities indie label, whose logo was also an Allen creation.
The 'Burbs' brainy and bouncy blend of new wave, funk and disco sounded like a blueprint for the modern-rock dance music of the '90s and '00s. The quintet graduated to Mercury Records for 1984's "Love Is the Law," produced by "Funkytown" auteur Steven Greenberg (the title track became a Twin Cities classic) and then shifted to A&M for 1986's "The Suburbs," produced by Prince's drummer Bobby Z.
A wild live band fueled by guitarist/singer Beej Chaney's crazy antics, the 'Burbs reigned as Minnesota's go-to party band until 1987. They reformed from 1993 to '95 and have since done periodic reunions, last performing in 2006.
"They never made that big splash elsewhere, but locally they were like the Rolling Stones, always a big deal when they played a show," said Twin/Tone co-founder Peter Jesperson, who singled out Allen's accomplished guitar work and stylish appearance for helping the band stand out. "He always looked cool. A lot of the bands copied him."
Allen also played in the Pilgrims and Buzzwell, and designed the widely recognized cover for the Replacements' classic "Let It Be" album. For his day job in the '00s, he researched sheet music for Schmitt Music. He is survived by longtime partner, Bonni McConnell, and daughter, Alexandra, 23, his mother Salome Allen and two sisters.
Osgood recounted how Allen mistakenly said "camaroddity" instead of "camaraderie" at a show.
"'Camaroddity' became a defining word for Bruce, and for what it was like to be around him," Osgood said.