Kraig and Kirk Johnson have two big to-do's on their plates over the next few days: Saturday’s memorial for their brother Kyle Johnson, who died Aug. 12, and Monday’s Triple Rock gig by their band Run Westy Run. The timing is not coincidental.
“We thought since we’re all going to be around, why not see if we can do a show and make it a kind of celebration?” Kraig explained of the Triple Rock show, which was only just booked last week amid all the other details the family has been dealing with after Kyle’s passing.
“I don’t think it will be a somber thing,” he added of the gig. “It’s not the memorial. It’ll just be what we do.”
Kyle, 54, had been in declining health for several years and was too sick to perform at any of the Westies’ five reunion shows since the first at First Avenue just after Christmas – their first performance in a decade and a half. Not just a case of putting the old band back together, the string of gigs also reunited the three brothers, who were split between New York (Kraig), California (Kirk) and Minneapolis (Kyle).
“He rehearsed with us, but he just wasn’t up to doing a show,” Kraig explained, noting that Kyle did at least get to attend a couple of the gigs. He blamed his death on organ and kidney failure. “He was dealing with it for a long time. He’d get better for a while and you’d think he was doing OK, and then he’d get worse again.”
The lone sister among the four Johnson brothers, Kelly Abernathy posted this on Facebook following Kyle’s passing:
“His family was blessed with time to surround him with our love and support and say our goodbyes. On behalf of our family we would like to thank all his friends for their friendships, love and support that you shared with Kyle over the years. He holds a special place in our hearts and we will carry him with us in the days ahead. Kyle has a big heart and a kind soul and we will miss him so much.”
Though never as legendary abroad as the Replacements and Hüsker Dü (who preceded them on the Twin/Tone and SST labels, respectively), the Westies did gain a fanatical following locally in the late-‘80s with their rather crazed and unpredictable live shows. They also earned decent critical praise for their Peter Buck- and Grant Hart-produced albums on, loaded with a wild mix of danceable punk, psychedelic twang-rock and hard-grooving pop (and, sadly, all hard to find in stock nowadays).
At a 7th Street Entry gig in June -- timed to Kraig's return to town to play with the revamped Jayhawks -- the band took the stage in matching trucker hats, aviator sunglasses and '70s-porn mustaches. They were equally in sync musically, with ex-Son Volt ace Jim Boquist filling in on bass, a Gary Louris guest spot and a big singalong with "Mop It Up" and "Heaven's Not That Far Away." The latter one will surely sound more bittersweet should they play it Monday.
Run Westy Run was formed in the mid-'80s by the three St. Louis Park-reared Johnson brothers and guitarist Terry Fisher. Kyle mostly served as rhythm guitarist through the early-‘90s, when he quit the group in the kind of informal fashion that the band operates with to this day.
“He just kind of drifted away from the band but was fine with us doing it without him,” Kraig remembered.
Kyle lived in New York for many years after his tenure in the band and became an artist and woodworker, but he eventually moved back to the Twin Cities. He is survived by two teenage children, Ruby and Jack. The family is asking for memorials to benefit them in lieu of flowers. Their service for Kyle is at Washburn-McReavy in Edina (5000 W. 50th St. at Hwy. 100) from 11 a.m. on Saturday, with visitiation starting at 10 a.m. Click here for the family's obituary.