For the past three years, Tucker Jensen has been picking up steam on stage in the Twin Cities music scene with his rootsy but raucous new rock band Dirt Train. Off stage, though, he was fighting Hodgkins lymphoma at the same time, a battle he finally lost Monday. He was 29.
“All those people who’ve seen the Dirt Train shows or watched their YouTube videos, most of them didn’t know he was undergoing chemo and probably sick as a dog in most of them,” said Jensen’s dad, well-known Twin Cities blues and soul bandleader Mick Sterling (aka Mick Jensen).
“Tucker just felt like he had to [perform]. He had this great band, and this creativity in him. He didn’t want to lose that opportunity.”
Jensen performed with Dirt Train right up until just two days before going into the hospital more or less permanently last month, fulfilling his band's monthly gig at the Aster Cafe. He died Monday afternoon at the University of Minnesota Medical Center surrounded by family, including mother Kristi Jensen and big sister Mikaela.
Dirt Train was to play the Aster again on Wednesday night, a show that has now been turned into an impromptu memorial: "We will play their EP and open up the Heileman's Old Style tap," the Aster staff posted on its Faebook page. "Stop in and have one on us, and lets hoist it to a life well-lived, to lives that end too soon, and to the coming of Spring and to the lives yet to be lived."
Details of a funeral service are still pending.
Jensen’s death was already mourned by many of his peers and friends in the Minnesota music scene Tuesday, especially among other young musicians with Southern flavor and bluesy tinges in their music such as singers Jaedyn James and Annie Mack.
“You made me work harder,” Mack wrote of Jensen on Facebook. “One of the most gifted artists I have ever met.”
Rocker Kat Perkins, of NBC’s “The Voice” fame, called him “a musical genius, truly unique - an original.“
Also involved in the local music business behind the scenes, Mikaela Jensen posted of her sibling, “We are heartbroken. Tucker you were and are the greatest brother that has ever lived. I’m going to miss you every day. I love you. No one has ever been more loved than you.”
Tucker followed his dad into the club scene straight out of high school, going on to perform in Brüder, blues-rocker Ken Valdez’s band and his own solo outings. In fact, Mick remembered his son playing his first real professional gig just three or four days after his graduation from Armstrong High in Plymouth, performing as a fill-in bassist for Jeff Wenberg’s band at Brothers Bar & Grill in the Minneapolis Warehouse district.
“He only had two days to learn their whole set, and he was up there without any charts or cheat shots,” Mick remembered. “He already knew what he was doing, and he was only 18.”
In addition to making music, Jensen also worked at the Surly Brewery and helmed the Radio Five Watt local music stream and podcast.
“He was one of the most intelligent, funny and ridiculously talented people I’ve ever known,” wrote his longtime bandmate Valdez, who hired Jensen into his band at age 18 and later recruited him to be best man at his wedding. “For over a decade I’ve looked at Tucker as my ‘backbone’ musically and in my life. He breathed so much life into the music we created, was the greatest travel companion ever and quite frankly, he saved me from myself. My love and gratitude for him is endless.”
Dirt Train had just released its soulful and hard-boogying debut EP, “Dead Beat Shake,” with a strong response in November. Here are a couple of the highlights from it below.