He was the harmonica player Mick Jagger enlisted for a lesson, and the Doors, Patti Smith, Allman Brothers and Beck all invited on stage to perform. The Minnesota music hero honored by both Bob Dylan and the Replacements. The writer and musicologist who penned blues tomes, magazine articles and Dylan liner notes.
To the friends and family mourning Tony Glover this week, he was also just an ultracool, storied but introverted and laid-back guy they relished hanging around.
Glover died Wednesday afternoon of natural causes after being hospitalized May 13. He was 79.
“Tony was modest yet knew who he was, he knew his own worth,” said Smith by email. “He was a loyal, discreet and benevolent friend. He was a man with an unshakable personal code. He was Little Sun Glover, leaving us silently, his rays quietly reverberating.”
Using the bluesman pseudonym “Little Sun,” Glover made his earliest and best-known mark on music in the early-1960s acoustic blues and folk group Koerner, Ray & Glover. The trio’s three albums for Elektra Records — especially their 1963 debut “Blues, Rags and Hollers” — were cited by the Beatles, Rolling Stones, Doors, Bonnie Raitt and many more as an influence on their music.
“Ragged but right; that’s what we always aimed for,” Glover said in a 2002 interview.
A Minneapolis native, he grew up loving Little Walter, Sonny Boy Williamson and Leadbelly alongside future bandmate Dave “Snaker” Ray, his classmate at University High School.
Glover became emblematic of the white youths whose reverence of African-American blues musicians shaped rock music.
“If three white kids from the Midwest could make a record that sounds that black and deep and soulful, that really was inspirational,” Rolling Stone’s esteemed senior editor David Fricke told the Star Tribune. “It became a foundation for so much of what came after it.”
Glover and Ray continued to perform and record together up until Ray died of cancer in 2002. Anchored by a weekly gig at the Times Bar & Cafe in Minneapolis, they opened for the likes of B.B. King and John Lee Hooker and recorded albums for the hip indie-rock labels Rough Trade and Tim/Kerr.
The duo was championed by younger trendsetters like Lucinda Williams and Beck, both of whom asked Ray and Glover to perform at their early First Avenue concerts.
She recalled having dinner with Glover several years ago: “He was so soft-spoken, I had to lean in to hear him,” she said. “But he was fascinating. And all that writing he did was impressive, too.”
Glover and Ray would also intermittently rejoin with Spider John Koerner, now the sole survivor of their legendary trio. Koerner is currently traveling abroad but checked in back home to hear the sad news.
Glover’s reputation among other musicians and musicheads extended well past his prowess as a player.
He brought a hip veneer to top 40 radio station KDWB as a late-night host in the late ’60s, landing interviews with Jimi Hendrix, Eric Clapton and Pete Townshend. He also wrote articles for Rolling Stone, Creem and Crawdaddy magazines in the 1960s and ’70s that helped prototype rock journalism.
Glover became a leading commentator on the music of Dylan, whom he first met as a University of Minnesota “student” and later hung out with in New York, including a trip together to visit a hospitalized Woody Guthrie in 1963. He penned liner notes for the landmark Dylan concert recording “Live 1966: The ‘Royal Albert Hall’ Concert” and is featured throughout Martin Scorsese’s definitive Dylan docuseries “No Direction Home.”
Dylan, in turn, wrote of “One Foot in the Groove,” a 1996 Koerner, Ray & Glover album, “Exactly like you’d think it would be, stunning. Every time they play the lights shine.”
During a Midway Stadium concert in 2005 — not far from the St. Paul home where Glover lived with his wife, Cyd Nadler — Dylan mumbled a shout-out to his old friend on stage. A decade later in the same stadium, Paul Westerberg invited Glover to play harmonica on Jimmy Reed’s “Going to New York” during the Replacements’ lone hometown reunion concert.
Always private, Glover had been in declining health during the past couple years but rarely spoke of it, even when he attended the memorial of another West Bank music mainstay, Willie Murphy, in February. His neighbor and longtime friend, KFAI Radio DJ Pete Lee, said he kept up their weekly regimen of walking around Lake Como right up until three weeks ago.
“He couldn’t get away fast enough whenever somebody walked up and said to him, ‘Oh, I remember your radio show’ or ‘I have your book,’” Lee recalled. "That just wasn't his thing.”
Glover only recently told Lee an amazing tale about how he wound up skipping the legendary 1967 Monterey Pops Festival at the last minute. His driver, folk great Ramblin’ Jack Elliott, showed up high on psychedelic mushrooms.
“Tony decided he’d pass,” said Lee. “Anybody else would’ve told you that story within the first two hours of meeting you, but not Tony.”
While he took on the arduous task of learning to play sitar during a brief relocation to Berkeley, Calif., Glover remained steadfast about blues harmonica. That led to him writing three instructional books and co-authoring a 2002 biography of blues music’s most revered harp blower, “Blues With a Feeling: The Little Walter Story.”
His writing duties also included liner notes for albums by John Lee Hooker, John Hammond, Lazy Bill Lucas, Willie & the Bees, the Jayhawks and many more.
After Ray’s death, Glover kept up appearances on Twin Cities stages in a Woody Guthrie tribute show with Charlie Maguire and Pop Wagner. He also played around with a new trio, V3, featuring Galen Michaelson and Jon Rodine.
“The main thing I took away from playing with his was just his deep musical knowledge,” Rodine said. “You could learn so much from him. And yet he wouldn’t ever talk about, ‘Oh, that one time I was with Dylan,’ or anything like that.”
Glover and Koerner sporadically performed together during the late ’00s, including a West Bank gig that led to the 2009 album “Koerner & Glover: Live at the 400 Bar.”
Looking back on the trio’s decades-long history, Glover said their connection was more about a love for the music than it was friendship.
“I can probably count on one hand the number of times we’ve gotten together socially, where it wasn’t related to a gig or something work-related,” he said. The upside, he added, “is that when we do get together, it’s always fun. That may be part of our chemistry.”