Monday, June 20, 2005


The death has been announced of Soul Asylum founder member Karl Mueller. The 41 year old had been fighting throat cancer for over a year, but friends had believed he was on the mend. He was due to have surgery today, but died Friday morning.

Formed in 1981 as Loud Fast Rules in Minneapolis as a three-piece (Mueller on bass; Dan Murphy on guitars and Dave Pirner on drums), the band were edging into their twenties and reshuffling before they started to build a head of steam - Pirner moved to guitar and Grant Young was drafted in to take over drum duties. Getting a national profile was difficult for a band viewed as third place in the twin cities (The Replacements called them the "B teamers", generating bad blood which took some time to dispel). But by 1989, Soul Asylum had a small, devoted following, an impressive back catalogue (including the albums Hang Time and Made To Be Broken) and, crucially, a distribution deal with A&M, and it seemed their time was about to come.

It wasn't - just as they had the support they needed in place, fashion decided they were passe and they launched And The Horse They Rode In On into a largely disinterested void. Luckily, they managed to claw their way back off the back of missing kids - Runaway Train, their third single under a new deal with Columbia, was picked up to soundtrack a missing kids Public Service Announcement and became their first crossover hit. It also gave them their first UK hit - although, in keeping with their apparent need to perservere to get anywhere, it took two runs at the chart in 1993 before making it to number seven.

They were never to quite make it that far again, but Runaway Train had secured their position as MOR radio faves and the cash from repeated plays from that one track must have kept them very nicely. The band had completed another album this year - Mueller still in, despite his illness - and were attempting to find a major label to handle release duties at the time of Mueller's death.

Unusually for a successful rockstar, Mueller remained well-liked in his hometown music scene, which rallied round to throw a benefit gig for him last October, pulling the likes of Paul Westerberg, Bob Mould and Grant Hart, the Gear Daddies and, of course, Soul Asylum. Twin Cities music scene face LeeAnn Weimar remembered her friend: "Karl was an intelligent guy and had a dry, sarcastic, sardonic wit. And he was a damn good cook. He and [his wife] Mary Beth liked to entertain. He was a really good friend."

He is survived by his wife, and his mother, Mary.

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