Mike Justin, the true Godfather of the Twin Cities sound scene recently passed on to the Spirit (or Bullet) in The Sky.Mike Justin was an icon in the formative years of production in the Minneapolis/Saint Paul area. He brought a huge heart to the forefront, giving young artists like Leo Kottke and Bobby Zimmerman a chance to play at the Scholar Coffeehouse.Like Leo, Mike suffered from hearing loss, but that didn't hold him back, he'd listen and play his Viking reel to reel recordings, coaxing or demanding the best from every performance, letting anyone know without hesitation if they fell short of the mark. Leo released a record on Mike's Oblivion Record Label, and almost every musician of the "oblivion era" visited his record shop, which had the coolest records available at the time. In 2010 Leo told me of how Mike and his Viking got his career going, and made me realize how lucky I was to also have been to know and work with Mike.Though comrades with the likes of Ken Kesey and Jerry Garcia, Mike had a strict military past and loved to shoot his guns, and cook up his own bullets. His "do it your self" presence attracted luminary cabinet builder Steve Hall and electronics guru Mark Winger to put together systems at his later "Common Ground" shop, where everything went for "10 (%) over cost" which often left no money for Mike and his family, but helped broke musicians bring the best sound for the money (Bang For the Buck!) to the Twin Cities (and beyond) audiences. During the later Common Ground days Mike sold me some of the first Gauss ("the goddamn best") speakers and hired me to build cabinets while I was in the 10th grade, after hearing him mix the legendary Hound Dog Taylor & The Houserockers live on the University of Minnesota West Bank River Flat. Mike, not at all shy of drinking, two years later when I had "come of age", told me that he had never seen a man living or dead as drunk as Hound Dog was that day, the day when he patiently explained to a 16 year old kid what makes a concert sound system and an artist work, and made me want to follow in his path, the gruff voice that could, and always would "tell it like it is".Justin's Common Ground imploded (or collapsed) into Eclipse Concert Systems. While Mike worked at Lavonne Wagner's Music during the day, he would book sound and lighting gigs for Eclipse. He and his crew would do the shows, which spanned the entire gamut of music from folk to metal, in venues from clubs to river boats and outdoor amphitheaters. Given a store to work in on commission, Mike could sell like crazy, and won trips to Japan for highest sales from Yamaha, where he was surprised to see his True brand cigarette tips lopped off by passing vehicles when he would put the ash out the window of the bus.Mike was a mentor to many, and had it not been for his influence and partnership, I, for one, may never have pursued the dreams and goals he laid before me during our years together from 1973 to 1978, after which I was able to mentor others that have continued to "keep the faith", still reeling, rocking and rolling four decades later. Unfortunately, my proteges are also dying off at an alarming rate.Around 1986, Mike and his son John decided to sell guitars rather than continue chasing down promotors to get paid.The last time I talked to them they were happy with their choice. Much as we may like sound gear, it becomes dated, but guitars are forever!Mike was an emotional man, never holding back, he could make us laugh or cry at will, but with a reason to the emotion, a lesson to be taught and learned.We are sorry to see Mike gone, a once in a lifetime rock and roll ghost departed, but never forgotten. We will always miss you, an irascible, but utterly irreplaceable soul that shaped and guided so many of us through the years.
Mike cashed my weekly paycheck for me at his record shop way back when. I think a came home with about 6 albums a week...A genuine mensch if there ever was one.DR
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