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Grant Hart of pioneering indie rock band Husker Du dies

Last Updated Sep 15, 2017 at 5:40 am PST

In this May 2000 photo, former Husker Du drummer Grant Hart poses for a photo in Minneapolis. Ken Shipley, who runs the band's record label Numero Group, told The Associated Press that Hart died at the age of 56 on Wednesday, Sept. 13, 2017, of cancer at his home in St. Paul, Minn. (Jeff Wheeler/Star Tribune via AP)

MINNEAPOLIS – Widespread commercial success largely eluded Grant Hart and his pioneering indie-rock trio, Husker Du. But the hard-working band emerged as one of the heavyweights of Minneapolis’ burgeoning 1980s music scene, and was credited with inspiring genre-defining acts that followed, including Nirvana and the Pixies.

Hart, who died Wednesday after being diagnosed with cancer, was the drummer and co-vocalist for the band he formed with bassist Greg Norton and guitarist-singer Bob Mould in 1978 in St. Paul.

The loud, hard-edged trio toured relentlessly and ruled the local music scene, along with Prince and The Replacements.

“They called it punk rock. I always thought it was like this wall of sound,” former Twin Cities rock critic P.D. Larson said Thursday. “As they grew, there was definitely some melodic components that weren’t immediately evident. They quickly transcended that hard-core label.”

Husker Du, named after a Scandinavian board game, “Do you remember?” (Norton said he uttered the phrase as Hart was making up silly lyrics to a song), began as a punk outfit before moving into alternative rock.

The band released a string of critically acclaimed albums before signing with major label Warner Bros. Records. They released two more albums before disbanding in 1987, and Hart later pursued a solo career. Despite never experiencing huge commercial success, Husker Du was seen as a major influence on several acts that did.

Singer-songwriter Ryan Adams was among those artists, tweeting Thursday: “Your music saved my life. It was with me the day I left home. It’s with me now. Travel safely to the summerlands.”

The 56-year-old Hart died late Wednesday at a Minneapolis hospital from complications of liver cancer and hepatitis C, his wife, Brigid McGough, said in an email to Minnesota Public Radio’s The Current. The band’s record label also confirmed the death to The Associated Press.

“It was completely unexpected so it is a huge shock,” McGough wrote.

On Thursday, Mould recalled how he met Hart in the fall of 1978, at a nearly empty St. Paul record store: Hart was clerking and the PA system was blaring punk rock.

“The next nine years of my life was spent side-by-side with Grant,” Mould wrote on his Facebook page, describing Hart as “a gifted visual artist, a wonderful story teller, and a frighteningly talented musician.”

“We (almost) always agreed on how to present our collective work to the world. When we fought about the details, it was because we both cared. The band was our life. It was an amazing decade,” Mould wrote.

In a separate post, written to Hart, Norton said: “It was a wild ride, great times, bad times, through all of it, you were my friend first.”

Hart’s friends had known for months that he was ill with cancer. His last public performance was July 1 in Minneapolis. Hart thought he was going to play with friends but arrived to a surprise tribute being held in his honour.

The event featured longtime collaborators and friends, including Dave Pirner of Soul Asylum and Lori Barbero of Babes in Toyland. Barbero organized the event, asking Hart’s fellow musicians to play his songs.

“It was an honour for everybody to be under the same room and spend time with each other — and especially him. It was a very wonderful night,” she said.

Record label Numero Group announced this month that a three-disk box set of Husker Du’s early work, “Savage Young Du,” would be released in November.

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Associated Press writer Patrick Mairs contributed to this report from Philadelphia.