Rich Mattson is a Minnesota singer-songwriter and musician recognized for his work leading rock and roll/Americana bands the Glenrustles (1988-1999), Ol’ Yeller (2000-2012) and the Tisdales (2008-2014). He is also quite well-known for his studio work at Sparta Sound in northern Minnesota, and Flowerpot (1991-2005, Minneapolis), where along with producing his own albums, he has recorded literally hundreds, if not thousands, of musical artists.
One of these artists is Germaine Gemberling, with whom he formed a special bond in around 2009, when he played guitar and harmonica on her folky debut. The two continued to play shows and record music, eventually living together and collaborating on albums with Junkboat and Ol’ Yeller (as of this writing, they have made 7 full-length albums together).
In the winter of 2014, Rich and Germaine decided to augment their folk-rock acoustic duo by adding drums, bass, and violin. Rich’s nephew Curtis Mattson was chosen for the drum seat for his no-frills, deep-in-the-pocket style, not to mention his familiarity with his uncle’s musical catalog. With the Northstars, Rich intended to dust off some old tunes, and honor requests. The man is known as a human jukebox with a songbook of epic proportions.
Speaking of old tunes, original Northstars bassist Russell Bergum and Rich Mattson have been friends since they were both around 9 years old. They started their first band together in high school and drifted apart when Russell moved away and became a doctor. Eventually they both wound up back on the iron range (of MN) and Russ performed and recorded with the Northstars until landing a gig at the Mayo Clinic in Rochester. Jazz/fusion enthusiast and bassist extraordinaire (and fellow Iron Ranger) Kyle Westrick was tapped to replace him in the spring of 2016.
Rounding out the sound of the Northstars whenever possible (which is most often) is the violin of Ryan David Young, who is well-known for his work with the bands Trampled By Turtles and Pert Near Sandstone. "Not to be confused with the fiddle" says Mattson, as this is not quite your usual hoe-down/hey diddle diddle music. Original Northstars violinist Eli Bissonett (who left the band in the winter of 2015 to teach full-time and start a family) had been a friend of Germaine’s when she lived in Ely MN (1998-2010), and she asked him to play on a couple tunes for her Generator album (Chaperone Records 2013). His hauntingly beautiful style captured the heart and ears of Mattson, and it soon became an essential part of the Northstars sound.
The name “Rich Mattson and the Northstars” as it turns out, is a very serendipitous moniker. Rich threw out the name “The Northstars” on a lark, as Germaine’s publishing company is called “L'Étoile du Nord” (or “The Star of the North” - the Minnesota State motto). He told his mom about the new band he was starting and she said, “Ya, that was the name of my cousin Jimmy’s band. They played at your father and my wedding.” Rich had no idea..or did he??