CM Punk apparently has left WWE, and I’m OK with that

WWE champion CM Punk holds his championship belt with his teeth after defeating Ryback in a tables, ladders and chairs match Jan. 7, 2013, on “Monday Night Raw.”

News broke Wednesday morning that CM Punk, one of professional wrestling’s brightest stars, abruptly left WWE.

Punk, who last week said in an interview with Ariel Helwani that he’s under contract until July, didn’t appear on Monday night’s episode of “Raw” and reportedly told WWE chairman Vince McMahon that he was “going home.” The former WWE champion, whose real name is Phil Brooks, last appeared on WWE TV on Sunday at the Royal Rumble pay-per-view, where he wrestled for more than 50 minutes — longer than any other wrestler — during the 30-man battle royal main event. He also reportedly missed the company’s Tuesday night taping of “SmackDown,” which airs Friday.

A tweet — that later was deleted — from WWE wrestler AJ Lee, Punk’s real-life girlfriend, said: “Let me be the first to confirm that Phil is in fact done with the WWE. I can’t exactly say why at the moment , but in the coming hours more will be reveal (sic) and FYI this is not a work.” (The term “a work” is used in wrestling to mean “fake” or “part of a storyline.”)

According to TMZ, Punk was upset that he was scheduled to face Triple H at WrestleMania XXX on April 6 while 45-year-old Batista, who returned to WWE last week after a nearly four-year absence, won the Royal Rumble and is scheduled to wrestle in the championship main event.

Despite the was-it-real-or-was-it-fake questions that followed Punk’s June 2011 “pipe bomb” promo, where he aired his grievances with WWE on live TV before being cut off, I’ve believed from the outset of Wednesday’s news that Punk’s exit from the company was anything but scripted.

In a number of interviews and on the 2012 WWE-produced documentary about his life and career, Punk has said that CM Punk the wrestler isn’t much different from Phil Brooks the person. It’s because of that and his candor in and out of a wrestling ring that I feel good about wrestling’s biggest draw walking away from wrestling’s biggest stage.

Life and make-believe collided in 2011 when Punk threatened to leave the company after his contract expired that July. Not long after the aforementioned promo that helped catapult CM Punk to household-name status, he signed a three-year contract to remain with WWE. On the night he re-signed, Punk won his first of two WWE championships. He was the only person to hold the WWE title in 2012. His 434-day reign stretching from 2011 to 2013 is good for one of the longest (and by far most impressive, considering a 21st-century wrestler’s workload) in WWE history.

CM Punk last had his name on the WWE championship Jan. 27, 2013, the night he lost to The Rock at the Royal Rumble, making his reported real-life departure from WWE on Jan. 27, 2014, apropos. Aside from a rematch for the WWE title against The Rock the next month at the Elimination Chamber PPV, Punk hasn’t been in the company’s championship storylines since his historic run. His 2013 post-title “highlight” came at WrestleMania XXIX, where he had the “privilege” of, predictably, losing to The Undertaker, who is 21-0 in WrestleMania matches. After that was a drawn-out feud with mid-carder Curtis Axel and Punk’s former manager (and real-life No. 1 fan) Paul Heyman, a match with Brock Lesnar and a brief tag-team stint with current man-of-the-people Daniel Bryan.

WWE long ago set a precedent of unrealistic expectations on its wrestlers, with weeks filled with constant travel and matches that take a toll on bodies. When I first fell in love with wrestling, in the late 1980s, wrestlers didn’t have the luxury — at least not many — of working lucratively outside of the profession, so they accepted the heavy travel and physical strain. It’s why, I believe, a number of wrestlers have experienced physical, mental health and substance-abuse problems and died sooner than the average U.S. citizen.

It’s common for wrestlers to work into their 40s and 50s. At 35, CM Punk still is in the prime of his career. But his body, no doubt, has taken a beating. The once-independent-wrestling darling had been with WWE since 2005. In his interview with Helwani, he talked about his dissatisfaction with WWE’s current use of his character, the product in general, and still feeling burned-out in 2013 despite taking two months off.

Lucky (and unlucky) for Punk, this isn’t 1988.

Today, there are more opportunities in and beyond wrestling. He can return to independent wrestling promotions worldwide, where he, along with compadre and current indy darling Colt Cabana, are worshiped by its loyal legion of fans. He has the power to boost it to heights not seen (and not ever seen, considering that the Internet wasn’t a regular thing until the ’90s) since the territories were swallowed by the then-World Wrestling Federation.

If he’s done beating up his body, Punk could pursue a career in acting, TV hosting, writing or comic books, one of his passions.

Either way, based on my assumption that he has been smart with his money, he can afford to take all the time he’d like to create and achieve goals.

If today’s WWE was 1988’s then-WWF, Punk might still rule the ring. Sure, he isn’t a 1980s wrestler in the sense of being a “body guy” that Vince McMahon seemed to froth at the sight of, but he has the in-ring ability and psychology of some of the best in wrestling history. It wouldn’t have looked odd for one second to see Punk trade thumbs to the eye with “Macho Man” Randy Savage, “Rowdy” Roddy Piper, “The Million Dollar Man” Ted DiBiase, The Ultimate Warrior or Hulk Hogan.

Fans of professional wrestling, myself included, indeed, are sad about the news. Some may call Punk a crybaby or an egomaniac for walking out, but — like The Rock would say — it doesn’t matter what anyone thinks. CM Punk (and Phil Brooks) will do whatever the hell he wants with his life, and he’s going to do it well.

Jimmy Bellamy co-hosts “Podcast of the Immortals,” a weekly show about WWE and professional wrestling.

30 guys who’ll be in the WWE Royal Rumble

One of my first memories of professional wrestling is the first Royal Rumble, which took place in 1988. I was 6 years old.

The 27th annual WWE Royal Rumble is Sunday, Jan. 26, 2014, in Pittsburgh. (WWE image)

Because of that and the excitement of the annual event, it long has been my favorite WWE pay-per-view (ironically, the first Royal Rumble wasn’t a PPV; it was broadcast on the USA Network). I saw the first Rumble with my grandpa at his house. There haven’t been too many that I’ve missed, and for the past 15-plus years, my friends and I have made the 30-man (except that one year when there were 40 guys) January PPV a regular celebration.

My excitement level for the Royal Rumble never has dipped, no matter the participants (though the stronger the competitors, the better) or WWE’s level of success leading up to the match. I think I have an idea of who the winner will be (my money’s on Daniel Bryan), but I don’t care if I’m wrong. In fact, like many professional wrestling fans, I like to be surprised. That’s my way of saying it’d be great if CM Punk won.

So far, 18 wrestlers have been confirmed to compete in the Rumble match. I’ll lay those out along with the 12 I think will appear. I base the list on who probably will be in, too. For the past decade-plus, the Royal Rumble has been a match where former regulars come back for a surprise appearance, and some non-wrestlers, too (Drew Carey, anyone?). I’ve never been a huge fan of that since I like the match to have people with a believable chance to win it. Thankfully, with 12 spots yet to be filled, there isn’t a lot of room for those this year, based on who remains on the roster of regulars.

In alphabetical order, here’s my list of the 30 Royal Rumble participants for the Jan. 26, 2014, PPV (those confirmed as of Jan. 17 appear in bold):

1. Alberto Del Rio

2. Antonio Cesaro: He’s one of the best wrestlers in WWE. He should be splitting from The Real Americans soon. I’d like to see him have a good showing.

3. Bad News Barrett

4. Batista

5. Big E Langston

6. Billy Gunn

7. Bray Wyatt: It only makes sense that the leader of The Wyatt Family is in this match, especially since he’s feuding with the favorite to win it.

8. CM Punk

9. Chris Jericho: He returned at the 2013 Rumble but swears he won’t be back for this one. Right. We’ll see.

10. Cody Rhodes

11. Curtis Axel: What else is the guy going to do? His tag team partner, Ryback, probably will be in it, too.

12. Damien Sandow: I’d like to see a big 2014 for Sandow. A nice Rumble would help kick-start that.

13. Daniel Bryan: My pick to win the Rumble and face the WWE World Heavyweight champion at WrestleMania XXX.

14. Dean Ambrose

15. Erick Rowan: He’s a part of The Wyatt Family; he’ll be in it.

16. Fandango

17. Goldust

18. Jack Swagger: He’ll be in the match and get eliminated by or eliminate Cesaro.

19. Kofi Kingston

20. Luke Harper: Same as Rowan, he’ll be in the match.

21. The Miz

22. R-Truth

23. Rey Mysterio

24. Road Dogg

25. Roman Reigns

26. Ryback: The “Big Guy” will do some damage here, if I get my way.

27. Seth Rollins

28. Sheamus: Making his return after about six months away due to an injury, Sheamus might find himself one of the final four wrestlers in the match.

29. Sin Cara: Or is it Hunico? He’ll have to do something here, probably eliminate Rey Mysterio, to set up the long-rumored match with Rey-Rey at WrestleMania.

30. Xavier Woods

Final 4: Batista, Bray Wyatt, CM Punk, Daniel Bryan

Winner: Daniel Bryan

On the bench

Brodus Clay: WWE loves having big guys in the Royal Rumble.

Great Khali: See above.

Kane: He has been interacting with Punk and was Bryan’s tag team partner. Plus, he has a rich history in the Royal Rumble.

Rob Van Dam: He could be one of the “surprise” entrants.

Drew McIntyre: He’s 1 of 3MB.

Heath Slater: See above.

Jinder Mahal: See above above.

Mark Henry: “Injured,” otherwise he’d be in it. But who knows? Maybe he will be.

Zack Ryder: I think he’s still a WWE employee.

Tensai: He’s a big guy.

Triple H: You never know.

Randy Orton: Defends WWE World Heavyweight Championship against John Cena.

Big Show: Set to face Brock Lesnar.

Brock Lesnar: Set to face Big Show.

John Cena: Challenging Randy Orton for the WWE World Heavyweight Championship.

Alex Riley: Kidding.

Booker T: He’s done it before.

Brad Maddox: Wishful thinking on my part.

Darren Young: One of many guys in a tag team who doesn’t have anything to do.

Titus O’Neill: See above.

Christian: I think he’s still concussed.

Curt Hawkins: See Zack Ryder.

Diego: One half of Los Matadores; probably won’t be in it.

Fernando: Same as Diego.

Dolph Ziggler: Concussed. Out.

Evan Bourne: Where has he been?

Jimmy Uso: I assume The Usos will face Codedust for the Tag Team titles. And my guess is they win, the Rhodeses feud into the Rumble match and set up a Cody vs. Dustin match at WrestleMania.

Jey Uso: See Jimmy Uso.

William Regal: Bring back the power of the punch!

Santino: Dude was a runner-up.

Tyson Kidd: Do it, WWE.

Undertaker: There’s no way he’d be in this match again without winning. And he ain’t winnin’.

Yoshi Tatsu: See Zack Ryder and Curt Hawkins.

Sprint through ‘Breaking Bad’ addiction ends tonight

Walter White (Bryan Cranston, left) and Jesse Pinkman (Aaron Paul) bring “Breaking Bad” to a close tonight with the series finale on AMC. (Frank Ockenfels / AMC, Associated Press)

The finish line is near. I can see the blue-hued tape draped across the end of mile 62. I, along with millions of others, will reach it tonight.

What has been a five-year ultra-marathon for others has been a three-week sprint for me. Regardless of how I got there, I, like the rest of the world, will be watching AMC when one of the most-celebrated shows in television history dangles from its final cliff. After five seasons and more than 48 hours of Walter, Jesse, Skyler, Hank and the Albuquerque, N.M., landscape, it all ends.

Since its premiere in 2008 (which must feel like ages ago to those who watched weekly each season), “Breaking Bad” has gone from a cute little show with a devoted cult following to an Emmy-ruling phenomenon. For years I heard rumblings about how great “that show with the dad from ‘Malcolm in the Middle’ (Bryan Cranston)” was but intentionally avoided it. Not out of disinterest; I didn’t want to spend any more time than I already was in front of a TV and away from productivity. I was content with my DVR stable of favorites at the time and not looking to expand, not looking to get hooked.

Thanks to Netflix and our on-demand world, my plan to binge-watch episodes of Walter White (Cranston) and Jesse Pinkman’s (Aaron Paul) meth-making follies in time for the series finale became reality. That’s what the goal always has been: to finish with everyone else.

And I was right; I’m hooked.

This addiction is much safer than the fictional blue meth Walt and Jesse are famous for peddling. The lost hours of sleep due to “just one more episode” turning into three or four more was a trade-off I’d gladly accept every time when opposed to waiting weeks and years to find out where the story goes.

I didn’t want to push my luck and expect to — astonishingly — remain relatively spoiler-free after the show left the air (which, by the way, isn’t anyone’s fault if something gets “spoiled” — it’s unrealistic to expect the world to cater to one’s viewing habits — see: 2012 Olympics coverage).

Bearing witness to the evolution — or devolution, depending on how you look at it — of Walter White through the first 61 episodes has been impossible to turn away from and a credit to the brilliance of the show’s creator, Vince Gilligan. He took a character through a journey that left him almost unrecognizable from the man he was at the beginning of the story, all while leaving the viewer morally conflicted over for whom to root.

Even if you don’t reach the finish line tonight, you must take this run through the New Mexico desert at some point through on-demand viewing; it will leave you feeling rewarded.

Jimmy Bellamy is a News Tribune multimedia editor. He can be reached by e-mail at and Twitter @jimmybellamy.

Wild to practice in Duluth

Minnesota Wild center Mikko Koivu (left) and defenseman Nick Schultz battle for the puck during practice at Amsoil Arena in Duluth in this Oct. 4, 2011, file photo. The team was in the Duluth-Superior area on a “bonding weekend” before the start of the 2011-12 season. The Wild return to Duluth next week. Koivu remains with Minnesota. Schultz now plays for the Edmonton Oilers. (2011 file, Bob King / News Tribune)

It’s going to be wild in Duluth next week.

Actually, it’s going to be “the Wild” in Duluth next week.

The Minnesota Wild will practice at Amsoil Arena on Monday and Tuesday, an Amsoil Arena official said today. Monday’s practice starts at 10:30 a.m. and is closed to the public.

Tuesday’s practice is open to the public. Doors open at 9:45 a.m. Practice will run from 10-11:15 or 11:30 a.m. Standard parking charges will apply.

The Wild last visited Duluth in October 2011, when they spent a week of NHL training camp practicing at the city’s newest arena and team-building along the North Shore.

A lockout that wiped out nearly all of the 2012-13 season eliminated any chance of the team returning for a second consecutive year.

The Wild start the regular season at home Oct. 3 against the Los Angeles Kings.

Edison seeks high school site in Duluth

Bonnie Jorgenson (left), head of schools for Duluth Edison Charter Schools; Paul Goossens (center), president of Tischer Creek Building Company; and Tami Siebert, president of the Duluth Public School Academy Board, share a laugh during a news conference Wednesday, Sept. 11, 2013, at North Star Academy in Duluth. The group announced its intentions of opening Edison’s first Duluth high school. (Jimmy Bellamy /

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Review: Everyone’s in on the joke at Gaffigan show

Gaffigan likes tall ships.

Jim Gaffigan took a diverse crowd tonight and made it do the same thing: laugh.

A lot.

The comedian performed to the approval of 1,991 spectators ranging from preteen to the most senior of citizens at the DECC Symphony Hall.

Gaffigan next takes his White Bread Tour to Green Bay for two shows today. The Midwest-raised comic’s set began with a riff on Lake Superior and the Tall Ships Duluth festival, which he wandered around earlier in the day.

Naming the body of water you live next to “Superior” is “a little elitist,” he said, adding that apparently it wasn’t good enough to be one of the “great” lakes. He said he thought it was neat for sailors to bring their ships to a town and let its residents throw a party onboard.

His set lasted 74 minutes, which felt like 90 minutes (in a good way) in regular-comic time. Gaffigan packs his jokes with tags and commentary, leaving little room for a pause. At times it was tough to hear some of the tags because they’d come during what the audience anticipated as an applause break for a previous line. For much of his commentary, Gaffigan is famous for acting out a voice onstage meant to represent a puzzled crowd member.

“That’s something that has been part of my personality for a long time,” the Indiana native told the News Tribune on Thursday. “Like as a teenager I would talk for someone else I was in the presence of as a way of disarming them. I had done it with some success pretty early in my stand-up. Some of it was an effective way to keep talking.

“I’m a slow-talking Midwesterner living in New York. Comedy clubs have changed; it used to be much more combative, and thank God it’s not — it was stupid. If I stopped talking, some knucklehead would say something. If I talk in place of the knucklehead, they don’t get a chance to say anything.”

Tonight was heckler-free, thankfully. Signs posted at the entrance warned show-goers not to take photos, record videos or heckle. An absence of the latter allowed for an enjoyable performance that flowed smoothly.

Some of the most-popular topics from Gaffigan’s set included jokes about hygiene, babies, family and, of course, food. He even added new jokes to his best-known bit: his feelings about Hot Pockets. The mere mention of the meat-filled pouch was all the audience would need to erupt into a combined roar of laughter and booming applause.

Gaffigan’s everyman look and perfected brand of family-friendly comedy make him one of the best comedians in the business.

Tom Shillue, who has appeared on “Late Night with Jimmy Fallon” and “Comedy Central Presents,” opened the show with a funny 15-minute set highlighted by an impression of slow-motion golf instant replays; having a scary dad who reminded him of Darth Vader; the Frito Bandito and other ad campaigns from the 1970s.

Jimmy Bellamy is a News Tribune multimedia editor. He can be reached at

Funny story: Jim Gaffigan talks tour, life

Jim Gaffigan has conjured laughter from audiences in myriad ways — through movies, TV shows and even a book (“Dad is Fat”) — but the 47-year-old Indiana native is best known for his stand-up comedy, which he brings to a Duluth stage Friday night.

Gaffigan spoke with the News Tribune via telephone on the eve of his White Bread Tour show at the DECC Symphony Hall, covering topics that included the Midwest, acting auditions — he has a CBS pilot, “Gaffigan,” that mirrors his real life as a husband and father of five living in a two-bedroom apartment in Manhattan, N.Y. — Netflix, family and his trademark paleness.

News Tribune: You’re going coast to coast with these shows. Is this the depression leg of the tour (Bismarck, N.D.; Duluth and Green Bay)?

Comedian Jim Gaffigan performs Friday night at the DECC Symphony Hall.

Jim Gaffigan: No, not at all. My wife is from Wisconsin, so I had an elaborate plan. I’d been planning to do Green Bay for a while; I’d never done it. I’ve done Duluth once before, and I had a great time. So I was like, “We’ll do Duluth and Green Bay. We’ll visit her family and my family.” Next week I’m in western Indiana, which is pretty much where I’m from.

DNT: With stand-up, movies, TV and writing a book, does doing all of them keep you from getting sick of any one thing?

JG: Most definitely; it’s interesting because I’ve been dealing with some kind of iteration of this question for a while. I love acting, but I hate the process of trying to get acting jobs. It’s like stripping, but you don’t get the dollars. But stand-up is something where you have to peak at 10 o’clock at night, which is not conducive to a healthy lifestyle. And when you have kids, there’s something about stand-up where you peak so late at night it’s not conducive to a productive day. And I’m more of an afternoon person, anyway.

DNT: As an outsider, my perception has been that once you become known and established as an actor, you’re approached for roles. Is that the case?

JG: First of all, I’m grateful to get auditions. I mostly turn down auditions at this point. It’s kind of a complex answer. There’s this perception that actors, once you get a certain job, the offers just come in. That happens for someone like Tom Cruise. Otherwise, you pretty much have to audition; it’s such a perception game. Once you do one role, even if you’re successful in acting, then you have to prove you can do some other role.

DNT: Has the Netflix influence (of streaming content) had an impact on your comedy reach?

JG: I was just wasting time on Twitter before I called you, and there’s something about “Mr. Universe” (Gaffigan’s latest comedy special) being available on Netflix that I think makes a difference. It isn’t in every household, obviously, but I think it has had a big impact. The interesting thing is that hour specials of stand-up — I’m doing for creative reasons. It’s fun to create a new hour of stand-up. But when it’s on Netflix, Comedy Central or HBO, it’s like a mini-infomercial for your comic sensibility. I’m watching “Mad Men” on Netflix now. People might see something they otherwise had not seen. I wouldn’t have made the commitment to “Mad Men” if I had to buy it on iTunes. So people might say: “Let’s watch this Jim Gaffigan special.” But we kind of forget not everyone has Netflix. You can get my special on my website for $5. It’s on Netflix, and a monthly subscription to that is $7.99. It’s nice to have multiple places where people can get your stuff.

DNT: Do you still have time to do open mics?

JG: Yes. I’m always working on new material. I did two shows last night. But the shows where I live in New York, I don’t think of them as open mics. There are shows that might have newer comics, but I’m not caught up in the status of the show. I perform about six nights a week. I usually take Sunday off. As a parent, I try to do stuff where I’m there for the whole bedtime thing. I’ll put the younger ones to bed, go do a show and sometimes come back for the others’ bedtimes. There’s a club about five blocks from where I live.

DNT: Where did your “audience-member voice” originate? Was that something you created onstage?

JG: That’s something that has been part of my personality for a long time. Like as a teenager I would talk for someone else I was in the presence of as a way of disarming them. I had done it with some success pretty early in my stand-up. Some of it was an effective way to keep talking. I’m a slow-talking Midwesterner living in New York. Comedy clubs have changed; it used to be much more combative, and thank God it’s not — it was stupid. If I stopped talking, some knucklehead would say something. If I talk in place of the knucklehead, they don’t get a chance to say anything.

DNT: Is anything in the family life not fair game?

JG: I’m not someone who says “everything’s fair game.” I think there’s something dishonest about that. There’s plenty of things that aren’t, but I can’t think of one right now. This is like a whole other conversation, but censorship is a real interesting thing. Because I know stand-up has a rich tradition in it.

DNT: Sometimes it sounds like a backhanded compliment when people say you’re funny even though you don’t swear onstage.

JG: Someone will say that to me while I’m in the grocery store. “What do you want me to say? Get me some (emphasis on the expletive) lettuce!” It’s just a perception business. There’s nothing malicious about it. They have to formulate something. I’m so busy, I really don’t care. Because I don’t swear isn’t the reason people are coming to see me. They could go to a church service and no one’s gonna curse there. Some of it is just that we have to manufacture story lines. … Bill Cosby is a clean comedian. Jerry Seinfeld is a clean comedian. Insults and flattery are things you shouldn’t give too much weight to.

DNT: Who would win in a pale-off between you and Conan O’Brien?

JG: I think I would. He’s pretty pale. When I think of Conan, I just think of a surprisingly pale guy. He’s a surprisingly pale guy, but he’s got a layer of makeup. I think he’s more-well-adjusted with his paleness. People will come up to me and want to take pictures and compare arms. I’m pretty pale, but he’s pretty pale, too.

Go see it

  • What: Jim Gaffigan’s White Bread Tour
  • When: 7 p.m. Friday (doors open at 6 p.m.)
  • Where: DECC Symphony Hall, 350 Harbor Drive, Duluth
  • Tickets: Starting at $39.75; DECC ticket office,
  • Tip: Plan to arrive early as traffic will be heavy with the Tall Ships Duluth festival nearby

Duluth man makes his mark in music world with New Vintage Amplifiers

The line of potentiometers and switches on the face of an H&B 50 guitar amplifier created by Nic Patullo of New Vintage Amplifiers are shown. (Clint Austin /

His work has been seen and heard at music festivals, clubs and arenas around the world, but you won’t find posters of him lining teenagers’ bedroom walls.

Nic Patullo started New Vintage Amplifiers in 2008. And with an ever-expanding client list that includes bands blink-182, 3 Doors Down, Motion City Soundtrack and Low, and musicians for artists Kenny Chesney, Sara Bareilles, Mat Kearney and Matt Nathanson, the 32-year-old Duluth man quietly — but loudly — is leaving his mark on the music industry.

Patullo took an interest in music that began as a guitar-playing kid in Hermantown and combined it with his obsession for tinkering, tearing apart and reassembling household items.

“I drove my parents crazy,” Patullo said. “It wasn’t until my teens that I was able to put it back together again.”

His direction took more focus in 2000 when he met then-owner Walt Gorgoschlitz of Flatstone Amplification, a small business in Poplar that serviced and designed amps, and worked as an apprentice in his shop for six years. Patullo and a business partner bought Flatstone in 2007 after Gorgoschlitz moved to Texas. A year later, Patullo left the company and started New Vintage.

The purpose of an amplifier is to make things — a guitar for instance — louder. The voicing or tonality of an amp lends itself to the instrument it amplifies.

These are the four KT88 vacuum tubes at the heart of the Undertow 300 bass amplifier created by Nic Patullo of New Vintage Amplifiers. (Clint Austin /

A New Vintage amp does it in a distinct, old-fashioned way by using vacuum tubes, which are uncommon in today’s hyper-digital world.

“It’s an older technology, but newer devices, solid-state devices and digital recreations, just can’t mimic what vacuum tubes do because the way vacuum tubes operate is very imperfect,” Patullo said. “But the imperfections of vacuum-tube audio are what everyone loves about it.

“There’s harmonics. There’s a warmth and a frequency response that you just don’t get with newer technology. They’ve tried and tried for years to recreate it, and they just don’t have the sound.”

VIDEO: Watch and listen to New Vintage bass and guitar amps in action.

Music makers agree.

“These are the first amps that I’ve ever tried where you say, ‘Yes. Oh, that’s how a guitar should sound,’” producer-songwriter Jordan Schmidt, a Duluth native living in Nashville, said. “That’s an incredible thing because it makes my job way easier. Instead of figuring out what makes it sound bad, I can figure out how to make a good sound great.”

Schmidt, 25, was working in his Minneapolis recording studio in 2010 when he stumbled onto Patullo while searching online for amps. Schmidt said he was surprised to find a reference to amps in Duluth while reading something about Flatstone, which no longer was in business. That led him to New Vintage. He said any skepticism he had about a Duluth-based amp company quickly faded after his initial conversation with Patullo.

“He just schooled me on amps,” Schmidt said. “You could tell him any record, any famous guitar tone, and he’d know what was used.”

(Gary Meader /

Schmidt bought a studio in Nashville and has turned a number of musicians on to New Vintage amps. But it was his California connection with blink-182 singer-bassist Mark Hoppus that gave the company a boost. Schmidt was second engineer during the 2009 recording of the Hoppus-produced Motion City Soundtrack album “My Dinosaur Life.”

Before a newly reunited blink-182 hit the studio in 2011 to record their first album in eight years, “Neighborhoods,” Schmidt put in a call to his rock star pal. Hoppus was impressed with what he heard from the amps during recording and wanted one of his own, so Patullo spent months building a Retribution 30 guitar amp and shipped it to Hoppus.

Two or three excruciating months passed without a word from the rock star.

At a retail price of roughly $1,400 to $3,200, a small startup couldn’t afford to lose an amp, Schmidt said. “I’ve made him give away more amps than he probably should have.”

Then, out of the blue, Hoppus e-mailed Schmidt.

“He said, ‘Hey, man, this amp is unreal. Can you get in touch with the guy who made it? I really want a bass amp,’ ” Schmidt said.

The rest is music history.

“Up until then, (Patullo) had just done guitar amps. He already had something in the works — but it lit a fire in him to get it done,” Schmidt said. “Hoppus loved it. Now his bass amps are flying off the shelves.”

Nic Patullo of New Vintage Amplifiers stands with an Undertow 300 bass amplifier stack and an H&B 50 guitar amplifier half stack built by his company in Duluth. (Clint Austin /

Patullo, a former construction equipment salesman, said business has doubled every year since starting New Vintage Amps. In addition to moving 60 to 70 units annually, he produces high-end accessories, including microphone and speaker cables, to complement his amp arsenal. This year he took on his first full-time employee.

“I own plenty of pieces myself, and I just really enjoy the product and play it,” said musician Nate Adelson, 23, of Hermantown, who has worked at New Vintage since February. “It’s cool to see it from the inside for a change.”

Patullo will be on the inside in July — onstage as a guitar tech during the Kenny Chesney and Zac Brown Band concert at Target Field in Minneapolis. While he enjoys life in the music business, he prefers spending his nights at home with his wife, Angie, and 16-month-old daughter, Clara, to a tour bus and stadiums.

“A part of me is onstage with those people,” Patullo said. “Whatever rock star dreams I had I live through my clients.”

New Vintage Amplifiers
Business hours:
12:30-8 p.m. Monday, 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. Tuesday-Friday
Phone: (218) 428-8203

Jimmy Bellamy is a multimedia editor at the News Tribune. He can be reached by e-mail at This story originally appeared on

Three-for-one at Black Bear

Former WWE wrestler Goldust (Dustin Runnels) will be at Black Bear Casino in Carlton on Saturday, May 4, 2013, for the first day of the two-day “Jokes, Pokes and Chokes” comedy, tattoo and wrestling convention. (Photo courtesy of Dave Sabick)

Three events.

Two days.

One venue.

The cleverly and aptly titled “Jokes, Pokes and Chokes” comedy, tattoo and wrestling convention comes together in a three-way dance of hilarity, pain and mayhem today and Sunday at Black Bear Casino Resort in Carlton.

The event, the first collaboration of Duluth-based organizations Tattoo You Minnesota and Heavy on Wrestling, will feature live music, stand-up comedy, burlesque dancers, more than 75 licensed tattoo artists and piercers, and professional wrestling matches. The concept was born out of friendship, Tattoo You Minnesota founder Dave Nelson, of Duluth, said.

“I’ve always wanted to do something in conjunction with these guys,” Nelson said, referring to his longtime friends, Dave Sabick of Heavy on Wrestling and Ron Houk of Northern Lights Burlesque. “Tattooing is so mainstream it goes with everything. Sports figures are tattooed, and tattooing and entertainment go hand in hand.”

The combination of tattoos and professional wrestling is a throwback to the days of carnivals and freakshows featuring inked-up oddities and strongmen. Add comedian Dwight York to the weekend lineup, and jokes complete the trifecta.

The wrestling card will feature six matches each day as well as meet-and-greets with wrestlers for autograph signings and photo ops. Some of the wrestlers scheduled to appear are former WWE talents Goldust, Honky Tonk Man, Trevor Murdoch and Shelly Martinez. The main-event match of the weekend — fittingly — is a triple-threat title match between Heavy on Wrestling champion Ben Sailer, Arik Cannon and Arya Daivari.

Nelson returns to Carlton in August for his annual Tattoo You Minnesota convention, which is in its 22nd year. Sabick would like to see “Jokes, Pokes and Chokes” become an annual event if the weekend is successful.

“If it rocks,” Sabick said, “we’ll get it rolling and do this every year.”

This story originally appeared on