February 14, 2006

Mike Watt: Ball-Hog or Tugboat?

I rocked this album probably hundreds of times in high school. All I knew is that it featured some of my favorite artists, which truthfully is why I bought it. I didn’t really know at the time the imitable punk-rock legend that Mike Watt (of the Minutemen and fIREHOSE) actually is. But it was a great introduction.

Released in 1995, Ball-Hog or Tugboat? wins for the most eclectic & confounding title in my collection. 17 tracks, Watt plays thud-staff (bass) on all of them and wrote 14 of the tracks. His steady, bumping presence is complemented by Ed Vedder, Evan Dando, Dave Pirner, Frank Black, Adam Horovitz, Mike D., Flea, Dave Grohl, Pat Smear, Krist Novoselic, Joe Baiza, J Mascis, Thurston Moore, Henry Rollins, Mark Lanegan . . . it’s just madness is what it is.

The thing that I like best about this album is its diversity. You have every type of song on here from classic pleasing (rocking) pop songs to hardcore rock, and punk, and jazzy funk, and Henry Rollins (angry! angry!). There are also great stories told throughout the songs, such as “Drove Up From Pedro,” which tells of Watt discovering punk at a Germs show in Los Angeles.

Here are three of my favorite cuts, but you gotta just buy the album because there are so many great tracks I didn’t post. I somehow got the big massively tall version (above) of the CD case, but it also comes in a nice square blue cover as well. Which would be easier to file in the ole IKEA CD cabinet.

Piss-Bottle Man – Evan Dando on vocals (golden)

Chinese Firedrill – Frank Black on vocals (*gorgeous* acoustic guitar )

E-Ticket Ride – with Mike D. and Flea (and the baby of Sonic Youth’s Thurston Moore & Kim Gordon providing, uh, background vocals)

Other songs I like that I left off here are “Big Train” (little double entendre lyrical content with Dave Grohl, Ed Vedder, and J Mascis), “Against the ’70s” (with Ed Vedder, Krist Novoselic, and Dave Grohl – and didn’t that track get some radio play too?), “Sidemouse Advice” (swingin jazz with Carla Bozulich and Flea), and the title “Intense Song for Madonna to Sing” (and indeed it would be) always makes me laugh.

Mike Watt was instrumental in the Southern California post-punk movement of the ’80s, along with his band the Minutemen, and later fIREHOSE. He began playing music in his early teens, along with friend D. Boon, who would be a co-founder of the Minutemen. From his innocent beginnings (“I didn’t know what the bass was,” Watt says. “In arenas you couldn’t really hear it. But we saw on album covers that every band had a bass player, except the Doors and the Seeds. So we knew it was a big part of the band. In the pictures it looked like a guitar that had four strings. I didn’t know they were bigger. I didn’t know it was lower.”) Watt grew into a kickass & well-respected bassist.

Watt and Boon were in on the very beginnings of the Southern California punk scene, and the way it slowly began to change the face of music. Watt was there as bass became more of a crucial element in the music that he loved to make. “Before punk, bass was kind of where you put your retarded friend,” Watt theorizes. “Left field. It was a real inferiority complex dumped on me because of the bass guitar. But with punk, you had everyone lame, so all of a sudden the bass player was elevated and everybody was brought down. It was a lot more equal, and the bass drove the songs more. They were all learning, they were all beginning.”

The Minutemen released 5 albums before D. Boon’s death in 1985 in a car crash. Watt then went on with fIREHOSE to release more music (Watt says that he got the name fIREHOSE “from watching a film short of Bob Dylan doing Subterranean Homesick Blues using cue cards for the lyrics. I thought that it was funny when he held up the card that said ‘firehose’.” So there you have it.). Watt has jammed both solo and as a temporary member of bands such as Porno for Pyros, J. Mascis’ band Fog, and, most recently Iggy Pop & The Stooges. Not too shabby.

Turns out this is also a timely post because there is a wonderful documentary out about the Minutemen and their influence on the punk-rock movement. Titled We Jam Econo — The Story of the Minutemen,” the film premiered last year in San Pedro, California, and is still making the rounds to cool venues across the U.S.

Tomorrow night (the 15th) it is playing at the Art Institute in San Francisco, and there are about a dozen other screenings worldwide in the next few months. Watt is on tour this Spring both solo and with Iggy Pop. Check out something of a punk-rock legend if he comes to your town.

8 Comments »

  • Great album, great post. It’s amazing the influence Watt has had.

    JMH — February 14, 2006 @ 8:29 pm

  • and how about that bloody cover of “maggot brain”. un be friggin leavable.

    Don't Need Anything — February 15, 2006 @ 2:05 am

  • Nice recommendation.

    Thanks!

    the face of today

    Tim Young — February 15, 2006 @ 4:27 am

  • Great post. SST Records used to be the shit. tHE MM’s “Double Nickels on the Dime” is the album to look for. it is on par with Husker Du’s “Zen Arcade” for seminal moments in post-punk 80′s rock history. I will return to my wheelchair now.

    Dexter — February 15, 2006 @ 7:43 am

  • And remember, Watt toured clubs in support of this record. He had two opening acts – an instramental art-rock outfit called Hovercraft, and a little punk rock band called Foo Fighters, whose record hadn’t come out at the time. Oh yeah, Hovercraft featured Ed Vedder in disguise (a wig) on drums; his then-wife Beth played in the band as well. Plus, Ghrol and Vedder played guitar and drums during most of Watt’s set.

    Best part was that venues where the acts played were not allowed to bill the individual members or their bands or the shows would be cancelled.

    Until I saw Pearl Jam’s 10th anniversary show in Vegas in 2000, seeing Hovercraft/Foo/Watt at First Avenue in Minneapolis in 1995 was the best show I ever saw.

    Anonymous — July 23, 2006 @ 10:13 pm

  • YES! i just rebought this album a few weeks ago. i have so many great memories from high school with these songs. the tour for this album was call the “ring speil tour” and i still have an orange tee shirt from it that i wear when i’m hanging out with music snobs – to show them i can hang! it was my first club show ever. it was at axis (or whatever it was called at the time) in boston. and to have eddie vedder and dave grohl a few feet away was the highlight of my pathetic little life at that point. bottom line – love this album!

    Matt — July 27, 2006 @ 12:27 pm

  • Yo, this has got to be one of the greatest albumns of all times! What songs does Grohl play on?
    There is a great video of Grohl, Vedder, Watt on YouTube. Check it out.
    Peace, S.

    Sean — January 11, 2007 @ 1:54 am

  • i loved that cd in high school

    the alternate of tuff gnarl was my favourite, was the highlight

    i just remembered that cd today is how i found yr blog

    also leash is my favourite song.

    beautiful cd though

    r/r — February 9, 2007 @ 7:43 pm

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Bio Pic Name: Heather Browne
Location: Colorado, originally by way of California
Giving context to the torrent since 2005.

"I love the relationship that anyone has with music: because there's something in us that is beyond the reach of words, something that eludes and defies our best attempts to spit it out. It's the best part of us, probably, the richest and strangest part..."
—Nick Hornby, Songbook
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—Hunter S. Thompson

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