Established by the husband-and-wife team of singer/guitarist Christina Martinez and Jon Spencer, a well-known guitarist and founder of the acclaimed Blues Explosion, Boss Hog became the toast of Lower East Side night clubs in New York during the early 1990s, and by the middle of the decade had attracted alternative music fans from across the United States. Although Spencer anchored the band, it was Martinez’s vocals—ranging throughout the emotional spectrum from sensitive, sexual, and romantic, to fierce and powerful—that defined the Boss Hog sound. And whereas the John Spencer Blues Explosion featured beats and art-school concepts, Boss Hog placed their musical emphasis on full-force rock and abrasive pop-punk.
Boss Hog rose from the ashes of Pussy Galore, a celebrated low-fidelity, neo-blues cult band formed in Washington D.C. in 1985 by Spencer and fellow guitarist Julie Cafritz. The two musicians had met while Spencer was studying semiotics and history of art in Provincetown, Rhode Island, eventually deciding to drop out of college, head for the city, and form a band. “I hated the people, the course, everything,” Spencer recalled, as quoted by Rock: The Rough Guide contributor Susan Compo. “I just wanted to play rock ‘n’ roll.” Taking the band’s moniker from the villain in the James Bond movie, Spencer and Cafritz teamed with drummer John Hammill to release the group’s 1985 four-song debut EP entitled Feel Good About Your Body on their own Shove label.
Feeling ignored in the nation’s capital, Pussy Galore soon relocated to New York, where Spencer and Cafritz hired a third guitarist, Neil Haggerty, as well as a new drummer to replace Hammill named Bob Birt, formerly of Sonic Youth. By 1986, Martinez, a former photographer for the band, joined as a fourth guitarist, remaining with Pussy Galore until September of that year, just long enough to appear on the group’s Exile on Main Street album. The band’s notorious internal tensions caused her to leave. After Martinez departed, Pussy Galore continued on for the remainder of the 1980s until their dissolution in 1990. Their albums during this time for Caroline Records included 1987’s Right Now; 1988’s Sugarshift Sharp, produced with Steve Albini; 1988’s Dial M For Motherf***er, considered the band’s consummate moment and recorded without Cafritz, who had meanwhile also quit the band; and 1990’s La Historia De La Musica Rock. A compilation album entitled Corpse Love was released in 1992.
After disbanding Pussy Galore, the members went their separate ways. At the time Martinez and Spencer formed Boss Hog in 1989 before the split, both were working with various other groups. Originally, the group
For The Record…
Members include Jens Jurgensen (joined band in 1992), bass; Christina Martinez, vocals, guitar; Charlie Ondras (died in 1992); Hollis Queens (joined band in 1992), drums; Pete Shore (left band in 1990); Jon Spencer (founder of the Jon Spencer Blues Explosion), guitar; Jerry Teel (left band in 1992); and Kurt Wolf (left band in 1992).
Martinez and Spencer formed Boss Hog to fill a vacant slot at CGBG’s in New York City, signed with Amphetamine Reptile, released debut mini-LP Drinkin ’, Lechin’ and Lyiri, 1989; released full-length debut Cold Hands, 1990; Martinez and Spencer dropped remaining “All Star” members from roster, enlisted Jurgensen and Hollis, 1992; signed with Geffen (DGC), released self-titled, major label debut, 1995; Geffen underwent reconstruction and released Boss Hog from contract, 1999; released White Out on the independent label In The Red, 2000.
Addresses: Record company —In The Red, 2627 E. Strong PL, Anaheim, CA 92806, (818) 841-2473. Website —Official Boss Hog Site: http://www.bosshog-.com
emerged hastily in order to fill a vacant slot at the legendary CGBG’s night club in New York, culling the name Boss Hog from a biker magazine—not after the corrupt politician from the Dukes of Hazzard television show as many often assumed. Trading in Pussy Galore’s trash aesthetic for retro punk-rock and a mixture of sexploitation and sleaze—rumor has it that Martinez performed entirely nude for their first gig at CGBG’s— Boss Hog were an instant hit. Within no time, the group, along with like-minded bands such as Unsane and Railroad Jerk, ruled New York’s Lower East Side music scene.
Signing with the Amphetamine Reptile label soon thereafter, Boss Hog—completed by an “All-Star” lineup of Kurt Wolf, Charlie Ondras, Jerry Teel, and Pete Shore in addition to Martinez and Spencer-hooked up with Albini again in Chicago to release in 1989 a mini-LP entitled Drinkin’, Lechin’ and Lyin’, a collection of distorted bass and guitar riffs. Most eyes, however, were drawn to the record’s provocative cover: a pose of Martinez clad only in boots, gloves, and lipstick. Shore departed before Boss Hog recorded their second album, the full-length Cold Hands, released in 1990. Martinez again graced the album cover naked, sharing the spotlight this time with her clothed bandmates. By now, Martinez and Spencer had married, and the latter was also enjoying rising stardom through his primary project, the John Spencer Blues Explosion.
Boss Hog experienced several changes in 1992. Following numerous “All-Star” departures and additions, as well as the unfortunate death of Ondras from a heroin overdose, Spencer and Martinez dropped those remaining from the roster and brought in bassist Jens Jurgensen, a German design student and former member of the Swans, and a then-inexperienced drummer named Hollis Queens. “[Queens] took us out of a sad part of our lives,” Martinez recalled to Magnet magazine’s John Elsasser. “She made us all excited about playing again. She’s still the cheerleader of the band.” With a new lineup solidified, Boss Hog recorded their final effort for Amphetamine Reptile, 1993’s mini-LP entitled Girl +. An obvious turning point in the band’s development with a more mature, structured sound, the record’s success attracted major-label interest. Thus, both Martinez and Spencer left their day jobs working on magazines at Condé Nast to concentrate on music full time.
After cementing a record deal with Geffen (DGC), Boss Hog in 1995 released their self-titled, major-label debut, which earned the band wider recognition and critical acclaim. Rolling Stone contributor Rob O’Connor, for one, noted, “It’s the kind of sound you would expect to hear if there were such a thing as a futuristic juke joint. When the harmonica flashes through ‘Walk In,’ clashing perfectly with the descending guitar line, you hear [blues guitar great] John Lee Hooker and [punk legend] Johnny Rotten mesh in the jukebox—a match you would never expect but one with which it’s hard to argue.” Likewise, Jonathan Bell in Rock: The Rough Guide called Boss Hog “as fine a ’90s rock album as you’re likely to hear, utterly bereft of bombast and pretension.”
Despite such an impact, Boss Hog fell out of sight for the next two years, largely as a result of delays associated with Geffen’s merger and record-industry downsizing, as well as scheduling conflicts that arose with Spencer’s work with the Blues Explosion. Furthermore, Martinez had given birth to the couple’s first child, Charles Henry Spencer, who took precedence over her role as a rock star. “My primary goal is to be a good mother—it’s completely my focus and my priority,” she told John Elsasser. “I would not have had a child otherwise. I knew what a great responsibility it would be. I didn’t enter into that lightly.”
Nonetheless, Martinez still missed working, but toward the end of 1998, heard discouraging rumors about Geffen’s future and a supposed merger of record-industry conglomerates. And while executives at Geffen tried to assure Martinez that her band had nothing to worry about, she eventually learned that only eight of the label’s 60-plus artists would survive such a merger. “So I looked at the roster,” said the frontwoman to Elsasser. “And I’m like, ‘Hmm, Beck, Hole.’ I went through the list, and it became obvious to me that if they had to keep eight, we weren’t going to be on that list. They were going to keep the moneymakers, and everyone else was going to go.”
The following year, six major record companies became five; Seagram merged its Polygram Music Group with its Universal Group, while Geffen, A&M, Interscope, MCA, Island, Mercury, Universal, Motown, and Def Jam were reconstructed, leaving many bands without a contract in the process. Subsequently, Geffen released Boss Hog officially in February of 1999, just as Martinez had predicted.
However, after signing with the indie label In The Red and adding ex-Goats keyboardist Mark Boyce to the lineup, Boss Hog returned in 2000 with a new album, White Out, oddly enough the group’s most commercially appealing record thus far. And with Spencer spending so much time with Blues Explosion, Martinez had the opportunity to implement more of her own ideas. She also mixed and sequenced the entire album, which was produced by a well-known team of musicians: Tore Johansson, Andy Gill, and Roli Mosimann. “On this record, it came together so beautifully,” she told Elsasser, “with the exception of losing my record label.”
White Out, still hard-hitting and abrasive, nonetheless showed that Boss Hog were more than a punk band. “While the band experiments in sometimes garage-rock style a la Sonic Youth,” wrote Amy Steele for the Boston Globe, “Martinez’s passion and intensity filter through every song, as she manages to be both fierce and feminine.” In support of the album, Boss Hog in December of 1999 played their first live show in more than a year, with more dates planned on the East Coast and in Japan. Even in the absence of a major-label contract, Boss Hog seemed well-equipped to survive on their own.
Drinkin’, Lechin’ and Lyin’, (mini-LP), Amphetamine Reptile, 1989.
Cold Hands, Amphetamine Reptile, 1990.
Girl+, (mini-LP), Amphetamine Reptile, 1993.
Boss Hog, DGC, 1995.
White Out, In The Red, 2000.
Feel Good About Your Body, (EP), Shove, 1985.
Exile on Main Street, Shove, 1986.
1 Year: Live (tape), Shove, 1986.
Pussy Gold 5000 (EP), Shove/Buy Our, 1987.
Right Now, Caroline, 1987.
Sugarshift Sharp, (EP), Caroline, 1988.
Dial M for Motherf***er, Caroline, 1989.
Historia de la Musica Rock, Caroline, 1990.
Corpse Love, Hut/Caroline, 1992.
Buckley, Jonathan and others, editor, Rock: The Rough Guide, Rough Guides Ltd., 1999.
Robbins, Ira A., editor, Trouser Press Guide to ’90s Rock, Fireside/Simon & Schuster, 1997.
Atlanta Journal-Constitution, December 15, 1995.
Billboard, September 14, 1996; December 21, 1996.
Boston Globe, March 2, 2000.
Harper’s Bazaar, October 1996; March 2000.
Magnet, April/May 2000.
Rolling Stone, November 16, 1995; March 2, 2000.
Washington Post, March 24, 2000.
Insound.com, http://www.insound.com (May 4, 2000).
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