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Firehose

Firehose

Rock band

For the Record

Minutemen Moved Crawford

Recorded for Indie SST

Watt a Label Executives Dream

Selected discography

Sources

Southern Californias fIREHOSE rose from the ashes of the seminal postpunk band the Minutemen; the latter came to an abrupt halt when their influential singer-guitarist, D. Boon, died in a 1985 automobile accident. When bassist Mike Watt and drummer George Hurley decided to start anew with untested Ohio native Ed Crawford in 1986, they did so to carry on the do-it-yourself tradition of punk rock that had inspired them to play music in the first place. In the intervening years, fIREHOSE has established itself as a fixture in the mercurial rock worldalternative before it was fashionable and firmly independent even after signing with a major label. According to Billboard, the gruff, personable Watt has been elevated to folk hero status among record company executives for his keen sense of business in handling the bands affairs. This no-nonsense sensibility surrounds not only the bands logistical values, but its music as well; though the members of fIREHOSE eschew the brevity-at-all-costs ideology of the Minutemen, they strive to make it econo, as one of their songs declares.

For the Record

Members include Ed Crawford (born c. 1964 in Ohio), guitar, vocals; George Hurley, drums; and Mike Watt (born c. 1958 in Virginia; married Kira Roessler [a musician]), bass, vocals.

Band formed in San Pedro, CA, 1986; released debut album, Ragin, Full On, SST Records, 1986; signed with Columbia Records and released Flyin the Flannel, 1991.

Addresses: Record company Columbia Records, 2100 Colorado Ave., Santa Monica, CA 90404; 550 Madison Ave., New York, NY 10022-3211.

The Minutemen came from San Pedro, site of the Los Angeles harbor. The town has never hosted a thriving music sceneL.A.s clubs are located mostly in Hollywoodbut it was where Mike Watt and D. Boon grew up together as best friends. Watt was born in Virginia, but his Navy father moved the family to Pedro (as Watt would come to call it) when Mike was nine. In 1978 Watt, Boon, Hurley and a singer formed a group called the Reactionaries; 18 months later the singer had departed and the bands name had been changed to the Minutemen. They began performing wherever they could. The only gigs we could get were opening for [L.A. punk luminaries] Black Flag, Watt recalled to Steve Peters of Creem.

The Minutemen sound wasnt nearly as one-dimensional as the quasi-metallic thrash and destroy everything lyrics of most punk; it mixed hard rock, jazzy passages, and a funky groove with terse, cryptic, and usually political messages and in so doing, significantly broadened the palette of independent rock. Their working-class backgrounds both differentiated the Minutemen from their bored, suburban colleagues and gave them more to sing about. Guitarist Greg Ginn, leader of Black Flag, signed the trio to his SST label and for five years, the Minutemen toured and released albums full of honed, evocative, furious compositions that were sometimes no more than 30 seconds long. The stories we told were little moral plays and stuff, but I dont think that was our trump, Watt told Option. Our trump was personality and fraternity and stuff like that. It sure as hell wasnt foxy looks.

Minutemen Moved Crawford

One particularly enthusiastic convert to their eclectic sound was Ed Crawford. The 21 year old saw the Minutemen play in a small club. Rarely have I been so moved by a live show, he told Creems Peters. I got up on top of this damn bar railing, because I wanted to see this. To watch D. Boon up there like that... I thought, Man, if he can do that, I can do that. They really inspired me to think about rock in realistic terms. After seeing the band, Crawfordtrained on the trumpetbought his first electric guitar. A few months later, D. Boon died on the road somewhere in the Arizona desert.

Devastated by the loss of his closest friend, Watt was disinclined to do anythinglet alone start another band. He hadnt even attended Boons funeral. I wouldnt carry D. Boons casket, he recalled to Peters. I wouldnt put him in the ground. He was too strong a man. I didnt want to put him to rest. Watt and Hurley tried playing with their friend former Saccharine Trust guitarist Joe Baiza but didnt feel any special musical chemistry. Meanwhile, back in the Midwest, Crawford hearderroneouslythat the surviving Minutemen were auditioning guitarists. He grabbed his guitar and headed for California, determined to find Watt and play with his favorite rhythm section. I thought, if I have a snowballs chance in hell, I thought it would be because Im from Ohio and he doesnt know who I am and Ive never been in a band, the guitarist recollected to Options Scott Becker. Thats the only thing I have going for me. It was something I couldnt not try.

Crawford was right. Watt told Becker, This guy kept calling me up, kept calling and calling, and he finally agreed to try him out. Ed just wanted a chance to go for it. He was influenced by bands like the Police, U2, stuff very foreign to me. He didnt play electric guitar till he saw D. Boon. He knew a lot of our tunes like a hack would, note for note. It was like fate, like D. Boon landed on me out of a tree when I was a kid. Crawford struggled with the guitar, but his sheer determination touched something in Watt. I knew he must have a powerful hankering to do it, he explained to Creem. So I could really start over, you know what I mean? I knew Id have a chance. Soon they were a band; taking their name from a Bob Dylan song, they began to play live. Their first gig was in June of 1986. I remember it distinctly, Crawford joked to Becker. It was all one big blur.

Recorded for Indie SST

Crawfords melodic, wailing vocals were a far cry from D. Boons pointed proto-rap talk-singing, and his relatively less-aggressive guitar stylings forced the rhythm section up front. It was like the tail wagging the dog, Watt told Becker. Drummers and bass players arent supposed to [lead] the guitar player. But me and George are weird players. Watts inventiveness led to ever more supple, soulful basslines against Hurleys nimble percussion. The first fIREHOSE album, Ragin, Full On, released by SST in 1986, begins with Crawford singing the first song Watt wrote for him: Brave Captain, about an uncertain leader stumbling to marshall his troops. Consistently interesting, if occasionally tentative, Ragin, Full-On should lead to some formidable sequels, opined Jon Young of Musician. The band released two more albums for the independent label, Ifn and fROMOHIO chock full of ringing guitars, angular funk, tricky arrangements, and Watts cryptic spiels, or lyrics. Musician critic David Gerard felt the former album was an unusually sharp, concise piece of rock commentary, and the latter no exception. The band also released an EP for SST called Sometimes.

For the most part, fIREHOSE recorded their albums quickly and cheaply; they spent the majority of their time on the road, where the power of their sonic assault could be fully communicated to fans. In 1991 the band made an unexpected move, howeverthey signed with a major label, Columbia. Though many of their supporters feared a sellout, fIREHOSE quickly dispelled such concerns with their eclectic, loud next set, Flyin the Flannel. It was around this time that alternative rock, exemplified by heavy, punk-influenced grunge bands like Seattles Nirvana, lay siege to the charts. One multiplatinum alternative album, 1991s Blood Sugar Sex Magik, by longtime L.A. stalwarts the Red Hot Chili Peppers, was, in fact, dedicated to Watt. Alternative, to the horror of Watt and his cohorts, had become fashionable; the flannel shirts he had bought at thrift shops for years were suddenly being sold in fancy boutiques. I know all about this grunge, he scoffed to Option. Itll blow over in a year.

Watt a Label Executives Dream

Watt particularly impressed his new employers with his business savvy. While most bands survive on advances and tour support, sacrificing later profits that the companies recoup, fIREHOSE never took a penny to go on the road. Most bands tour to promote records, Watt revealed to Billboard. We make records to promote tours. He further noted in an Option interview, We go out there in the van, and these [record company] guys see the shelf unit and the safe welded to the floor... theyve never seen this. Theyre used to signing $10,000-a-week checks to keep bands on the road. fIREHOSEs modus operandi, he added pointedly, is punk rocknot just a musical style, but a way of doing things. Peter Fletcher, a marketing executive at Columbia, expressed to Billboard his amazement that Mike can take care of himself start to finish.

He gives us a tour booked six months in advance, drops the album package on my desk. The company only has to get the record in stores and theyll do the rest.

1992 saw the release of the Live Totem Pole EP, a collection of mostly cover tunes. Rolling Stone noted of the outing, Crawford has grown to be a compelling singer and incisive guitarist and added, this rowdy latest chapter will no doubt delight the faithful. Watt took some time to develop a side project, a two-bass and vocals band called Dos that hed formed with his wife, Kira Roessler, formerly of Black Flag. But fIREHOSE issued another blast with 1993s Mr. Machinery Operator, which was produced by Dinosaur Jr. leader J. Mascis. Featuring a bevy of guest players, more of Watts growling vocals than usual, and a sprawl of ambitious songs, the album nonetheless promised more than it delivered, according to Rolling Stones John Dougan, who called it an indulgent hodgepodge. Still, Dougan remarked, Bands this good dont go bad overnight. Mr. Machinery Operator isnt a harbinger; its a misstep.

Whatever the fate of fIREHOSE records with critics, the band has demonstrated its ability to survive adversity through camaraderie and hard work; the ethic of punk rock that encouraged the Minutemen to pick up their instruments has helped Watt, Hurley, and Crawford through changing times and the labyrinth of the music business. Ultimately, Watt confided to Creem, its about getting on a stage and performing: If Im not shuckin n jivin in front of people, I feel like Im failing miserably.

Selected discography

On SST Records

Ragin, Full On (includes Brave Captain), 1986. Ifn, 1987.

Sometimes (EP), 1988.

fROMOHIO, 1989.

On Columbia/Sony

Flyin the Flannel, 1991.

Live Totem Pole EP, 1992.

Mr. Machinery Operator, 1993.

Sources

Billboard, May 1, 1993.

Creem, July 1987; July 1988; June 1993.

Guitar World, November 1991.

Musician, April 1987; July 1989; September 1989.

Option, November 1986; May 1993.

Rolling Stone, February 6, 1992; May 27, 1993.

Spin, March 1992.

Additional information for this profile was obtained from Columbia Records publicity materials, 1993.

Simon Glickman

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