The Minutemen, a San Pedro, California trio, took hard core punk to new levels. Early songs, often clocking in under 60 seconds, were performed with such intensity that it seemed possible to maintain the explosive power for only that long. A unique mix of jazzy, sometimes funky guitar chord progressions led by driving bass rhythms put the band in a class of its own. The group’s unique sound coupled with the passionate liberal political beliefs of their frontman clearly defined the trio as pioneers.
D. Boon, born Dennes Dale Boon, met Mike Watt during their teenage years in the working class town of San Pedro. Citing the Blue Oyster Cult and Alice Cooper as influences, they initially formed as the Reactionaries with a couple of friends and played straight rock music. However, the Southern California hard core punk scene began to percolate, attracting energetic youth with lots of attitude, even those still developing their musical abilities. The lineup became Boon on vocals and guitar, Watt on bass, and George Hurley on drums. Supposedly due to the short length of many of their early songs, they were renamed the Minutemen.
Boon was the member that assertively expressed his liberal political views. He was so assertive that one EP listed his contributions as “guitars, yelling.” “[D.] Boon’s committed if highly personal leftism informed most of his lyrics, and he howled them out as if trying to overpower the Republican tidal wave of the 1980s with sheer volume…., “said Roy Edroso, contributor for Rock: The Rough Guide.
The Minutemen’s initial recordings—five albums and several EPs within five years—contained a range of attitudes. Paranoid Time, an EP released in 1980, was a collection of brief sonic blasts supporting fervent political exclamations. The often comical Watt called the “soap-box” sessions “spiels, “a term that would be played with in later works. Bean Spill, released in 1982, was a five-track EP totaling six minutes. It included songs that were hauntingly serious as well as peculiarly humorous. These and other recordings were done on the classic independent label SST out of South Bay, California. The Minutemen soon started New Alliance Records from their association with SST.
The band’s first album, The Punch Line, was released in 1981. It packed in 14 songs of melodic fury and was the release that established the Minutemen as a legitimate member of the Los Angeles punk community. Solid music along with insightful lyrics made for an artistic expression which remained fresh and earned respect from an audience with high standards. What Makes a Man Start Fires? was released in 1983. It contained elegant political articulation supported by a musical venture into free jazz.
A change in style was evident on Buzz or Howl Under the Influence of Heat released in 1983. The short explosions were contained and stretched a little to resemble standard rock songs. In addition, the guitar work was more definite, as notes rang individually above the chorded crunch. The sound created on the album even struck some as the source of inspiration for many alternative rock acts to follow. According to Rolling Stone online, the Minutemen had come into their own. “By the end of 1983, the Minutemen had amassed a significant cult following and were receiving critical acclaim from the underground press.” The band had proven themselves by breaking away from the common “fast and loud” stereotype of hard core punk into a group to watch and imitate.
After a relatively somber collection of outtakes, including a Reactionaries tune put out in 1984 under the title Politics Of Time, the Minutemen’s greatest recording impact was through their 40-plus song arsenal Double Nickels on the Dime. The title was taken from truck driver lingo which described the experience of driving 55 miles per hour on Interstate Highway 10. Recorded during a two-day studio session in late 1983, and another two-day session in the spring of the next year, it was finally launched in 1984. Many critics hailed the project as a masterpiece and a must have hard core selection.
Many changes would occur for the Minutemen during 1985. The trio shifted their sound on the Project Mersh EP by adding horns to the speed and high intensity. Reflecting the sarcastic nature of the project in its title, they named it using a play on the word ’commercial.’ It even included several songs written in the standard
Members include D. Boon (born Dennes Dale Boon on April 1, 1958; died on December 23, 1985, in Arizona), vocals, guitar; George Hurley (born September 4, 1958, in Brockton, MA), drums; Mike Watt (born December 20, 1957, in Portsmouth, VA), vocals, bass.
Formed in San Pedro, CA, 1980; formerly the Reactionaries; released first album, The Punch Line, 1981; released What Makes a Man Start Fires? and Buzz or Howl Under The Influence of Heat, 1983; released double album, Double Nickels on the Dime, 1984; Boon died in a van accident, 1985; Hurley and Watt re-formed as flREHOSE, 1986.
commercial structure. Not surprisingly, the Minutemen showed they could create mainstream material just as well as others. The tempo shifted slightly on 3-Way Tie (For Last). As if allowing the dust to settle after an explosion, the Minutemen backed off the intensity a little into a somewhat slower pace and longer duration. This made the songs more accessible to listeners. It included a track inspired by Henry Rollins’ spoken word activities, covers of Steppenwolf’s “Hey Lawdy Mama, “Creedence Clearwater Revival’s “Have You Ever Seen The Rain, “as well as the Blue Oyster Cult’s “The Red and The Black.”
In addition to changes in sound, the band toured behind comparatively mellow group R.E.M. They also released another EP, Tour Spiel. Put out on Reflex, the label owned by Bob Mould, it included a cover of Creedence Clearwater Revival’s “Green River.” Reaching the top of their trajectory, the Minutemen were ready to sign a major recording label agreement when everything changed for the band. In December of 1985, a week after returning home from the R.E.M. tour, Boon was killed in a van accident after a show. The jazzy sonic attack was stopped just as the trio had reached cruising speed. Edroso cited critic Robert Christgau in describing “a tragedy that … for wasted potential, has Lennon and Hendrix for company.”
Watt and Hurley strived to maintain the momentum by forming another band. They responded to the offer of a fan in the Midwestern United States to step in on guitar. Ed Crawford was accepted and the three were called flREHOSE. The new group continued in a similar manner as the Minutemen but lengthened songs and adjusted the sound from jazzy to folksy, mainly due to Crawford’s influence. They put out three albums on SST: Ragin’Full On in 1986, If’n in 1987, and fROMO-HIO in 1989, as well as an EP, Sometimes, in 1988. flREHOSE was eventually signed by Columbia Records through which they released Flyin’ The Flannel in 1991, Mr. Machinery Operator in 1993, and another EP, Live Totem Pole, in 1992. The trio’s final gig was held in San Pedro in 1994.
Several Minutemen compilations were released after the band dissolved. My First Bells 1980-1983, was put out on cassette in 1985 and included The Punch Line, What Makes a Man Start Fires?, and several EPs and singles. Post-Mersh, Vol. 1, put out in 1987 was a compact disc release of The Punch Line and What Makes a Man Start Fires? Also released in 1987, Post-Mersh, Vol. 2 compiled Buzz or Howl Under the Influence of Heat and Project Mersh. Post-Mersh, Vol. 3, released in 1989, included The Politics of Time and the contents of four EPs. Ballot Result, from 1987, was a collection of live versions of favorite songs selected by Minutemen fans.
Watt recorded a few albums with his wife and former Black Flag bassist Kira Roessler. The double bass couple named their band Dos and released a self-titled album on New Alliance Records in 1986, an EP called Numero Dos in 1989, and Justamente Tres in 1996. Watt also worked in a solo capacity, recording a couple of albums after flREHOSE. Mike Watt: Ball Hog or Tug Boat, was released in 1995 and featured an all-star alternative rock lineup. Contributing were Henry Rollins (Black Flag, Rollins Band), Evan Dando (Lemonhead), Eddie Vedder (Pearl Jam), J Mascis, members of Sonic Youth, the Meat Puppets, Nirvana, Soul Asylum, Beastie Boys, and Screaming Trees. Watt released a 15-song punk rock opera, Contemplating The Engine Room, on the Columbia label in 1997. It followed three men in a boat for a day and was an expression of similarities between Watt’s musical life and his father’s career in the United States Navy.
Paranoid Time (EP), SST, 1980.
The Punch Line, SST, 1981.
Bean-Spill (EP), SST, 1982.
What Makes a Man Start Fires?, SST, 1983.
Buzz or Howl Under the Influence of Heat, SST, 1983.
Double Nickels on the Dime, SST, 1984.
Politics Of Time, SST, 1984.
Tour Spiel (EP), Reflex, 1985.
My First Bells 1980-1983 (cassette), SST, 1985.
Project: Mersh (EP), SST, 1985.
3-Way Tie (For Last), SST, 1985.
Just A Minute Man, Virgin, 1985.
Ballot Result, SST, 1987.
Post-Mersh, Vol. 1, SST, 1987.
Post-Mersh, Vol. 2, SST, 1987.
Post-Mersh, Vol. 3, SST, 1989.
Joy, SST, 1990.
Introducing the Minutemen, SST, 1998.
Buckley, Jonathan, Orla Duane, and Mark Ellingham, editors, Rock: The Rough Guide, second edition, Rough Guides, Ltd., 1999.
Romanowski, Patricia, Holly George-Warren, and Jon Páreles, editors, The New Rolling Stone Encyclopedia of Rock and Roll, Fireside, 1995.
All Music Guide, http://www.allmusic.com (January 19, 2001).
Addicted to Noise, http://www.addict.com (November 4, 2000).
Columbia Records, http://www.wattage.com (November 19, 2000).
Earpollution, http://www.earpollution.com (November 19, 2000).
Rolling Stone, http://www.rollingstone.com (November 4, 2000).
"The Minutemen." Contemporary Musicians. . Encyclopedia.com. (January 20, 2019). https://www.encyclopedia.com/education/news-wires-white-papers-and-books/minutemen
"The Minutemen." Contemporary Musicians. . Retrieved January 20, 2019 from Encyclopedia.com: https://www.encyclopedia.com/education/news-wires-white-papers-and-books/minutemen
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