Mike Watt

The Developing Arts And Music Foundation
Minneapolis, MN
November 2001

One of the most prominent musical figures in the American music underground, Mike Watt has established a career out of simply trying to be the best musician he can be. Never content to rest on his laurels, Watt has constantly raised his own standards of achievement, and inspired countless others along the way – with his ability, if not his sheer tenacity. Watt, a self-described “thud-thug from Pedro” [California], was born in 1957, in Portsmouth, VA, but was transplanted at an early age to San Pedro, which become the home he would identify with for the rest of his life.

At the age of 13, Watt formed what would prove to be the most important alliance in his lifetime, when he became friends with another aspiring rocker – Dennis Dale Boon, known to most simply as D. Boon. Throughout the ’70s, the two close friends would form a musical alliance which would espouse their liberal political views and unique hybrid of free-jazz and punk rock, trying out tentative band names such as The Libertines, and The Reactionaries. In 1979, they christened themselves The Minutemen, also featuring pal George Hurley on drums. The trio signed to Black Flag guitarist Greg Ginn‘s SST label in 1980, releasing their debut EP, Paranoid Time that same year. Featuring seven songs in as many minutes, the record was also graced by – as would many of the band’s subsequent releases over the years – the unmistakably urban-Americana illustrations of Ginn’s brother, artist Raymond Pettibon. The Minutemen would become one of the most influential bands of the post-hardcore punk era, releasing landmark albums such as The Punch Line [SST; 1981], Buzz or Howl Under the Influence of Heat [1983], and what many consider to be the apex of their career, the 1984 double album, Double Nickels on the Road. Their relentless touring took its’ toll, however, when Boon was killed in a van accident at the end of 1985. Stunned by the loss of his closest friend, Watt put down his bass, and swore that he was finished with music for good.

An Ohio fan named Ed Crawford (later dubbed “edfROMOHIO“) who had taught himself to play guitar by listening to Minutemen records, hitchhiked cross-country, even crashing on Watt’s floor, in an attempt to prevent him from quitting music. His determination proved successful, and in 1986, Ed, Hurley and Watt formed a new outfit called fIREHOSE, their name taken from a Bob Dylan tune, “Subterranean Homesick Blues”. That same year, Watt formed the two-bass duo Dos with his wife – and former Black Flag bassist – Kira. When fIREHOSE released their first album, Ragin’, Full-On [SST; 1986], it combined new material written as a group, and several tracks composed by Dos. After a couple of albums on SST, fIREHOSE was signed to Columbia Records, where they released two more LPs before finally disbanding in 1994.

In 1995, Watt released his first solo LP, Ball-Hog or Tugboat?, a monumental collaboration with close to sixty alt-indie-rockers, including members of Jane’s Addiction, Sonic Youth, Soul Asylum, and Pearl Jam. The following year found him in “sidemouse” role, with Porno For Pyros on their Good God’s Urge tour. While on tour, Watt wrote the material for his second LP, Contemplating the Engine Room [Columbia; 1997], an “opera” which chronicled the history of The Minutemen, as though it were a life in the day of three sailors. With Jane’s Addiction/Porno For Pyros drummer Stephen Perkins, he co-founded a jam-based outfit called Banyan, and the following year found himself in yet another collaborative project – The Wylde Rattz, with members of Sonic Youth, and The Stooges; recording The Stooges’ “T.V. Eye” for the film, Velvet Goldmine.

All projects were put on hold in 2000, when Watt was stricken with a nearly-fatal perineal infection, which kept him off his feet for nine weeks – possibly the longest amount of time his fingers had not touched a bass in over twenty years. Doubtful he would pull through at the time, Watt regarded the downtime as a metaphorical scene out of Dante’s “Divine Comedy” – after recuperating, it would provide insights that formed the basis of his next record. Rehabilitative therapy came in the form of former Dinosaur Jr. guitarist J. Mascis, and the two performed several dates together, showcasing songs by The Stooges. Subsequently, Mascis asked Watt to help him promote his solo LP, More Light; and they toured together for the next year. Currently, Watt has his hands full with several projects – Banyan, Hellride, Dos, We Go Speedro, The Madonnabes (a Madonna cover band), and is touring to promote his forthcoming third solo LP, The Secondman’s Middle Stand, a drums/bass/organ excursion that Watt has dubbed the “Our oars became wings” tour, cribbed from a passage which marks the final voyage in Dante’s “Inferno”. A recently published anthology of 1981 – 91 punk-era stories, Our Band Could Be Your Life, takes its’ title from Watt’s self-referenced “History Lesson-Part II”, from the “Double Nickels” album, and Watt’s own anthology of Minutemen lyrics, and a tour diary from 1983, Spiels of a Minuteman, is forthcoming. Not bad for a man who almost cashed in his career, then realized it would be a more fitting tribute to continue in honor of his closest friend, who helped him get the whole thing rolling.

© J.Free / D.A.M.F.; 2001; 2022