Minutemen (band)

Minutemen (band)

Minutemen performing in 1985, at the now-defunct Safari Sam's
Background information
Origin San Pedro, California, U.S.
Genres Hardcore punk, post-punk, alternative rock, punk rock
Years active 1980–1985
Labels SST, New Alliance
Associated acts The Reactionaries, Firehose, Dos, Unknown Instructors, The Stooges, Minuteflag
Past members
D. Boon
Mike Watt
George Hurley
Frank Tonche

Minutemen were an American hardcore punk band formed in San Pedro, California in 1980. Composed of guitarist D. Boon, bassist Mike Watt and drummer George Hurley, Minutemen recorded four albums and eight EPs before Boon's death in an automobile accident in December 1985. They were noted in the California punk community for a philosophy of "jamming econo" – a sense of thriftiness reflected in their touring and presentation – while their eclectic and experimental attitude was instrumental in pioneering alternative rock.




Minutemen began when D. Boon and Mike Watt met at age 13. Watt was walking through a park in their hometown of San Pedro, California, when Boon, playing a game of "army" with other boys, fell out of a tree right next to him, and found that his friends, one named Eskimo, must have ditched him.[1] Both boys shared a passion for music; Boon's mother taught D. to play the guitar and suggested Watt learn to play bass. However, at first, Watt did not know the difference between bass and standard guitars.[2] The pair eventually started playing music together, mostly covering songs from artists they admired. In the summer of 1973, Watt and Boon formed the Bright Orange Band with Boon's brother Joe on drums. In 1976 they discovered punk, however Boon's mother died and the Bright Orange Band disbanded shortly thereafter. The next year, the two joined a short-lived band called Starstruck.[3] Following Starstruck's disbandment, Boon and Watt met drummer George Hurley and formed The Reactionaries with vocalist Martin Tamburovich.[3]

After the Reactionaries disbanded, Boon and Watt formed Minutemen in January 1980. Watt has said their name had nothing at all to do with the brevity of their songs; rather, it was derived partly from the fabled minutemen militia of colonial times and partly to lampoon a right-wing reactionary group of the 1960s that went by that name. In the documentary We Jam Econo, Watt also states that the name was a play on "minute" (/maɪˈnjuːt/ my-newt). After a month with no drummer, during which Boon and Watt wrote their first songs, the band rehearsed and played a couple of early gigs with local welder Frank Tonche on drums. The group had originally wanted George Hurley to join, but he had joined a new wave band called Hey Taxi! after the Reactionaries disbanded. Tonche quit the group, citing a dislike of the audience the band initially drew, and Hurley took over as drummer in June 1980. Their first live gig was as an opening band for Black Flag.[citation needed]

Early days

Greg Ginn of Black Flag and SST Records produced Minutemen's first 7" EP, Paranoid Time, which solidified their eclectic style. Like most Punk bands at the time, the band sold the EP at their shows, and at a few local record stores. It became a minor hit with the hardcore scene.[citation needed]

By their first LP—1981’s The Punch Line, they had found their voice and began touring nonstop around the country. They released their second EP and third overall release entitled Bean-Spill. By this time they were becoming one of the more popular bands in the underground scene around the country.[citation needed]

Early on, the band avoided "mersh" (their slang for "commercial") affectations such as guitar solos, choruses, and fade-outs. But by the time of their second LP What Makes a Man Start Fires?, which gained considerable attention from the alternative and underground press, they were a part of the band's sound, despite maintaining their experimental and punk roots. They continued their hectic touring schedule, which included their longest tour yet; a double bill with Black Flag in Europe. The long tour strengthened their place as one of most well known acts in the hardcore scene. Later in 1983, they released their third LP, Buzz or Howl Under the Influence of Heat. It was one of the first hardcore albums to include a horn (trumpet on "The Product").[citation needed]

Minutemen's anti-rockist eclecticism was perhaps the best exemplified on 1984's double-album, Double Nickels on the Dime. Though still somewhat obscure to mainstream audiences, Double Nickels has been cited as one of the more innovative and enduring albums of the 1980s American rock underground. On Double Nickels, they co-wrote some songs with other musicians, notably Henry Rollins, Chuck Dukowski and Joe Baiza. In 1985, they released their most commercial-sounding recording, Project: Mersh. Though the album sounded more mainstream, it sold poorly compared to Double Nickels, due largely to the negative reaction to such a commercial album from within the underground community. They continued touring and by the time of their final album, 3-Way Tie (For Last), they decided to take a small break. They played their last tour with another emerging band, R.E.M. Their final concert was in Charlotte, North Carolina on December 13, 1985.[4]

D. Boon's death

On December 22, 1985, Boon was killed in a van accident, putting an end to Minutemen. Watt fell into a deep depression after his friend's death, but was convinced to continue performing by Sonic Youth. Every form of media that Watt makes or takes part in is dedicated to Boon.[citation needed]

This put an end to the band's plans to record a half studio/half-live triple album with the working title 3 Dudes, 6 Sides, Half Studio, Half Live. The live tracks were to be based on the ballots that they handed out, and as a way to counteract bootlegging, especially following an incident with an Arizona DJ.[5] A year later, however, Watt and Hurley compiled various live recordings, based on the ballots, which was released as Ballot Result. In addition, Richard Meltzer had sent Watt lyrics for ten songs for an album on which he was going to collaborate. Due to Boon's death, however, none of these projects were realized.

After disbanding

Following Boon's death, Watt and Hurley originally intended to quit music altogether. But encouraged by Minutemen fan Ed Crawford, they formed Firehose in 1987 and have both formed solo projects since Minutemen disbanded.[citation needed]

Watt has created three acclaimed solo albums, recorded three others as part of the punk jazz jam band Banyan with Stephen Perkins (Jane's Addiction), Nels Cline (Wilco), and Money Mark Nishita (Beastie Boys), contributed on "Providence" off Sonic Youth's album Daydream Nation and "In the Kingdom #19" and "Bubblegum" off EVOL, toured briefly as a member of Porno for Pyros in 1996 and J Mascis and the Fog in 2000 and 2001, and became the bassist for The Stooges in 2003. George Hurley has produced work with Vida, Mayo Thompson and Red Crayola, further indulging the free-form and off-the-wall leanings showcased on Double Nickels. Hurley and Watt have also continued to make music together both live and in the studio since Firehose's splitting in 1994, starting with a track for the NORML benefit album Hempilation II in 1998. (See Legacy below for further Hurley/Watt projects.)[citation needed]

George Hurley and Mike Watt

On rare occasions since 2001, and usually in the Los Angeles area (a recent exception was two December 2004 performances in England), George Hurley and Mike Watt, who have remained friends since fIREHOSE's disbanding in 1994, reunite to play a set list of all Minutemen songs as a duet.[citation needed]

They refuse to have a substitute guitarist playing late Minutemen guitarist D. Boon's parts; instead the songs will be rearranged for bass and drums. They insist that they not be billed as the Minutemen for these shows or referred to as a Minutemen reunion, as they do not want to cheapen or "vampire" the Minutemen name. Instead, they insist on being billed under their real names and that the advertisements state that they will be "playing Minutemen songs as a duet."[citation needed] They have been chosen by Jeff Mangum of Neutral Milk Hotel to perform one of these shows at the All Tomorrow's Parties festival that he will curate in December 2011 in Minehead, England.[6]

Prior to their Minutemen duet shows, Hurley and Watt previously reunited in 1998 to record, along with Petra Haden and Stephen Perkins, a song for a NORML benefit album.[citation needed]

Musical style

They were influenced heavily by bands such as Wire, Gang Of Four, The Pop Group, Richard Hell & The Voidoids and The Urinals, and nearly all of their early songs had unusual structures and were less than a minute long – even later when Minutemen's music became slightly more conventional, their songs rarely passed the three-minute mark. Though Minutemen were members of the hardcore punk community, and were somewhat influenced by the speed, brevity and intensity of hardcore punk, they were known for hybridizing punk rock and hardcore with various forms of music (like jazz, funk, acid rock, and R&B) separating them from most hardcore bands of that era. The Minutemen were fans of Captain Beefheart, and echoes of his distinctive, disjointed, avant-blues music can be heard in their songs, especially their early output. Through most of their career they ignored standard verse-chorus-verse song structures, in favor of experimenting with musical dynamics, rhythm and noise. Later in their career they blended in more traditional song elements they had initially avoided. They also played covers of classic rock songs by bands such as Creedence Clearwater Revival, Steely Dan, and Blue Öyster Cult.[citation needed]

Boon and Watt split songwriting fairly evenly (and Hurley made many contributions as well), though Watt rarely sang, and Hurley even less so. Boon's songs were typically more direct and progressively political in nature, while Watt's were often abstract, self-referential "spiels". Lyrics and themes would thus often veer from surreal humor, as in "Bob Dylan Wrote Propaganda Songs" and "One Reporter's Opinion", to the frustrations of blue collar life in California, as in the enduring "This Ain't No Picnic". While many contemporaries rarely displayed a sense of humor, the Minutemen were generally more light-hearted and whimsical. One example of this can be found in the title of their album Double Nickels on the Dime, which poked fun at Sammy Hagar's "I Can't Drive 55" by implying that the Minutemen preferred to take risks with their music rather than behind the wheel of a car.[7]


From 1999 until the show's cancellation, an instrumental version of the Minutemen song "Corona" (off Double Nickels) was the theme song of the MTV television show Jackass.[citation needed]

In 2000, Watt, as administrator of the band's publishing, allowed the auto maker Volvo to use the Boon instrumental "Love Dance" (from Double Nickels...) in a car ad. Boon's royalties were paid to his father, who was suffering from emphysema. Watt simply refers to the decision as a way for Boon to help his father from beyond the grave.[8]

Since 2001, Watt and Hurley have done occasional gigs, mainly in the L.A. area except for two December 2004 shows in England, playing Minutemen songs as a duo with no guitarist. At some of these gigs, Watt would set up one of Boon's old guitars and amps on the side of the stage where Boon used to stand. These performances, at Watt's insistence, are to be billed strictly as "George Hurley and Mike Watt". They are also now involved in an improvisational music group, Unknown Instructors, with members of Saccharine Trust and Pere Ubu.[citation needed]

The group's career is chronicled in the book Our Band Could Be Your Life, a study of 13 important American underground rock groups by veteran music journalist Michael Azerrad. The title is taken from the lyrics to the Double Nickels track "History Lesson – Part II."[citation needed]

The documentary film We Jam Econo charts the band's history through interviews with Watt, Hurley, Henry Rollins, Flea of the Red Hot Chili Peppers, and other California punk rock contemporaries.[9] The film premiered at the Warner Grand Theatre in the Minutemen's hometown of San Pedro in February 2005. The film was released on DVD in June 2006. In the spring of 2007, the documentary went into a heavy rotation cycle on various Sundance cable television channels.[citation needed]

In 2003, Watt released his own book on the Minutemen, Spiels of a Minuteman, which contains all of Watt's song lyrics from the Minutemen era as well as the tour journal he wrote during the Minutemen's only European tour with Black Flag, essays by former SST co-owner Joe Carducci, Sonic Youth's Thurston Moore, Blue Öyster Cult lyricist and longtime Watt hero Richard Meltzer, and illustrations by Raymond Pettibon that had been used in all of the Minutemen's album artwork. The book, released by Quebec-based publisher L'Oie de Cravan, is published in English and French.[citation needed]

Covers and tributes

Watt has dedicated all of Firehose's releases and his solo albums to the memory of Boon.[10][11][12][13][14][15] "Disciples of the 3-Way" on Firehose's final studio album Mr. Machinery Operator is about the Minutemen,[15] and "The Boilerman" from Watt's second solo album Contemplating The Engine Room (which parallels the stories of the Minutemen, Watt's father, and the novel The Sand Pebbles) is about Boon;[16] Watt had guitarist Nels Cline play one of Boon's old Fender Telecaster guitars on the track.[17]

Sublime (whose lead singer Bradley Nowell also died prematurely, outliving Boon by only a year) sampled Boon saying "Punk rock changed our lives" on "History Lesson Part II" from Double Nickels as part of their song "Waiting For My Ruca" from 1992's 40 Oz. to Freedom. On the final track from the same album titled "Thanx", all three Minutemen are mentioned. Watt repaid this salute by appearing in Sublime's video for "Wrong Way" in 1996. Sublime also sampled George Hurley's drum intro from "It's Expected I'm Gone" for their "Get Out! (remix)" on their posthumous release Second Hand Smoke. On their eponymous debut LP, San Diego-based indie rockers Pinback also used the same drum loop from "It's Expected I'm Gone"; in his honor, the band titled the track "Hurley". Also, during a cover of the Sublime song "Get Out!" done by Bargain Music, Josh Fischell sings "Damn I was surprised when I heard 'Punk Rock Changed Our Lives', these kids dug the Minutemen too".[citation needed]

The Unknown Instructors track "Punk Is Whatever We Make It To Be" from their first album The Way Things Work contains interpolations by vocalist Dan McGuire of several lyrics from Double Nickels on the Dime.[18]

In 1994, Little Brother Records released the Minutemen tribute CD and LP Our Band Could Be Your Life. The CD version included 33 tracks by artists covering Minutemen songs, plus a track with a Boon interview and a live version of the Minutemen song "Badges". The LP version had 23 tracks, including the interview and Minutemen items.[citation needed]

Post-rock band Karate covered "The Only Minority," "Bob Dylan Wrote Propaganda Songs," "This Ain't No Picnic," and "Colors" on their 2005 album, In the Fishtank 12.[citation needed]

New Jersey pop punk band The Ergs! wrote and recorded a Minutemen tribute song entitled "Under The Influence of Minutemen (Dork Rock Changed Our Lives)."[citation needed]

New York punk/ska band The Fad also released a Minutemen tribute song entitled "Our Band Could Be Your Life", which referenced such Minutemen songs as "Vietnam" and "History Lesson Pt. 2".[citation needed]

Josh Fischel's group Bargain Music covers "#1 Hit Song' at the end of their track "Long Beach Millennium" on their album 77 003.[citation needed]

Uncle Tupelo (who later morphed into Wilco and Son Volt) have a song titled "D. Boon" on their album Still Feel Gone.[citation needed]

English band Hot Club de Paris covered "The Anchor" on their album Live At Dead Lake.[citation needed]

Ag Holstrom, bassist with 1980's Edinburgh band Snowcake, named Mike Watt as one of the top three most influential rock bass players of all time along with John Entwistle and Jean Jacques Burnel in an article in ZigZag magazine.[citation needed]

Grindcore band Brutal Truth covered "Bob Dylan Wrote Propaganda Songs" on their 2009 album Evolution Through Revolution.[citation needed]

Emmy The Great listed "Party With Me Punker" (from The Politics of Time) as a 'hidden gem' in The Guardian in 2009.[19]

The Red Hot Chili Peppers dedicated their 1991 album BloodSugarSexMagik to Mike Watt and have previously played the riff from History Lesson - Part II during live shows.

Economical practices

The group's early recordings (up until their 1985 12" EP Project: Mersh) were recorded as "econo" (Pedro slang for inexpensive, short for "economical") as possible – the group would book studio time after midnight at cut rates, tech their own shows, rehearse the songs before going into the studio, record on less-expensive used tape, and record the songs in the order they intended to have them on the record rather than waste time editing the master tape during the sequencing phase. In fact, contrary to standard practice even in indie rock, Minutemen sometimes saw records as a way to promote their tours, not the other way around.

Minutemen toured frequently, but usually for only a few weeks at a time – they all held down day jobs. Their "econo" practices helped ensure that their tours were always profitable.

Several Minutemen album sleeves and covers, such as the Paranoid Time EP and What Makes a Man Start Fires? LP and the inner gatefold jacket for Double Nickels, feature drawings by noted artist Raymond Pettibon, who was at the time associated with the SST label, providing sleeves for Black Flag. Other album covers, like on The Punch Line, Project: Mersh, and 3-Way Tie (For Last), featured paintings by Boon.


Studio albums

Extended plays


See also

  • We Jam Econo – full-length Minutemen documentary from 2005



  1. ^ Craig Young. "Contemplating Mike Watt". Ear Pollution. http://www.earpollution.com/vol2/aug00/profiles/mikewatt/mikewatt2.html. Retrieved 2007-06-11. 
  2. ^ Karen Schoemer. "Watt Bio". Mike Watt's Hoot Page. http://www.hootpage.com/hoot_wattbio.html. Retrieved 2007-06-11. 
  3. ^ a b Mike Watt & Kira Roessler. "Dos Bio". Mike Watt's Hoot Page. http://www.hootpage.com/hoot_dos.html#mike%20watt. Retrieved 2007-06-11. 
  4. ^ Fred Mills (2005-09-10). "The Minutemen: Men At Work". Harp Magazine. http://harpmagazine.com/articles/detail.cfm?article_id=3394. Retrieved 2007-06-11. 
  5. ^ "Minutemen – August 24, 1984 – Just A Minute... Men – Tucson, AZ". Corndogs.org. 1984-08-24. http://corndogs.org/justaminutemen%208-24-84.html. Retrieved 2011-09-15. 
  6. ^ "ATP curated by Jeff Mangum". Atpfestival.com. http://www.atpfestival.com/events/jeffmangum.php. Retrieved 2011-09-15. 
  7. ^ Sound Opinions (2011-05-25). "Sound Opinions May 25, 2011". PRX. http://www.soundopinions.org/shownotes/2011/052711/shownotes.html. Retrieved 2011-09-01. 
  8. ^ CJ Marsicano (2001-08-07). "A Conversation with Mike Watt, Pt. 2". Project X Webzine. http://www.proj-ex.info/interviews/mikewatt_2001_2.htm. Retrieved 2007-06-11. [dead link]
  9. ^ Greg Prato (2005-02-16). "Minutemen Remembered In New Documentary". Billboard.com. http://www.billboard.com/bbcom/news/article_display.jsp?vnu_content_id=1000806364. Retrieved 2007-06-11. 
  10. ^ Mike Watt, liner notes of Ragin' Full-On, SST Records, 1986
  11. ^ Mike Watt, liner notes of if'n, SST Records, 1987
  12. ^ Mike Watt, liner notes of fROMOHIO, SST Records, 1989
  13. ^ Mike Watt, liner notes of Flyin' The Flannel, Columbia Records, 1991
  14. ^ Mike Watt, liner notes of Live Totem Pole EP, Columbia Records, 1992
  15. ^ a b Mike Watt, liner notes of Mr. Machinery Operator, Columbia Records, 1993
  16. ^ Mike Watt, interviewed by Jay Babcock (2000-08-23). "Talkin' The Opera". Mike Watt's Hoot Page. http://www.hootpage.com/hoot_talkintheopera.html. Retrieved 2007-06-11. 
  17. ^ Nels Cline, interview segment from the bonus features of the DVD We Jam Econo: The Story of the Minutemen, Plexifilm, 2006
  18. ^ Joe Baiza, D. Boon, Jack Brewer, Chuck Dukowski, George Hurley & Mike Watt (composers), The Unknown instructors (artist), "Punk Is Whatever We Make It To Be", The Way Things Work, Smog Veil Records, 2005.
  19. ^ Rogers, Jude (2009-08-17). "The hidden gems that have pop stars hooked". The Guardian (London). http://www.guardian.co.uk/music/2009/aug/17/pop-hidden-gems-take-that. Retrieved 2010-05-12. 
  20. ^ Simon, Paul; Rogers, Jude (2009-08-17). "The hidden gems that have pop stars hooked". The Guardian (London). http://www.guardian.co.uk/music/2009/aug/17/pop-hidden-gems-take-that. 

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