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Minutemen (band)

Minutemen performing in 1985, at the now-defunct Safari Sam's.
Background information
Origin San Pedro, Los Angeles, 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, Black Flag
Past members D. Boon
Mike Watt
George Hurley
Frank Tonche

Minutemen was an American rock band formed in 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.


  • History 1
    • Formation 1.1
    • Early days 1.2
    • D. Boon's death 1.3
    • After disbanding 1.4
      • George Hurley and Mike Watt 1.4.1
  • Musical style 2
  • Legacy 3
    • Covers and tributes 3.1
  • Economical practices 4
  • Discography 5
    • Studio albums 5.1
    • Extended plays 5.2
    • Compilations 5.3
  • See also 6
  • References 7
  • Notes 8
  • Further reading 9
  • External links 10



Minutemen began when D. Boon and Mike Watt met at age 13. Watt was walking through a park in their hometown of 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 Black Flag.[4]

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.

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

By the time of their second LP What Makes a Man Start Fires?, which gained considerable attention from the alternative and underground press, they (what?) 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. 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").

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.[5]

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.

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.[6] 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. This project, eventually titled Spielgusher, was completed (by Watt, Meltzer, Yuko Araki, and Hirotaka Shimizu) and released in January 2012 on clenchedwrench.[7]

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 1986 and have both formed solo projects since Minutemen disbanded.

Watt has created three acclaimed solo albums, recorded three others as part of the 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.)

George Hurley and Mike Watt

On rare occasions since 2001, and usually in the Los Angeles area (an 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.

They refuse to have a substitute guitarist playing late Minutemen guitarist D. Boon's parts; instead the songs are arranged for bass and drums. They insist that they not be billed as 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." They were chosen by Jeff Mangum of Neutral Milk Hotel to perform one of these shows at the All Tomorrow's Parties festival that he curated in March 2012 in Minehead, England.[8]

Prior to their Minutemen duet shows, Hurley and Watt previously reunited in 1998 to record, along with NORML benefit album.

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. 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 cover versions of classic rock songs by bands such as Creedence Clearwater Revival, Steely Dan, and Blue Öyster Cult.

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, 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.[9]


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

In 2000 Watt, as administrator of the band's publishing, allowed the automaker 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.[10]

Since 2001 Watt and Hurley have done occasional gigs, mainly in the L.A. area except for two December 2004 shows in Unknown Instructors, with members of Saccharine Trust and Pere Ubu.

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."[11]

The documentary film We Jam Econo charts the band's history through interviews with Watt, Hurley, Henry Rollins, Flea of Red Hot Chili Peppers, and other California punk rock contemporaries.[12] 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.

In 2003 Watt released his own book on 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 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 Minutemen's album artwork. The book, released by Quebec-based publisher L'Oie de Cravan, is published in English and French.

Covers and tributes

Watt has dedicated all of Firehose's releases and his solo albums to the memory of Boon.[13][14][15][16][17][18] "Disciples of the 3-Way" on Firehose's final studio album Mr. Machinery Operator is about Minutemen,[18] and "The Boilerman" from Watt's second solo album Contemplating The Engine Room (which parallels the stories of Minutemen, Watt's father, and the novel The Sand Pebbles) is about Boon;[19] Watt had guitarist Nels Cline play one of Boon's old Fender Telecaster guitars on the track.[20]

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".

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.[21]

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.

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.

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)."

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".

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

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

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

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.

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

In 2011, Jeff Mangum of Neutral Milk Hotel covered "Themselves" (off of Double Nickels on the Dime) during an acoustic set at an Occupy Wall Street campsite.

Emmy The Great listed "Party With Me Punker" (from The Politics of Time) as a 'hidden gem' in The Guardian in 2009.[22]

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.

Yonder Mountain String Band performs a cover of "Corona" on their live album Mountain Tracks Volume 4.

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, practice 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 generally 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. 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. Retrieved 2007-06-11. 
  2. ^ Karen Schoemer. "Watt Bio". Mike Watt's Hoot Page. Retrieved 2007-06-11. 
  3. ^ a b Mike Watt & Kira Roessler. "Dos Bio". Mike Watt's Hoot Page. Retrieved 2007-06-11. 
  4. ^ Azerrad, Michael. Our Band Could Be Your Life. 
  5. ^ Fred Mills (2005-09-10). "The Minutemen: Men At Work". Harp Magazine. Retrieved 2007-06-11. 
  6. ^ "Minutemen – August 24, 1984 – Just A Minute... Men – Tucson, AZ". 1984-08-24. Retrieved 2011-09-15. 
  7. ^ Watt, Mike. "spielgusher". Mike Watt's Hoot Page. Mike Watt. Retrieved 3 February 2012. 
  8. ^ "ATP curated by Jeff Mangum". Retrieved 2011-09-15. 
  9. ^ Sound Opinions (2011-05-25). "Sound Opinions May 25, 2011". PRX. Retrieved 2011-09-01. 
  10. ^ CJ Marsicano (2001-08-07). "A Conversation with Mike Watt, Pt. 2". Project X Webzine. Retrieved 2007-06-11. 
  11. ^ Michael Azerrad (1 December 2012). Our Band Could Be Your Life: Scenes from the American Indie Underground, 1981-1991. Hachette Digital, Inc. pp. 13–.  
  12. ^ Greg Prato (2005-02-16). "Minutemen Remembered In New Documentary". Retrieved 2007-06-11. 
  13. ^ Mike Watt, liner notes of Ragin' Full-On, SST Records, 1986
  14. ^ Mike Watt, liner notes of if'n, SST Records, 1987
  15. ^ Mike Watt, liner notes of fROMOHIO, SST Records, 1989
  16. ^ Mike Watt, liner notes of Flyin' The Flannel, Columbia Records, 1991
  17. ^ Mike Watt, liner notes of Live Totem Pole EP, Columbia Records, 1992
  18. ^ a b Mike Watt, liner notes of Mr. Machinery Operator, Columbia Records, 1993
  19. ^ Mike Watt, interviewed by Jay Babcock (2000-08-23). "Talkin' The Opera". Mike Watt's Hoot Page. Retrieved 2007-06-11. 
  20. ^ Nels Cline, interview segment from the bonus features of the DVD We Jam Econo: The Story of the Minutemen, Plexifilm, 2006
  21. ^ 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.
  22. ^ Rogers, Jude (2009-08-17). "The hidden gems that have pop stars hooked". The Guardian (London). Retrieved 2010-05-12. 
  23. ^ Simon, Paul; Rogers, Jude (2009-08-17). "The hidden gems that have pop stars hooked". The Guardian (London). 

Further reading

External links

  • Mike Watt's Hoot Page (contains Minutemen information as well as Watt's other projects)
  • (Watt-approved fan page featuring rare and out-of-print downloads)
  • A Tribure to "We Jam Econo" – an original moment in time, man! by poet Charles Plymell, 2008
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