One for Friday: Mike Watt, “Drove Up From Pedro”

When I was work in commercial radio in the mid-nineties, I was desperate for new, different music. This shouldn’t have been the case. I was, after all, primarily working for a “new rock alternative” station. The implication is that the sort of music I was craving would be there in abundance. That wasn’t the case. The most interesting new music stayed behind locked doors while the DJ booth shelves were loaded down with sound-alike bands built on the theory that Nirvana’s music was cool but could use a coat or two of high gloss. In 1995, we didn’t have Sleater-Kinney, but we did have Bush. We didn’t have Built To Spill, but we had Silverchair. There were bright spots on the playlist, but a remarkable amount of airtime was turned over to performers that inspired sheer misery in me.

So when something unique dribbled into the station, I grabbed onto it. This is a huge part of why I adored Mike Watt’s solo debut, Ball-Hog or Tugboat?. Watt, of course, had been the bassist for the legendary band The Minutemen and the, following the death of his close friend and bandmate D. Boon, the equally interesting if less influential band fIREHOSE. Neither of those bands’ records figured into our station library at all, making it fairly unlikely that we’d suddenly pay attention to Mike Watt once he released a solo album. But this pro wrestler of the music biz didn’t leave his corner without a couple extra tricks slipped in the side of his trunks. Watt recruited a bevy of notable musicians to pitch on the record. While most radio programmers weren’t going to get excited just because Flea played some bass or Kathleen Hanna let loose with a pointed answering machine diatribe on the record, there was one voice that was absolutely going to grab their attention.

Pearl Jam’s Vitalogy was just a few months old when Watt’s album came out, and alternative radio was slavishly devoted to anything that those Seattle did, especially if Eddie Vedder’s distinctive vocals were front and center (the band backing Neil Young on Mirror Ball got the album more attention that it otherwise would’ve received, but interest quickly waned without Vedder’s recognizable oversinging). So the lead single from Ball-Hog or Tugboat? was “Against the 70’s.” We played it a decent amount that spring, the station’s pre-printed playlists encouraging the DJs to heavily emphasize Vedder’s involvement in the track. Station management probably would have preferred that we add Mike Watt’s name only in the middle of on-air cough.

Despite our official interest in only one song, the entire album was in the studio so I’d occasionally listen to other tracks in the secondary channel while “Everything Zen” played on-air for the third time in shift. If it was four in the morning I might even deviate away from the mandated music and replace a well-worn Weezer song with a deeper cut from Ball-Hog. The album was like a life preserver in a roiling sea of Candlebox and Stone Temple Pilots.

The song below features Carla Bozulich of Geraldine Fibbers on lead vocals. It’s a sort of musical memoir, and why not? If there’s anything that Watt knows, it’s that his band could be your life.

Mike Watt, “Drove Up From Pedro”

(Disclaimer: While I’ve hardly researched extensively, it appears that Mike Watt’s Ball-Hog or Tugboat? is out of print. There are electronic sources out there where MP3s of the album’s songs can be purchased, including the song posted here. However, there seems to be no way to go out and buy a copy at an actual record store, the sort with a proprietor, some sort of cash register and posters on the wall. These are the factors that were taken into consideration before posting the song today. However, if someone with due authority asks me to do so, I will remove the file from this online outpost.)

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