Selections from The Punk Vault [Minutemen]

minutemen - spin radio show LP

Minutemen – Spin Radio Show LP (1985 Spin Radio)

Having seen that movie the other day, it inspired me to make the Minutemen a feature for one of these. It was something I was going to do anyway, but now it just got bumped to the front of the line while it was fresh on my mind.

One day in San Pedro, a 13 year old boy named Mike Watt was walking near some trees and out jumped a heavy set fellow right on top of him. This cherubic lad had mistaken Mike for a friend of his and quickly apologized. His name was Dennis Boon. This started a friendship that lasted for the rest of their lives until D. Boon’s untimely passing.

Boon’s mom encouraged him to play guitar because she figured it would keep him out of trouble. She also convinced Mike Watt that he should play bass and they should form a band, and that’s what they did. They graduated high school in 1976 and two years later they formed a band called The Reactionaries with George Hurley and Martin Tamburovich. They played their first show in San Pedro opening for Black Flag, who put on a show at a rented out youth center that ended up getting trashed.

In June of that year D. Boon decided they didn’t need a lead singer and wanted his band to be a trio and six months later (January 1980), the Minutemen were born. George had moved onto playing in some new wave band and they got a guy named Frank Tonche to pound the skins. They recorded a few songs on cassette which some 13 years later was released on the Georgeless 7″ by Forced Exposure. After playing only two shows with the band (one of them opening up for Black Flag), Frank became afraid of punk rock and didn’t want anything to do with it and quit the band. At the same time, Greg Ginn asked the band if they would like to record a 7″ for his new label, SST Records. The band agreed and talked George into coming back to play on the record. George didn’t really have the intention of playing with them beyond that recording session but destiny had other intentions for him and he became a permanent member and the “real” Minutemen was born.

Shortly after they released their first 7″ (and second release on the new SST label), Ginn asked them to do an album and that started their never-ending cycle of recording and touring. Contrary to popular opinion, the band did not get their name due to none of their songs at the time being over a minute long. It was a political themed name but no one seemed to get it.

Early on the band had a tough go of it when it came to playing shows. They often shared bills with bands like Black Flag and their crowds felt the Minutemen weren’t “hardcore enough” and would spit on them and even berate them, but often times by the end of their set, the band would win the crowd over. The band never let it stop them, they simply forged ahead playing their songs while often swallowing some dirty punks gobber while singing.

The band were very unique at the time. No one sounded like the Minutemen, from their angular, often difficult to listen to guitar sound, to their odd song structures and short length, they were really ahead of their time and broke a lot of “rules” that resulted in two generations of musicians that followed picking up the torch and thinking outside the box. As time wore on, they would eclipse the one minute mark, then the two, three, etc until at the end, they were writing “real” rock songs that were a few minutes long and even had choruses. They never had a set path on what they wanted to do, they just got together and played and the longer songs and change of sound was just a natural progression. While they didn’t really sound very “punk” at the end of their career, they never gave up their punk ideas and their strong DIY ethic. They never changed to please their audience or sell more records, they just did whatever they wanted and let the people who “got it” come to them.

The band were starting to garner a little bit of success and were getting some mainstream press, especially after being invited by R.E.M, who at the time were hugely successful, to play some shows with them. R.E.M.’s label were against it and insisted on having the band take another one of the label’s artists on tour with them instead and refused to provide tour support if they wouldn’t comply. To their credit, R.E.M. stuck to their guns and took our heroes from San Pedro on their tour and the crowds seemed to enjoy them. Had they been able to continue, it probably would have been inevitable that the band would have been accepted by the mainstream and probably would have enjoyed some success. Sadly it was not meant to be. On December 22, 1985 D. Boon was a passenger in a van that spun out of control and crashed. He died as a result and the world was robbed of and important musician and friend to many. I remember when it happened and being shocked and very saddened as the band were so huge to me back as a teenager in the 80s. It was easily one of the most tragic deaths in punk rock history.

In picking a record to feature it was a tough decision. Just about everything they ever released was on SST with a couple exceptions and it is all still in print at least on some really poorly mastered CDs. With the exception of some bootlegs, the only real Minutemen “rarity” is this LP, the Spin Radio show, which was only a promo sent out to select college radio stations. Six of the songs from this record were included on the Ballot Result double album, but the rest of it remains unavailable to this day. The year this came out, Spin Radio was putting out these promo records of underground bands such as Husker Du, Fear, Circle Jerks and the Minutemen. Sadly none of it has ever been reissued and will likely never be. Its a shame too because they were all very good and deserve to be heard by more than a handful of obsessive record collectors.

Listen to “Little Man with a Gun in His Hand” from the record.