Friday, August 13, 2010

FDF Volume 2: Issue 195 - Mike Watt - Ball-Hog or Tugboat?

By: March

Album - Ball-Hog or Tugboat
Artist - Mike Watt
Key Players - Mike Watt - bass. (the album is full of guest spots so see track by track break down for more info!)
Produced By - Mike Watt

Release Date - February 28, 1995

What caused me to blow off the dust? - For the longest time I wanted to get this on cd. I liked a few songs that I had heard but never bought the whole thing. I stumbled upon a used copy about a year and a half ago and was honestly very impressed with the diversity. In the spirit of being a broad as I can with this site, I figured I'd take a chance and see if anyone else wanted to read about it.

Overview - This was the first solo release from California via Virginia bassist Mike Watt. Mike Watt was a co founder of the band "The Minutemen". After that band disbanded in 1985, Watt formed fIREHOSE and would release five albums. He'd then begin his solo career and this album featured here was his first.

FDF Comments (aka the songs) - Still will be song by song, but I'll note some of the guests on each track. Watt enlisted a lot of friends for the recording of the record and when he toured for this record Grohl and Vedder actually toured with him pushing him further in to the mainstream conscious.

The album opens with "Big Train" - Dave Grohl played drums and lap steel, Nels Cline (Wilco)(we did an FDF of Summerteeth) on slide guitar, Eddie Vedder (Pearl Jam)(check out FDF on No Code) on guitar and backing vocals, J Mascis (Dinosaur Jnr) lead guitar and Cris and Curt Kirkwood on banjo and lead guitar respectively (Meat Puppets). The track opens with Watt strolling up and down the bass and his gravel voice comes in. Grohl gets it moving along and then it seems to fall in to a rock-a-billy groove. The bass sticks out, but the slide guitars are fantastic. There is a great interlude with the banjo and a dual bass before a great guitar solo rips over the top. The best part is we get this not once but twice. There is what feels like a false ending and the track gets quicker with another run of solos and one big jam session. Watts bass slides are just monsters swooping in and punching things up. The next track is "Against The 70's" - Vedder sings lead, Grohl on drums, Gary Lee Conner lead guitar (Screaming Trees) and Krist Novoselic (Nirvana)(the very first FDF was on In Utero) on farfisa organ. This was released to radio as a single and Vedder sings after a quick buzzy guitar intro. The track sounds like Pearl Jam to me. Vedder is backed up on vocals by Carla Bozulich and she offers just that perfect harmony. Grohl hits out a simple sounding drum part but Watt really shines on bass leading the melody. Check the the music sample section for a clip of this tune. Its a real hidden gem. Cline appears again as the guitarist listed on "Drove Up From Pedro". This track is more laid back than the previous two songs, but only at the intro. It gets a much more complex sound with 7 musicians listed as performing on the track. Bozulich who made her name famous with the band "Geraldine Fibbers" has a soothing, yet husky sound to her voice. The music around her is full but keeps a bit restrained until the right times, allowing the vocals to be the focus. Cline has a great give and take solo with Watt before the track falls back in to it's light feel. Evan Dando (from the Lemonheads, check out the FDF for "Come on Feel the Lemonheads") offers the lead vocals on the over the top catchy rocker "Piss-Bottle Man" The fun comes in the chorus where Dando is flanked with three female back up singers all three spent time with the band "That Dog". Anna Waronker Petra Haden as well as Rachel Haden offer the harmonies. Barring the song title it could have and should have been played on radio, its wonderfully catchy. On "Chinese Firedrill" Frank Black (Pixes, the FDF of "Doolittle" is here) sings, Cline on guitar and Stephen Perkins (Jane's Addiction)(a very early FDF look at Nothings Shocking) percussion. We are more acoustic guitar based on this track and it has more of a "sit around a campfire" type feel. The track "Intense Song For Madonna To Sing" has you wondering, could she actually sing it? The bass rumble from Watt is way up in the mix at the intro of the song, and its all over the map tempo wise. The band is all in, then everyone backs off, it speeds up, then slows down. Madonna might be able to sing to this instrumental track, but people couldn't really dance to it. The track "Tuff Gnarl" follows. J Mascis is listed as the drummer for the "1st Part". Thurston Moore and Lee Ranaldo (Sonic Youth) on guitars, Cline on guitar. Bozulich returns on vocals. It doesn't have that Sonic Youth noise to it and the track is heavy on the tambourine. Sure there are moments where there is just a wall of guitar, but it feels in order, nothing overpowers the direction of the song. Paden is given the green light as well towards the end and runs a great violin part. Henry Rollins (FDF listened to "Weight" here) helps out on "Sexual Military Dynamics". Giving his all right from the start the bass is complex and really funky. Henry gives his trademark yells and commands the band to order. Its goes along at a good steady pace keeping it as about as basic a rock track for this record as can be. This is four guys, rocking out. It sounds perfect. On the track "Max And Wells" Mark Lanegan (Screaming Trees) (check out FDF for Uncle Anesthesia) on lead vocals, J Mascis returns on guitar. The drums are slow rolling and Lanegan has the deep whiskey soaked howl to his voice. He is more in the vein of speaking vs singing, but as one of my favorite vocalists of all time he can do whatever he wants. Mascis solos from time to time, but the track is a pretty mellow affair for this record. "E-Ticket Ride" Flea (Red Hot Chili Peppers on "Lead bass",(check out FDFs take on The Uplift MoFo Party Plan Perkins on drums). A baby cries then Tony Atherton comes in on his alto sax. Mike D from the Beastie Boys is on lead vocals and the track is a funky and percussive track. The bass line from Flea is pushed up in the mix, but Perkins percussion work is right along with him. They have Atherton solo again as the band jams around. A prank phone call is the signal for the end, but the music comes back up and the band has a good musical interlude to wrap the track up. Pat Smear (Foo Fighters) sings on "Forever... One Reporter's Opinion". Cline returns as the guitarist but its the bass and drum that are the most playful at the outset. Cline riffs over the top, but Watt and drummer Michael Preussner really have good time with each other. The music is strong on this and actually having vocals take from it. On "Song For Igor" there are alto and tenor saxophones, bass and drums. It has a fun tempo to it, and sounds very different from the other tracks. It doesn't seem out of place, and shows the diversity of who Watt had in the project. Watt has some phase on his bass at the outset of "Tell 'Em Boy!" Dave Pirner (Soul Asylum) on vocals, John Molo on drums and then there is a "liquid" bass effect used. It is a very neat retro sound Watt uses. This doesn't sound at all like a Soul Asylum song and I kept having to say "who is singing?". Flea appears again on "Sidemouse Advice" but as the trumpet player. Perkins is also on drums. Bozulich sings as well and it has a lounge feel to it. The trumpet work is very up front and Flea plays well with the piano work. The bass is deeper on "Heartbeat". The song takes a bit to find a direction with the bass, viola and drums looking for a direction to take the song in. Tiffany Anders offers up some vocals, but the song doesn't really find a groove until about 1:20 in when Watt takes the lead. The track ends but there is a call from Kathleen Hanna declining the offer to be on the record. In a curse laded message she pretty much says no more ways that one. (Hanna on Wikipedia). "Maggot Brain" is a terrific cover of the Funkadelic song. Mascis channels Eddie Hazel for a spot on guitar solo to open the 12+ minute long track. Watt walks the bass calmly under the guitar and Bernie Worrell fills the voids on the B3 Organ. Mascis really is the prize on this. The record concludes with "Coincidence Is Either Hit Or Miss". Adam Horovitz (Beastie Boys)(check out FDF on Check Your Head) on drums and guitar and Watt sings on this track. If you ever heard the instrumental stuff the Beastie Boys have done it sounds similar. Ronda Rindone adds some bass clarinet sections for a fun twist on the rock format. About 1:20 the cello and viola get frantic and there are a series of start/stop moments with whip cracks tossed in. It is a quick track that fades out, almost leaving you wanting more.

Where are they now? - Watt has never slowed down it seems. He is currently the touring bass player with Iggy and the Stooges.

FDF Personal Comments (aka the Live experience) - I have never seen Mike Watt live. I really should.

FDF Overall Take - There are some really REALLY great moments on this. Watt surrounds himself with gifted players and there are a lot of hidden gems on here. A few bumbles along the way, but those are more the "unique" tracks where he tries to spread his horizons some. This is worth your time because chances are you like at least ONE of the guests on this record and they are all given their just due.

An official page for Mike Watt
This is a Wiki Article about the players and recording of the record.

Curious? Check out some MUSIC!

Here is an audio only version of Kids of the 70's
A cool (but gritty footage) live version of Big Train that features Vedder and Grohl
Something else to listen to Chinese Firedrill.

Tracks are all from "Ball-Hog or Tugboat?" that you can buy here.

Oh yeah..thanks for reading..for real..can you go to our main page and take the quick survey? (please?)

Disclaimer - For the most part songs listed you can find on iTunes or your local cd shop. The idea is to give you a little taste of the music. Please support the artist buy purchasing some of their work. Songs are posted for about 1 week but can and will be removed at the request of the artist, band, band management etc. If you are one of those persons contact me via the email link in the profile and they will be removed as soon as we are made aware of the request.


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