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Punk legend Mike Watt on the Minutemen's early days in San Pedro




Bassist and composer Mike Watt in his San Pedro practice space
Bassist and composer Mike Watt in his San Pedro practice space
Kevin Ferguson/KPCC

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When the Mount Rushmore of California Punk is built, there will be debates over who to include, but at least one name is a shoe-in: Mike Watt. 

Mike Watt, the bass player for the Minutemen, one of the most unique bands in the history of Southern California music. Mike Watt, the champion of San Pedro history and member of Firehose, and the Stooges, the solo artist and composer of three operas. 

Mike Watt, the enthusiastic, unflappable talker.

The Minutemen started in 1980, and today it's been nearly 30 years since they last performed — guitarist and singer D. Boon died in a car crash in 1985, while the band was on tour. Drummer George Hurley is still alive and plays with Watt.

On how growing up in San Pedro impacted The Minutemen's sound

I do think Pedro was like a thermos bottle for us. I remember people asking us to move to Hollywood. Hey, that's where it's happening, you know? And me and D. Boon were talking about it. D. Boon said, "OK, if we move to Hollywood, what are we gonna write songs about?"

"I don't know."

He said, "Hollywood! Let's stay in Pedro."

I thought about it, and I said "You're right, man, you're right." But the trippy thing about that is some people think there's a whole bunch of people like the Minutemen in this town.

On how the Minutemen developed their sound

The R&B guys played trebly guitar — I think that's where D. Boon got his trebly guitar, too. Because it left more room for the bass. Because D. Boon — politics, right? They're not just in the words. No, this is how we're gonna put together the band. The real band he always had in his mind — he wanted a three-piece. I think that's what it was. He didn't like this idea of a four-piece.

I think when I turned him on to Cream, way back, he liked the idea of Cream. And he liked this idea, too — politically — the way you could set up the band where there's no hierarchy. And of course, the problem was the guitar. It was too big of a sound—bogarting too much. So pull a little from the R&B guys: get a little treble sound and leave more holes. Let's bring in the bass, let's bring in the drums.

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On how they managed to shoot the record cover for "Double Nickels on the Dime" in one take:

It was  Dirk Vandenberg, a good buddy of mine.

It was a total guess. We used to call that area (the 110 Freeway going through downtown Los Angeles) the four-level interchange. Anyway, so with Dirk, we're going to have to make a guess, right? There's film. I gotta go and get it developed. So let's try three shots. Now I want it to be the glue that's going to make it like a Hüsker Dü concept album. It's going to be we can drive 55 miles an hour. So Dirk, you get in the back seat here. I've seen these signs (that say "San Pedro"). In fact, those signs used to be the only thing these dudes in Hollywood knew about my town! 

And it's not just 55 miles an hour. We're a trio, right? So I have to make a trifecta. I gotta have my eyes in the rear view mirror. So I'm telling Dirk this: "OK, you gotta have my eyes in the mirror, you gotta have that sign in the windshield, and you're gonna have to have that speedometer right on 55. Can you do it?"