After the tragic death of Minutemen guitarist and vocalist D. Boon in an Arizona car accident in late 1985, that great San Pedro-based band suddenly ended, its remaining members, drummer George Hurley and bassist and vocalist Mike Watt, devastated and unsure what to do next.
What took place then was remarkable, but also typical of the kind of loyalty fans of Minutemen had. Ed Crawford, an Ohio State University student, was deceived by members of the band Camper van Beethoven that Watt and Hurley were auditioning guitarists for a new band. Crawford called Watt, after finding his home number, and learned the "news" was false.
Still, Crawford showed up at Watt's apartment unannounced and by good old fashioned persistence got the bassist and Hurley to listen to him play. The two were so amazed at Crawford's passion and determination that they agreed to form fIREHOSE, named for a scene in Don't Look Back, the documentary on Bob Dylan, in which the troubadour held up a hand-lettered board that had the word "firehose" on it.
While there were certain elements of Minutemen that showed through with fIREHOSE, including Watt's distinctive impressionistic lyrics, the dynamism of the rhythm section, and the overall DIY attitude, Crawford's presence (he was known as Ed fROMOHIO for some time) marked a needed contrast from D. Boon. Namely, Crawford's guitar playing was more of a standard rock sound and less intense. His voice was more plaintive and emotive and the overall effect was lighter and more folk-like. Again, this helped give fIREHOSE an identity distinct from Minutemen and certainly energized Watt and Hurley.
By summer 1986, the band was playing gigs and later recorded its debut record, Ragin', Full On, released at the end of the year on SST Records, which had been the Minutemen label. After a follow-up in 1987 called If'n, the band released what this blogger considers to be its best record, fROMOHIO, released early in 1989.
The album is packed with excellent songs and its recording in 30 hours over four days in October 1988 in a studio in Painesville, Ohio (a town of 20,000 northeast of Cleveland along Lake Erie) probably gave the impetus for a more laid-back, folksy, and relaxed feel. The band was also well seasoned and fully integrated.
From the opener, "Riddle of the Eighties," to the excellent "In My Mind," and the funky "What Gets Heard," the first half of the record has some strong points. But, the second portion is uniformly excellent, from the anthemic "Liberty For Our Friend," to the four top-notch pieces in a row, including, "Time With You," "If'n," "Some Things," and the tremendous "Understanding," and then the closing "The Softest Hammer." The consistency of the songs is really solid and the band plays so well together that fROMOHIO is, to this listener, the highlight of an eight-year odyssey that culminated in a major label deal with Columbia Records and ended with the breakup of the band in 1994.
Watt went on to an interesting solo career, punctuated by a series of "rock operas" for Columbia, as well as a number of collaborative projects with Hurley, and former wife and ex-Black Flag bassist Kira Roessler, as well as a long stint with Iggy Pop and The Stooges. Hurley and Crawford have been not as prominent, but still busy with music over the years. In 2012, fIREHOSE reunited to play at the Coachella festival and a short tour and there has been talk of possible future work, though nothing has been specified.
As great a shock as it was to hear of Boon's death and the demise of the great Minutemen, it was heartening and gratifying to see the formation and career of fIREHOSE, which included almost 1,000 shows and five studio albums. fROMHOIO is definitely a highlight to YHB and continues to be a favorite recording, especially that run of four songs towards the end of the album.
fIREHOSE: Fromohio (SST, 1989)
1. Riddle of the Eighties 2:04
2. In My Mind 2:19
3. Whisperin' While Hollerin' 2:05
4. Vastopol 1:29
5. Mas Cojones 2:05
6. What Gets Heard 2:29
7. Let The Drummer Have Some 1:02
8. Liberty For Our Friend 2:09
9. Time With You 3:15
10. If'n 3:17
11. Some Things 2:46
12. Understanding 3:15
13. 'Nuf That Shit, George :40
14. The Softest Hammer 3:05