Hero Worship: Mike Watt

Virtuosic six-stringer RM Hubbert explains why a musical inspiration from his teens keeps him focused even now

Feature by RM Hubbert | 30 Jan 2012

I’m pretty sure that Mike Watt would disapprove of being anyone’s hero. That, amongst other reasons, is why his music and writings have influenced me so much over the years. I first heard Watt’s inimitable bass and voice through Minutemen and fIREHOSE as a fifteen year old skateboarder on the Streets On Fire video by Santa Cruz in the late 80s. The video was soundtracked by SST Records' roster of that time which included Black Flag, Sonic Youth, Descendents plus the aforementioned Minutemen and fIREHOSE. To say that it shaped my musical tastes for the next twenty years would be an understatement. Hearing this music changed my outlook on life in a fundamental way.

Minutemen embodied everything I loved about punk at the time. Breakneck, fast, short, politically-fuelled and intensely personal. It also didn’t sound like other punk music; that was what I loved most about it. That weird confluence of Wire, Parliament and John Coltrane had an immediacy and depth that resonate to this day.

fIREHOSE were formed by Watt and George Hurley of Minutemen after singer and guitarist D Boon tragically died in a car accident in 1985. They were perhaps more musically accomplished by this point but had lost none of the passion and energy of their earlier band. I was lucky enough to see them in Glasgow in the early 90s. It was the first ‘small’ gig that I had been to (I think there was maybe two hundred people there at most). It was incredible; sweaty, loud, funny and mind-blowing music played by three guys who seemed just like us. If that isn’t the definition of punk rock, I don’t know what is.

That show was also the first time I had the pleasure of meeting and talking to Watt. I remember coming way too early for the gig with my friend Toby Paterson and sitting at the back beside the mixing desk. We were chattering excitedly about the show and didn’t notice the plaid clad guy that we had inadvertently woken from his slumber on the floor behind us. It turned out to be Watt. He happily shared stories of D Boon and skateboarders around his home town of San Pedro with us for a while.

Watt and I have met a few times over the years. Each time I leave feeling inspired, more determined to be a better person, to be more honest with myself and those around me. My band, El Hombre Trajeado, were lucky enough to be asked to support Watt on a couple of shows in 2005. Those were two of my favourite shows. Watt was touring an album at the time called The Secondman’s Middle Stand. It is a deeply personal album dealing with his near brush with death after a huge internal abscess developed and burst.

Controversially, the album doesn’t have any guitar on it, instead relying on drums, organ and Watt’s bass. People (myself included) had been a little sceptical of this unusual line up for a ‘punk’ record; happily, I was proven wrong. At that first show we did with him, I felt everything that I had on the first day of hearing Minutemen. It was incredible, and proved to be the catalyst for what came afterwards for me. I had always loved Watt’s proclamation that ‘Punk is whatever we made it to be’. It wasn’t until then that I really understood it though. I decided to make an intensely personal punk record using only flamenco guitar that night.

RM Hubbert's new album Thirteen Lost & Found is released via Chemikal Underground on 30 Jan http://www.rmhubbert.com