Photo by Dirk Vandenberg
Long ago in a world not so far away independent music was regularly printed on vinyl and promoted through passionate word-of-mouth, stapled-together fanzines and concerts set up on a previously unchartered national routing.
In the early ‘80s that’s where the minutemen fit in until the trio of guitarist d. boon, bassist Mike Watt and drummer George Hurley came to a sudden halt following the death of boon in a car accident.
From those ashes rose fIREHOSE, which featured Watt, Hurley and Ed “fROMOHIO” Crawford, a massive minutemen fan who auditioned for the guitar vacancy in the group’s hometown of San Pedro, California. Following three releases on the iconic indie label, SST, fIREHOSE moved on to the majors, putting out “Flyin’ the Flannel” and “Mr. Machinery Operator” on Columbia Records over a two-year period before disbanding in 1994.
Since that time Watt has produced a multitude of solo, duo and group albums including joining punk icons, the Stooges. Occasionally, he’s been joined by Hurley.
As for Crawford, he moved to Pittsburgh, a short distance from his Toronto, Ohio childhood home. In Here, he’s played solo acoustic gigs, started Grand National and toured as a second guitarist with Ryan Adams in Whiskeytown as well as with Southern Culture on the Skids. An EP, Four Pieces from Candyland, by his latest band, FOOD, an acronym for “Far Out Old Dudes,” came out this month.
With Watt finding a break in his unending schedule, fIREHOSE will finally reunite for a two weeks of dates in April, including appearances at Coachella. The release of the two-CD set lowFLOWs: the Columbia anthology (‘91 – ’93) coincides with the shows and re-establishes the trio’s combination of punk, funk and free jazz.
The interview with Crawford starts later than scheduled due to a rehearsal that ran late. Crawford relates that the blue collar work ethic that marked life in the minutemen and fIREHOSE still holds true today. “We practice every day, two, three hours a day. We don’t mess around. We take care of business.”
JPG: Now, I’m talking to the infamous Ed from Ohio. One of the band’s albums is named that. So, how did you end up in Pittsburgh? I mean, what the hell, you’re Ed from Ohio…
EC: (laughs) Pittsburgh is only 40 miles away as the crow flies from where I grew up. I didn’t really move back to Ohio, but pretty close.
JPG: Going back in your history and the band’s history, you went to Ohio State University. What was your major?
EC: I started out as a Music Major, as a trumpet player. Then I discovered punk rock and that went out the window. Then, I was undeclared for awhile and just taking classes. Eventually, I lost interest in it. I was way more interested in music directly, going to see bands like the minutemen. Once I saw that I was, ‘Okay, that’s it. That’s what I want to do for a living.’ It was just like that, man. The start of that ethos of start your own band, punk rock, do it yourself philosophy. That whole thing. And I bought it, hook, line and sinker. And I made it my fuckin’ life.
JPG: Do you recall where and when you saw minutemen?
EC: Sure. A little punk rock club, dive bar in Columbus at the time called Stache’s. He eventually moved it down to midtown. Got much bigger. Back then, it was a little tiny dive bar where you could get right up five feet away from the guys singing.
JPG: Do you remember the year when you first saw the minutemen?
EC: I saw minutemen twice before d. boon got killed. The last time they were opening up for R.E.M. I think it was when R.E.M. was breaking large. They had just hit the big time. They took the minutemen to open up for them. Before that I saw the minutemen at Stache’s, so that would have been ’85.
JPG. And d. boon passed away later that year.
EC: Yeah. I saw them live at Stache’s probably early in the year and then a little bit later in the year when they came back with the R.E.M. tour. Sure enough like three months later d. boon’s dead. It’s like, ‘What?’ It was really, really trippy. Really sad.
JPG: His passing leads to this — the great punk rock myth — was it the insanity and hubris of youth or overwhelming passion that you thought, ‘Hey! I’m going to be able to convince Mike Watt to start another band with me in it.’
EC: I think it was a little bit of both. Absolutely. At 22 you don’t think anything’s not possible. You think everything’s possible. But I really had no expectations. That really wasn’t my goal. I just heard he was auditioning guitar players. I was going to go out and see what he thought of me ‘cause I was wanting to start a band and do the whole music trip. I thought, ‘Well, this is a good place to start out. At least, he’ll tell me if I suck or not.’ That was my expectation when I went out there. I was, ‘Oh, let’s just see. This would be a cool experience. I could just say that I played with Mike Watt.’
It turned out, ‘When can you move out here?’ ‘Okay, alright, I will. I’ll do it.’ I was totally shocked. I had no…not what I came out to do. I came out to see how I measured up. Next thing I know, I’m okay, I’m on board. Let’s do this!