MIKE WATT IS A NAME THAT HAS
become synonymous with American punk
rock. With the Minutemen in the early
1980s, Watt helped re-write the rules of
punk bass by throwing out the rulebook.
Since then he has continued to create challenging
and deeply felt punk rock with Dos,
Firehose, the Stooges, the Black Gang, and
many other bands. Though he has attained
a sort of iconic status and is often lauded
as a very righteous dude (which indeed he
is), it is his actual music that is his life’s
work. As a composer-bassist, Watt has a
singular approach that has helped shape
how so many of us hear and play music.
The first thing I notice when I listen
to Watt’s playing is his tone; employing
few effects and zero gimmicks, he gets a
tone that’s at once muscular and singing.
Playing melodies that are also bass lines—
or vice-versa—his musicality is unique and
deep. Unlike so many punk and rock bass
players, Watt’s strength is as much in his
left hand as in his right, utilizing slurs and
vibrato, and strategically working the
whole range of the bass (not just the lower
register) for harmonic and melodic impact.
His dynamic range is often subtly woven
into the fabric of the songs themselves.
His action, for the record, is set very high,
so that if he plays a note with all his might,
it will actually be that much louder than
those played with a softer touch, without
the note fizzling out or breaking up.
Thinking about some of these things,
I wrote this etude inspired by and dedicated
to Watt. It can be played on either
string bass or bass guitar; I suggest you
learn it on both! Of course, this piece is perhaps more about how I hear Watt than
anything else, but to me that is part of the
point: I prefer incorporating what I love
about a musician’s style into my own creative
approach, rather than just trying to
copy what they’ve already played. Maybe
you get something different out of listening
to Watt’s playing. That’s the great thing
about music—there’s room for everyone!
I hope you enjoy my tribute to one of my
long-time bass heroes. Listen to some (or
all) recordings of his music, and if you get
the chance to see the man play live, please
do—you will definitely be in for a treat.