The Jon Spencer Blues Explosion – The Drum Media: That Blues Instinct (PRESS, AUSTRALIA)

30 March 1999 The Drum Media #43
The Jon Spencer Blues Explosion interview and preview for shows at Enmore Theatre, Sydney (31 March 1999) and Blues Festival, Byron Bay (2 April 1999).
The Jon Spencer Blues Explosion
by The Murray Englehart Explosion
April 5 marks the five year anniversary of the passing of Kurt Cobain, the lone individual who dragged punk rock out of its subterranean cave and deposited it blinking and disorientated on the surface, For the first time punk truly and irreversibly became community property. But not everyone was comfortable with the relocation, relocation, relocation of their spiritual home.

“I guess he kind of ruined things for everybody didn’t he?”, signs Jon Spencer. “I was really into indie rock. That’s where I come out of. I come out of that whole scene and the success of Nirvana destroyed that, destroyed the indie rock scene, the underground. I was never really a fan of Nirvana,. It was very sad and all but…”

It’s a reasonable comment from someone with Spencer’s work history. He was playing punk rock n’ roll for better or much worse strictly as he understood it without any rule book or template for about 6 years prior to the N Band’s impact. Then without any prior notice much less written authority his grounding environment was altered forever and the locks were changed.

To Spencer’s mind the best music has always governed by instinct, mad grace and honesty to the point of crudity it necessary. Give him Bo Diddley in his Black Gladiator guise, the spirit woven through the Crypt label’s Sin Alley or Desperate Rock n’ Roll series of filthy arsed garage R and B or Iggy Pop with those flame jewel eyes in the Stooges’ Funhouse era.

Having to sit at the Grammy Awards and share an arm rest with Axl Rose is not an environment conducive to such things. But then Spencer would be mighty sharp in a snakeskin tux and shiny black shoes making an acceptance speech that gave thanks to Hound Dog Taylor instead of God.

Japan is taking on the Blues Explosion on both those levels. The equivalent of Tower Records in the major cities were said to be moving something like 25 copies of the Acme CD an hour when it was first released last year.

“I never heard that,” says Spencer flatly. “I heard we were getting the Talk About The Blues video played 20 times a day”.

Good enough though Spencer isn’t particularly moved by either version of events. He’s in for the long haul. Sudden impact isn’t his thing thought making a certain impact is just what Dr Spencer ordered.

“When I was younger and I really first started listening to rock n’ roll Iggy Pop just with the Stooges was someone who made a big impression. I guess if anything the kind of people I was attracted to were people like that like Iggy pop. People who just kind of abused themselves and lead very extreme lives and kind of punished themselves on stage. I was always kind of fascinated by those kind of musicians”.

“More recently, maybe a few years ago, I was kind of more into Rufus Thomas and Charlie Feathers who were people who kind of did something that was very unique and just stuck with it for their entire lives basically. They may not have always been successful in the case of Charlie Feathers I don’t know if he ever was successful but he would stay true to his own very individual style and just kept at it, kept doing it.”

Spencer and the Blues Explosion showed just how determinedly individual they were capable of being with their by now legendary appearance on Recovery. That footage still ranks as some of the most thrilling television ever screened in this country. Particularly on a Saturday morning.

“Oh Good! I was just thrilled to meet Tony Cohen. He was doing the sound that day so it was cool to meet him because of all the Birthday Party records (he worked on) and all that kind of stuff. I got a kick out of that. He was out in the truck mixing the thing.”

Spencer was just as chuffed when he was approached to work on a Kim Salmon album a few years back.

“I couldn’t do it because I was too busy doing something or another. Kim asked me to help him mix some material. I was very flattered and thrilled to be asked but I couldn’t do it.”

The Blues Explosion get plenty of heat going in their own albums but it’s live that Spencer, the hardest working New Yorker in showbusiness really kicks up some dust. The funny thing is his folks don’t notice anything out of the ordinary when they come to the band’s shows and see their boy going apeshit.

“Well you know it’s interesting. My mother has said to me that it didn’t seem so strange to her and that it reminded her of some behaviour of mine when I was a kid. So I guess I used to jump around or do something similar to what I do on stage when I was little.” Despite all that running, jumping and very very occasionally standing still any James Brown type collapses are anything but the result of finely rehearsed choreography on Spencer’s part.

“I have actually collapsed,” he says. “I’ve blacked out a few times. Maybe it was too hot in the room or maybe I didn’t get enough sleep the night before or didn’t eat enough that day. It’s happened before. It’s just going out for a moment. It’s not like in the middle of any old song. It’s at a point in the set towards the end of the set at a very intense moment. I’m probably not even playing guitar at that point.”

“Blacking out is great,” he continues with a quiet laugh. “That’s why I like playing a show for whatever an hour or so, I can be somebody else, I can escape. When I say blackout it’s not like, Oh, I don’t remember what happened, I mean like pass out, physically collapse, I’ve broken things but I think I’m usually pretty aware of what’s going on.”

Is that broken yourself or equipment?

“Equipment,” he confirms. “But it’s starting to get to the point where I don’t know if it’s just because I’m getting older but I end up hurting myself more and more.”

The Jon Spencer Blues Explosion performs at The Empire Theatre on Wednesday March 31 and the East Coast Blues Festival over Easter