I’ve seen The Jon Spencer Blues Explosion a few times. Always great, worth seeing. Most recently I saw them a couple of years back and they really nailed it. The trio slammed out songs, pummeled them in fact; the actual idea of the song was less relevant than the concept of pushing a riff in to place, of hitting the audience hard with energy, with fury, with rhythm.
This won’t always work – it can only suit certain styles (like garage rock/retro blues-influenced punk/metal amalgams) and it can only be nailed by a band that has the acumen, the skills. By a band that has paid its dues. And that is certainly The Jon Spencer Blues Explosion.
Spencer was mixing sludge and punk and blues off-cuts with Pussy Galore and Boss Hog and of course with The Jon Spencer Blues Explosion – sometimes referred to as just Blues Explosion long before there was any talk of “retro-rock”, in and around and before and after grunge.
Back in the day, I was a big fan of albums like Now I Got Worry, Acme, Orange, Extra Width and Plastic Fang. And though I haven’t listened to the JSBE very often in the last few years they’re still a band I really dig. One I’ll always turn up to watch when they visit. And – if I can say this in all sincerity – one I feel sorry for.
Let me first point out that I am in no way suggesting that Jon Spencer and his Blues Explosion expected fame, success or major media attention at any point in their career. Whilst a standard comment– in defense of bands called out for failing to cut the mustard – is to say that they must be good because they sold heaps of records, I tend to think of this sort of statement as being absurd; completely and utterly.
But I do feel sorry for JSBE – and I spent a portion of their set thinking about this. Any time I go back to one of their albums it comes up in my mind too.
Back when Plastic Fang was released in 2002 I was already a fan of those other albums I named. But in reviewing Plastic Fang I revisited the likes of Acme and Now I Got Worry. A band you like releases a new album – you go back and check out some of the old stuff too. Well, I do. I’m sure many of you do too…
Around this time The White Stripes had released three albums and the candy-coloured cult was growing – rapidly. Understandably too – but as much as I liked certain singles and covers by Jack White and his cute/convenient back-story I found the duo’s music to be one thing in particular: thin.
Listening to Plastic Fang – one of the more mainstream-sounding albums by The Jon Spencer Blues Explosion made me feel sorry for them. No cool story for the press. No female drummer for fans to argue over in regard to where her true “talents” were placed. Three dudes playing rock’n’roll – completely obliviously to any apparent trend for “retro rock” – was clearly not an angle; clearly not of interest for the magazines. What could possibly be interesting about a fully fleshed out sound, right? About a drummer who can actually play?
And that has stayed with me when I listen to JSBE – to this day. It was apparent, to me, as soon as the band took the stage. I could hear everything in their sound, everything they’d absorbed, from Stooges and MC5 to the Stones and so many tangents off or points between; tributes and tributaries.
I’m not trying to suggest that Jack White owes Jon Spencer a beer. I’m not saying he ripped him off – or should feel lucky for being so sneaky or sneaky for having such luck. It’s just something I think about. It informs my listening to both bands.
(If anyone should feel really upset in this equation it’s probably The Gun Club).
So – what does all this mean? Well, the question for you is simple (or is it?)
In your opinion (key!): what band/artist do you feel has been overlooked because there was no convenient angle to market their sound? Or who do you think should have had more success (however we’re measuring that) but was unlucky to the point of being forgotten as an obvious antecedent?