Jon Spencer On Unknown Sundays


Hanover, New Hampshire.  That’s not a spot on the musical map, or at least that’s probably how we might thing about it considering the population of 12, 000.  You’ve got Dartmouth established in the mid 1700s, which lets you know this is a quintessential New England establishment.  Quaint.  Small.  The kind of town authors are born in (Jodi Picoult, Janet Evanovich), but in the 1960s there was music in the air there in the births of a few musicians.  I’ll start off by mentioning Al Barr of the Dropkick Murphy’s (no he wasn’t born in an Irish Bar), Charlie Clouser (who has worked/remixed/produced Trent Reznor, Marilyn Manson, Rob Zombie and scores like Saw and American Horror Story as well as being an outstanding keyboard/synthesizer musician), and multi-instrumentalist, Ken Chastain (worked with Switchfoot, Mandy Moore, Ziggy Marley, and Mike Doughty).  But the other musician born dead smack in the middle of 1960 was the soon to be noise rocker, blues tormentor, and Theremin abuser (electronic instrument with that antenna thingy), Jon Spencer.  And, why Jon Spencer On Unknown Sundays, you might ask?  It’s because you just asked!  Those that know…well the know the wild, energy, and maybe they know the actual cool past that started his path, but those that don’t know any of it…this is an “explosive” musical journey and rabbit hole worth your ears.

My journey with Jon Spencer begins where most of my journey’s begin, going out a limb of unheard purchases.  Grab that bright orange CD that says “blues explosion” on it and just take it at face value.  Why?  Well because I had traveled an hour out of my to a record store, and you’ve got to come back with something to listen to on the way back, duh! What’s on the cover of that 1994 Jon Spencer Blues Explosion album? Yep, Theremin.  And, away I go into a noise punk blues with violin orchestration?  Well, that’s how ‘Bell Bottoms’ starts, but that’s not where it ends.  Stevie Ray Vaughan this ain’t.  Swamped up, wildly out of control electrified juke-n-weave this is!  Oh, and the disregard for lyrical need that does anything but “announce” is pure infectious boogey movement.  It’s like Elvis on the mic at a Vegas fight in a Blues Brothers-like movie soundtrack in a rockabilly senseless beat down, and that’s the first song!  Wowzers!  Needless to say the explosion in the title and band are that and explorative as well, which in my music swallowing, gulping world is always welcome to the point of over indulgence!  So bang on, gotta get me more of this Jon Spencer Blues Explosion for sure!  And of course, over a short span of time, and hundreds of used bin perusaling I filled my shelf at S (for Spencer).

I am fairly certain that there is not a standard music instrument (harmonica, guitar, bass) that wasn’t tortured at some point in this bands musical span, but in the name of the science of exploding, exploring and energetically entertaining people with an appreciation for the scope, range, and abilities of the blues.  But in order to appreciate what’s happening here, if you can’t go out on the limb that fast (like me), let’s take you back to James Bond’s favorite band, Pussy Galore.  As I am writing this, I currently do not have a solitary album from what is Jon Spencer’s first true, full on band.  I think I’m too scared to go back to it because they totally butchered one of the greatest albums ever made, Exile on Main Street, by covering the entire thing in god-awful noise raw production and overall unadulterated instrumental chaos.  Sorry.  Not Sorry.  Not the best way to introduce your garage rock hate-punk band either.  Although, take a breath, it was not a sign of things to come. Dial ‘M’ for Motherfucker was the next album, which had a hint more control sounding, and then it ended with Historia de la Musica Rock in 1990 (which I’ve still never heard to this day).  And, that’s not even where it really started for Jon Spencer.  It actually started with a band called Shithaus back at Brown University.  One thing all of these have in common, is anger.  Anger and resentment toward music in general and the powers and people that came before them (or at least that’s how it appears to sound to me), and I believe Jon Spencer admitted as much in some interviews.  So let’s get to the real joy and positive uphievle that threw the spark and Blues Explosion, instead of dwelling on a rather musically thrashy past.

Well, we don’t start off right away with The Blues Explosion.  In fact, we get a fairly cool straight up punk band fronted by a good female vocal and Jon Spencer.  In fact, Boss Hog’s major debut, self titled, has a lot in connection to the blues attitude of The Rolling Stones.  It’s almost like Jon Spencer is playing the vocal of Mick, and Cristina Maritnez is the punk version.  And of course,  Jon’s wilding out in bluesy fashion with his guitar style(s) making a Stoogey mess of it all (but this time ridiculously cool).  In fact, Cold Hands (1990), Boss Hog (1995), Whiteout (2000), and Brood X (2017) kind of intertwined with Jon Spencer’s The Blues Explosion timings, and they are worthy recordings to check out.  Believe it or not, but Jon Spencer was spreading himself pretty thin with 1991 project, Hung Far Low album with a band called The Honeymoon Killers, which might be another rabbit hole you might partake of.  All of this meets with the fever and the guitar pitch delivery that would all become Jon Spencer Blues Explosion from 1991 to around 2016.

There is no one doing what he does.  Nor has there been anyone in the past with this kind of fever pitched, bloated blues that I’m aware of.  While I know that Jon Spencer has helped other careers in the swampy mood blues world of juke, I can honestly say that no one seems to have the fearlessness approach to fuckin’ with the blues that Jon Spencer enjoys now.  Not only is he extremely comfortable in it, it appears that he’s made it into an explosively unpredictable improv sound-act!  The combination of noise-rock, theremin, and odd punk construction within is a real blast for me.  I’m sure this would be like maybe free jazz/acid jazz in the blues environment.  Those with perfect ears might not want to put the headphones completely up on these albums.  The exploration of wild guitar tones, loose strings and epileptic spasms at the fret and whammy bar are just a taste of where the eight to nine records and numerous mix-EPs throwdown.  All of which will challenge your perception of the electric blues guitar, but still allow your ears to appreciate the funk, rock, and blues to leave a grandeios impression on your stereo.  I will say, in all my listens and pleasure, and this is no disrespect, but it sounds to me like the drummer is kind of left to be the commoner (keepin’ it familiar/real).  But, let me know if you get that impression.

In 2018, while still wondering if the band was going to continue, he made his first album with just his name at the helm, Spencer Sings the Hits! by Jon Spencer (so, let’s call it the first solo album).  Let’s let quote describe this piece, but believe me this is pretty much Jon Spencer (usually); “A wizard’s brew of rhythm and blues and subversive dance grooves, weaponized with sci-fi skronk and industrial attitude, calibrated for the Revolution, a Molotov cocktail of sound guaranteed to destroy any post-modern hangover.”  No one sings about a trash can better than Jon Spencer and makes it better than Oscar the Grouch, making you love it!  No songwriting awards happening here, or probably ever.  But, here comes, Spencer Gets It Lit by Jon Spencer + the Hitmakers in 2022, and he’s back in it up to his electric-triptified blues in hitman like stile instead of explosion.   What does that mean?  Really, it’s a continuation with minor evolution, but it still kicks ass!

Before I leave you, there’s one album you have to check out.  It’s a little off the radar, but it’s worth it, and it’s a pure throwdown of styles and emulsion from funk to theremin to electronica and Jon Spencer’s bluesy tendencies.  The album is called, Amsterdam Throwdown, King Street Showdown!, and it features Boss Hog’s Cristina Martinex, Jon Spencer and Dutch DJ/mix-mistress Elisabeth ‘Solex’ Esselink.  This is the one that’s accessible in a progressive modern mix that will be a lovely icing on your Jon Spencer, Jon Spencer Blues Explosion, Hitmakers, Boss Hogin’ and Pussy Galorin’ good blues, punkin’ rock time!  Boom!  You’re welcome!  ….  For others, I’m sorry (not sorry).


0 replies

Leave a Reply

Want to join the discussion?
Feel free to contribute!

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *