Welcome to Pittsburgh ed fROMOHIO!
One of the great stories in the history of rock 'n' roll has wended it's way to our city and brought us the good fortune of witnessing the return to live performance of a too-often unheralded stalwart of the formative days of indie rock.
When Ed Crawford in 1986 drove from his home in Toronto, Ohio (40 miles down the Ohio River from Pittsburgh) to San Pedro, Calif. with the intention of coaxing Minutemen bassist Mike Watt (reeling from the death of his bandmate/childhood friend D. Boon) out of retirement from music, "it was the result of a 22-year-old kid who didn't know any better," Crawford says today.
Shockingly, Watt at length agreed to form a new band, fIREHOSE, with Crawford and Minutemen drummer George Hurley. And ed fROMOHIO (as Watt christened him) found himself playing in a band for the first time alongside his heroes and the greatest rhythm section this side of Jones and Bonham. "I didn't even own an amplifier when I moved out there," Crawford reveals. "I just played as best as I knew how."
Crawford was also expected by Watt--maybe the most prolific songwriter in punk--to contribute creatively. "He asked me 'Do you write songs?' I said, 'Yeah, sure!'--I had never written any songs before in my life!" Crawford remembers. Still, Crawford immediately began contributing gems beginning with the band's debut, 1986's Ragin', Full On. While remnants of the Minutemen's groundbreaking amalgamation of angular British punk and straight-up, blue collar American rock 'n' roll remained in force, Crawford (who learned guitar playing along to James Taylor records, "Two points off the cool score," he says) brought strong elements of folk and melodic singer-songwriter music to the band's records. These seemingly disparate elements were a large part of not only what helped liberate fIREHOSE from the considerable shadow of the Minutemen, but what allowed them to be an integral part of a dynamic and hugely influential post-punk scene centered on SST Records, the label founded by Black Flag leader Greg Ginn to which the Minutemen had been the first signing.
"Punk is more a state of mind than a style of music," Crawford says. "None of those bands [on SST--whose roster included the Meat Puppets, Sonic Youth, the Descendants, Dinosaur Jr., Husker Du, and of course Black Flag among its notables] sounded like each other. That's the part of punk I really liked--the freedom of it."
But while the Minutemen's legendary status was owing to their unique and groundbreaking sound, fIREHOSE earned its notoriety more through a workmanlike ethic, Crawford says. "Nobody toured as much as we did--Nobody," Crawford says, citing a schedule of 73 shows in 75 days at one point. But Crawford found little vehicle in the band's sets for the songs that bore his strongest stamp. "There was no room for acoustic," he says. "You couldn't really fit it into the live show."
After fIREHOSE disbanded in 1994 following five lp's (three on SST and two after signing to Columbia), Crawford took up residence in Winston-Salem, N.C. He gigged and toured intermittently fronting the band Grand National, and also served as a sideman in the final incarnation of Ryan Adams' Whiskeytown and in Southern Culture On the Skids. He relocated to Pittsburgh last year to care for his elderly parents and is easing back into performing after about five years on the sidelines. He called his gig Friday at Garfield Artworks "Really the first time I've ever played acoustic in front of people."
But Crawford showed little sign of rust (other than an occasional glance down at a lyrics sheet) and showed a strong aptitude for the unplugged medium. His singularly strong voice and deft guitar playing remain in evidence. The bulk of his set list was comprised of tunes written during his time in Grand National and included songs close in spirit to many of his fIREHOSE compositions, as well as a couple striking numbers that leaned closer to overt country material. The fIREHOSE favorites "Backroads" and "In Memory of Elizabeth Cotton" were thrown in as well and garnered recognition from a number of those in the audience. Crawford promises continually expanding set lists beginning with his next gig March 1 at Gooski's.
Along with his return to performance, Crawford says he is enjoying Pittsburgh in general since moving here. "It's a lot like coming home" given his Eastern Ohio upbringing, he says, and cites fond memories of the city from attending Penguins games "back when they were in the blue jerseys" to Judy Banana's meatball sandwiches during fIREHOSE's frequent visits to Oakland's legendary Electric Banana. He also cites renewed exposure to new, acoustic music via WYEP as part of his impetus to begin performing again.
Pittsburgh is lucky to have in its midst something of a legend of American indie music as well as a great addition to the singer-songwriter community today. Make sure to welcome him to town at Gooski's March 1.