MTH-V: Clutch

“Like Marlon Brando, but bigger.” Yes, that’s Clutch. The one and only.

If you’ve not heard Clutch before, then I feel sorry for you. Buckle in and prepare for a treat. This epic rock quartet has been together (almost completely unchanged) since forming in 1990 in Maryland. While they’ve never been a band to quite saturate the major mainstream airwaves, they’ve developed a devoted following through near-constant touring, regular album releases, and occasionally successful radio singles. (They’ve released nine studio albums thus far.)

When I was in middle- and high school in the nineties, Grand Rapids’s once-great 94.5 KLQ was a solid supporter of Clutch. (KLQ really was a treasure, and its gradual death in the early 2000s led to my “quitting” commercial radio in 2002.) Early Clutch trademarks “Spacegrass” and “The Soapmakers” were in heavy rotation along with the occasional deep cut. (As the title indicates, the latter song is about a band of soapmakers.) I’ve seen them three times thus far, and they really do kill it both live and in the studio. Given their eclectic traits, it’s hard to think of another band that occupies the same space. The music is largely in the hard rock & heavy metal vein and features a number of great components: Dan Maines’s infectiously funky bass lines; Tim Sult’s blues-rooted guitar; JP Gaster’s active but groovy drums; Neil Fallon’s lyrics which range from the fantastic to absurd, humorous, historical, surreal, and heartfelt. And the band can JAM. Maines and Gaster are one solid rhythm section. Listening to the band, they’re not typically what one would think of when considering the “jam band” label but Clutch hold their own in any comparison. (To the point, The Bakerton Group – the band’s “side project” featuring the same personnel – is an instrumental jam band with its own persona and discography.)

And perhaps the band’s most infectious quality is that the music (and live show) is fun. You can’t help but get out of your seat and shake a tail feather. Call it metal, rock, blues rock, or whatever you like. Personally, I think Clutch was right on with Pure Rock Fury (2001).

“I Have Discovered the Body of John Wilkes Booth” (from 1995’s Clutch)
• The opening line is one of the greatest of any song I own or have heard. (See above – it opens this blog post.) In this song, a fisherman discovers Booth’s body and cashes in. Lyrics here.

“The Elephant Riders” (from 1998’s The Elephant Riders)
• The Civil War allusions seem straightforward enough, but instead the messengers ride elephants. Lyrics here. Dig the 7/8-4/4…jamming hard in the mixed meter. (Note: the B-movie narration at the beginning of this video is from whomever uploaded this.)
“Elephant riders to the northwest bring news from father…”

[Note: Mick Schauer played keys and organ with Clutch from 2005 to 2008 and is in both of the above videos.]

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