Formed in Germantown, Maryland, in 1991, Clutch are, quite simply, one of the greatest rock bands on the planet, and have been so pretty much since their inception. Seriously, if you meet a rock fan who doesn’t like Clutch, you should treat them with deep suspicion. That said, not all of their 11 studio albums are readily accessible, ranging from hardcore to blues, stoner rock and funk, and it has only been in the last few years that Clutch have seen the recognition they truly deserve – finally a major concern, headlining the bigger venues and selling them out. For over 20 years they lurked in the underground, playing night after night in small, sweaty clubs, and slowly earning the kind of rabidly obsessive fanbase that most bands could only dream of. Hell, it’s more of a cult than a fanbase!
Here we shed a little more light on what makes them so special, and perhaps reveal a few more nuggets of information that even the most obsessive fan didn’t know. Those fans include Slipknot, System Of A Down, Motörhead, Mastodon and Sepultura, to name just a few. It goes without saying that if you don’t already own them, you should buy all of Clutch’s records immediately. Yeah, they’re that good!
A is for A Shogun Named Marcus
The opening track from their 1993 debut album, Transnational Speedway League: Anthems, Anecdotes, And Undeniable Truths, A Shogun Named Marcus was the moment when many a rock fan became a Clutch devotee. There are some heavier tracks on the record, not least Binge And Purge – which according to legend the band had to drop from the live set for several years because it incited people to kick the shit out of each other – but this was the ‘wow’ moment. It is no stretch to suggest that Shogun also influenced Sepultura’s Roots album, released three years later, after the bands had toured extensively together.
B is for Beavis And Butthead
Speaking of which, those loveable cartoon buffoons Beavis and Butthead were particularly fond of the video for A Shogun Named Marcus, giving the band some rare airtime. “You know,” noted Beavis, “with the pigs and the monster trucks and everything, this video’s turning out to be pretty cool.” High praise indeed from the attention deficit duo, but then, what’s not to like? While it was obviously made on a tight budget, the only special effect being when the band are run over by a combine harvester (or “concubine” as Beavis puts it), there’s a surreal quality here, reminiscent of Soundgarden videos. And, as Beavis also points out, pigs’ “nads”.
C is for Clutch
The name of the band, obviously, but also the name of their colossal second album, released in 1995. Clutch was a marked departure from their debut, and found the band discovering a slower groove and picking up the ‘stoner rock’ tag. A classic from start to finish, and containing such masterpieces as Texan Book Of The Dead, The House That Peterbilt and the epic Spacegrass, it not only cemented their reputation for genius but proved beyond doubt that this was no one-trick pony. Many bands who changed their style so radically, particularly after such a strong debut, would have lost fans, but instead Clutch fans – affectionately know as Gearheads – learned to go with it, never expecting the same album twice. It’s a little-known fact that, having started the band as Glut Trip, they used to tell people that Clutch stood for City/State Liberation Union To Cleanse Humanity.
D is for Dan Maines
Born on March 10 1971, Dan Maines has been with the band since their inception in 1991 and is known as a hugely influential bassist, whose fans include such luminaries as Scott Reeder of Kyuss and Shavo Odajian from System Of A Down. His first passion was for electric guitar, but upon turning up to a high school band practice he switched to bass out of necessity. “When I got there,” he recalled in one interview, “there was already somebody playing guitar, and there was nobody playing bass, so I thought I’d give it a shot.” Due to family commitments, Dan was briefly replaced by Fu Manchu’s Brad Davis in 2015, but has since returned to touring.
E is for Earth Rocker
Released in 2013 and debuting at an very impressive 15 in the Billboard top 100, Earth Rocker is Clutch’s 10th studio album, and arguably their most accessible. A direct result of having toured with Motörhead and Thin Lizzy, it is, as the title suggests, a more straight-ahead rock’n’roll record, revelling in the joy of rock for rock’s sake. “Coming off a Motörhead and Thin Lizzy tour really turned our heads towards a period of rock we’d grown up on,” said frontman Neil Fallon at the time. E is also for The Elephant Riders, Clutch’s third studio album, which is nothing like Earth Rocker, and has trombones on it.
F is for Five Horse Johnson
Five Horse Johnson, in case you were unaware, are a quite superb rock band from Toledo, Ohio. We mention them here not just because they kick ass, but because Clutch drummer Jean-Paul Gaster has lent his considerable talents to their last two albums, and Johnson vocalist/harmonica player Eric Oblander appeared on the Clutch album From Beale Street To Oblivion. Clutch frontman Neil Fallon, meanwhile, is well known for his side-projects and collaborations, including The Company Band and Dusmuir, along with guest appearances on records by Lionize, Soulfly, Mastodon, Teenage Time Killers, and Therapy? to name just a few. As if that didn’t keep them busy enough, all of Clutch also play in an instrumental blues jam band called The Bakerton Group.
G is for Gaster, Jean-Paul
When naming the best drummers in the world it would be an act of great foolishness not to mention Jean-Paul Gaster. Born on June 19, 1971, he grew up listening and playing along to Black Sabbath, Cream, Hendrix and ZZ Top, was a student of Washington DC’s Walter Salb (legendary for both his teaching and his profanity), and counts his favourite performer as New Orleans jazz player Johnny Vidacovich. When not playing drums for Clutch, Gaster plays drums for numerous other projects, and in his spare time plays more drums, occasionally setting up his kit in the parking lot if the venue isn’t open yet. Practice does indeed make perfect.
H is for Hardcore
Although it may be difficult to hear these days, it’s no secret to fans of their early work that Clutch were heavily influenced by hardcore and punk rock, citing among those influences such bands as Black Flag, Minor Threat, Helmet and Bad Brains. “We first heard Bad Brains 20 years ago and in that song it’s obvious they’re still influencing us,” said Fallon of the Clutch song You Can’t Stop Progress. Fallon also rekindled his love of Black Flag with a crushing version of American Waste for the Black Flag compilation Rise Above, a benefit record released in 2002 to help pay legal costs for the West Memphis Three.
I is for Impetus
And on the subject of hardcore, it doesn’t get much harder than the Impetus EP of 1997, which is practically a re-release of the Passive Restraints EP from 1992, both of which are harder to find than a clean toilet at a rock festival. And good luck trying to find the debut EP, Pitchfork from 1991, since only a few hundred were ever released, and only in the US. Thank fuck for YouTube, then, where you can find these brutally heavy early tunes, particularly the title track, Impetus, which still gets an occasional live airing, and High Caliber Consecrator which doesn’t, but damn well should.
J is for Jam Room
Perhaps their least accessible offering, Jam Room was released on the band’s own River Road Records label in 1999, and is, as the title suggests, more a jam record and less cohesive than previous works. That said, it’s not a bad album by any means, just more like the one you go back to when you’ve played all the rest too much. The opening track, Who Wants To Rock?, is straight to the point, but elsewhere you’ll find all manner of interesting diversions, not least Gnome Enthusiast, a nod to Canned Heat in which Fallon adopts a completely different vocal style, and Going To Market which features an extended drum solo. Probably not the best starting point for a new Clutch fan, but worthwhile nonetheless.
K is for Keyboards
Since forming in 1991 Clutch have had just one change in their line-up, the addition of keyboard player Mick Schauer, who was with them from 2005 to 2008 and played on two studio albums, From Beale Street To Oblivion and Robot Hives/Exodus. Other albums notable for the use of keyboards are Clutch, Blast Tyrant and the live album Full Fathom Five (also featuring Schauer). It is unclear why Schauer left the band, but no doubt joining over a decade into the career of such a tight-knit group presented difficulties. The only explanation found online was that he ‘left to go riding bikes’.
L is for Live
In all Clutch have released five live albums to date, each with a notably different flavour. The great thing about their live shows is that while they tend to lean towards newer material, the setlist changes every night and is chosen by a different band member in rotation, so you rarely get the same set twice. Despite having a deep well to draw from, however, it is standard practice to allow a few days notice if anyone’s going to throw in something obscure that hasn’t been played in a while. As such, there is no definitive live Clutch album, so you should probably get all of them.
M is for Machine
Machine (AKA Gene Freeman) is a New Jersey-born record producer notable for his work on several Clutch albums, including Blast Tyrant, Pure Rock Fury, Earth Rocker and the latest album Psychic Warfare. “Clutch always considered me a guy who can understand them,” he said. His credits also include Pitchshifter, Rob Zombie, Lamb Of God and The Bronx, and he prides himself on “finding what is unique and great about an artist, and exploiting that in a way that makes sense on the records”. Another producer favoured by Clutch is the strangely monikered Uncle Punchy, who worked with them on Clutch, Jam Room, Pure Rock Fury (some songs were produced by Machine) and Robot Hives/Exodus. His real name is Larry.
N is for Neil Fallon
There can be little question that Neil Fallon is among the finest rock lyricists of all time. Seriously, just check out the tongue-in-cheek rap on Careful With That Mic – ‘How come you rhyme monosyllabically/Is atrophy shrinking your entire vocabulary’ – and tell us that’s not genius! Drawing inspiration from everything from sci-fi books and conspiracy theories to history and geography, this wordsmith, born on October 25, 1971, also happens to have a voice so cool you could ice drinks with it. “I have the great luxury that I’m a professional liar,” said Fallon of his writing. “That’s what a storyteller is.” Rare is the Clutch fan who doesn’t want to pick his brains on at least a dozen songs.
O is for Oblivion (From Beale Street To)
From Beale Street To Oblivion takes its title from Beale Street in Memphis, Tennessee, a place famed for its blues music for over 100 years, and the subject of the 1934 book Beale Street: Where Blues Began by George Washington Lee. Among the more notable tracks on the album are Power Player, a re-recording of One Eye Dollar from Jam Room, and Electric Worry, which is now a permanent fixture on the Clutch setlist. “One of the coolest things that happened on the Motörhead tour,” said Fallon, “was when we weren’t playing Electric Worry. Lemmy asked why and I said, “Because we’re sick of it.” And he said, to my face, “But that’s your Ace Of Spades!” I lost my fucking mind and it’s been on the setlist ever since!”
P is for Pure Rock Fury
After the meanderings of Jam Room, 2001’s Pure Rock Fury saw a welcome return to straight ahead rock. Apparently Neil Fallon has stated that of all their recordings, this is his least favourite, but, on the other hand, JP Gaster has the title tattooed on his arm. Either way, it’s difficult to find fault in tracks like Immortal, Drink To The Dead and the aforementioned tongue-twister Careful With That Mic, and there’s certainly nothing wrong with the brilliant live version of Spacegrass that completes the record. Sure, there are better Clutch records as a whole, but for fans of their heavier music Pure Rock Fury was easier to digest than the previous two albums, and it has stood the test of time rather nicely.
Q is or Quick Death In Texas (A)
The last song to be recorded for the latest album Psychic Warfare, A Quick Death In Texas was written after Neil Fallon decided to book accommodation in the Lone Star State on Airbnb and ended up staying in a stone cabin on top of a mountain, only accessible by crossing two creeks. “Although the story is fiction,” he says, “the place was my muse.” Musically, the song was heavily influenced by ZZ Top and contains a nod to the legendary trio with the lyric, ‘Please forgive me, Mr Gibbons’. Unfortunately, a Google search finds no such place as The Doom Saloon.
R is for Rarities
It has already been mentioned that some Clutch records are pretty hard to find, especially since they have a habit of recording different versions of their tunes as hidden bonus tracks and the like, but thankfully there are a couple of compilation albums on which to find those rare tracks, most notably the excellent Slow Hole To China: Rare And Unreleased, which, with tracks like Willie Nelson, Hoodoo Operator and Guild Of Mute Assassins, is worthy of being an album proper in itself. Ironically, however, there was only a limited pressing of the CD, and just 1,000 on red marble vinyl, and this collection of rarities has itself become a rarity. Ebay is your friend.
S is for Sult, Tim
Most guitarists who are able to write riffs as awesome as Tim Sult would be leaping about and showing off, but Sult is perhaps the most understated rock guitarist on the planet. “I’m not really a ‘jumping all over the stage’ kind of player,” he once said. A former sorter for UPS, he got his first guitar from a JC Penny catalogue at 14 years old, and apparently once had a fondness for Mötley Crüe. He is also an Aries. Other than that it’s difficult to find much information about this quiet master craftsman. When this was pointed out in an interview, Sult said simply: “That’s good.”
T is for Transnational Speedway League: Anecdotes, Anthems And Undeniable Truths
Okay, so we’ve already discussed a couple of tracks from Clutch’s mighty debut album, but to add some context, it should be noted that this was released on a major label (East West) at the height of the grunge explosion. Nirvana were All Apologies, while Clutch sounded like they wanted to kill people. ‘Just rear your ugly fucking head, I’ll put it on a platter!’ In hindsight it’s probably not surprising that the record label had no idea what to do with them, but to many it was a stark reminder of just how good angry music could sound. To this day Transnational Speedway League remains in a class of its own.
U is for UFC
As has already been mentioned, some of the early Clutch tunes were rather conducive to people kicking the poo out of each other in the pit, but apparently some of the later material works just as well for the professionals. Former UFC fighter turned commentator Dan Hardy, for instance, is a big fan – “I love the fury in Neil’s voice,” he said, selecting The Face from Earth Rocker among his top 10 tunes for getting pumped up for fighting or working out. Fighter DaMarques Johnson, meanwhile, used the track Mice And Gods from Robot Hives/Exodus as his walk-out music at UFC 112. He won by TKO in the third round.
V is for VALIS
Among the many books that Neil Fallon drew lyrical inspiration from was the Philip K Dick sci-fi novel VALIS of 1981, the title of which is an acronym for Vast Active Living Intelligence System. It is, by Fallon’s own admission, by no means his most accessible novel, but “like many of his works, VALIS was ahead of its time”. In VALIS, says Fallon, “he cleverly repurposes The Black Knight Satellite theory and I, in turn, shamelessly lifted ‘pink rays from the ancient satellite’ for the lyrics to Burning Beard”. Did we mention that Mr Fallon is a clever bugger who reads a lot?
W is for Weathermaker
Having been signed, over the years, to several labels who had no clue what to do with them, Clutch and long-time manager Jack Flanagan did the only sensible thing and formed their own label, Weathermaker, in June 2008. To date, Weathermaker’s releases have included Clutch (obviously), The Bakerton Group, The Mob, The Company Band, Deep Swell (featuring Tim Sult) and Maryland band Lionize. If you want something done right, sometimes you have to do it yourself.
X is for X Ray Visions
The first single from Psychic Warfare, the brilliant X Ray Visions was, according to Fallon, inspired by the dodgy motels that litter the highways of America, and in which he has spent many nights peeking out of the spyhole, wondering what the hell’s going on out there at 3am. “A lot of people staying in these places are living on the margins of society, maybe they’re running from something,” said Fallon. “The motels are definitely pressure cookers that can exaggerate paranoia and delusion, and that’s what this song is about.” Luckily, there’s is a series of commentaries on YouTube explaining the lyrics, as the video contains a lot of spoon-bending.
Y is for Yeti
Just one of many mythical or fictitious creatures referenced in Clutch songs, The Yeti is a funk-driven tune from The Elephant Riders album. Elsewhere on their records you will find mention of Krakens (Release The Kraken), Banshees (Smoke Banshee), Wolf-men (The Wolf Man Kindly Requests), Minotaurs (Minotaur), Wookies (What Would A Wookie Do?) and Gnomes (Gnome Enthusiast). None of them match the mighty Unto The Breach, however, which not only has a riff that you could use to hammer nails into a wall, but references Doctor Who and has hobgoblins and morris men fighting in the streets. We are particularly intrigued by Dalek goon squads.
Z is for Zombies
So you’re sitting there watching The Walking Dead – the Nebraska episode to be precise – trying to decide whether the plot has finally got so bad that you’re willing to give up on it, when all of a sudden you hear some familiar haunting notes. And holy shit if it’s not The Regulator, that brilliantly dark acoustic tune from Blast Tyrant. “It was the one time I actually knew about a show before it happened, and I got a real kick out of it,” said Neil Fallon. Clutch have also showed up on the soundtrack for other shows, including Sons Of Anarchy, while Electric Worry was featured in commercials for Memphis Beat.
Clutch play Reading and Leeds festival on August 27 and 28 respectively.