Punk blues (or blues punk) denotes a rock music fusion of punk rock and blues. Bands that perform in this style may incorporate elements of related genres, or subgenres, largely of either punk or blues.
With very few exceptions, punk blues predominantly tends to be an American underground music style in terms of music genres, and is mostly unrecognized by the mainstream, or mislabeled a neologism due to its low visibility. Punk blues can be said to favor the common rawness, simplicity and emotion shared between the punk and blues genres over the politics and lifestylism prevalent within the broader punk subculture and, in turn, it is much more a musical style than a counterculture.
Rooted in and often aligned with garage rock or blues-rock, many bands in the genre opt explicitly to spell out the two elements of the music, such as the modern punk blues band The Immortal Lee County Killers. Immortal Lee County Killers singer/guitarist Chet Weise refers to the style as "the fucked up blues" and has stated, "Punk and blues are both honest reactions to life. It's blues, it's our blues. It's just a bit turned up and a bit faster.
Allmusic states that punk blues draws on the influence of the "garage rock sound of the mid-'60s, the primal howl of early Captain Beefheart, and especially in the raw and desperate sound of the Gun Club's landmark Fire of Love LP from 1981. Also according to Allmusic.com, "...punk blues really came to life in the early '90s with bands like the seminal Jon Spencer Blues Explosion, The Gories, and the Gibson Brothers", and "...continued into the 2000s with even more visibility thanks to the popularity of The White Stripes.
In Pulaski, Tennessee, there is a Punk N Blues Cafe specializing in music oriented towards fans of punk blues. Additionally, many punk blues bands perform at the Deep Blues Festival Their activities and releases are often chronicled by Punk Rock Blues, self-proclaimed "London-based promoters of hard rockin', punked-up, primal blues mayhem" who also manage Not The Same Old Blues Crap
Several garage rock bands of the 1960s can be said to have foreshadowed what was to become the punk blues sound. Perhaps the most prominent of these was the American proto-punk
. Their sound contains what can retroactively be identified as punk rock, mixed with blues influences. Their 1968 debut album, Kick Out the Jams
, serves as a showcase for this.
American psychobilly band The Cramps provided an arguably significant blueprint for the punk blues sound later maturized by The Gun Club, by meshing punk rock with traditional blues structures as early as 1976. Additionally, L.A. punk rock bands X and Fear (both formed in 1977) are often recognized as progenitors of the punk blues sound, as each delved into rockabilly and blues music, respectively. Also, the Washington, D.C. noise rock band Pussy Galore is responsible for perverse flirtations with blues and punk early on.
The Gun Club
The Gun Club are arguably progenitors of the punk blues sound, and influenced nearly every punk blues band after them, most notably The White Stripes
and the Chrome Cranks
. The Gun Club were a landmark in the early 1980s Los Angeles punk rock scene. John Doe
of L.A. punk band X claims that frontman Jeffrey Lee Pierce
and The Gun Club invented a completely new style of music by mixing punk and blues. Allmusic.com likens Pierce's vocal style to an "exorcism
-in-progress", and states that "tribal
blues is the best way to describe The Gun Club's energetic death rock...". Allmusic.com also calls their 1981 debut album, Fire of Love
"truly frightening punk-blues" and says, "Black Flag
, the Sex Pistols
, Son House
, and the coughing, hacking rambling ghost of Hank Williams
all converge in a reckless mass of seething energy and nearly evil intent", and refers to the band’s 1985's EP Death Party
as "a swingin' piece of punkabilly". According to Greg Prato of allmusic.com, The Gun Club’s "merging...of hardcore punk, rockabilly, and country" made the band’s style an antecedent to the 'psychobilly' genre.
The Flesh Eaters
The Flesh Eaters
are a Los Angeles punk blues band whose peak of popularity was in the late 1970s and early '80s. They were started in 1977 by Chris Desjardins
, a singer known for morbid lyrical themes. Their first gig was December 21, 1977 at The Masque in Los Angeles. Musicians in various line-ups included Stan Ridgway (Wall of Voodoo), John Doe
and D.J. Bonebrake (X
), Dave Alvin
and Bill Bateman (The Blasters
), and Steve Berlin (The Blasters, Los Lobos
). Considered by many to be a precursur of deathrock
, their music was a pastiche of rockabilly, road-house blues, punk rock and jazz
were an American punk blues band that existed from 1985 to 1995. They formed in Ann Arbor
and were initially made up of former members of Negative Approach
(John Brannon, vocals), L-Seven
(Larissa Strickland, guitar), plus Kevin Strickland (bass) and Jim Kimball (drums). After the departure of the original rhythm section, former Necros
members Todd Swalla (drums) and Kevin Reis (bass) joined the band. Reis was later replaced by another Necros bassist Ron Sakowski. Larissa Strickland died in 2006 of an apparent Xanax
Da Willys were a punk blues band that existed in the latter half of the 1980s. They were comprised of guitarist Leon Ross, drummer Peter Landau, bassist Willie Kerr and vocalist Lynne Von. They were a very underground act in their time and remain highly obscure. Their reputation is one of being "scummy" and irreverent. They only released one LP Get Ugly
after much difficulty seeking out a label to release the record, and the band imploded shortly thereafter due to escalating fan violence and a hostile disintegration of cordiality among band members.
were a bassless Michigan garage punk band formed in 1986. The band featured Mick Collins
and Dan Kroha on guitar and vocals, and Peggy O'Neil on drums. Collins brought soul and blues influences to the band, and influenced a young Jack White
of The White Stripes
. Collins went on to form The Dirtbombs
is a three-man garage punk
band formed in Boston in 1987. The members are Tom Shannon (guitar, vocals), Dave Shannon (guitar), and Dana Hatch (drums, vocals). They toured with Jon Spencer Blues Explosion
in 1995. The band relocated to Columbus, OH, in 1996 and is still active. They have released several albums on In the Red Records
The Jon Spencer Blues Explosion
The Jon Spencer Blues Explosion
is a New York based band, who are one of the most prominent disciples of the punk blues sound. They are made up of members Jon Spencer (vocals, guitar), Judah Bauer (guitar, vocals) and Russell Simins (drums). Originally from Hanover, New Hampshire, Spencer moved to Washington, DC
where he fronted the garage punk band Pussy Galore
. According to Allmusic Guide
, "little of what this band plays resembles standard blues. There is, however, a blues feel to what they play, meaning that in many instances they appropriate aspects of the blues (very often clichés) and incorporate them into their anarchic, noisy sound.
Flat Duo Jets
Flat Duo Jets
were a drums and guitar two-piece band from North Carolina
. Fronted by singer songwriter Dexter Romweber
they formed in 1983 but did not release a full length album until 1990. They combined blues and rockabilly
influences with punk rock and influenced Jack White
of The White Stripes
were a garage punk band formed in Memphis, TN, USA
, in 1993. The band consisted of three members -- Greg Cartwright
, Jack Yarber
, and Eric Friedl (formermembers of Compulsive Gamblers
-- who alternated between instruments on stage and in the studio, each member serving as vocalist, guitarist, and drummer, in turn. Their liquored-up, low-fidelity
sound can be described as a sonically abrasive melding of thrashing punk rock, blues rock and, occasionally, gospel music
. Their first big show was opening for fellow punk blues band The Jon Spencer Blues Explosion
, as well as touring with Japanese
garage punk legends Guitar Wolf
. They broke up in 1998, and Cartwright subsequently formed The Reigning Sound
The Chrome Cranks
played a noisy and sinsister brand of blues influenced garage punk music, and are strongly influenced by The Gun Club. Reviewer Ben Donnelly from Dusted
magazine states that the Chrome Cranks "came at the tail end of the trash rock vibe that ran through the underground and overlapped through post-punk, noise rock and grunge." Donnelly says that the "...Cranks weren't the peak of the form (as the liner notes by singer Peter Aaron all too modestly admit", but he states that "...the roughest tracks on [albums like] Diabolical Boogie
, the sort of things that could be overdriven blurs, are the most powerful.
were an American garage punk blues band, formed in 1994 in Lansing, Michigan
. They are named after a small yet highly aggressive, 'puffed-out' breed of chicken
found in America and Britain. Over the years, Bantam Rooster have been a Thomas Jackson Potter (guitar/vocals) project, featuring Eric Cook, Mike Alonso & Nick Lloyd (ex-Dirtys and ex-Buzzards) on drums. Known for their violent, screaming blues sound, the duo fluctuated between chaos and soulfulness. Jim Diamond
, the music producer and one-time member of The Dirtbombs along with Potter, has been dubbed as the '3rd Rooster', appearing occasionally live and producing. The group were first signed to Crypt Records in 1996, releasing 'Deal Me In' (1997) and 'Cross & the Switchblade' (1999) to critical acclaim. In 2000, they moved to the revered Sympathy for the Record Industry
imprint for the release of 'Fuck All Y'All', and received further exposure through their similar approach to their then label-mates, The White Stripes
. They disbanded in 2003 as Potter formed the funk
rock band Detroit City Council
, and later the Chrome Spiders.
The White Stripes
The musical and stylistic elements of the garage rock duo The White Stripes
(formed in 1997 in Detroit, MI, USA
) are heavily comprised of punk and blues influences, and the band has been catalystic in bringing the punk blues sound to a wider audience than it ever had before. Jack White
plays electric and slide guitar
, while Meg White
plays drums and percussion.
Their blues influences can be heard in many instances, such as in their electric cover versions of Robert Johnson's "Stop Breakin' Down Blues", Son House's "John the Revelator" ("Cannon"), and "Death Letter Blues", Blind Willie McTell's "Your Southern Can Belongs To Me", and "Lord, Send Me An Angel"; additionally, they have performed live covers of blues musicians such as Leadbelly, Blind Willie Johnson, Howlin' Wolf, and their first album was dedicated to Son House. Their punk influences can be heard in their live covers of early punk bands such as The Gun Club, Public Nuisance and The Cramps, protopunk bands such as The Stooges, The Velvet Underground, The Monks, The Sonics and the MC5, as well as admitted influences in punk blues bands such as Flat Duo Jets, The Gories, Chrome Cranks, and Soledad Brothers. They have toured with garage punk heavyweights such as The Dirtbombs.
A 2000 review stated that the band's "...noisy, wicked electric-slide blues songs...sound like the Reverend Horton Heat...[and] Robert Johnson". In addition, the review states that the band is "...the blues, as authentic and honest and real as it gets." The band became immensely successful following the critical acclaim of their 2002 major label redistribtion release of White Blood Cells.
Since then they have gone on to sell approximately 12 million albums worldwide, though they continue to self-record, produce and tour. As of 2008, the band has maintained an arguably unusual relationship with record companies, only signing when contractually given full artistic control.
The Immortal Lee County Killers
One of the prominent bands of the punk blues style, the American band The Immortal Lee County Killers
formed in mid-1999 in Auburn, Alabama. Four months after forming they recorded The Essential Fucked Up Blues
. The two members are vocalist/guitarist Chetley "Cheetah" Weise (ex-Quadrajets) and drummer Doug "The Boss" Sherrard. Their punk influences are in the vein of garage punk, and their blues influences focus on Chicago and Mississippi Delta blues styles. Their recording style is in the DIY punk ethic
, with Weise using foot-operated instrumental controls and two full-volumed amplifiers.
Black Diamond Heavies
Though not conventional punk blues, it could be argued that the heavy metal
(on their 1987 debut Danzig
) and the Rollins Band
(on their 2001 album Nice
) — both formed after the dissolution of the 1980s hardcore punk bands Misfits
and Black Flag
, respectively — have both incorporated elements of punk rock and blues rock into their stylistic sounds.
Beginning with their 1988 album Prison Bound, the punk band Social Distortion began incorporating rockabilly, country- and blues-influences into their music. Though founded in 1978, they achieved popular success in 1990. They are still putting out new music (as of 2008), and touring despite a myriad of line-up changes. They are best-known for mainstream hits such as "Ball and Chain," "Story of My Life," and their cover of Johnny Cash's "Ring of Fire", and have been more closely associated with cowpunk than punk blues.
The Gits were a Seattle, WA, USA punk rock band active from 1986 to 1993. They were known for their fiery live performances and retained a dedicated following both during and after their existence. Singer Mia Zapata was influenced by blues and soul singers such as Bessie Smith, Billie Holiday, Jimmy Reed, Ray Charles, Otis Redding, Hank Williams and Sam Cooke, as well as hardcore punk. The band split up in July 1993 following the murder of Zapata.
The Detroit garage rock scene that bore bands such as The White Stripes and The Dirtbombs continues to thrive with punk blues musicians, and bands that can be tied to the style, such as The Detroit Cobras, Geraldine, Mystery Girls, The Paybacks, The Reigning Sound, Soledad Brothers, The Von Bondies, and countless others. The ripe Detroit garage rock revival scene has been active since the mid-1980s. The independent record label Sympathy for the Record Industry has served as a home to many of these artists. The Boston band Mr. Airplane Man and the Ohio band Pearlene are other notable bands that play in this style. The Black Keys began their career in 2000 in the punk blues vein, with a lo-fi recording style, though have recently progressed to add elments of psychedelic rock and classic rock. The Austin, Texas hardcore punk group The Dicks later incorporated blues music influences into their style.
The indie rock bands Deadboy & the Elephantmen, The Gossip, and The Kills are often tied to and associated with the punk blues sound. After the dissolution of the former in 2007, singer Dax Riggs — who cites primarily blues, singer/songwriter, heavy metal and punk musicians as inspiration — has gone to further his blues vocal influences into a solo career that also borrows from post-punk, among other alternative rock music styles.
Today, The New York band PBR (Punk Blues Review) selects various blues, soul, and rock & roll songs and covers them in the punk rock style.