20 Miles to Go

A member of Jon Spencer's Blues Explosion maps his own road.

When it came time to promote Lucky Guy back in 1998, Bauer managed to schedule only a few dates owing to his feeling that "we needed more time to work things out," not to mention his commitment to the Blues Explosion. If given the choice between the two groups, he'd choose to pour his energy into 20 Miles. He says it's "more interesting" to him than the Spencer project these days, perhaps because he knows the Blues Explosion formula by heart. "I've been doing it for so long that I'm totally a professional, totally proficient at that. And when you're singing, you have to do more relating. You definitely are sticking your neck out there more. Plus, I'm into other kinds of stuff than just the whole rock-and-roll-extrovert thing that Jon's into. His band is a party band, a tear-the-house-down kind of band, and I don't always feel like that. So it's nice when I can play some other kinds of music."

He'll get that chance during 20 Miles' first proper tour, a 33-date excursion that will take the Bauers from coast to coast and up into Canada. But after that, the future is more wide open than he'd like. Judah has oodles of new songs nearing completion, but he'd like to finish them up with the help of a bassist, and since he hasn't found one yet who'll devote himself to the combo, he's stuck. There's also the matter of Donovan, who Judah says "isn't willing to make this his goal in life. He doesn't stick around, and he doesn't commit to anything. He'll be a musician for a while and then that's it -- he won't pick up the sticks for a year or so. And he's not going to get any better that way. The last record was all right, and he has an interesting way of playing; he has kind of a marching rhythm he plays in that I guess he picked up from Othar and those guys when we went down to Mississippi. But he has to concentrate so hard on his drumming to make up for his lack of practice that he isn't learning how to do other things."

Judah thinks he could stand to improve, too. "I need to do some woodshedding," he concedes, "and I need to learn how to sing instead of just yelling in G. I mean, if I would have known what I was doing, I never would have done some of the shit that's on the record. I listen to that shit and I think, 'Man, no shame.' Like 'Oh Ruby' [on Lucky Guy]. It was a live take, and I liked it when we did it, but now when I listen to it, I'm like, 'That sounds retarded.'"

Rocking on down the road: Donovan and Judah Bauer of 20 Miles.
Rocking on down the road: Donovan and Judah Bauer of 20 Miles.

Not that he thinks those disgruntled blues aficionados in Europe were right to heckle him. "They appreciate a lot of great music that doesn't get a chance here, but they also appreciate a lot of garbage that doesn't deserve to exist. A lot of those blues bands over there that think they're playing the blues are just a bunch of losers from Sweden or something. They're just cover bands. And then there are a lot of awful American bands that you thought disappeared, like REO Speedwagon and Quiet Riot.

"I know we can't compare with some of the other Fat Possum guys as far as blues, but that's not what we do," he says. "And what's so bad about rock and roll?"

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