The Black Gang

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The Black Gang
Also known as The Black Gang Crew
(Baiza/Hodges lineup)
Origin San Pedro, California
Genres Punk rock
Years active 1997–present
(currently on hiatus)
Labels Columbia, Kill Rock Stars, Clenchedwrench
Associated acts Mike Watt, Wilco, Banyan, Saccharine Trust, Unknown Instructors
Members Mike Watt
Nels Cline
Bob Lee
Past members Stephen Hodges
Joe Baiza
Steve Reed

The Black Gang was the trio Mike Watt formed in 1997 to record and tour behind his second solo album, Contemplating The Engine Room (Columbia Records, 1997). Of all of the "project" (semi-temporary) bands that he has formed since the disbanding of Firehose in 1994, The Black Gang (named after Navy slang for sailors who work on a boat's or submarine's engine room) has gone through the most permutations of any of Watt's backing groups.

For the recording of the album in May 1997, Watt tapped guitarist Nels Cline (whom he had recorded and toured with on his previous solo album, Ball-Hog or Tugboat?) and sometime Tom Waits drummer Stephen Hodges. Commitments with the Geraldine Fibbers kept Cline from touring with Watt for most of the tour, forcing Watt to hire former Saccharine Trust guitarist Joe Baiza to replace him. Watt's longtime soundman since Firehose, Steve Reed, was officially added to the touring lineup as well, singing backing vocals from behind the mixing board and playing sound effects for some of the songs (via a CD-R through the board) on cue in addition to his normal sound reinforement duties.

Hodges left the band for other commitments, and was replaced by Bob Lee in 1998, starting with a spring European tour. Joe Baiza then departed The Black Gang after some work-related conflicts with Watt; Nels Cline was by then able to rejoin the band for one last tour leg behind the album. To mark the occasion, Cline composed a new song, "This Is A Prayer", which was debuted during his tour stint, and later immortalized on a 7" EP released on the Kill Rock Stars label.

After retiring the piece, Watt continued to play some gigs with the Cline/Lee Black Gang lineup. An intention by Watt to record a new album with this lineup was derailed by a near-fatal illness Watt suffered in January 2000, which would inspire his next solo album, The Secondman's Middle Stand.

Watt and Cline frequently play together as members of the improvisational jazz/punk ensemble Banyan, in between Cline's commitments with Wilco and as a solo artist, and Watt's own schedule with Iggy Pop & The Stooges and as a solo act.

Watt reformed the Nels Cline/Bob Lee version of The Black Gang for a new album, recorded in 2009 in a marathon three-day recording session. The album will be released on Watt's own Clenchedwrench label, possibly in 2015.