Redhead Record Review – Bullhead (Melvins)

Our featured redhead is Shirley Temple. Temple began her film career in 1932 at the age of three and was Hollywood’s biggest box office star from 1935 to 1938. In addition to being nearly as cute as my granddaughter Penelope, Shirley was a talented tap dancer.

shirley temple

Here is her classic staircase dance with Bill “Bojangles” Robinson:

Fans of the Melvins are probably aware of the connection between our featured redhead and the 1990 Melvins album Bullhead on Boner Records. Joining founding lead guitarist and vocalist Buzz Osborne and drummer Dale Crover is Temple’s daughter Lori “Lorax” Black, featured on bass.

lori black


Formed in 1983 in Montesano, Washington, the band Melvins is hard to define, but their signature slow, heavy metal and punk influenced sound has been described as doom metal, drone music and sludge metal, and was a big influence on Seattle grunge and tribute drone bands. Bullhead is a HEAVY as it gets. The music is a physical presence as much as it is sound. The opening chords of Boris churned out by Osborne against the pounding drums of Crover and rumbling Lorax bass line immediately set the tone.


The pattern repeats over and over while Buzz spits, drools and gurgles the lyrics.

Anaconda is like an unstoppable force, leveling everything in its path, while Ligature is shifting tectonic plates, forcing continental masses upward. Osborne’s guitar wraps a stranglehold around mountain peaks, painfully yanking them skyward. Overflowing everything is oozing molten metal.

It’s Shoved and Zodiac are the closest you will get to driving rock in this collection. Buzz is aptly named as his guitar style is heavy on distortion and sustain. My overall impression of Osborne’s vocals is that they sound more like an exorcism than singing. Not surprisingly, the cataclysmic event is represented by If I Had an Exorcism. Osborne’s opening incantations are filled with venom and vomit, alternating between suppression and release until launched by deliberate drumming and thunderous bass. The guitar riff is a single repeated note, evocative of an air raid siren, sustained over the remaining minutes of the song.

Your Blessened returns to the mood and tone of Boris; dance hall music for dinosaurs. You can picture massive, plodding feet raising dust clouds as they stomp in a ritualistic, prehistoric mosh. Crover is the Cow in the finale, oblivious to everything except his drums, stepping out of time to play as he feels. It is a fitting end to a set that is active and physical while maintaining core musical elements. Darken the room and crank up the volume.

Bullhead Playlist (all written by Buzz Osborne)

1. “Boris” 8:34
2. “Anaconda” 2:23
3. “Ligature” 3:49
4. “It’s Shoved” 2:35
5. “Zodiac” 4:14
6. “If I Had an Exorcism” 3:07
7. “Your Blessened” 5:39
8. “Cow” 4:31

In what has become an afterthought, and maybe a bit anticlimactic, my short story, Pops continues:


One hot, sticky morning in July, I arrived at Pops’ store and was surprised by a CLOSED sign on the front door. Checking the door and finding it unlocked, I slowly pulled it open and entered the store. The noonday sunlight filtered through the front window, illuminating the store in a streaky glow. The floor creaked as I started toward an open door at the rear of Pops’ office, and was met halfway by the muted sounds of a trumpet. The sounds were low and melancholy and held me there between Pops’ empty grocery shelves. I stood motionless, listening to the slow, reflective melody, until the notes suddenly became light and buoyant. They seemed to dance before me, just beyond my reach, and then, waft skyward. I stepped to the elusive notes which lifted themselves upward, always upward, lifted themselves upon invisible wings.

I found myself in the doorway, looking out at a small courtyard where Pops stood with his back to me, his shoulders hunched and his eyes closed in concentration. Pops gently swayed as he played, and moved forward with short, mincing steps. Sensing my presence, he turned in a small circle toward me, opened his eyes, and blew one last softly rising note.

“Don’t get too many customers when it’s this hot, so I decided to take the day off,” Pops explained, “One of the advantages of being your own boss,” he added. I smiled self consciously and nodded. I remained silent, still embarrassed after being caught watching.

“Well, what do you think of my garden?” Pops asked.

My eyes scanned the courtyard. It wasn’t the kind of garden that would win any awards as “an oasis of beauty and growth in the midst of urban decay.” Actually, it was a direct reflection of the difficulty that Pops experienced with everything that he attempted. The soil was dry and sandy and full of glass fragments that Pops had been unable to sift out. However, also like everything else that he attempted, the garden somehow yielded a meager crop of lettuce, tomatoes, string beans, and collard greens. There was even a thin, stubborn birch which leaned against the rear wall of the courtyard.

“I didn’t know you were a musician,” I said, ignoring Pops’ question.

“I guess there’s quite a few things that people don’t know about me,” he replied. “Do you play?

“I play the tenor sax,” I answered automatically.

Pops leaned back and chuckled. “Looks like you’re full of surprises yourself — especially the way you snuck up behind me — nearly scared me half to death.”

“You didn’t look so surprised. Besides, you shouldn’t leave your door open like that,” I laughed, feeling more relaxed, “You know how this neighborhood is.”

“Well now, I wouldn’t worry about that too much. I think I know most of the people around here pretty well.”

“But, what about Bobby?” I asked. “Why do you put up with him?” I crossed my arms and waited for Pops’ answer. He reached into his apron pocket and pulled out his pipe. Lighting it and wedging it in the corner of his mouth, Pops smiled slightly as he wrinkled his brow in thought and began to speak.

“I can’t see that I got much choice in the matter. Bobby is part of this street.” Pops stopped suddenly as the sky darkened and it began to drizzle. “I think we better move inside.”

He started back toward the doorway, and I followed. Once inside, Pops pulled up a folding chair for me and sat himself on the edge of the counter in front of me. He leaned forward, drew on his pipe, and continued.

“Like I was just about to say, the boy is confused is all. He don’t see too many choices available to him, so he’s frustrated, mad and frustrated. Look at me, I can barely pay my rent. We all need something son, something to help us get through. Bobby’s got his bottle and I got my horn. When I play, sometimes I can understand why I hurt and why Bobby hurts. At least I can let my horn do the talking for me, but Bobby, he don’t have no voice.” Pops lowered his head and became silent for several seconds, until he turned to me.

“It’s different for you son — you got choices. You don’t have your back to the wall. No sir, you got options…you can do anything you want.”

Pops had struck a nerve. I didn’t know whether to feel grateful or ashamed for this privilege, or was it an unfair advantage that Pops had implied? Resenting what I believed was an accusation, I answered defensively, shoving my hands into my pockets to hide their trembling.

“But, that’s no excuse. I get confused too. You don’t see me running around in the streets all day, trying to bully people. I can’t always do what I want either.”

The storm outside grew stronger as Pops leaned closer in the fading light.

“What do you want to do son?” he asked softly.

Pops had me there. I had been trying to avoid that question, hoping that an answer would somehow be revealed to me, that my life would work itself out, but I knew from Pops’ grave expression that he would not accept my idle optimism. I stuttered something about wanting to feel my music again, and then, suddenly dashed out of the store in an overwhelming panic, as Pops called out behind me.


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