The lone constant of veteran California indie rock outfit the Black Watch is John Andrew Fredrick, a writer and anglophile with a Ph.D. in English from the University of California at Santa Barbara. Since the late '80s, Fredrick has released well-regarded post-punk pop/rock albums that have gained comparisons to My Bloody Valentine, the Cure, Yo La Tengo, the Smiths, Interpol, the War on Drugs, and late-'60s pop. With multiple lineup and label changes since forming the group in 1987, Fredrick's talent as a writer and skill as a musician has gone mostly unnoticed, aside from the admiration of a handful of underground journalists and a devoted fan base.
Fredrick assembled the first lineup of the Black Watch after finishing college. Recording a brief demo and opening for the Church and Toad the Wet Sprocket, the band more or less went their own way. Later in 1987, Fredrick put together a new band and recorded the full-length St. Valentine, releasing it on his own Eskimo label. That lineup dissolved shortly after its release, and Fredrick soon picked up another batch of people to play with. Most importantly, a chance meeting between Fredrick and J'Anna Jacoby (who played mandolin for the likes of John Tesh and Rod Stewart) led to the recruitment of a second full-time Black Watch member.
The vinyl-only Short Stories EP was released in 1989, with Dr. Dream picking them up for 1991's Flowering, ushering in another new rhythm section. "Terrific," one of the highlights of the album, gained considerable airplay on a number of major radio stations, but lack of label promotion thwarted the record's exposure. The Black Watch left Dr. Dream and signed with Zero Hour for 1995's Joe Chiccarelli-produced Amphetamines. Again, the record was well-received by those who heard it. Several lineup changes pre-dated the Seven Rollercoasters EP, which was issued in 1997.
The band went on hiatus for six months, while Fredrick finished a book about an indie band titled The King of Good Intentions. Henry Rollins' 2.13.61 publishing house intended to print it, until they realized that they didn't have the finances to do so. A companion record of the same name was released by Not Lame in 1999. Lime Green Girl was released the next year by Saltwater, which added seven songs from the band's history to the end of the record. The Christopher Smart EP was issued in 2001. The following year, the band released what would be regarded as one of their best offerings. Produced by Tim Boland, Jiggery-Pokery combined Fredrick's songwriting and Jacoby's violin and guitar backing on tracks like "The Tennis-Playing Poet Roethke Said" and "What Is the Color of Happiness," which featured Pat Fish of Jazz Butcher on vocals. Very Mary Beth arrived in 2003, continuing along the same model of Intentions and Jiggery. In 2005, the band issued The Hypnotizing Sea and The Innercity Garden EP, with Tatterdemalion following the year after. The group's tenth LP in two decades, Icing the Snow Queen, and their fifth EP, After the Gold Room, were released in 2008.
Album 11, titled Led Zeppelin Five, arrived in 2011. Yet another solid set, the LP featured the brisk guitar rocker "Emily, Are You Sleeping?" and an unlisted cover of the Beatles' "It's All Too Much" hidden after the closing track "Weirdly." The 27-track double-album The End of When was released in 2013, continuing Fredrick's record of reliable output and the band's ever frustrating lack of mainstream exposure. Sugarplum Fairy, Sugarplum Fairy marked album 13 for the prolific stalwarts. Here, Fredrick played every instrument aside from drums. Highs and Lows (Pop Culture Press Records) arrived in 2015.
The Black Watch released The Gospel According to John in the summer of 2017. Produced by Robert Campanella (the Brian Jonestown Massacre), Gospel featured Andy Creighton on guitar, Rick Woodard on drums, and Chris Rackard on bass. ~ Andy Kellman & Neil Z. Yeung