The Tubes will go down in the rock history books as one of the most exciting, in-your-face tight-knit group of musicians who epitomised the hilarity of popular American culture by making it into a the ultimate rock'n'roll extravaganza. Their live shows involved mock bondage rituals, simulated sex, 12-foot high rock stars by the name of Quay Lude singing 'White Punks On Dope', exploding televisions, chainsaws and an array of semi-clad dancers. Some say they were about 15 years ahead of Madonna, and light years ahead of the politically correct.
In the tradition of Frank Zappa and Captain Beefheart, the Tubes were one of the first bands to write and perform songs in a head-on theatrical onslaught. They simply didn't entertain, they shocked audiences into submission. The Tubes were one of the pioneers of the rock video years before MTV became a household name, and used the medium in their early performances. The band tapped into the American zeitgeist and ridiculed its materialistic values, superficial advertising methods, took a poke at religious fundamentalists and often questioned sexual taboos. They took popular culture by the scruff of the neck, turned it upside down, and made it into entertainment.
Their outrageous performance-art concepts ranged from titillating, tongue'n'cheek pornography to straight-laced, black tie all-American conservatism, all of which frequently clouded the fact that they were, like Frank Zappa, technically gifted musicians in their own right. As the band progressed into the 1980's they shed the controversial theatrical spectacle in favour for a more stripped down live setting that showed them in a more musical light, that ultimately brought them long overdue commercial success in America.
The nucleus of the band originated in Phoenix, Arizona in the late '60s, where Bill Spooner (guitar), Vince Welnick (keyboards) and Rick Anderson (bass) formed 'The Beans' (alternately billing themselves as the Radar Men from Uranus). The aspiring trio eventually relocated to the post-psychedelic haze of San Francisco in 1972. Once there, the Beans recruited guitarist Roger Steen (guitar) Prairie Prince (drums) from 'The Red, White & Blues Band'. The first real incarnation of 'The Tubes' was born when the original members recruited Michael Cotten (keyboards) and former roadie Fee Waybill (lead vocals).
From 1972-1975 the band toured continuously before A&M Records signed them to a major recording contract. Prior to the signing, the band earned devoted cult following on the strength of Spooner's parodic songs and the group's surreal live show extravaganzas which verged on uncensored burlesque that took in everything from rock, pop, heavy metal, country and disco. Word of mouth about the electrifying live experience of the concerts travelled fast, and soon the Tubes earned the reputation as the must-see rock'n'roll band of all time.
The concerts featured the ever-versatile Waybill adopting a variety of larger-than-life personas ranging from the crippled Nazi Dr. Strangekiss, country singer Hugh Heifer, and his most infamous character, the legendary Quay Lewd – an androgynous drug-inflicted British pop star sporting an outrageous Ziggy Stardust blonde wig and two foot high platform boots.
Their debut album 'The Tubes' (1975), produced by Al Kooper, was critically acclaimed, and included the classic tracks 'White Punks On Dope', 'Mondo Bondage', and 'What Do You Want From Life', followed by 'Young And Rich' (1976), which featured the songs 'Don't Touch Me There' and 'Slipped My Disco'. Both albums introduced audiences to some of the most scathing; satirical songs that ridiculed the hypocrisy of white trash America. The erotic fetish themes of 'Mondo Bondage', the naughtiness of 'Don't Touch Me There', the hilarious quiz show parody 'What Do You Want From Life', and the ever-controversial anti-drug anthem 'White Punks On Dope', helped to form an integral part of the band's historic 1977 blockbuster concerts.
By the time the band's third album, 'Now' was released, the Tubes met British exile and former promoter of the Isle of Wight Festival, Rikki Farr. A fan of the band, Farr was convinced the UK was ready for the Tubes, and shrewdly persuaded them to tour there and record a live album. One of the band's first concerts in Portsmouth was banned. The concert was held on Poppy Day, and subsequently, the British Legion objected. The Tubes went on to sell out an amazing five-night engagement at the Hammersmith Odeon in London. During the recording of the live concert album, 'What Do You Want From Live', Waybill accidentally broke his leg onstage while acting out his punk character Johnny Bugger; the remainder of the tour was cancelled.
After returning to America, they recruited producer Todd Rundgren and recorded what was to be their fourth and final album for A&M; 1979's excellent 'Remote Control', a unique concept album that explored the impact that television and the media had on society. Stand out tracks included 'Turn Me On', 'TV Is King', and 'Prime Time'.
By 1981 the Tubes signed to Capitol Records and released the David Foster produced 'Completion Backwards Principle'; an album based on an actual sales training instruction manual. Both 'Talk to Ya Later' and 'Don't Want to Wait Anymore' finally earned them significant airplay on American radio, while the album became the Tubes' first Top 40 chart entry. Two years later, in 1983, due to a provocative video, the single 'She's a Beauty' reached the Top Ten, and pushed the Tubes' sixth studio album, 'Outside/Inside' into the U.S. Top 20.
By 1985, the band released their seventh studio album, 'Love Bomb'; the second Tubes album to be produced by Todd Rundgren. 'Love Bomb' scored a minor hit single with 'Piece By Piece', however, later the same year the original Tubes line-up disbanded. Vince Welnick went on to join the Grateful Dead, while Fee Waybill went on to pursue a solo career and dabbled in acting and played the role of Dr. Frank N Furter, the transsexual mad scientist from Transylvania, in the Michigan stage version of 'The Rocky Horror Show'.
In 1992, Capital Records released 'The Best of The Tubes' which became a popular seller throughout Europe. The band reunited; consisting of Waybill, Steen, Anderson, Prince recruited new keyboardist Gary Cambra, and due to the popularity of the greatest hits album, embarked on a European tour. Eleven years after the original line-up split, the reunited Tubes released what was to become their eighth studio album, 'Genius Of America'. Four years later, in 2000, the Tubes embarked on an extensive tour of America and Europe to support the release of their second official live album, 'Tubes World Tour 2001'.
At their best, The Tubes has the uncanny ability to highlight the absurdity of everyday American life, occasionally shocking audiences along the way, but more importantly, always making them think twice. Perceived by fans and media alike as the 'Marshall McLuhans of rock'n'roll', the Tubes became both the medium and the message, stimulating the senses through their dynamic, controversial and politically incorrect audio visual live spectacles. The Tubes have always managed to expose, enlighten and entertain audiences worldwide by combining art with trash, comedy with tragedy, and innovative rock theatre with consummate musicianship.