Re Styles

The Tubes

The Tubes are a San Francisco-based rock band, which was popular in the late 1970s and early 1980s, and was known for its live performances that combined lewd quasi-pornography and wild satires of media, consumerism and politics.

History of the band

The Tubes is a collection of high school friends from Phoenix, Arizona. The Beans and The Red, White and Blues Band eventually merged after relocating to San Francisco in 1969. The core band membership remained largely intact for more than a decade: Fee Waybill (real name John Waldo Waybill) (vocals), Bill "Sputnik" Spooner (guitar, vocals), Roger Steen (guitar), Prairie Prince (real name Charles L. Prince) (drums), Michael Cotten (synthesizer), Vince Welnick (piano), and Rick Anderson (bass). Singer Re Styles (born Shirley Marie MacLeod) (vocals) and ex-Santana percussionist Mingo Lewis were also fixtures for much of the band's early history.

Showbiz excess was a common theme of the band's early work, with Waybill sometimes assuming the on-stage persona of Quay Lewd (a pun on Quaalude), a drunk, drugged-out, barely coherent lead singer, decked out with flashing glasses and impossibly tall platform shoes. "White Punks on Dope", from their debut album, was an absurd anthem of wretched excess, and a tribute to their rich, white teenage fan base in San Francisco. The tune was covered (with different, non-translated German lyrics) by Nina Hagen as "TV Glotzer" ("Couch Potato"), the opening track of her band's first album. The tune has also been covered by Motley Crue.

The Tubes first album was produced by Al Kooper. The second album, for A&M Records, was produced by Ken Scott and called Young and Rich. It features the hit "Don't Touch Me There" (arranged by Jack Nitzsche), and features Laramy Smith who with Larry Lee arranged and performeed the backing vocals. The Tubes third album gave way to thematic experimentation with Now and after the classic live record What Do You Want from Live, (recorded during their record breaking run at the Hammersmith Odeon, London, England) their fourth for A&M Remote Control was a concept album produced by Todd Rundgren about a television-addicted idiot savant. The cover of Remote Control is also a classic, showing a baby watching Hollywood Squares in a specially made "Vidi-Trainer".

One critic noted that with their media savvy and theatrical skills, The Tubes were born to create rock video, but arrived several years too early. Instead, they put their creativity and art skills into their live performances, in which songs could be full-fledged production numbers, from a beach movie parody for "Sushi Girl", to leather-clad S&M hijinks in "Mondo Bondage", to the game show antics of "What Do You Want From Life?" At their peak, their act featured dozens of other performers, including tap dancers and acrobats. The Tubes stage productions were choreographed by Kenny Ortega and featured cast members Jane Dornacker, LeRoy Jones, Michael Holman, Michael Springer, Edwin Heaven, Cindi Osborn, Heline Gouax and Mary Niland from 1975-1977. From 1978-1979, the cast included Sharon Collins, Caty Bevan and Loryanna Catalano. The Completion Backward Tour featured Shelly Pang, Cheryl Hangland, and Cynthia Rhodes. From 1983-1985, Michelle Gray (who later married Todd Rundgren) and Cheryl Hangland were principal dancers. Several crew members—including Lee Collins, Steve "Chopper" Borges, and Gail Lowe—made frequent appearances on stage in various roles as well.

The Tubes live shows in the late 1970s and early 1980s were rife with allusions to mainstream film (Dr. Strangelove, Rollerball, Saturday Night Fever, Grease), then-forgotten B-movies (Wild Women of Wongo, Attack of the 50 Foot Woman), music (Tom Jones, punk rock, a medley of Nelson Riddle television themes), contemporary pop culture (Patty Hearst, the Viking program), television (Let's Make a Deal, Fernwood 2Nite, the anime Raideen), and literature (Nelson Algren's A Walk on the Wild Side), presaging the subcultural reverence and over-the-top theatricality of later groups like The World/Inferno Friendship Society.

These shows were expensive to produce, however, and while they earned the band a reputation for being one of the most entertaining live acts of all time, by the early 1980s they found themselves short of money. Their proposed fifth album, the self-produced Suffer for Sound, was rejected by A&M Records, who dumped the band instead, finishing out its contract with the oddities collection T.R.A.S.H. (Tubes Rarities and Smash Hits).

The band then signed to Capitol Records, scaling back the live shows and repositioning itself as a strait-laced rock band, teaming with producer David Foster. The Completion Backward Principle, another concept album, featuring the classic rock staple "Talk to Ya Later", positioned itself as a motivational business document, complete with shocking pictures of the band members cleaned up and wearing suits. Also in 1981 they had a song featured in a movie starring Chevy Chase in Modern Problems called "Gonna Get It Next Time" not featured on any of their albums. Outside Inside followed a few years later, and produced a few hits, including the number 10 (USA) hit "She's a Beauty". The band also had their first Top-40 hit in the United States in 1981 with a serious ballad, "Don't Want to Wait Anymore" (recorded almost entirely by Spooner, without Waybill's participation).

The band teamed up with Rundgren once again for 1985's Love Bomb, a flop that led Capitol to drop the band just as it was going on tour in support of the album—a tour that would leave the band a half million dollars in debt, forcing them to play low-budget gigs for a year to pay off their debts. Waybill released an unsuccessful solo album (Read My Lips, on Capitol Records) earlier in the year, and soon left the band ("Fee broke up", one band member said). An abortive attempt with a new lead singer led to a few appearances before the band split up. During this time, Waybill also enjoyed a fruitful writing partnership with Capitol Records label-mate, Richard Marx, the most popular and well known song possibly being "Edge of a Broken Heart" by the female band Vixen.

In 1988, The Tubes continued on with long-time friend from Phoenix, Arizona, David Killingsworth on lead vocals, and minus Welnick (who would later join the Grateful Dead), Cotten, and Spooner. With the addition of Gary Cambra on keyboards and guitar, Waybill would eventually return in 1993 for a European tour and launching of the compilation CD for Capitol and 1996's Genius of America. In 2001, the band released a live CD, The Tubes World Tour 2001, and continued to tour.

Welnick, who long suffered from depression, committed suicide on June 2, 2006.

On September 23, 2007, the remaining members of the Tubes reunited in Phoenix for their induction into the Arizona Music & Entertainment Hall of Fame.

Career highlights

1972: Tubes appear in Mitchell brothers film Resurrection of Eve as Jesus Bongo and the Millionaires

1973: Opened for the New York Dolls at the Matrix, Iggy Pop at Bimbos, and Led Zeppelin at Kezar Stadium in San Francisco

1974: Tubes shoot "video demo" at California Hall which lands a record deal at A&M Records, Cotten/Prince paint "Flying Record" mural on A&M sound stage

1975: Tubes play 2 weeks at David Allen's Boarding House in San Francisco, several sell-out dates at The Roxy in Los Angeles and The Bottom Line in New York. Dec, 31- Headline and sell out Bill Graham's Winterland Ballroom

1976: Held residency at Bimbos in San Francisco for one month, Prairie Prince dubbed "The One, The Only" by columnist Herb Caen. Tubes hold "Talent Hunt" at the Boarding House hosted by Martin Mull; Robin Williams is contestant but loses

1977: Held residency at The Palace of Fine Arts in San Francisco for one month, The Whisky a-Go-Go in Los Angeles for two shows a night for one month, and Hammersmith Odeon in London for a week

1978: Headlined the Knebworth Festival with Frank Zappa and Peter Gabriel. On April 3rd, The Tubes performed live with Dolly Parton on Cher... Special, in the "Musical Battle to Save Cher's Soul Medley." As the title would imply, the performance was a duel between the forces of good and evil to determine where Cher would spend her eternal destiny. Dolly Parton was dressed in white and, with a team of brightly clad singers, portrayed an angelic host while The Tubes, dressed in black leather and performing "Mondo Bondage," battled to send Cher's soul into eternal damnation.

1979: Tubes play Japan; Cotten/Welnick/Prince/Styles appear on Japanese soap opera. Tubes appear in Andy Warhol's Interview magazine

1980: Appear in the film Xanadu singing the rock portion of the cross-genre song "Dancin'" opposite a Big band.

1981: Record Grammy nominated "The Tubes Video" at Shepperton Studios, one of the first long form video discs

1981: Sang "Sushi Girl" and "Talk to Ya Later" on the television sketch comedy program SCTV, Episode #86 airing July 24, 1981.

1982: Appeared in a commercial for Activision's video game Megamania

1983: Opened several dates for David Bowie on the Serious Moonlight tour and on this tour, among other highlights, they were the first artists to ever play the newly opened Tacoma Dome in Tacoma, Washington. At the end of the Bowie tour, they played a few shows featuring their classic no-holds-barred theatrics in Portland, Oregon, and other west-coast cities.

1985: Tour with Todd Rundgren's Utopia, play Radio City Music Hall




Year Song US Hot 100 US M.S.R. UK singles Album
1976 "Don't Touch Me There" 61 - - Young and Rich
1977 "White Punks on Dope" - - 28 The Tubes
1979 "Prime Time" - - 34 Remote Control
1981 "Don't Want To Wait Anymore" 35 22 60 The Completion Backward Principle
1981 "Talk to Ya Later" - 7 -
1983 "She's a Beauty" 10 1 79 Outside Inside
1983 "Tip of My Tongue" 52 - -
1983 "The Monkey Time" 68 16 -
1985 "Piece by Piece" 87 25 - Love Bomb


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