THE TUBES (Live at The Brudenell Social Club, Leeds, U.K., August 11, 2015)
Photo: Mick Burgess

Famed for their outrageous shows, The Tubes ranked alongside KISS and Alice Cooper as one of the bands to see. Celebrating 40 years in the business The Tubes are heading for Europe and Mick Burgess chatted to lead singer Fee Waybill about the tour.

You’ll be over for a series of 9 UK shows soon. Are you looking forward to coming back to the UK to play?

Oh, yes. We were last there in 2012 but only played two dates so this time we wanted to do more shows and do a tour like we haven’t done for years. We wanted to play all over in as many places as we could. We haven’t played at many of those places in a long, long time.

Do you notice that fans react differently at shows outside of London?

Yeah, I think they do react differently. It’s like playing in LA, there’s too much going on. They are jaded and bored. They’ve got everything there. If you go out into the smaller towns there’s not as much going on and there’s not eight different concerts that night so you get more appreciation in places outside of London. I think we enjoy playing outside of London more too.

This tour marks your 40th anniversary. Did you ever think when you first started in 1975 that you’d still be here four decades later?

Absolutely not, I had no idea. We were kids when we started and we just wanted to do something unique and have a show like nobody else’s show. We had no idea it would last this long, we thought by the time we got to 30, we’d be done.

Why do you think you managed to last this long when so many of your peers fell a long time ago?

I think we’ve all been lucky and stayed healthy. Many of our friends have succumbed to cancer or some disease or other or maybe had problems with drugs. We did do some of that in the early days but we were smart enough to move on and grow up and stop doing that. I think it’s also down to the fact that we don’t just sit there and play the same songs every night, we have a very visual, theatrical production. We keep changing it every year and change everything around. We add new characters, new costumes and new songs, so it’s different every time you come and see us. That keeps it fresh for the fans and for us too. The fans keep coming back because they know they’ll get something different from the last tours we’ve done.

The band still includes 4 original members that is a rarity these days including yourself, Prairie Prince (drums), Roger Steen (guitar) and Rick Anderson (bass). 40 years is a long time for 4 guys to still play together. What is it about the four of you that keeps you working together so well?

We’re all about the same age and most of us went to the same High School together in Arizona and we all grew up together and we all took the plunge of leaving Arizona to move to San Francisco together to make it all work. We were friends before we ever decided to be in a band together. There’s no secrets anymore. Everybody knows everybody so well. I know these guys better than my own brother. We all know each other’s tendencies. We all know that with Prairie, the sound check will take forever as he has to have it perfect. We just stand there and go “OK” but we just expect Prairie to spend an hour getting his in ear monitors just right.

You also have David Medd on keyboards who is the new guy having been with you a mere 20 years or so. How did he end up in The Tubes?

We let it all go in the late ’80s when everyone bailed out and we took a break. After 15 years on the road everyone was kind of fried. I moved to LA and we all started a new life and our original keyboard player Vince Welnick went to play with the Grateful Dead. When we looked at getting back together again in the mid 90s Vince didn’t want to get involved as he was onto a good thing with the Grateful Dead. We got a guy called Gary Cambra on keyboards and that worked out for a while but he could play the guitar too and he wanted to play more guitar. As the songs originally had been written for two guitarists then that worked well so Gary suggested another keyboard player and that was David Medd, a friend of his. He could play synthesizer too which Gary didn’t. We went for 6 to 8 years with two keyboard players before Gary decided to leave to spend more time with his family and we have stayed as a five piece since then and have rearranged the songs to fit that. Roger Steen pretty much does all of the guitar work now.

Why did you decide not to bring a second guitarist out on the road with you?

We decided to continue with just the one guitarist as we didn’t want to bring in another stranger. Roger said he liked it that way. A lot of times he said Gary would step in the way and he felt constrained by having a second guitarist and he just prefers it being just him on the guitar.

As it’s your 40th anniversary what sort of show can we expect from The Tubes?

Every time we put a show together we have a theme. Last time there was an Italian theme, a La Dolce Vita type show as we were crazed for Fellini movies then. This new show is more of a film noir type of show. It’s dark and seedy and more black and white, like a ’40s movie. We went to a film festival and saw all these great black and white films with Humphrey Bogart and Edward G. Robinson. We saw films like The Maltese Falcon and The Big Sleep and African Queen. We thought it was really cool and loved that whole era of Hollywood so this is going to be a Tubes-noir show. I’ll be doing some characters that lend themselves to that era. I’ll be bringing back Mr. Hate for this show, which we haven’t done in a long time and I’ll be in a straightjacket for that.

Will you be performing songs from right across your back catalogue?

Obviously we have to play the hits that people want to hear. There’s a core of songs; 10 or so that we have to play to keep the people happy. That’s the idea, to keep them happy. Then we go in and change the other 10 songs and sometimes we do “Sushi Girl”, sometimes “Out of the Business” and sometimes “Attack of the 50 Foot Woman”. We just keep changing things around every show.

Those boots you used to wear by Quay Lewd make those worn by Paul Stanley of KISS look like flip flops. How on earth did you manage to move in those?

I had 40 years of practice so I got used to them. It was tricky at first but I got the hang of it in the end. Quay Lewd will be in the show with the big shoes, with 18 inch platforms.

Did you ever have any mishaps when you were wearing them?

I never hurt myself in those shoes, I don’t know how but years ago when I was doing the parody of the Punk character with a chainsaw, I fell off the stage and broke my leg and the chainsaw kept running. That was not good. I actually broke my leg in the same place that Dave Grohl broke his a couple of weeks ago. I see he’s back out already in a special seat where he can still play. When I broke my leg the promoter wanted me to continue to play in a chair but I refused. We have a big theatrical show to put on and I didn’t want to disappoint anyone so we postponed it and came back a few months later and did the full show.

Talking of those characters like Quay Lewd and Dr Strangekiss, how did you come up with so many different characters? Did you create characters for specific songs?

It’s happened both ways but most of the time the song came first and we’d do some character that adapted to the song. “White Punks On Dope” came before the Quay Lewd character. We are such media junkies that we get ideas from movies like Dr. Strangelove. We love that so much that we just had to do a parody and we did Dr. Strangekiss.

How many personas did you adopt over the years?

I never counted. We have done so many. I’ll suppose I could sit down and count them out. I have no idea but it’s a lot.

Along with Kiss and Alice Cooper a Tubes show was a real event. Were you ever worried that the show would overshadow the music or were you confident at the strength of your music?

I think for a while, the show did overshadow the music. In the early years we made five records at A&M and didn’t sell that many records but we did this huge show. It was all about the show. Instead of going home and buying our records they’d go home and develop the whacked out photos they’d taken of our show. The show overshadowed everything. When we went to Capitol Records they wanted us to sell records and get on the radio. They wanted us to be more radio friendly. We came up with “Talk To You Later” and “Don’t Want To wait Anymore”. I think the level of songwriting was elevated. We then had a big show and did sell a lot of records.

Musically you are pretty impossible to categorise. You had elements of Hard Rock, Glam, Pop, Punk, New Wave, AOR and Vaudeville. Was that your plan when you first started to mix up the music to create your own unique style?

That is definitely what we are trying to do and we had the tools to do it. I came from a theatrical background. I was a drama major at college and had done musical comedy and acting all my life. Prairie was the artist of the band and Mike Cotton the graphic artist of the band. We just had so many elements. Bill Spooner was basically a Blues guitar player and Roger Steen’s hero was Jimi Hendrix and was more of a Psychedelic player. We loved Captain Beefheart and Zappa, not your standard Rock stuff and all of that combined to create what we came up with and it was so different than anybody else.

For a band that had its roots in the early to mid ’70s you were able to cross into the 1980s and embrace change. “She’s A beauty” was a huge hit for you and had a real New Wave feel to it. Why do you think The Tubes were able to adapt in the 80s when other bands struggled?

We kept trying to be at the forefront of new techniques in recording and different styles. We were always looking for the next new thing, always. I think that helped us and we had different types of people in the band with different influences helped too.

How important was the video in breaking that song?

I think it was pretty important, we got a lot of airplay on MTV for that song. Back then MTV was a new thing. We’d been doing video years before that. We’d been doing live video on stage years before that. On our first tour we did a pre-recorded video where Quay Lewd would talk to me from the video and I’d talk back as part of the show. We had 5 or 6 big TV monitors and as the tour went on they’d break. By the time the tour was coming to an end all TV’s were broken and all they’d show was static. People actually thought that was our sarcastic comment and was part of the show. We just adapted so if the TV broke we said that it was supposed to be broken. So yes, video was a very important medium for us and it became even more important with the growth in popularity of MTV.

Your last release as a band was Mondo Birthmark in 2009 which included previously unreleased rarities. Do you have a lot of unreleased stuff in your archives?

There’s not that much left really. We have done two archive albums that have pretty much encompassed the old stuff that didn’t make the early albums. Then a company called Iconoclast records has re-released Remote Control, Outside Inside and The Completion Backward Principle and with each of those we added bonus tracks that were previously unreleased. The last album we did for A&M Records never got released as it was pretty dark and negative and it was called Suffer For Sound. A&M weren’t happy with us and kept holding back money so we weren’t happy. The songs reflected our dissatisfaction so there were songs like “Rat Race”, “Don’t Slow Down” and “Don’t Ask Me”. We call it the Black Album now but A&M never released it. When we re-released the three albums, we went to A&M, who are now part of Universal, and asked if we could use them and they said OK. There’s probably 5 or 6 songs still from that record that have never been released so they might come out sometime

What about new material. It’s been nearly 20 years since Genius of America came out. Do you hope to write and record new songs sometime soon?

I don’t think so. Nobody cares about new material these days. When we do new material people just stare at us. They want to hear “White Punks On Dope”, they want to hear the songs that they were listening to when they asked their wife to marry them or those they listened to what they were at college. We are playing a couple of new songs in the set, just because we like them not because we think they are going to change anything.

You’ve written songs for a number of other artists over the years including Richard Marx, Steve Lukather from Toto and Vixen. Do you approach writing differently when writing for someone else?

Oh yes, absolutely. When I write with Richard I write the kind of stuff that Richard wants. I wouldn’t write “Mondo Bondage” for a Richard Marx album, it’s just not going to work. I write more romantic love songs for Richard’s albums but with a little twist. For Steve Lukather I can write differently again. I wrote “Creep Motel” and he loved it. He’ll say anything, there’s no rules or boundaries for Luke but Richard makes records for soccer moms and they’d be freaked out if he wrote anything too strange. I’ve been able to put myself in that place where I can figure out what somebody wants. As a writer I have to be able to adapt to what an artist wants.

Of all the songs that you have written over your career, which mean the most to you?

That’s really difficult. I think both of the songs I wrote with Steve Lukather and David Foster, “Talk To You Later” and “She’s A Beauty” are probably some of the best I have written. Then there’s a song called “How Can You Live With Yourself” that I wrote with Richard Marx and it’s on the Genius of America album and that is one of my favourite songs to sing but it’s not in the show this year. “Don’t Want To Wait Anymore” is a classic, great, great song too that David Foster had a lot to do with and that is in the show. It’s a great song to play and a great song to sing.

One thing that is missing from your catalogue is a comprehensive boxed set from across your career and different record labels. Do you hope to put one out one day?

There aren’t really any individual major labels anymore as Universal owns everything. Other than the last couple of archive albums and live album albums I think Universal now own all of the others. I don’t see why not, I think a comprehensive box set would be a great idea and is certainly something we’ll think about doing some day.

What about the future. What projects have you got lined up over the coming months?

I want to continue working on the theatrical stage. I’ve been working at Summer Stock Theatre for years. I’ve done the Rocky Horror Show. A friend of mine who had the theatre in Michigan was a Tubes fan from the ’80s and he asked me to come to the theatre about 15 years ago and do Rock Horror. I’ve been doing Frank N Furter for years now. I love the theatrical stage so I’d like to do more in that direction. I’d really like to do Broadway and the West End in London.

Queen have done it and Frankie Valli too. How about a Broadway Musical based on The Tubes? It would be perfect for the stage.

We’ve talked about that. I’ve put together some plans to look at this further and have been talking to our choreographer, Kenny Ortega about this. He’s producing movies now and has done really well. We’re still close and we’re talking about it. A Tubes musical is certainly a possibility. I actually did Spamalot a couple of years back and it was just the greatest, most fun I’ve ever had on stage. I did that at The Summer Stock Theatre called The Barn. It’s an old milk barn and this year is the 69th year as a theatre. Spamalot is just the greatest play ever written and I couldn’t wait to get out there and perform every night. There’s a big cast and a lot of dialogue and King Arthur is in almost every scene so it was a lot of work but so much fun.

Where do you head after the UK shows are finished?

We come back to The States, then we do some shows in Canada and then we always do a tour around Halloween which we’ll be doing a 15 date tour of the east coast and it will culminate in this Halloween show in Cleveland like we’ve done for the past 8 years or so. We’ll have most of November and December off then we’ll meet up in San Francisco in January and we’ll put together a whole new show. I don’t know how I manage to keep doing this but we’re all in really good shape so we’ll keep going as long as we can and as long as we continue to love what we do.

The Tubes start their 40th Anniversary UK tour at Bristol, The Fleece on August 3.

Other UK dates include Brighton Concorde 2 (August 4), Southampton The Brook (August 6), London Clapham Grand (August 7), Manchester Club Academy (August 8), Glasgow, The Art School (August 9), Leeds Brudenell Social Club (August 11), Edinburgh Liquid Rooms (August 12), and Wolverhampton Robin 2 (August 13).


  • Mick Burgess

    Mick is a reviewer and photographer here at Metal Express Radio, based in the North-East of England. He first fell in love with music after hearing Jeff Wayne's spectacular The War of the Worlds in the cold winter of 1978. Then in the summer of '79 he discovered a copy of Kiss Alive II amongst his sister’s record collection, which literally blew him away! He then quickly found Van Halen I and Rainbow's Down To Earth, and he was well on the way to being rescued from Top 40 radio hell!   Over the ensuing years, he's enjoyed the Classic Rock music of Rush, Blue Oyster Cult, and Deep Purple; the AOR of Journey and Foreigner; the Pomp of Styx and Kansas; the Progressive Metal of Dream Theater, Queensrÿche, and Symphony X; the Goth Metal of Nightwish, Within Temptation, and Epica, and a whole host of other great bands that are too numerous to mention. When he's not listening to music, he watches Sunderland lose more football (soccer) matches than they win, and occasionally, if he has to, he goes to work as a property lawyer.

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