FEE WAYBILL SQUEEZES MORE LIFE OUT OF TUBES
By Paul Freeman [2009 Interview]
One of rock’s most audacious, outrageous bands, the Tubes, still know how to dazzle an audience. Fee Waybill and company bring their unique brand of excitement and fun to venues across the country.
Waybill is joined by longtime Tubes Roger Steen (guitar), Rick Anderson (bass) and drumming legend Prairie Prince, as well as keyboardist David Medd.
“We have a five-man band now,” Waybill told Pop Culture Classics. “Obviously it’s not as big a show as it used to be in the ‘80s with a huge band, seven dancers and the one-legged ballerina. But I still do a lot of characters. I still do Quay Lewd [the wasted rock star persona with flashing glasses and gigantic platform shoes]. And we have a few surprises.”
Waybill is justly proud of the group’s musicianship. “We would always get accolades for the visuals and they would forget to mention anything about the music. I always thought the music was every bit as strong. We have great players. But we never got credit. It was always, ‘Look at those wacky shoes and the girls and the costumes!’”
The Tubes’ imaginative theatricality impacted countless performers. “Quite a number of people have been kind enough to credit us as an influence. I just read that Marilyn Manson said he loved our music. I was never a huge fan, but I love that he doesn’t just stand there and play. It drives me crazy when performers do that and there’s nothing else happening.”
Growing up in Arizona, Waybill, initially inspired by the Beatles, was impressed by the originality displayed by such artists as Captain Beefheart, David Bowie and early Genesis.
Waybill was an archeology major in college until heeding the words of Timothy Leary. “I said, ‘Screw this society bulls--t,’ dropped out and moved to the mountains.”
In 1969, when Prairie Prince received a scholarship to San Francisco’s Institute of the Arts, his bandmates followed him out west. Waybill, who’d worked as their roadie, drove the truck.
“I figured, ‘This is my shot, I’m tired of being a broke-ass, long-haired hippie. Let’s go to California and who knows what will happen?’
“Prairie got a stipend from his uncle, 150 bucks a month, to go to college. Five of us survived on that 150 bucks. lived in a two-bedroom house. We lived on brown rice and beans.”
Eventually, the band called upon Waybill to sing, first background vocals, then leads. He was comfortable on stage, having appeared in school dramatic and musical productions.
In ‘72, the Tubes opened for Led Zeppelin. “We had no record. People yelled, ‘Get the f--k off the stage! Who the hell are these guys? Where’s Led Zeppelin?’”
By the time the band began touring, they were such crowd-pleasers, no other act could follow them.
They release a self-titled LP, produced by Al Kooper, in ‘75. The song “White Punks On Dope” garnered much attention. The band was especially popular in England, where audiences appreciated the Tubes’ brand of social parody.
“We never made any money on records at all. And live, we spent all the money on these massive productions. We’d go out with 35 people and all these dancers and bombs and props and backdrops and sets. Every tour, we had to top the previous one, be bigger and wackier and weirder. We’d go out and make 10 million dollars on tour and spend 12. We’d come home in the red. The Tubes never made any money.”
After an album produced by Todd Rundgren, the Tubes were dropped by their label, A&M. Capitol signed them, but with the determination to make the band more commercial.
“Back in those days, you couldn’t do a Pro Tools album in your bedroom and say, ‘Screw the record company!’ You needed a major label with worldwide distribution or forget about it.”
The Tubes hooked up with rising young producer David Foster, later known as “The Hit Man.” ”The guy’s brilliant,” Waybill said.
The collaboration resulted in such hits as “Talk To Ya Later” and “She’s A Beauty.” “Those songs put us on the map. They’re the ones they still play on the radio today.”
A couple of the band members were unhappy with Foster, however, who demanded top-notch performance and a measure of professional discipline.
Outvoting Waybill, the Tubes decided to go back to return to Rundgren. “I told them it would be career suicide. We did an album called ‘Love Bomb.’ And it did bomb. We went from sales of 600,000 to 60,000.
”The record company dumped us, the booking agent dumped us. The tour was a disaster. We lost a fortune. We came home owing everyone on the face of the Earth money.”
They had to keep working for two years to pay off the debts. Then Waybill left the band, moved to L.A., took acting classes and co-wrote hit songs with Richard Marx.
But by the late ‘90s, with Marx’s sales waning, Waybill was painting houses to meet the mortgage on his own Sherman Oaks manse.
With troublesome members no longer involved in the Tubes, Waybill responded to a ‘94 call to reunite. “We’d all grown up and we really get along now.”
The band performs on weekends. “After all is said and done, after all the hits and everything, the Tubes are still a f--king cult band. Not that many people know about the Tubes. We have a devout, avid following... it’s just not very big,” Waybill laughed.
They’ve earned their peers’ respect. “Musicians know that it wasn’t all about the dog-and-pony show, that we could play and that the songs were weird and complicated and interesting. And that’s very satisfying.”
During the week, Waybill and his ex-wife run a successful Orange County commercial development company. He spends his free time playing polo.
“All in all, I’m a pretty happy guy. Im busy day and night, but I wouldn’t have it any other way.”
UPCOMING 2013 SHOWS:
DATE LOCATION Mar 14, 2013 Yoshi's San Francisco 1330 Fillmore St, San Francisco, CA 1-415-655-5600 Apr 5, 2013 Talking Stick Resort 9800 E. Indian Bend Rd., Scottsdale, AZ 1-480-850-7777 Jun 8, 2013 Novato Festival of Art, Wine and Music Grant Ave, Between Redwood Blvd and 7th St. Novato, CA Jul 5, 2013 Santa Cruz Beach Boardwalk Santa Cruz, CA FREE Friday Night Bands on the Beach Oct 25-26, 2013 The Tangier 532 West Market St., Akron, OH 44303 1-330-376-7171
For more information, visit www.thetubes.com