Of The TUBES Discusses Music, Theater and The Merger Of The Two
By : De Fen
The legendary San Francisco based band, The Tubes are best known for theatrical live shows that combined parody, satire, costume and rock music. I recently had a chance to speak with frontman Fee Waybill about The Tubes, theater, music and more.
Punk Globe- Thanks for taking the time to do this interview. Can you introduce yourself to the Punk Globe readers?
Fee Waybill- I'm just Fee. Fee Waybill, lead singer of The Tubes.
Punk Globe- How did The Tubes form?
Fee Waybill- We formed in San Francisco back in the early 1970s out of two different bands, both from Arizona. There was a trio headed by Roger Steen on guitar with Prairie Prince on drums, a bass player named David who never made it to The Tubes and I was the roadie. We moved to Sam Francisco from Arizona because Prairie got a full scholarship to the San Francisco Art Institute. I was looking to get out of Arizona like everybody else. It was 150 degrees and you couldn't make it in Arizona so we all moved. So Prairie started going to art school and Roger's trio, The Red White and Blues Band started playing around San Francisco. About a year or two later the bass player got kicked out of the band. He was constantly in trouble and basically just sat around smoking pot all day and couldn't make it to rehearsals. The rehearsals were in the house we all lived in together and he was just too high too make it. I had been singing his parts, but couldn't really play bass. They were doing all original material. The music was psychedelic. Different times. Weird, interesting times. Not your typical top 40 band.

They looked for a bass player and couldn't find one. Then, around 1971/1972 Bill Spooner's band had just moved to San Francisco and started working. He had a quartet called The Beans. Roger's manager and Bill's manager got together and came up with the idea of merging the two bands together. So Roger's band and Bill's band all merged together. I was kind of the third man out. Bill already had about five roadies living with him and didn't really need anymore roadies. Roger suggested having me sing. I started singing background vocals. I began to sing a few leads here and there. We were The Beans for a while and then a band from the east coast released a record called "The Beans." We ended up having to change our name because we didn't have a deal at the time and they published first. So we changed our name to The Tubes and everything evolved from there.
Punk Globe- Can you talk about working with Jane Dornacker and Pearly Gates?
Fee Waybill- As the band progressed we were doing more theatrical stuff. I had been a theater major at A.S.U. and started doing characters and costumes. We ended up running into Kenny Ortega. At that time Kenny was a choreographer and he suggested that we elaborate upon the show with dancers and do more vignettes with choreography and costumes and make our shows even more of a theatrical experience rather than just a regular rock band. Nobody was making any money so it didn't really matter if we had three or four other people in the band. All the money we got we put into a general fund to buy food, pay the rent, and put gas in the truck. Nobody was making any kind of salary or anything.

When we first saw Jane, she the leader of a band called Leila and the Snakes. It was Jane and three other girls and they had a comedy troupe. Jane was hilarious. We thought she was just so great so Kenny approached them and asked if they'd join The Tubes. They joined up and Kenny started choreographing dance and comedy bits for them to do. We started video taping our own shows. We'd promote our shows and do little in house gigs at small clubs. We put together a video compilation and started sending it around to record companies in hopes of getting a deal so we could make an album. After pretty much everyone in the business thought we were too weird and turned up down, we finally got a deal with A&M Records. Jane, Cindy, Mary, Helena, Kenny and a guy named Leroy Jones were all dancers and helped with wardrobes. Everyone had at least two jobs. We had a seven man band and added six dancers. So we went out as a troupe of thirteen plus the crew.

Later on we met Pearl. We used to have an event we'd promote every year called "The Tubes Talent Hunt" and the winner would get to preform with The Tubes. Actually, the first winner of the talent hunt was Robin Williams. That had to be around '74/'75. At the time nobody had ever heard of Robin Williams. He just killed everyone, he was so funny. So he won and we did some gigs with him. A couple of years later Pearly Gates came and won the contest. We thought she was great so we took her on as a singer and dancer for the band for a while. She eventually went her own way and started Pearl Harbor and the Explosions. I just saw Pearl about a year or so ago in San Francisco and she was doing well.
Punk Globe- Can you tell the Punk Globe readers about the musical battle to save Cher's soul?
Fee Waybill- (Laughs) Is that what they called that? It was an NBC special Cher did. She was from the bay area and asked us to do the show with her. It was with The Tubes and Dolly Parton. Really weird. Cher wanted to take over Re Styles part. Re sang "Don't Touch Me There" which was a song Jane wrote. Re was a featured performer who was not really with the dance troupe. She was more of a singer than a dancer. She would do bondage with me, "Don't Touch Me There" on the motorcycle, the nurse in "White Punks On Dope" and a lot of other little character parts within the show. One of the songs we did on the Cher special was "Mondo Bondage", which was our take on the gay bondage scene in San Francisco. We thought it was great. We did a whole bondage show once where every song was bondage. We also did a song called "La Vida Fuma" which was about a guy in a trenchcoat winning over a girl at a bar with his cigarette smoking technique. We had giant, twelve foot high inflatable cigarettes and at the end of the number the dancers would bash me with the giant cigarettes until I was crushed into the ground. So we were already doing these songs in the set. Re was the girl who did both those songs with me. Well, Cher decided that she would do Re's part for the special. Re flipped out and never forgave her. Cher was just awesome. Bob Mackie designed a suit for me for the smoke number and she had him design a bondage outfit for her for "Mondo Bondage." The whole thing was great. We're still friends. After Kenny left The Tubes he went on to choreograph quite a few Cher tours over the years.
Punk Globe- Can you talk about the use of satire and parody in The Tubes performances?
Fee Waybill- All of the characters were a parody of some iconic figure. Even the cowboy guy was my twisted John Wayne from The Searchers. The bondage guy was inspired from our first image of San Francisco and adapted from there to the bondage geek from Pulp Fiction. Quay Lewd was an amalgam of platform-glam-band-rock-stars. It wasn't really Rod Stewart or Robert Plant, although before he was Quay Lewd, he was called, Rod Planet. It really wasn't them though. It was more The New York Dolls. When they first came to San Francisco we opened for them. They had really big platforms and really big hair. They were really and truly wasted...just hammered. It wasn't all an act, they wore those platforms on the street. When we did the sound check, they came in wearing these 4 inch platforms. We were amazed that it wasn't completely an act and they were using these platforms to walk around in. We thought it was really funny and that night we rushed back to our house after sound check and started working on a character with big hair, stretch pants and giant platforms.

The first shoes were made out of tomato juice cans and beetle boots. I took these tomato juice cans that were about eight inches high and dumped the juice out because they were too heavy otherwise. Then I gaffer taped two cans to each shoe and then spray painted them. I had a pair of leopard print Levi's that I had pretty much grown out of and I ended up finding a big platinum blond wig. When we went out to do the number for the first time, the cans collapsed. I started out with these ten inch high tomato juice cans and by the end of the number they were two inches high. So every gig I would have to get new cans and try different ways in hopes that they wouldn't end up looking like squashed accordions. I tried keeping the juice in the tomato cans but they would fall off the boots. It was a complete disaster for a while there. Eventually we realized that we really needed to make some that wouldn't fall apart. There have been many, many different incarnations of those shoes. We made them once out of wood and they were too heavy. We found some cork and carved them out of that. One time somebody made us some out of clear fiber glass and we had fake goldfish and water inside them and they just weighed a ton. We've changed them up quite a bit throughout the years. The ones that I'm wearing today are the ones that we made out of fiber glass towards the end of the first run in the mid 1980s. We had these designed from an image in a bondage catalog with the curved toe and long stiletto heal. What would happen is that every time we made a new pair they would have to be higher. I still use the bondage styled fiber glass ones, they're about eighteen inches high from the floor to the top of the hell. It's just ridiculous. The character still wears stretch lame and a poofy wig. Depending upon the show, I sport a ten inch rubber dildo in my pants. The glam guys never wore underwear and always had their packages exposed prominently just to let everybody know that they had major junk. I wanted to parody that. So I stick this giant dildo in my pants that practically comes down to my knee and it's not positioned correctly so it's kind of off to the side. Quay Lewd is really fucked up. Another rock star on drugs.
Punk Globe- Did you ever get into the situationist?
Fee Waybill- I observed them but never chose to parody them. Tubes shows have little room for spontaneity. We had seven dancers, the band and multiple costume changes. If we didn't have it all figured out and rehearsed then someone would have been standing in the wrong place and there would be someone else swinging a chainsaw around their head and they'd bash it into you. It was never spur of the moment with us. We'd always go in for weeks to rehearse before we'd go out on tour. Even towards the end when we pared it down to just three dancers it was still weeks and weeks of rehearsal. It's been a six man band since we got back together. We broke up in like 1988. We were tired of touring, too much alcohol, too much drugs. Just too much of everything. We've been back together now for sixteen years. The second time around is about the same run as the first time around. Now, it's easier to be spontaneous because I don't have to worry about anything. The guys are in their spots and I can do whatever I want. I'm still doing six or seven costume changes every set so we still rehearse but within that, once I get onstage and have the character established I can pretty much do whatever I want.
Punk Globe- In all your years with The Tubes, what was your most memorable tour?
Fee Waybill- There were a couple. In 1983 we went out on the road with David Bowie. The opening act was Peter Gabriel, he had just left Genesis. The Tubes went on after Gabriel and then Bowie. It was unbelievable. At the time, we had a number one hit with "She's A Beauty" and Bowie had a number one hit with "Let's Dance" so we were both flying high. Every gig was a football stadium. Every show was 75, 000 people. It was just amazing. The biggest tour we ever did. David Bowie loved The Tubes. Most opening acts, you play for forty minutes and then you get the fuck off the stage because the headliner is coming. He let us do an hour. We brought our own set and we didn't have to set up in front of him. They moved their stuff out of the way and let us do our set with all our visuals. There was a quick change room right by the stage so I could do all my characters and Bowie would watch us from the stage. I'll never forget the summer of 1983.

We were really big in Europe, particularly England. In 1979 we headlined the Knebworth Festival in England. It was like 70, 000 plus people, 20 bands and The Tubes headlined. This was before we even had any hits. This was before "Talk To Ya Later," "I Don't Want To Wait Anymore," "She's A Beauty" and "The Monkey Time." This was before any of the big songs that we had on Capital. We were still on A&M and all we really had was "White Punks On Dope" which was a pretty big hit in England. So we did this big festival with Frank Zappa and we closed which was great because we were always big Zappa fans.

We used to do a song that Jane wrote called "Don't Touch Me There" and we performed it on a motorcycle. The theme of that song was the Marlon Brando film, "The Wild One" where Brando was the hard ass rebel from out of town with the black leather and the motorcycle. He swoops the bobbie socks and poodle skirt wearing local girl away. That was always the premise of "Don't Touch Me There." We'd come out on a real motorcycle and rev it up. We would get a Harley for every gig. If it wasn't an outdoor gig we'd do it in an arena. They actually used to let you bring a motorcycle on the stage which they won't let you do anymore. You can't do that now. I can't have a chainsaw anymore. I used to have a chainsaw and I'd swing it around during the Johnny Bugger number which was a parody of Johnny Rotten. Even though there's no blade and I would ship it without gasoline in it. You can't even do that now. 9/11 pretty much ruined everything. Anyways, we decided to use a car for "Don't Touch Me There" instead of a motorcycle for the festival. We rented this little convertible Ford Cortina. We thought it would be so much bigger and cooler to have a car. The bit was, I was singing the song before "Don't Touch Me There" and then Re would drive the car out and park it right in front of the stage. I would be upstage, so when she pulled the car out in front of me I could hop over the door into the passenger seat. So she would come out of stage left, in the direction of stage right. That was the way we had it planned. This was in 1979, which was before cordless microphones. So Re pulls out and stops the car directly on top of my mic cord. Now I've got like four feet of mic cord and the rest of it is under the damn wheel of the car. I didn't know what to do. We were getting close to the part where I jump into the car and I didn't have enough mic cord to do that. So I flipped. I had this surge of adrenaline and for a moment I became Superman. I bent down, grabbed hold of the fender of the car and picked it up off the ground. I kicked the mic cable out from underneath the wheel, dropped the car back down and jumped over the door into the passenger seat with seconds to go before Re started singing the first line.
Punk Globe- Are you on a tour now?
Fee Waybill- We've been doing weekends. Nobody wants to get into the bus and tour anymore. We'll fly in, do a couple of shows and fly home. We don't carry our own gear. Everybody supplies backline. We're doing a couple of runs where we're doing eight or ten shows. We're going to do a Midwest run in August where we're going to be playing a lot of outdoor gigs. In October we're going to do a east coast run. We do mini tours where we go out for a few weeks at a time. We go to Europe about every other year and use a bus when we're over there. We used to go out on tour in a bus for nine months at a time. It was horrible (laughs) to be sleeping in a little coffin like bunk. It was brutal.
Punk Globe- Do you have any new projects you're working on?
Fee Waybill- I'm working on another solo record. It's about half done. I've been working with Richard Marx, who is one of my closest friends. He's not very punk, however. I still write lyrics. I wrote the lyrics to most of the songs the The Tubes did. I've been writing with Steve Lukather of Toto for years. I do tribute records from time to time. I sing on people's records. I just sang background vocals on the new Foo Fighters record which is a really great record. The Foo Fighters are playing The Forum in October and Dave Grohl asked me to come and sing back up. That will be great.
Punk Globe- Do you have any links you'd like to share?
Fee Waybill- Here's The Tubes website: http://www.thetubes.com/sitemap.htm
And my Facebook page: https://www.facebook.com/pages/Fee-Waybill/150521215017943
Punk Globe- Thanks again. Do you have any parting words for the Punk Globe readers?
Fee Waybill- It's been a long run for me and I'm really grateful. I've been able to spend all these years of my life singing. It's been a long time. It's still great and I'm still enjoying having fun and going insane onstage. I work hard at staying in shape. I work out and play polo. I ride horses a lot when I'm not busy. I'm a lucky guy. I never really got into drugs or abusing alcohol in the old days so I'm really healthy. I'm grateful to all of our fans and hopefully we can keep on doing this until I have a heart attack in the middle of "White Punks On Dope" with the big shoes on and die on stage. That would be perfect.
Punk Globe would like to thank Fee Waybill and De Fen for the great interview...