The Tubes

The Tubes were an American maximalist-rock band that released four albums and a live double-LP on A&M between 1975 and 1979, followed by three albums on Capitol during the early 1980s.

Members: Roger Steen (guitar, lead vocals), Prairie Prince (drums, percussion), Rick Anderson (bass), Bill Spooner (guitar, 1972-89), Vince Welnick (keyboards, 1972-89), Michael Cotten (keyboards, synthesizer, 1972-89), Fee Waybill (lead vocals, 1972-86, 1993-present), Re Styles (vocals, 1972-81), Mingo Lewis (percussion, 1977-78)

The Tubes were the product of a March 1972 merger between two unrecorded psych-rock bands, The Beans and The Red White and Blues Band. Both bands hailed from Phoenix, Ariz., but relocated to San Francisco in 1969.

The Beans included keyboardist Vince Welnick, guitarist/singer Bill Spooner, and bassist Rick Anderson. Pre-Beans, Spooner had been in psychsters Condello, which issued the album Phase 1 on Scepter Records in 1968. Anderson first recorded in The Superfine Dandelion, which released a self-titled album on Mainstream Records in 1967.

The Red White and Blues Band included drummer Prairie Prince and guitarist/singer Roger Steen, both newcomers to the scene. After performing Expo ’70 in Osaka, Japan, they lost their bassist. Meanwhile, The Beans were struggling to make headway when their manager, John Speer (ex-Alice Cooper Group), suggested the two acts pool their talents. Prince and Steen invited their roadie, John Waybill, to front the conglomerate. They nicknamed him Fee due to his large mane.

Billed as The Radar Men from Uranus, the new band played an assortment of venues, including biker bars. Waybill acted out characters on select numbers, as did Spooner and Steen during their turns at the mic. They expanded to a seven-piece with Prince’s longtime friend, San Francisco Art Institute attendee Michael Cotten, who purchased an ARP synthesizer for the gig. One of their first performances as The Tubes was at an art reception for fellow SFAI pupil (and future film director) Kathryn Bigelow.

In 1973, Prince and Cotten collaborated on the much-publicized ocean mural on the Cliff House in San Francisco. While painting the mural, Prince and Cotten met model Re Styles (aka Shirley Marie MacLeod), an associate of hippie drag act The Cockettes. The Tubes hired her as their dance coordinator and costume designer. She soon partook in their live act, interacting with Waybill on the S&M showpiece “Mondo Bondage.”

As The Tubes struggled to build an audience, Prince was asked to join Journey, a new Latin/jazz-rock band that was being assembled by rock manager Herbie Herbert. Prince sat in on the band in late 1973 and played their debut show at the Winterland Ballroom that December. Meanwhile, Herbert secured The Tubes an opening slot with Led Zeppelin at Kezar Stadium. During their set, Waybill — in character as the leather-masked Quay Lude from “Mondo Bondage” — threw phony cocaine and pills into the audience of 60,000.

In 1974, The Tubes signed with management firm Bag O’ Bucks, which filmed a video demo of the band’s theatrical live show. After an unsuccessful pitch to Columbia Records, Tubes fan Rick Wakeman recommended the band to A&M, which signed them late that year.



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