On the Road With the U-Men (Part 3)

Posted: July 18, 2011 in U-Men

The band returned home to Seattle having barely dented Southern California.  That winter, the U-Men hosted the Butthole Surfers—in from Texas—at their Graven Image practice space.  It was Christmas Eve 1984, and the Surfers found themselves stranded in Seattle with no money to get home.  The U-Men and manager Larry Reid came up with an idea: have the Surfers play a show at the Gallery, with all the proceeds going to their return home fund.  Reid supplied the beer.

With little time to promote the show, the U-Men and their friends and friends of friends began making phone calls.  The Surfers performed to about 80 people and promptly left the audience speechless.  “And it was a fierce, fierce show—so much so that they actually didn’t just blow up the PA,” U-Men bassist Jim Tillman recalls.  “They set one of the speakers on fire because it was cranked up so high…the speaker coil in the back of one of the PA speakers overheated and ignited the paper cone.”

With smoke pouring out of the speaker, the U-Men acted quickly.  The practice space was in the basement of the Gallery, with only one exit—a staircase up into the gallery.  Fortunately, the band put the fire out and the U-Men successfully sent the Surfers back to Texas.

The U-Men and the much obliged Butthole Surfers formed a lasting friendship.  Three years later, the Surfers released a U-Men tribute song called “The O-Men.”

The following summer, the Surfers invited the U-Men down to a festival in Austin.  The so-named Woodshock event would feature Texas alternative bands like the Surfers and Scratch Acid.  So went the second tour, another loosely organized trip based on Woodshock.

The band packed up its school bus, and headed down to Austin in the summer of 1985.  The experience was amazing, as the U-Men took in Scratch Acid live, a band that had an indelible impact on Seattle.  The U-Men performed well.  A live recording of “Shoot ’em Down” made it onto the band’s 2000 Solid Action retrospective.

The bus, however, became unbearably hot during the Texas summer, especially for sleeping.  “And it was so frickin’ hot that we ended up sleeping on top of the school bus a couple of times,” Tillman remembers, “which is dangerous because it’s very rounded.  Of course, we didn’t really seem to think that was a big issue so…” 

During downtime in the South, the bored U-Men created a fictional southern rock band called Raising Cain.  “[With] hits like ‘God, Guns, Guts, and Glory’…,” guitarist Tom Price recalls.


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