Archive for the ‘U-Men’ Category

From friendships formed at Woodshock, the U-Men were invited to play a show with Agent Orange, the California surf-punk band, in Norman, Oklahoma.  With no idea where to go, the U-Men met some local college radio people at an apartment and proceeded to follow them to the concert site.  The band promptly started up the school bus, heading down the road to parts unknown.  “And all of the sudden the road turns to gravel,” says bassist Jim Tillman, “then it turns to dirt.  Then we’re driving through this corn field, and the corn is like brushing against both sides of the bus—covering the windows.  And I thought, ‘Shit, we’re gonna get killed.’”

After driving through corn for a while, the bus arrived in front of a graffiti-spray painted building, surrounded by about a hundred cars.  The U-Men then proceeded to share a bill with Agent Orange.

The U-Men’s final tour led them all the way to NYC in 1985.  The return trip to Seattle was not without its highlights (or lowlights).  After an Ohio performance, the band partied at a fan’s apartment.  The revelers partook in beer and acid, and proceeded to party throughout the night.  Tillman, suffering from a 104-degree fever, crashed in a bedroom.  “And I wake up [at] about two in the morning,” Tillman recalls, “hearing somebody chanting, ‘Redrum! Redrum!’ [murder spelled backwards…comes from The Shining, a 1980 horror flick] I opened my eyes and [kneeling] over me is [roadie] David Duet…chanting ‘Redrum’ in my face, and he was holding a loaded handgun.”

Fortunately, Tillman obtained the weapon from the acid-rattled Duet and avoided disaster.  Tillman then rubbed his eyes, still somewhat in shock from the handgun incident, and wandered toward the main gathering.  There, the weary, flu-ravaged Tillman witnessed the partygoers reveling on the floor completely naked, except for a coating of shaving cream.

In Indiana, the U-Men found themselves at a psychedelic frat party after a show, joining their hosts in some acid-taking.  Drummer Charlie Ryan, clad in a top hat and lederhosen, proceeded to LSD himself into a dramatically altered state.  He then wandered outside into the pouring rain.  Then, for no apparent reason, he took off his shoe and fired it at the back of the bus—so hard that it cracked the window.  Satisfied with his work, Ryan stumbled down the road and fell into a ditch.  The drummer began brushing himself off, and noticed a powerfully repulsive odor eminating from the ditch.  Turns out he fell into a pile of manure.  “So me and [singer] John [Bigley] had to haul him in to this house,” says U-Men guitarist Tom Price, “to the bathroom and hose him down while he was on LSD.”

Despite all the mishaps including police run-ins, canceled shows, and lack of money, the U-Men never regretted their road experiences.  Those experiences, as haphazard as they might have been, effectively blazed a trail (or a cornfield) for Seattle’s up-and-coming musicians.

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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.

On the Road With the U-Men (Part 2)

Posted: July 16, 2011 in U-Men

While in LA, the band befriended local cowpunks Tex & the Horseheads.  One night the U-Men and the Horseheads’ Mike Martt ventured down to Venice Beach to drink beer.  The police then busted the party and confiscated the alcohol, alleging public drunkenness.  Frustrated, the group headed over to Hollywood, scored some more beer and continued to party well into the night.  At one point, Martt had to go to the bathroom and proceeded to defecate in front of a woman’s window.  He then returned to the school bus, where everyone had fallen asleep.  The woman complained and the police returned—this time it was hardened Hollywood cops who beckoned.  U-Men bassist Jim Tillman, the only sober member of the group, had removed his contacts before falling asleep.  “And I wake up to this light shining in my face….And I ran to the front of the bus, and I open the door and there’s this guy standing there.  He’s pointing the gun right at me.  He’s like, ‘Don’t even move.’”

The police forced everyone off the bus.  U-Men guitarist Tom Price protested, mentioning that his girlfriend’s father was a lawyer.  His defiance was rewarded with several punches from the angered authorities.  And then everyone waited, seated on the grass while the police tore the bus apart, looking for narcotics.  After what seemed like forever, the officials emerged from the bus shouting, ‘Who’s the junkie?’  The question elicited genuine looks of surprise from the dazed musicians.  In fact, no one was.  Certainly, beer, pot, and acid were in play, but not smack.  “And the cop pulls a hypodermic out of his pocket—his shirt pocket—with the rubber still on the needle,” says Tillman.  “He’s like: ‘Who’s the [junkie]?  We found this in the bus.  Blah Blah Blah.’  And I’m thinking, ‘No you didn’t.  Bullshit.’ And he’s like, ‘C’mon, everybody roll up your sleeves.’  Everybody rolled up their sleeves and nobody had any track marks.  So he put it back in his pocket.  They went about their business.  And finally, after about an hour…they came back and said, ‘Alright, you guys.  Pack the shit up.  Get the fuck out of here.  Don’t ever come back to Hollywood.’”

On the Road With the U-Men (Part 1)

Posted: July 13, 2011 in U-Men

The following is from a chapter addendum I unfortunately had to cut from the book.  For those not aware, the U-Men were one of the most influential bands to come out of Seattle.  They never became famous, but their influence upon the local scene was incalcuable.  They preceeded the grunge era, but the U-Men were much more than just “pre-grunge.”  They combined avant-jazz leanings with Sonics-influenced garage rock and postpunk to create something special.  U-Men audiences consisted of members (or future members) of Mudhoney, Soundgarden, and Pearl Jam.  Part 1 of this addendum follows.

Beginning in 1985, the U-Men—along with Green River and the Young Fresh Fellows—were among the first generation of underground Seattle bands to embark on national tours.  The U-Men left Seattle three times during their existence, with each excursion enjoying a unique name: the “No God” tour (1984); “Doomed Faggots” (1985, first national tour); and “Out for a Stroll”(1985-86).

Don’t conjure up images of ‘15-shows-in-26-days’ kind of tours.  Rather, the U-Men travels equated to migrations.  The band would venture down in a school bus to San Francisco, or Austin, Texas and live there for a while—effectively becoming entrenched within the local scene.  “…they basically became an Austin band for a while,” says James Burdyshaw, who later played with the U-Men’s Tom Price in Cat Butt.  “We became a San Francisco band for a while,” guitarist Price adds, “and an LA band for a while.”

Organization was not the band’s forte and most tours had significant downtime.  Take four men in their early twenties, add a couple of roadies, a school bus—and very little else—and the unpredictable will happen.  Faced with little funding, the U-Men were forced to siphon gas and shoplift at 7-Eleven to survive.  The band kept accounting for show receipts on the roof of the bus.  “We did one show in New York City where we got paid $500,” says Price.  “Probably all the combined pay for all the other shows on all three tours was about $500.”

In addition to the band’s four members: Price on guitar, vocalist John Bigley, bassist Jim Tillman, and drummer Charlie Ryan, the band was sometimes joined by David Duet and Larry Reid.  Duet acted as the roadie, while Reid—who managed the band in Seattle—assisted in any way he could.  Duet added color to the band’s ventures, often inciting unsuspecting bystanders merely to get a reaction.

The band first ventured out of town (other than a prior show in Tacoma) in 1984, heading down to LA in a school bus.  The bus would become the vehicle of transport for all three tours.  “[The tours] were all in our 1960 Chevrolet 46-passenger, 27-foot school bus with a 250 straight six and a four-speed—and no emergency brake,” Tillman recalls.

The U-Men made stops in Portland and San Francisco on their way down the coast.  Shows were infrequent and often did not go according to plan.  The band managed to book itself at San Francisco’s notorious Mabuhay Gardens.  Around midnight as the band played, management suddenly cut the PA.  A frustrated Bigley screamed as loud as he could, only to have his voice drowned out by the instruments.

The band finally made its way to LA, but had issues booking shows once they got there.  As a result, the poorly-funded U-Men had a lot of time to fill.  Tillman got a part-time job for survival money, hosting at a restaurant for $1.80 an hour.  The band crashed at Popdefect’s apartment (formerly Seattle’s Psychopop, with Price on bass.)

At one point, the U-Men found themselves in the back of a friend’s jeep cruising around town.  The vehicle came to a stoplight in a rough area of the city, idling while a group of scary looking gangstas glared at them menacingly from a street corner.  Duet, fueled with a few beers, seized the opportunity.  “And David—just out of nowhere—goes, ‘Excuse me, y’all know where I could get me a human head?’ [And I thought] ‘Oh God, I hope the light changes,’ says Price.  “And it did and these guys came after us.”