The Tubes formed from the ashes of two Arizona bands, the Beans and the Red White and Blues band. Both bands headed to San Francisco in the late '60s, and by 1973 the Tubes was formed. The group was led by eccentric vocalist Fee Waybill (aka John Waldo Waybill), a Nebraska native with a penchant for bombastic attire and powerful pipes. Bill "Sputnik" Spooner handled lead guitar duties and was perhaps the group's most influential songwriter, though many of the songs were credited to the whole group. Rounding out the group were Roger Steen (guitar, vocals), Prairie L'Emprere Prince (drums), Michael Cotton (synthesizers), Rick Anderson (bass), and Vince Welnick (keyboards). This lineup would form the spine of the group for their 20-plus year career.
In April of 1975, the group recorded its eponymous debut, which was released later that year. Though the album wasn't an instant commercial mega-hit, it received many positive reviews and is now seen as a bonafide new-wave/punk cult classic. It featured what would become one of their most famous songs, "White Punks on Dope," which is a satirical melodic gem, detailing the excessive, ridiculous lifestyle of the middle class "punks" that they saw all over San Francisco. Though the record was best known for "White Punks…" it features much of their most frantic, engaging material, especially in the shape of the "Mondo Bondage" and "Up from the Deep."
From there, the septet added female singer Re Styles and percussionist Mingo Lewis to the fold. Over next 10 years, they released six more albums and continued to build their fan base. Most of these albums comfortably reached the Top 100 on the US Billboard Charts, and 1983's Outside Inside (Capitol) made the biggest commercial dent. The disc was produced by uber-producer David Foster (Whitney Houston, the Bee Gees, Mariah Carey, Celine Dion) and features a more radio-friendly feel than any of their previous albums. Impressively, they were able to translate to a slicker sound, without losing their wit or alienating their diehard fans. "She's a Beauty" hit #1 on the Mainstream Rock charts, representing their most popular single ever.
The group split in 1986, but reformed in 1996 and released Genius in America and two live albums. Though their records did taste success, in reality the group was at its best on stage. Their theatrical live shows poked fun at rock 'n' roll excess, as well as played with popular notions of sexuality and taboo. Waybill was a legendary performer, always full of passion and excitement. In the early days, he often took the stage under the persona of "Quay Lude," a walking manifestation of the rock lead singer cliché: Incoherent, drug addled, and hopelessly full of himself.
Thirty years since they first formed, Waybill, Steen, and Prince (joined by new members) continue to tour all over the world as the Tubes, and while their show has been scaled back to focus on the music, the guys still can engage a crowd like few other acts can. Sadly in 2006, keyboardist Vince Welnick, who had also played with the Grateful Dead and the Mickey Hart Band, took his own life in Sonoma County, California. He was 55.