"He'll Talk To Ya Now!"
(From White Punks To What Sucks)
An interview with THE TUBES frontman / soon-to-be-music mogul-of-the millennium:
Truth Is definitely stranger than fiction.Twenty years ago I was a teenager living at home, going to clubs in San Francisco and developing a lifelong addiction to that music of the Devil, Rock 'n Roll - beginning my own long, strange trip to Heaven, Hell and back again. After one stripped - down show at the Old Waldorf, I got instantly hooked on a San Francisco cult favorite band called THE TUBES, and became particularly enamored with their charismatic, wild and wacky lead singer, Fee Waybill.
I had never seen anything like them, even without all the hoopla normally associated with their stage shows, and just thought they were a truly great BAND. I couldn't get enough of them. Or HIM. Once I got turned onto the whole extravaganza, that was IT for this kid from Daly City. From "White Punks On Dope" to later hits like "Talk To Ya Later" and "She's A Beauty", these guys delivered man, musically AND visually. And if you read my article last month, "ALMOST FAMOUS", (which will resume next month, due to popular demand) you know where THAT led me.. ( Editor's note: Kimberlye won the Tubes Talent Hunt to open for The Completion Backwards Principal Tour show at The Palace of Fine Arts, but never made it to the stage...)
It led me HERE: twenty years later, the day after the 2001 Grammy Awards, sitting at my mother's kitchen table at 11:15 am with the publisher of the SF Herald, Gene Mahoney, waiting for Fee Waybill to call from LA, so I can interview him for the paper and plug the THE TUBES show at the GREAT AMERICAN MUSIC HALL in SF on SAT., MARCH 10. Doris, my " Marge Simpson after chain smoking 3 packs of cigarettes" sound-alike mother, insists on joining us to apply her lipstick, despite my pleas to the contrary. At 11:28 am, she leaves us the hell alone and at 11:30 am on the dot, the phone rings...
Fee Waybill: May I speak to Kim Gold please?
Kimberlye Gold: This is she.
FW: Hi, it's Fee.
KG: Hey Fee, how ya doin'?
KG: Okay, Fee, I'm alerting you we're taping this interview.
FW: Oh my God.
KG: I know it's shocking, but we gotta say it for legal purposes because God forbid you're from Russia and we get busted.
FW: Yeah, giving up all those secrets of the Russian Mafia.
KG: And with us today is our illustrious publisher and editor, Gene Mahoney. Say hi, Gene.
Gene Mahoney: Hey, Mr. Waybill, I'm a big fan.
FW: Hi there, Gene, good, good.
KG: But not as big as me. So did you get a copy of my article "ALMOST FAMOUS"?
KG: What do you think about it?
FW: What, you're still fucking moaning about it 20 years later?
KG: That's it - just get over it?
FW: You better fuckin' get over it!
KG: (laughing): C'mon, what are you gonna do to make it better, Fee?
FW: Nothing, it's 20 years old, man!
KG: Oh, I was an impressionable young woman coming out into the world and I loved you, Fee - and you let me down, but you know what...
FW: I had nothing to do with that!
KG: I know, it was Kenny Ortega (who just produced Barbra Streisand's "Timeless" TV special)
FW: (reading out loud from the article:) "Kenny Ortega failed to have a piano set up 'I thought you had a tape'" Oh, so there you go - you didn't tell us what you were using, did you? So, it ends up being YOUR fault in the end.
KG: No, no, no...
FW: Don't blame your victim trip on me, you fucked up!
KG: (laughing) We had a piano at the talent hunt, a live guy on stage playing! But that's okay, we're gonna get over it, we're gonna move on...
FW: Oh, boy. (Everyone laughs)
KG: That was then, this is now - you did bow down to us, though.
FW: I did ? You must have had big tits, I don't know...
KG: (laughing) Well, I WAS " Buxom Bucks" ! But we're gonna move on now, because although I'd love to make it about me, we're gonna make it about you now.
FW: Apparently, this IS all about you, this article.
And apparently Fee doesn't enjoy sharing the spotlight. Doesn't he know who I almost am?? Hey, I'm a professional journalist - I'm here to get the story. Let's find out what the outspoken and opinionated Mr. Waybill has been up to since my indoctrination into TUBES-ville all those years ago....
KG: So, the last time I saw you guys play was at The Palace in Hollywood when I was living in LA.
FW: Right, that was our last LA gig doing big production type shows before we broke up.
KG: I think I'm one of the rare people that saw you when you weren't doing schtick at all, at the Old Waldorf in 1980, and it was just great music, a great band.
FW: In between big tours, we'd just do gigs and you're right, I remember playing the Old Waldorf, coming in late from a softball game and doing the gig in my uniform.
KG: That's the first show I saw! So let's talk about what happened between that last show at the Palace and what's going on now.
Fee sighs and pauses and in that moment I sense a genuine desire to really tell his side of the story...
FW: What precipitated that last show at The Palace, the cause of the band breaking up and me leaving and everything falling apart goes back beyond that to making the hit records with David Foster...
KG: That was one of my questions, what was and is your relationship with David Foster?
FW: (excited) : I love David Foster, he's probably the best producer in the whole world, the best producer WE ever worked with for sure, he changed our whole career! If it hadn't have been for David Foster, we would have been DONE in 1980, after we got released from A&M, that would have been it. It would have been over, we didn't sell any records in our first five releases, just cult status, we were very weird and A&M finally got fed up with having a cutesy, cult band that didn't sell any records. So they dumped us.
KG: But what's odd to me, because this is a personal preference of mine, my favorite record was Remote Control, and I know Todd Rundgren produced that. That's like a masterpiece record and it's an enigma to me why THAT wasn't recognized as such, before David Foster.
FW: (disgusted) MY WHOLE CAREER HAS BEEN AN ENIGMA!!
KG: A little bitter there, Fee, get over it!! (laughs)
FW: That record didn't sell any records at all.
KG: Did you LIKE that record?
FW: No, not particularly. I mean, Todd kinda took over that whole record.
KG: So it was like a Todd Rundgren record and you just happened to be playing on it?
FW: Yeah, pretty much. But it wasn't his fault, it was OUR fault, because we came in unprepared. We had songs that were NOT finished. We did have the Remote Control concept of the kid growing up watching TV but we didn't have it FINISHED.
KG: Almost like a comedy Pink Floyd concept thing.
FW: Yeah, it was kinda like "Being There" (the movie) but we weren't finished, so Todd just took over, and we were under a time and economic constraint, we couldn't just sit around all day and go, "Well, maybe we should, uh, ..." NO! We'd get there and fuckin' brainstorm with Todd and then he'd do everything HE wanted to do. We had a tour booked already, and that didn't do very well, and after that record, they gave us one more chance to produce our own record, which was REALLY a disaster. It was very depressing and dark, it was called "Suffer For Sound". (everyone laughs) They said, "Nope, this record SUCKS, you're out, see ya later!" and dumped us and we just floundered around for awhile.
KG: And that's when Capitol came in?
FW: Capitol didn't want to sign us until we could convince them that we weren't gonna do the same fuckin' thing we'd done at A&M, work with a bunch of weird producers that wouldn't know a hit if it bit 'em in the leg and not sell any records. So we were dealing with an A&R guy and they wanted to work out producers and what the whole deal was before they signed us. So we met with David Foster and worked on the tunes together and his ability to arrange stuff and to make SENSE of all these ideas that we would try to cram together - that 1st record with David Foster (The Completion Backwards Principal) was the best record THE TUBES ever made.
KG: That was a GREAT record. Did you come up with the concept for the live show after or did you have it in mind as you were putting the sequence of the record together?
FW: Not really, no...
KG: You just wanted to make a great record.
FW: Yeah, and we figured we'd work out what we'd do on the show later, that was never a problem for us, coming up with weird stuff to do. But making this record with David Foster was difficult, he demanded a very high level of performance.
KG: Above and beyond what you guys had attempted to do in the past?
FW: WAY beyond, way, WAY beyond!
KG: But did it feel good that he saw that level of musicianship in you, that he felt he could bring that out in you? FW: That's the way he worked, he worked with PROS and he wanted you to be a PRO, and that's what caused problems because he didn't want to deal with the band conscio usness. If one guy was the weak link in the band and we had carried him along...
KG: Was there a lot of that going on?
FW: He wasn't interested in that, he was like, "If you can't play it, I'll play it myself."
KG: He played a bunch of stuff on the record?
FW: He played a lot of stuff, other people played stuff, all kinds of people...
KG: The guys from Toto?
FW: The Toto guys played and sang and we had a whole bunch of people playing with us. It was fun, and then we did a second record...
KG: Outside/Inside... FW: Yeah, and since we had a hit on the first record, we wanted to have a hit on the second one, and a couple members of the band began to resent David because they couldn't cut it, basically. They just couldn't cut it.
KG: Were there a lot of drug problems too?
FW: Oh yeah, big problems, major drug problems. That was the cause, that was the reason that certain people couldn't cut it, just could not do it, could not play to the standard that David Foster demanded! So if you couldn't play it, somebody else would. We wanted to make a great record and we DID! But it created a lot of resentment with certain people, and so THEY decided, in spite of my expressed desire to do another record with David Foster, to work with Todd Rundgren again. The record company said this is a big mistake, the manager said this is a big mistake, I said it's a big mistake and there was such a rift created there , it was just too hard to repair.
KG: What year was this?
FW: We were about to do the last record with David in '85 - but instead we did it with Todd Rundgren.
KG: That was Love Bomb?
FW: Yeah, and it SUCKED, pretty much, it really SUCKED!
KG: It wasn't my favorite record.
FW: So we completely let down everybody, all the radio people who had given us a hit with "Talk To Ya Later" and "She's a Beauty" and "Don't Wanna Wait Anymore", they all just went, "What, are you fuckin' kiddin' me??" and the record company released us within a MONTH of the release of the record. See ya!
KG: And that was when the band split up?
FW: No, as we were walking out the door to go on TOUR, they released us. We had a whole tour booked and went out and did all these dates..
KG: Wow, that must have been fun...
FW: REALLY big fun, no promotion, no radio, no tickets, no nothing! We lost a FORTUNE, and we came home with our dicks in our hands, basically, and we owed everybody money, everybody on earth, we lost, like half a million dollars on that tour! So when we came home, it was OVER, we just played a lot of club dates with no production and slowly paid everybody off.
KG: Who were the main writers of the songs? The David Foster records and this last one with Todd, was there a core writing team?
FW: The hits weren't written by the band, they were written by me, Lukather (Steve Lukather from Toto) and Foster. And that also created a problem. Most of us in the band wrote, but we just never wrote any HITS, the only hits the TUBES ever had were written outside the band.
KG: And you were a writer on all those songs?
FW: Well, Prairie (The Tubes' drummer) contributed on some, everybody contributed on something...
KG: Prairie Prince is the greatest drummer in the world, he's my favorite drummer.
FW: I have to agree with you on that. I wasn't very involved in Love Bomb, obviously, because I was very upset, I said I was gonna quit the band, I didn't want to work with Todd again. I only wrote two of the songs and only sang on three, 'cause they were mad at me.
KG: So Spooner (Bill) carried the bulk of the vocals?
FW: Not really, everybody sang, Vince (Welnick) sang, MIKE (Cotton) sang a song, ahhhh, GOD, it sucked! (everybody laughs) So then we paid everyone off, we made all these deals with people, we went back to zero and didn't owe anybody anything and then I left! I said, "That's it, I'm quitting.."
KG: That was '86?
FW: End of '86, I bailed, I couldn't take it anymore!
KG: And you had been together how many years?
FW: Fourteen years. And I left San Francisco...
And ended an era as Fee quit the band and moved to Los Angeles. Beginning a new career as an LA songwriter, he met an up-and-coming pop star/songwriter named Richard Marx and began a working relationship and friendship that would alter the course of his life.
KG:- So you moved to LA then because you needed a big, giant change...
FW: I moved because it was either that or I'd have to kill them, they HATED me, I had to get out! So I moved here and just started writing for other people.
KG: Talk about your relationship with Richard Marx.
FW: Well, Richard married a former TUBES dancer...
KG: Cynthia Rhodes..
FW: Yeah, and actually, I met Richard when we were working with David Foster. He was working with David, also, and that's when we started writing songs for my solo record.
KG: "Read My Lips" - and "Nobody's Perfect" was the single.
FW: Right! But he wanted to be an artist and he did a record...
KG: Richard's first gig to promote that record was at a club called Sasch and guess what band he opened for?
KG: KIMBERLYE & THE BAND OF GOLD!
FW: This IS all about you, isn't it? (everybody laughs)
KG: So did you and Richard write any hits for other people?
FW: Oooh, Vixen, remember Vixen?
GM: (Perking up) That female metal band?
KG: Oh my God, what was that song??
FW and KG: (singing) "I've been living on The Edge Of A Broken Heart"...
FW: We wrote their first hit for them and then on their 2nd album, they decided to write their own hit and it SUCKED (everyone laughs) and they went right down the shithole after that. And there were...(names Michael McDonald and several lesser known bands/artists...)
KG: But the Richard Marx records are the ones that have kept you going all these years...
FW: I wrote for Warner/Chappel as a staff writer for a couple years....
KG: And you did another solo record..
FW: I did it myself. I used to have an internet company distributing it - but IT went bankrupt...
KG: (laughs) The evil dollar strikes again!
So what could make this LA songwriter - who had successfully moved on from his glory days and worst nightmares as THE TUBES frontman - go back to the dysfunctional musical family he had left behind so bitterly all those years before?
FW: Well, in '94, I was just sittin' around Sherman Oaks writing and the band called and said they had an offer to go to Germany and do a European tour, but only if it included me.
KG: Years before that I went and saw a version of the band that Spooner put together in LA with another lead singer and he was HORRIBLE! The worst thing I ever saw in my life!
FW: They got another guy named David Killingsworth who used to be Roger's (Steen, the Tubes guitar player) bass player in Scotsdale, Arizona...
GM: Isn't that the fast-food capital of the world, where they test all the fast food joints?
FW: Yeah, one of the first McDonalds AND one of the Jack-In-The-Box's - it was a major test market, that's why we're so twisted!
KG: Fun facts to know and tell!
FW: So I asked who was in the band and all the trouble-makers were gone, so now it's Roger, Prairie, me and Rick (Anderson, the Tubes bass player) , and we have three new members, Gary Cambra, David Mead, and a female vocalist named Leslie Payton who's doing all the duets and background vocals. The tour was fun, we didn't suck, we've done a couple records...
KG: Genius In America was one...
FW: For a little, shitty company that ALSO went bankrupt (we laugh) and last year we did a live record on CMC records, ("TUBES WORLD TOUR 2001") and reunited with David Foster and wrote a new song with him.
KG: Was Richard Marx involved on either of these records?
FW: He co-wrote and produced one song on the Genius in America record called "Loveline" - good luck finding it, try Rhino in the 25 cent rack. But nobody's selling any rock records anymore! Look at Rod Stewart! He did every show, The View, Letterman, radio, everything and only sold 20,000 copies! The reason Sting did that damn Jaguar commercial is because he HAD to, he wasn't selling any records!! It's cruel out there now!
GM: Do you know more turntables were sold last year than guitars? (everybody laughs)
KG: So you're just basically out there still doing it because it's fun and you're rediscovering why you started, right?
FW: I have no unrealistic expectations, I'm not trying to make a comeback, like KISS or something ..
As mentioned earlier, last night was the 2001 Grammy Awards. Does Fee have any light he'd like to shed on the subject?...
FW: Did you see the Grammies last night??
KG: Yeah, let's discuss the Grammies - what did you think was cool, what did you think, to use your favorite word, sucked?
FW: There was nothing inspiring, blah, blah, w/ Eminem and Elton John, it was SO anti-climactic, the whole thing was just boring...
KG: SO boring, but did you see Sheryl Crow and Shelby Lynne, that was a nice moment. Did you know Shelby Lynne had made six albums in thirteen years and just now won best new artist?
FW: Fuckin' trailer trash, what fuckin' trailer in Alabama did they drag her out of?
GM: My kinda girl!
FW: It was nice to see Steely Dan win. The rest was boring as shit.
GM: Are there any new artists you like at all? Like in the past five years?
KG: Or new records by older artists, like Don Henley?
FW: I kinda liked Henley's new record...I kinda like Offspring, I don't like any of the pseudo-cross over stuff, like Kid Rock, Eminem...
GM: How about the grunge movement of the early 90's?
FW: Yeah, Nirvana, Soundgarden...
GM: Ani Difranco? That independent punk-folk singer who has carved her own niche?
FW: Nope, don't know her, don't like her, don't care.
KG: What do you think of Aimee Mann?
FW: Very little, I very seldom think of her at all...
KG: (laughs): But she had such a great resurgence in her career, Paul Thomas Anderson wrote the film MAGNOLIAS based on her record!
FW: Didn't like that either - you know who was good last night, the thing I liked the best, the Dolly Parton and Brad Paisley thing! Hey, I'll blow you right now!
KG: Here's my vested interest in last night's show: I got a song on an Atlantic Records country artist's record in Nashville named Mila Mason a couple years ago. The girl I wrote that song with was another unknown writer and that was her first cut. The next song she wrote that got cut was.. "Breathe"!!
FW: (shocked) Oh my God!!!
KG: That's my life, Fee - ya wanna talk about what SUCKS!!!
FW: I couldn't believe Record of the Year, U2! It's a good SOUNDING record but I don't like their new stuff. I do applaud that they busted their ass and were willing to start from scratch. That's what WE have tried to do, reach people with a live record ("TUBES WORLD TOUR 2001" Buy it now!) because it was familiar, what the fans knew...
So THE TUBES and Fee Waybill have formed a more perfect union- is this the part where everybody lives happily ever after and our story comes to a close?... Of course not! Our hero is about to re-invent himself again as:
FEE WAYBILL: Internet Music Mogul!!!
FW: I am getting involved in a new internet music group..
GM: Like Thomas Dolby started "Beatnik"?
FW: No, it's like Napster, but the artists and writers get paid! The former CEO of Earthlink has started it.
KG: Tell me more!!
FW: BMI and ASCAP (writer's affiliates) are already gonna pay royalties for every download, every time the song is played, even off-line, all through advertisements! I am very interested in this and have a meeting with them tomorrow to discuss becoming their artist relations representative. It's called MPAC.media .net but they are going to be changing the name. I would speak on the company's behalf at conferences, and talk to other artists who own their own content.
KG: That's many of us. So how can we get songs to you?
FW: I am meeting with the CEO tomorrow and he is going to make me an offer. I'll be speaking to my lawyer and checking it out. So I don't know yet. If it's a go, I'll be like William Shatner with Priceline.com! (we laugh)
FW: All those other sites, like Liquid Audio or MP3.com purport to pay you and it's all a load of shit. They have 400,000 artists and they hype you that they're going to pay you for every playback and then they start trying to get YOU to put money into all this extra crap to "enhance your viewership" blah, blah, now pay US!" This company will pay the writers!
KG: What is your take on Napster?
FW: Napster is a clearing house, it's a way to tape music for free! Nobody pays! Their reasoning is technology has raced ahead of the enforcement of the Copyright Law, and if technically, we can do it, who cares if it's unethical or against the law? And now they've gotten busted by the RIAA, they're trying to offer a billion dollar settlement over a 5 year period, but the record companies aren't going to go for that and Napster and 30 other sites are going to be shut down!
Now that we have come to the end of our journey with the oh-so-entertaining Mr. Waybill, I have one last guilty pleasure question to ask him....
KG: Is it true that you played Frankenfurter in The Rocky Horror Stage Show recently??
FW: Yes! At the Barn Theater in Augusta, Michigan in the summer of '99. I had SO much fun- MAJOR fun!! I really pushed it and they treated me like a giant star, it was great!
KG: You were the Elvis of Augusta, Michigan!
FW: I WAS the Elvis of the town, man! I did 2 shows a night for 4 weeks. They wanted to know if I could wear 6 inch platform shoes...
KG: (laughing) Quaalude lives!
FW: And they gave me these grandma's giant underwear, and I had to cut 'em up, man!
KG: So did you get to show your ass, Fee?
FW: Fuck, yeah!
KG: That's my boy!
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