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  INTERVIEW – Fee Waybill of the Tubes

andy rawll
Words: Andy Rawll
8th November 2017

fee waybill the tubes
Photo: Janice Kang

From Foos to shoes; from Vince to Alice; Toto tales and taking a break in Leicester, the avowed Anglophile can't wait to return to the delights of our local cuisine and afternoon horse racing.

The Tubes, the celebrated San Francisco-based band that combine dazzling musicianship with outrageous theatricality are back in the UK for a series of club dates this week leading up to five arena concerts, supporting Alice Cooper.

From their raucous debut album, featuring the rock anthem 'White Punks On Dope' to MTV staples 'Talk To Ya Later' and 'She's A Beauty', the band have been pounding eardrums and scorching eyeballs for forty-five years.

Following a five-year hiatus in the late 80s, the band reformed with four of the original members (Fee Waybill, Roger Steen, Prairie Prince and Rick Anderson) plus incoming keyboard player David Medd.

It's been platform boots akimbo ever since, with the band returning to the country where they originally made their name in the 70s, including a record-breaking sold-out run at the Hammersmith Odeon in 1977.

MetalTalk's Andy Rawll caught up with legendary front man Fee Waybill just before the tour started:

Following your last tour of smaller venues like London's Under the Bridge, you're coming back to play much larger venues with Alice Cooper.

Whenever we can come back to the UK, it's great. I like going to England, I even like the food. Alice is also from Arizona, so we've known him since the 60s, before he was Alice and was Vince. It's always fun to play with those guys. He's got a good band and it's a great show. People tend to put us together because we both do theatrical type performances and I think it will be fun, and where better than on the bigger stages?

The last time we were here in London at Under the Bridge it was great, but I like to run around and I don't like to be confined in the smaller venues, especially when I'm trying to do quick costume changes and do Quay Lude with the big shoes.

fee waybill the tubes
Photo: Andy Rawll

The traditional greeting before an artist goes on stage is "break a leg", but in 1978 that's what literally happened?

I did, I broke my leg in Leicester in May of 78, when we were just beginning a big sixty five show tour of Europe, starting in England with two of three warm-up shows before we played London. It was one of those when we were playing Leicester. I was doing "I was a punk, before you were a punk" in my Johnny Bugger character, which was a parody of Johnny Rotten.

So I'm swinging a chainsaw around, I've got really dark glasses on and Beatle boots and I was planning to jump off the stage and run down the middle aisle of the venue, swinging my chainsaw around. It looked cool, but the glasses were horrible as I couldn't see anything, so when I went to get off the stage I ended-up going headfirst over the edge of this six-foot high stage and broke my right fibula, the outside bone in the lower leg.

I twisted, but my foot didn't, so it spiral fractured and I knew it was bad even before I hit the ground. But nobody else knew. At first, they all thought that it was part of the show and they carried on playing and eventually I got to the hospital. When they played the last song 'White Punks On Dope', there was just a pair of big, empty shoes where I should have been.

So that was it, the tour was over and everybody went home. Apart from me, because I was still in hospital. I ended up staying in a really nice house in Chelsea, immobilised while my leg healed. Back then there was nothing on TV, there was only three channels in 1978, BBC1, BBC2 and ITV.

I lay there for ten days with my foot elevated with nothing to watch; it got to the point that I even looked forward to horse-racing.

With the 40th anniversary of your break-out performances in the UK, there's also the 'A&M Years' box set that' just came out.

Yes, the 5-CD set, it's a great package. They were very cool about picking songs and I worked with them to select some additional live stuff and recorded stuff. It's a pretty comprehensive package, I think there's something like sixty five songs included.

After the Alice Cooper arena shows we're going to play some more club gigs like we always do. We're playing some places for the first time, like Reading and Norwich. This time, we're only doing the UK. We did a live record in Germany last year, but they're not ready to release it, so they asked us to wait before touring there, but we weren't going to pass-up the opportunity to play with Alice.

He also said that it was almost six years since he did a proper tour of the UK, so it's going to be good, they're going to be big crowds and it's going to be great.

fee waybill the tubes
Photo: TX63 Music Photography

Let me ask about the band. The great thing is that you've still got the strong core of original members. How come you've managed to stay together for so long?

That's a good question. It's because we have such fun playing, even though the travelling is getting harder and harder. In late 87/88, I left the band and went to LA and became a songwriter with Richard Marx and a bunch of other people.

Everyone else in the band eventually calmed down and went back home to their families. They got their lives back together, stopped taking drugs and then we got an offer, and again it was from Europe, that prompted us to get back together again in around 93.

This German promoter had phoned us up and said if you can get back together and Fee is in the band, I can arrange sixty dates across all of Europe. So I spoke to the others and said let's try it and see what happens. We did it, came back and said, wow this is fun.

In the beginning, we had the idea not to spend all our money on a big production, like we have been doing for our whole career and let's just stand there. That didn't work out, I didn't do any costumes or any characters and people looked at us and said "What's happening? Where are the Tubes? Who are these people?"

We built our reputation, so we had to live up to it, so after that we got a female singer in the band and started doing the characters and everything else. We've been together ever since. We're not working too hard. We're not going out doing two hundred show tours.

Last year, when we came over we did twenty-one or twenty-two shows and that was brutal. This time we're only doing eleven shows and three shows in the US. The other thing is with the shows opening for Alice, they want a fifty-minute set, so do the hits, do the highlights. It's not a two-hour twenty minute club show with ten changes.

fee waybill the tubes
Photo: Andy Rawll

Following on from the albums you did for A&M, you moved to Capitol and progressed to a slicker, almost AOR sound. What are your thoughts on that transition?

It's OK with me. It's authentic. That was us, that was what we were doing. With the first five albums on A&M, we never had a hit with any of those but we were a pretty well-known cult band.

As far as it goes with the record company, they weren't all that thrilled with a cult band that did a great live show, but didn't sell many records. After the red numbers with A&M got into seven figures, they went OK, that's enough, we give up, you can go now.

We went to Capitol, and quite a number of record companies looked at us and went "no, they're not selling records". They don't care if you're a cult band, they just want the money.

So we went to Capitol and this guy Bobby Colomby, who used to be the drummer in Blood, Sweat and Tears, turned A&R guy, said "I think I've got a guy that can pull out the hits" and that's how we found David Foster.

He had just done 'Boogie Wonderland', so he's working with total pros like Maurice White (Earth Wind and Fire) and other unbelievable players like Nathan East. That was the deal. We were working with David Foster and he expects perfection.

I'll tell you that first record we did with him, we busted our butts trying to live up to his expectations. The first vocal I did with him was 'Amnesia'. I get out there and I start singing and two hours later he says "OK, that's pretty close, I think we're ready to record now".

He made me a better singer, but that first cut took me eight hours to complete. Back then you had to go back and re-do it until you got it right. You couldn't fix it with Pro-Tools.

The way it went back then was get on the radio, get a hit record or that's it, you're done. Your obscure cult career is over.

fee waybill the tubes
Photo: Andy Rawll

And then there is a certain magic dust that was sprinkled on that record, by a certain Mr Lukather?

We were casual friends back then with Toto and the Tubes were with the same management company, Fitzgerald Hartley Management. At the time, Steve was the lead guitar guy that you went to, the hired gun – in fact that's the title of a great new movie about session guys, and he's in it.

With David Foster, we had a bunch of songs but we didn't have a rock anthem kind of hit, so he said "can you get with Steve Lukather?".

So I went to the studio and we said let's try to come up with something, hard rock and up-tempo, because we didn't have anything like that on the record at that point. Steve sat down and I swear it wasn't even five minutes when he came up with that 'Talk to ya later' riff.

Unbelievable. We wrote that song in less than two hours, it was amazing. Then we brought the band in and said, "OK here we go", and that was it. We did the same thing on the next record with 'She's A Beauty'.

Steve and I got together and wrote this tune with David Foster and Luke played guest guitar. All those guys were cool, David Paich played and some of the other Toto guys. They were all cool, because we all lived close together in LA.

And you also worked with Steve on his solo records on great songs like 'Hero With 1000 Eyes' on the 'Candyman' record.

I like working with Steve. There's no restriction when it comes to writing with Luke. He's totally cool. I can write whatever I want to write, there's nothing that he won't go for. He likes my lyrics. I like writing with him, but I haven't written a song with him in a while.

The last one was 'Creep Motel' [on Lukather's 2013 album 'Transition']. He's been touring with Ringo for the last three or four years and I haven't seen him much. The guy's brilliant, there's no getting around it.

Finally, did I read correctly that you did some backing vocals on the Foo Fighters last album 'Wasting Light'?

I did, on 'Mr Misery'. Dave Grohl and I are friends. I first met him in a costume store years ago. He was in there looking for parachute pants, I'll never forget it. I recognised him, it was in this vintage clothes store in the valley, in Sherman Oaks where I used to live and he lived in Encino right down the road.

I was in there, looking for costumes and I was already a huge fan of the Foos and had every record. I saw him from across the room and went, "oh fuck that's Dave Grohl" and I immediately just walked up to him and said "Dave, I think you're the best". I introduced myself and he said "Oh my god, it's Fee, I love the Tubes".

And so we became friends and did some gigs together. We did a big show with ZZ Top. Right away, he got us gigs and I was going "OK man, this guy's cool, he's getting us gigs" and I love to play with those guys.

And then we did the record and he called me up and said "We've got this song, it just sounds like the Tubes, I want you to sing this background part on the record". I said great, and went over and did it. You know that record was all analogue and no computers.

fee waybill the tubes

Newcastle, Boiler Shop - Thursday 9th November 2017 (*headline show)
Edinburgh, The Liquid Room - Friday 10th November 2017 (*headline show)
Leeds, First Direct Arena - Saturday 11th November 2017 (*supporting Alice Cooper)
Glasgow, The SSE Hydro - Sunday 12th November 2017 (*supporting Alice Cooper)
Birmingham, Barclaycard Arena - Tuesday 14th November 2017 (*supporting Alice Cooper)
Manchester, Arena - Wednesday 15th November 2017 (*supporting Alice Cooper)
London, SSE Wembley Arena - Thursday 16th November 2017 (*supporting Alice Cooper)
Norwich, The Waterfront - Friday 17th November 2017 (*headline show)

Read more right here:
Live Review: The Tubes – Under the Bridge, London
Alice Cooper UK Tour Update
Alice Cooper UK Tour Preview


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