Tubuler! Catching Up With a Tubes Original: Bill Spooner
Goldmine Magazine August, 2011
Bill Spooner, founding father of The Tubes, has mostly flown under the radar not only as a guitarist, but a musical visionary. The Tubes were a truly ground breaking band, impeccable musicians disguised as rock & roll, multi-media performance artists. The Tubes created songs performed as vignettes, much in the same vein as a traditional German cabaret, which they turned into musical skits with a rock music score.
Photos courtesy of Bill Spooner
The Tubes combined original songwriting singed with irony and political humor, and their unpredictable live performances were rivaled by no one. Yes, this band was cranking up "White Punks On Dope" and "I Was A Punk Before You Were A Punk" years before Johnny Rotten arrived on the scene, and were utilizing video projections and TV visuals long before MTV was launched. Yes, these San Francisco crazies were always ahead of their time.
Bill Spooner was a key songwriting contributor and musical director for the band until his departure in 1987, and it was his brainstorming and conceptualizations that helped launch The Tubes into the consciousness of the rock music world. Goldmine recently caught up with "Sputnik" for an exclusive interview.
Goldmine: It's been a while since we last talked Bill. Tell us what you have been up to, are you still teaching?
Bill Spooner: Still teaching, doing a lot demo recording for up and coming songwriters in my home studio (the Digital Basement), working on songs for an upcoming solo album my son will produce and of course, playing around town. I’ve been playing in San Francisco’s Famous Burlesque Orchestra for the last few years and it’s a gas. Full horn section, dancers, traditional strippers, dog acts and a guy that strips on a pogo stick! Very reminiscent of the old Tubes shows.
We are currently on a much needed hiatus. It’s given me the time to focus on growing the studio and work more with my son, Boone, who is a producer/engineer/musician. We’ve done some really great work in the last few months.
GM: Are you still doing your Folk-Ups gig? What are you currently using for guitar gear?
BS: We do the occasional Folk-Ups gig, but I’ve been focused on recording, writing and the orchestra and Alex (Bendahan) has been busy working on a film he is scoring. Last time we played together was my son's wedding and that was plugged in and rockin’!
I’ve got a couple of different setups, and my acoustic rig is pretty simple(which is one of the reasons I love playing acoustic… don’t have all that gear to lug around). I primarily use my Martin OM-21, SWR Strawberry Blonde Amp and volume pedal. My back up guitar is a Guild D-25M. For my gig with the orchestra I play my Guild Starfire or my 59' Gibson Melody Maker through either a Music Man RD110, or a Johnson JT 50 Mirage. I’ve got a pedal board that I change depending on the gig’s requirements.
GM: Who are you listening to these days? Any new talent out there that you find interesting?
BS: Steve Earle, Nickel Creek, and the new Buddy Miller album. I love the William Shatner/Ben Folds CD. Ben Folds is a genius. There is a lot of great music happening right now. There this great band in San Francisco called 20 Minute Loop that I love. Really great stuff, very original.
GM: The music industry today seems so controlled by the major labels, and now there's only a few of them that a new act can get a record deal from. What do you think is the biggest change in the music industry since your early 70's days with the Tubes?
BS: I would have to respectfully disagree there. I think the major labels are hanging on by the skin of their teeth. The advances in recording technology and internet distribution have put the more power in the hands of the artist to get their music out to the public.
When we started if you didn’t have deal you couldn’t afford to go into a studio. If you didn’t have a deal you couldn’t get on the radio which meant no one would hear you music. Now, you can make a decent demo and upload it to the internet and the whole world has access to you. Major label deals do not favor the artist, they never have. Look at the success of major labels, they maybe have success with 5% of their new artists (in a good year). You’re going to put your art, your future, your career in the hands of folks with a 95% failure rate? There is a better way.
GM: Speaking of the early 70's, somehow I get the feeling that an up-and-coming band now-a-days couldn't get away with staging a "Streaker's Ball," so their fans could come to the show with their clothes in a paper bag and get in for free?
BS: San Francisco still has the "Exotic Erotic Ball," which has all the skin we ever attracted and more. The outrageous things we did were in cultural or social context which is why they worked. That part of the 70's was the era of the 'streaker,' so we made comment on it by having the Streaker’s Ball.
GM: Do you think that is the most controversial show antic The Tubes ever came up with? Tell us another one that stands out in your mind?
BS: Earlier on we did a new bit based on a song called "Baby Your Face is Mutated"... we had these hideous masks! It was pretty rough still, so we put
it at the end of the set. Well, it cleared the house except for one girl. I went out and thanked her for staying and explained that we knew it was a bit rough, but thought it had potential. She turns to me and said, "No one would get me my wheelchair." Needless to say we never did that bit again.
GM:I want to tell you that I recently wrote an article for Goldmine which talked about some bands I feel should be in the Rock & Roll Hall Of Fame. I mention The Tubes because of the creativity, ingenuity and tight musicianship displayed, all through these costume-changing vignettes disguised as rock & roll rave-ups! Who actually came up with that concept?
BS: Well, all that started with The Beans (Vince Welnick, myself, Rick Anderson and Bob MacIntosh) back in Phoenix. We were bored so we started doing theme shows... that’s where the "space opera" came from that eventually distilled into "Space Baby" on our first album. When we merged with the Red, White and Blues band and brought Fee on, it just grew from there. We wanted to give the audience an experience for all their senses.
GM: Who were your earliest musical influences growing up?
BS: Buddy Knox, Buddy Holly… all the Buddies, Chet Atkins, Elvis then later the Beatles, Jimi, Cream...
GM: We thank you for your time Bill and just for kicks, we'll back you into a corner for one final question. If you HAD to pick your favorite Tubes song, what would it be? (For this writer, its "Haloes" or "Brighter Day.")
BS: That’s tough... like asking which of my children is my favorite. However, I can say that I always loved playing "Haloes" and "Tip of My Tongue."