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Butthole Surfers

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There are few experiences in this life that leave one feeling as sullied as a spin through the grooves of a Butthole Surfers record. Unlike so many nouveau scuzzbos, Austin’s Butties don’t descend into the depths of squalor to make a point about the human condition — they just like it down there. Splotches of noise from guitarist Paul Leary and Gibby Haynes’ tortured screams are these enigmatic Texans’ bread and butter. When the noise revs up really fast, it sounds almost like hardcore, but this band relies more on filth than speed or power. The Butties inflict and exorcise pain like other people eat potato chips, and whatever debts they owe to Flipper and Public Image Ltd. would probably be forgotten if they’d just go away. There’s clearly no one like ’em.

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Unlike many of their 80s peers, Butthole Surfers not only successfully transitioned into the 90s, but scored a major hit with “Pepper”, a track from their 1996 album “Electriclarryland”.  The success of “Pepper”, caused a backlash among some of their fans, who accused the band of selling out. The irony lies in the fact, that the band always voiced their desire to be a part of the corporate loop, so their reaction to all the taunts and accusations came in the form of a middle finger.

Live shows represents an important part of the band’s history – throughout the 80s they were especially chaotic and violent, although in the following decades they became somewhat more predictable. Throughout years some of the band’s live arsenal included use of strobe lights, smoke machines, burning cymbal, megaphones and “Gibbytronix”, a rack of vocal effects that was stacked as high the lead singer Gibby Haynes could reach.

Future members of Butthole Surfers (Gibby Haynes and Paul Leary)  met at the San Antonio Texas University in the late 70s and bonded over their musical tastes and overall weirdness. In the early 80s, Haynes and Leary founded Strange V.D., a magazine dedicated to fictitious diseases (complete with photos and humorous explanations).

After being caught with one of the photos from the magazine, Haynes left the accounting firm that he worked for and moved to Southern California. Leary dropped out of college and followed Haynes to Calfornia where they made a living by selling homemade linens and clothes.

When they returned to San Antonio, they played their first gig at San Antonio Trinity University in 1981 (although they didn’t had a name Butthole Surfers yet). In 1982, they were joined by brothers Quinn Matthews and Scott Matthews. After one of the bands performances in San Francisco, they were invited by Dead Kennedys frontman Jello Biafra to record an album.

The Matthews Brothers quit the band and bassist Bill Jolly joined in, along with drummer King Coffey (born Jeffrey Coffey).  The band recorded their first (self-titled) EP and released it via Biafra’s label Alternative Tentacles in July of 1983.

All Music Guide pointed out that “Butthole Surfers” EP (also known as “Brown Reason To Live”) “owes as much to Captain Beefheart and rockabilly as it does to hardcore punk and thrash, setting Gibby Haynes’ processed vocals against a backdrop of skewed, sludgy noise-riffing” and “at the same time, the songs display a surprisingly melodic, structured sensibility, which draws the listener into the band’s decidedly not fake dementia.”

Surfers second EP, entitled “Live PCPPEP”, came out in September of 1984 and contained live versions of all the songs on their debut EP, which prompted some to joke that the band recorded the same album twice. AMG pointed out that while song on the record couldn’t quite duplicate the insanity of the originals, overall, record was “A loud, frightening assault on the ears highlighted by Paul Leary’s guitar work”.

Finally, the band also released their first full-length – 1984 “Psychic, Powerless…Another Man’s Sack”, which was described by AMG as being “an inspired blast of ugly noise, knowing idiocy, drugged-out insanity and some backhanded surprises.”

Further on into the 80s, the band unleashed a string of albums that are generally considered to be some of their best work – 1986 “Rembrandt Pussyhorse” , 1987 “Locust Abortion Technician” and 1988 “Hairway To Steven”.

“Rembrandt” was described by AMG as being “a strong slice of homegrown art/psychedelia gone to a murky hell.”, while, according to them, “Locust Abortion Technician” was “The aural equivalent of a nightmarish acid trip and arguably the band’s best album (or worst, depending on your point of view)”.

Original release of 1988 “Hairway To Steven” contained no song titles whatsoever with each songs being represented by a scatological cartoon. In the following years, band fans came up with song titles by comparing songs on “Hairway” to those included of the band’s 1989 “Double Live” album.

Trouser Press commented that “With an incredible cover and numerous nods to the ’60s, Hairway to Steven is as varied as it is entertaining: the program includes acoustic guitars competing with bowling alley sounds, half-speed vocals mixed with Hendrixy guitar psychedelia, live (maybe) cowbunk storytelling, straightforward (well…) melodic songsmithery and flat-out audio hysteria.” and concluded that “reactionary times demand inspirational rebels like the Butties.”

The band closed the decade with 4-song EP “Widowermaker!” and a “Double Live”, a staggering 19 song (LP version) /29 song (CD version) document of Surfers live performances, which included their take on R.E.M’s hit “The One I Love”.

90s saw the band slowing down a bit, as they released 1992 “Pioughd” (which included the band’s rendition of Donovan’s “Hurdy Gurdy Man”, complete with an equally bizarre video), 1993 “Independent Worm Saloon”, 1996 “Electricfarryland” (which included “Pepper”, their biggest hit) and their latest full-length (as of 2009) – 2001 “Weird Revolution”. While they’re not recording any new material at the moment, the band is still touring and performing live.

 

honky--house-of-good-tires--2001
Honky - House Of Good Tires - 2001

Outside of Surfers, band members were involved in other projects, including Jackofficers, P, Daddy Longhead and Honky. King Coffey also ran Trance Syndicate label in the 90s and put out numerous records by the likes of Crust, Ed Hall, Pain Teens, Sixteen Deluxe, Johnboy, …And You Will Know Us By The Trail Of Dead and others. Currently, Coffey operates Latino Buggerveil label, which is responsible for reissuing Butthole Surfers material.

Current Line-Up:

Gibby Haynes (Jackofficers, P)

Jeffrey Pinkus (Daddy Longhead, Honky, Jackofficers)

King Coffey (Drain, Hugh Beaumont Experience)

Paul Leary

Teresa Taylor

Former Members:

Kramer (Half Japanese, B.A.L.L, Bongwater, Chadbournes, Fugs, New York Gong, Shockabilly, Ween)

Discography:

Brown Reason To Live 12″ (Alternative Tentacles, 1983)

Live PCPP EP 12″ (Alternative Tentacles, 1984)

Psychic…Powerless…Another Man’s Sac CD / LP (Touch & Go, 1984 / Fundamental, 1985 / Latino Bugger Veil, 1999)

American Woman 5″ (Touch & Go, 1985)

Blind Eyes Sees All VHS / DVD (Touch & Go Video, 1985 / Music Video Distributors, 2002)

Cream Corn From The Socket Of Davis EP 12″ (Touch & Go, 1985)

Rembrandt Pussyhorse CD / LP (Touch & Go, 1986 / Red Rhino Europe, 1986)

Rembrandt Pussyhorse / Cream Corn From The Socket Of Davis CD / Cass (Touch & Go, 1986 / Latino Bugger Veil, 1999)

Locust Abortion Technician CD / LP (Touch & Go, 1987 / Blast First, 1987 /Au Go Go, 1987 / Torso, 1987 / Latino Bugger Veil, 1999)

Hairway To Steven CD / LP (Touch & Go, 1988 / Blast First, 1988 / Au Go Go, 1988 / Latino Bugger Veil, 1988)

Double Live 2xLP / 2xCD (Latino Bugger Veil, 1989)

Widowermaker! EP (Touch & Go, 1989 / Blast First, 1989 / Torso, 1989)

Lonesome Bulldog 7″ (The Catalogue, 1990)

The Hurdy Gurdy Man CD / 7″ / 12″ (Rough Trade, 1990)

Piouhgd CD / LP (Rough Trade, 1991 / Danceteria, 1991)

Dust Devil CD (Capitol, 1993)

Independent Worm Saloon CD / LP (Capitol, 1993 / Toshiba EMI, 1993)

The Wooden Song CD (Capitol, 1993)

Untitled 10″ (Capitol, 1993)

You Don’t Know Me CD (Capitol, 1993)

Good King Wencenlaus / The Lord Is A Monkey 7″ (Trance Syndicate, 1994)

The Hole Truth…And Nothing Butt CD (Trance Syndicate, 1995)

Electriclarryland CD / LP  / Cass (Capitol, 1996)

Jingle Of A Dog’s Collar CD (EMI Australia, 1996)

Pepper CD / 7″ / 10″ / 12″ (Capitol, 1996)

Whatever (I Had A Dream) CD (Capitol, 1996)

Dracula From Houston CD (Hollywood, 2001)

The Shame Of Life CD (Hollywood, 2001)

Weird Revolution CD / LP (Hollywood, 2001)

Butthole Surfers + PCPPEP CD (Latino Bugger Veil, 2002)

Humpty Dumpty LSD CD / 2xLP (Latino Bugger Veil, 2002)

Pioughd + Widowermaker! CD (Latino Bugger Veil, 2007)

Live At The Forum London 2xCD (Live Here Now, 2008)

Selected Compilation Tracks:

“100 Million People Dead” on International P.E.A.C.E. Benefit Compilation (R Radical, 1984 / New Red Archives, 1997)

“Eindhoven Chicken Masque” on Rat Music For Rat People Vol. 2 (CD Presents, 1984)

“Eindhoven Chicken Masque” on God’s Favorite Dog (Touch & Go, 1986)

“All Day” + “Flame Grape” on A Texas Trip (Caroline, 1987)

“Boiled Dove” on Smack My Crack (Giorno Poetry Systems, 1987)

“Jimi” on Devil’s Jukebox (Blast First, 1989)

“Mexican Caravan” on Fundamental Hymnal (Fundamental, 1989)

“Earthquake” on When The Pyramid Meets The Eye – A Tribute To Roky Erickson (WEA, 1990 / Sire, 1990)

“The Colored F.B.I. Guy” on Lollapalaooza (Warner Bros., 1991)

“You Don’t Know Me” on Always The Bridesmaid (Hits Post Modern Syndrome, 1993)

“Hurdy Gurdy Man” on Dumb And Dumber Soundtrack (RCA, 1994)

“Who Was In My Room Last Night” on Love & A.45 Soundtrack (Epic Soundtrax)

“Underdog” on Saturday Morning – Cartoons’ Greatest Hits (MCA, 1995)

“The Lord Is A Monkey” on Beavis And Butt-Head Do America (Geffen, 1996)

“Pottery” on Music From And Inspired By John Carpenter’s Escape From L.A. (Lava, 1996)

“Whatever (I Had A Dream)” on Romeo + Juliet Soundtrack (Capitol, 1996)

“Tiny Rubberband” (with Moby) on Spawn The Album (Epic, 1997)

“Human Cannonball” on Suburbia Soundtrack (Geffen, 1997)

“Summer In The City” on MOM 3: Music For The Mother Ocean (Hollywood + Surfdog, 1999)

“Moving To Florida” on Left Off The Dial: Dispatches From The 80’s Underground (Rhino, 2004)

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