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Butthole Surfers

Heavy psychedelia, mixing hardcore noise, black comedy confusion and futuristic art-punk, the maniacal street preacher “Gibby” Haynes (complete with bullhorn loudspeaker, etc.) epitomised offensive and disturbing behaviour, while his band’s weird stage act included a nude dancer, Kathleen Lynch; from 1986-89, she covered herself in green jello as Gibby simulated sex with her! Showman Haynes was well-known for other stage antics; pissing in plastic baseball bats (“piss wands”) and anointing a stunned audience. There were other obscenities, too extreme to print here (no need to mention President Carter’s creamy briefcase). In later years, BUTTHOLE SURFERS concentrated on the music side of the business – but that’s not to say it was sombre and serene.
Formed in 1981, originally as the Ashtray BabyHeads, in San Antonio, Texas, ex-accountant graduate Gibby (son of children’s TV presenter “Mr. Peppermint”) actually met guitarist Paul Leary (surname Walthall) at Trinity University in 1977. Their subsequent love of DEAD KENNEDYS, HAWKWIND, BLACK SABBATH and a whole smorgasbord of stoner weirdness (in which they sold T-shirts depicting the image of Lee Harvey Oswald), the scene was set for the weird and wonderful BUTTHOLE SURFERS.
Discovered by JELLO BIAFRA, the ‘Surfers were immediately supporting DEAD KENNEDYS on an Alternative Tentacles Records package at L.A.’s Whisky A Go Go (alongside T.S.O.L.). Dispensing with rhythm section brothers Scott and Quinn Matthews, toward the fall of ‘82 (the latter had superseded Andrew Mulin, who’d replaced original member Scott Stevens), bassist Bill Jolly and former Hugh Beaumont Experience drummer King Coffey were now part of the 4-piece that played live and in the studio.
EP or mini-set (delete as appropriate), their debut `Butthole Surfers’ record – known to the affiliated as “Brown Reasons To Live” – arrived hot off the press in July ’83, an astonishing piece of avant-garde punk that was bookended by name-check noise-niks, `The Shah Sleeps In Lee Harvey’s Grave’ and `The Revenge Of Anus Presley’ (with session man Brad Perkins on drums); the unquestionable highlights were `Hey’, `Bar-B-Q Pope’ and the whirling, screeching mind-funk of `Something’.
The addition of second drummer Teresa Nervosa (aka Taylor) was the next touch for the San Antonio concert EP/mini-set `Live PCPPEP’, basically a few fresh tracks and re-vamps from their debut; on a subsequent tour, bassist Mark Kramer (later of BONGWATER) was added. Underneath the surface, things were not so hunky dory, as heated debates on payments for studio time with Bob O’Neill (of BOSS Studios), led him to seize master tapes of their debut album proper as collateral. Licensed through his own Ward 9 label for Corey Rusk’s Detroit-based Touch and Go Records, PSYCHIC… POWERLESS… ANOTHER MAN’S SAC (1984) {*7} was finally out of the can; Fundamental Records in the UK released the LP several months on, as DJ John Peel was giving tracks air-time on his Radio 1 show. Heavy riffs procured from `Children Of The Grave’ by BLACK SABBATH (a group they’d borrow from in the future), `Dum Dum’ was probably the most recognisable piece on show, while the Gibby creature screeched out some sax lines on `Negro Observer’. In the mould of “Holiday In Cambodia” and “Miserlou” (at a push!), the track `Butthole Surfer’ displayed the group’s manic surf-a-billy in full swing, although in the crazed, gob-friendly `Lady Sniff’, a certain G.G. ALLIN sharing a rest-room with The RESIDENTS, came to mind.
With no Jolly visible (Terence Smart taking his place), `Cream Corn From The Socket Of Davis’ (in reference to Sammy Davis, Jr. losing an eye!) had its “Exorcist” moments; `Comb’ for example, in a way, dug from a graveyard and discarded by The CRAMPS. Trevor Malcolm replaced Smart for the band’s sophomore set, REMBRANDT PUSSYHORSE (1986) {*7}, a record that could flit between the normality of `Creep In The Cellar’, to the disjointed Texas Chainsaw Massacre cover of The GUESS WHO’s `American Woman’. Not ever associated with folk or shanties, the track `Sea Ferring’ was in a word – weird, while the hills definitely had eyes on the spine-tingling `Waiting For Jimmy To Kick’ and the growling `Mark Says Alright’.
Bassist Jeff “Tooter” Pinkus duly filling the bunk of Trev, the BUTTHOLEs unleashed their brilliantly-crazed LOCUST ABORTION TECHNICIAN (1987) {*9}; opening salvo a parody of BLACK SABBATH’s “Sweet Leaf” under the humorously-titled `Sweet Loaf’. Also deep within its nightmarish musical grooves was their gem, `22 Going On 23’ (`HAY’ in reverse!), a disturbing phone-in narrative that reached John Peel’s Festive Fifty – a heavier and more psychedelic track you will not hear from the 80s. While HENDRIX might’ve long since released his mortal coil, in musical terms his feedback spawn was dredged up on the penultimate track `Graveyard’ (the “softer” equivalent to the identically-titled track 2). Surfing on the crest of a Tsunami wave, by way of these ditties, and `Human Cannonball’, The RESIDENTS-styled `The O-Men’ and the Middle Eastern off-kilter dirge, `Kuntz’ (performed by Phloen Phromdaen), a lengthy time in Britain culminated in some riotous, over-subscribed London gigs.
For 1988’s HAIRWAY TO STEVEN {*8} – another piss-take; this time of LED ZEPPELIN’s `Stairway To Heaven’ – the group deliberately left the tracks nameless, instead using obscene looking symbols as a twisted tribute to Page & Plant’s “untitled” album. Eventually unveiled at a later date, titles such as the opening 12-minute segue `Jimi’ (a HENDRIX-styled exercise cut at 33rpm speed to be played at 45), twinned with the “field” recordings in `Cartoon Song’, were exceptional and contrasting pieces of work in the mould of a subdued solo PINK FLOYD on “Umma Gumma”. As far removed from the Grand Ole Opry, but twisted country nevertheless, `I Saw An X-Ray Of A Girl Passing Wind’ was again ALLIN territory, while one was dared to laugh out loud on the “love/hate/mum” song `John E. Smoke’, or the rockabilly roasting to jibe crooner `Julio Iglesias’.
If one had missed them in concert, the aptly-titled DOUBLE LIVE (1989) {*6} rounded off Teresa’s time with the ‘Surfers’; covers of R.E.M.’s `The One I Love’, GRAND FUNK RAILROAD’s `Paranoid’ and The LEATHER NUN’s `No Rule’ (on the later CD version) featured alongside cherry-pickings from their previous albums. As the EP `Widowermaker!’ (highlighted by `Bong Song’) filled in the dots of a decade that had given Gibby and Co a foot in the door, the quartet resigned themselves in that musical changes had to be made to survive in the real world next to likes of followers NIRVANA, and grunge in general. Stepping on from a parody re-working of DONOVAN’s `The Hurdy Gurdy Man’ (complete with exaggerated vibrato), early 1991 saw BUTTHOLE SURFERS shift to a slightly cowboy-esque commercial sound a la Rough Trade’s PIOUHGD {*4} – fabricated as meaning “pissed-off” in Navajo Red Indian. Stuck in a time-warp of name-check loops (Gary Shandling was repeated on `Revolution Part 2’) and/or sneaking in further unadulterated hilarity, this was no picnic in the park as snippets of `Lonesome Bulldog’ would annoyingly re-appear intermittently; this could be described as a BUTTHOLE bummer – the 12 minutes of `P.S.Y.’ proving this assessment beyond redemption.
As Gibby and Jeff separated their Butts from their bawdy band briefly for a one-off set, `Digital Dump’ (as The JACKOFFICERS), PAUL LEARY issued his solo set for Rough Trade: `The History Of Dogs’ (1991). Gibby also made a cameo appearance for MINISTRY’s frenzied single, `Jesus Built My Hotrod’; King Coffey’s outfit DRAIN, meanwhile, delivered the first of two albums for Trance Syndicate: `Pick Up Heaven’ (1992). With all roads leading to BUTTHOLE SURFERS signing to Capitol Records, fans feared the worst for their hardcore heroes.
As it transpired their premonitions were ill-founded as the abrasive sound of old was restored on “comeback” set, INDEPENDENT WORM SALOON (1993) {*8}. Former LED ZEPPELIN legend JOHN PAUL JONES at the controls, the record broke the band into the lower reaches of both the US and UK charts. It certainly had an accessible edge, even going as far as to all-but rip off the aforementioned MINISTRY cut (e.g. lyrics) for their own `Some Dispute Over T-Shirt Sales’. Like a lightning bolt from the blue, alt-metal, psychedelic, industrial and indie-rock were grafted on to head-swirling numbers such as `Who Was In My Room Last Night?’, `Tongue’, `Goofy’s Concern’, `Dog Inside Your Body’, `Alcohol’ and `Strawberry’, while acoustic touches like `The Wooden Song’ and `The Ballad Of Naked Man’, were equally effective.
Yet another moonlighting project by Gibby (P), was to unfold as the Butts took another brief sabbatical. Featuring famous actor Johnny Depp (on guitar and bass), P issued only one eponymous set in 1995, but Haynes was now in the eye of the hurricane that was Hollywood.
Minus Pinkus (who formed Daddy Longhead, and later, Honky), the guest list was a little longer with bassists Andrew Weiss or Bill Carter added to the bill on album seven, ELECTRICLARRYLAND (1996) {*7}. Stalling just one position outside the Top 30, no doubt due to a surprise domestic Top 60 hit, `Pepper’, or probably for their “fiery” guest appearance on American mock-talk TV programme, The Larry Sanders Show, The BUTTHOLE SURFERS were the buzz around the nation. The shock factor derived from their graphic “pencil-spiked-in-eardrum” illustration, the album itself was a hit or miss in most people’s minds, although there was always room for discussion on ‘earing `Birds’, `Cough Syrup’ and the grunge-y `Thermador’. If one thought Lemmy and MOTORHEAD had ear-wormed a way into the brain telepathically, then `Ulcer Breakout’ would be the cause and concern. And then there were the eerie `Jingle Of A Dog’s Collar’, the “Christina” country doo-wop piece, `TV Star’ and the FRANK ZAPPA-esque `The Lord Is A Monkey’ – wow!
A lawsuit judgement against Rusk at Touch and Go and the split with their manager Tom Bunch (in 1999), revealed another day, another dollar in the world of rock’n’roll, while a planned set (“After The Astronaut”) was shelved by Capitol. Abandoning their trademark psychedelic noise for crazy electronica, insane synth sound effects and dance/techno beats, Texas’s very own masters of the post-punk revolution had always been a little off-kilter to say the least, but with yet another “comeback” album, WEIRD REVOLUTION (2001) {*6} – released on Hollywood/Surfdog Records – the Surfers seemed to have taken leave of their senses.
Like the MELVINS before them, Gibby and his loyal army began experimenting with electronica on the aforementioned side-project group, The Jackofficers, who made unlistenable computer music on some old Apple Macs. This set had really the same slant; oodles of scatology pouring from the speakers as breakbeats tore the bass into shreds and Haynes’ distorted vocal loops were something in line with ALABAMA 3 or PiL. The album was not all experimental and avant-garde, however, `The Shame Of Life’, proved that they’d still an ounce of pop sensibility, although those who cringed at the BECK piss-take/rip-off that was `Pepper’, found themselves cringing again. What was missing was the rock and punk edge that had made the `Surfers music so appealing in the first place; gone was Leary’s swirling LSD-doused guitar, replaced by droning effects and fuzzy electronic noise that would’ve sounded more at home on NEIL YOUNG’s disastrous “Trans” set. The BUTTHOLE SURFERS: great band, fantastic legacy, but this album was no more important than a computer generated fart in the wind.
Since abandoning studio activities under this moniker, the man in charge formed GIBBY HAYNES & HIS PROBLEM (for a one-off set in 2004), while further activities unveiled a revigorated band (adding Teresa between ’08-’09) undertaking live gigs. Gibby duly formed No Mor Musik for another brief enterprise, and he even guested on MASTODON’s `Atlanta’ track in 2014. Whether an elusive 9th BUTTHOLE SURFERS album will ever arrive is anybody’s guess. Gibby and Co will be 60 in 2017.
© MC Strong 1994-2006/GRD/AS // rev-up MCS Aug2015

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