It’s March in Seattle – almost time for the fungus to bloom!
This month we are going back and digging into a little NW history in the persons of The U-Men. Some of you will already know this notorious lot, while some of you are in for a first time treat. The U-men were pretty synchronous with Green Monkey Mach 1, operating as a unit from 1981-89. Oddly, I did not know them or see them play
back then, despite it being a small town. In fact I only met guitarist Tom Price last year at the kickoff reading for Stephen Towe’s book The Strangest Tribe: How a Group of Seattle Rock Bands Invented Grunge. Professor Towe makes them pretty much the unsung stars on the road to Nirvana, which I think is fairly true. In 1999 Chuckie-Boy Records pulled together their collected works and released them as Solid Action, which is what you are streaming this minute. You can hear it here today, but you do want to buy one to keep for all eternity, or however long CDs last before disintegrating. As you can read below with a few articles from Wikipedia and All Music, various members have gone on to various sordid activities. Tom Price is definitely the most active, with several post-U-men operations. His most recent, The Tom Price Desert Classic is working on an album this very minute and play around town on a fairly regular basis.
As guy who cares about audio quality, I will say John Nelson, who recorded most of this at Crow, did a pretty nice job recording this. And for those of you out there (like me) who are sissy over-dubbers, let me point out THERE ARE NO OVERDUBS ON THIS DISC. This is just straight up nasty four guys doing it what you see is what you get. Pretty awesome.
For April, I may get an actual release together, – have a couple things in the works so we’ll see how that works out.
|2. Shoot ’em Down|
|4. Flowers D.G.I.H.|
|7. 10 After 1|
|8. Cow Rock|
|9. Green Trumpet|
|10. Bad Little Woman|
|12. That’s Wild About Jack|
|13. Dig it a Hole|
|14. Solid Action|
|15. 2 X 4|
|16. A Three Year Old Could Do That|
|17. Papa Doesn’t Love His Children Anymore|
|18. Shoot ’em Down (Live)|
U-men Facts galore!
Fronted by the enigmatic vocalist John Bigley, the U-Men (whose members also included Tom Price, Charlie “Chaz” Ryan, Robin Buchan, Jim Tillman, Tom Hazelmyer and later Tony “Tone Deaf” Ransom) pioneered their own unique brand of alternative rock which could best be described as “swamp-o’-billy”. Together with Northwest contemporaries Girl Trouble, the U-Men emerged to fill the void left some 16 years previous with the disappearance of Northwest garage rock legends The Sonics, The Wailers, and The Ventures. They updated this traditional Northwest sound with more modern punk rock and post-punk influences most notably The Cramps and Nick Cave‘s original group The Birthday Party.
Largely through word of mouth, rumor, showmanship and the occasional alcohol inspired dust up, the U-Men quickly acquired a dedicated cult following and
well-deserved reputation for mayhem, both on and off the stage. Perhaps their most legendary antic was when Bigley set the front of theSeattle Center Mural Amphitheater stage on fire during a Bumbershoot festival performance, and the band played on.
The U-Men were managed at different times by Susan Silver (who later went on to marry Chris Cornell and manage Soundgarden, Screaming Trees and Alice in Chains),Bruce Pavitt (co-owner of Bombshelter Records, pre-dating his Sub Pop Records foray into vinyl), and Seattle’s legendary punk art gallery tastemaker, Larry Reid.
Through it all, the U-Men managed to survive largely intact (the exception being bass players) until early 1989 when the core of the group (John, Charlie, and Tom) decided that the experiment had run its course.
Tom Price moved on to form Gas Huffer, and also play in supergroup The Monkeywrench, while John and Charlie would co-found The Crows. Jim Tillman, whose work with the band included the self-titled e.p. “The U-Men” (1984), the indie classic “Stop Spinning” (1985), and the Deep Six compilation (1986) track “They” resurfaced to play bass for various other local bands most notably Love Battery. Tom Hazelmyer who had briefly considered the idea of relocating to Seattle join the band in Tillman’s absence, chose instead to remain in his hometown of Minneapolis (performing live just once with the band when they opened for Big Black at the Showbox Theater in March 1987) to promote his record company (Amphetamine Reptile Records) and band, Halo of Flies. The last member of the group, 19-year-old Tony “Tone Deaf” Ransom, who in his short stint with the band managed to appear on the single “Freezebomb”/”That’s Wild About Jack” (1987), the album “Step On A Bug” (1988), and the “Dope,Guns,and Fucking In The Streets Vol. 1” compilation track “Bad Little Woman” (1988), would disappear from the local music scene entirely, relocating to (as speculation would have it) Anchorage, Alaska.
From All Music.com by Stephen Howell
Along with bands like Limp Richerds and Mr. Epp and the Calculations, the U-Men were one of the first bands to
inspire and develop into what would become Seattle’s grunge scene. In their seven-year career, the U-Men toured various regions of the United States, went through a succession of four bass players, and even had a song recorded in their honor by the Butthole Surfers (“The O-Men” from the album Locust Abortion Technician). The time was early 1981 in Seattle when guitarist Tom Price (aka the Prune) and friend/drummer Charlie Ryan (aka Chaz) decided to start an original hard rock band. They enlisted vocalist John Bigley and bassist Robin Buchan to round out the lineup. After a short time, Buchan grew tired of the group and decided to look for a full-time job where she could rely on a steady paycheck.
Over the next few years, the U-Men played various shows with new bassist Jim Tillman until they finally recorded their self-titled, four-song debut EP in 1984 for Bombshelter Records. This was followed by an appearance on the C/Z Records’ Deep Six compilation in 1985, alongside bands like Green River, Soundgarden, Andy Wood’s Malfunkshun, and Skin Yard. The U-Men also worked out a deal with Homestead Records, who had released Green River’s Come on Down EP. Homestead released the U-Men’s second EP, Stop Spinning, that same year. Following the release of the U-Men’s single Solid Action on Black Label Records in 1987 and an extensive tour, Tillman felt that the U-Men weren’t making enough income from their shows and records and quit the band. In the meantime, Price and Ryan were asked by former Girl Trouble singer and U-Men roadie David E. Duet if they were interested in performing with his new band, Catbutt. Price joined the group on bass and Ryan on drums. By the end of the summer of 1987, though, Price and Ryan had recruited Amphetamine Reptile Records’ founder Tom Hazelmeyer to play bass for the U-Men. Both Price and Ryan quit Catbutt to return their full-time attention to the U-Men once again.
This new lineup immediately began recording the material that would comprise their first official full-length
release. Since Hazelmeyer owned Amphetamine Reptile, he released the LP, dubbed Step on a Bug the Red Toad Speaks. The album, which hit indie store record bins in 1988, proved to be the only full-length release of the band’s career. Hazelmeyer released one last single, titled Freezebomb, from the group and included them on an Amphetamine Reptile compilation. Hazelmeyer was replaced by Tony Ransom (aka Tone Deaf) halfway through the year, due to Hazelmeyer’s responsibilities with Amphetamine Reptile. It was the end of the road for the U-Men, though. No one had told Price that the band had ended, and he showed up to an empty practice space three times before realizing that it was over.
Following the demise of the U-Men, Price worked at Seattle’s Fallout Records, where he formed the Kings of Rock with co-worker Tim Hayes. After the Kings of Rock broke up, Price joined Gas Huffer and the Monkeywrench. Bigley and Ryan broke off into the Crows, who recorded for Amphetamine Reptile until Ryan left in 1994 to join Duet in Bottle of Smoke. As for Ransom, he eventually moved to Alaska. In 1997, the U-Men reappeared on a Sub Pop compilation album to promote the Seattle music documentary Hype! The song “Dig It a Hole” was included on the CD, which had originally been included on the U-Men’s Solid Action single. A few years after that, Mike Stein of Chuckie-Boy records approached the U-Men about releasing a CD retrospective of the band. The members agreed, and Stein released the comprehensive collection Solid Action, which was titled after the single of the same name.