White Punks on Dope: Happy Birthday, Fee Waybill of the Tubes!

By on September 17, 2015

We’re wishing Fee Waybill a happy birthday today — he was born John Waldo Waybill on September 17, 1950, in Omaha, Nebraska — and we’re celebrating by sharing this vintage 1978 documentary which shows the Tubes in New York City, performing “Smash the System” (aka “Terrorist of Rock”), which was rewritten for their album Remote Control as “Telecide.” Other songs included here are “Boy Crazy” “What Do You Want from Life?” “Slipped my Disco,”Smoke” and their classic “White Punks on Dope.” (Unfortunately the audio is one-channel only).

The Tubes Perform In Copenhagen

In addition to the Tubes’s concert performances, there are a few surprises here too, including an appearance by stunt man Michael Springer, who worked for the Tubes as a fake crowd member, allowing himself to get beat up during “I Was Punk Before You Were a Punk” on a nightly basis. Choreographer Kenny Ortega is seen as well, recording a video with Michael Cotten and working out the dancer’s routine for “Slipped My Disco.” Singer/Dancer Re Styles is featured in the footage too.


The band are also seen rehearsing for their second European tour which was later cancelled after Waybill broke his leg (right tibula) running off stage in Leicester. Waybill convalesced for six months until the San Francisco-based Tubes — eight musicians and several dancers — were able to return to Europe in the fall, where they headlined the Knebworth rock festival with Frank Zappa.

In this interview, Waybill talks about that fall ’78 tour:

“We loved Zappa – he was great. A couple of times we were recording at the same studio as him. He’d bring these gigantic ten gallon of urns of coffee and record all night long. He was due to headline that night, but he didn’t want to follow The Tubes on stage – not with the dancing girls and the big show – the whole nine yards. We were huge fans of Zappa and Mothers of Invention, that really intricate blast out stuff, like Captain Beefheart and the Magic Band too. We actually had a memorial concert for Don – Captain Beefheart – when he passed away. We did a Beefheart song on one of our albums – ‘My Head Is My Only House’ and Captain Beefheart also played saxophone on ‘Cathy’s Clone.’

The band’s first two albums in the mid-70s established the template for satirical pieces about show business, consumerism and sex, with titles like “White Punks On Dope,”What Do You Want From Life?,” “Don’t Touch Me There” and “Mondo Bondage,” but where they really came alive was their live concerts, which featured bondage, simulated sex, exploding TVs, live chainsaws and a cascade of semi-nude dancers. Naturally, they were banned from several of the more conservative states of America. Waybill is known for his onstage portrayal as Quay Lewd, an amalgam of platform-wearing glam-rock stars.


A few years after this was filmed, Waybill, along with The Tubes, appeared in Robert Greenwald’s Xanadu, and they also appeared in the 1982 independent Canadian film, Ladies and Gentlemen, The Fabulous Stains, a big favorite of Night Flight’s, airing many times during the 1980s on the USA-network during “Night Flight”‘s original heyday. Waybill played the character Lou Corpse, the washed-up frontman of a band called The Metal Corpses.

During the early 1980s, Waybill appeared as himself on a short-lived television program called “Rock-N-America,” usually performing as a street reporter who annoyed pedestrians with nonsensical interviews. He also made a cameo in Bill & Ted’s Excellent Adventure as one of “The Three Most Important People In the World” and in a “Fishin’ Musician” episode from “Second City TV.”


Fee Waybill of The Tubes performs on stage in 1977 in Copenhagen, Denmark. (Photo by Jorgen Angel/Redferns)

In addition to his work with The Tubes, Waybill now works as a record producer. He was the producer for a number of popular artists, including Bryan Adams, and singer/songwriter Richard Marx. One of Fee’s latest efforts includes vocals and co-writing on “All’s Well That Ends Well,” the critically acclaimed song in 2011 by Steve Lukather, of Toto.


The NME’s review of the Tubes, published on November 19, 1977


Fee Waybill of The Tubes as Quay Lewd, Leicester 1978/photo by John Conroy

About Bryan Thomas

Bryan Thomas has been a freelancing writer/critic for All Music Guide, and a contributor to Launch, Music Connection, Big Takeover and numerous other publications and entertainment websites, blogs and zines, most of them long gone. He's written more than sixty sets of liner notes. He’s also worked for over twenty years at mostly reissue record labels -- prior to that he worked in bookstores and record stores, going all the way back to the original vinyl daze. He lives in the Miracle Mile neighborhood of Los Angeles, CA.