Ah, the U-Men. If you speak to any long time Seattle show goers, chances are they will tell you that the U-Men were Seattle’s best live band during the 1980s. They existed in the time after punk’s initial explosion and before grunge or alternative music’s pop chart domination, so their story is rarely told by boring Rock Historians. Often credited as a grunge forerunner, the U-Men were actually much more than just that. Their sound was much broader than the typical grunge band’s and musically they owed more to post-punk bands like the Birthday Party than they did to hard rock bands like Black Sabbath or Zeppelin. Their music also had a definite art edge to it, yet they still followed in the Northwest garage band tradition.
Known for their insane live shows (the most notorious show was when they were banned from Bumbershoot for setting a moat under the stage on fire), the U-Men were also one of the first Seattle bands to tour. However, for people like me who didn’t learn about them until Gas Huffer, the band also left behind a great vinyl legacy.
Singer John Bigley, guitarist Tom Price, drummer Charlie Ryan, and bassist Robin Buchan formed the band in 1981. Robin soon ditched the band and was replaced by Jim Tillman just in time for their self-titled debut EP on Bombshelter Records (run by Bruce Pavitt and Russ Battaglia) in 1984. A 2nd EP for Gerald Cosley’s pre-Matador record label, Homestead, soon followed in 1985. The U-Men were also featured on C/Z record’s Deep Six compilation in 1985, along with Green River and the recording debuts of Soundgarden, the Melvins, Malfunkshun, and Skin Yard. Further records include the 1987 “Solid Action” 45 and 1988’s Step on a Bug–The Red Toad Speaks LP, which were both released on Fallout Record’s label, Black Label. Former bassist, Tom Hazelmeyer, also included the U-Men’s cover of the Wheels’ “Bad Little Woman” for the first Dope-Guns’N-Fucking in the Streets 45 and released the posthumous “Freezebomb” 45 in 1988.
During a brief U-Men hiatus, Tom and Charlie also played in David Duet’s (a short-time singer in Girl Trouble) band, Cat Butt. This is the line up that recorded the song, “Big Cigar” on the Sub Pop 200 compilation. Tom and Charlie soon rejoined the U-Men, and Cat Butt went on to greater things on Sub Pop.
After the U-Men called it quits in 1988, Tom Price played in the Kings of Rock (who have since reformed), Gas Huffer, the Monkeywrench, and the Del Lagunas (Gas Huffer’s instrumental alter-egos). Charlie Ryan later played in the Crows, Bottle of Smoke (with David Duet), and the Right On (with Night and Days/Night Kings member Rob Vasquez). John Bigley also sang for the Crows and currently owns the Capital Club and Barca Lounge in Seattle. Bassists Jim Tillman later played in Love Battery, and Tom Hazelmeyer left town and formed the Halo of Flies. Another bassist, Tony “Tone Deaf” Ransom, supposedly moved to Alaska.
All these songs are included on the Chuckie Boy Records retrospective. You can buy it here.
U-Men - Shoot 'Em Down
U-Men - Bad Little Woman
U-Men - Solid Action