Butthole Surfers Pt. 1: Ex-Manager Tom Bunch on BHS' First Houston Show, "Gibby Used to Drop His Pants a Lot," His Punk Rock Video Archives, Explaining the Music Business and More

Categories: Playbill

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Butthole Surfers live in Philadelphia, 2008
farm4.static.flickr.com

After he and Rocks Off talked for more than an hour at West Gray Cafe last week, Tom Bunch, who managed the Butthole Surfers for a decade between the late '80s and late '90s - exact dates are fuzzy; imagine that - summed up the experience by saying "it was like herding cats." That's putting it mildly. When Bunch first met the San Antonio-born psych-rock anarchists - who play Meridian Thursday night on their way to the Voodoo Music Experience in New Orleans; don't expect a repeat visit anytime soon - suffice to say they weren't ready for prime time...

Rocks Off: How did you meet the band?

Tom Bunch: The first concert I promoted solely by myself with the guys in my company under TAB Management was in March 1983 at the Lawndale Art Annex. I booked TSOL, and TSOL's manager, Mike Rainey, also managed the Dead Kennedys. The Butthole Surfers had done a record on the Dead Kennedys' label, and TSOL requested [them] as their opening act.

I called Mike Rainey, and he gave me a phone number in San Antonio for Gibby and Paul. I called them and said, 'Hey, TSOL wants you to open up for 'em in Houston.' They said, 'That's be great - we'd love to do it, but we don't have a band. There's just Paul and me, and the people who were in our band are no longer in our band anymore, so we're not capable of playing a show in six weeks.'

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TSOL
www.attheecho.com

So I called Mike back and said, "Well, they'd like to do it but they have no band." Mike just kept calling me back, saying, "Tell 'em we'll give 'em 200 bucks." I called Gibby and said, "They'll give you 200 bucks." At that point in time that was really good money. He goes, "Well, I've got me and my guitar player; we don't have a bass player, we don't have a drummer, we haven't practiced, we're not capable of doing the show."

So I called Mike Rainey back and told him that, and he said, "Tell 'em we'll give 'em 300 bucks." So I called them back. I think when it got up to 350 bucks they agreed to do it, under the contingency that only two of 'em were going to do it, that they had no bass player and no drummer, and that we had to understand that that was going to be the case.
So I called TSOL's manager back and said, "Well, they said they'd show up and play the show, but only two of them." He said, "I don't care, we want 'em to play. They're great." So they agreed to play the show, and they showed up late.

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L-R: Paul Leary, Gibby Haynes, King Coffey, unidentified bassist
blogs.knoxnews.com

RO: Was this the first time you'd ever met them?

TB: Yeah, first time I ever met them. They showed up just high as shit on acid. Two guys with a reel-to-reel tape player they had programmed some drum loops and stuff. They plugged in the tape player and attempted to play along with the tape, with Paul playing guitar and Gibby playing bass.

Gibby can't play bass - he can't keep a beat, so he's up there trying to play bass, Paul's trying to play guitar. Paul played guitar great, and they're both high as shit and the tape player's going. It was a huge fucking mess. And it's on video - one of my friends videotaped it.

People started yelling and screaming and flicking cigarettes and throwing stuff at 'em, and they started yelling back at the audience, and then it kind of degenerated into a show. People had never really seen them before, so they didn't know that this wasn't what they were supposed to be doing. It went on for 30 or 35 minutes, and that was my first Butthole Surfers experience.

RO: What do you remember thinking at the time?

TB: I didn't know what to expect. It was punk rock - I didn't know if that was their shtick or not. First I was concerned that they were really high and incapable of playing, then people started yelling and throwing stuff, but they were enjoying yelling and throwing stuff. The Butthole Surfers seemed to be having a good time with the audience.

RO: They were having a good time antagonizing each other?

TB: Yeah. At that point in time, Gibby's pants used to fall off a lot. During that time period of '83-'84, his pants seemed to fall off when he was onstage. They fell off and people were flicking cigarettes at his naked body. He seemed to not mind, and the audience seemed to be liking it. They played their show, and TSOL played their show, and I paid 'em and they drove off.

RO: After the show, were you immediately interested in bringing them back to Houston?

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Dead Kennedys

TB: No, I didn't think about it one way or the other, to tell you the truth. I brought 'em back the next year because the Dead Kennedys came and I was promoting the Dead Kennedys. The same guy managed TSOL and the Dead Kennedys, and he said, "We want the Butthole Surfers to play again." So I booked the Butthole Surfers again. It was the Dead Kennedys, the Surfers and Really Red at the Island in 1984.

The Island had been closed for a year, and I had to pay the guys that owned the building money to put the electricity and the water back on so we could do a rock show. Lawndale wouldn't let me use the annex [again].

RO: Is this the same Lawndale that's there now [4912 Main]?

TB: The Art Annex used to be a warehouse over off Telephone Road. It's the same name, the same lineage, but a completely different building. I think because of the Butthole Surfers being very high and Gibby walking around stage naked, and it being videotaped, [the Annex] didn't need to do any more shows for a period.

RO: How were they at the Dead Kennedys show?

TB: Completely different. Completely amazing - a four-piece band, well-rehearsed, playing songs, not stoned out of their gourd on psychedelics. The guy that videotaped the Lawndale show came back and videotaped the Dead Kennedys show, and he videotaped Really Red and the Dead Kennedys, but when he saw the Butthole Surfers were on the bill he didn't want to waste his tape.

He didn't think they were a real band the first time, so he didn't tape 'em. After their show, he was standing there with me in the sound booth, like, "Holy shit, man. Those guys were great! Is that the same band?" I said, "Well, you know - it's partially the same band."

RO: They had added King at this point?

TB: I don't know. I saw King play drums with the Hugh Beaumont Experience at the Island sometime in like '82, so I'd seen him play before. I could answer that question for you by watching the videotape again. It might not have been King at that point in time.

RO: Do you still have that tape?

TB: Yeah. Yeah.

RO: Do you ever watch it?

TB: No. I've been meaning to transfer it to DVD or an AVI file, because the tapes are so old. I have the Dead Kennedys in 1981 at the University of Houston, I've got the TSOL/Butthole Surfers show, I've got the Dead Kennedys/Really Red show at the Island, I've got another Really Red show from the Island, I've got the Big Boys at the Island, I've got the Big Boys and Really Red at Fitzgerald's, I've got the Circle Jerks from the Island in '82, I've got Black Flag from the Island in '81 or '82.

These are all things I videotaped. Snake Finger from the Island, Roky Erickson from the Island, DOA from the Island, which is really really really good. That's how I became a concert promoter. I videotaped bands and met everybody, and then when the Island closed they all had my phone number from being the video guy, and they called and asked if I knew any place they could play.

I tried to find them places while all the clubs around town - nobody wanted punk rock there. Ronnie Bond from Really Red and Mike Rainey talked me into starting to promote shows.

RO: So you went from promoting into management? Was it a natural thing because you were already doing this management-type stuff anyway?

TB: No. I did the majority of the Butthole Surfers dates in Texas from like 1983 to '89 as a promoter, and part of what I had to do most of the time was they'd play Houston the first [date] on their tour, sometimes last on their tour, but I rented them a van or a truck because they didn't have a credit card.

I'd put together their first couple of shows, and gave them all the money from the shows so they could continue their tour. They usually showed up broke, wanting to tour - "Gee, we want to tour, but we don't have any money and we need a van, but we don't have a credit card."

So I started doing more work than a concert promoter generally would for the Butthole Surfers around 1984 or so. But I was not thinking about promoting concerts when I was doing videos, but Mike Rainey and Ronnie Bond talked me into becoming a concert promoter and told me they would tell me how it was done, so I started doing that.

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Perry Farrell (l) and Eric Avery of Jane's Addiction
Photo by Fausto Ristori

Then I was not thinking about being a manager, and the Butthole Surfers had asked me in 1987 or 1988, "Why is it that the Red Hot Chili Peppers and Jane's Addiction are selling records and buying houses and cars? Why are they successful and famous and we're not?" And I said, "Well, they have a record label, and they have a manager, and they have a booking agent and publicist, and the record label's job is to work the band 12 months a year, whether or not they're in town."

They'd prepare for their coming into town by getting press, when they're in town they'd set up interviews, when they leave town they continue to use the press that was generated from the show, and the excitement that was generated from the show to get record stores to continue to stock the records, radio stations to continue to play the songs, newspaper music writers to continue writing about 'em.

RO: So you pretty much had to explain the whole music business to them.

TB: Yeah, I said, "All of these people work for them all of the time." And the Butthole Surfers would just tour when they wanted to tour, whether it was before the album came out, when the album came out, after the album came out. They toured because they needed money; they toured when they wanted to play. There was no business rhythm, rhyme or reason to anything they did. They asked me that question, and I told them those bands had a business structure around them. - Chris Gray

[Note: Part 2 will be up tomorrow.]

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I remember the Buttholes at Joe Starr's Omni sometime in 82 or before. 

 

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