Tuesday, June 18, 2013

Looking Back: SPAZ reviews THE BUSBOYS!

Looking Back:


Brian O'Neal (keyboards, vocals) 
Kevin O'Neal (bass, vocals)
Gus Louderman (vocals)
Mike Jones (keyboards, vocals)
Victor Johnson (guitar)
Steve Felix (drums)

In my opinion, one of the most exciting eras in Rock history was the late '70s and early '80s.  It seemed that every major city had it's own 'scene' and Los Angeles had one of the most vibrant and diverse music scenes in the world.  From Punk to Power Pop, New Wave to Post-Punk, Los Angeles gave us some of the finest bands of the era including X, 20/20, The Plimsouls, The Dickies, The Nerves, The Knack, The Germs, The Last, Jules & The Polar Bears, The Bangles, The Three O'Clock, The Plugs, The Go-Go's, etc.  One of the most overlooked was perhaps the one that stood out the most: The Busboys.

You see, an African-American New Wave/Rock combo was not exactly common in Los Angeles or anywhere else in the world.  However, The Busboys, fronted by main vocalist and keyboardist Brian O'Neal, just wanted to play Rock 'n' Roll and they certainly did it just as well (if not better) than their contemporaries. Thinking about it now, why was being an African-American in a New Wave Rock band such a novelty at the time?  I mean, think of Rock's greatest guitar players and Jimi Hendrix automatically comes to mind, right?  Well, Jimi just happened to be African-American, so why even think twice about Brian and the 'boys playing some good ol' American Rock 'n' Roll?  As for me, my parents never brought up race or color into the equation when we were kids so we accepted everyone equally. I was too young to know about prejudice when all the race issues were happening in the '60s, so I must have been a bit sheltered from that way of thinking. To be honest, I think I first learned about racism and bigotry on All In The Family!

But anyway, when The Busboys signed a deal with Arista, it was because of their obvious talents, not because of the race issue.  And judging by their two albums, the band were certainly aware of people's perceptions of them and they poked fun at the whole thing, lyrically.  But the fact of the matter is, The Busboys wrote some great tunes and released two extremely memorable albums that I still cherish to this day. Their music has consistently appeared on numerous mixtapes I've made over the last 30 years on cassette and CD-R.  And with crackin' good tunes like "Did You See Me", "Last Forever", "American Worker", "Soul Surfing USA" and loads of others, they deserve to take their rightful place in the history books...

Oh, I almost forgot to mention the most important part - The Busboys did manage to have a couple of memorable hits with "The Boys Are Back In Town" (from the soundtrack to 48 Hours) and "Cleanin' Up The Town" (from Ghostbusters) although neither of these songs can be found on their two Arista albums. 

Here, I'll take a brief look at their first two albums... both of which I am very fond of!


When the band released their debut album, it caused a little bit of a stir.  Why on earth would an African-American band sing lyrics like "I bet you never heard music like this by spades!" and extol the virtues of working for minimum wage... and feature one of their members on the cover dressed as a busboy/waiter?  Well, folks, that was part of the fun.  They played against stereotypes by acknowledging the stereotype in the first place!  All the guys wanted to do was play music, and they were pretty damn fine at creating short, snappy tunes that carried a message without raising their fists in the air and taking pot shots at the white man. The Busboys didn't need to rely on their skin color to be accepted.  Just listen to "Did You See Me", "Minimum Wage", "We Stand United", "Dr. Doctor", "Anggie" and others to hear some great tunes.  While songs like "There Goes The Neighborhood" and "KKK" may have shocked folks at first, they were soon won over by the hooks the song provided. Soon enough, people forgot about their skin color and let the music do the talking.  And that is the ultimate compliment to Brian and the 'boys.  A classic debut.  (The album was issued as a limited edition CD but looks to be deleted at the moment)

It was another two years before The Busboys hit the shops with their second album. Produced by Pete Solley, American Worker was a slicker, more commercial album than its predecessor but that works in the album's favor. The sound is bigger and the band really sound like they are having fun.  They manage to touch on a variety of styles including New Wave, Reggae, Blues, Soul and Pure Pop without losing any of their charm.  Highlights include the Springsteen-esque "Last Forever", the gorgeous '60s Pop of "Soul Surfing USA", the hard bluesy Rock of "New Shoes", the Reggae-fied "Opportunity", the pure pop of "Falling In Love" and their pre-Huey Lewis version of "Heart & Soul" (for the record, I think Brian is more sympathetic to the song's vocal melody, making this the definitive version).  While the album was as fresh and energetic as the first album, it certainly made up for it in many other ways.  No sophomore slump here, folks!

Peace, love and Busboys
Stephen SPAZ Schnee

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