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Along with bands like Limp Richerds and Mr. Epp & 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 of being broke, and moved to England.
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, which 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, Cat Butt. 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 Hazelmyer to play bass for the U-Men. Both Price and Ryan quit Cat Butt to return their full-time attention to the U-Men once again.
This new lineup immediately began recording the material that would be featured on their first official full-length release. Since Hazelmyer 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. Hazelmyer released one last single, titled Freezebomb, from the group and included them on an Amphetamine Reptile compilation. Hazelmyer was replaced by Tony Ransom (aka Tone Deaf) halfway through the year, due to Hazelmyer'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. In 2017, Sub Pop Records issued an even more expansive collection, simply titled U-Men. It featured the band's entire catalog of studio recordings, freshly remastered by Jack Endino, along with five unreleased tracks and extensive interviews with the original bandmembers and photos from their archives. ~ Stephen Howell
- Seattle, WA
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