Welcome to our “Psychedelic Lunch” series, “West Coast Bands,” where we find out how deep the rabbit hole really goes and explore psychedelic tunes from the 60’s to today. Weekdays At Noon EST. Enjoy the trip!
The Story Of Ugly Kid Joe. Uglier than they used to be, but still rad to the bone…
Ugly Kid Joe arrived on the scene just weeks after Nirvana released their 1991 album ‘Nevermind’.
Hailing from the Californian coastal town of Isla Vista, the quintet – vocalist Whitfield Crane, guitarists Klaus Eichstadt and Dave Fortman, bassist Cordell Crockett, and drummer Mark Davis – were arguably the last band from the glam metal era to make it through the gate. After that, grunge hit the reset button on guitar music and presented many of the biggest bands from the ‘80s with one of two options: redefine themselves or become irrelevant overnight.
But Ugly Kid Joe weren’t your average West Coast band. Sure, there were elements of cock rock in their music, but they took in a range of styles: hard rock, southern rock, metal and lashings of funk inspired by the Red Hot Chili Peppers and Faith No More. But what really set them apart was their fondness for parody and their unruly sense of humour. The band’s very name poked fun at Hollywood’s Pretty Boy Floyd, while their album titles would consistently lampoon contemporary releases from the worlds of both rock and hip-hop, music and movies. Nothing was off limits.
Thanks to the massive success of the band’s debut single Everything About You, their 1991 debut EP As Ugly as They Wanna Be (a parody of 2 Live Crew’s 1989 album As Nasty as They Wanna Be) became the first short-form LP to be certified platinum, and it remains the highest selling debut EP by any band to date. They promoted the record in the US during a tour with their heroes Ozzy Osbourne and Motörhead, and signed with Mercury the following year. 1992 saw the release of their full-length debut, America’s Least Wanted(a parody of Ice Cube’s more serious AmeriKKKa’s Most Wanted). The album, which featured vocals from Rob Halford [Goddamn Devil], soon went double platinum and spawned their second Top Ten hit – a cover of Harry Chapin’s Cat’s In The Cradle.
Before recording their second album Menace To Sobriety in 1995 with producer GGGarth Richardson, the band recruited drummer Shannon Larkin. They scored support slots on Van Halen and Bon Jovi’s US arena tours and for a while, could do no wrong. But the music landscape was changing, and the pitfalls of success, substance abuse, and relentless touring were slowly catching up to them.
They parted with Mercury Records later that year, releasing their third and final album Motel California independently in 1996, before officially disbanding a year later. The five members spent the next decade playing in various other metal bands – from Godsmack and Amen to Life Of Agony – before rumours of a reunion began to surface five years ago.
By 2010, the band had reunited and recording sessions soon followed. The EP Stairway to He’ll was released in the summer of 2012, which also marked the band’s return to Europe for the first time since 1996. They played two UK sets, first at the Underworld in London, before taking to the second stage at Download Festival.
They joined Alice Cooper on his Halloween Night of Fear tour in the Autumn of 2012, before returning to the UK last year for a co-headline tour with Skid Row. And this summer, the band released Uglier Than They Used Ta Be – their first full-length album in 19 years. To mark the occasion, the quintet enlisted the help of Phil Campbell from Motörhead, who lends his signature guitar sound to UKJ’s cover of Ace Of Spades.
We joined Whit in Manchester during the band’s current UK tour to learn of the improbable rise, fall and resurgence of one of the ‘90s biggest-selling bands…