The Family Jewels are:
bbarry: Lead vocals, bass, theremen
miller: Vocals, keyboards
John "The Legend" Underwood: Lead guitar, vocals, productionMike Underwood: Drums and the fatty pinch
|Former members of The Family Jewels Stage Performance Troupe|
The Legendary Joe Azz
Chris "MC Evil Jesus" Wallach
Joe Darone (FIENDZ and Suit of Lights)
Geoff Rickley (Lead singer of Thursday)
The Family Jewels Musical Guests
James "Bellavision" Bellamy, Smooth Vocals
"The Reverend" Andy Chen, Smooth Saxophone
Laura Girl, Vocals and moaning
Tim Gilles, Vocals, drums, beatings
Joe Darone, Vocals and noises
For those who remember, August 1st, 1991 was a steamy, sultry night. 13 men, armed with makeshift instruments, a tape recorder, a dictionary drum, a Casio keyboard, and a lot of booze joined forces to create musical history. The audio tapes from that infamous night were passed from friend to friend, enemy to enemy, stranger to stranger, parent to teacher, teacher to janitor, janitor to mom, mom to dad, dad to mom, mom to mailman, mailman to reggae artist, reggae artist to joint, joint to hippie, hippie to obese man on corner, obese man on corner to 3-time convicted rapist in taxi, taxi handle to nun's hand, nun to priest, priest to boy, boy to uncle, uncle to farmer, farmer to daughter, daughter to hitchhiker, hitchhiker to hillbilly, hillbilly to sheep, sheep to cow, cow to milk, milk to cat, cat to dog, dog to fly, fly to shit, shit to mustache, mustache to lip and lower nose, nose to ass, sister to sister (HOT!).
As the tapes circulated, they quickly became cult classics and the 3 young men who returned to jam the very next evening, went on to form one of the most legendary, undiscovered musical groups of the 1990s.
Those men were bbarry, Miller, and John.
The Family Jewels.
Miller, bbarry, and John quickly realized that they had uncanny creative chemistry. When the others failed to show on August 2nd, they went on to record new material late into the night. The creativity continued from that point on as they would join together to write songs after work, during lunch breaks, at odd hours, while sleeping. They knew early on that they had something special and different. That difference would be the hallmark of their future melody-making and eventual musical successes.
As time went on, the trio was soon joined by John's brother Mike, who took to the drums like a rabid pit bull takes to an elderly woman's arm. Mike also became the first audience for the band–the litmus test for what was funny or what "sounded cool." As bbarry once said, "If Mikey doesn't laugh, the shit's not good." Mikey quickly became a formidable force on the skins, powered by his insatiable hunger for beef and his love for Korn, Pantera, Metallica and anything metal. He was the missing piece the group desperately needed and his presence helped the band become a true family.
By 1994, the band had created several basement tapes, played a few live shows, and were thirsty for more. Soon after noticing an hysterical recording studio ad in the newpaper, they knew exactly where to go to record their first record. Each member broke their piggy banks, gathered a few bucks in their hands and with ideas and insanity flowing out of their ears and eyes, made an appointment with legendary engineer and horrible dresser, Tim Gilles of Big Blue Meenie Studios (then located in his residential home in Hackensack, NJ) [Click here to visit].
While at Big Blue, they tormented Gilles into submission and were beaten by the man because, as he once said, "The Jewels nearly drove me to the brink of insanity" (mainly because of their relentless pranks and incessant giggling.
bbarry said of Gilles, "Creativity needs more outlets than music. It runs rampant in the brain, looking to escape. We made Tim what he is today. We shaped him as a businessman. I think we also hurt him physically, but that's the price to pay for greatness!" Gilles has also reported that "Every time the Jewels were on the calendar, I would get psychosomatically ill."
Years later, Gilles went on to admit his love for the band and their music, "Their first album nearly killed me, but it stands as one of the best I've ever worked on."
Many music experts agree that Gilles should have realized something was askew when Miller, John, and bbarry showed up for their first appointment and planted 40 Bumble-bee wind mills, a "For Sale" sign, and a giant cut-out of John Madden on his front lawn before ringing the bell.
While hijinks were always a big part of the band's history at Big Blue, the music was what mattered most. The band quickly got down to business, recording an initial demo that included legendary cult classics Blinky, The Number 9 is Asinine, Show Me How to Dance (Like Kristen Vance), Socks on the Line, Phone Sex Girls (Aren't Pretty), As (No! Is!), Shoebox on Fire, an early version of Chickenman from Atlantis, and Inflate to 20lbs.
But one song stood out among the rest - a catchy 3-minute pop song entitled, Happy as a Fly.
Written in 1992 by bbarry as he sat in his high school cafeteria, Happy as a Fly was a musical fluke. When John and bbarry were sitting together in the basement, John developed a catchy, addicting guitar line. bbarry, looking for inspiration, asked him how he felt when he played it, what it meant to him, what he thought it sounded like. John shrugged his shoulders and replied, "I don't know man. Happy as a Fly or something."
By 1994, Happy as a Fly was pressed on clear vinyl 7" with the playful, pornographic hit Phone Sex Girls (Aren't Pretty) on the b-side. It became an instant hit at release, played on college radio stations in the Tri-state area and it attracted serious attention for the band. Rave reviews flowed in from local rock outlets to magazines as far away as London, England.
A few years after the first tape recordings, after countless hours in John's basement recording their music on audio cassettes, and because of the success of Happy as a Fly, The Family Jewels were ready to record a full length album.
As always with The Family Jewels, most songs were written in a few minutes. The members felt that they shared the same brain, creatively. Songs that would later become fan favorites, like Chickenman from Atlantis, Picasso Suave, Special K, Garbageman were quickly churned out over laughs and beers and then recorded.
Meanwhile, with the help of Big Blue Meenie, friends they met through the studio, and Miller's booking expertise, the band hit the club circuit in Northern NJ and New York City. They rocked CBGB's, Acme Underground, Kenny's Castaways, The Continental, The Spiral, The Pyramid, and even a bowling alley in Roselle Park, NJ. While The Family Jewels' live show evolved over the years, the very first shows, prior and during the release of the first album, were truly a sight to see. Songs like Chickenman from Atlantis and Special K sprung to life on stage and shocked audiences clammered for more.
Accompanied by homeless people, aliens, pimps, and porno-confetti, the live show was an energizing, amazing, electrifying circus that encouraged audience participation. Early stage performers, including the Legenday Joe Azz, Paul Campos, Geoff Rickley of Thursday fame, Chris "MC Evil Jesus" Wallach, and Joe Darone of The Fiendz, met the crowds with unwavering abandon - at times almost frightening them into laughter.
Word of The Family Jewels live show spread fast and soon the band would hear fans singing along at shows. They soon became a fixture at Connections, a legendary and surly punk club in Clifton, NJ. During their first performance at the club, the band felt out of place and nervous, but took the stage and won over the crowd with their performance of the inspiring anthem Special K. Club promoter, the late Anthony Trance (formerly of Bad Tylenol fame), once said, "I love them. Johann is hysterical." He, of course, was speaking of bbarry's alter-ego Johann Palzee, the mentally-challenged Swedish vocalist-extraordinaire who, with his gaggle of buddies would interrupt the band's performance to sing Special K.
Trance loved the band and would book them whenever possible, even offering Johann a wheelchair and help from the bouncers during the show. While The Family Jewels were the black sheep of a club that housed some of North Jersey's top punk bands, fans gathered frantically to witness pimps in leisure suits handing out TFJ money with bbarry's head on it, aliens probing strangers in the crowd, and the famous Chickenman from Atlantis who seemed to appear out of thin air to dance with the hottest chicks in the club.
With hooky beats and a stage show like no other band in the area, The Family Jewels were quickly becoming local legends.
The Family Jewels spent much of the nineties playing their hearts out to bring their style of music to the masses. It was a blast but it also wore on the members mentally and financially. With help from Black Pumpkin records, the group re-entered the studio to record what some would say their most creative album, the sophomore-cursed "Chuck and Louise." Songs like the homeless anthem, Slum, were big hits live as belligerent "homeless" men would walk through the crowds or appear under a pile of newspapers in the audience and fight with and/or vomit on the people in the front. Also a hit with the crowd was Slaw Abduction, a hammering musical tour de force that told the tale of alien abduction and featured glowing aliens who probed audience members and attacked the band mid-show.
The album was then solidly supported by the vocal masterpiece Cult Castration (a coded tale of The Family Jewels' style of music), the manic diddies Hand and Hair Party, the "lounge-y" cautionary tale, Boy in the Well, the educational fan-favorite, Farm Song.
Low on dough, but high on motivation, the band booked a US tour to promote the album and set forth to share their songs with fans from Maine to Los Angeles.
It started where it all began. Connections in Clifton, NJ. The band rocked the night with an encore featuring a rendition of Garbageman with a 7th harmony. The road was calling.
To Maine. From Maine to Detroit. From Detroit to St. Louis. From St. Louis to Kansas. From Kansas to Denver. From Denver to Sacramento. From Sacramento to L.A. From L.A. to Arizona. From Arizona to Arizona. From Arizona to Tulsa, OK. From Tulsa to PA. From PA to NJ. Other than forgetting a Driver's license, a coat, being chased by dogs, hit with a bottle in Detroit, sleeping and nearly freezing to death in a strange man's backyard, drinking "Red Beer" in Beloit, KS, getting trapped in a blizzard despite 1 all-terrain tire on the TFJ van, having someone chased down and shot in a St. Louis club the night before playing there, seeing an old Asian man in Richard Simmons pants dance on stage, getting offered cocaine for a CD, and totally rocking coast to coast, the first TFJ tour went off without a hitch.
Despite the naysayers, The Family Jewels had self-financed a US tour on their own.