The U-Men was an American proto-grunge band, formed in Seattle, Washington in 1981 and active until 1989. They toured extensively across the United States and even had a song by the Butthole Surfers named in their honor. Their musically "dirty" sound was a forerunner for the later grunge bands to come out of Seattle.
Fronted by the enigmatic vocalist John Bigley, the U-Men (whose members also included Tom Price, Charlie "Chaz" Ryan, Robin Buchan, Jim Tillman, Tom Hazelmyer and later Tony "Tone Deaf" Ransom) pioneered their own unique brand of alternative rock which could best be described as "swamp-o'-billy". Together with Northwest contemporaries Girl Trouble, the U-Men emerged to fill the void left some 16 years previous with the disappearance of Northwest garage rock legends The Sonics, The Wailers, and The Ventures. They updated this traditional Northwest sound with more modern punk rock and post-punk influences most notably The Cramps and Nick Cave's original group The Birthday Party.
The U-Men quickly acquired through word of mouth a dedicated cult following and well-deserved reputation for mayhem, both on and off the stage. Perhaps their most legendary antic was when Bigley set the front of the Seattle Center Mural Amphitheater stage on fire during a Bumbershoot festival performance, and the band played on.
The U-Men were managed at different times by Susan Silver (who later went on to marry Chris Cornell and manage Soundgarden, Screaming Trees and Alice in Chains), Bruce Pavitt (co-owner of Bombshelter Records, pre-dating his Sub Pop Records foray into vinyl), and Seattle's legendary punk art gallery tastemaker, Larry Reid.
Through it all, the U-Men managed to survive largely intact (the exception being bass players) until early 1989 when the core of the group (John, Charlie, and Tom) decided that the experiment had run its course.
Tom Price moved on to form Gas Huffer, and also play in supergroup The Monkeywrench, while John and Charlie would co-found The Crows. Jim Tillman, whose work with the band included the self-titled e.p. "The U-Men" (1984), the indie classic "Stop Spinning" (1985), and the Deep Six compilation (1986) track "They" resurfaced to play bass for various other local bands most notably Love Battery. Tom Hazelmyer who had briefly considered the idea of relocating to Seattle join the band in Tillman's absence, chose instead to remain in his hometown of Minneapolis (performing live just once with the band when they opened for Big Black at the Showbox Theater in March 1987) to promote his record company (Amphetamine Reptile Records) and band, Halo of Flies. The last member of the group, 19-year-old Tony "Tone Deaf" Ransom, who in his short stint with the band managed to appear on the single "Freezebomb"/"That's Wild About Jack" (1987), the album "Step On A Bug" (1988), and the "Dope,Guns,and Fucking In The Streets Vol. 1" compilation track "Bad Little Woman" (1988), would disappear from the local music scene entirely, relocating to (as speculation would have it) Anchorage, Alaska.
The U-Men performing at the Metropolis in Seattle in 1983. From L/R, vocalist John Bigley, bassist Jim Tillman, and guitarist Tom Price.
John Bigley - vocals,
Tom Price - guitar,
Robin Buchan - bass (1981-1982),
Charlie Ryan - drums,
Jim Tillman - bass (1982-1986),
Tom Hazelmyer - bass (1987),
Tony Ransom - bass (July 1987-1989)