Was (Not Was)
Was (Not Was) is an American eclectic pop group founded by David Weiss (a.k.a. David Was) and Don Fagenson (a.k.a. Don Was). They gained popularity in the 1980s and early 1990s. Weiss and Fagenson were childhood friends who grew up together in suburban Detroit. Partly due to Fagenson's poverty they decided to form Was (Not Was) in 1979. The name of the band was derived from Fagenson's then-infant son Tony, who was just beginning to talk and enjoyed contradicting words such as "Blue" with "Not Blue". Their first recording was "Wheel Me Out", a 12-inch dance record for the avant-garde ZE Records. It was also included on the 2000 compilation album Disco Not Disco. Their first album Was (Not Was) (1981) was an amalgam of rock, disco, Weiss's beat poetry, Reagan-era political-social commentary, and jazz. On vocals they recruited Harry Bowens and "Sweet Pea" Atkinson, who proved to be distinctive, soulful front men who frequently found themselves singing absurdist and satirical songs alongside tender ballads. The MC5's Wayne Kramer, The Knack's Doug Fieger, and Mingus trumpeter Marcus Belgrave were among the guest players. In 1982, the group played on Don't Walk Away, a solo album for lead singer "Sweet Pea" Atkinson. The eclectic Born to Laugh at Tornadoes (1983) had even more guest musicians, including Ozzy Osbourne rapping over electro, Mitch Ryder belting out a techno-rockabilly number, Mel Tormé crooning an odd ballad about asphyxiation, and an abstract funk piece called "Man vs. the Empire Brain Building". Singer Donald Ray Mitchell joined the group as third lead vocalist. In 1988, they found their biggest hit with the album What Up, Dog?, which featured the singles "Walk the Dinosaur" and "Spy in the House of Love". Special guests included Stevie Salas, John Patitucci, Frank Sinatra, Jr., and a writing credit for Elvis Costello. Artist/animator Christoph Simon created videos to accompany some of their songs, such as "What Up Dog?", "Dad I'm in Jail", and the Tom Waits-style "Earth to Doris". The videos appeared on MTV's Liquid Television and in various film festivals, including the Spike & Mike festival. About this time, the Was Brothers developed separate careers as producers, film scorers, and music supervisors. The group followed up with Are You Okay? in 1990, spearheaded by a cover of "Papa Was a Rollin' Stone". Guest musicians included Iggy Pop, Leonard Cohen, The Roches, and Syd Straw. After a tour with Dire Straits in 1992 and a UK Top 5 single with "Shake Your Head" (vocals from Ozzy Osbourne and Kim Basinger), Weiss and Fagenson drifted apart and nothing was heard from the band but for a compilation album Hello Dad... I'm in Jail. Some members, however, did appear on Don's Orquestra Was project Forever Is a Long Long Time (1997), which re-interpreted Hank Williams in a jazz/R&B vein. In late 2004, Was (Not Was) reformed and were back on stage for a two-month club tour through US (including stops at the House of Blues in Cleveland and Chicago and the Trocadero in Philadelphia). In October 2005, they played four gigs at the Jazz Café in London. In 2008, they released their fifth studio album Boo!, featuring guest appearances from Kris Kristofferson, Wayne Kramer, Marcus Miller and Booker T. Jones, plus a song originally co-written with Bob Dylan nearly 20 years earlier. Detroit's Metro Times described the band as "an endearing mess....a sausage factory of funk, rock, jazz and electronic dance music, all providing a boogie-down backdrop for a radical (and witty) political message of unbridled personal freedom and skepticism of authority." On April 22, 2008, they performed on the British show Later... with Jools Holland, and on May 2, they were the musical guest on Late Night with Conan O'Brien. The band toured the US in 2008, beginning on April 30.