Lost in the ’80s: The BusBoys

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BusBoys

Led by brothers Brian and Kevin O’Neal, the BusBoys burst from suburban Los Angeles in the early ’80s with their uncategorizable blend of Rock, New Wave and old-fashioned rhythm and blues. This eclectic yet appealing mash of styles made it tough for radio programmers: Were they Rock? But they’re African-American! Were they Soul? But they play weird, New Wave-y rock songs! It seemed the only way to make a BusBoys believer out of people was to see their fantastic live show. And what a show it was.

The group wrote barnbusters with wit and style, taking back rock while ironically lamenting that it had become a white man’s game. Take the provocative “”KKK” (download) for example, where the protagonist laments that people think he has to be white to play Rock ‘n Roll:

I am bigger than a n*gger
Wanna be an all American man
Wanna join the Ku Klux Klan
Play in a rock ‘n’ roll band.

I remember the first time I saw the BusBoys. It was on ABC’s Fridays in 1981. Fridays was ABC’s copy of Saturday Night Live that sometimes (read “often”) was funnier than SNL at the time, plus Fridays regularly featured much hipper musical guests like Devo, The Clash and The Jim Carroll Band. One Friday night, the BusBoys came on and completely destroyed my 12-year old mind. Luckily, I taped it way back when; from a wobbly, deteriorating VHS tape, here’s nine minutes of unadulterated rock ‘n roll insanity:

Sadly, apart from some strong buzz on the West Coast due to their spectacular live show and some scant radio play, their debut album, Minimum Wage Rock & Roll, wasn’t the big breakthrough the band and their critical supporters hoped for. On their second LP, American Worker, the band recorded a song called “Heart & Soul” that failed to stir up much interest until a year later, when Huey Lewis & the News recorded it and rode it to super-stardom. Such is the rock ‘n roll life. The band finally scored a couple of minor hits later, when their number one fan Eddie Murphy got them on SNL (finally) and featured the group on his Delirious concert video. From there, the BusBoys scored minor hits with “Cleanin’ Up The Town” from the Ghostbusters soundtrack and “The Boys Are Back” from 48 Hours, but sadly never did break through to the platinum big leagues.

The band continues to tour and release songs on its website. Here are the other songs the band performed on that fateful Friday, but you really should grab Minimum Wage Rock & Roll in its entirety off iTunes – it’s fantastic (especially the should-have-been New Wave smash “Did You See Me”) and available now for the first time in years.

“Minimum Wage” (download)

“Johnny Soul’d Out” (download)

Get BusBoys music at Amazon or on The Busboys