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John H. Slate

Listen to this group

BUTTHOLE SURFERS. The band the Butthole Surfers was formed in 1981 in San Antonio, Texas. With periodic changes, the core lineup has consisted of Paul Leary (guitar and vocals), Gibson “Gibby” Haynes (vocals, guitar, saxophone and other instruments), Jeff “King” Coffey (percussion), Teresa Taylor (percussion), and Jeff Pinkus (bass). The band included many other personnel at various times, including Quinn Matthews, Scott Stevens, Scott Matthews, Terence Smart, Andrew Mullin, Mark Kramer, Kytha Gernatt (aka Cabbage), Trevor Malcolm, Nathan Calhoun, Jason Morales, Josh Klinghoffer, Kyle Ellison, Owen McMahon, and Juan Molina.

Shared tastes in music and the nascent punk rock scene in Texas led Trinity University students Leary (born Paul Leary Walthall) and Haynes to create an early version of the band under various names such as the Dick Clark Five and the Ashtray Babyheads, which later became the Butthole Surfers. Reportedly the name Butthole Surfers stuck after an announcer erroneously confused the title of one of their songs with the band’s name. Their earliest shows were in San Antonio and Austin in 1981 and 1982. An early stage practice for the musicians involved swapping instruments for each song. From the beginning, their performances have been augmented by the amusing and sometimes disturbing stage antics of singer Haynes.

The high volume, anarchic band was both a part of and identified with the Texas punk scene and is often characterized as acid punk, though their sound is rock-based and also identified as neo-psychedelia. Other influences include the experimental groups Chrome and Throbbing Gristle. In an ever-changing style, the band has utilized an eclectic variety of instrumentation, from acoustic guitar and electronic instruments to vocals blared through bullhorns and toilet paper tubes. From the early 1980s onward the band became well-known for a visual component, which includes strobe lights, smoke machines, and randomly projected film and video. From 1986 to 1989 live shows featured a naked dancer, Kathleen Lynch. Their frenetic and shocking stage shows earned them cult status and a devout following.

The Butthole Surfers have released numerous recordings. The vast majority of their music is original, and writing is usually credited to the band collectively, though they have covered a handful of other artists, including Bloodrock’s “D.O.A.,” the Guess Who’s “American Woman,” and Donovan’s “Hurdy Gurdy Man.” The eponymous debut album for the Butthole Surfers was released in July 1983 on the Alternative Tentacles label. The following year they released Psychic... Powerless... Another Man's Sac on Touch and Go Records. Touch and Go also released Rembrandt Pussyhorse in 1986, Locust Abortion Technician in 1987, and Hairway to Steven in 1988 before the band left over legal disputes.

After Piouhgd was released on Rough Trade Records in 1991, the Surfers hit mainstream label status with Independent Worm Saloon, produced by Led Zeppelin bassist John Paul Jones on Capitol Records and released in 1993. A single from the album, "Who Was In My Room Last Night?" reached Number 24 on Billboard's Modern Rock Tracks singles chart, while the album peaked at Number 124 on the Billboard 200. Jason Cohen in Rolling Stone in 1993 called them “one of the most popular underground bands in America.” Other charting singles include the cover of Donovan’s "Hurdy Gurdy Man" (1990) which was well-received in the United Kingdom, “Pepper” (1996) which reached Number 1 on Billboard's Modern Rock Tracks chart and attained Number 4 in Australia’s Triple J's Hottest 100 of 1996, and “The Shame of Life” (2001).

The album Electriclarryland was released by Capitol in 1996 and was to be followed by After the Astronaut in 1998, but it was not released. Weird Revolution was the last Butthole Surfers studio album, issued by Hollywood Records/Surfdog Records in 2001. Several compilations and live performances have been released.

Members of the Butthole Surfers have made solo albums and participated in many side projects, as well as producing for other artists. Percussionist King Coffey started and ran the independent label Trance Syndicate from 1990 to 1999. The Butthole Surfers continued to tour into the twenty-first century.


Michael Azerrad, Our Band Could Be Your Life: Scenes from the American Indie Underground 1981–1991 (Boston: Little, Brown and Company, 2001). Butthole Surfers (http://www.buttholesurfers.com/), accessed September 16, 2015. Jason Cohen, "In Through the Back Door: The Butthole Surfers are the certified shock jocks of the next wave," Rolling Stone, June 24, 1993. Flipside #46 Interview, September 22, 1984 (http://ngro_obsrvr.tripod.com/articles/flipside.html), accessed June 21, 2011. John Leland and Ira Robbins, "Butthole Surfers," Trouser Press (http://www.trouserpress.com/entry.php?a=butthole_surfers), accessed June 21, 2011. Joe Nick Patoski and John Morthland, "Feeding the Fish: An Oral History of the Butthole Surfers," Spin (1996) (http://ngro_obsrvr.tripod.com/articles/feedfish.html), accessed June 21, 2011. Mark Paytress, "The Butthole Surfers: Mark Paytress Unravels the Career of the Cult American Band," Record Collector No. 114 (February 1989).

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The following, adapted from the Chicago Manual of Style, 15th edition, is the preferred citation for this article.

Handbook of Texas Online, John H. Slate, "BUTTHOLE SURFERS," accessed May 27, 2020, http://www.tshaonline.org/handbook/online/articles/xgb08.

Uploaded on June 4, 2014. Modified on October 24, 2015. Published by the Texas State Historical Association.
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