The band has its roots in a Detroit that saw the emergence of not only Motown, but protopunk legends like the MC5 and Iggy Pop, as well as Alice Cooper and funkmeister George Clinton. Mix in a little Coltrane-worship and nods to Zappa and the Firesign Theatre and the elements are present to give birth to W(NW). Don and David met in junior high and started to lay down the kind of sick, audio juvenalia that had their parents praying for their future well-being. They were right to worry. David departed for Los Angeles after college and was day-jobbing as a jazz critic, while Don stayed in the trenches honing his studio and bass-playing chops. Broke and despondent, Don called David in 1979 and threatened to rob a dry cleaners unless the latter came back home to cut a couple of demos. David, not unamused at the prospect of seeing his old pal in prison stripes, nonetheless prodigally returned and they cut two 12″ singles and were immediately signed by visionary Ze Records’ founder Michael Zilkha, who convinced Chris Blackwell to ink them at Island. The boys would release their eponymous LP there in 1981, and garner international notice for their heady brew of funk beats, jazz soloing and e e cummings meets William Burroughs wordsmithery. DJ’s also took notice and propelled their single, “Tell Me That I’m Dreaming” to the top of Billboard’s dance charts.
A second album in 1983 — Born To Laugh at Tornadoes — wound up on Geffen Records, and confused everyone at the company something good, featuring as it did guest vocals from the likes of Mel Torme and Ozzy Osbourne.Eclectic, yes, marketable to any but the stouthearted or schizophrenic, unlikely.
It would be with the release of their third collection in 1988, “What Up, Dog,” that the boys would hit their commercial stride, earning two top 10 singles worldwide with “Walk the Dinosaur” and “Spy in the House of Love.” Global tours followed in Europe, Japan and the USA, and the album would find its way to the upper rungs of that year’s critic’s polls, and eventually be included in Rolling Stone Magazine’s ‘Top 100 albums of the ’80s.’
A fourth studio album — “Are You Okay” –would follow in 1990 and that too spawned a top 5 hit internationally, the rap-inflected cover of “Papa Was a Rolling Stone.” The band would take to the road in 1992 opening for Dire Straits on a four-month tour of Europe’s bigger venues, and also released a best-of package, “Hello Dad I’m in Jail,” which included a remix of their earlier Ozzy collaboration, “Shake Your Head,” this time with Kim Basinger (!) sharing co-lead vocals and leading to another smash single on the dancefloor and pop charts overseas.
Of course, that’s not all the lads were up to all those years. Don Was stepped to the fore as a producer after working with Bonnie Raitt on the Grammy-winning “Nick of Time,” staying in constant demand for the next decade and working with everyone from Iggy to Kristofferson to the B52’s to Elton John and Brian Wilson, to drop just a few names. David Was went Hollywood and produced two soundtrack collections for the “X-Files” and wound up scoring two network TV dramas. And together, Don and David produced the Grammy-winning Roy Orbison/ KD Lang duet of “Crying” as well as Bob Dylan’s “Under the Red Sky” album. They also started a badminton club for ex-cons called the “Birdie Men from Alcatraz,” or so it was rumored.
It was Don’s work with the Rolling Stones on “Bridges to Babylon” and “Voodoo Lounge” that inspired a return to the good old days of bandhood. The Bruz Was rented a studio across from a strip joint on Sunset Blvd. and hunkered down to make some new tracks in the last few years. Nothin’ like some hip-shakin mamas in close proximity to get the juices flowing again, n’est ce pas? The band reformed to play the Sundance Film Festival in the winter of 2004 and made a triumphal return to London’s Jazz Cafe the following fall. Was (Not Was) may have been napping, but they never stopped having nightmares! The results will soon storm the barricades of radio, concert halls and festivals ’til they are sent to their rooms to do more audio homework. Stay tuned, don’t drop out, not just yet!
“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 scepticism of authority.”
[Detroit’s Metro Times]