In early 1992, the heavy and hair metal behemoths that had strode the stages of North America for almost a decade were about to be swept to the point of annihilation by the grunge movement. Propelled by the breakout success of their parodical hit ‘Everything About You’, a bunch of dudes from Santa Barbara would buck that trend for a while when their debut album America’s Least Wanted proved its title a lie and went onto sell over 2 million copies in the US alone.
Here in Australia, the band was so popular they were able to tour for three solid weeks as the album climbed to #7 and charted for almost a year. It was eventually certified double platinum here too.
These days, “you can’t sell anything,” says Ugly Kid Joe’s vocalist and founding member Whitfield Crane, from his home-away-from-home in Melbourne. “If ‘Stairway to Heaven’ hadn’t been written, and you wrote it right now, you wouldn’t sell any records. It’s an interesting time to be a young band, or even an old band.”
“For me, music’s always transcended everything anyway,” he continues, philosophically. “For me, the whole thing has been about singing live, getting on stage and performing.”
So 25 years after their debut took the country by storm, Crane and his crew are bringing their funk- and fun-laced heavy rock back in December to relive it onstage track-by-track. They won’t be staying for three weeks, but it will be 80% of the original Least Wanted line-up bringing it on.
“You’re going to get a bunch of kickass rock n roll songs,” Whit says in anticipation of the tour. “You’re gonna get America’s Least Wanted, with all the guys playing together. We just came off tour in Europe and we played a lot off that record and it was nice to be playing it again.”
The tour also includes Melbourne acts Dallas Frasca and Tim McMillan, both of whom provide somewhat contrasting styles of rock to both each other and the headliner. It’s a forward-thinking combination of talents that is rarely seen on a landscape where the unspoken rules seem to require touring bills made up of similar-sounding bands.
Crane takes the credit/blame for the line-up.
“We got to tour with Motörhead, with Ozzy Osbourne, with Van Halen,” he says of their early days. “We got to meet our heroes, the posters on our walls! But when I think about it now, we came out of Santa Barbara. Even though we were from California, we didn’t really have a peer group. The godfathers adopted us, but who were our people? Who are they? We are our people! So we created a community ourselves. So I’ve been out here [Melbourne] a few times over the last couple of years and I’ve embraced this band called Dallas Frasca. They’re special. They’re a special band. So they’re gonna be on tour with us, with Ugly Kid Joe.”
He talks excitedly, recalling how successfully this same bill worked on their recent European jaunt.
“And then, hold on – over here there’s this wonderfully talented guy, Tim McMillan”, he continues. “Tim McMillan’s favourite band when he was growing up was Ugly Kid Joe! In 1992, we didn’t have a peer group. Now fast forward to 2017, and we have found our peer group. It’s good to tour with people that we know, so it’s going to be a really good time.”
For a brief moment in time, Whitfield Crane and Ugly Kid Joe were embraced as one of the best good times to be had from the world of hard rock. A lot of years have passed since then, but the Uglies are still having a good time and determined to prove that they’re really not unwanted after all.
“When we were on that [first Aussie] tour, I was 24. It’s been a whole lifetime for me,” says Crane. “That’s fascinating. The fact we’ve got all the guys together and we’re able to share our musical experiences at this level, that’s pretty cool.”