Re Styles, who provided visual and aural elements to The Tubes during their 1970s entrance to an utterly unprepared music world but left the band before its commercial breakthrough in the next decade, died on April 17th. Styles was 72.
Styles, born Shirley Macleod, emigrated to the United States from her native Netherlands. After bit roles in a couple of underground films and a similar number of layouts in skin magazines, Styles met some of the band members at a San Francisco art show (at the time, drummer Prairie Prince was attending the San Francisco Art Institute on a scholarship) and started working with them as a costume designer. She eventually joined the band on stage as a background vocalist, working her way up to co-lead singer on songs such as “Don’t Touch Me There” and 1979’s “Prime Time.” That same year Styles married Prince, with the marriage ending some years later.
According to a 2019 interview with Tubes lead singer Fee Waybill, Styles left the group to deal with typical 1970s rock excesses.
The last tour Re did was in 1979 and at that point, she was in bad shape. She was drinking too much and she didn’t really want to tour anymore. So she kind of left the band at that point when we went to Capitol. We had two or three girl dancers but they weren’t really featured vocalists and it was more of a theatrical addition to the band than a musical addition. Re used to be a designer. She used to design windows for like Macy’s and big department stores. She designed display windows. She was really a talented girl. Really talented. We still are in contact with her.
If the Grateful Dead were San Francisco in the 1960s, The Tubes were San Francisco in the 1970s: a brash, bawdy, carnal party that survived despite itself. The band started in Phoenix in the late 1960s, where two local bands joined forces and moved to San Francisco in the early 1970s. The Tubes brought theatrics and more than a bit of skin to their stage presentation, backed by the band’s tight, multi-flavored beefy art-rock. Characteristic of the band’s offbeat output was the underground anthem “White Punks on Dope.”
Never fitting in, although loved in their adopted home and clumps of fervent followers across the globe, the band didn’t break through commercially until the early 1980s, when it streamlined its show and, to a degree, mainstreamed its music. The results were hits such as “Talk To Ya Later,” “Don’t Want to Wait Anymore,” and “She’s a Beauty.” The band fell apart in the mid-1980s, although it still tours with several original members, including Waybill.
During their heyday, The Tubes were an internal part of the San Francisco music scene. Although their turn in the general public spotlight was brief, the band created a body of work well worth investigating for its high level of musicianship and puckish creativity. Styles added much to this, and she was an essential part of the band’s foundation.
Godspeed, Ms. Styles.
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