One of the lesser-known bands on the legendary SST roster, the Tar Babies emerged from Madison, WI, with a distinctive brand of punk-funk that often drew comparisons to their labelmates the Minutemen, as well as the Texas-based Big Boys. Colored with bits of psychedelia, jazz, and avant-noise skronk, their music quickly progressed beyond their roots in hardcore and evolved into a scratchy but danceable, groove-centered hybrid complete with horns and George Clinton-style jamming. The Tar Babies were formed out of the ashes of Madison hardcore punkers Mecht Mensch, who disbanded in 1982. Guitarist/vocalist Bucky Pope, bassist Robin Davies, and drummer Dan Bitney debuted with the 1982 EP Face the Music, issued on local indie Bone Air. By the time of their second release, 1985's Respect Your Nightmares, their funk influence had begun to come into focus, which helped catch the attention of SST. The Tar Babies' first album for SST was 1987's Fried Milk, on which their punk-funk fusion truly crystallized. For the follow-up, 1988's No Contest, they played up that funk connection by adding horns -- most courtesy of woodwind player and multi-instrumentalist Tony Jarvis -- and even flirting with Washington, D.C.-style go-go. Their third SST album, 1989's Honey Bubble, also proved to be their last. After a brief hiatus, during which some of the band's personnel shifted, Pope reconvened the Tar Babies, now with second guitarist Bobby Vienneau and new horn player Andrew Lawton; this lineup cut one record, Death Trip, for the small Sonic Noise label in 1991. Following its release, the group disbanded permanently. Dan Bitney moved to Chicago and joined the seminal post-rock combo Tortoise as a percussionist and effects manipulator, also playing with Isotope 217 and several other local projects. Pope and Davies later reunited as the Bar Tabbies for local gigs, and Davies' son Jesse Collins-Davies was also a member of the preteen hardcore band Old Skull.
by Steve Huey