Scan from DVD box art of This Is Spinal Tap
|The Originals, The New Originals, The Thamesmen|
|Origin||United Kingdom (fictional)
United States (actual)
|Genres||Heavy metal, glam metal, hard rock, comedy rock, psychedelic rock|
|1964-1982 (fictional), 1979-1984, 1992, 2001, 2007, 2009|
|Labels||Polymer, Megaphone (fictional); Polydor, MCA|
|The Folksmen, Lenny and the Squigtones|
|Members||David St. Hubbins
Spinal Tap (stylized as Sp?n?al Tap, with a dotless letter i and a metal umlaut over the n) is a parody band spoofing the style of rock heavy metal groups. The band first appeared on a 1979 ABC TV sketch comedy pilot called The T.V. Show, starring Rob Reiner. The sketch, actually a mock promotional video for the song "Rock and Roll Nightmare", was written by Reiner and the band, and included songwriter/performer Loudon Wainwright III on keyboards. Later the band became the fictional subject of the 1984 rockumentary/mockumentary film This Is Spinal Tap. The band members are portrayed by Michael McKean (as David St. Hubbins), Christopher Guest (as Nigel Tufnel) and Harry Shearer (as Derek Smalls).
This Is Spinal Tap was accompanied by a soundtrack album of the same name. In the years following the film's release, the actors have portrayed the band members at concerts and released music under the Spinal Tap name. Guest, McKean, and Shearer toured in the United States in April and May 2009 and performed as Spinal Tap in a "One Night Only World Tour" on June 30, 2009 at Wembley Arena in London, three days after playing the Glastonbury Festival. Support at Wembley Arena came from the same trio's fictitious folk music band The Folksmen.
The band Spinal Tap first appeared in a video aired as part of a 1979 sketch comedy special called "The TV Show", a project spearheaded by Rob Reiner and Micheal McKean. The video was for the song "Rock 'N' Roll Nightmare", in a sequence that was intended as a spoof of The Midnight Special. Participating in the video (and playing the music) were Michael McKean, Christopher Guest, Harry Shearer, Loudon Wainwright III, and Russ Kunkel; the segment was introduced by Reiner in character as Wolfman Jack. The Spinal Tap band members were at this point unnamed.
Also in 1979, Guest and McKean were members of Lenny and the Squigtones, a band that was fronted by characters from the hit television series Laverne and Shirley. Guest, on guitar and clarinet, was credited as "Nigel Tufnel", the name he would eventually use as a member of Spinal Tap.
The appearance on "The TV Show" eventually led to the creation of a film, tracing a disastrous tour undertaken by the aging British metal band Spinal Tap. Reiner hosted the film in the character of filmmaker "Marty DiBergi", while Guest, McKean and Shearer took on character names for the project, and further developed their Spinal Tap personas. (Respectively, Guest was guitarist "Nigel Tufnel"; McKean was vocalist "David St. Hubbins"; and Shearer was bassist "Derek Smalls".) Also added to the group was David Kaff (as keyboardist "Viv Savage") and R.J. Parnell (as drummer "Mick Shrimpton"). Parnell had previously been in the band Atomic Rooster, while Kaff had been a member of Rare Bird. The quintet played their own instruments throughout the film.
Although the 1984 film portrays the band hailing from the United Kingdom, the three actors who play the principal band members - Guest, McKean and Shearer - were born in the United States. (Guest was however raised in both the U.S. and Britain, and he would subsequently be granted dual citizenship and inherited a title of nobility: Baron Haden-Guest.) Kaff and Parnell, who have much smaller roles in the film, are both British.
Fans of Spinal Tap have assembled details about the band based on fictional film, albums, concerts, and related promotional material, including a discography and a list of the band's former members. Spinal Tap's fictional history includes a succession of drummers, all of whom are said to have died in strange circumstances: one in a "bizarre gardening accident"; another who "choked on vomit" (a reference to John Bonham's and Bon Scott's deaths) -- but not his own vomit; and, two from "spontaneous human combustion" onstage. Additionally, it is claimed that police described one of the deaths as a mystery "best left unsolved."
Spinal Tap "reunited" in 1992 for Break Like the Wind, an album produced in part by T-Bone Burnett, an accomplished musician and record producer. The album was accompanied by a promotional audition for a new drummer attended by Stephen Perkins of Jane's Addiction, Gina Schock of The Go-Go's, and Mick Fleetwood of Fleetwood Mac, who auditioned in a fireproof suit. A promotional concert tour followed, which included an appearance at the Freddie Mercury Tribute Concert, where they performed "The Majesty of Rock," a song they dedicated to Freddie Mercury and released as a single. The band also released the single "Bitch School."
On July 1, 1992, Tap crossed five time zones for three performances in St. John's, Newfoundland; Barrie, Ontario; and Vancouver, British Columbia, for MuchMusic and Molson's Great Canadian Party. For each performance of "Stonehenge", the miniature monument prop was delivered on stage in a courier envelope.
In 2001, the band "reunited" for the nine-city "Back from the Dead Tour" that began on June 1, 2001, at the Greek Theater in Los Angeles. The tour included a show at Carnegie Hall in New York City and ended in Montreal in mid-July at the Just for Laughs festival. The opening act for some of these shows were The Folksmen, the folk trio seen in the film A Mighty Wind, and also performed by Guest, McKean, and Shearer.
In 2007, Tap reunited again, this time to help combat global warming. "They're not that environmentally conscious, but they've heard of global warming," said Marty DeBergi (portrayed by Reiner). "Nigel thought it was just because he was wearing too much clothing - that if he just took his jacket off it would be cooler." This reunion also included the release of a new song called "Warmer Than Hell". The band played on the London leg of the SOS/Live Earth concert series, and Rob Reiner has directed a short film (entitled Spinal Tap) which was released on the Live Earth website on April 27. The film reveals that Nigel Tufnel is now working as a farm hand looking after miniature horses. He plans to race them. David St Hubbins is currently working as a hip-hop producer and Derek Smalls is in rehab for being addicted to the Internet.
A new album, Back from the Dead, was released on June 16, 2009. The album consists mostly of re-recordings of songs from the original film's soundtrack, as they would have sounded had they really existed and been recorded in a studio.
On April 6, 2009, the band announced a one-date "world tour," performing at London's Wembley Arena on June 30, 2009. Support on this night came from The Folksmen. The band unexpectedly also self-confirmed for Glastonbury Festival 2009 during an online interview on May 8, 2009 in the Philadelphia Daily News following a "Unwigged and Unplugged" show in the city.
The band appeared as the musical guests on an episode of Saturday Night Live (SNL) in the spring of 1984. Barry Bostwick was the host. At this time producer Dick Ebersol approached Shearer, Guest and McKean to join the cast. Shearer and Guest accepted. (McKean would not join until ten years later, by which time original producer Lorne Michaels was back at the show's helm.) Shearer's stint on SNL the following season--his second, the first having been the 1979-80 season--was to be short-lived, following creative disputes with the show's management. Shearer has said that when Ebersol made the offer during the Spinal Tap guest appearance, "I didn't realize that guests were treated better than cast members."
In 1985 at the invitation of Ronnie James Dio, Michael McKean and Harry Shearer took part in the heavy metal benefit project Hear 'n Aid, to raise money for Ethiopian refugees. McKean and Shearer met dozens of real-life metal stars, many of whom were huge fans of Spinal Tap. McKean and Shearer are credited in character as David St. Hubbins and Derek Smalls on the Hear 'n Aid single's front cover (alongside many real-life heavy metal stars); the ad hoc supergroup's single "Stars" rose to #26 on the UK charts in May, 1986.
As part of the promotion surrounding Break Like the Wind, Spinal Tap was portrayed in "The Otto Show" episode of the animated series The Simpsons, for which Shearer is a principal voice actor. The Simpsons follows the approach of the original film by presenting the group as if they were a real group. During the disastrous performance, a massive devil balloon on the stage does not inflate properly, and Nigel is temporarily blinded by lasers. Later in the episode, their tour bus is accidentally pushed off a cliff due to Otto's reckless driving.
On July 1, 1992, as part of MuchMusic's Canada Day "Great Canadian Party" festival, Spinal Tap completed an unprecedented tour of Canada in less than 24 hours. Jetting across five time-zones, the band played St. John's, Newfoundland, Barrie, Ontario, and Vancouver, British Columbia. That evening, during a performance of "Stonehenge", Tap received their signature, triptych set-piece via Canada Post in a small, bubble-wrap envelope that Derek Smalls signed for onstage. Bemused, Smalls tore open the packaging, and revealed to the cheering crowd the prop which looked to be half the size of the original 18 inch Stonehenge rock from the film.
In 1994, The Return of Spinal Tap was released on video; most of this was live material from a 1992 performance at the Royal Albert Hall, but it also included some interviews and follow-up on the band members.
In 2000, while promoting Tapster.com, Spinal Tap appeared and performed on the short-lived series VH1 The List (with Mick Fleetwood on drums) and appeared on the Late Show.
In 2006, Nigel Tufnel appeared in a Volkswagen TV commercial highlighting their offer of a free, exclusive First Act guitar with the purchase of qualifying automobiles. The guitar features knobs and inlays with the Volkswagen logo and pre-amps that allow it to be played through the car's stereo system. Also in 2006, the song "Gimme Some Money" was used in a TV commercial for Open from American Express, "Tonight I'm Gonna Rock You Tonight" appeared in Harmonix's video game Guitar Hero 2 and "Christmas with the Devil" appeared in BBC One promo spots for the network's Christmas program.
In 2007, while accepting an award from the BBC Two program The Culture Show, Christopher Guest broke into Nigel Tufnel, and considered what his wife and kids would make of the Mark Kermode shaped award.
On July 7, 2007 Spinal Tap played at Wembley Stadium in London along with many major bands and groups as part of Live Earth, a Climate Change awareness concert. Their set included a new song written for the occasion, "Warmer Than Hell." During their final number, the song "Big Bottom," St. Hubbins and Tufnel both picked up basses. Spinal Tap was also joined by "every bass player in the known universe," including Nate Mendel (of the Foo Fighters); Robert Trujillo, Kirk Hammett, and James Hetfield (Metallica); Gordon Moakes (Bloc Party); and Adam Yauch (a.k.a. MCA), of Beastie Boys. They were also joined on back-up vocals by Annette O'Toole, Michael McKean's wife.
In May 2008, Nigel Tufnel appeared in the National Geographic show Stonehenge Decoded, expounding his nonsensical theories about Stonehenge and who was responsible for building it. His claims to have invented "decoder" experiments capable of unveiling the true purpose of the monument are, as yet, unproven.
On March 2, 2009, Christopher Guest, Michael McKean and Harry Shearer held a press conference at the House of Blues in Los Angeles to announce their forthcoming album of new and old Spinal Tap songs, plus a 2009 "Unwigged & Unplugged" tour to celebrate the 25th anniversary of the film, This Is Spinal Tap. According to an L.A. Weekly report, when MTV News' Kurt Loder asked the trio "if they had plans beyond an album and tour, Shearer answered, 'We're gonna bomb Iran.'" The tour also features songs from the Folksmen and others from throughout the trio's career.
On April 1, 2009, Guest, McKean, and Shearer played on The Tonight Show with Jay Leno as the musical guest.
On June 15, 2009, Spinal Tap performed on The Tonight Show with Conan O'Brien as the musical guest.
On Saturday, June 27, 2009, Spinal Tap performed on the main stage at the Glastonbury Festival with Jarvis Cocker guesting on bass during "Big Bottom," and also inviting Jamie Cullum on stage to play keyboards. One of the unexpected highlights for Tap fans was a rendition of the newly written overture from the mythical Jack the Ripper musical Saucy Jack. Also on the bill were Kasabian, Crosby Stills & Nash, and Bruce Springsteen.
On Tuesday, June 30, 2009 Spinal Tap performed at Wembley Arena with The Folksmen as support. A variety of special guests featured including Keith Emerson (joined them on organ/keyboards - which he later destroyed during the show), Justin Hawkins from the Darkness and others.
On July 27, 2009, the band performed on Late Night with Jimmy Fallon as the musical guest announcing their retirement and shortly thereafter their comeback.
The next day, Tuesday, July 28, 2009, they were the musical guest on The Daily Show with Jon Stewart.
On August 25, 2009, Spinal Tap released a seven-minute short film titled Stonehenge: 'Tis a Magical Place celebrating their 25th anniversary. The video is distributed through INgrooves and is available only on iTunes. The short film depicts the founding members of Spinal Tap making a pilgrimage to Stonehenge for the first time.
The same trio of actors (Guest, McKean and Shearer) also portray the fictitious American folk music revival band The Folksmen, who first appeared on November 3, 1984 episode of Saturday Night Live. Some Spinal Tap concert appearances in the 1980s and beyond have even featured Guest, McKean, and Shearer opening for themselves as The Folksmen. The folk trio is also featured prominently in the 2003 Christopher Guest-directed "mockumentary" film A Mighty Wind.
This list contains both fictional former members of Spinal Tap and celebrities that have played with the band.