The band gained recognition following the 1986 release of their debut album, Tyrants of Teen Trash (Og Music), which led to an "underground" following in Europe, the United States (US) and Canada. Subsequent releases increased their fan base and, after periods of touring, the band established itself within the global garage music scene.
With no previous musical experience, Bobby Beaton (guitar and vocals), Gerry Alvarez (guitar and vocals), John Davis (bass) and Davis' brother, Eric Davis (drums), were all between the ages of 16 and 19 when they began playing music together. It has been reported[by whom?] that the four teenagers were primarily inspired by long nights spent in their parents' basement watching TV and listening to obscure mid-60s records. Taking their name from the scary neighbours on TV's The Flintstones, the Gruesomes developed an image of matching black turtlenecks, Beatle boots and bowl haircuts, combining it with a "snotty" punk musical style. Early live shows relied more on the group's energy and humour than actual musical ability; however, the Gruesomes proceeded to become a popular club act, despite their inexperience.
Within a year of forming, the Gruesomes recorded their debut LP for Og Records, an independent music label based in Montreal. In 1986, Tyrants of Teen Trash, a collection of primitive teen anthems, was released and fared well in the European and North American markets. In their home country of Canada, the album was often in the number one position on alternative playlists. The band's follow-up releases, also on Og, 1987's Gruesomania and 1988's Hey!, were also well-received and established the band as one of Canada's biggest selling underground acts.
Famous for their wild stage presence, the Gruesomes toured Canada and the US accompanied by a reputation for legendary live shows. Always taking an irreverent approach to music, the Gruesomes were known for their humor and goofy stage antics. Their famous Halloween shows were schlock tributes to horror themes, incorporating camp props such as coffins and Dracula capes. In 1987, following the release of Gruesomania, Ottawa's John Knoll replaced Eric Davis on drums and the band subsequently wrote music that sounded more like R&B than garage punk.
The Gruesomes ceased operation as a band in 1990 and it is reported that the members believed that they had achieved the highest level of success that was possible for an underground musical act.
In late 1999, the Gruesomes reformed to coincide with the release of a new album, Cave-In!. A 14-track CD was released in Canada, whilst the album was sold as a 12" vinyl record in Germany. The tour to support Cave-In! was primarily driven by popular demand and resulted in the band playing shows in Germany and Amsterdam. The Gruesomes continued to gig in Canada and the US, including performances at Cave Stomp and Sundazed in New York City, New York, US.
The Gruesomes' most recent performance was in 2008 to coincide with the CD release of Tyrants of Teen Trash.