If Buttsteak wasn't the goofiest punk-pop/alternative pop/rock band of the ‘90s, they were certainly among the goofiest. The East Coast outfit was active during the grunge era of the early to mid-‘90s, but Buttsteak was never grunge -- far from it. At a time when Nirvana, Pearl Jam, Hole, and their Seattle colleagues were all about dark, ultra-serious, angst-ridden introspection, Buttsteak was an exercise in nutty, wacky, over-the-top fun. Buttsteak's highly infectious material was greatly influenced by the punk and new wave of the late ‘70s and early ‘80s; they rocked as aggressively as the Ramones, the Buzzcocks, and the Dickies, but much of their poppiness came from the melodic new wave of the B-52's, Devo, and the Talking Heads. In terms of sheer insanity, Buttsteak's lyrics could give Devo's "Jocko Homo" and the B-52s' "Rock Lobster" a run for their money; Buttsteak's song "Mant," for example, was about a creature who was half man and half ant, while "Murder Trilogy" (a dark-humored number about serial killers) found them chanting silly lyrics like "Charlie Manson doesn't like dancin'. Charlie Manson doesn't like dancin'." But Buttsteak wasn't just silly -- like the Ramones, Devo, and the madcap Sparks, they could be quite clever.
Buttsteak's members included singer/guitarist George Bowen, guitarist Ron Spencer, keyboardist/singer Julie McDermott, bassist Scott Hendrick, and drummer Ron Oswald. The band was formed in Norfolk, VA in the late ‘80s, and they spent several years in that city before moving north to Baltimore, MD in 1993. After arriving in Baltimore, they quickly acquired a small but enthusiastic cult following in Maryland's largest city as well as in nearby Washington, DC. Nationally, Buttsteak weren't nearly as well known as they deserved to be, but the East Coast residents who attended their gigs really swore by them. Buttsteak's first album came out in 1994, when the small, Baltimore-based Merkin label released Shit...Cool It's the Honeycomb Generation. After that promising debut, Buttsteak signed with the better known Go-Kart Records and provided two albums for that company: their sophomore effort Moroccan VD and their third album, Men Who Pause. Regrettably, Men Who Pause turned out to be Buttsteak's swan song; not long after that album's release in 1996, the band broke up. After Buttsteak's demise, the group's ex-members moved on to other projects -- some in Baltimore, some elsewhere. Oswald brought his drums to a Baltimore band called Dirty Sanchez, while McDermott ended up in a Cincinnati, OH-based outfit known as the Patsy Cline (who were obviously named after the famous country-pop singer). Bowen went on to run the Ottobar, a Baltimore rock club -- and Spencer briefly revived the Lee Harvey Keitel Band, which had previously been around during his Norfolk days. After LHKB's breakup in 1998, Spencer played with Baltimore drummer Marc Berrong in two different local bands: the People's Army of Rome and Landspeed Record! The late ‘90s also found Spencer organizing a Tuesday-night showcase for singer/songwriters at the Ottobar. ~ Alex Henderson