With roots in seminal San Francisco punk acts the Sleepers and Negative Trend, Toiling Midgets was one of the first West Coast punk bands to experiment with dub and post-punk elements, sounding much like their L.A. contemporaries the Gun Club. In 1980, Toiling Midgets was founded by guitarist Craig Gray, who had recently parted ways with Negative Trend. Negative Trend was the first San Francisco punk band, whose other members (Steve DePace and Will Shatter) went on to form yet another seminal West Coast punk band, Flipper, with the Sleepers' Ricky Williams. Another Sleepers member, drummer Tim Mooney, was roped in by Gray for his own new band, who rounded out Toiling Midgets' lineup with guitarist Paul Hood and bassist Johnathan Henrickson.
Toiling Midgets began as an instrumental four-piece looking to move beyond the confines of punk; exploring darker, more atmospheric (though no less forceful) territory. When Ricky Williams was kicked out of Flipper, for famously being "too weird," he joined Toiling Midgets as their vocalist, bringing a restless energy to the band. Hooking up with producer Tom Mallon (who would go on to produce records by American Music Club, Chris Isaak, and Thin White Rope; and found Grifter Records), the band recorded their debut album, Sea of Unrest, released by Rough Trade in 1982 (reissued by Cargo in 1994). A couple of years of gigging followed, but the band's proclivity toward self-destruction prevented anything beyond a small, underground following. By the release of 1985's Deadbeats on small indie Thermidor, Williams and Henrickson had left the band.
During the rest of the '80s, there was limited activity from the Toiling Midgets, although in 1992 the remaining members recorded Son with Mark Eitzel on vocals, who at the time was taking a break from his band American Music Club. Again produced by Mallon, Son benefited from the relatively high profile of Eitzel, and was released by Matador in the U.S. and Hut/Virgin in the U.K. By the end of the year, however, the band received word that Ricky Williams had passed away due to a respiratory illness, and Eitzel returned to AMC, bringing drummer Tim Mooney with him. ~ Aaron Warshaw