Tuesday, March 15, 2005

The BusBoys

Does anyone else remember this group? I first heard them when I was in high school, in the early 1980s, and used to go to the dances hosted by the Black students at several of St. Louis's premiere Roman Catholic girls' schools (Nerinx Hall and Rosati-Kain). (Did they do this in any other city?) Black folks from the county and city would show up to hang out, be seen ("feature") and dance. There were few fights or violence, and the prep style was in. The DJs would play both contemporary and classic R&B and soul (Chic, Cameo, Kool & the Gang, Earth Wind & Fire, the Commodores, Stacy Lattisaw, etc.), New Wave and post-punk music (Devo's "Whip It" and the B52s' "Rock Lobster" would always draw everyone to the dancefloor, as would Blondie), and they'd occasionally throw down tracks people considered "out there" but loved to hear, like Kraftwerk's "Trans-Europe Express." This was the era when hiphop was just catching on, so you'd only really hear Sugar Hill & the Gang, Kurtis Blow, Afrika Bambataa, and a few other rappers, if any. BusBoys

One of my favorite songs that I always waited for at these parties was the BusBoys' "Did You See Me": opening with a bouncy, infectious hook, a repetitive little ditty hovering between New Wave, punk, funk, and R&B, with a beat that made you want to not only dance, but bop till you almost started hopping, I would sing the words without thinking:

"Did you see me
I saw you
did you see me, oh yeah
I saw-aw-aw-aw you...."

This was one of those songs that I, even though a total nerd--as these posts surely make clear--had to dance to, and so I'd either ask my cousin or later, when I got my own jalopy, my female running buddy, to dance to, or in the event that some man had already snapped them up, I'd beg some poor girl to join me on the floor, or worst come to worst, I'd dance all by myself (I hadn't yet heard about the Warehouse or the Garage, where people danced by themselves all night long). And though I'm a total klutz, I knew how to dance and love to do so, especially to songs like this. Part of it was the beat, part of it the lyrics, and for whatever reason, I always perceived an x-ray aspect to the song's refrain--it was as if the Busboys' lead singer were singing directly to me, telling me that despite the fact that I felt and was totally invisible (I didn't have on the freshest clothes and kicks, especially nothing with labels, had no social graces, wasn't particularly handsome, didn't have a flashy car, wasn't rich or the son of someone famous--all the things everyone else seemed to value--and above all, I was deeply in the closet, and felt utterly like a phony, since not one of those beautiful girls, and St. Louis had many, sparked even the smallest flame), he--or someone--saw me. Talk about wishful thinking! But that's what the song communicated to me.

I also liked that their album was called Minimum Wage Rock & Roll, with songs like "Johnny Soul'd Out" and "KKK," which carried an air and aura of social consciousness. But its irony and humor and boldness also distinguished them because this was the era (the Reagan era, to be specific) when Black folks were being written out of rock & roll history, and to be into Black and into rock & roll might get you called "weird" or "not black" or something else kind of ridiculous. (Fishbone and In Living Color were just around the corner.) Yet the BusBoys were remaking it. Hell, tell me again, what musical form did Chuck Berry, Ruth Brown, Little Richard, Fats Domino and other similar musicians pioneer? Thank you: rock & roll. The BusBoy's music even paid direct homage to this era. In a bit of reverse snobbery, I felt cool--like a "connaisseur," as we'd say--liking them and knowing they weren't a group everyone was into. When I caught them in the fall of my sophomore year of high school on Fridays, that hilarious, bizarre comedy sketch show starring Michael Richards and other comics that came on for three seasons in the early 1980s, I nearly flew up to the moon! The BusBoys performed "Minimum Wage," "KKK" and a third song I can't recall, though it wasn't "Did You See Me." This temporarily elevated Fridays far above Saturday Night Live in my eyes.

They really blew up when one of their songs appeared on the "Ghostbusters" soundtrack, then they appeared in "48 Hours." According to their site, they are still recording and touring, and performed at a New Year's Day Bowl on ABC. Brian O'Neal, the lead singer, was involved with Eddie Murphy's recent film "Haunted Mansion." A new BusBoy's album/CD is coming next year.

Anyways, even now when I think of this song, when it runs, as it does occasionally through my head, I think of those parties, and smile, and want to get up and dance: "I saw-aw-aw-aw you...."


  1. Thanks, J. I do know of some of their music, but it's wonderful to have this story of them. No, I wasn't aware of them. Yes, the black Catholic school in my city was a meeting place for all young black people in my city, until high school, when the public black school with the best marching band became host to all black people from schools without football teams.

  2. I'm one of those people who ran out and IMMEDIATELY bought a Bus Boys album after seeing "48 Hrs"! I thought they were great. I had no idea they were still together and touring...wow....

  3. I'm one of those people who ran out and IMMEDIATELY bought a Bus Boys album after seeing "48 Hrs"! I thought they were great. I had no idea they were still together and touring...wow....

  4. I have the Minimum Wage album, and saw them perform way back when before 48hr - I believe it was at the Sweetwater in Redondo Beach.

    The O'Neals went to Gardena High - Kevin is in my year book. I remember him because he was really tall and really skinny w/ these huge eyes. He was a bit of a unusual character back then.