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Arguably the first underground rock group of all time, the Fugs formed at the Peace Eye bookstore in New York's East Village in late 1964. The nucleus of the band throughout its many personnel changes was Peace Eye owner Ed Sanders and fellow poet Tuli Kupferberg. Sanders and Kupferberg had strong ties to the beat literary scene, but charged, in the manner of their friend Allen Ginsberg, full steam ahead into the maelstrom of '60s political involvement and psychedelia. Surrounded by an assortment of motley refugees from the New York folk and jug band scene (including Steve Weber and Peter Stampfel of the Holy Modal Rounders), some of whom could barely play their instruments, the group nonetheless was determined to play rock & roll their way -- which meant rife with political and social satire, as well as explicit profanity and sexual references, that were downright unheard of in 1965.
Starting on the legendary avant-garde ESP label, the Fugs' debut was full of equal amounts of chaos and charm, but their songwriting and instrumental chops improved surprisingly quickly, resulting in a second album that was undoubtedly the most shocking and satirical recording ever to grace the Top 100 when it was released. After cutting an unreleased album for Atlantic, they moved on to Frank Sinatra's Reprise label, unleashing a few more albums of equally satirical material that were more instrumentally polished, but equally scathing lyrically. By breaking lyrical taboos of popular music, they helped pave the way for the even more innovative outrage of the Mothers of Invention, the Velvet Underground, and others.
Breaking up around 1970, Sanders and Kupferberg continued to write prose and poetry, and sometimes wrote and performed music both on their own and as part of Fugs reunions. By the mid-'80s, Sanders and Kupferberg officially began touring and recording again as the Fugs, releasing the acclaimed CDs No More Slavery in 1985, Final CD, Pt. 1 in 2003, and Be Free! Final CD, Pt. 2, which was recorded between 2005 and 2009 and issued in 2010. The bands re-formation also instigated the release of the box sets Electromagnetic Steamboat: The Reprise Recordings from Rhino Handmade and Dont Stop! Dont Stop! on Ace, which combined their first two albums with numerous unreleased tracks. However, the octogenarian Kupferberg's health declined in the late 2000s, particularly after he suffered two strokes in 2009. He died in Manhattan on July 12, 2010 at the age of 86, bringing the Fugs saga to a close.
The Fugs are a band formed in New York in mid 1963 by poets Ed Sanders and Tuli Kupferberg, with Ken Weaver on drums. Soon afterward, they were joined by Peter Stampfel and Steve Weber of the Holy Modal Rounders. Kupferberg named the band from a euphemism for "fuck" used in Norman Mailer's novel, The Naked and the Dead.
The band's original core members, Ed Sanders, Tuli Kupferberg, and Ken Weaver, were joined at various times in the 1960s by a number of others, some of whom were noted session musicians or members of other bands. These included Weber and Stampfel, bassist John Anderson, guitarist Vinny Leary, guitarist Peter Kearney, keyboardist Lee Crabtree, guitarist Jon Kalb, guitarist Stefan Grossman, singer/guitarist Jake Jacobs, guitarist Eric Gale, bassist Chuck Rainey, keyboardist Robert Banks, bassist Charles Larkey, guitarist Ken Pine, guitarist Danny Kortchmar, clarinetist Perry Robinson, and drummer Bill Wolf.
For most of the last twenty-five years, The Fugs have been composed of primary singer/songwriters Sanders and, until his death, Kupferberg; composer, song writer, guitarist and long-time Allen Ginsberg-collaborator Steven Taylor; singer/songwriter and percussionist Coby Batty; and Scott Petito, a musician and music producer.
A satirical and self-satirizing rock band with a political slant, they have performed at various war protests — against the Vietnam War and since the 1980s at events around other U.S. involved wars. The band's often frank and humorous lyrics about sex, drugs, and politics have caused a hostile reaction in some quarters, most notably the Federal Bureau of Investigation in the late 1960s. The group is referenced several times in the F.B.I. file on The Doors, where an excerpt mentions eleven songs from The Fugs First Album that are "vulgar and repulsive and are most suggestive."
Their participation in a protest against the Vietnam War in the late 1960s, during which they purportedly attempted to encircle and levitate the Pentagon, is chronicled in Norman Mailer's novel, Armies of the Night.
One of their better-known songs is an adaptation of Matthew Arnold's poem, Dover Beach. Others were renditions of William Blake's poems: Ah! Sun-flower and How Sweet I Roam'd. Another, "Nothing," is a paraphrasing of the Yiddish folk song "Bulbes."
After pursuing individual projects over the years, in 1984 Sanders and Kupferberg decided to reform the band and stage a series of Fugs reunion concerts. On Wednesday, August 15, 1988 at the Byrdcliff Barn in Woodstock, New York, the Fugs performed one of their first real reunion concerts. This incarnation of the Fugs included, at various times, guitarist and singer Steve Taylor who was also Allen Ginsberg's teaching assistant at the Naropa Institute, drummer and singer Coby Batty, bassist Mark Kramer, guitarist Vinny Leary (who had contributed to the first two original Fugs albums), and bassist/keyboardist Scott Petito. The re-formed Fugs performed concerts at numerous locations in the U.S. and Europe over the next several years.
In 1994 the band intended to perform a series of concerts in Woodstock, New York, (where Sanders had lived for many years) to commemorate the 1969 Woodstock Festival, which had actually occurred near the town of Bethel, some 50 miles away. They learned that a group of promoters were planning to stage Woodstock '94 that August near Saugerties, about 8 miles from Woodstock, and that this festival would be much more tightly controlled and commercialized than the original. Consequently The Fugs decided to stage their own August 1994 concerts as "The Real Woodstock Festival", in an atmosphere more in keeping with the spirit of the 1969 festival. The basic Fugs roster of Sanders, Kupferberg, Taylor, Batty, and Petito performed in this series of concerts with additional vocal support from Amy Fradon and Leslie Ritter and also with appearances by Allen Ginsberg and Country Joe McDonald. In 2003, the group released The Fugs Final CD (Part 1) with positive feedback. In 2004, The Fugs began to record their last CD, Be Free: The Fugs Final CD (Part 2).
In 2008 their song "CIA Man" is featured in the movie Burn After Reading by the Coen brothers. In 2009, Kupferberg suffered two strokes, the latter of which severely hindered his eyesight. He was under constant care, but was able to finish recording his tracks for Be Free in his New York City apartment. A benefit for Kupferberg was held in Brooklyn, New York in February 2010, featuring all of the Fugs minus Kupferberg, as well as Lou Reed, Sonic Youth, Patti Smith Group guitarist Lenny Kaye, and others. Be Free: The Fugs Final CD (Part 2) was released on February 23, 2010. The album art featured a snail reading Allen Ginsberg's poem Howl, and was designed by Ed Sanders. The album was produced by Steve Taylor and Ed Sanders.
Kupferberg died on July 12, 2010 in Manhattan, at the age of 86. In 2008, in one of his last interviews, he told MOJO Magazine, "Nobody who lived through the '50s thought the '60s could've existed. So there's always hope."
The remaining Fugs from time to time seriously consider further performances. On June 11, 2011, the four remaining Fugs performed at Queen Elizabeth Hall in London as part of the annual Meltdown Festival, curated that year by Ray Davies of the Kinks. Their set received a 4-star review in The Guardian.
Primary lineups 
The Fugs went through a number of lineup changes. Below are those that lasted the longest. For instance, guitarist Stefan Grossman was with the band for only several weeks, so this lineup is not included.
July 1963 - February 1965Kendell Kardt - vocalsTuli Kupferberg - vocalsEd Sanders - vocalsKen Weaver - vocals, congaSteve Weber - guitar, vocalsPeter Stampfel - fiddle, harmonica, vocals
Summer 1965Tuli Kupferberg - vocals, percussionEd Sanders - vocalsKen Weaver - drums, vocalsSteve Weber - guitar, vocalsVinny Leary - guitar, vocalsJohn Anderson - bass, vocals
September - December 1965Tuli Kupferberg - vocals, percussionEd Sanders - vocalsKen Weaver - drums, vocalsSteve Weber - guitar, vocals
December 1965 - July 1966Tuli Kupferberg - vocalsEd Sanders - vocalsKen Weaver - drums, vocalsLee Crabtree - keyboards, percussionVinny Leary - guitar, vocalsJohn Anderson - bass, vocalsPete Kearney - guitar, vocals
July - October 1966Tuli Kupferberg - vocalsEd Sanders - vocalsKen Weaver - drums, vocalsLee Crabtree - keyboards, percussionJon Kalb - lead guitarVinny Leary - rhythm guitar, vocalsJohn Anderson - bass, vocals
October 1966 - Spring 1967Tuli Kupferberg - vocalsEd Sanders - vocalsKen Weaver - drums, vocalsLee Crabtree - keyboards, percussionJake Jacobs - guitar, vocalsChuck Rainey - bass
Summer 1967 - Summer 1968Tuli Kupferberg - vocalsEd Sanders - vocalsKen Weaver - drums, vocalsKen Pine - guitar, vocalsDanny Kortchmar - guitar, violinCharles Larkey - bass
Winter 1968 - March 1969Tuli Kupferberg - vocalsEd Sanders - vocalsKen Weaver - drums, vocalsKen Pine - guitar, vocalsBill Wolf - bass, vocalsBob Mason - drums
1985–2010Tuli Kupferberg - vocalsEd Sanders - vocalsSteve Taylor - vocals, guitarCoby Batty - drums, percussion, vocalsScott Petito - bass, keyboards
2010–presentEd Sanders - vocalsSteve Taylor - vocals, guitarCoby Batty - drums, percussion, vocalsScott Petito - bass, keyboards