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Oingo Boingo

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Oingo Boingo
Oingo Boingo in 1987. From left to right: Dale Turner, Sam "Sluggo" Phipps, John Avila, Steve Bartek, Danny Elfman, Johnny "Vatos" Hernandez, Mike Bacich, Leon Schneiderman.
Oingo Boingo in 1987. From left to right: Dale Turner, Sam "Sluggo" Phipps, John Avila, Steve Bartek, Danny Elfman, Johnny "Vatos" Hernandez, Mike Bacich, Leon Schneiderman.
Background information
Also known as
  • Clowns of Death
  • Mosley & The B-Men
  • Boingo
OriginLos Angeles, California, U.S.
Years active1979–1995
Past members

Oingo Boingo (/ˈɔɪŋɡ ˈbɔɪŋɡ/) was an American new wave band formed by songwriter Danny Elfman in 1979. The band emerged from a surrealist musical theatre troupe, The Mystic Knights of the Oingo Boingo, that Elfman had led and written material for in the years previous.[5] Their highest-charting song, "Weird Science", reached No. 45 on the US Billboard Hot 100.

Oingo Boingo was known for their high-energy live concerts and experimental music, which can be described as combining elements of music such as art, punk, ska, rock, pop, jazz, and world, amongst other genres.[8] The band's body of work spanned 17 years, with various genre and line-up changes. Their best-known songs include "Only a Lad", "Little Girls", "Dead Man's Party" and "Weird Science".

The band had experienced multiple line-up changes, with Leon Schneiderman, Dale Turner, Sam Phipps, Danny Elfman, Steve Bartek, and John "Vatos" Hernandez being the constant members for most of their history. As a rock band, Oingo Boingo started as a ska and punk-influenced[6][7] new wave octet, achieving significant popularity in Southern California. During the mid-1980s, the band adopted a more pop-oriented style, until a significant genre change to alternative rock in 1994. At that point, the name was shortened to simply Boingo and the keyboard and horn section were dropped. The band retired after a farewell concert on Halloween 1995, for which they reverted to the name Oingo Boingo and readopted the horn section.



The Mystic Knights of the Oingo Boingo (1972–1979)


The Mystic Knights of the Oingo Boingo began as a street theater troupe in Los Angeles, founded by Richard Elfman.[9] The name was inspired by a fictional secret society on the Amos 'n' Andy TV series called The Mystic Knights of the Sea. The earliest version of the band employed as many as 15 performers at any given time, playing over 30 instruments, including some instruments built by band members.

Richard's brother Danny Elfman joined the band in 1974 and later became its leader. The group gradually moved away from its street theater origins and transformed into a dedicated musical theater act. The group performed an eclectic repertoire, ranging from Cab Calloway covers to instrumentals in the style of Balinese gamelan and Russian ballet music and, later, original songs by Danny Elfman. Guitarist Steve Bartek joined in 1976 as musical co-director. That year, the troupe appeared on the TV talent contest program The Gong Show, which they won.[10][11]

I.R.S. and A&M years (1979–1984)

Guitar used by Danny Elfman in Oingo Boingo, Hard Rock Cafe Montreal

In 1979, Danny Elfman reformed the group as a dedicated rock band, under the new name Oingo Boingo, at which point most existing members left. Steve Bartek and a brass trio of Dale Turner, Sam "Sluggo" Phipps, and Leon Schneiderman continued with the new band. Various reasons were given for the restart as a rock band, notably Danny's emerging musical interests, and reducing the need for transportation and set-up of multiple stage sets and props. Elfman stated the shift was inspired by ska revival bands such as the Specials, Madness, and the Selecter, new wave bands like XTC, Devo, and Fun Boy Three, as well as the "energy and speed" of punk.[12][13][7][14]

The name Oingo Boingo was settled on in 1979, at which point their early song "I'm Afraid" appeared on the Rhino Records Los Angeles rock and new wave "up and coming" compilation, L.A. In.

That same year, the band self-funded a promo EP record, known as the "Demo EP", for distribution to radio stations and recording industry A&R representatives to help land a contract. The effort paid off, as the record caught the attention of I.R.S. Records, who released a revised version of the EP in 1980: the Oingo Boingo (EP).

The band had now coalesced as an octet: Danny Elfman on lead vocals and rhythm guitar; Steve Bartek on lead guitar; Richard Gibbs on keyboards; Kerry Hatch on bass; Johnny "Vatos" Hernandez on drums; and Leon Schneiderman, Sam "Sluggo" Phipps, and Dale Turner on horns. Early success for the group came in 1980 with the song "Only a Lad" from the eponymous EP. The song aired frequently in Los Angeles on KROQ-FM, and complemented the station's then-unusual new wave format.

Following regional success of "Only a Lad", the group released its first full-length album in 1981, also titled Only a Lad (and featuring a new recording of the song). The band released further albums Nothing to Fear in 1982, and Good for Your Soul in 1983. Although the band's sound was termed as new wave, Oingo Boingo's use of exotic percussion, a three-piece horn section, unconventional scales and harmony, and surreal imagery was a genre-skewing combination.

In 1984, bassist Kerry Hatch and keyboardist Richard Gibbs departed to form the short-lived band Zuma II and Oingo Boingo went on temporary hiatus, although this was not known publicly at the time. Elfman later claimed the two departing members had "lost the spirit", but stated, "I could never blame anybody for losing the spirit. It's very hard being an 8-piece ensemble doing what, at the time, was non-commercial music".[15]

MCA years (1984–1992)

Oingo Boingo logo, adopted around the late 1980s

Elfman used the 1984 hiatus as an opportunity to release a solo album, co-produced with Steve Bartek, with the remaining members of Oingo Boingo returning as session musicians. This was released as So-Lo in late 1984. At this point, new manager Mike Gormley, who had just left the position of VP of Publicity and Asst. to the Chairman of A&M, negotiated a release from the label and signed the band to MCA Records.

Shortly after releasing So-Lo, Oingo Boingo returned to performing with new bassist John Avila and keyboardist Mike Bacich. The first release with the new line-up was Dead Man's Party in 1985. The album marked a notable change towards more pop oriented songwriting and production style, and became the band's most commercially successful record. It featured their highest-charting song on the Billboard Hot 100, "Weird Science", which was written for the John Hughes film of the same name.

The band appeared on a number of movie soundtracks in the early to mid-1980s, including an appearance in the movie Back to School in 1986, performing their hit single "Dead Man's Party". The soundtrack to the movie Bachelor Party included a theme song written by Elfman, and a song unreleased on any Oingo Boingo album: "Something Isn't Right".

During this era, Danny Elfman also began scoring major films, beginning with 1985's Pee-wee's Big Adventure. Elfman would go on to write the scores to almost all of Tim Burton's films. Oingo Boingo guitarist Steve Bartek has orchestrated most of Elfman's film and television scores.

The album BOI-NGO was released in 1987. Following its recording, Bacich was replaced by new keyboardist Carl Graves. The band's 1988 release, Boingo Alive, comprised "live" re-recordings of previous album songs on a studio soundstage, plus a new song, "Winning Side". This new track was also released as a single, and became a No. 14 hit on US Modern Rock radio stations.

Oingo Boingo in a promotional picture c.1987

In 1990, the band released their seventh studio album, Dark at the End of the Tunnel, featuring more mellow songs than any previous release, and including the singles "Out of Control" and "Flesh 'N Blood".

Final years (1993–1995)


Oingo Boingo continued to regularly perform live, most notably with annual Halloween concerts at Irvine Meadows and the Universal Amphitheatre. Following a short hiatus in 1992, during which time Elfman was busy scoring films, the band returned in 1993 with an increasingly different, hard-rock musical direction, and debuted new material such as "Insanity", "Helpless" and the unreleased song "Did It There". Shows during these years often included the so-called "Sad Clown Orchestra" providing additional accordion and circus percussion.

That same year, Oingo Boingo began recording an eighth studio album for new label Giant Records. The sessions stalled when Elfman became heavily involved writing the music for animated musical The Nightmare Before Christmas with Tim Burton.[16][17] Of this period, Elfman would later reflect that, after over 15 years, he had begun losing his passion for the band.[18]

In 1994, the band consolidated their new musical style, and shortened its name to Boingo. Guitarist Warren Fitzgerald joined while keyboardist Carl Graves and the horn trio were removed. This marked the only year that the band toured without the horn section.[19][20]

The previously shelved album was completed with the new 5-piece line-up, including orchestral instrumentation, and several songs improvised in the studio for the first time in the band's history.[21] This was released as Boingo in 1994, and would be the band's final studio album.

In 1995, it was announced that Boingo would be disbanding after 17 years.[22] The band embarked on a farewell tour in 1995, restoring the original horn trio, and reverting its name to Oingo Boingo, ending with a final Halloween performance at the Universal Amphitheatre.[23] The concert was filmed and released on both VHS and CD in 1996 as Farewell.[24]



Following the band's dissolution, Danny Elfman continued composing for film and has been nominated for four Academy Awards for his work. He has scored the majority of Tim Burton's films since Pee-wee's Big Adventure in 1985, including Batman (1989), Edward Scissorhands (1990), The Nightmare Before Christmas (1993) and Big Fish (2003). Other scores include Good Will Hunting (1997), Men in Black (1997) and Spider-Man (2002). Elfman has also written themes for more than a dozen TV series, including The Simpsons, Batman: The Animated Series, Tales from the Crypt, and Desperate Housewives. Elfman almost exclusively employs former Oingo Boingo guitarist Steve Bartek as his orchestrator.

For a period, John Avila and Johnny "Vatos" Hernandez continued to perform as Food for Feet and in the band Tito & Tarantula in Los Angeles.[25] Doug Lacy (Boingo live keyboardist and percussionist) recruited bassist John Avila, guitarist Steve Bartek, drummer Johnny "Vatos" Hernandez, and saxophonist Sam Phipps (among other musicians) for a band called Doug & The Mystics. They recorded one album, New Hat, which included a cover of the Oingo Boingo song "Try to Believe". Former keyboardist Richard Gibbs also began a career as a composer for film.

Danny Elfman has regularly stated that there will not be an Oingo Boingo reunion, initially citing his worry that playing live would exacerbate his hearing loss. In 2021 Elfman added that he disliked former bands reuniting now that they are older, likening them to "zombies".[26]

On Halloween 2015, a live concert performance of The Nightmare Before Christmas culminated in Elfman and former Oingo Boingo guitarist Steve Bartek performing "Dead Man's Party" for the first time in twenty years, accompanied by the orchestra.[27] The song was again performed on several subsequent Nightmare Before Christmas concert dates.[citation needed]

In April 2016, Oingo Boingo were honored with a resolution at Los Angeles City Hall. Popular L.A. radio and television personality Richard Blade gave a speech about the band's legacy. Several members attended the meeting from across the band's changing line-ups, including Johnny "Vatos" Hernandez, founding keyboardist Richard Gibbs, John Avila, Carl Graves, and Sam "Sluggo" Phipps.[28]

On June 11, 2021, Elfman released his first solo studio album in 37 years, Big Mess. It includes the participation of former members of Oingo Boingo, such as Bartek, Fitzgerald, and Mann and a new arrangement and recording of Oingo Boingo's "Insects" from the 1982 album Nothing to Fear.[29]

Tribute band


Since Halloween 2005, former drummer Johnny "Vatos" Hernandez has regularly put together an Oingo Boingo tribute band, performing mainly throughout Southern California and Arizona, including the Grove of Anaheim. Initially billed as the "Johnny 'Vatos' Tribute to Halloween, Featuring Former Members of Oingo Boingo",[30][31] Hernandez later titled the band "Johnny Vatos Oingo Boingo Dance Party" and then "Oingo Boingo Former Members". Since 2015, Elfman has endorsed the group as the authorized Oingo Boingo tribute band, and given Hernandez exclusive rights to use the names 'Boingo' and 'Oingo Boingo'.[32]

The tribute band is joined intermittently by former Oingo Boingo members such as Steve Bartek, Carl Graves, John Avila, and Sam "Sluggo" Phipps, while vocals are usually provided by singer Brendan McCreary.[33] During the 2006 Halloween season, there were two "Johnny 'Vatos' Tribute to Halloween" shows: one in Los Angeles, and one in Orange County, California, with Vatos, Bartek, Avila, Phipps, and Legacy.[34]



Final line-up



  • Leon Schneiderman – baritone and alto saxophones (1972–1995)
  • Dale Turner – trumpet, trombones, background vocals (1972–1995)
  • Sam "Sluggo" Phipps – tenor and soprano saxophones (1973–1995)
  • Danny Elfman – lead vocals, rhythm guitars (1974–1995)
  • Steve Bartek – lead guitars, background vocals (1975–1995)
  • Johnny "Vatos" Hernandez – drums, percussion (1978–1995)
  • John Avila – bass guitar, background vocals (1984–1995)
  • Warren Fitzgerald – guitars, background vocals (1993–1995)





Appearing on screen as Oingo Boingo

Explanatory notes

  1. ^ Based on their final performance in the 1995 Farewell live album.


  1. ^ a b "Oingo Boingo – Biography, Albums, Streaming Links". AllMusic. Archived from the original on November 13, 2016.
  2. ^ a b c Holden, Stephen (August 31, 1981). "Rock Bands: Oingo Boingo and Go-Go's". The New York Times. p. C15. Retrieved July 2, 2022.
  3. ^ a b Miller, Scott (2010). Music: What Happened?. 125 Records. ISBN 978-0-615-38196-1.
  4. ^ a b "Danny Elfman: The 10 songs that changed my life". Kerrang.com. June 21, 2021. Retrieved October 20, 2021.
  5. ^ a b Benson, Alex (May 15, 2018). "The Mystic Knights of the Oingo Boingo: Danny Elfman's Circus Theater Origins". Medium. Retrieved October 13, 2019.
  6. ^ a b Denman-Underhill, Lori (October 22, 2015). "Overcoming Stage Fright, Danny Elfman Brings Nightmare to the Bowl". LA Weekly. Archived from the original on October 22, 2015.
  7. ^ a b c Danny Elfman (interviewee) Jools Holland (interviewer) Derek Burbidge (director) (May 1982). Urgh! A Music War. Warner Bros. Later on in the 70s when the punk thing started happening, I found it difficult to totally relate to the music, because it was real simple ... but the energy and speed I loved. I loved fast music. And that got me inspired once again to start writing.
  8. ^ [1][2][3][4][5][6][7]
  9. ^ Sullivan, Dan (March 26, 1975). "Return to Calculated Pandemonium". The Los Angeles Times. Retrieved April 30, 2022.
  10. ^ Green, Anna (December 7, 2015). "Before He Was a Famous Film Composer, Danny Elfman Was a Contestant on the Gong Show". Mental Floss. Minute Media. Retrieved July 2, 2022.
  11. ^ "Alice Cooper Loses His Head & Danny Elfman (with Oingo Boingo) Loses His Mind on 'The Gong Show'". Dangerous Minds. March 24, 2017. Retrieved July 2, 2022.
  12. ^ Halfyard, Janet (2004). Danny Elfman's Batman: A Film Score Guide. Scarecrow Press. p. 6. ISBN 978-0-8108-5126-9.
  13. ^ "An interview where Danny Elfman mentions the new wave and Ska influences in Oingo Boingo". Mixonline.com. May 1, 2001. Archived from the original on February 29, 2012. Retrieved November 2, 2011.
  14. ^ Danny Elfman [@dannyelfman] (July 2, 2019). "Andy Partridge was a huge influence. It was that first year of getting back to the radio after a decade long moratorium, and the music of XTC, The Specials, Selector, Madness, Fun Boy Three, and Devo that turned me around" (Tweet) – via Twitter.
  15. ^ Darling, Cary (May 5, 1987). "Oingo Boingo's Difficult Teenage Years". BAM Magazine.
  16. ^ Poggi, Alison (July 1994). "The Elfman Cometh". SLAMM, San Diego's Lifestyle and Music Magazine via Flickr. Retrieved July 5, 2017.
  17. ^ "San Francisco Chronicle article". Archived from the original on April 3, 2016. Retrieved March 24, 2012.
  18. ^ "Danny Elfman on Oingo Boingo, film scores, and the Beatles almost ruining Batman". AV Music. October 27, 2014. Retrieved May 13, 2019.
  19. ^ "Los Angeles Times interview with Danny Elfman". Articles.latimes.com. October 22, 1985. Archived from the original on August 5, 2011. Retrieved November 2, 2011.
  20. ^ "San Francisco Chronicle Q and A with Danny Elfman". Boingo.org. June 12, 1994. Archived from the original on October 4, 2011. Retrieved November 2, 2011.
  21. ^ Poggi, Alison (July 1994). "The Elfman Cometh". SLAMM, San Diego's Lifestyle and Music Magazine via Flickr. Retrieved July 5, 2017.
  22. ^ Linan, Steven (August 29, 1995). "POP/ROCK The Last Boingo: Oingo Boingo is calling..." Los Angeles Times. Retrieved June 2, 2024.
  23. ^ Hochman, Steve (October 23, 1995). "And Poof! They're Gone". Los Angeles Times. Retrieved June 2, 2024.
  24. ^ Schulte, Tom. "Farewell: Live from the Universal Amphitheatre". AllMusic. Retrieved June 2, 2024.
  25. ^ "Food for Feet - Food for Feet | Songs, Reviews, Credits". AllMusic. Retrieved October 20, 2021.
  26. ^ Willman, Chris (June 11, 2021). "Danny Elfman Talks About Making a 'Big Mess,' and Returning to Rock a Quarter-Century After Oingo Boingo Split". Variety. Retrieved July 13, 2022.
  27. ^ Fadroski, Kelli Skye (November 2, 2015). "Danny Elfman provides tricks and treats with 'Nightmare' performance". The Orange County Register. Retrieved April 25, 2023.
  28. ^ "80s Band Oingo Boingo Performs Acoustic Set At LA City Council Meeting". CBS Los Angeles. April 20, 2016. Archived from the original on October 31, 2016. Retrieved August 9, 2017.
  29. ^ Greene, Andy (May 25, 2021). "Watch Danny Elfman's Trippy 3D 'Insects' Video". Rolling Stone. Retrieved August 6, 2022.
  30. ^ "Bear McCreary". Bearmccreary.com. Retrieved October 20, 2021.
  31. ^ "Johnny Vatos' 'Tribute To Halloween', Featuring Former Members of Oingo Boingo". Goldstar.com. Retrieved January 22, 2020.
  32. ^ Smith, Steve (August 7, 2015). "Danny Elfman endorses Oingo Boingo Dance Party, Don Henley announces solo tour". San Gabriel Valley Tribune. Retrieved August 29, 2021.
  33. ^ "Johnny "Vatos" Hernandez: Official Site". Johnnyvatos.com. Archived from the original on May 8, 2013. Retrieved February 19, 2013.
  34. ^ McCreary, Bear (October 17, 2006). "Bear McCreary – Official site". BearMcCreary.com. Retrieved September 1, 2023.