Spinal Tap (band)

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Spinal Tap
Derek Smalls (Harry Shearer), Nigel Tufnel (Christopher Guest) and David St. Hubbins (Michael McKean)
Background information
Also known asThe Originals, The New Originals, The Thamesmen
OriginFictional: England, UK
Actual: United States
Years activeFictional: 1964–1984, 1992, 2001, 2007, 2009
Actual: 1979–1984, 1992, 2001, 2007, 2009, 2019
LabelsFictional: Polymer, Megaphone
Actual: Polydor, MCA
Associated actsThe Folksmen, Lenny and the Squigtones

Spinal Tap (stylized as Spın̈al Tap, with a dotless letter i and a metal umlaut over the n) is a fictional English heavy metal band created by American comedians and musicians Michael McKean (as lead singer and co-lead guitarist David St. Hubbins), Christopher Guest (as lead guitarist Nigel Tufnel) and Harry Shearer (as bassist Derek Smalls). They are characterized as "one of England's loudest bands".[7] McKean, Guest, and Shearer wrote and performed original songs for the band.

The band first appeared on a 1979 ABC television sketch comedy pilot called The T.V. Show, starring Rob Reiner. The sketch, actually a mock promotional video for the song "Rock and Roll Nightmare", was written by Reiner and the band, and included songwriter-performer Loudon Wainwright III on keyboards. Later the band became the fictional subject of the 1984 rockumentary/mockumentary film This Is Spinal Tap.

This Is Spinal Tap was accompanied by a soundtrack album of the same name. In the years following the film's release, the actors have portrayed the band members at concerts and released music under the Spinal Tap name. Guest, McKean, and Shearer toured in the United States in April and May 2009[8] and performed as Spinal Tap in a "One Night Only World Tour" on June 30, 2009, at Wembley Arena in London, three days after playing the Glastonbury Festival.[9][10]

The trio also portray the fictional American folk music revival band The Folksmen; some Spinal Tap concert appearances have featured Guest, McKean, and Shearer opening for "Tap" as the Folksmen.[11]


Fictional history[edit]

Although the 1984 film portrays the band hailing from the United Kingdom, the three actors who play the principal band members—Guest, McKean, and Shearer—were born in the United States. Guest was however raised in both the U.S. and Britain, and would later be granted dual citizenship and an inherited title of nobility as the 5th Baron Haden-Guest. David Kaff (as keyboardist "Viv Savage") and R.J. Parnell (as drummer "Mick Shrimpton"), who have smaller roles in the film, are both British.

Fans of Spinal Tap have assembled details about the band based on fictional film, albums, concerts, and related promotional material, including a discography and a list of the band's former members.[12] Within the context of the band's fictional history, Spinal Tap began as a skiffle band called the Thamesmen in the early 1960s, before changing their name to Spinal Tap. In the late 60s, Spinal Tap was a psychedelic pop band,[5] and has also performed progressive rock,[6] jazz fusion,[2] funk[13] and reggae,[13] but is best known as a heavy metal band.[1][2] Spinal Tap has also been classified as hard rock and rock and roll.[1]

Spinal Tap's fictional history includes a succession of drummers, all of whom are said to have died in strange circumstances: one in a "bizarre gardening accident"; another who "choked on vomit" (a reference to the deaths of John Bonham, Bon Scott and Jimi Hendrix)—but not his own vomit; and, two from "spontaneous human combustion" onstage. Additionally, it is claimed that police described one of the deaths as a mystery "best left unsolved".

Real history[edit]

The band Spinal Tap first appeared in a video aired as part of a 1979 sketch comedy special called "The TV Show", a project spearheaded by Rob Reiner and Michael McKean. The video was for the song "Rock 'N' Roll Nightmare", in a sequence that was intended as a spoof of The Midnight Special.[14] Participating in the video (and playing the music) were Michael McKean, Christopher Guest, Harry Shearer, Loudon Wainwright III, and Russ Kunkel; the segment was introduced by Reiner in character as Wolfman Jack. The Spinal Tap band members were at this point unnamed. McKean and Shearer had previously been members of The Credibility Gap, a comedy troupe that did both spoken word and musical comedy, and had released a mini rock opera and at least one musical 7" single.

Also in 1979, Guest and McKean were members of Lenny and the Squigtones, a band that was fronted by characters from the hit television series Laverne and Shirley. Guest, on guitar and clarinet, was credited as "Nigel Tufnel", the name he would eventually use as a member of Spinal Tap.

The appearance on "The TV Show" eventually led to the creation of a film, tracing a disastrous tour undertaken by the aging British metal band Spinal Tap. Reiner hosted the film in the character of filmmaker "Marty DiBergi", while Guest, McKean and Shearer took on character names for the project, and further developed their Spinal Tap personas. (Respectively, Guest was guitarist "Nigel Tufnel"; McKean was vocalist "David St. Hubbins"; and Shearer was bassist "Derek Smalls".) Also added to the group were Kaff and Parnell. Parnell had previously been in the band Atomic Rooster, while Kaff had been a member of Rare Bird. The quintet played their own instruments throughout the film.

The band Spinal Tap became a going concern, with the group (in character) playing gigs and appearing on a 1984 episode of Saturday Night Live to promote the film. The character of Mick Shrimpton having died in the film, R.J. Parnell played his "twin brother" drummer Ric Shrimpton for these and later appearances.

Reunion and recent history[edit]

Spinal Tap "reunited" in 1992 for Break Like the Wind, an album produced in part by T-Bone Burnett, an accomplished musician and record producer. The album was accompanied by a promotional audition for a new drummer attended by Stephen Perkins of Jane's Addiction, Gina Schock of The Go-Go's, and Mick Fleetwood of Fleetwood Mac, who auditioned in a fireproof suit. Despite the auditions, Parnell was retained as "Ric Shrimpton" and remained the band's drummer. Kaff did not return, and consequently the "reunited" band now consisted of Guest, McKean, Shearer and Parnell (all in character) and new keyboardist C.J. Vanston (under his own name). A promotional concert tour followed, which included an appearance at the Freddie Mercury Tribute Concert, where they performed "The Majesty of Rock", a song they dedicated to Freddie Mercury.

The band also released the single "Bitch School", which became a genuine chart single in the UK, as did follow-up single "The Majesty of Rock".

On July 1, 1992, Tap crossed five time zones for three performances in St. John's, Newfoundland; Barrie, Ontario; and Vancouver, British Columbia, for MuchMusic and Molson's Great Canadian Party. For each performance of "Stonehenge", the miniature monument prop was delivered on stage in a courier envelope.

During a long period of inactivity in the late 1990s, Parnell dropped out of the group leaving Spinal Tap with no permanent drummer. From this point forward, they have used session drummers.

In 2000 the band launched a web site named "Tapster" where their song "Back from the Dead" was made available for download. Tapster was a parody of Napster, a peer-to-peer file sharing network.[15][16]

In 2001, the band "reunited" for the nine-city "Back from the Dead Tour" that began on June 1, 2001, at the Greek Theater in Los Angeles. The tour included a show at Carnegie Hall in New York City and ended in Montreal in mid-July at the Just for Laughs festival. The opening act for some of these shows were The Folksmen, the folk trio seen in the film A Mighty Wind, and also performed by Guest, McKean, and Shearer.

In 2007, Tap reunited again, this time to help combat global warming. "They're not that environmentally conscious, but they've heard of global warming," said Marty DeBergi (portrayed by Reiner). "Nigel thought it was just because he was wearing too much clothing – that if he just took his jacket off it would be cooler." This reunion also included the release of a new song called "Warmer Than Hell". The band played on the London leg of the SOS/Live Earth concert series, and Rob Reiner has directed a short film (entitled Spinal Tap) which was released on the Live Earth website on April 27.[17] The film reveals that Nigel Tufnel is now working as a farm hand looking after miniature horses. He plans to race them. David St. Hubbins is currently working as a hip-hop producer and Derek Smalls is in rehab for being addicted to the Internet.

A new album, Back from the Dead, was released on June 16, 2009. The album consists mostly of re-recordings of songs from the original film's soundtrack, as they would have sounded had they really existed and been recorded in a studio.[18]

On April 6, 2009, the band announced a one-date "world tour", performing at London's Wembley Arena on June 30, 2009.[19][20] Support on this night came from The Folksmen. The band unexpectedly also self-confirmed for Glastonbury Festival 2009 during an online interview on May 8, 2009 in the Philadelphia Daily News following a "Unwigged and Unplugged" show in the city.[21]

In November 2012, it was announced the band members would be reuniting for a new BBC show co-written by Christopher Guest, called Family Tree.[needs update]

It has been announced that they will reunite at the 2019 Tribeca Film Festival for the 35th anniversary of the film.[22]

On June 25, 2019, The New York Times Magazine listed Spinal Tap among hundreds of artists whose material was reportedly destroyed in the 2008 Universal fire.[23]

Other appearances[edit]

The band appeared as the musical guests on an episode of Saturday Night Live (SNL) in the spring of 1984. Barry Bostwick was the host. At this time producer Dick Ebersol approached Shearer, Guest and McKean to join the cast. Shearer and Guest accepted (McKean would not join until ten years later, by which time original producer Lorne Michaels was back at the show's helm). Shearer's stint on SNL the following season—his second, the first having been the 1979–80 season—was to be short-lived, following creative disputes with the show's management.

In 1985 at the invitation of Ronnie James Dio, Michael McKean and Harry Shearer took part in the heavy metal benefit project Hear 'n Aid, to raise money for Ethiopian refugees. McKean and Shearer attended the event in character as David St. Hubbins and Derek Smalls, appearing in the behind-the-scenes videos and interacting in character with many real-life metal stars, many of whom were huge fans of Spinal Tap. "David St. Hubbins" and "Derek Smalls" are credited on the Hear 'n Aid single's front cover (alongside many real-life heavy metal stars); the ad hoc supergroup's single "Stars" rose to No. 26 on the UK charts in May 1986.

As part of the promotion surrounding Break Like the Wind, Spinal Tap was portrayed in "The Otto Show" episode of the animated series The Simpsons, for which Shearer is a principal voice actor. The Simpsons follows the approach of the original film by presenting the group as if they were a real group. During the disastrous performance, a massive devil balloon on the stage does not inflate properly, and Nigel is temporarily blinded by lasers. Later in the episode, their tour bus is accidentally pushed off a cliff due to Otto's reckless driving.

On July 1, 1992, as part of MuchMusic's Canada Day "Great Canadian Party" festival, Spinal Tap completed an unprecedented tour of Canada in less than 24 hours. Jetting across five time-zones, the band played St. John's, Newfoundland, Barrie, Ontario, and Vancouver, British Columbia. That evening, during a performance of "Stonehenge", Tap received their signature, triptych set-piece via Canada Post in a small, bubble-wrap envelope that Derek Smalls signed for onstage. Bemused, Smalls tore open the packaging, and revealed to the cheering crowd the prop which looked to be half the size of the original 18 inch Stonehenge rock from the film.

In 1993, Nigel Tufnel appeared in the rockumentary Joe Satriani: The Satch Tapes.

In 1994, The Return of Spinal Tap was released on video; most of this was live material from a 1992 performance at the Royal Albert Hall, but it also included some interviews and follow-up on the band members.

In 2000, while promoting Tapster.com, Spinal Tap appeared and performed on the short-lived series VH1 The List (with Mick Fleetwood on drums) and appeared on the Late Show.

In 2006, Nigel Tufnel appeared in a Volkswagen TV commercial highlighting their offer of a free, exclusive First Act guitar with the purchase of qualifying automobiles. The guitar features knobs and inlays with the Volkswagen logo and pre-amps that allow it to be played through the car's stereo system. Also in 2006, the song "Gimme Some Money" was used in a TV commercial[citation needed] for Open from American Express, "Tonight I'm Gonna Rock You Tonight" appeared in Harmonix's video game Guitar Hero 2 and "Christmas with the Devil" appeared in BBC One promo spots for the network's Christmas program.

In 2007, while accepting an award from the BBC Two program The Culture Show, Christopher Guest broke into Nigel Tufnel, and considered what his wife and kids would make of the Mark Kermode shaped award.[citation needed]

On July 7, 2007 Spinal Tap played at Wembley Stadium in London[24] along with many major bands and groups as part of Live Earth, a Climate Change awareness concert. Their set included a new song written for the occasion, "Warmer Than Hell". During their final number, the song "Big Bottom", St. Hubbins and Tufnel both picked up basses. Spinal Tap was also joined by "every bass player in the known universe", including Nate Mendel (of the Foo Fighters); Robert Trujillo, Kirk Hammett, and James Hetfield (Metallica); Gordon Moakes (Bloc Party); and Adam Yauch (a.k.a. MCA), of Beastie Boys. They were also joined on back-up vocals by Annette O'Toole, Michael McKean's wife.

In May 2008, Nigel Tufnel appeared in the National Geographic show Stonehenge Decoded, expounding his nonsensical theories about Stonehenge and who was responsible for building it. His claims to have invented "decoder" experiments capable of unveiling the true purpose of the monument are, as yet, unproven.

McKean, Guest and Shearer have made several appearances as their alter egos The Folksmen, including the television shows Saturday Night Live and Mad TV and the film The Return of Spinal Tap.

On March 2, 2009, Guest, McKean and Shearer held a press conference at the House of Blues in Los Angeles to announce their forthcoming album of new and old Spinal Tap songs, plus a 2009 "Unwigged & Unplugged" tour to celebrate the 25th anniversary of the film, This Is Spinal Tap. According to an L.A. Weekly report, when MTV News' Kurt Loder asked the trio "if they had plans beyond an album and tour, Shearer answered, 'We're gonna bomb Iran.'"[25] The tour also features songs from the Folksmen and others from throughout the trio's career.

On April 1, 2009, Guest, McKean, and Shearer played on The Tonight Show with Jay Leno as the musical guest.

On June 15, 2009, Spinal Tap performed on The Tonight Show with Conan O'Brien as the musical guest.

On Saturday, June 27, 2009, Spinal Tap performed on the main stage at the Glastonbury Festival with Jarvis Cocker guesting on bass during "Big Bottom," and also inviting Jamie Cullum on stage to play keyboards. One of the unexpected highlights for Tap fans was a rendition of the newly written overture from the mythical Jack the Ripper musical Saucy Jack. Also on the bill were Kasabian, Crosby Stills & Nash, and Bruce Springsteen.[26][27]

On Tuesday, June 30, 2009 Spinal Tap performed at Wembley Arena with The Folksmen as support. A variety of special guests featured including Keith Emerson (joined them on organ/keyboards – which he later destroyed during the show), Justin Hawkins from the Darkness and others.[28]

On July 27, 2009, the band performed on Late Night with Jimmy Fallon as the musical guest announcing their retirement and shortly thereafter their comeback.

The next day, Tuesday, July 28, 2009, they were the musical guest on The Daily Show with Jon Stewart.

On August 25, 2009, Spinal Tap released a seven-minute short film titled Stonehenge: ‘Tis a Magical Place celebrating their 25th anniversary. The video is distributed through INgrooves and is available only on iTunes. The short film depicts the founding members of Spinal Tap making a pilgrimage to Stonehenge for the first time.[29][30]

Band members[edit]

Current members[edit]

Former members[edit]

This list contains both fictional former members of Spinal Tap and celebrities that have played with the band.

Guitar, backing vocals[edit]

  • "Ricky from San Francisco" (1982)
  • Rhyan Gordon (1992) also played baseball bat

Keyboards, backing vocals[edit]

  • Jan van der Kvelk (1965)
  • Tony Brixton (1965–1966)
  • Nick Wax (1965–1966)
  • Dicky Laine (1965–1966)
  • Denny Upham (1966–1968)
  • Ross MacLochness (1974–1975)
  • Viv Savage (David Kaff) (1975–198?) also played keyboard bass. Savage was allegedly killed when he went to visit the grave of former drummer, Mick Shrimpton, whose grave exploded due to methane gas build-up.
  • John Sinclair (1982)
  • Jon Carin (Amnesty International performance in 1991)
  • Jamie Cullum (Glastonbury 2009)
  • Keith Emerson (Wembley Arena, June 30, 2009)

Bass guitar, backing vocals[edit]

Drums, percussion[edit]

  • Actual
  • Fictional and deceased
  • John "Stumpy" Pepys (1964–1966) (Portrayed by Ed Begley Jr. in the video "Gimme Some Money"). Died in a bizarre gardening accident that the authorities said was "best left unsolved."
  • Eric "Stumpy Joe" Childs (1966–1967). Choked on vomit of unknown origin, perhaps but not necessarily his own, because "you can't really dust for vomit." The name is an homage to "Curly Joe" DeRita of the Three Stooges.
  • Peter "James" Bond (1967–1977) (Portrayed by Russ Kunkel whose character was mistakenly credited as the name of the previous drummer). Spontaneously combusted on stage during a jazz-blues or blues-jazz festival on the Isle of Lucy, leaving behind what has been described alternately as a "globule" or a "stain".
  • Mick Shrimpton (1977–1982) (Portrayed by R. J. "Ric" Parnell). Exploded onstage.
  • Joe "Mama" Besser (1982) (Portrayed by Fred Asparagus). Claimed he "couldn't take this 4
    shit"; according to an MTV interview with Spinal Tap in November 1991, he disappeared along with the equipment during their Japanese tour. He is either dead or playing jazz. The name is a play on that of Joe Besser, who similarly had a short-lived and ill-fitted stint as a member of The Three Stooges.
  • Richard "Ric" Shrimpton (1982–1999). Allegedly sold his dialysis machine for drugs; presumed dead.
  • Sammy "Stumpy" Bateman (1999–2001). Died trying to jump over a tank full of sharks while on a tricycle in a freak show.
  • Scott "Skippy" Scuffleton (2001–2007). Fate unknown.
  • Chris "Poppa" Cadeau (2007–2008). Eaten by his pet python Cleopatra.
  • Plus nine other drummers at various times (probably between 1970 and 1981) all of whom are dead.


  • Jeanine Pettibone (1982). After she left, Jeanine opened her own Irish clothing store named Potato Republic.
  • Stewart Ikin (1982). Backing tambourine; left the band to join Creme Brulee.
  • Oliver Ridout (Amnesty International performance in 1991).
  • Billy Murgatroyd (1996). Murgatroyd is the only tambourine player of the band to be killed, overdosing on coffee creamer.


  • Little Danny Schindler (1965–1966)


  • Keelan Hegarty (1965–1966).
  • Geoff Clovington (1965–1966).
  • Dan Taman (1967). Died while falling off a train as it was entering King's Cross station, his body was never recovered.

Backing vocals[edit]

  • Lhasa Apso (1965–1966).
  • Julie Scrubbs-Martin (1965–1966).
  • Xof Lorac (1982–1983).
  • Andy Sutcliffe (1987). Died beating himself to death with his own shoes.

Session members[edit]


Actual discography[edit]

Studio albums
  • "Christmas with the Devil" / "Christmas with the Devil (Scratch Mix)" (1984)
  • "Bitch School" / "Springtime" (1992) UK No. 35
  • "The Majesty of Rock" (1992) UK No. 61
  • "Back from the Dead" (2000)
  • "Warmer Than Hell" (2007)
  • "Saucy Jack" (2009) (released as free MP3 download from official website)[33]

Fictional discography[edit]

Studio albums
  • Spinal Tap Sings "(Listen to the) Flower People" and Other Favourites (1967)
  • We Are All Flower People (1968)
  • Brainhammer (1970)
  • Nerve Damage (1971)
  • Blood to Let (1972)
  • Intravenus de Milo (1974)
  • The Sun Never Sweats (1975)
  • Bent for the Rent (1976)
  • Tap Dancing (1976)
  • Rock 'n' Roll Creation (referred to as The Gospel According to Spinal Tap in the film) (1977)
  • Shark Sandwich (1980)[34]
  • Smell the Glove (1982)
Live albums
  • Silent but Deadly (1969)
  • Jap Habit (1975)
  • The Incredible Flight of Icarus P. Anybody (1969)
  • Heavy Metal Memories (1983)
  • "All the Way Home" (1961) – an unreleased demo
  • "Gimme Some Money" (1965)
  • "(Listen to The) Flower People" (1967)
  • "Breakfast of Evil" (1969)
  • "Silent but Deadly" (1969)
  • "Big Bottom" (1970)
  • "Swallow My Love" (1970)
  • "Nerve Damage" (1971)
  • "Blood to Let" (1972)
  • "Tonight I'm Gonna Rock You Tonight" (1974)
  • "Stonehenge" (1975)
  • "Nice 'n' Stinky" (1975)
  • "Heavy Duty" (1976)
  • "Bent for the Rent" (1976)
  • "Tap Dancing" (1976)
  • "Rock 'n' Roll Creation" (1977)
  • "Sex Farm" (1980)
  • "No Place Like Nowhere" (1980)
  • "Hell Hole" (1982)
  • Top Hit for Nows (1968)
  • Audible Death (1969)
  • Live at Budokan (1975)
  • Openfaced Mako (1980)
  • Got Thamesmen on Tap (unknown date)
  • Maximum Tap (unknown date)
  • It's a Dub World (unknown date)
Unreleased/unfinished material
  • Here's More Tap
  • Flak Packet
  • Lusty Lorry
  • SEXX! (Original Motion Picture Soundtrack)
  • Hernia
  • Nigel Tufnel's Trilogy in D-minor, including song with the working title "Lick My Love Pump"
  • David St. Hubbins' / Derek Smalls' Saucy Jack, a musical based on the life of Jack the Ripper
    • The title song from the musical was released in 2009 as a free MP3 download from the official Spinal Tap website[33]

Solo releases[edit]

Nigel Tufnel
  • Nigel Tufnel's Clam Caravan (1979)
  • Pyramid Blue (unknown date)
Derek Smalls
  • It's a Smalls World (1978)
  • Smalls Change Meditations Upon Ageing (2018)
David St. Hubbins
  • In Search of a Brown Note (unfinished album of jazz collaborations, c. 1984–1985)
Ross MacLochness
  • Doesn't Anybody Here Speak English? (unknown date)


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External links[edit]