It’s a well-known adage that the truth should never get in the way of a good story – and the ones on Mike Judge: Tales from the Tour Bus are crackers; anything that could be somewhat creatively embellished can easily be forgiven for the sheer entertainment value.
The series is created, presented and narrated by Mike Judge, whose CV includes Beavis and Butt-Head, King of the Hill, and the live-action Silicon Valley. It’s an animated oral biography of musicians, apparently selected for their colourful contributions to the industry (privately and professionally) and their legendary status. Some are deceased, some still walk among us, all are – or were – outrageous in their own special way.
Interviews with their family members, spouses past and present, friends, associates, and bandmates are spliced with live footage. Presented in half-hour episodes, each provides a concise background heavily seasoned with often hilarious anecdotal content.
S1: Country music stars who lived their lyrics
In Season 1, Judge focused on country musicians, many of whom lived lives as dramatic as their lyrics. Guns, drugs, booze and jail time featured heavily.
It premiered with outlaw country singer Johnny Paycheck’s rise to stardom and the infamous bar fight that led to one of his greatest hits, and moves on to Jerry Lee Lewis (who is still alive despite many believing otherwise).
George Jones and Tammy Wynette got two episodes, as did Waylon Jennings. Also featured were Billy Joe Shaver and Blaze Foley.
Part of the beauty of this series is that those interviewed are just as iconic as the title subjects, which is an absolute treat for fans of the genres – plural, because Season 2 shifts the spotlight to funk, mainly of the 1970s, although the stories stretch in either direction.
S2: Funk superstardom
The first episode is about Rock n Roll Hall of Fame member George Clinton, who is considered one of the foremost innovators of funk. In his teenage years, Clinton formed a doo-wop group at the New Jersey barbershop where he worked.
He later went on to lead bands like Parliament, Funkadelic and P-Funk, and worked with bass player Bootsy Collins, who is at the centre of another episode.
In turn, Bootsy previously worked with James Brown, who himself is featured over two episodes because no history of funk would be complete without him. During his 50-year career, Brown influenced a number of musical genres besides soul, of which he is often referred to as The Godfather.
Rick James – the King of Punk Funk – gets two episodes as well; while the Morris Day And The Time episode delves into the relationship between Day and the late great Prince, an epic rivalry that ultimately led to funk superstardom.
The Season 2 finale features Betty Davis, once married to Miles Davis and a star in her own right, in silver hot pants and thigh-high silver boots.
Her hip-thrusting stage performance was considered scandalous at the time, but tame in comparison to the hip hop music videos of later decades.
This series should be required viewing for any even slightly serious music lover.
The country stars are one thing, but how funk influenced other styles like hip hop and rap (you’ll learn the origin of MC Hammer’s Can’t Touch This) is part of the education.
Both seasons are filled with “oh my word, I never knew that!” moments that will delight and amaze fans.
The funk episodes are also a rich visual feast with the totally over-the-top costumes worn and special effects used at live shows. Maybe the copious amounts of LSD had something to do with that, who knows?
Behind the scenes
This was revealed at the end of episode one of the first season, but never repeated in subsequent episodes. It’s used to great effect, giving such a natural feel to the animation you can almost forget it’s not real life.
Tales from the Tour Bus then seamlessly includes cel animation (which allows some parts of each frame to be repeated from frame to frame, thereby saving the necessity to redraw the entire scene over and over) for other parts portraying re-enactments.