The band was founded by two dada enthusiasts, Rodney Slater and Roger Ruskin Spear (a descendant of Victorian literary giant John Ruskin). Also from art school came the two main songwriters in the group, Neil Innes piano/guitar and Vivian Stanshall, trumpet and vocals. Others from art school included "Legs" Larry Smith, drummer, dancer and chanteuse and others listed in "The Intro and the Outro" below.
Although they started out playing jazz, such as "Jazz, Delicious Hot, Disgusting Cold", they changed their style of music from jazz to rock in order to counter claims that they were beginning to sound like the Temperance Seven[?]. In fact, a former member, Bob Kerr[?] went on to create a band Bob Kerr's Whoopee Band which combined the lunacy of early Bonzo music with music which did in fact have a great deal in common with the Temperance Seven[?].
Their first album Gorilla included "The Intro and the Outro" in which every member of the band was introduced and played a solo. The song started with genuine band members:
before including such improbable members as:
They had a minor hit single in 1967 with "I'm the Urban Spaceman" which was produced by Paul McCartney under the name of Apollo C. Vermouth. They performed the song "Death Cab for Cutie" in The Beatles film Magical Mystery Tour. Their anarchic song "Trouser Press" with a solo on a genuine trouser press with a pickup gave its name to an American anglophiliac rock magazine. "Can Blue Men Sing the Whites?" put the needle to the British blues boom and tap dancer/drummer "Legs" Larry Smith was an onstage hit with his lubricous dancing. Another notable number, "Humanoid Boogie" clearly presaged rap music. See roots of rap music.
The band appeared at the 1969 Isle of Wight Festival[?].
The Bonzos toured the United States with The Who and also appeared at the Fillmore East[?] with The Kinks. Their stage show was true to the dada spirit, with Stanshall doing a mock striptease and Ruskin Spear with a platoon of robots, including one that sang "I'm forever blowing bubbles" while actually blowing bubbles. "The Canyons of Your Mind" features the worst guitar solo ever recorded.
Neil Innes went on to create the Beatles parody band The Rutles (the "prefab four") with Pythonite Eric Idle, and is an accomplished song-writer and occasional radio performer. Ruskin Spear continued as a performance artist with his robots in a show called Kinetic Wardrobe. Stanshall appeared on Mike Oldfield's Tubular Bells. "Legs" Larry Smith toured with Clapton and Elton John and can be heard tap dancing on John's "Teenage Suicide".
One of the Bonzos' song titles, "Cool Britannia", was revived as a label for a supposed trend in the UK media following the 1997 election of a Labour government. This alleged trend was seen by many to be a symptom of political spin, possibly intended to boost tourist trips to the UK.
Their line-up varied, sometimes on a weekly basis and a list (although incomplete) of members would include: Vivian Stanshall, "Happy" Wally Wilks, Tom Parkinson, Chris Jennings, Claude Abbo, Trevor Brown, Tom Hedge, Rodney Slater, Neil Innes, Roger Ruskin Spear[?], Vernon Dudley Bohay-Nowell, Sam Spoons (Martin Ash), Leon Williams, John Parry, Raymond Lewitt, Big Sid (Sydney Nicholls), "Legs" Larry Smith, Jim Strobes (James Chambers), Bob Kerr[?], Dave Clague, Joel Druckman, "Borneo" Fred Munt, Chalky Chalkey, Dennis Cowan, Aynsley Dunbar[?], Jim Capaldi[?], Anthony `Bubs' White, Andy Roberts, Dave Richards, Dick Parry, Hughie Flint and Glen Colson.
See also: The Alberts[?]