Formed in LA in 1979, The Mystic Knights of the Oingo Boingo, later known just as Oingo Boingo (and later yet, just as Boingo), was the later evolution of a musical theatrical group that was originally put together by Richard Elfman. Having formed The Mystic Knights of the Oingo Boingo in 1972, Rick later passed the Oingo Boingo torch over to his brother Danny and turned his efforts to producing movies. For Richard’s first movie “The Forbidden Zone” (1980) he actually enlisted brother Danny to write the soundtrack, some of which was actually performed by Oingo Boingo.
For a long time, Oingo Boingo was one of the best-kept entertainment secrets. However, on the U.S. West Coast Oingo Boingo had tremendous “underground” popularity. Part of the reason for this was its leader and primary writer Danny Elfman’s (Oingo Boingo’s lead vocalist) penchant for constant experimentation in musical styles – including Balinese polyrhythms, West African melodies, and big band-tinged horn-paced songs – that made Oingo Boingo hard to categorize.
Oingo Boingo’s initial release, “Oingo Boingo” (a four song extended-play album on the IRS label) brought fierce negative appraisals from local critics. The biggest complaint was that the new stress on music was to pander to teenage tastes for commercial ends. Stung by the press barbs, Elfman got back at reviewers with the scathing lyrics of the 1981 Oingo Boingo song “Imposter” (whose primary targets reportedly were the music writers of the Los Angeles Times). Elfman indignantly denied he had slanted his early writing specifically for the teenage level. “On the contrary, when we (Oingo Boingo) started up, one of the reasons it was hard to get signed was because they said our music was too complex for a young audience to understand: rhythmically, melodically, and lyrically. And, as the kids out here discovered us on their own, we were surprised. We had almost begun to believe what they had been telling us. But we came out with our first EP and it was [with] the kids that we caught on.”
Oingo Boingo had a modest local hit with the EP, which encouraged A&M Records to sign them to a multiyear contract. The debut on that label was “Only a Lad” (1981). A&M issued two more Oingo Boingo albums, “Nothing to Fear” and “Good for Your Soul”, from 1982 to 1984. Both contained tracks that received extensive dance-club play (supported by videos that appeared on MTV and other music video outlets), notably “Private Life” on “Nothing to Fear” and “Wake Up, It’s 1984” on “Good for Your Soul.” The albums achieved decent sales figures and, backed by constant nationwide touring, helped slowly to add to Oingo Boingo’s audience across the U.S.
Oingo Boingo had a rather unorthodox size for a rock group, numbering eight members including Danny Elfman on lead vocals. One reason for the large group was the group’s emphasis on horn-driven arrangements.
Oingo Boingo consisted of:
Danny Elfman (leader, songwriter, lead singer, rhythm guitar, co-arranger)
Steve Bartek (lead guitar, co-arranger)
Kerry Hatch (bass, vocals; ’79 – ’84)
John Avila (bass, vocals; ’85 – ’95)
Johnny “Vatos” Hernandez (drums)
Sam “Sluggo” Phipps (horns)
Leon Schneiderman (horns)
Dale Turner (horns)
Richard Gibbs (keyboards; ’79 – ’83)
Though Oingo Boingo started out as an 8-piece group, they performed with as few as 5 members and as many as 20, playing a variety of traditional and not-so-traditional instruments from all over the world.
Other live (or session) Oingo Boingo members included: George McMullen (horns), Warren Fitzgerald (guitar), Marc Mann (keyboards), Doug Lacy (accordion, percussion), Katurah Clarke (percussion), Carl Graves, Kerry Hatch, Mike Bacich, Bruce Fowler, Rich Sumner, Willy Winant…