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The Tubes formed on Wednesday March 22nd 1972 in San Francisco, California, featuring members from two Phoenix, Arizona, bands who had relocated to San Francisco in 1969. One, The Beans, included Bill Spooner, Rick Anderson, Vince Welnick, Frank Martinez, Scott Hornbeck and Bob Macintosh. The other, the Red White and Blues Band, featured Prairie Prince, Roger Steen, and David Killingsworth. After performing at Expo '70 in Japan, Killingsworth left the Red, White and Blues Band, leaving Steen and Prince to audition new bass players, albeit unsuccessfully. Before moving to San Francisco the Beans had been a local favorite in Phoenix, selling out shows with a tongue-in-cheek concept rock show called "The Mother of Ascension" featuring costumes and props. After moving, Bill Spooner worked at the Fillmore West sweeping floors in between Beans shows at the Longshoremen's Hall and other minor venues. The band's loud, heavy jamming style didn't attract attention, and the band needed to go back home to Phoenix. There they would sell out shows, which provided enough money to pay their rent. The Beans' manager and former Alice Cooper Group drummer, John Speer, suggested they add Prince and Steen along with their roadie John Waybill to one of these shows. Waybill's nickname among the band was "Fee," short for "Fiji," thanks to his copious head of hippie hair.

"The Radar Men from Uranus" played the Celebrity Theatre in Phoenix, as well as a show in Mexico where they were run out of town by the police. Rick Anderson almost drowned after he was washed out to sea while swimming. The group would stick together and play shows at biker bars such as The Inn of The Beginning. The vocals at this time were shared by Spooner, Steen and Waybill as different characters. Prairie Prince and Phoenix high school friend Michael Cotten were attending art school at the San Francisco Art Institute at this time; they attracted local press attention by painting a mural of crashing waves on the side of the Cliff House Restaurant. Cotten was asked by Spooner to buy an ARP synthesizer instead of a film camera and began to perform with the band as well as create props and costumes.

One of the first Tubes shows was at the Art Institute cafeteria as part of an art show for classmate and future Hollywood director Kathryn Bigelow. While experimenting with their stage show and art, Prince and Cotten met model Re Styles while painting the Cliff House Mural. Styles had been born Shirley Marie Macleod on March 30, 1950[1] in Middelburg, Netherlands[2]. She had appeared in both Alejandro Jodorowsky's The Holy Mountain and Sun Ra's Space Is the Place and posed for Playboy and Penthouse magazines. She was also associated with Sweet Pam and the Cockettes.[3]By 1975 she was credited with clothes design and dance co-ordination for the band[4]. Onstage she would play Patty Hearst and dress in wild leather outfits during the "Mondo Bondage" dance with Waybill. By 1979, she and Prince were married.[5]

After several years of playing biker bars, the band needed help. They had a temporary agreement with producer David Rubinson and played on bills with The Pointer Sisters and Sylvester, but were still trying to find an audience. Prince had been hired by newly formed fusion rock band Journey to record demos, and approached their manager Herbie Herbert, a former Santana roadie and Bill Graham employee. Herbert made a deal with Graham that if the Tubes could sell out three local shows, Graham would give him an opening slot on the show of his choice.

Herbert booked shows at a local club called the Village, which sold out thanks to themes inspired by the San Francisco post-hippie underground culture such as "The Streaker's Ball" and "Mondo Bondage." Much to Graham's dismay, Herbert chose an opening slot for the upcoming Led Zeppelin show at Kezar Stadium. The band pulled out the stops, including Waybill dressed as an early version of "Quay Lewd" throwing "Cocaine" (flour) and "Pills" (candy) at the crowd, who threw it back. Graham threatened Herbert that the band would never play in San Francisco again but calmed down and eventually fell in love with the band, booking them at Winterland and other California venues for New Year's shows and Halloween. After the 1973 Led Zeppelin show, Herbert wanted to manage the band, but Spooner and the group went with local management team Mort Moriarty and Gary Peterson, also known as "Bag O' Bucks." Moriarty was interested in the use of video in rock music and saw the Tubes' stage show as the future of music videos. Bob Macintosh died of cancer at this time, leaving Prince as the only drummer.

In 1974, Bag O' Bucks filmed a Tubes show at the California Hall and shopped the "video demo" around Los Angeles. George Daly, Columbia Records head of A&R in San Francisco, made some Tubes demos, but NY [CBS] Corporate would not agree to signing the Tubes to Columbia due to the radical nature of their art. After 18 months, with no success at his own label, Daly, at the suggestion of Rick Wakeman,[6] finally pitched the group to competitor A&M Records, where his former Columbia East Coast A&R colleague and friend, Kip Cohen, had recently headed the A&R division. Daly personally flew managers Moriarity and Petersen down to LA, and Cohen signed The Tubes to A&M, a rare example of cross-company support by major label executives. Working with lawyer Greg Fischbach, the band signed with A&M Records.