'This Is Spinal Tap' Turns 30: The Bands That Inspired the Classic Film

Find out which classic scene was inspired by Yul Brynner, of all people

Photo: Everett

Christopher Guest, Michael McKean and Harry Shearer’s iconic This Is Spinal Tap turns 30 years old this week. The question “Which band inspired Spinal Tap?” is a complicated one, and the easiest response is probably a few. However, there have been some solid answers given over the years. Take a look.

The Troggs

(Warning: Video contains profanity)

The band behind “Wild Thing” was once taped having a serious argument in the studio, and the widely-circulated recording has been cited as the inspiration for a scene in the film where the Tap nearly goes to pieces over the recording of a guitar solo.

Uriah Heep

In the Criterion Edition DVD commentary for This Is Spinal Tap, Harry Shearer mentions that the film’s keyboard player, John Sinclair, had recently returned from touring with Uriah Heep just as principal photography on the film was set to begin. Sinclair told the crew about Uriah Heep having been booked to play on an Air Force base, and the anecdote subsequently inspired a scene in the film.

Tom Petty

The scene in which the band gets lost backstage (seen briefly in the above trailer) – spending an interminable amount of time wandering through labyrinthine maintenance tunnels while shouting “Rock and roll!” and “Hello, Cleveland!” – has actually happened to multiple bands (including Yes and Bob Dylan).

According to Guest, though, it was directly inspired by Tom Petty: “We saw a tape of Tom Petty playing somewhere in Germany, where he’s walking backstage and a door’s opened and he ends up on an indoor tennis court and there’s just this moment of stunned, you know, ‘Where am I?'”

Van Halen and … Yul Brynner

Nigel Tufnel (Guest)’s petty backstage freakout over the deli tray the venue has provided (“I don’t want it to affect your performance,” their manager pleads) was apparently inspired by Van Halen’s request, a year earlier, that no brown M&Ms be present backstage.

And, strangely enough, Yul Brynner, who McKean remembers having a contract for backstage foodstuffs that specified, “Under no circumstances must white eggs be substituted for brown.”

Eric Clapton

The name of Guest’s character, “Nigel Tufnel,” was allegedly inspired by Eric Clapton, using the formula of “dull name + location in London.” (“Eric” became “Nigel,” and “Clapton Pond” became “Tufnell Park.”)


Many bands have come forward and accused the Spinal Tap gang of ripping them off. Black Sabbath, for instance, had an oversized Stonehenge replica on tour that unfortunately mirrored the film’s classic scene (“I do not, for one, think that the problem was that the band was ‘down.’ I think that the problem may have been that there was a Stonehenge monument on the stage that was in danger of being crushed by a dwarf!”) only coincidentally – the scene was filmed a year prior to Sabbath’s tour.

But English heavy metal band Saxon may be one of the only bands to have a member proudly claim influencing the band: Bassist Steve Dawson wrote a book called Saxon, Drugs & Rock ‘n’ Roll: The Real Spinal Tap, and Harry Shearer did actually go on tour with the band prior to filming Tap.

Here’s to many more years of turning things up to 11!

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