Cameo of the band from Run-DMC's Tougher Than Leather
The band was formed in 1980 by children, ranging in age from 8 to 13, living in the Barry Farm government housing project in Washington, D.C.. They were inspired to play after witnessing the performances of local go-go bands in their neighborhood. Not having resources to purchase traditional instruments, the children instead scoured their neighborhood in search of objects that could emulate the sound of real instruments: hubcaps, plastic buckets, crates, cans, and discarded pots and pans. After a few informal performances in Barry Farm, the group was dubbed the "Junk Yard Band" by locals. This is perhaps a reference to the animated television program, Fat Albert and the Cosby Kids, whose band "The Junk Yard Gang" also performed on improvised instruments.
With go-go music gaining in popularity, and the band gaining local notoriety, the band began booking performances at schools, recreation centers, fundraisers, and government agencies. The band was often seen performing for tourists on the streets of Washington, D.C. This popularity led to appearances in a 1984 Cavalier Men's Store television advertisement, the 1983 film D.C. Cab and the 1988 film Tougher Than Leather with Run-D.M.C. It was this interaction with Run-D.M.C.'s DJ Run that led to an eventual recording contract with older brother Russell Simmons' Def Jam Recordings.
DefJam released the band's song "Sardines" as a single in 1986. The song received considerable airplay, and the band embarked on a tour of the United States as an opening act for acts such as Guy, Salt-n-Pepa, Tupac Shakur, The Roots, and labelmates Beastie Boys and Slayer. No longer viewed simply as a novelty act, the group performed at such prestigious venues as the Kennedy Center and the Apollo Theater.
The group signed with Street Records, a Motown Records subsidiary, in 1992.