“Anyone who had the opportunity to see the Unknowns play had an unforgettable experience,” says San Diego musician and historian Ray Brandes on the Che Underground website. “Crisp, staccato drumming and the dripping-wet reverberation of Mosrite guitars through Fender amplifiers was punctuated by the yips and howls of the legendary melodramatic lead singer, Bruce Joyner, who sang from a chair or aided by a cane, looking every bit like a down-home Barnabas Collins in search of fresh blood.”
Joyner (whose own band would be called the Tinglers) and guitarist Mark Neill arrived in San Diego together in a blue 1960 Chevy they drove from Georgia. Local punks the Cardiac Kidz introduced them to their original rhythm section, Joe Foy and Jack Donahue, both of whom were out of the band by 1980, replaced by Steve Bidrowski and Dave Doyle. Sue Del Guidice, aka Sue Ferguson of the Dinettes and Harpco, played keys for a short time in 1979.
Playing at local venues like the Skeleton Club (once raided by cops as the Unknowns were playing), many called them a surf guitar group, though guitarist Mark Neill told the Snare 'zine "I'm just finding out about 'surf guitar,' which everybody out here says I play. What the fuck is surf guitar? I play instrumental style guitar."
Their 1981 debut EP on the Sire label, Dream Sequence, was followed in 1982 by a self-titled album on the small indie Invasion label. The group split in 1983, though a new version was launched from L.A. two years later with a three-piece lineup featuring Mark Neill and Dave Doyle, now backed by drummer Craig Packham. They remained occasionally extant through 2006.
Neill reunited with Bruce Joyner for awhile in the band Sensational Big M.R. and His All-Bitchin' All-Stud All-Stars.
The Unknowns were scheduled to perform a reunion gig at the Casbah in January, 2010, but a scheduling conflict scuttled the show. The first time the definitive lineup played San Diego in nearly three decades finally happened September 3, 2011, at the Casbah.