The band enjoyed popularity in the early- to mid-1990s, with their mix of satirical humor and heavy metal sound. Their logo was a cartoon embodiment of an "ugly kid" wearing a backward baseball hat and giving the finger. Heavily influenced by Black Sabbath and AC/DC, they covered several of their songs, including "Sweet Leaf" and "N.I.B.". They toured the United States several times—their second tour was in support of Scatterbrain, and later opening for former Black Sabbath
The band honed their chops playing the vibrant Isla Vista UCSB street parties in the late 80s/early 90s (the band's original name was Overdrive), before moving on to bigger venues in Los Angeles and beyond. Ugly Kid Joe first gained success with "Everything About You", which peaked at #3 in the UK Singles Chart. Later the song was used in the movie Wayne's World. Further singles did not fare as well, however the positive response to the band’s live performance of Harry Chapin’s "Cats in the Cradle" prompted a studio version, subsequently released as a well-received single that sold over 500,000 copies in the United States alone, and peaked at #7 in the UK Singles Chart.
Menace to Sobriety received much praise from the press and fans, and UK rock magazine Kerrang! ranked it as a contender for album of the year. Despite success overseas and a successful European tour, the album was given little encouragement from Mercury Records and subsequently failed in the United States.
After being dropped by Mercury Records, Ugly Kid Joe formed their own independent label Evilution Records for the release of their next album. With distribution support from Castle Communications, the album Motel California was released in late 1996, and again the band toured Europe to smaller crowds. The tour was named Late check-out Tour, underlining the band's characteristic sense-of-humor. Motel California, an album lead vocalist Whitfield Crane described as "heavy, funky, and has everything in it", initially received lukewarm reviews and sold poorly, though it has gained a minor cult following in recent times.
Ugly Kid Joe disbanded in 1997, and as of 2007, have not expressed plans for reuniting. Drummer Shannon Larkin is currently a member of Godsmack, while lead vocalist Whitfield Crane has collaborated with some Godsmack members on a new project called Another Animal.