Kate Pierson (B-52s)

Kate Pierson, the American singer-songwriter and bass player withThe B-52’s and NiNa, Was born 27 April 1948. The B-52s were formed in Athens, Georgia in 1976. The original line-up consisted of Fred Schneider(vocals, percussion, keyboards), Kate Pierson (organ, bass, vocals), Cindy Wilson(vocals, bongos, tambourine, guitar), Ricky Wilson (guitars), and Keith Strickland(drums, guitars, synthesizers, various instruments) and cowbell player, poet and vocalist Fred Schneider played an impromptu musical jam session after sharing a tropical Flaming Volcano drink at a local Athens Chinese restaurant. Other ideas they had to name their band were the “Tina-Trons” and “Felini’s Children”. When they first jammed, Strickland played guitar and Wilson played congas. They later played their first concert (with Wilson playing guitar) in 1977 at a Valentine’s Day party for their friends.

The band’s name comes from a particular beehive hairdo resembling the nose cone of the aircraft of the same name. Keith Strickland suggested the name after a dream he had had one night, of a band performing in a hotel lounge. In the dream he heard someone whisper in his ear that the name of the band was “the B-52s.” The band’s quirky take on the new wave sound of their era was a combination of dance and surf music set apart from their contemporaries by the unusual guitar tunings used by Ricky Wilson and thrift-store chic. Their first single, “Rock Lobster”, recorded in 1978, was an underground success, which led to the B-52’s performing at CBGB and Max’s Kansas City in New York City. A rerecorded version of Rock Lobster was released as a single. In the UK and Germany it was backed with Running Around (Instrumental), which appeared on their second album Wild Planet. The buzz created by the record in the UK meant their first show in London at the Electric Ballroom, London, was packed in anticipation, with many UK pop stars such as Sandie Shaw, Green Gartside from Scritti Politti, Joe Jackson, and others in attendance. In Canada, released on the Warner Bros. label, the single went from cult hit to bona fide smash, eventually going on to reach the No. 1 position in the RPM-compiled national chart on May 24, 1980.

In 1979 The B-52’s signed contracts with Warner Bros. Records for North America, South America, Australia, and New Zealand; and with Island Records for the UK, Europe, and Asia. Chris Blackwell, founder of Island, produced their debut studio album. Recorded at Blackwell’s Compass Point Studios in The Bahamas, and released on July 6, 1979, The B-52’s contained re-recorded versions of “Rock Lobster” and “52 Girls”, six originals recorded solely for the album, and a remake of the Petula Clark single “Downtown”. According to the band interview on the DVD With the Wild Crowd! Live in Athens, GA, the band was surprised by Blackwell’s recording methods; he wanted to keep the sound as close as possible to their actual live sound so used almost no overdubs or additional effects. The album was a major success for the band, especially in Australia where it reached number three on the charts alongside its three singles “Planet Claire”, “Rock Lobster”, and “Dance This Mess Around”. In the United States, the single “Rock Lobster” reached the Billboard Hot 100 chart, while the album itself was certified platinum by the Recording Industry Association of America.

The follow-up, Wild Planet, reached number eighteen on the Billboard 200 chart in 1980 and was certified gold. “Private Idaho” became their second Hot 100 entry. On January 26, 1980, The B-52’s performed on Saturday Night Live. They also performed at the Heatwave festival (billed as the “New Wave Woodstock”) in Toronto, Canada in August 1980; and appeared in the Paul Simon film One Trick Pony. Their third release was a remix of tracks from their first two studio albums. Party Mix! took six tracks from the first two LPs and presented them in extended forms. John Lennon cited “Rock Lobster” as an inspiration for his comeback. In 1981 the band collaborated with musician David Byrne to produce a third full-length studio album. Due to alleged conflicts with Byrne over the album’s musical direction recording sessions for the album were aborted, prompting the band to release Mesopotamia (1982) as an extended play (EP), in 1991, Party Mix! and Mesopotamia, the latter of which had been remixed, were combined and released together on a single compact disc. In 1983 the band released their fourth album Whammy!; this album brought the band into synthesizer and drum machine experimentation. The album entered the Billboard 200 chart in 1983, reaching number twenty-nine during the year. “Legal Tender” reached the Billboard Hot 100 chart, as well as the Billboard Hot Dance Club Play Singles chart alongside “Whammy Kiss” and “Song for a Future Generation”. After initial pressings of Whammy! were released, copyright issues with Yoko Ono led to the song “Don’t Worry” being removed and replaced on future pressings by “Moon 83″, a remixed version of the track “There’s a Moon in the Sky (Called the Moon)” from their debut album.

After taking a one year absence from their musical careers in 1984 The B-52’s regrouped in 1985 to record Bouncing off the Satellites, their fifth studio record, and in January of that year they performed in Brazil, at Rock in Rio; their largest crowd ever. During the recording, guitarist Wilson had been suffering from AIDS/HIV-related health complications. None of the other band members were aware of his illness. In an interview, fellow band member Kate Pierson stated that Wilson had kept his illness secret from his fellow band members because he “did not want anyone to worry about him or fuss about him.” On October 12, 1985 Wilson died from the illness, at the age of 32. With Cindy Wilson devastated by her brother’s death, and her bandmates too being depressed about Ricky’s passing, the band went into seclusion and did not tour to promote their album nor the group, prompting a hiatus from their musical careers. In 1987 they released a public service announcement in the style of The Beatles’ Sgt Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band album cover on behalf of AMFAR (The Foundation for AIDS Research).

Following Ricky Wilson’s death in 1985 Strickland switched full-time to guitar. The band subsequently added various musicians for their live shows. This included Sara Lee or Tracy Wormworth on (bass),Zachary Alford or Sterling Campbell on (drums, percussion) and Pat Irwin or Paul Gordon (keyboards & guitars).Rooted in new wave and 1960s rock and roll, the group later covered many genresranging from post-punk to pop rock. The “guy vs. gals” vocals of Schneider, Pierson, and Wilson, sometimes used in call and response style (“Strobe Light,” “Private Idaho”, and “Good Stuff”), are a trademark. Presenting themselves as a positive, fun, enthusiastic, slightly oddball and goofy party band, the B-52’s tell tall tales, glorify wild youth and celebrate sexy romance.

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