The B-52s' Party Rolls on Through Phoenix
The B-52s' funky, flirty and groovalicious party sound is as unmistakable today as it was when the band formed unexpectedly in 1976 after founding members Fred Schneider, Kate Pierson, Keith Strickland, and Cindy and Ricky Wilson downed a flaming volcano drink at an Athens, Georgia restaurant.
"We never planned on having a band. We were friends and crashed parties together in Athens and hung out," says Pierson during a recent phone interview. "So one night we went to the Chinese restaurant and we had very little money to eat, so we thought we'd share this drink . . .
"We went over to a friend's house and started jamming and . . . that's how it happened: the magic drink."
The B-52s are scheduled to perform Friday, July 12, at Talking Stick Resort in Scottsdale.
Athens had no music scene to speak of at the time, Pierson says, and there was nowhere to play other than backyard parties. Another band suggested they send demo tapes to CBGB and Max's Kansas City in New York City. The fledgling band landed a gig at Max's.
"It was basically an audition night where you play with 10 other bands," Pierson says. "We drove all the way up there and they said, 'Could you cut your set short to 20 minutes?' That was all the material we had anyway. Afterward, we got straight back into the station wagon and drove back to Georgia. We found out later they wanted us to come back."
The band made the 818-mile trip to New York City a regular event. Eventually, with the help of Danny Beard of DB Records, the band released a single with now-party staple "Rock Lobster" and "52 Girls," cementing their musical appeal.
"That really put us on the map," Pierson recalls. "People started coming in droves to our concerts in New York and that's how it all blew up."
The band quickly signed a major label deal becoming the de facto party band for college kids everywhere. Though the band added new musical elements every now and then, the core sound remained, though Pierson says the band never intentionally tried to create anything in particular. Every song, she says, was part of a collective writing process based around jamming.
"The style of jamming, the way we did it that (first) night, became the template for the way we always wrote," she says. "You let it flow and get into a Zen place, that's what we get into when we jam. ... You never know what's going to happen; there's no control over it. Then we piece it together. It's like a collage. There's very little point in trying to say we're going to make this a normal song."
Are they abnormal songs then? Not to the fans who routinely pack concert venues. The B-52s' last album was 2008's Funplex, which came 16 years after Good Stuff but was made just for those loyal fans.
"We were all shocked when someone said it had been 16 years. We weren't counting," Pierson says of the gap between albums. "It occurred to us that we were touring all the time and the audience maybe wanted to hear some new songs. That was the main impetus. Our fans deserved some new songs."
It's unlikely, however, that the B-52s will be recording any new material. Earlier this year, Strickland stopped touring, and though Pierson confirms he would be part of any recording projects, the odds of the band re-entering the studio are unlikely. In the meantime, the party gone out of bounds continues.
"Of course, all the fans know Keith isn't there, but they also know it's with Keith's blessings [that we continue]," Pierson says. "Sure, he's missed, but the core foundation of the music's still there."