Q&A with Fred Schneider, The B-52s founding member and lead singer // www.theb52s.com
Formed in an Athens, Ga. Chinese restaurant in October 1976, the original five-member B-52s, naming themselves after Southern slang for high bouffant hairdos, debuted at a friend’s Valentine’s Day house party in 1977. Relocating to Manhattan two years later following successful weekend gigs at NYC rock cradles Max’s Kansas City and CBGB, their 1979 self-titled debut album and 1980’s Wild Planet set them on their way.
Leaders of the post-punk new wave revolution alongside Talking Heads and Blondie, the B-52s barnstormed to global fame. From early cuts like Rock Lobster to later top 10 hit Love Shack, their uniquely kitschy, retro sound has sold more than 20 million albums to date.
Currently touring as part of The B-52s’ multiyear 40th anniversary celebration, Fred Schneider shared some memories and favorite places from four decades fronting “The World’s Greatest Party Band.”
Any emotional chords when returning to Athens?
Other than the Georgia Theatre, most places we started out are gone or changed, such as 1960s club The Last Resort, which is now a restaurant. For our 35th anniversary in 2012, we celebrated with a show at downtown’s Classic Center, which was recorded as With the Wild Crowd! and released on DVD.
What about NYC, and all its lost venues?
Well, at least you don’t get mugged there anymore. Late ’70s New York was dangerous, but very exciting. We first played at Max’s Kansas City, where we met all the people we admired, including Patti Smith and the Velvet Underground. But all those venues are gone. Landmarked Irving Plaza (1927) is still around. It became a rock club in 1978, and we played there, along with The Police, Ramones and Talking Heads.
What are some of your favorite historic U.S. music venues?
Radio City Music Hall is another NYC favorite (where The B-52s opened for the Rolling Stones in 2006). We really felt like we had made it when we played the Greek Theatre and Hollywood Bowl in Los Angeles. Atlanta’s Fox Theatre is another.
What is it about music that gives a lasting vibe to physical places?
It’s about connecting with kindred spirits. The first US Festival, over Labor Day weekend 1982 in California (San Bernardino, at today’s Glen Helen Amphitheater) is a great example. We played New Wave Day with The Police, Oingo Boingo, Ramones and others. Feeling the support and love of the crowd was incredible, which for bands, fans and places helps keep the vibe alive.
(Note: Though largely forgotten, the 1982 and 1983 US Festivals, financed by Apple co-founder Steve Wozniak, were landmark events in bridging the gap between the 1969 Altamont disaster, which caused many cities to have anxiety about festivals, and the advent of today’s multiday, multi-thematic festivals, such as Coachella, Bonnaroo and Lollapalooza.)