From the musically fertile soils of Athens, Georgia, emerged the quirky, impertinent B-52’s, a newwave band with an enduring penchant for the kitsch and the flamboyant.
The group was formed in essence by high-school pals Ricky Wilson (guitar) and Keith Strickland (drums), playing as Black Narcissus. On graduating, the pair travelled around Europe, after which they could only find work at a bus station – until a 1976 meeting with Kate Pierson (organ/vocals) and Fred Schneider (keys/vocals), late of local protest band The Sun-Donuts. The four joined forces – recruiting Wilson’s sister Cindy (guitar/vocals) – naming their distinctive band after the girls’ equally distinctive bouffant hairstyles.
Quickly established as The B-52’s’ chief arranger, lead guitarist Wilson led the band to rapid success in their home town. A debut gig at New York’s fabled Max’s Kansas City was poorly attended, and only 2,000 copies of off-beat debut single "Rock Lobster" were cut – but the group were making a loud enough noise to attract Chris Blackwell at Island Records.
The reissued "Rock Lobster" then caught sufficient attention to send a debut album into the charts on both sides of the Atlantic, the single making the UK Top Forty in 1979 on the back of a great deal of radio play (reissued again to Top Twenty success in 1986); rumour even has it that John Lennon was encouraged to record again after hearing the band. Fuelled by Wilson’s Dick Dale-esque guitar heroics, the group then put together a great second set in Wild Planet (1981), following this with Mesopotamia (1982) and Whammy! (1983).
While recording the latter, though, Wilson made the distressing discovery that he was carrying the AIDS virus, and was forced into retirement during the sessions for The B-52’s’ largely ignored Bouncing off the Satellites album (1986). By the time of Ricky Wilson’s sad death from an AIDS-related illness, he was confined to a New York hospital bed; he was interred in Athens five days later.
Source: The Encyclopedia of Dead Rock Stars - Jeremy Simmonds, 2nd Edition, Chicago Review Press, Incorporated, 2012, page 177
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