“Some people just need to do music,” says Cindy Wilson. “I found some great musicians who we really worked well together.”
She’s talking about the B-52s, whose quirky career dominates her conversation with Walking the Floor host Chris Shiflett. Released today, the new episode includes recollections of the band’s early days, insight into the creation of their biggest album Cosmic Thing and teasers about the rare songs lurking within the band’s vault.
Listen to the podcast’s premiere below, and follow along with our list of episode highlights.
Wilson received some beauty advice from June Carter Cash.
“I shared a stage with her,” says Wilson, who remembers crossing paths with Cash at a festival in Atlanta. The two musicians began talking backstage, and although Cash had never heard of the B-52s, she did warm up immediately to Wilson, even offering the singer some makeup tips. “She was trimming her eyelashes,” Wilson remembers. “She said, ‘You’ve gotta make ’em really natural-looking. Just a little bit [longer than usual.]”
When the B-52s signed their first major-label record deal, they spent a large chunk of the money on a communal home.
“We signed with Warner Bros. and Island,” recalls Wilson, who was raised in the band’s hometown of Athens, Georgia. “We got a check, so we bought a house. But it was the wrong thing to do, because it was way too much togetherness. You need a break!” Years later, footage from that period can be found on a series of home-recorded VHS tapes, which Wilson says may show up on a future documentary.
The secret to being in a successful band like the B-52s? Check your ego.
“You can’t be a bully,” Wilson cautions. “You’ve gotta just sit down and give and take. If this great part you thought was so fantastic didn’t make it into the song, you’ve just gotta relax. It’ll show up later.”
Ricky Wilson was the band’s original secret weapon, with quirky musical tastes and worldly experiences that helped inform the B-52s’ own diverse sound.
“Ricky is four years older than I was,” says Wilson. “We both saw Ed Sullivan and the Beatles on TV, and Ricky became a Beatles maniac. . .Then he got older and learned how to play the guitar. He taught himself how to do that. He was listening to folk music like Joni Mitchell, with the open tunings, and Captain Beefheart and Joan Baez. He even had an Iggy Pop record. While he and Keith [Strickland] went to Europe for a couple of years, Rick went to school in Germany, and they did the hippie tourist thing and stayed in youth hostels and actually lived in caves in Greece for awhile. It was very cool. When he came back, that’s when the B-52s were happening. I was 19, so I’m thinking [the year was] 1977.”
The late Seventies were an exciting time for left-of-center bands like the B-52s, who filled their own record collection with alternative sounds.
“We were listening to Patti Smith and Talking Heads,” Wilson remembers. “The Sex Pistols came through Atlanta and I got to go see them. That was historic. It blew me away; it was so much fun. I bought 45s of bands you don’t hear about any more. We had all those influences.” At the advice of an Atlanta-based band called the Fans, the B-52s began making trips to New York City, where they’d perform at Max’s Kansas City. There, they found a venue – and an audience – whose wild tastes mirrored their own. “I think we shocked everybody,” she adds. “We came back the second time we played New York City, and John fucking Cale was sitting at the bar. I was in shock!”
After Ricky Wilson’s death, the band began writing songs together as a form of therapy. Those songs spawned their biggest album, Cosmic Thing.
“I went into a depression, of course, mourning Ricky,” says Wilson, whose brother died while she was still in her late Twenties. “The band was knocked for a loop. Keith Strickland moved up to Woodstock, NY. We thought it was the end. It took about a couple years’ break.” When the group got back together, they began collaborating on new songs in a Manhattan rehearsal space. “We ended up writing,” Wilson remembers, “and it turned out this was a great way to bond back again. It felt like Ricky was in the room. And to tell you the truth, we weren’t writing the album in the hopes that it would be a super, colossal hit. It was very nostalgic, looking back at the good ol’ days in Athens. . .It was a way of trying to restore our happiness, [and] it came as a total surprise that it became such a big hit.