As the band flies into Buenos Aires for a tour stop this week, B-52s fans across the globe are absorbing the news that the Athens-birthed band is bringing its 36-year bounds-impaired party to an end. Over the weekend, frontman Fred Schneider announced on Facebook that he will no longer tour with the act after the band’s Nov. 13 show in Westbury, NY.
On her Facebook page, Schneider’s longtime Atlanta-based bandmate and unofficial kid sister Cindy Wilson posted this note to fans: “This isn’t meant to be a formal statement about the ending of the band. I don’t think we’ve hashed it out yet. BUT I support Fred 100%. Don’t be mad at him. We are ending and I want you all to know how much we appreciate the love and good times.”
Schneider’s announcement follows founding member Keith Strickland’s 2012 retirement from the road. Schneider turned 62 this summer, bandmate Kate Pierson is 65, Strickland is 59 and Wilson, the baby of the group is 56.
In a text message to me Monday, Schneider explained that after more than three and a half decades of planes, trains, automobiles and lost luggage, he’s road weary: “I’ve been doing it for 35 years and I’m tired. It does not mean we won’t do special projects and events.” He adds that Pierson and Wilson do not plan to tour as the B’s without him and Strickland.
So, is this really the end?
Longtime fans will note that the B-52s is among the most resilient bands in rock history. After an original 45 single of Rock Lobster was pressed up by Atlanta’s DB Recs in 1978, the band signed to Warner Brothers Records. They operated under the mainstream radar for much of the 1970s and 1980s, releasing critically acclaimed, college radio friendly albums, including 1979’s The B-52’s, Wild Planet, Whammy!, an early dance remix project Party Mix and a 1982 EP Mesopotamia produced by David Byrne. Guitarist and co-founder Ricky Wilson succumbed to AIDS shortly after the band recorded the 1986 album Bouncing Off the Satellites. After a hiatus, Strickland learned guitar and the band returned to writing and recording together. They ended up producing their biggest album to date, 1989’s multi platinum-selling, Cosmic Thing, generating the hits Channel Z, Roam, Deadbeat Club and of course, Love Shack. Wilson left the group after Cosmic Thing and Schneider, Pierson and Strickland soldiered on as a trio to record the 1992 follow up Good Stuff while singer Julee Cruise filled in for Wilson on tour. But fans missed Wilson and Pierson’s inimitable harmonies and interlocking voices and Wilson returned in time to record a pair of new songs for the act’s 1998 20-year retrospective Time Capsule: Songs For a Future Generation. The band released Funplex, the B’s first new studio album in 16 years in 2008.
But in the era of pirated downloads, DIY YouTube singing sensations, streaming music, sparse album sales and waning commercial radio, most legacy acts these days generate the bulk of their income via constant touring. Thankfully, the B’s have one of the most fan-friendly songbooks in rock history and their feel-good tunes could prove a licensing goldmine for advertisers seeking to reach Baby Boomers and Gen Xers. Target notably used the band’s song Junebug in a 2007 TV commercial campaign.
When asked what he would like to say to fans who have followed the band for 35 years, Schneider cheekily texted: “It’s not over yet.”
Full disclosure: Schneider has recorded the narration for Sassafrass Jones and the Search for a Forever Home, a new children’s book I co-authored with Schneider’s old friend and Atlanta resident Cathleen Smith Bresciani.