Frederick William "Fred" Schneider III was born in Newark, New Jersey. he is best known as a founding member and the frontman of the rock band The B-52's. The B-52s formed in Athens, Georgia in 1976. The group consisted of Fred Schneider on vocals and cowbell, Kate Pierson on vocals and keyboards, Cindy Wilson vocals, tambourine and bongos, the late-Ricky Wilson on guitar, and Keith Strickland on drums.
Rooted in New Wave and 1960s rock and roll, the group later covered many genres ranging from post-punk to pop rock.
The "guy vs. gals" vocals of Schneider, Pierson, and Wilson, sometimes used in call and response style ("Strobe Light," "Private Idaho", and "Good Stuff"), are a trademark. Presenting themselves as a positive, enthusiastic, slightly oddball party band, the B-52s tell tall tales, glorify wild youth, and celebrate wild romance.
The B-52s were formed when vocalist Cindy Wilson, aged nineteen, her older brother and guitarist Ricky (now deceased), aged twenty-three, organist and vocalist Kate Pierson, aged twenty-eight, original drummer and percussionist Keith Strickland, aged twenty-three, and cowbell player and vocalist Fred Schneider, aged twenty-five, played an impromptu musical jam session after sharing a tropical Flaming Volcano drink at a local Chinese restaurant. They later played their first concert in 1977 at a Valentine's Day party for their friends.
The band's name comes from a particular beehive hairdo resembling the nose cone of the aircraft of the same name. Keith Strickland suggested the name after a dream he had one night, of a band performing in a hotel lounge. In the dream he heard someone whisper in his ear that the name of the band was "The B-52s."
The band's quirky take on the New Wave sound of their era was a combination of dance and surf music set apart by the unusual guitar tunings used by Ricky Wilson. Their costume thrift-store chic set them apart as well.
Their first single, "Rock Lobster," recorded for DB Records in 1978, was an underground success,selling over 2,000 copies. That led to The B-52s performing at CBGB's and Max's Kansas City in New York City. Two versions of the single were released in the United Kingdom; one featured the single in its original form, and the other featured the B-side "Running Around" in place of "52 Girls." In Canada, released on the Warner Bros. label, the single went from cult favorite to smash hit, eventually going on to reach the number one position in the RPM-compiled national chart in May 1980.
In 1979, The B-52s signed a contract with Warner Bros. Records. Released on July 6, 1979 under the Island Records label, The B-52's contained re-recorded versions of "Rock Lobster" and "52 Girls," six originals recorded solely for the album, and a remake of the Petula Clark single "Downtown."
It was a major success for the band. In the U.S., the single "Rock Lobster" reached the Billboard Hot 100 chart, while the album itself was certified platinum by the Recording Industry Association of America.
The follow-up, Wild Planet, reached number eighteen on the Billboard 200 chart in 1980 and was certified gold. "Private Idaho" became their second Hot 100 entry. That year, they appeared in the Paul Simon film One Trick Pony. Their third album Party Mix! was released next, a remix album that took tracks from the first two LPs and presented them in extended forms. In interviews before his death, John Lennon cited "Rock Lobster" as an inspiration for his comeback.
Funplex, the band's first original album in sixteen years (since 1992's Good Stuff), was released on March 25, 2008 by Astralwerks. With this album, the band dropped the apostrophe from their name and became The B-52s.
The album debuted at #11 on the Billboard charts in the U.S., immediately making it the second-highest charting B-52s album ever. The B-52s recently performed their hit track "Love Shack" with Sugarland at the 2009 CMT Music Awards.
On February 18, 2011 the B-52s played a special 34th Anniversary show at the Classic Center in their hometown of Athens, Georgia. The show took place 4 days after the 34th anniversary date of their first-ever show, Feb. 14, 1977. The show was filmed and recorded for a forthcoming DVD and CD release.
The B-52s are still steadily playing 50-60 live shows a year, the setlist ranging from tracks on Funplex to their greatest hits and songs never played live before (such as Bouncing off the Satellites ' "Wig").
Aside from duties as the frontman, cowbell player, toy pianist (on "Dance This Mess Around") and glockenspieler (on "Give Me Back My Man") of The B-52's, Fred Schneider has released two solo albums. He is currently working on a side project called The Superions, they released a self-titled EP and the album Destination... Christmas! in 2010 and in February 2011 began working on a full-length album.