The B-Girls came together in Toronto in 1976, and legend has it that founder members Cynthia Ross and Lucasta Rochas, first met at an after-show party in Phil Lynott’s hotel bathroom. To Cynthia, Lucasta looked exactly like the kind of girl who should play rock and roll, and approached her with the opening line of “Have you ever thought about starting a band?” Right then and there, and without having ever touched an instrument, the pair started to hatch their rock and roll plans – plans that included drafting in Cynthia’s sister Rhonda and Lucasta’s best friend Xenia. They borrowed equipment and rehearsed in Cynthia’s parents’ basement, and once they’d mastered “These Boots Are Made For Walking”, they moved on to writing their own songs.
Musically, their punk rock credentials might have seemed a bit flimsy, initially touting The Shangri-Las and the Ronettes as bigger inspirations than say The Ramones; who by all accounts had personally “Ramoned” Toronto to such an extent in September 1976 – with enough Gabba Gabba Hey to almost single-handedly influence the whole scene. But what the B-Girls lacked in fuzz and fury, they made up for with plenty of punk rock attitude, a set of striped jumpers and an apparently boundless energy for their new found calling. They were soon part of Toronto’s downtown punk scene, playing at the seminal but short lived punk club “Crash ’n’ Burn”, where they soon became part of the regular roster alongside bands like The Diodes, Teenage Head and The Viletones.
After drummer Marcy Saddy and guitarist Renee Schilhab were added, replacing Rhonda and Lucasta, the girls were offered a slot at New York’s CBGBs, and rather than just spending all their money travelling to the show and back, they decided to pack up and move to New York City instead. For the first month they slept on the floor of a friend of a friend, who just happened to be Sylvain Sylvain of the New York Dolls,
“The B-Girls slept on Sylvain Sylvain’s floor for four weeks when we first moved to New York. Unexpected people would get up and play with us. Girl bands were seen as a non-threatening opener. So we pretty much opened for any band that was really great. Elvis Costello, Blondie a bunch… We were part of the Heartbreakers’ and the poppy-sounding bands scene. Not the art bands like Patti Smith and Television. Our influences were bands from the ‘50s and ‘60s like the Shangri-Las, Chuck Berry and the Ronettes. We opened for the Stranglers, Sham 69, and Sylvain Sylvain”.
Once safely lodged in Manhattan, the band became regulars at CBGBs and Max’s, opening for the Cramps, the Dead Boys, and the B-52s. These kind of high-profile shows got them noticed by the record companies, including Greg Shaw at Bomp records, who eventually released the single “Fun at the Beach/B-Side”. After further live shows, and just when things couldn’t get any better, the B-Girls were offered the chance of supporting The Clash on the North American leg of the 1979 London Calling tour.
Another former CGBG cohort was Debbie Harry, who was apparently so impressed by the B-Girls 1960s girl group harmonies, that they were invited to join Blondie in the studio, providing backing vocals on the summertime hit “The Tide is High” from the band’s 5th studio album, Autoamerican (1980). Debbie became the band’s big sister and was happy to offer advice, studio time, production, and even a shift on the mixing desk, “She disguised herself in a green jumpsuit and a frog mask one time at Club 80 to do our sound”.
In a recent interview with pleasekillme, Cynthia talks more about the bands relationship with Debbie, “She was one of the most influential women, in my mind. She gave me a lot of advice. One thing she warned me about was to be very careful about who we signed with. ‘These record company guys are gonna see you as their fantasy and try to mould you. Maybe tell you one has to lose weight, send you to choreography, maybe say this girl can’t work on the record and use studio musicians. You’re not that and that’s what makes you different. You have to maintain creative control’. She said ‘it’s a boys club and very tough’ and she was right”.
By 1981, the band’s initial run of incredibly good luck had all but petered out; The Ritz’s Jerry Brandt kept them waiting outside his office for a gig they never got, and Phil Spector kept them waiting so long, they fell asleep in his waiting room.
Still adamant about hanging onto their creative control, the band continued to refuse all attempts from record labels to mould, choreograph or produce them, and after a six month wait, the record companies moved on…and signed the Go-Gos instead.
The expected record deal never materialised and the B-Girls broke up in 1982.
However…for founder members Cynthia and Lucasta, the story is not quite over. In November 2017, alongside two new younger band members, and for the first time in 35 years the B-Girls took to the stage at Toronto’s Rivoli club,
“Lucasta recalls their first rehearsal with the new lineup… They played the songs from their only single. “That sounds like the record!” her husband yelled from upstairs.
“We all got chills,” Cynthia says. “We looked at each other and it was incredible.”
“I don’t feel like it’s reliving the past,” says Cynthia. “I feel like it’s better.”
Following shows in New York and Toronto, the ‘B’ Girls plan to make it to L.A. and finally go to Japan. “That’s the last chapter of the book,” she says. “Then I’m finishing my memoir.”
As luck would have it, Bomp! have just released The B-Girls first ever full length vinyl release which is called “Bad Not Evil”, available on sunburst vinyl, with a poster and also a download option.
The songs are produced by Debbie Harry of Blondie, Mick Jones of The Clash, Craig Leon (The Ramones, Blondie, Richard Hell, Suicide, The Zeros), Liam Sternberg (Rachel Sweet, Kirsty McColl, The Bangles), Bob Segarini (The Wackers) and The ‘B’ Girls, with engineer Robin Brouwers (Teenage Head). Peter J. Moore restored and digitally re-mastered all tracks. You can find it at Bompstore.com
The B-Girls website HERE
Follow Cynthia Ross on twitter @cynthiabgirl
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