Ricky Wilson (American musician)

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Ricky Wilson
Background information
Birth name Ricky Helton Wilson
Born (1953-03-19)March 19, 1953
Athens, Georgia, United States
Died October 12, 1985(1985-10-12) (aged 32)
New York City, United States
Genres New wave, post-punk
Occupation(s) Instrumentalist, musician, singer-songwriter
Instruments Guitar, bass guitar, keyboards
Years active 1973–1985
Labels Warner Bros., Reprise, Island
Associated acts The B-52's, Black Narcissus, Loon, Tom Verlaine, The Zambo Flirts
Website www.theb52s.com

Ricky Helton Wilson (March 19, 1953 – October 12, 1985)[1] was an American musician best known as the original guitarist and founding member of rock band the B-52's. Born in Athens, Georgia, Wilson was the brother of fellow member Cindy Wilson. The B-52's was founded in 1977, when Ricky, his sister Cindy, Kate Pierson, Keith Strickland and Fred Schneider shared a tropical flaming volcano drink at a Chinese restaurant and, after an impromptu music session at the home of their friend, Owen Scott III, played for the first time at a Valentine's Day party for friends.[2] Wilson's unusual guitar tunings were a large contribution to the band's quirky sound.[3]

On October 12, 1985, at the age of 32, Wilson died from complications related to AIDS following the recording of the band's fourth studio album Bouncing Off the Satellites. According to Keith Strickland, the album had been completed and mixed before Wilson's death, with only the cover art not yet designed (an illustration by Kenny Scharf was ultimately decided upon). Devastated, the band went into seclusion and did not tour to promote the album, although they did several photo shoots and TV appearances, as well as filming a video for "Girl from Ipanema Goes to Greenland".

In addition to his work with The B-52's, Wilson played the guitar on the song "Breakin' in My Heart" on Tom Verlaine's self-titled debut album in 1979. This was his only non-B-52's appearance on record. He also appeared in various films, namely One Trick Pony. Posthumously he also appeared in Athens, GA: Inside/Out, The B-52's 1979-1989, and The B-52's Time Capsule: Videos for a Future Generation 1979-1998 through archival footage.


Wilson was born on March 19, 1953 to Bobby Jack Wilson, a fireman and a veteran of the United States Army, and Linda J. Wilson (née Mairholtz),[4] in Athens, Georgia. At an early age, Wilson developed an interest in music, and learned how to play folk guitar from the PBS series Learning Folk Guitar.[5] Upon entering Clarke Central High School, Wilson had upgraded to a Silvertone guitar and, to tape his music, purchased a two-track tape recorder with money earned from a summer job at the local landfill.[5]

In mid-1969, Wilson met former Comer resident Keith Strickland at the local head shop The Looking Glass.[6] The two shared common interests in music and Eastern mysticist culture and quickly became friends.[5]

Wilson quietly came out as gay to Strickland while the two were in their teens, becoming the first member of the band to do so.[7]

Musical career

1970–1976: Black Narcissus

During mid-1969, both Wilson and Strickland collaborated in writing and performing music, loosely calling themselves Loon, and aspired to perform live.[8][9]

From 1969 to 1971, Wilson and Strickland collaborated with high school friends Pete Love of Louisville and Athens native Owen Scott, III in performing together as the four-member band Black Narcissus.[10]

Upon graduation from the University of Georgia in 1976, Wilson kept in touch with Strickland and they toured Europe, eventually returning and taking jobs at the Southeastern Stages bus station in Athens, Georgia where Strickland's father was manager.[10]

1976–1985: The B-52's

In late 1976, Strickland and Wilson returned to Athens in search of further employment.[10] The two joined the B-52's when they, Wilson's sister Cindy, and Kate Pierson and Fred Schneider of local protest band The Sun-Donuts,[10] formed the group in an impromptu musical practice session after sharing a tropical flaming volcano drink at a Chinese restaurant.[3][11] They played their first concert in 1977 at a Valentine's Day party for friends.[10][3][11] 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 Wilson.

Wilson cited various children's records, The Mamas & The Papas, and Esquerita and the Voola as sources of inspiration in his musical career.[12] Wilson also played the guitar on the song "Breakin' In My Heart" on Tom Verlaine's self-titled debut album.

Guitar Tunings

Some of Wilson's guitar tunings are as follows; read low to high:


CFxxFF (tuned higher pitched, in 450 Hz)




Illness and death

In 1983, during recording sessions for the band's third studio album Whammy!,[10] Wilson discovered he had contracted AIDS. He confided his illness to Keith Strickland, as stated in several interviews including one with The Age.[13][14] In 1985, during recording for their album Bouncing Off the Satellites, Wilson's illness became more severe; both Strickland and Pierson have stated that despite this, he kept his illness secret from the other members of the band.[14][15] In an interview, Pierson stated that Wilson did so because he "did not want anyone to worry about him or fuss about him."[15]

On October 12, 1985,[10] in the Memorial Sloan–Kettering Cancer Center, Wilson died of AIDS, at the age of 32.[14] He was later buried in Oconee Hill Cemetery in Athens.[16] Devastated, the band did little promotional work and did not tour to promote the album.[17]


  1. ^ Sexton 2002, p. 75.
  2. ^ Chau, Cathy (February 5, 2002). 52's still rockin' at 25. The Advocate. Retrieved March 8, 2007. 
  3. ^ a b c Azerrad, Michael (March 22, 1990). "The B-52's". Rolling Stone (574): 46. 
  4. ^ "Bobby Jack Wilson - Online Athens". 
  5. ^ a b c Sexton 2002, p. 28.
  6. ^ Sexton 2002, p. 29.
  7. ^ "Return to the love shack: the B-52s, the world's greatest party band, comes out (in more ways than one) with its first new album in 16 years. - Free Online Library". 
  8. ^ Sexton 2002, p. 30.
  9. ^ Schoemer, Karen (March 1990). "Beehives & Ballyhoo". Spin. pp. 41–44; 86–87. 
  10. ^ a b c d e f g Simmonds, Jeremy (May 1, 2008). "Ricky Wilson". The Encyclopedia of Dead Rock Stars: Heroin, Handguns, and Ham Sandwiches. Chicago Review Press. p. 205. ISBN 978-1-55652-754-8. 
  11. ^ a b Rolling Stone Biography for The B-52s
  12. ^ "Record Company Fact Sheet, 1983". Archived from the original on July 22, 2012. 
  13. ^ Wener, Ben (August 11, 1998). "The B-52s party on!: Nearly 20 years after turning the pop world on its ear, the group is gaining in popularity". The Spectator. p. D-10. 
  14. ^ a b c Roberts, Jo (November 27, 2009). "Bouffant bombshell". The Age. p. 2. 
  15. ^ a b EMP: Experience Music Project: Kate Pierson talking about Ricky Wilson on YouTube
  16. ^ Shearer, Lee (April 5, 2009). "Oconee Hill: Under every stone, a story". Athens Banner-Herald. 
  17. ^ Allmusic Guide Biography for The B-52s


External links

  • Ricky Wilson at Find a Grave
  • Washington Post Article about Ricky Wilson's Grave
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