Your garage holds more than just your cars and rarely-used power tools. It holds the potential for greatness. The wide-open floorplan and separation from the rest of the house mean that the garage is the perfect room for making noise, as countless hobbyist handymen or teenage bands have discovered. It should come as no surprise, then, that many of the greatest companies in the world got their starts in garages.
Join us as we explore these achievements through a running blog series, updated every Monday. We’re interested in learning all there is to know about the creativity produced in the most pivotal garages in history, and we’ll bring all of our findings straight to you.
Welcome to Garage Greatness.
There isn’t always an easy solution to a loud home. With children, television, and the rumbles or beeps that come with any appliance, finding peace and quiet in your home can be difficult. Many of these noises are unavoidable, but sometimes the secret is fairly simple. Loud hobbies or guitar practice are typically sent to the one room in the house where noises can be separated from the rest of your living space – the garage.
This tradition, practiced by hobbyist woodworkers and middle-school bandmates alike has given rise to many of the greatest bands of all time. Last Monday, we looked at four chart toppers that begun playing together in the garage – The Who, Nirvana, Ramones, and The Kinks. Today, we’re going to continue the trend by talking about the origins of The Runaways, Creedence Clearwater Revival, and The Yardbirds. These three classic artists begun playing together in the garage, and from there successfully moved into performing packed amphitheaters around the world.
The Runaways were one of the first all-female rock bands and paved the way for other female groups to follow. They achieved some success in America and were enormously successful internationally, especially in Japan. In 1975, Sandy West and Joan Jett met a producer named Kim Fowley, who listened to some of their music and helped them find other members. Soon, the group found Lita Ford to play lead guitar, letting Jett shift to rhythm, and the iconic Cherie Currie joined the group as the vocalist – like many other bands, The Runaways had some trouble getting a consistently reliable bassist, and ended up rotating through five women in as many albums. At first, the woman played clubs around L.A., but as their popularity grew, they signed with Mercury Records and begun touring the U.S., opening for acts like Cheap Trick and Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers. Around 1977, The Runaways banded together with male punk bands, including the Ramones and the Sex Pistols. Summer of 1977 marked one of the band’s most successful seasons, with a tour of sold-out shows in Japan that lead to a live album, tv specials and appearances, and another rotation of bassist. The band only lasted four years in total, dissolving due to interpersonal conflicts in 1979, with their greatest hits including “Cherry Bomb”, “Hollywood”, and a cover of Velvet Underground’s “Rock & Roll”.
Creedence Clearwater Revival (CCR) was a rock band that performed from 1967 until 1972, earned a spot in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame and sold 26 million albums in the U.S. They played in a distinctive “Southern Rock” style, despite their San Francisco bay beginnings, where the four members of the group – John Fogerty, Doug Clifford, Stu Cook, and John’s older brother Tom Fogerty – grew up and met. The foursome was playing together as early as Junior High, and by 1964 (when the younger three members were all 19 years old) they had already found a recording contract with an independent Jazz label named Fantasy Records. At this time, the group played under the name The Golliwogs, but when Fantasy Records moved to new management they were told that they could record a full-length album if they changed their name. Drawing from Tom Fogerty’s friend Credence, the current Olympia Beer commercial’s phrasing “clear water,” and the band’s new commitment and dedication to the band, they came upon the incomprehensible name Creedence Clearwater Revival. In 1968, John and Doug were released from military service after being drafted, and the band set about making music full time. Their song “Susie Q” was a quick hit, and paved the way for their second album, the platinum hit Bayou Country. CCR toured throughout the next two years, including a headliner performance at Woodstock and a European tour in 1970. The band had five No. 2 national hits on the Billboard Hot 100 list, but never secured the spot at the top. The touring and recording schedule wore the band thin and eventually Tom Fogerty left the band. Less than two years later, the band separated for good.
The Yardbirds had some major hits, including “For Your Love”, “Over Under Sideways Down”, and “Heart Full of Soul”, but the band is perhaps better known for forming the basis of Eric Clapton, Jimmy Page, and Jeff Beck’s careers, all three of whom were included in Rolling Stone’s top 5 guitarists of all time. The Yardbirds were a rock band with a blues twist, and produced music from 1963-1968. Formed in the suburbs of London, the band’s core was actually made up of the none-guitarist members, Chris Dreja, Keith Relf, and producer Paul Samwell-Smith. These three formed a blues band and found modest success with guitarist Top Topham, but things really started to pick up in October 1963, when Clapton replaced Topham and the band signed to EMI’s Columbia label to record their first album. Clapton became frustrated with the commercial approach of the band and wanted to find a bluesier group to play with, so in March 1965 he left on the same day that “For Your Love” released to the public. He suggested Jimmy Page, at the time a studio session guitarist, to replace him, and when Page declined the spot he in turn recommended friend Jeff Beck. Two days after Clapton left, Beck played his first gig with the band. For around a year, The Yardbirds produced hit singles and toured to both U.S. and U.K. audiences. Then, as Samwell-Smith left the band to work as a producer full-time, Jimmy Page did join the group, this time as a bass guitarist while Dreja (who typically played rhythm guitar) learned the bass parts. The Yardbirds enjoyed a brief period where Beck and Page both played with the band, producing psychedelic rock masterpieces like “Happenings Ten Years Time Ago”. This lineup only survived five months before Beck was fired for his unreliabilities and perfectionist temper. The group never managed to find their way back to commercial success and quietly disbanded, going on to from several other successful bands. Members of The Yardbirds were launched into further success as they went on to form the bands Renaissance, Cream, and Led Zepplin, leading many to remember The Yardbirds mostly as the platform that started Clapton, Page, and Beck’s careers.
These bands truly prove that greatness can come from any humble beginnings, and in this case the garage provided the perfect foundation for success. These bands had the seeds of greatness from the very start, and they took their starting position and successfully worked their way into the history books. It isn’t surprising that the garage provided these bands with the perfect place to begin practicing, and that rich tradition is practiced still today, in the garage practice rooms of every teenage band.
This is not an isolated story; great companies and inventions seem to naturally find their starts in garages. Next Monday, Garage Greatness will look at the inventions of Alexander Graham Bell, a noted Scottish-born inventor who, among other accomplishments, is credited as inventing the telephone. Bell’s work was essential to the development of the long-range communications that is a critical component of our society today, and also did important work in research and testing surrounding deafness. We’ll discuss Bell’s life, his genius, and the marvelous scientific advancements he made from within his carriage house next week, on Garage Greatness!