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.
Garage bands are notorious. Anytime that a child wants to explore music or an adult wants to try a new hobby, they inevitably need a space to make noise. So many middle-school bands have been sentenced to the garage by moms tired of listening to their racket that music made in the garage – garage rock – has long been an accepted genre of music. There is something inimitable about the freedom that musicians can find in the garage, sequestered just far enough away from the house that everyone else can still get some sleep during late-night practices. This bootstrapping process is respected, even coveted, among musicians tired of the heavily produced and styled modern ultra-stars that dominate pop music. Names like “The Who” and “Nirvana” are cited as inspirations and critical thought leaders among the next generation of garage bands.
The classic legends that found their beginnings in the garage are too numerous to count, but today we’ll be exploring several of their founding stories. The Who, Nirvana, Ramones, and The Kinks are all unforgettable names with long legacies attached to their names, and every one of them first started making music in the garage. Bands have fluid histories, with members rotating in and out – sometimes for the band’s entire career – but as much as possible, we’ll bring you the truth of how these bands begun making their trendsetting music.
The Who formed in 1964 and went on to become one of the most influential bands of all time, setting records both in the studio and on tour. They formed from a group called The Detours, with their most prominent members being Roger Daltry, Pete Townshend, John Entwistle, and Keith Moon. Daltry, Townshend and Entwistle all went to the same grammar school in Acton, London, and they formed their first band in their teenage years. After playing shows throughout the area for some months, the group joined with Moon, who had been playing drums with a semi-professional local band called the Beachcombers. Moon left his old group and dedicated himself to the Who, while the group switched managers and labels several times. The group became well known for their stage presence, with showy performance tricks and the now-infamous on-stage destruction of their instruments, which started by accident after Townshend underestimated the height of the ceiling and broke the head off his guitar. The Who released singles, in American and England, and spent several years claiming the charts with classics such as “Anyway, Anyhow, Anywhere”, “My Generation”, and “The Kids Are Alright”. They continued to find commercial and popular success all the way through Moon’s early death in 1978 and the band’s eventual dissolution around 1983.
Nirvana was an American rock band formed in 1987 by Kurt Cobain and his friend Krist Novoselic. Through their time making music, Nirvana went through several drummers, but the most notable among them was certainly Dave Grohl. Nirvana is one of the leading examples of grunge, a genre built around a raw sound with sludgy guitar tracks and many distortion effects applied to the instruments. The grunge scene largely originated from Nirvana’s punk influence, and the band’s accomplishments in the field of Alternative Rock are impossible to overstate. The band formed when Cobain asked Novoselic, a schoolmate of his, to make a band together. Novoselic ignored his requests for three years until finally listening to the demo tape that Cobain had given him upon first meeting. After hearing the tape, Novoselic approached Cobain and agreed to form a band. Early music created by the pair and their rotating series of drummers tended to be angry and anti-establishment in message, but as time passed Cobain began to write happier songs that appealed to a broader audience. Grohl joined the band in 1990, and the trio went on to release two highly successful studio albums, Nevermind and In Utero. The band’s career was prematurely ended by Cobain’s much-publicized suicide in 1994.
The Ramones formed in New York City in 1974 and immediately began to quietly redefine punk rock. Although they never achieved the sort of commercial success that the other bands discussed found, the band has been cited as one of the most formative influences on the US and UK punk movements and has been included in Rolling Stone’s “100 Greatest Artists of All Time” and VH1’s “100 Greatest Artists of Hard Rock.” John Cummings and Thomas Erdelyi grew up together in Queens and played in a garage rock band together. They befriended Douglas Colvin and Jefferey Hyman, other musicians, and the four young men eventually formed a band. They lacked musical abilities and twice had to switch lead vocalist because they realized that they couldn’t sing and play an instrument at the same time, but it was also during this period that all four adopted the surname “Ramone”, leading to the band’s now-iconic name. Their first public performance was highly unusual, with few songs over two minutes long and a sound unlike anything else from the time. Their leather jackets and indescribable tone set them apart, and within the first year they played seventy-four shows in the same club. It wasn’t until 1976 that Ramones released their first studio album, which included the singles “Blitzkrieg Bop” and “I Wanna Be Your Boyfriend” but was not widely successful. Their next two albums, Leave Home and Rocket to Russia also failed to find commercial success. The highest that a Ramones single would ever reach on the billboard charts was a modest 66, by “Rockaway Beach.” The band continued to play small gigs, touring nonstop and holding a total of 2,263 concerts in their 22-year career. Towards the end of the band’s career, the membership shuffled repeatedly and the album released took on drastically different sounds, based on the sensibilities of the producer and current mindset of the band. Ramones lost some of their punk roots in return for a pop sound, yet still commercial success eluded them The four original members last met up in 1999, for an autograph signing, and hadn’t played together for many years before that.
The Kinks formed in 1963, in North London, by the Davies brothers (Dave and Ray) and their mutual friend Pete Quaife. They went on to become one of the stars of the British Invasion, alongside the Beatles, The Who, The Rolling Stones, and others. The Davies brothers were reared in an environment of music, with their parent’s jazz and their older sisters’s rock and roll setting the soundtrack of their youth. The pair learned to play guitar together and formed a band with two of their schoolmates. Their band played a school talent show to some acclaim, but rotated through several vocalists, most notable among them their fellow classmate, Rod Stewart. The group grew up together and rotated through members, although the core three of Dave, Ray, and Pete Quaife remained. Although they secured multiple managers during this period, they were running out of time with two failed singles. It was August of 1964 when they released “You Really Got Me” to almost immediately secure a spot at the top of the United Kingdom charts and a top ten spot in America. They quickly slapped together a debut LP, followed shortly after by their next mega-hit, “All Day and All of the Night”. The group began touring and had some high-profile disagreements, including an on-stage wrestle that left Dave Davies with 16 stitches in his head. The Kinks persevered, and though their medium, band members and musical style all continued to evolve, they toured successfully and released albums and highly successful singles all the way through 1996.
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 origins of even more bands that got their start in the garage! We’ll look at The Runaways, Creedence Clearwater Revival, and The Yardbirds, three huge names that also got their start inside the humble garage! You can read all about it next week, on Garage Greatness!