The dB's - Biography

Though The dB’s formed in New York City in the late 1970s, all four original members had grown up together in Winston-Salem, North Carolina. They began as the power trio Chris Stamey and the dB’s, which crystallized into The dB’s when multi-instrumentalist Peter Holsapple joined the band. Holsapple’s darkly comic, lovesick songs quickly established him as Stamey’s equal in the band, and The dB’s came to sound something like the missing link between Big Star and Television. Although, for the band’s devoted cult, The dB’s have an identity all their own.

Holsapple told Magnet Magazine in 2009, “Chris and I both went to the same elementary school in Winston-Salem. I remember seeing him waiting to get picked up in the parking lot with his viola case. He and Mitch [Easter] were in the same class. I was in the same class with Will (Rigby). It was an interesting group of people who grew up together for years and years. I was 12 and Chris was 13.”      

Holsapple, Stamey, and Easter played together in the teenage heavy rock band Rittenhouse Square, who released the limited edition six-song EP Rittenhouse Square (R-Squared) in 1972 — a now much-coveted item by sweaty-handed collectors. Holsapple next played in Little Diesel with drummer Will Rigby. Stamey and Easter attended the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill in 1974, and formed the power-pop band Sneakers with Rigby the following year. After Sneakers released the self-titled EP Sneakers (Carnivorous) in 1976, Stamey moved to New York to attend NYU and play bass in former Big Star leader Alex Chilton’s band. Chilton then produced, drummed, and sang on Chris Stamey's 1977 single “The Summer Sun/Where The Fun Is,” released on Ork — the same label that had put out Television and Richard Hell’s first singles. Meanwhile, Holsapple and Easter played together in the Chapel Hill band the H-Bombs, and Stamey and Easter collaborated on a second Sneakers record, In the Red (Car), in 1978. Also in 1978, Stamey released the Holsapple single “Big Black Truck/96 Second Blowout” (Car), credited to “Peter Holsapple of the H-Bombs” and with Easter on drums. The sleeve bears the mysterious message “FREE GLEN BUXTON!”

After his engagement with Chilton ended, Stamey persuaded Sneakers drummer Rigby and fellow Winston-Salemite Gene Holder to join him in New York and start a band, which he says he named both after the first letters of “drums” and “bass” and the abbreviation for decibels. In 1978, Chris Stamey and the dB’s self-released the single “(I Thought) You Wanted to Know/If and When” (Car), the A-side of which is written by Richard Lloyd of Television. After the H-Bombs broke up, Holsapple briefly moved to Memphis, and then to New York in October of 1978 to audition for Chris Stamey and the dB’s, who were looking for an organ player.

As Holsapple and Stamey became the songwriters for the band, the name was shortened to The dB’s. Alan Betrock, the founder of the influential magazine New York Rocker, let The dB’s rehearse in the magazine’s office. The posthumous dB’s compilation Ride the Wild TomTom (1993 Rhino) includes demos recorded in the New York Rocker office as well as “I Love New York Rocker,” a jingle for the magazine recorded with Mitch Easter. Betrock’s label Shake, which also released a Richard Hell/Neon Boys split, issued the great dB’s single “Black and White/Soul Kiss (Part One)” with “Soul Kiss (Part Two)” (Shake) in 1980.


The dB’s’ first two full-length albums, Stands for deciBels (1981 Albion) and Repercussion (1982 Albion), were not released in the United States until after the group had broken up in 1982. Holsapple, Rigby, and Easter backed ex-Soft Boy Kimberley Rew on his solo single “My Baby Does Her Hairdo Long/Fishing” (1981 Armageddon), produced by Holder. Meanwhile, Easter recorded R.E.M.’s first single in his Winston-Salem garage. Stamey announced that he was leaving The dB’s at an April of 1982 show at the Ritz in New York. He subsequently released his first solo album, It’s a Wonderful Life, in 1982 on DB Records, a Georgia label best known for releasing Pylon’s first records. (The “DB” in question is label owner Danny Beard and has no relation to The dB’s.) 

Holsapple, Holder, and Rigby continued The dB’s as a trio, and the following year they signed with Bearsville Records, the label of Bob Dylan’s former manager Albert Grossman. The dB’s recorded Like This (1984 Bearsville) at Bearsville Studios in Woodstock, New York in late 1983 and early 1984, with Holder playing both bass and lead guitar. The dB’s toured with Let’s Active (Mitch Easter’s band) and the Chris Stamey Group in the first months of 1985, and that summer they backed Stamey on his recording of “Christmas Time” at Bearsville.

Grossman’s death from a heart attack in 1986 left The dB’s in legal limbo with respect to their Bearsville contract, and therefore temporarily unable to record. As soon as the band had extricated itself from the Grossman contract, they signed with I.R.S. Records, the label R.E.M. was about to leave for Warner Bros. The dB’s recorded The Sound of Music (I.R.S.) in 1987 with the understanding that Holder would leave to join the Wygals once The dB’s album was completed. Holsapple moved to Los Angeles right after The dB’s recorded The Sound of Music, but not before participating in a parodic 7-inch credited to Swanic Youth, “Sonic Yoot/Swan Jovi” (1987 The Only Label In The World).

Stamey, Holsapple, Holder, and Rigby reunited in Charlotte to perform at a May 1988 benefit for the homeless. Holsapple and Rigby’s dB’s recorded the demos for a new album in New Orleans that summer, but they broke up in October before recording the album itself. Holsapple joined R.E.M.’s touring band on the Green (1988 Warner Bros.) tour and contributed bass and acoustic guitar to R.E.M.’s next album, Out of Time (1991 Warner Bros.).

Holsapple and Stamey recorded the album Mavericks (1991 RNA/Rhino), credited to Peter Holsapple and Chris Stamey. Two posthumous dB’s records appeared in the early 1990s — the Ride The Wild TomTom (1993 Rhino) compilation of early non-LP dB’s recordings from 1978, 1979, and 1982; and Paris Avenue (1994 Monkey Hill), which issues the 1988 New Orleans demos recorded shortly before The dB’s broke up. In 1996, Stamey and Scott Litt opened a recording studio, Modern Recording, in Chapel Hill, North Carolina.

Holsapple and Stamey’s most recent collaboration is hERE aND nOW (Bar/None), released in 2009. According to The dB’s’ official website, The dB’s continue to work on a reunion album. On the band’s website, the song “World to Cry,” recorded by in 2005 by the reunited band, is available as a free download, and The dB’s’ cover of Jimmy Ruffin’s “What Becomes of the Brokenhearted” is available for download for a donation to the New Orleans Musicians Relief Fund.

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