Johnny B’s. New Wave in Greensburg/Latrobe?

New Romantics? A typical Sunday night at Johnny B’s. February 1987.

“New Wave” would be the last thing any normal person would think about when visiting Greensburg PA, but it was alive and well in Western PA in the 80s. How and why did this happen in Greensburg/Latrobe PA of all places? There are several reasons.

First, there was a cool Pittsburgh radio station called WXXP, or “Double X,” that played all the fun New Wave stuff from that period and promoted local bands, most notably, the Affordable Floors, which I mentioned in one of my very first posts. You can actually check out a reincarnated version of Double X here.

Second were the actual bands. In the Latrobe/Greensburg area, we had Decadence and The Murr, who were excellent bands that totally embraced the New Wave aesthetic (keyboards and all). I am planning to do a long overdue post on them soon.

The third “embodiment” of New Wave in the Latrobe/Greensburg was a little place called Johnny B’s. Johnny B’s was an important gathering place, club house, and staging ground for a lot of the very early Latrobe/Greensburg scene.

Before there were actual shows with REAL bands at Danceland, there was Johnny B’s (with fake lip sync bands…more on that later). Johnny B’s was an over 21 dance club tucked to the side of Gee Bees shopping plaza on Route 30. Johnny B’s would do an all ages night on Sundays since bars and clubs were not allowed to serve alcohol on Sundays. There were several other “clubs” in the area who did the same thing on Sundays. A place called V.I.P behind what was Greengate Mall (now Walmart) was the rival Sunday all-ages venue. But unlike Johnny B’s, V.I.P was much more “mainstream” and would mostly play lame top 40 music (i.e B-94 fm). It was more a “popular people” and future fraternity and sorority people hangout. A punk or “alternative” person would avoid V.I.P (unless they enjoyed getting harassed and beaten up). All the freaks hung out at Johnny B’s. I was glad to be one of them.

I think everyone who use to go to Johnny B’s would agree that it was a super fun place to hang out. I remember begging my parents to let me go and they finally allowed me after a few weeks of persisted asking. It was worth it! The first thing I noticed was that they played cool music. New Wave! The music and dance party atmosphere was a prototype for what Dave Roman would do later on his Friday Dance Parties at Danceland in the coming years.

Along with the music at Johnny B’s were plenty of New Wave people. Just look at the following pics and see for yourself. They are from some of the a lip sync contests that they would have regularly. Unfortunately, these are the only images I have from those days. A special thanks to Robin Shaw Hunt who was super cool to let me use them from her personal collection and post them here.

Nice suspenders!

What song do you think he is lip syncing here? Kajagoogoo?

I think this photo above was someone doing a song from “Little Shop of Horrors.” A very “alternative” thing to do. I ‘m just surprized it is not a Rocky Horror Picture Show tune

Dave R. Pre Murr?

Decadence dude? More on this one in a coming post

Anyway, mixed in with all the New Wave people were a handful of punks and these were the people I really wanted to hang out with, since I was more into punk than New Wave. But I was just a kid at the time (16 or 17?) and many of these punk guys were older and I didn’t get a chance (or was intimidated) to really talk and hang with them until the Danceland days later that year. That is also when I joined their band! I recognized a lot of people at the first Danceland New Federation show from the Johnny Bs days. This included all the Decadence/Murr guys. The location of Johnny B’s, was right between Greensburg and Latrobe, so kids from both locations would go there, hang out, become friends. This was important for setting up connections when these same kids started to get bands together a year or two later)

I remember seeing a few of the lip sync contests and it was cool to see that a few of the more punk people participated in the “contest” and lip synced to some cool tunes. The Ramones and Dag Nasty come to mind. I think Dave Roman “played” guitar in one “band” that did Blitzkrieg Bop (or as Dave would say “BlitzerKreg Bloop.” Sorry Dave, that one is a classic :).

I think many people have fond memories of Johnny B’s. So much so, that I heard there were a few people from back in the day that pulled together a Johnny B’s “reunion.” I really wish I could have gone. Sounds like a blast.

Anyone know who won the reunion lip sync contest?

One Response to “Johnny B’s. New Wave in Greensburg/Latrobe?”

  1. Super cool! The song Howard H. (suspenders) was singing (backed up by Chris G., Chad V., and myself) was “Master and Servant” by Depeche Mode (not that Kajagoogoo isn’t cool…) – note the blindfold mask on the “crowd volunteer” (anyone know who it was?) – too bad the pics didn’t show the whip… 😉

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