Scroll down to see a different facade.

                 The Electric Banana was a nightclub located at 3887 Bigelow Boulevard in the Oakland section of Pittsburgh from 1977-99, starting out as a disco ("just like in New York or Frisco"), then booking live bands when disco died a deserving death.  Its first "punk" show was in 1979, and by 1980 it was the exclusive host to the punk rock/new wave scene, eventually opening its doors to hardcore and metal as well.  It was owned and operated by Johnny and Judy Zarra, who patrons called Johnny and Judy Banana.  Today it’s an Italian restaurant known as Zarra’s.  The food is excellent, the inside has been remodeled, and the décor has changed, and the sounds of Dean Martin, Frank Sinatra, and Louis Prima waft through the air where the music of Carsickness, the Cardboards, Black Flag, Half Life, and the Five once shook the premises.

                They can change the atmosphere inside and outside but they can never make us forget the Electric Banana.  Photos hanging on the walls at Zarra’s serve as a reminder that Black Flag and Nig Heist once roamed the “stage,” which at first was really just part of the floor set off for the bands until an elevated stage was added later.  The Electric Banana is mentioned in a song by They Might Be Giants and a book by Henry Rollins.  Many live albums were recorded there.  I know of a few people who plan on writing books or producing documentaries about the Electric Banana or the early Pittsburgh punk scene.  Hopefully at least some of them come to fruition.   “The Banana” will never die.

Matchbook logo designed by Paul Bucciarelli.
From Joe's personal collection
                The main purpose of this web site is to provide the most comprehensive Electric Banana “gigography” available anywhere.  There’s also a discography of artists who performed there as well as a links page.  I hope this becomes an important web site whether you’re here for scholarly research or just to rekindle fond memories of bands and shows you may have seen.

                I’m sure there will be some good stories in any books and whatnot once they’re unleashed to the public.  I don’t want to steal their thunder, so for now and the foreseeable future there won’t be any stories on this site except my own.

                This web site is a labor of love.  The Electric Banana was my main hang-out from 1981-84.  My spot was at the bar, against the wall, near the cash register, drinking 7-Ups, and sometimes venturing onto the dance floor.  I drank the occasional Banana Split but for the most part I’m not a drinker.  My wife and I met there in 1982 and married in 1984.  No, the wedding ceremony wasn’t at the Banana with Johnny Banana officiating, although that would have been fun.  Like the Minutemen sang in “History Lesson Part II,” punk rock changed my life.  By 1984 I had a “real” job and couldn’t handle the night life any more.  I did return to the Banana for a few shows in 1985-86.

                Local bands that I liked to see back then included Actual Size, Boystown, Cardboards, Carsickness, Dress Up As Natives, Easter Island, the Features, the Five, Ground Zero, the Imprints, 96 Tears, November’s Children, the Shunts, Stick Against Stone, Velvet Moon, the Wake, the Whereabouts, and the Zippatones.  The F-Models from New Philadelphia, Ohio (and part of the Akron/Kent scene) and the Dogs from Erie weren’t exactly “local” bands but they played the Banana so often that we considered them a big part of the Pittsburgh punk scene.  Memorable shows by out-of-town bands included the dB's and Polyrock---those two shows were major coups for the Banana---as well as Black Flag, the Dancing Cigarettes, and the Minutemen.  One of those Black Flag shows was a July 4th spectacular in 1981 that ran from 2:00 PM to 2:00 AM with Black Flag as the tenth of ten bands.  I made it through all 12 hours.  I remember seeing the Dogs and the Wurms on the same night.  You just had to see that show, based on nothing more than the names of the bands.  And how can I forget seeing the Psychedelic Furs and the Five at Pitt, then rushing to the Banana to end a perfect night with Rip It Up?
Half Life, 1986.  Courtesy of Ron Lutz II.

                I was away at college during most of 1977-80 so I missed the early, pre-Banana punk scene at Phase III, the Lions Walk, the Paul Younger Center, and various parties.  Heck, I was never much for parties anyway; had somebody invited me, I probably wouldn’t have even bothered to show up.   I regret having missed the Shakes and No Shelter, although I was happy to see the Shakes at RePunk3 in July 2016.  I also wish I could have hung around the scene longer to have seen more of A.T.S., the Cynics, Little Wretches, Half Life, Savage Amused, and SPUDS.

                I bought my first punk records at Jim's Records in Bloomfield like just about every other punk fan in Pittsburgh.  At that time it wasn't at the location currently occupied by Juke Records.  It was a tiny space, a few doors down the street.  Cardboard boxes of albums sat on card tables.  The only aspect of punk rock that was getting any media attention at that time was the violence.  I remember my first trip to Jim's.  My friend and I got as far as the front door, saw the posters of mean-looking punks in the window, got scared, and ran away.  The next day I thought, boy, that was stupid, and ventured back, went inside, and bought a few records.  I wish I could remember everything I purchased that first time but I'm pretty sure that among them was the single "Tell That Girl to Shut Up" by Holly and the Italians, far superior to the version they later put on an album.

Courtesy of Tracy Hurley Martin, pictured with a few friends circa 1985.
Either it was an all-ages show or somebody had a sale on fake IDs.

           It was natural, then, that I would want to check out the local scene.  My first visit to the Banana was in 1980.  My friends came along out of curiosity, like they were going to the zoo.  They didn’t care for the music or the drink selection.  Why, this place served canned beer in paper cups!  Where were the draughts??  But I loved it and knew I’d be back again and again.

                Except for my interest in sports, I was never into the mainstream pop culture.  I don’t watch TV or listen to commercial radio.  By this time commercial radio and popular music had pretty much hit rock bottom.  I wasn’t the type who went to the high school dances.  Although I had a lot of good friends, I didn’t particularly care for where I grew up or went to school.  On that first visit to the Electric Banana, I could tell I was amongst kindred spirits.  The dance floor was crowded with people gyrating wildly to the music and having a good time trying to keep up with the tempo changes and stops-and-starts.  Most outside observers would say that these kids “didn’t know how” to dance.  I wouldn’t say that.  They just didn’t dance like the kids on American Bandstand two decades previous.  Furthermore, the patrons didn’t seem to give a rat’s rear end what anybody else thought of them.  That gave them something else in common with me.

I loved Mike Watt’s description of the early punk scene in the documentary movie We Jam Econo:  “What struck us about punk, the big thing about it right off the bat, was that these guys are all weirdos. But they don't care. In fact, they celebrate it.”  Of course, he was talking about southern California, but he could have been talking about anywhere.

The music was fast and loud and the bands sang about topics like electrical generators, hating your blouse, the Bloomfield Bridge, and the KKK.  There were already enough songs about having your girlfriend leave you or driving down the highway with the car top down and the radio on.
The original matchbook cover design by Pamela
Zarra.  Thanks to Nick Zeigler for this one.

             Soon I became interested in the idea of music as art.  I didn't want to hear bands who stuck to a formula.  I wanted them to keep challenging me and introducing me to something new and different.  I loved it when the Clash came out with Sandinista! although I had few friends at the time who felt the same way.  The Clash could have kept churning out endless imitations of London Calling and kept a certain element of fans happy for a long time but instead they went off into a new direction.  That's the way it should be.

                We all have that moment when we break off from the friends we grew up with.  In my case, it was punk rock that broke us up.  My friends and I had reached the point where we were changing and couldn’t agree on what to do at night.  I wanted to go to the Banana, they wanted something else, we’d pick something in the least common denominator, and I was bored.  One night I got outvoted 5-1 when I wanted to see Mission of Burma.  Instead we ended up in a club somewhere in the south suburbs, listening to some woman who looked like Totie Fields singing top 40 covers while tired office workers sat stoned-faced and watched the ice cubes in their drinks melt.  I decided to never let anything like that happen again, so I reinvented my life and just drifted off to the Banana and the punk scene on my own.  I reconnected with my old friend Paul, who was also thoroughly into it.  We had some wild adventures together at the Banana in the summer of 1981.  Our main transportation was my 1963 Oldsmobile F-85. 
Joe's 1963 Olds F-85.

                Although punk rock originally grew out of the political and social unrest that was taking place in England at the time, much of it was actually bereft of any real anger.  Really, for all the attempts to analyze and explain punk rock, to me the simple act of changing music, breaking down the barriers between the band and the audience, and increasing audience participation were what it was all about.  The bands were all so different that there was no reason, musically, to lump them all into the same genre.  What they had in common, what made them “punk,” was that they were bored with the mainstream entertainment available to them and decided to do something about it and create their own entertainment.  Glenn Tilbrook of Squeeze articulated it perfectly in the April 26, 2012 edition of the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, describing the time period to Scott Mervis, saying, “It was still the era of people sitting on the floor, getting stoned, listening to half-an-hour songs . . . . it needed to change.”

                I know that people used to wonder what was going on in that punk rock club in Oakland.  They had no idea what was going on, but they were pretty sure it must be something terrible.  Believing these things comes natural to some adults.   Every time somebody decides that the world is screwed up, it gets blamed on things that young people like.  Three decades previous kids were made to burn their comic books to save the world, and later, when the world was still screwed up, to destroy their rock-and-roll records.   The state of the world never gets blamed on cigarettes, liquor, or violent cop shows—you know, things that adults like.  As Nick Lowe sang, so it goes.
A Cadillac sits incongruously in front of the club.  Courtesy of Steve Bodner.

                Once “back in the day” I lamented to my cousin that too many people criticized the local punk scene without experiencing it and thus didn’t know what it was about.  He replied sarcastically, “What’s it about?”  I ignored the question.  “Either you get it or you don’t.”  Frank Zappa said that.  And if you don’t get it, it’s not worth my time.  I said that.

                Today I listen to rock and roll, blues, reggae, ska, rockabilly, jazz, folk, swing---you name it.  But my favorite music is still the punk/new wave from 1977-82.  I never outgrew it.  I’m not so sure anybody should.

                If you weren’t there or didn’t get it, you missed a great time.  Maybe you had misguided preconceptions about what music "should" sound like.  Maybe you didn't want to be challenged and preferred just to hear the same old reliable riffs and licks.  Maybe you were afraid to walk into a "punk" venue.  Maybe you just couldn't bring yourself to expand your world and move the radio dial to the left of WDVE and check out what was happening on WYEP or WRCT, back when you could hear a local punk band on the radio.  Maybe you were worried about what your peers would think.  All you missed was the most important cultural event since Bob Dylan picked up an electric guitar.

Outside the Banana, 1986.  Courtesy of Ron Lutz II.
                This site started out with me just wanting to verify the dates of some shows I remembered, or to verify that they even happened in the first place.  It became interesting to me, as I recalled more shows than I thought I would and watched the Banana transition from cover bands to punk/new wave to hardcore and metal.  I kept going with the research, and decided to share.  Tony always said that I should create a web site and share one of my passions, which would be baseball, music, or eating, and even offered to put the site together for me if I ever made up my mind to do one.  I came up with this idea and told him it was a site that nobody would care about but I wanted to do it anyway.  He told me that I was wrong, that I was on to something big that people would really go for.  He was right and boy, was I ever wrong!  It's great to hear from and meet so many of you who share my enthusiasm for this music.

               Main sources were archive editions of the Pittsburgh Press and Pittsburgh Post-Gazette and various band, gig poster, gigography, and set list sites.  Too many to name, and I didn’t record them so I can’t name them all anyway.  Calendar web sites helped fill in the blanks where all I had was a month, date, and day of the week.  Erik Bauer was a tremendous resource as well.  Not only did he send me a list of over 400 gigs to add to the 2,200-some that we already had, but his turntable was kind enough to pose for the picture that appears on the Discography page.  He is truly Mr. Pittsburgh Punk Rock.  I'm also grateful to Donny Zarra for clarifying the timeline for me; the first paragraph of this page has been edited to reflect this.

Deformed, 1986. Courtesy of Ron Lutz II.

                I suppose some could nit-pick but I did my best to put the lists together.  Was that band that was billed as the Wretches actually the Little Wretches?  I suspected they were, but didn’t know for sure.  Were they Cardboards or the Cardboards?  As many times as I saw them, I thought it was “the Cardboards,” but their only record says “Cardboards,” so I went with that.  Were Convenience and the Convenients the same band?  I had no idea on that one.  I went with whatever I saw unless I knew there was a clear error.  Every show listed here was verified with a source except for just a couple that I remembered.  The gigography isn’t complete and likely never will be but I hope to keep adding to it.  Keep checking back.

Shows are listed in chronological order with bands separated by asterisks.  The first band listed was the headline attraction for that evening, at least as far as I could tell, although it’s true that often when the show consisted strictly of local bands, none of them thought of themselves as a headliner, time was shared equally, and sometimes they even alternated sets.  Dates are in the format of month/day/year, so that when you see 5/3/82, for example, it’s May 3, 1982, not March 5, 1982.  I refuse to reflect dates as 05/03/82 because it’s stupid.  Nobody ever says, “I was stuck in traffic for oh-two hours.”

        The written and photographic content on this web site, except where noted, is the property of the owner of this site and is protected by all United States and international copyright laws.  Permission is granted to quote from the text for nonprofit educational or scholarly purposes.  Please attribute any such quotes to this site and provide a link where possible.  Remember that many kind people gave me permission to use the images you see here but that doesn't mean that you have it.  The images of the Electric Banana building and any record or CD covers are here under a claim of “fair use” because they illustrate the subject where no suitable free alternatives are available, are small in size so as to be of little use to anybody else, are not being used for any profit purpose, and do not hurt the market for any product in any way.  Furthermore, no photograph of the Electric Banana can be taken today because the look of the building and the name of the establishment inhabiting same have changed.

Drink sign created by Paul Bucciarelli.
Courtesy of Nick Zeigler.
Somebody told me I should add a privacy disclosure, so here goes. I don't care who you are. Blogger does give me access to referring URLs and such but I don't plan on making any effort to find out who's visiting this site because I have better things to do. So probably the only way I'll ever find out who you are is if you contact me using the contact page. In any event, if I do happen to find out who you are, I'm not going to use that information for anything. So you may peruse this site and be comforted with the knowledge that tomorrow I won't be selling your name to any marketing types or showing up at your house for dinner.

            This site is dedicated to my wife and our main companions at the Banana:  “Carla Harry,” “Norma Punk,” and my departed friend Paul.  Thanks to Tony for his guidance and Dom for the photography.  If you ever drank a Banana Split or asked your mom for a ride to an all-ages show, this site is for you!

Pittsburgh, PA
March 27 - June 8, 2014
Updated April 16, 2017

Johnny and Judy Banana with a few close friends from Scapegrace in 1996.  Left to right, Derek Anderson, Kevin Charney, Johnny, Dan Moore, Judy, and Bill Munz.  Photo courtesy of Bill Munz.

Members of the Damage Pies gather in the pool room in 1992.  Joe somehow managed to spend many intermissions there over the years without improving his game.  Photo courtesy of Steve Bodner.

Today in Electric Banana History
             We'll try to update this daily, depending on whether we remember, have the time, and feel like it.