Isn’t it wonderful when long-forgotten recordings get dusted off and exposed to a much wider audience, thrusting little-remembered artists into the spotlight, perhaps for the first time in their lives?
Think Connie Converse…
Shortly after the aspirant dancer ditched Michigan for New York City in 1976, making ends by waitressing, modeling nude and working the counter at Dunkin’ Donuts, she formed the band, Breakfast Club with her boyfriend Dan Gilroy and his brother, Ed.
“I was sick of being an out-of-work dancer, so he taught me how to play guitar,” she recalled in her 2008 Rock & Roll Hall of Fame induction speech.
“It was a surprise that she mentioned me, like right away, like that was great,” Dan mused in the 2019 docudrama Madonna and the Breakfast Club:
It was wonderful, in fact and it changed my whole … in town, the musicians in town were like, “Did you see that?” Suddenly, again, it’s like we were with Madonna. It’s like she threw the spotlight.
Boys far outnumbered girls in the scrappy late-70’s New York City scene, but Madonna held her own, working hard and looking the part in full-skirted thrift store dresses from an earlier era.
(If you’ve resisted the Queen of Pop’s charms, thus far, this earliest incarnation may be the one that finally hooks you.)
Before guitar, the brothers turned her onto drums in the basement of the former Queens synagogue the three called home. (She habitually stuck her gum on one of the kit’s metal stands.)
Dan Gilroy observed that her dance training served her well as a musician:
..she was always into counting, you know, everything, eight counts, and it fit right into drumming, so it was a very smooth transition from dancing to drumming…She already could keep the beat, so naturally, she wanted to get more into music than just drumming, not that drumming isn’t music.
Breakfast Club featured Madonna on drums, the brothers out front with guitars, and, briefly Madonna’s friend Angie Smit on bass, though their roles weren’t set in stone.
According to Norris Burroughs, author of MY MADONNA: My Intimate Friendship With The Blue Eyed Girl On Her Arrival In New York:
It kind of felt like it was gonna be the sort of band where, like a Fleetwood Mac thing where you’d have Lindsey Buckingham and Steve Nicks and Christine McVie taking turns on vocals or they would harmonize.
Even a fraction of a Fleetwood Mac-like level of recognition would have been heady stuff, but as Angie Smit’s replacement, bassist Gary Burke unequivocally states, “Madonna wanted to be famous:”
That was her thing, man. And she didn’t care if she got it…through dance, through rock and roll, whatever. She wanted to be famous. She would be so squirrelly, like, “I wanna be famous!” She wanted to be famous now, man. And she was like, you could just see it in her body language, it’s like, “Ooh, when’s it gonna happen!?
SPOILER: It happened.
Just a couple of years after leaving both the band and Dan Gilroy, she had a record contract and a debut single that she promoted tirelessly with live club appearances. 1983 saw the release of a first album so packed with hits, it was only a matter of months til she became a household name.
But the street cred of her Breakfast Club demo is a hard one to beat:
0:01 Shit On The Ground-Safe Neighborhood
1:35 Shine A Ligh
3:13 Little Boy
4:47 l Love Express
Listen to Breakfast Club’s post-Madonna work on Spotify.
– Ayun Halliday is the Chief Primatologist of the East Village Inky zine and author, most recently, of Creative, Not Famous: The Small Potato Manifesto and Creative, Not Famous Activity Book. Follow her @AyunHalliday.