The New York club that propelled American rock into the 1970s by launching unsigned and untried bands such as Television, Talking Heads and The Ramones, was started by a classically trained pop singer, called Hilly Kristal, as an outlet for country, bluegrass and blues performers – hence the name – CBGB (Country, Blue Grass, Blues).
Having managed Greenwich Village’s Village Vanguard club during its innovative 60s jazz/folk heyday, Kristal finally started booking rock bands too, insisting that they should play nothing but their own music.
CBGB opened on 10 December 1973 at 315 Bowery, in the East Village area of Manhattan. It had previously been the largest flophouse on the Bowery and, until Kristal had it fumigated, it stank of dirty old men, vomit and urine.
Fast-forward to 31 March 1974 and Television are making their CBGB debut. By all reports, they were pretty dreadful.
Hilly Kristal said “No more” but their manager Terry Ork assured Kristal that they were “going to practice really hard”, and in the meantime, he had another band from Queens – called The Ramones.
Hilly said The Ramones (pictured at left) were even worse than Television – but it cost him nothing to let them play on Sunday’s because he was usually closed on the Sabbath anyway.
By April 1974 another new band was appearing at CBGB – The Stilettos.
The group had three girls up front, one of whom was Debbie Harry. She left the group and formed a band called Angel with her boyfriend Chris Stein – A band that would shortly turn into Blondie.
The landmark venue finally closed its doors forever on 15 October 2006 after Kristal lost a long battle over back rent with his landlord, the Bowery Residents’ Committee, a nonprofit organisation. The city offered Kristal, 75, another location on the Lower East Side, but he declined it, saying renovation costs were prohibitive.
Patti Smith and her group were the last act to play there, as part of a last-weekend wake that included shows by The Dictators and an unplugged set from Blondie. Smith played for three-and-a-half hours.
31 March 1974 – Television (debut)
5 May 1974 – The Stilettos/Television
14/15 February 1975 – Patti Smith (debut)
20 June 1975 – Talking Heads (debut)
16 July – 2 August 1975 – The CBGB Festival of The Top 40 Unrecorded New York Bands, featuring:
March 1976 – Wayne County & The Electric Chairs
4 June 1976 – The album Live at CBGB is recorded over a weekend, featuring:
25 July 1976 – The Dead Boys (debut)