The infamous bar CBGB (full name CBGB & OMFUG) is the birthplace of punk rock and new wave! It’s an iconic place and numerous important and influential musicians performed their first gigs there. The club owner – Hilly Kristal, helped bands such as Ramones, Blondie and Talking Heads kick off their careers by giving them a stage where they could rock as hard as they want! CBGB is the rock mecca of New York and naturally due to its enormous impact and importance, the majority of Americans are quite familiar with it. However, to many people outside America, the club and its significant role in the formation and development of the underground rock scene is quite unknown – and I’m saying it based on experience. Many people love and listen to Ramones, Blondie, Talking Heads or the Heartbreakers; however they may not be so familiar with their origin stories and how they relate with CBGB in particular. Therefore, I decided to prepare a little informative publication in which I can talk a little bit more about CBGB and some of the bands that made their first steps as musicians on that infamous stage! I hope those of you who don’t know much would benefit from the publication! Cheers!
~ It was in 1973, when Hilly Kristal opened CBGB in Manhattan’s East Village.
~ In the beginning, it was a biker bar, named Hilly’s on the Bowery; however in time, the owner started booking rock acts and by doing so, he changed the course of music history.
~ The bar’s full name – CBGB & OMFUG—stands for “Country, Bluegrass, Blues and Other Music For Uplifting Gormandizers”. Gormandizers in this context means “a voracious eater of … music”
~ The original idea of the club was to promote U.S. root music such as country, bluegrass, and blues music, along with poetry readings.
~ During the 70s, the bar would host shows by local punk rock legends, including Ramones, Blondie, Talking Head, Television, the Patti Smith Group, the Shirts, the Heartbreakers, the Fleshstones and many more. In addition, it also became the place where out-of-towners such as the Police and B-52’s made their first New York debuts.
~ In the 70s, unsigned artists were having a hard time finding clubs that would allow them to perform their own original music. To pay the bills, Hilly decided to allow some local promoters to bring their artists to the club, as long as they follow 2 rules – the bands had to move their own equipment by themselves, and they couldn’t play any cover songs.
~ It took less than a year for the club to become a central figure in New York’s rock scene. Bands and fans were coming from every corner of the city to experience the raw energy and loud authenticity of punk rock music.
~ In the 80s, CBGB became the hardcore punk mecca of New York. Due to the aggressive nature of hardcore music, such concerts would almost always end up in violent “disagreements” and fights. Thus, Hilly Kristal had no choice but to end up those hardcore bookings.
~ The club was closed in 2006 after a heavily disputed rent controversial. Now, the location of the club is occupied by John Varvatos fashions. One year after CBGB was shuttered, Hilly Kristal died. The famous CBGB awning was given to the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame.
~ There’s a live action movie titled “CBGB” which was released in 2013. Alan Rcikman plays Hilly Kristal.
Now, let’s talk music!
When I think of CBGB, naturally, Ramones are the first band that comes to my mind. The reason why is because Ramones wouldn’t have been called the fathers of punk rock without CBGB – and it goes the other way around – CBGB wouldn’t have been called the birthplace of punk rock and new wave without the Ramones. Four guys with long hair and leather jackets stepped on that stage and did their first gig on August 16, 1974. They played their entire set of songs in less than 12 minutes – yes, that’s one characteristic of punk rock! That night, the guests of the club had no idea they are witnessing something so important and iconic! After the gig, Ramones would become regulars and attract so many fans with their straightforward and bizarre lyrics and raw and distorted riffs!
Time for some girl power! Before Blondie made their official debut at CBGB, singer Deborah Harry and guitarist Chris Stein were already veterans of the CBGB stage, performing in two different bands. Blondie’s first CBGB gig was on January 17, 1975 and they quickly turned into an absolute local sensation. With a charismatic, gorgeous and rebellious bad girl as their leader and music incorporating the sounds of punk, pop, reggae and doo-wop, they were destined for success! Even though, they became too mainstream and adopted friendlier and more pop-oriented sounds, CBGB has never left the hearts of Blondie!
Talking Heads made their debut on the CBGB stage on June 8, 1975, as the opening act for…Ramones! Those two bands are most certainly didn’t have much in common – Talking Heads preferred the sounds of the acoustic guitar, accompanied by poetic lyrics. The band would eventually be referred to as the artsy hipsters/geeks of the punk rock scene.
Here are some other quite memorable and essential live performances from the stage of CBGB!
Television – “Blank Generation”, 1974
Patti Smith – “Dancing Barefoot”, 1979
Beastie Boys – “Egg Raid On Mojo”, 1983
Guns N’ Roses – “Patience”, 1987
Social Distortion – “Ball And Chain”, 1992