The Story of CBGB’s, New York: The Birthplace of Punk.
Above Photo: Patti Smith going into CBGB’s in 1976 (© David Godlis)
CBGB’s was a New York music club opened in 1973 by Hilly Kristal, in a former nineteenth-century saloon at 315 Bowery, in the East Village.
CBGB’s is commonly known as the ‘birthplace’ of punk, although that wasn’t originally the plan. The owner wanted to set up a club for country, bluegrass and blues – hence the initials CBGB’s (the OMFUG stood for ”Other Music For Uplifting Gormandizers”) , but the club soon became a famed venue of punk rock and new wave bands such as the Ramones, Television, Patti Smith Group, the Dead Boys, Blondie and Talking Heads.
CBGB’s emergence as a Punk venue was assisted by the August 1973 collapse of a music and arts venue called the Mercer Arts Center, which had left New York bands with few options to play live in the city, so Mercer refugees—including Suicide, The Fast and Wayne County, soon began to play at CBGB’s.
In April 1974, in the audience for Television’s third gig at CBGB’s were Patti Smith and Lenny Kaye, whose Patti Smith Group subsequently debuted at CBGB’s on February 14, 1975. Other early performers included the Stillettos—which included Debbie Harry on vocals. They also supported Television at CBGB’s on May 5, 1974.
The newly formed band Angel & the Snake, later renamed Blondie, as well as the Ramones played in August 1974. Mink DeVille, Talking Heads, the Shirts, the Heartbreakers, the Fleshtones and other bands soon followed.
CBGB’s made bands move their own equipment (that must have been Roadie Heaven) and stipulated that they only play original songs, in order to deter cover bands – although regular bands often played one or two covers in their sets.
CBGB’s growing reputation drew more and more acts from outside New York, and in October 1978, The Police played their first US gigs at CBGB’s.
Meanwhile, CBGB’s had become a regular gig venue for other bands like the Misfits, the Dead Boys, the Dictators, the Voidoids, the Cramps, the B-52s, Blondie, Joan Jett & The Blackhearts.
In the 1980s and 1990s, the club hosted hardcore punk and New York underground bands, but in the year 2000 CBGB’s became embroiled in a dispute over unpaid rent until the landlord sued in 2005. He lost the case, but a deal to renew CBGB’s lease, expiring in 2006, failed, so the club was forced to close.
The club closed after a final concert, played by Patti Smith, on October 15, 2006, and Hilly Kristal died from complications of lung cancer on August 28, 2007.
There was an alley behind the building, called the “Extra Place”, which would later be lost under a pedestrian mall. The Dead Boys’ Cheetah Chrome said, “If that alley could talk, it’s seen it all”.
In 2013, the former location of CBGB’s was added to the National Register of Historic Places as part of the Bowery Historic District.
The nomination read:
“CBGB was founded in 1973 on the Bowery, in a former nineteenth-century saloon on the first floor of the Palace Lodging House. The legendary music venue fostered new genres of American music, including punk and art rock, that defined the culture of downtown Manhattan in the 1970s, and that still resonate today. In this role as cultural incubator, CBGB served the same function as the theaters and concert halls of the Bowery’s storied past. The former club, now occupied by a retail business, remains a pilgrimage site for legions of music fans”.
I have used some David Godlis (and other) shots of CBGB’s below, plus a You Tube link to a great Talking Heads track that mentions CBGB’s – Life During Wartime.
Talking Heads – Life During Wartime