Bill Paul’s First Tuesday of Every Month: The Legacy of CBGBs
“Country, Blue Grass, Blues”
By Bill Paul
I was struggling with this month’s entry and repeatedly came up empty handed and then my daughter and her partner came back from a weekend of album hunting in Montreal and surprised me with a real gem from Patti Smith Group, the album “Wave”. This got me to thinking about writing about my favourite female artist but my thoughts soon expanded to think of the venue where she and so many before and since her have cut their musical teeth – 315 Bowery at Bleecker Street – CBGBs.
Perfect. I mean, if I cannot come up with a little ol’ blog from this punk/post-punk sonic mill, then really, what good am I?
CBGB – hey all you kids wearing the famous black t-shirt, pay attention – was created by Hilly Kristal in the early 1970’s and was originally intended, as its name pronounces, to be a place where country, blues and blue grass artists could ply their trade. What actually unfolded was something completely different. The venue developed into a petri dish for the burgeoning New York punk scene where the likes of The Ramones, Television, Blondie, Talking Heads, Mink DeVille and the formerly noted Patti Smith Group honed their craft. The agreement was the bands would play and receive the take from the gate and Kristal claimed bar receipts. Kristal’s reasoning behind this approach was to give the performer’s the thirst for developing a following – the more people they could get to come out to their shows, the more money they would make. Further logic dictated people would indeed come if the music was compelling and rehearsed – Kristal’s thinking was the bands would practice and invest themselves in their product. Kristal had one other guiding principle for his acts – their sets were to be primarily comprised of original material with very few crowd pleasing covers.
Just think about that – they had to play their original material without much of a cover crutch. What this meant was between the bar’s infant years of 1973 and 1979, the following songs were created and worked out on this stage – Marquis Moon, Rock and Roll Nigger, Psycho Killer and Beat on the Brat. On any given night, the crowd was made up of locals, students and punks looking to avoid the mainstream live music scene New York had to offer. Musicians themselves also frequented the place on their off-nights and often times even sat in on their contemporaries’ sets.
I never had the opportunity to visit CBGBs during these years but am thankful for the environment which nurtured many of my favourite punk/post-punk bands. The songs featured here have meant a great deal to me for a great many years and I shudder to think they may not have been formed without Hilly’s place and his own disposition of being a keen OMFUGger. I know it sounds rude but it is really what all true fans of music truly are – other music for uplifting gormandisers – voracious eaters of music, the second part of the CBGB moniker.
So, if you’re hungry for music, belly up to the links provided, enjoy, and let your mind consider the atmosphere that must have been present on any given night – what a scene it must have been!