Forty years ago, in December, 1973, what was to become one of the most iconic music clubs in New York City opened its doors: CBGB. Its full name was CBGB&OMFUG, which stood for Country, Blue Grass, Blues and Other Music for Uplifting Gormandizers.
Curiously, if we are all remembering correctly, the bands that first got their start their and torpedoed into stardom, such as the Ramones, Television and Blondie, could not be confused with country and bluegrass bands by anyone with ears. So what happened?
Hilly Kristal opened CBGB at 315 Bowery. This was the address of his previous business, Hilly’s on the Bowery. Kristal was forced to move his West Village nightclub to the new site after neighbors complained about the noise.
The mid 70s was not such a friendly time for new bands in New York that wanted to play original music. To make ends meet Kristal allowed a few young music promoters to feature their local groups at his nightclub, provided that they followed only two dictates: The band had to be willing to haul their own equipment themselves, and they were not to play covers of songs. This meant that Kristal did not have to pay ASCAP dues.
Since CBGB was one of a very few number of clubs that showcased young, up-and-coming acts the place was bursting with bands embracing the latest phase in the evolution of rock & roll: extremely loud, stripped down, high energy sound that was played fast and hard. It took only one year for the bar to play host to the likes of Television, the Ramones and the Stilettos, which later morphed into Blondie with Debbie Harry and Chris Stein. It did not take long for the ‘scene’ to develop, and the natural progression was for the biggest acts at CBGB to be go on to sign lucrative music deals.
In the 1980s CBGB was the headquarters for the truly hardcore punk rock bands. The tiny bar stayed open for decades after. It became not only a place for music, but a tourist site, and a punk rock kind of rite-of-passage.
CBGB was forced to close in 2006 over a rent dispute due to the extreme gentrification of the neighborhood. Many of the biggest bands that played there also lowered the curtain and played their list gig at the site, making it even harder for the club to stay open. Kristal passed away in 2007. The famous CBGB awning now resides in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in Cleveland.