"Country, BlueGrass and Blues." That's what the letters on the marquee of Hilly Kristal's nightclub in the East Village of Manhattan stood for. But CBGB, which opened on Dec. 10, 1973, soon came to serve a stronger purpose: the burgeoning punk rock scene in America. In the back half of the late '70s, CBGB became a haven for a new generation of rockers bound by the club's only two rules: load your own equipment in yourself, and stick to original songs.
CBGB had a long life well into the 21st century - it closed in 2006, after which it was controversially replaced by a John Varvatos clothing store two years later - but it's that first wave of game-changers for which many fondly remember the club today. Here's a look at some of our favorites who took the stage in the early days.
The leather-jacketed foursome out of Forest Hills, Queens first played CBGB on August 14, 1974, their fifth month of performing together. "They counted off this song...and it was just this wall of noise," journalist Legs McNeil recalled of the set. "They looked so striking. These guys were not hippies. This was something completely new." A year later, they'd signed a deal with Sire Records and released their groundbreaking self-titled debut in 1976.
Another early fixture of the club's stage was Television, founded by teenage friends Tom Verlaine and Richard Hell. While Kristal admitted he regarded their work as "terrible, screechy, ear-splitting guitars and a jumble of sounds [I] just didn't get," critics would later hail their 1977 debut Marquee Moon as a classic.
Singer David Byrne, drummer Chris Frantz and his girlfriend, bassist Tina Weymouth, started making music together as students at the Rhode Island School of Design in 1973. The group that became Talking Heads (with the addition of multi-instrumentalist Jerry Harrison) made their debut on the CBGB stage, opening for the Ramones in 1975. While their sound did not yet match what fans heard on debut album Talking Heads 77, their set did feature the future classic "Psycho Killer." 1979's "Life During Wartime" was one of the first songs to namecheck CBGB directly.
Patti Smith Group
One of the more intense people on the CBGB scene, poet/performance artist Patti Smith and guitarist Lenny Kaye were both in the audience for Television's third-ever performance at the club. Within a year, she was setting her poetry to loud rock music with the help of Kaye, bassist Ivan Kral and drummer Jay Dee Dougherty. She earned a record deal in 1975 and released the landmark debut Horses that same year; more than 40 years later, she was one of the last acts to play CBGB.
That first Ramones gig was opened by a similarly up-and-coming band featuring singer Debbie Harry, guitarist Chris Stein and bassist Fred Smith (who'd later replace Richard Hell in Television). They were known as Angel and The Snake, but Harry decided to take back audiences' catcalls and rename the group Blondie. By 1978, it was clear the group was equally at home among the punks and the disco kids, and third album Parallel Lines, featuring the hit single "Heart of Glass," became an international success.