Originally released in Chiller Than Most fanzine, issue 5. (Click the picture for bigger size.) Pics by Randall S Underwood, Brendan Rafferty, Bri Hurley, Ken Salerno, KT Tobin.
Hilly Kristal, a trained violinist, opened CBGB music club in 1973 with the intention to book country, Irish, jazz and bluegrass music bands. CBs is located on the Bowery, an infamous skid-row area that back in the 80s was lined with flophouses where derilect alcoholics and crackheads could rent a room for 5 bucks a night. The full name of the club was CBGB & OMFUG, which stands for “Country Bluegrass Blues and Other Music For Uplifting Gormandizers.” But in late summer of 1974 a new wave of musical rebels made the venue their home and punk rock luminaries such as The Ramones, The Dead Boys, Patti Smith Group, Talking Heads and Blondie got their start there. By the summer of 1975, the club was the epicenter of what was then considered avant-garde rock’n’roll. Kristal’s former wife Karen Kristal worked at the club and was legal owner of the venue’s parent company due to Hilly going bankrupt on a past business. She was the constant caretaker and stern protector of CBGB, whose logo she designed. CBGB wasn’t doing hardcore shows in the beginning. From the early 1980s until its later years, it would mainly become known for hardcore punk, Youth of Today, Cro-Mags, Gorilla Biscuits, Underdog, Sick Of It All becoming synonymous with the club. They’ve all shared the glory of tearing up that stage, and played their hearts out. Up to this time most of the hardcore shows were mostly happening at clubs and bars that lasted late into the night.
Around late 1982, CBGB started booking Saturday afternoons so younger fans of hardcore could catch all the latest bands coming through NYC. Hilly kind of gave the hardcore kids a permanent weekend home and daytime hangout spot, the CBGB hardcore matinee was born. Later it was moved to Sundays so Saturday night shows would not be affected by the matinees running late. Sunday afternoons at CBs became a weekly ritual for years to come. Upon entry, the area where you paid was on the right, a small desk where you were interrogated about your age. By that time CBGB’s was hard line about the 16 year old age limit. In late 1985, New York state changed the drinking age from nineteen to twenty-one. Before the law changed, CBGB was allowed to let in all ages, with ID for nineteen to drink. When the law changed, CBGB was forced to change to sixteen to enter, twenty-one to drink. In front of the stage there was a hole worn into the floor from people demonstrating their mosh styles, it was a small place where hardcore kids would slam dance into each other. The stage was the perfect height for a dive onto the crowd.
One storefront beside CBGB became the “CBGB Record Canteen”, a record shop and café. In the late 1980s, “CBGB Record Canteen” was converted into an art gallery and second performance space, “CB’s 313 Gallery”. CBGB closed in September of 2006 after 33 years of live music. The old East Village mainstay is now a John Varvatos store which combines stylish, shitty rock’n’roll costumes, expensive clothes. Today the Lower East Side has a Whole Foods market. Today you have to make a lot of money to live on the Lower East Side. Today’s Lower East Side is filled with some of the best restaurants and eateries in New York. Today buses filled with tourists drive slowly past the John Varvatos store that used to be CBGB…
– The CBGB is the place where Dennis Dunn, Big Charlie worked. Dennis was a bouncer with a mustache, sleeveless shirts, and he operated the stage lights too. Sometimes he’d stop the kids, grab the microphone from the band’s singer and tell them what they did wrong. “Listen up people, if the stagediving continues the sets gonna be cut alright? It’s up to you… there is no stagediving!” He is the guy on Agnostic Front’s “Live at CBGB” record that gets up on stage and threatens to kill the audience if they don’t quit fighting. “A lot of you people ain’t gonna live to see tomorrow if you don’t stop fucking around this way! “Big Charlie (one of the first black skinheads in the New York hardcore scene) was a bouncer too, he was a very tall and well built guy, always in army fatigues. In the summer of 1986, there was a Guillotine fanzine benefit show and the infamous riot. Straight Ahead, Warzone, Rest In Pieces, Ludichrist were on the bill. Right when Straight Ahead finished their set, Big Charlie grabs the microphone and let’s everybody know that there is a big riot going on outside. “You guys all talk about unity! It’s time to prove it because those guys out there have bats!”
– The CBGB is the place where Tommy Victor (the lead singer and guitarist for the heavy metal band Prong) worked as a sound engineer, he did the hardcore matinees from 1986 to 1990. “Just Can’t Hate Enough” album (by Sheer Terror) was recorded at the CBGB’s and engineered by Tommy Victor, and “Free For All” compilation was recorded by him too. This classic compilation was a four-way split (Token Entry, Wrecking Crew, Rest in Pieces and No For An Answer), all songs recorded live at CBGB on April 9, 1989. The sound system at CBGB’s was probably the best one around. – CBGB is the place where Agnostic Front recorded three live albums.
– CBGB is the place where Walter Schriefels played bass for Outburst. This was their first CBGB gig.
– CBGB is the place where Agnostic Front did their “Victim In Pain” record release party in 1984.
– CBGB is the place where Youth of Today played their infamous “Shutdown” show with Side By Side, Gorilla Biscuits, Pagan Babies in 1987. Before one of the last songs, Ray Cappo made his famous comment, “You know, this club has their policies. They are going to tell you what to do but I’m not going to. Do what you want!” with that about more than 100 hardcore kids jumped up on the stage during “Youth Crew” and nobody could do anything. The band was banned for encouraging stage diving, which was against the club policy. It was also the last time Youth Of Today would set foot on the stage of CBGB, they never played there again.
– Project X “Shutdown” was written about this specific October 18, 1987 CBGB show. The back cover of the Project X EP features the band standing in front of CBGB, appearing to have been shut out.
– CBGB is the place where Agnostic Front did a benefit to raise money for recording “Victim In Pain”, Roger Miret and bassist Rob Kabula, drummer Dave Jones, and founder/guitarist Vinnie Stigma recorded “Victim In Pain” in a matter of hours.
– A scene in Woody Allen’s “Hannah and Her Sisters” involving Allen and Dianne Wiest watching 39 Steps was filmed at CBGB. 39 Steps were a Canadian alternative rock/punk rock band.
– The Simpsons’ episode “Love, Springfieldian Style” shows a CBGB named “Comic Book Guy’s Bar”.
– The first time Youth Of Today played there, Johnny Stiff the promoter told them “watch your back, no one in this city is straight edge and they just might kill you if you push that shit.”
– CBGB is the place where Murphy’s Law’s “Bong Blast” demo tape was recorded live by Jerry Williams back in 1983, and has the earliest lineup of the band with Harley Flanagan on drums. The cover of the cassette was made by Alex “Uncle Al” Morris, founding member of Murphy’s Law as well as playing on their 1986 classic debut album.
– Mrs. Kristal made life and death decisions at the club. Lots of underage fans tried to get into CBGB’s numerous times but there was this old lady who checked their fake ID cards, grab them by the collars and throw them out. She was standing next to the desk where you paid with her giant pocketbook, checking ID cards, and calling hardcore kids’ parents when she sniffed a false one. Crippled Youth played their first show in 1986 with Youth of Today, Warzone, and Rest In pieces. Matt Warnke (the singer of the band) was able to play because Karen called his parents to verify his age. Matt’s parents lied for their son that day, he was only 15.
– CBGB is the place where Gorilla Biscuits did their first show with JFA, Token Entry, the NY Hoods on August 31, 1986. There is an incredible photo, where Ernie Parada is wearing a prehistoric homemade Gorilla Biscuits t-shirt before the first gig was even played. Probably many people don’t know that he was the drummer of Gorilla Biscuits at their first show.
– CBGB is the place where Cro-Mags did the “Age of Quarrel” record release show in 1986. They were serving Krishna cookies, vegan foods and some iced tea. Cause For Alarm was one of the opening bands.
– There were three different awnings during the life of CBGB at 315 Bowery. The first one was up from 1973 to 1987, another from 1987 to 2000 and the last until the club closed in 2006. The second and third awnings were very similar to the original, but with cleaner lines and an arched logo—the biggest difference seen in the numbers “315,” which were no longer hand painted. The most recent awning is at the Rock and Roll Hall Of Fame Museum in Cleveland. The original awning was allegedly in the possession of JFA (Jodie Foster’s Army), who may have borrowed it after a show in the mid 1980s. The awning that hung above the legendary New York City punk club CBGB between 1987 and the early 2000s has sold at auction for $30,000.