The push is on to save fabled Bowery punk rock cradle CBGB, which opened in December of 1973 and is now in the last month of its lease. “Little” Steven Van Zandt (profile and interview here) has picked up the banner of the club, which is in conflict with its landlord, the Bowery Residents Committee, over back rent and an increase to the monthly rental cost of about $19,000.
Van Zandt said a proposal was submitted to BRC, which houses homeless people elsewhere in the building, offering to pay more rent and host events to raise money for the shelter – no response as yet to that proposal.
The club’s “Save CBGB Benefit Shows” are running all month:
8/2 JOKER 5 SPEED
8/3 RANA / SOUND OF URCHIN (co-headline) with Big Machine
8/5 BUSH TETRAS
8/7 AWKWARD THOUGHT, URBAN RIOT, STEP2FAR, NUTS & BOLTS, THE TURNPIKE WRECKS and STATE of DISGRACE
8/9 APHASIA, SHORTIE
8/10 AGAINST ME, THE EXIT, WORLD INFERNO FRIENDSHIP SOCIETY
8/13 VANS WARPED TOUR AFTER PARTY
8/14 GORILLA BISCUITS, BLACK TRAIN JACK
8/15 RAW POWER
8/19 LIVING COLOUR
8/20 THE VANDALS
8/22 KID DYNAMITE, GREYAREA
8/26 DEAD BOYS, FLIPPER, PETER AND THE TEST TUBE BABIES, ADRENALIN O.D. ,
8/27 DEAD BOYS, ANTI-NOWHERE LEAGUE, NIHILISTICS, SFA
8/28 SHAM 69, FLIPPER, CHEETAH CHROME & THE BLACK ANGELS
8/29 SMAM 69, YOUTH BRIGADE, THE RADICTS
More details on the Save CBGB’s campaign here, and sign a petition that reads as follows:
We, the undersigned, urge support of a renewal of CBGBs lease and hope the BRC and the City of New York value CBGBs and everything CBGBs offers New York. We hope NYC and the BRC values the music, entertainment, art, history, culture, that CBGBs brings to the city. Please do not let this truly unique New York City venue disappear for no real reason.
I talked with visionary ’70s New York A&R man and producer Craig Leon about the early punk/new wave scene in which CBGB’s played a central role. Leon discovered and/or recorded punk/new wave icons the Ramones (Ramones), Suicide (Suicide), Blondie (“X Offender”), Richard Hell and the Voidoids (Blank Generation EP), among many others.
Leon also co-produced (with Kim King) one of the earliest documentations of New York’s new music scene, Live At CBGB’s, with classic performances from Mink DeVille, Tuff Darts (with Robert Gordon), and the Shirts.
Richard Gottehrer brought the Climax Blues Band into a very young Leon’s Miami, Florida, studio to do pre-production for their Sense of Direction (‘74) album. Gottehrer liked Leon’s studio and arranging skills so much that he persuaded Leon to sell his share of the studio and move to New York to work for Gottehrer’s (and co-owner Seymour Stein’s) Sire Records, where Leon quickly became an A&R man at age 22.
Working for Sire, Leon became involved with the percolating New York underground music scene. One summer night in ‘75 Leon went to CBGB’s looking for Patti Smith, who was already signed to Arista. Owner Hilly Kristal suggested that Leon come back later that week to see a show with two bands named Talking Heads and the Ramones. “I went to that show and there were literally four people in the audience besides me, but the bands were phenomenal.
“With the Ramones, I scouted them and then I had to develop them. A lot of people didn’t even think they could make a record. There were weeks of preproduction on a very basic level: like when the songs started and when they ended. Their early sets were one long song until they ran out of steam or fought. You could see it as a performance art-type thing, where you had a 17-minute concise capsule of everything you ever knew about rock ’n’ roll. Or you could see it as 22 little songs.
“They had a very serious concept of what they wanted to do, but then we had to get the execution up to the point of actually being able to do it. It was the original drummer, Tommy, who had the concept of what they should sound like, and what they should look like,” said Leon.
The Ramones’ sound was blazing early-’60s surf music played through the overdriven distortion of Blue Cheer and Black Sabbath. Yet, according to Leon, the Ramones saw themselves as a pop band.
“In our naiveté, we thought they were going to be bigger than the Beatles. They had even named themselves after Paul McCartney’s early stage name, ‘Paul Ramone.’”
“The whole New York music thing was seen as an extension of the art scene, so we thought we were doing something cultural. It might have been pretentious, but what the hell, we were having fun. We really thought we were doing something groundbreaking and new. A lot of that is missing today,” he said.