Owner of iconic New York rock club CBGB dies

HILLY KRISTAL, whose rock club CBGB served as the birthplace of the punk rock movement and a launching pad for bands like the Ramones, Blondie and Talking Heads, has died after a battle with lung cancer, his son said yesterday. He was 75.

Kristal, who lost a bitter fight last year to stop the club’s eviction from its New York home of 33 years, died yesterday at Cabrini Hospital, said his son, Mark Dana Kristal.

As the club headed toward its final show with Patti Smith in October, Kristal was using a cane to get around and showing the effects of his cancer treatment.

He was hoping to open a Las Vegas version of the infamous venue that opened in 1973.

“He created a club that started on a small, out-of-the-way skid row, and saw it go around the world,” said Lenny Kaye, a long-time member of the Patti Smith Group.

“Everywhere you travel around the world, you saw somebody wearing a CBGB T-shirt.”

At the club’s boarded-up storefront yesterday morning, a spray-painted message read: “RIP Hilly, we’ll miss you, thank you.”

While the club’s glory days were long past when it shut down, its name transcended the venue and become synonymous with the three-chord thrash of punk and its influence on generations of musicians worldwide.

The club also became a brand name for a line of clothing and accessories; its store, CBGB Fashions, was moved a few blocks away from the original club, but remained open.

Kristal started the club in 1973 with the hope of making it a mecca of country, bluegrass and blues — called CBGB & OMFUG, for “Other Music For Uplifting Gourmandisers” — but found few bands to book. It instead became the epicentre of the mid-1970s punk movement.

Kristal was born in Highstown, New Jersey, where he grew up on a farm. He moved to New York city when he was 18, nurturing dreams of becoming a singer and singing on stage at Radio City Music Hall.

He later became the manager of the Village Vanguard, the legendary jazz club in Greenwich Village, where he booked acts like Miles Davis.

Possibly inspired by his managing of the club, he decided to open his own place featuring bluegrass in 1970, called Hilly’s on the Bowery, which became CBGB.

More in this section


Select your favourite newsletters and get the best of Irish Examiner delivered to your inbox