CBGB doorwoman Roberta Bayley was also a photographer who shot the cover photos of some classic punk records, including the Ramones’s self-titled debut and Blank Generation by Richard Hell and the Voidoids.
Future Blondie members Clem Burke and Gary Valentine also hung out there when they were crashing at a friend’s storefront pad. “I was living in New York,” Valentine said, “and I was basically leading a kind of decadent juvenile delinquent life in the East Village. I was hanging out at Club 82 prior to when I was playing in Blondie.” Burke played drums in a band called Sweet Revenge, which sometimes performed at Club 82, where they covered David Bowie and Mott the Hoople songs mixed with some originals. “One of our big songs was called ‘Fuck the World,’ ” Burke said, “which was kind of punk rock.” Paul Zone, who would join his brothers’ group the Fast in 1976, was also at that Dolls performance at Club 82. It was there that he met Harry and Stein, as well as Lance Loud and Kristian Hoffman—all of whom would go on to play a big role in his life. “We all met at that Dolls show,” Zone recalled. “That was one of my first times with Kristian, at a Dolls show.” Hoffman added, “Paul and his brothers knew who we were, like, ‘Oh, it’s An American Family!’ Something like that. So Paul just came up and just started talking to us. Paul wasn’t in the Fast yet. He was kind of like the designer-manager person for the band.” Also in attendance was Roberta Bayley, who later worked the door at CBGB and shot album cover photos for the Ramones and Richard Hell and the Voidoids. Bayley had recently moved from London to New York and heard about the New York Dolls, but hadn’t yet seen them. “It just happened that the Dolls were playing directly downstairs from the loft where a friend of a friend lived on East Fourth Street,” she said. “That was Club 82.”
From Chapter 30 of The Downtown Pop Underground — order online, or from a local independent bookstore
“Television had been percolating around for awhile, and then they started playing at CBGB on Sunday nights,” recalled Roberta Bayley. “I was living with Richard Hell at that time and their manager Terry Ork said, ‘Do you want to sit at the door and take the money?’ So that gave me something to do. Then later I started to do it full-time at CBGB.” Hell invited Patti Smith to one of their shows during the band’s CBGB residency in spring 1974, and Lloyd invited Lenny Kaye. Before heading downtown that night, Smith and Kaye attended a glittery, star-studded premiere of the Rolling Stones’ live concert film Ladies and Gentlemen: The Rolling Stones. (Hibiscus, his sisters, and other Angels of Light had been hired by the theater to add even more sparkle to the occasion, performing a short vignette before the film.) “The first time I went to CBGB was on Easter Sunday 1974,” Kaye said, “when we left—symbolically, amazingly—a Rolling Stones movie uptown at the Ziegfeld Theatre and took a cab down and went there for the first time.” Television’s raw, jagged music reminded Smith of the first time she heard Little Richard as a girl, or seeing the Rolling Stones when she was a teen. It was electric, and transformative. In the pages of Rock Scene magazine, she waxed poetic about Tom Verlaine’s guitar sound (like “a thousand bluebirds screaming”) and described the tall skinny musician as “a languid boy with the confused grace of a child in paradise. A guy worth losing your virginity to.”
Blondie’s fortunes began to turn around soon after Clem Burke joined the band. “He definitely was a wannabe rock star,” Debbie Harry recalled. “He came in looking cool to the audition and he played well. He seemed to know a lot about music, and he was into the Shangri-Las, the Ronettes, and the Ventures, all the stuff we were into.” As for Burke, he said it wasn’t really much of an audition. “We just talked, more or less,” he said. “I just knew that she was it. I was looking for my Bowie, my Mick Jagger, my Bryan Ferry, and it just turned out to be a woman instead of a guy.” Burke’s first Blondie gig was the same night bassist Fred Smith announced he was leaving to play with Television, and the despondent group fell apart again. “I kept in touch with Debbie and Chris, trying to keep the band going,” Burke said, “and then I brought Gary in. To me, that was the beginning of Blondie.” Roberta Bayley also recalled that the band finally gelled with the addition of keyboardist Jimmy Destri and bassist Gary Valentine, who moved in with Debbie and Chris. “They were more cohesive,” she said, “and they started rehearsing and trying to be a little bit more professional, and writing new songs.” Valentine taught himself how to play bass after seeing Television and other new downtown bands perform around town. “They weren’t great musicians,” he said, “but they were inventing themselves in front of you. Then you felt like, ‘Well, I could do that, too.’ And that’s what got me going.”
From Chapter 31 of The Downtown Pop Underground — order online, or from a local independent bookstore
This interest in fashion intensified when designer Stephen Sprouse moved into the building’s top floor. “I invited Stephen to live there sometime after I met him at Reno Sweeney, when Holly Woodlawn was performing there,” Benton Quin said. “Stephen began designing and making a few things for Debbie, and also loaned her things. She was just basically wearing a lot of thrift shop stuff, so Stephen ramped up her glamour several notches.” Sprouse had a professional background working for Halston, a major designer at the time, and he created clothes for everyone in the band. “He was very much an artist who was aggressive about how he would cut up materials,” Chris Stein said. “He was just so far ahead of his time.” “Stephen would find things for me to wear,” Debbie Harry recalled, “or go through my collection of rags and put them together so that it had a strong visual look. He had all that experience at Halston of creating collections, so he was able to compile things.” Roberta Bayley added, “Dressing Debbie was probably inspirational for him, and it was great for her because she really developed her look—going from a thrift shop look, because nobody had money, to actually having dresses that were made for her to be onstage.” Sprouse did other graphic design work for the group, and in 1976 he was tapped to be the art director on the first two Blondie videos, “X Offender” and “In the Flesh.” From the very beginning, Blondie understood that visuals matter. The group started making music videos five years before MTV debuted in 1981, and photos of Harry circulated widely well before the band ever had an American hit, which undoubtedly laid the foundation for their later success. Although Blondie began as the runts of the CBGB scene, the group became its biggest global export by the end of the decade.
Patti Smith Group guitarist Lenny Kaye noted that the early CBGB scene was quite small. “It was the same twenty-five or thirty-five people in the audience,” he said, “and you would get up onstage and play, and then go offstage and hang out and watch your friends play. Everybody had a sense of the destination, but the fact that this destination was so improbable allowed you to develop at your own speed.” Doorwoman Roberta Bayley also recalled that CBGB was practically deserted in the beginning, noting that only people they didn’t know ended up paying the two dollar cover. “1975 was the best year,” said Paul Zone, who would soon join his brothers as the lead singer for the Fast. “It really was, because no one was signed and everyone was there. Every single night you could see the main characters.” The bands sounded quite different from one another but were united by a sense of spirit and discovery. “We weren’t competing with each other,” Chris Stein said. “Television, Talking Heads, the Ramones—we all shared equipment and had each other’s backs for the first year, when everything was starting to come together.” Debbie Harry acknowledged that there was certainly some animosity between certain people, “but in a pinch, if you asked nicely, you could borrow an amp.”
The Stilettoes played their first gig at CBGB on May 5, 1974, then did a half dozen shows at the club supporting Television. Debbie Harry and Chris Stein then formed a new group, Angel and the Snake, which played only once under that name before settling on Blondie for a string of CBGB shows with the Ramones. Between 1973 and 1975, the band was constantly in flux, changing names and reshuffling members (sisters Tish and Snooky were backup singers in another lineup before they cofounded Manic Panic, an East Village boutique that became best known for its brand of hair dye). Sometimes their original drummer Billy O’Connor would lose consciousness during their sets, though not for the typical rock ’n’ roll reasons—it was because of anxiety—so Dolls drummer Jerry Nolan occasionally sat in with them. “Everybody liked Blondie,” photographer Roberta Bayley said, “and they were definitely a key part of the scene. But their band wasn’t totally respected because when it would start to come together, then a member would leave, or they would have a different name.”
Pat Loud took a job in publishing in 1974 and followed her son out to New York, where she opened her small Upper West Side apartment to Lance and his friends. “She’s the most marvelous mother,” Kristian Hoffman said. “I mean, I really think of her as my other mother. She takes care of us all the time, to this day. So when she met Lance’s colorful panoply of insane artsy friends, she would just invite them into her house for dinner without prejudice. They had a little kitchen about the size of a California closet, and she made all of this magic happen in that room.” Pat also used to drop by CBGB and other downtown venues to see her son’s band play. “The Mumps were on the bill when she went to see Television,” Roberta Bayley said, “when Richard Hell was in the band. I remember Richard dedicated a song to her from the stage, which was nice. I also remember Lance’s mother invited Richard and I to an Oscar party at her apartment. I think she was just culturally open to different things and seeing what was going on, and really supportive of her son and his friends.” Despite Pat Loud’s initial dislike of the Jackie Curtis play Vain Victory, the two eventually became very good friends; Pat even contributed to Curtis’s drag wardrobe after taking revenge on her cheating husband. “One of his mistresses owned a clothing shop in Montecito,” she said. “I went over to that clothing shop and I bought everything that fit me—which was a lot of stuff. I put it on a bill, and they let me walk out with all of these clothes.” Having no desire to keep them, Pat donated the expensive fashions to the Off-Off-Broadway star (“I gave Jackie lots of stuff,” she recalled). Lance Loud was also good friends with Hibiscus, who often came over to Pat’s place for dinner. “That’s why there’s pictures of me there having dinner with Jackie Curtis,” Hoffman said. “Holly Woodlawn was there. Hibiscus was there. You would think having all those crazy people there would be kind of like an art salon,” Hoffman said, “but it was more like Pat cooking a delicious meal for love birds that had wet wings and they were lost. It was a place to go to get warm and have a good meal with someone who is completely accepting and loving.”
From Chapter 32 of The Downtown Pop Underground — order online, or from a local independent bookstore
Patti Smith’s audience grew throughout her CBGB residency with Television in early 1975, which created more momentum for the scene. “That was the first time when it started to get crowded,” doorwoman Roberta Bayley said, “and I think by the end it was sold out.” This was followed by CBGB’s Festival of Unsigned Bands in the summer of 1975, which drew even more attention. “The Ramones started to get a following,” she said, “and I think the Ramones were probably the first band to really build a fan base, and packed the place. Not long before it was just thirty, forty, maybe eighty people on a good night.” The media coverage that CBGB and Smith received benefited both parties, and on May 1, 1975, Arista Records mogul Clive Davis offered her a contract. Later that month, after signing, they celebrated with a live set that aired on the local radio station, WBAI, which she revered for its lack of formatting constraints (a freedom that complemented her approach to music, both aesthetically and ideologically). It was Smith’s first, but certainly not last, appearance on radio. The Velvet Underground’s John Cale produced the Patti Smith Group’s debut, Horses, and Robert Mapplethorpe shot the striking cover photo of her in a white men’s dress shirt and skinny tie. By this point, Smith’s band had outgrown CBGB and started to play larger venues in the city, such as the Palladium (formerly the Academy of Music).
“At first the Ramones just had one long twenty-minute song, with different riffs running through,” said Craig Leon, who was tasked with transforming the group’s live sets into an album that was recorded at Plaza Sound, above Radio City Music Hall. “They were all written as individual songs, but they never thought about it from a recording point of view—you know, ‘How is this song gonna end?’ They’d just play and then ‘One-two-three-four,’ they’d start the new one.” Most punk histories maintain that Sire Records paid a paltry $6,400 to record Ramones, but Leon said, “We never paid the full studio rate. It was actually cheaper than $6,000.” The album cover had similarly modest origins. Sire hired a music biz pro to photograph the band, but they hated the results and instead chose an outtake from a more informal photo shoot with Punk magazine contributor Roberta Bayley. “We just went over to Arturo [Vega]’s loft and everybody was there,” Bayley recalled. “We went outside, and first we found this playground, and then did a few different setups there against that brick wall.” The Ramones likely sold more T‑shirts than records—especially in the 1970s, when mainstream listeners couldn’t decode the catchy pop songs that lurked just below the surface guitar noise. When they opened for blues-boogie arena rocker Edgar Winter, the Ramones were met with a hail of bottles and boos. “There were people who wanted to burn the Ramones records and stuff like that because they were horrible, in their opinion,” Leon said. “Ramones songs are now played at sports arenas and on commercials, so it’s hard to understand how extreme they sounded at the time.”
The mass media image of punk—think: safety pins holding together ripped clothes—was the result of a transatlantic conversation that developed between the New York and London scenes. Sex Pistols manager Malcolm McLaren started out running a London clothing store in the early 1970s with designer Vivienne Westwood, and then dipped his toes in band management during the New York Dolls’ final days. This pairing happened after McLaren and Westwood began flying to New York for fashion trade shows, where they met Dolls guitarist Sylvain Sylvain—who had his own boutique clothing company, Truth and Soul. McLaren lived in New York when he was managing the Dolls and often went to CBGB, where he kept his eyes wide open. One person he noticed was Richard Hell, who was then playing bass in Television. “Richard had very distinct way of dressing,” Roberta Bayley recalled. “He thought it through. He was very clear on how he came to the look, the haircut, and everything. … So Malcolm went back to England and incorporated some of those things into the things Vivienne designed. I don’t think Malcolm made any particular bones about copying Richard’s look. He was a conceptualist artist, and Malcolm just liked the idea that people looked like street urchins.” One day in 1976, Chris Stein was paging through a European rock magazine and said, “Hey Richard, you’ve got to see this. There are four guys who look exactly like you!” Hell looked and saw the name Malcolm McLaren by a photo of the Sex Pistols.
From Chapter 33 of The Downtown Pop Underground — order online, or from a local independent bookstore