Legendary club impresario was 75
THE ASSOCIATED PRESS
Wednesday, August 29th 2007, 9:58 AM
Hilly Kristal, whose dank Bowery rock club CBGB served as the birthplace of the punk rock movement and a launching pad for bands like the Ramones, Blondie and the Talking Heads, has died after a battle with lung cancer, his son said Wednesday. 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 Tuesday at Cabrini Hospital, said his son, Mark Dana Kristal.
Last October, as the club headed toward its final show with Patti Smith, Kristal was using a cane to get around and showing the effects of his cancer treatment. He was hoping to open a Las Vegas incarnation 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 longtime 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 Wednesday morning, a spray-painted message read, "RIP Hilly, we'll miss you, thank you." There were also a dozen candles, two bunches of flowers and a foam rubber baseball bat - an apparent tribute to the Ramones' classic "Beat on the Brat."
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 trash of punk and its influence on generations of musicians worldwide.
The club also became a brand name for a line of clothing and accessories, even guitar straps; its store, CBGB Fashions, was moved a few blocks away from the original club, but remained open.
"I'm thinking about tomorrow and the next day and the next day, and going on to do more with CBGB's," Kristal told The Associated Press last October.
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 epicenter of the mid-1970s punk movement.
"There was never gourmet food, and there was never country bluegrass," Dana Kristal said Wednesday.
Besides the Ramones and the Talking Heads, many of the other sonically defiant bands that found frenzied crowds at CBGB during those years became legendary - including Smith, Blondie and Television.
Smith said at the venue's last show that Kristal "was our champion and in those days, there were very few."
The club hosted hardcore and punk acts throughout the years, becoming a landmark in a neighborhood that was transformed by late-1990s development.
Throughout the years, CBGB had rented its space from the building's owner, the Bowery Residents' Committee, an agency that houses homeless people.
In the early 2000s, a feud broke out between the two entities when the committee went to court to collect more than $300,000 in back rent from the club, then later successfully sought to evict it. By the time it closed, CBGB had become part museum and part barroom.
Kristal was born in Highstown, N.J., 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.
In addition to Mark Dana, Kristal, who continued to live on the Bowery, is survived by a daughter, Lisa Kristal. Their mother, his ex-wife, Karen Kristal, 89, also survives him, and lives in Manhattan.