TALKING HEADS – ” CBGB’s “

Posted: October 22, 2016 in MUSIC
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There was a grungy dive of a place on the Bowery called CBGB that was home to bikers, neighborhood drunks and the seeds of a musical revolution that changed the future of music.

Chris Frantz, the drummer of the seminal new-wave band Talking Heads, had a front-row seat along with his now-wife, bassist Tina Weymouth, along with guitarist/lead singer David Byrne, and the original Ramones: Joey, Johnny, Dee Dee and Tommy, all four of whom died way too early. Chris Frantz, who still plays and records with Weymouth in their band, Tom Tom Club, shared stories of those crazed early days , when a dozen or fewer fans would show up at Hilly Kristal’s famed club for a gig.

Chris comments “We lived at 195 Chrystie St., 3¹/₂ blocks from CBGB. It was rough, man, No hot water, no shower, the bathroom in the hall we had to share with all these sweaty guys,” said Frantz, who with his band mates was fresh out of the Rhode Island School of Design.

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“That first summer there in, ’75, there was a heat wave and also a garbage strike at the same time. So you could imagine what it was like,” he said. “The kids would open the hydrants and you had streams of water going down the street with burning garbage floating on it. “The kids would set the garbage on fire. I thought I was going to lose my mind. Tina took it better than I did.”

But the band practiced every day in its ninth-floor loft with the great view of the Empire State Building way uptown, and before long debuted at CBGB, opening up for the protopunks from Forest Hills themselves.

Hilly had asked Johnny Ramone if we could open for them, and Johnny said, ‘Sure, they’re gonna suck, so no problem,’ ” Frantz recalled.  the Heads all loved the Ramones and even got to like the dictatorial Johnny Ramone, but it took a while.

“That guy was mean as a snake. He was just a pure, unadulterated mean spirit. I’m sure he had good qualities also, but they were not evident,” he said. “He came around toward the end, but for the longest time, he thought that we sucked. But they were crazy. They’d be on stage playing and then they’d just stop and start fighting.”

Their debut together was hardly a roaring success. “There were very few people in the audience, maybe 10 altogether. Five came to see us and five came to see the Ramones. The Ramones’ fans were all girls, presumably their girlfriends,” Frantz remembered.

When they weren’t performing oddball pop like “(Love Goes to) Building on Fire” and “Psycho Killer” onstage, they would drink at the bar and get to know the other bands and hangers-on. One was Legs McNeill, one of the founders of Punk magazine, which chronicled the scene when only the Village Voice and SoHo News were paying any attention.

“Legs somehow positioned himself as an expert on CBGB’s heyday, but most of the time, he was passed out. One time at about 4 a.m., Hilly said, ‘Can you just get that guy out of there?’ ” Frantz said.

Tina had a car, an old Plymouth Valiant that was a family hand-down. We could fit the whole band in there. We tried to take him home but he was so intoxicated, he couldn’t remember what his address was. We’d drive around and ask him, ‘Does that look like your place, Legs?’ Finally, we found it.”

Some of the musicians, like the poet-turned-singer Patti Smith, Debbie Harry’s Blondie, Television with Tom Verlaine, and Willy DeVille’s Mink DeVille, went on to score record deals, tour and become punk and new-wave legends.
Much of the best music from those early days was released on a double album called “Live at CBGB’s.”

Talking Heads signed up for the album but eventually bailed — although their photo remained on the record jacket. “We didn’t think we were good enough yet — that’s why we pulled out. We thought it would ruin our chances to get a real record deal. Hilly was not happy about it, but at least he understood,” Frantz said.

Meanwhile The Ramones released their eponymous first album in the April of 1976 — and things took off from there, with the iconic “Hey, ho, let’s go!” opening lines of the 2-minute and 12-second anthem “Blitzkrieg Bop,” detonating like a gun at the start of a race.

The Ramones’ appearances in London as the opening act for the Flamin’ Groovies came on July 4th, 1976 — and caused a sensation unlike anything they had seen back in the States.

While most of America was celebrating the bicentennial with fireworks, concerts and picnics, the Ramones were inspiring a generation of British punks including The Clash and the Sex Pistols, whose debut single, “Anarchy in the UK,” was released a couple months later.

The next spring, Talking Heads opened up for the Ramones on the bands’ first full European Tour. They still couldn’t afford a luxury coach with sleeping berths, so they traveled on a beat-up tourist bus with Johnny in full dictator mode. “He wanted to decide where everybody sat. If you changed your seat, he’d say, ‘Whaddya sittin’ there for? You weren’t sittin’ there yesterday,’ ” Frantz said.

 

Frantz, who with Weymouth and family now splits his time between Connecticut and France, remembered the now-shuttered CBGB as the incubator for it all.

“It was just a nascent scene at the time,” he said. “We had the feeling that this was going to be an important place. We had seen Patti Smith, who was bigger than the Ramones at the time. She was wild. She had that intensity that you just don’t run into these days — onstage, but also off the stage. “She was not a relaxed person.”

Also on the scene was this band Television, whose debut “Marquee Moon” is considered one of the best guitar LPs of all time.

“With that combination of bands, you know something’s going on. It just took a while to grow,”

 

 

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