Hilly Kristal (1932-2007), founder of CBGB, was a strange person. This kind of person that changes history.
He had a lot of experience in the music industry by this time in his life, as a performer and from booking acts at the Village Vanguard and helping found the Shaefer Festival in Central Park.
Hilly founded the club in 1974, renaming it CBGB (for “Country Blue Grass and Blues”) from its former title “Hilly’s On the Bowery.” (Hilly owned a club on West 13th Street called “Hilly’s” and this was meant to differentiate the two).
Although Hilly was never a big fan of punk rock music (he was famous for telling the Ramones that they “weren’t very good, but I’ll let you play again anyhow” and warning other bands that the Hells Angels in his club wouldn’t like their music at all), it never would have happened without him.
Hilly, as a professional musician himself, knew what bands wanted: a good sound system, a fair door policy and a decent amount of promotion. He provided this and more for the the bands that played at CBGB and it’s why he’s so beloved. His club made a lot of those people very rich and famous.
The list of bands that played CBGB is phenomenal (and the first bands to appear there became the best known): Television, the Patti Smith Group, the Ramones, Blondie, the Talking Heads, Richard Hell and the Voidoids, Suicide, The Mumps, the Dictators, the Cramps, The Fleshtones, the Beastie Boys, Bad Brains, Living Colour, the Plasmatics, Murphy’s Law, the Cro-Mags, Agnostic Front, Reagan Youth, Sick Of It All, Warzone, The Undead, the Goo Goo Dolls, Sonic Youth, the Jon Spencer Blues Explosion, Pussy Galore, L.E.S. Stitches among many, many others.
But, as John Holmstrom remember, “there’s a more important aspect to his life that might not be chronicled anywhere else–his generosity and kindness towards the people who worked at CBGB. I heard many stories through the years about people who developed serious drug, alcohol and/or psychological problems while working there. Although Hilly wasn’t exactly paying his employees huge salaries, if someone had a problem he would set them up with medical care, and the door would always be open for them to come back to work at his club. His employees weren’t treated like wage slaves; they were like family to him. More than one person told me that Hilly saved their lives“.
Now Hilly have a little park in Second Life, you can visit at Lanestris near the Chelsea Hotel and CBGB club.
Thank you to Plato Novo that offered the place.