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Hilly Kristal, 75; founded N.Y. rock club CBGB, the birthplace of punk

August 31, 2007|From the Associated Press

Hilly Kristal, whose dank New York Bowery rock club CBGB served as the birthplace of the punk rock movement and a launching pad for bands such as Blondie, the Ramones and the Talking Heads, has died after a battle with lung cancer. 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 a Manhattan hospice, his family announced.

"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, which played the club's final show in October. "Everywhere you travel around the world, you saw somebody wearing a CBGB T-shirt."

Although 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.

Kristal started the club in 1973 with the hope of making it a mecca of country, bluegrass and blues -- thus the name, 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.

In addition to 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 Blondie, Smith and Television.

"In an era when disco was the mainstream, Hilly took a chance and gambled," Mark Ramone said in a statement. "The gamble paid off for both him and for us. We are all grateful to him and will miss him."

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.

Kristal was born in 1931 and grew up on a farm in Hightstown, N.J.

He moved to New York City at 18 to pursue a singing career.

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

In 1970, he decided to open his own place featuring bluegrass, called Hilly's on the Bowery, which became CBGB.

Kristal is survived by a son, Mark Dana Kristal; a daughter, Lisa Kristal Burgman; and two grandchildren.

A private funeral service was planned, with a public memorial service expected later.

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