Music Industry Icon: Hilly Kristal

Hilly Kristal, owner of CBGB's in front of his famous music club November 29, 1993

315 Bowery was never the same thanks to Hilly Kristal. Kristal changed the Punk scene in 1973 and never looked back. The place to be was Country, Bluegrass, Blues and Other Music For Uplifting Gormandizers, better known as CBGB. This biker bar turned music club came to life with the likes of The Ramones, Blondie, Patti Smith, and the Talking Heads.

CBGB’s only had two rules; the band must play original songs and move their own equipment. The original songs were a must for Kristal, because he didn’t want to pay performance royalty organization checks.  CBGB’s popularity brought in acts from all over like the Police, Iggy Pop and the Stooges, the Misfits, the B-52’s, Joan Jet, and the list goes on.  CBGB became a New York staple and the breeding ground for upcoming talent.

In 2005, Kristal was in trouble with the Bowery Residents’ Committee who claimed he owed over $100,000 in rent. Kristal, who was unaware of this issue, refused to pay until a judge ruled the debt was actually due to scaled rent increases. The judge ruled the debt to be false, but Kristal did not want to pay the new higher rent. Kristal and the BRC reached an agreement and decided to close CBGB. Kristal kicked around a few ideas, but later died in 2007.

When it came to CBGB’s final performances, they decided to book as many bands and artists that CBGB made famous. On October 15, 2006 CBGB open their doors one last time. The final CBGB performance by Patti Smith was broadcasted live on Sirius Satellite Radio.

I recently watched the movie CBGB, which told the story of Hilly Kristal, a music industry icon and the godfather of punk music. The story starts out with many of his failed business ventures and later takes us down on his path to success. The music industry could learn many things from Hilly Kristal. The first being that passion and vision drives success and that you have to take a fall every now and then. People are going to make mistakes. However, you learn from mistakes and push onto higher success. I encourage others to watch the movie CBGB based on Hilly Kristal’s life. After all, Hilly Kristal has made his mark in music history and deserves the recognition and respect.