Today in LES History: Television Debuts at CBGB on the Bowery

Posted on: March 31st, 2015 at 8:13 am by
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On this day in…

1974 – The seminal rock/punk/alternative band Television began their Sunday night residency at CBGB, a former Bowery dive bar where band members built a stage for their debut performance.


Here is an excerpt from a piece that NYU professor Bryan Waterman wrote last year on the fortieth anniversary of the event

Although Hilly had run Times listings using the name CBGB as early as the summer of ’73, journalists have traditionally followed his lead in dating the name-change to December of that year. In March he hung a new awning out front and planned a Grand Reopening. Tradition holds that while he was hanging that awning, members of Television stopped by and asked him about the place. In March 1974, Television had played its first show, at a mid-town theater, and was looking for venues downtown. The band consisted of Tom Verlaine and Richard Lloyd on guitars, Richard Hell on bass, and Billy Ficca on drums. Some combination of these guys – the details change depending on whom you ask – convinced Hilly that they were capable of playing country, bluegrass, or blues, or at least that they could bring friends to buy beer.

CBGB’s re-opening night, Wednesday the 20th, featured ridiculously cheap drink specials, followed by three nights of the Con-Fullam Band, a bluegrass act from Maine, but the next week he advertised three nights of Elly Greenberg’s country blues over a smaller, innocuous listing for Sunday: “ROCK Concert TELEVISION March 31.” Another ad for the first show, paid for by Television’s manager, foregrounds a photo of the band and also lists the “fancy guitar pickin’s” of Erik Frandsen.

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Television on St. Mark’s, ca. 1977, Photo: GODLIS

Richard Hell, who came up with the band’s earliest image, wanted them to look like street kids, like Bowery Boys. They wore oversized thrift suits with torn shirts, sometimes held together with safety pins. They cut their hair short, rejecting glitter and hippies alike. They wanted to blend in with the bums on the street. A few years later, Malcolm McLaren, who had briefly hoped to take the band to London, gave up and created his own band there instead. The Sex Pistols’ look was directly lifted from Hell’s template for Television.

Television’s first Sunday shows at CBGB may or may not have attracted enough patrons to allow Hilly to make money from the bar, but they did lead to a confluence of interests and talents that would shape the local scene. Friends from the downtown film and lit circles, Warhol scenesters from Max’s Kansas City near Union Square, drag queens from the Bouwerie Lane made up the early crowd. The group’s biggest payoff came on the third Sunday of their residency, when Hell succeeded in getting his friends Patti Smith and Lenny Kaye to drop by and see his new band. Smith and Kaye were currently trying to get a band of their own off the ground, and Patti already enjoyed some celebrity as a rock poetess and critic. She wrote some of the band’s most influential early press, helping to cement its mythology.

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