In 1998, Hilly Kristal, founder of CBGB, wrote a brief history of the club. Here it is in its unedited entirety:
What does CBGB stand for?
The questions most asked of me is, "What does CBGB stand for?" I reply, "It stands for the kind of music I intended to have, but not the kind of music that we became famous for: COUNTRY BLUEGRASS BLUES." The next question is always, "but what does OMFUG stand for?" and I say, "That's more of what we do, it means OTHER MUSIC FOR UPLIFTING GOURMANDIZERS." And what is a gourmandizer? It's a voracious eater of, in this case, MUSIC.
I can't begin to tell you how many times I've been asked those questions.
A lot of people believe that OMFUG stands for something dirty, but the truth is, I felt that CBGB sounded so pat that I wanted something to go with it that sounded a little uncouth, or crude.
The obvious follow up question is often, “is this your favorite kind of music?”
No!!! I've always liked all kinds but half the radio stations all over the U.S. were playing country music, cool juke boxes were playing blues and bluegrass as well as folk and country. Also, a lot of my artist/writer friends were always going off to some fiddlers convention (bluegrass concert) or blues and folk festivals. So I thought it would be a whole lot of fun to have my own club with all this kind of music playing there. Unfortunately - or perhaps FORTUNATELY - things didn't work out quite the way I'd expected.
That first year was an exercise in persistence and a trial in patience. My determination to book only musicians who played their own music instead of copying others, was indomitable. ORIGINALITY (to me) WAS PRIME, TECHNIQUE TOOK SECOND PLACE.
Disco gives birth to “Street Rock” and later PUNK.
The height of the Disco era brought an increasing dissatisfaction among rock musicians and their fans. The formula driven disco music and the long drawn out solos and other complexities in much of the rock of the late sixties and early seventies encouraged a lot of disgruntled rock enthusiasts to seek the refreshing rhythms and sounds of simple (BACK TO BASICS) high energy rock and roll, which seemed to take shape right here at CBGB. We called this music "street rock" and later "PUNK" - "come as you are and do your own thing" rock and roll.
Since almost everyone of the bands was relatively unknown, we did not give them a guarantee, but gave the most of the door monies to cover their expenses. CBGB kept the bar. Hopefully they would see the value of building a fan base. The more people came and paid to see them the more they made. It was not until sometime in 1976 that the club started paying for itself.
A Rock Club under a flop house...
Having a rock club on the Bowery, under a flophouse (believe it or not), does have some advantages. (1) the rent is (was) reasonable (2) Most of our neighbors dressed worse than, or more weird than our rock and rollers (3) The surrounding buildings were mostly industrial and the people who did live close by, didn't seem to care about having a little rock and roll sound seeping into their lives. The disadvantages: within a two-block radius there were six flophouses holding about two thousand men, mostly derelicts. I would say most of them were either alcoholics, drug addicts physically impaired or mentally unstable. Some of the men were veterans from the Vietnam war on government disability, and others were just lost in life or down on their luck. The streets were strewn with bodies of alcoholic derelicts sleeping it off after two or three drinks of adulterated wine reinforced with sugar. There were lots of muggers hanging around on the Bowery preying on the old or incapacitated men. When people were let out of jail or institutions they were very often housed in one of these flophouses by the city, so we had to deal with these crazies trying to come into the club.
Mostly, knives were the weapon of choice. By the time things improved around here, I had collected over three dozen knives and other assorted weapons. The muggers - or "jack rollers" were not as dangerous to ordinary people as they seemed. They were used to picking on the old men or others who were completely out of it like three sheets to the wind.
The Bowery was, to repeat, a drab ugly and unsavory place. But it was good enough for rock and rollers. The people who frequented CBGB didn't seem to mind staggering drunks and stepping over a few bodies.
1975 was drawing to a close. It was a remarkable year for CBGB, and for me personally. No one was getting rich, but who cared. We were all having a ball. It was certainly exciting, discovering new artists, finding new bands, spreading the word, trying to get them recording contracts.
After being involved with all kinds of music (in one way or another) for most of my life, I was just beginning to understand to what extent the recording companies were involved with an artist's career and how much they controlled their success. It was the beginning of my love, hate relationship with the record industry (the powers that be).
I certainly didn't love every band that played CBGB's but I did love to encourage them to do their own thing, to challenge the establishment. I've always felt the stronger you are about yourself and your own ideas, (in this case musical ideals) the more satisfying your success, hopefully, the more rewarding your future.
The year: 1976. Over 2 years had gone by since I had opened CBGB. 1976 was a year of celebration here in the United States because of the anniversary date of July 4th 1776 - two hundred years ago we had our independence as a nation from the establishment - The United Kingdom. Two centuries later young people were still declaring their independence from the establishment, and some of them were having their say through rock music. In the beginning as - is most often the case - the establishment (the record industry) and millions of rock fans were completely unaware of this new awakening of the 70's which has no uniting symbolism like the 60's. It was simply a need for young people to be heard, a need for young people to be speak, a need for them to be recognized as individuals. Listen to me! Hear me!! This is who I am, This is what "I" have to say!! These were not young people whose ambitions were to be great musicians or to become rock superstars. They were young people who simply wanted a voice. To get this voice, to have your voice heard, you have got to be able someway, some how, be able to communicate with an audience that "might or might not" be receptive to what you have to say.
In the fall of ‘76 rock bands were invading CBGB's from all over the country. Boston was one of the more fertile cities for the developing of new rock bands. For many years Boston has had more college kids than any other city, and they've always had a great rock club scene. The Rathskeller, owned by Jimmy Harold, was one of the premier clubs in Boston that catered to new rock bands. I would book a group of Boston bands into CBGB that Jimmy recommended, and he would do the same with the "Hot Club" in Philla. Pa. From Boston, one weekend, we had D.M.Z., The Inflictors, Hot Rain , The Yarbles, Mickey Clean and the Mez, Real Kids, The Boiz, Bon Jour Aviator, and a special group from Cleaveland that Joey Ramone told me about. They were called the ‘The Dead Boys'. The Dead Boys, on stage epitomizes what a punk band should be. They were loud, raw, crass, with super high energy. They were outrageous and obscene, with excellent lyrics and music. Somehow they were disciplined musicians. Stiv Bators, Cheetah Chrome, Jimmy Zero and Johnny Blitz were their names. The were without a bass player at that time but it was soon to be Jeff Magnum. The lack or a bass player did not handicap them in the least.