Hilly Kristal, the founder of legendary New York punk club CBGB, died yesterday due to complications from lung cancer. He was 75. Kristal founded the club in 1973 to showcase bluegrass and country act

Hilly Kristal, the founder of legendary New York punk club CBGB, died yesterday (Aug. 28) due to complications from lung cancer. He was 75.

Kristal founded the club in 1973 to showcase bluegrass and country acts, but it quickly became known as a breeding ground for experimental and punk music. Throughout the 1970s and '80s, the club served as a launching pad for Blondie, the Talking Heads, Television, Living Colour, Patti Smith and the Ramones, among many others.

"I evolved as an artist at CBGB," an emotional Smith told Billboard.com this morning. "Every time I look at 'Horses,' I think of Hilly. He made a great contribution."

"Hilly was an integral part of the punk scene from 1974 until his death," says Marky Ramone. "He was always supportive of the genre and of bands like the Ramones, Blondie, Talking Heads and Richard Hell and Voidoids and will hold a prominent place in music history. In an era when disco was the mainstream, Hilly took a chance and gambled."

Located in the then-crime ridden Bowery, the space achieved iconic status but began to falter in the 1990s. In 2006, the club was forced to close in the face of rising rents and gentrification in the neighborhood.

Before the closure, Kristal and many of the musicians connected with the club fought valiantly to save it, throwing a number of benefit shows and even convincing New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg to appear at a rally in a "Save CBGB's" t-shirt. Despite their efforts, the venue shut for good in October 2006. A retail store dedicated to selling club-related merchandise remains open on St. Marks Place in New York.

Kristal was born in Manhattan in 1932 but his family relocated to Hightstown, N.J., when he was an infant. Kristal studied music from a young age and eventually attended the Settlement Music School in Philadelphia. He then moved to New York, spending the '50s and '60s performing with a variety of music acts, and later became the manager of legendary jazz club the Village Vanguard. Kristal also spent a period of time in the Marines.

Kristal is survived by a daughter, a son and two grandchildren. A private memorial will be held first, with a public tribute to follow at a date to be announced.

Questions? Comments? Let us know: @billboard

Print