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Last on

Wed 14 May 2014 22:00 BBC Radio 2

Duration:
57 minutes
First broadcast:
Wednesday 14 May 2014

40 years since the formation of Blondie, Debbie Harry and Chris Stein tell the story of the band's formative years in downtown and down and out Manhattan.

Debbie Harry moved from New Jersey to New York in the late 60s and found herself at the centre of the Warhol underground, waitressing at Max's Kansas City. "When I first came to New York, I was not sure what I wanted to do, whether I wanted to be an artists, or painter, or actor or musician." She recalls the happenings of the hippy era and the influence of the Velvet Underground.

By the mid 70s, New York was collapsing, cruising towards bankruptcy. The air was heavy with smog and crime was rife. "The street life was pretty tough," says Debbie Harry. "You had to have eyes on the back of your head."

But below 14th Street, along the destitute Bowery, a vibrant music scene was emerging. Its focal point was CBGB and OMFUG (standing for Country Bluegrass Blues and Other Music For Uplifting Gourmandisers), a newly opened bar whose house bands included Talking Heads, The Ramones, The New York Dolls, Television, Patti Smith, and Blondie.

Roberta Bailey, who went on to photograph Blondie, worked the door of CBGBs taking admission money. She paints a picture of the early band's surrealistic performances in the squalid club where the owner Hilly Krystal's saluki would relieve itself on the floor.

Will Hermes, author of Love Goes To Buildings On Fire: Five Years In New York That Changed Music Forever, re-visits the venue now a clothes shop.

The programme also features a revealing interview with Elda Gentile, who recruited Debbie Harry to join The Stilettos, an all girl rock cabaret trio who sang songs including Dracula What Did You Do To My Mother?

With the help of drummer Clem Burke, Debbie and Chris reveal how a shambolic band no one thought would succeed became one of New York's most successful and iconic bands.

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