Thanks to Stupefaction reader Deborah A. for this contribution. This story sheds further light on CBGB-related developments following recent stories - specifically about placement of CBGB "ephemeral" objects in the Rock Hall of Fame Annex.
The Return of Rock? Two entrepreneurs aim to revive the New York City rock venue CBGB
By TY MCMAHAN | VentureWire
The notorious urinal that served patrons of the famed New York rock club CBGB for 33 years now sits retired in a basement in Manhattan's posh SoHo district.
Plucked from the graffiti-covered walls when the club closed in 2006, the urinal is among several CBGB artifacts -- such as the gritty "CBGB & OMFUG" awning that hung over 315 Bowery and a phone booth covered with punk-rock band stickers -- donated to the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame Annex NYC, which opened its doors last week.
The donation is just one step taken by entrepreneurial group CBGB Holdings LLC to revive the brand and transform it once more into a money-making business -- without jeopardizing its counter-culture past.
Last month, the group struck a distribution deal with Bravado, a Universal Music Group company that markets rock-themed merchandise around the world, to help sell millions of CBGB T-shirts. Next summer, the Vans Warped Tour music festival will showcase an interactive CBGB exhibit.
These deals were crafted by two men who believe there's life after death for the landmark venue: James Blueweiss, a marketer who began advising the club a year before it closed, and Robert Williams, a veteran of the retail music business who helped open HMV stores around the world. The two attracted capital from angel investors and paid
$3.5 million for the rights to the CBGB brand in 2008. Their company, CBGB Holdings, owns all intellectual property, domestic and international trademarks, copyrights, video and audio libraries, ongoing apparel business, Web site and physical property of the original club.
Hilly Kristal opened CBGB -- Country, Bluegrass, Blues -- in 1973 and intended it to be New York's premier venue dedicated to the genre. But with too few acts to occupy its stage, CBGB soon attracted young musicians eager to showcase a new sound. Mr. Kristal added to his marquee "& OMFUG" -- "Other Music For Uplifting Gormandizers." In the years to follow, the Ramones, Television, Patti Smith, B-52's, Talking
Heads, Richard Hell, Debbie Harry of Blondie, Dave Matthews Band, Green Day, Pearl Jam and many others graced the CBGB stage.
"I took Hilly to lunch and said, 'I'm a salesman. I'm a promoter. I really love your story and I want to help you," Mr. Blueweiss said of his 2005 pitch to Mr. Kristal. "If you'll allow me to represent you, I think I can cut some slick deals and give you your pay day after 33 years on the Bowery.'"
Mr. Kristal agreed to work with Mr. Blueweiss, but the club's future was soon in jeopardy. A dispute arose between CBGB and the Bowery Residents' Committee, which said the club owed more than $75,000 in back rent. Longtime patrons came to the aid of Mr. Kristal in a fight to save the club. Steven Van Zandt, an actor and E Street Band member organized a petition and a "Save CBGB" rally, but despite the efforts,
the club was forced to shut its doors.
"I said, 'Hilly, sell it to me,'" Mr. Blueweiss said. "I'm passionate about this."
Mr. Kristal agreed to sell the CBGB to Mr. Blueweiss on the condition that he would remain chairman of the company for three years. The men did not know at the time that complications from lung cancer would keep Mr. Kristal from seeing his club reborn. When Mr. Kristal died in August 2007, just a few months after signing an agreement to sell CBGB, Mr. Blueweiss charged forward with the plan to keep the CBGB legacy alive.
But a new era of CBGB won't be without challenges. Ownership of CBGB is being disputed by Mr. Kristal's former wife, Karen. In a lawsuit filed last year in Surrogate's Court in Manhattan, Mrs. Kristal, 83, claims that she is the rightful owner due to an agreement the Kristals made before they opened CBGB in 1973.
The suit, which names Mr. Kristal's estate and CBGB Holdings, states that because of legal complications due to a bankruptcy of a previous business, Mr. Kristal listed his wife as the owner of record in order to obtain a liquor license, even though they were already divorced.
In a statement, lawyers for the estate called Mrs. Kristal's claims on the trademark "specious….CBGB was, and is, synonymous with Hilly Kristal." CBGB Holdings declined to comment about the suit.
While that dispute plays out in court, CBGB Holdings will be charged with the tough task of keeping the brand relevant to a new generation.
"Some amazing pieces of history went down there, and this place deserves to be part of the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, but how do you take a brand that magically formed and find a way for it to live?" said Julia Beardwood, founder of brand consulting firm Beardwood and Co. "And, is it even right to bring it back from the grave? They have
a brand that's trying to make some money using the CBGB name, but they don't want to devalue what it stands for."
The most immediate plans for the CBGB business is an overhaul of the Web site that will include streaming music and videos, social networking components and a forum for fans to add their stories from nights spent at the original club. The site will also promote promising new bands, much like Mr. Kristal did for the Ramones.
Blueweiss said revenue from T-shirt sales is about $6 million a year in Japan alone, but declined to provide total revenue. He said the deal with Bravado should boost overall figures.
Ultimately, CBGB Holding's dream is to reopen a club. Mr. Williams said discussions are ongoing with properties in New York and Las Vegas, but a new venue won't be opened for at least 18 months.
"Live music is what CBGB is all about, and ultimately it will be back there, but it has to be done the right way," Mr. Williams said.
Last week, E Street Band's Mr. Van Zandt, who lobbied to save the original venue, strolled through the New York Rock and Roll Hall of Fame CBGB exhibit.
"It's good to keep the history of the club alive," Van Zandt said. "Hopefully, what they're doing to help the brand will help do that. We tried to get the mayor and the governor to help save the place and it didn't work. Rock is a massive part of our identity and it's good to see people who want to preserve it."