How Blondie thrived on making ‘mistakes in public’

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Drummer Clem Burke says Blondie was so successful because they matured in a non-judgmental workshop environment at CBGB.

The New York club became iconic for nurturing a wide range of bands that went on to success, including the Ramones, Patti Smith, Talking Heads and Television. But Burke argues that the reality of the scene has been misunderstood.

“We were just operating in our own little bubble,” the drummer told Vinyl Writer Music. “What I always find very interesting is that the groups that became known as ‘CBGB groups’, they couldn’t have been more different from each other. So I don’t know exactly what CBGBs sounded like, except maybe we’ve all been influenced by each other at one point or another, shared that scene, and we’ve all basically gone our own way .

“For me, CBGBs was a workshop that basically allowed us to make our mistakes in public,” Burke added. “Very few of those moments were captured on video because obviously there weren’t cell phones with cameras and things like that. We were able to work on our original music in front of minimal audiences and get the feedback that we needed to keep going. … When we were playing CBGBs, maybe 100 people – who were mostly other musicians – were in the audience.

Burke estimated that he probably saw the Ramones 100 times between 1975 and 1976, including nights when Blondie played alongside them. “The analogy I always like to make… is that probably the same kind of thing was going on at the Cavern Club in the mid-1960s in Liverpool. [where] you had many bands playing to select audiences, and a handful of those bands went on to become these worldwide phenomena – particularly, of course, the Beatles.

Most of the CBGB band members, he said, were exploring a style of music that was “not popular at all” at the time. “It was the days of bands like Yes, Kansas, Led Zeppelin and things like that, and we were going back more to the music that influenced us from the beginning – which was 50s and 60s. It’s really the original sound from Blondie.

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