Seymour Stein on CBGBs and New York Punk

The scene many will associate with Sire is CBGBs and New York punk. How did you get there first?

Seymour Stein: Richard and I were two of the very few people who noticed what was going on downtown in New York at CBGBs and Max’s [Kansas City] to a lesser extent. I signed The Ramones, Talking Heads, The Dead Boys, Richard Hell & The Voidoids. Richard signed and produced Blondie. That is when all hell started to break loose.

The Bowery was not a bad area or a dangerous area. Yes, you had to step over bodies at times but they weren’t dead bodies – they were drunks. I never had the slightest fear when I was going down to the Bowery and there was no reason to.

But the Bowery had a very bad reputation and that reputation far exceeded any dangers there might be there. It smelled. I don’t want to go into detail but you can imagine. What happens when people get too drunk? They vomit or they shit in their pants.

The toilet in GBGBs was not a very clean toilet. I felt bad for the women. The men could have a slash – fine. Hilly [Kristal] was a great master of ceremonies. I loved him. He could be cantankerous but the great thing about him was he didn’t like, as a label, any of the music that people played there.

CBGBs stood for country, bluegrass and blues. That’s was he liked. I can’t remember country, bluegrass or blues artists ever appearing there. He didn’t care if it was The Ramones or Talking Heads or Blondie – he was just giving people a shot and an opportunity.

I saw Television at CBGBs. I think Richard Hell had just left the band. I got on with the band but not with the leader of the band. I got in very well with Richard Lloyd, but Tom Verlaine I found very difficult. He kept putting me off.

Eventually they were signed by Karin Berg who worked for Warner Music. But I signed most of the other good bands. Richard signed Blondie. Richard also signed Ricard Hell to produce and I signed him for the records, so Richard and I worked together on that. The Ramones and The Dead Boys, they were all on Sire.

In those days, I was flying back and forth to England. It took me a while to see The Ramones and to see Talking Heads. I flew back from England and was supposed to see The Ramones the next night but I had the ‘flu and I couldn’t go. I sent my wife [Linda] and Danny Fields [writer] went with her.

She was so blown away that I said I didn’t care how sick I was, I wanted them in the studio the next day. They were so great. I booked it for an hour. They played for about 15 or 20 minutes and they must have done about 18 songs in that time. The rest of the time was spent discussing the contract.

I told them they had to go to a lawyer. We had agreed to the deal – a certain amount as an advance to buy instruments and a certain amount to record the record. They came back to me later that day and I had the contract drawn up very hastily. They signed it and within a matter of days the album was finished. That’s how fast they worked and how well they worked.

On the other hand, Talking Heads – I saw them later that year. The Ramones’ first record had come out and was critically acclaimed. It was the middle of November that year [1976] and I was down there waiting to see The Ramones play me some new material for their second album.

I had asked Hilly earlier who the opening act was. It was one of his bands that I didn’t want to sign. He managed them. I had seen them before. I am waiting outside with Lenny Kaye from Patti Smith’s band and all of a sudden I heard “When my love stands next to your love” [from ‘(Love Goes To) Building On Fire’] and I was mesmerised by the music.

I started moving without realising. It was like a snake charmer. I was sucked into the room. Lenny followed me. I asked him who it was and he told me it was Talking Heads. I ran up to them after the show – they were only a three-piece then – and said, “My God, I just love your band so much.” And Tina [Weymouth, bassist] was very friendly and started talking to me.

Via MusicAlly