Here's another excerpt from my eBook on Rhino, My Life in the Ghost of Planets - The Story of a CBGB Almost-Was. It's doozy, too... in which my band, The Planets, is initiated into the brave new world of CBGB in the early Spring of 1975.
Here we go...
So, now, it was early December, 1974. The Planets had been thrown out of Coventry, the only club that would book us (one of the bouncers took offense when I tried to clock him with a mic stand in front of the whole audience). We basically had nowhere to perform. Now what?
One night, I was in a cab with two of the other Planets. It was about midnight. We'd wrapped up our rehearsal about 15 minutes earlier, pooled our money, and hence, the taxi instead of the subway.
We were sitting at a red light on the Bowery at Bleeker St.
Directly across from me was a quaint but spanking new snow-white half-circle awning with old carny-style lettering in red and black. "CBGB". Without thinking, I blurted out, "Look guys, a place we might be able to play." There was nothing but that enigmatic name, CBGB, that clicked, but click it did. Yet when December's mind-numbing holiday crap soon kicked into full gear I forgot all about CBGB.
Then, one day, it suddenly occurred to me that CBGB was the joint where those two bands, advertising with those postage-stamp-sized ads in the Clubs section of the Village Voice, were performing regularly: Television. The Ramones. CBGB. Oh, right!
Within a week, I was inside 315 The Bowery asking this bearded, folkie-looking older fella seated at the bar, if he knew who booked the place. He lazily jerked his thumb towards the back of the club. I stepped over the two fancy pedigree dogs sprawled at this woolly old lumberjack's feet and walked back toward the stage area. Standing between the trapezoid three-tier stage and the pool table was a stocky needing-a-shave curly-haired guy sipping a wickedly pungent-smelling drink, wearing impenetrable sunglasses, a blazer, and turtle- neck sweater. Actually elegant.
"That guy up front told me you book this club."
"Well, if you do, I'm Binky Philips and I have a band that does originals and I thought..."
"I'm Terry. Bring me a tape tomorrow. I'll be here."
With a wave of his hand, I was dismissed. Starving for gigs, I did as I was told.
The next evening, the natty Terry Ork was a bit friendlier when I handed him our three- song demo. "I'll listen and let you know. You're Binky, right? Okay, Binky, I'll call you." Again, dismissed.
About four days later, Terry, to my distinct surprise, did indeed call.
"Hey, I listened to your tape. Not bad. I can give your Planets the last weekend in May opening for The Ramones. Thursday, Friday, Saturday, two sets a night. The door is a 75/25 split and you have to provide the PA."
That's right, CBGB did not have a PA. Of course, I leapt at the offer. "Fine, load-in is at 6:30." Dismissed. Click.
The gig was a little over a month away. My band decided we'd ingratiate ourselves with management. So, for the weeks leading up to our show, we came down to CBGB and hung out several times.
Back then, the older folkie fella, who turned out to be the owner, Hilly Kristal, was serving food. I tried the burger first. Wow, pretty good! A week later, I decided to try "Hilly's Chili." It was fantastic! In fact, it was so good, I walked back to the kitchen to tell Hilly how much I liked it. He was standing there, in his red plaid wool coat, slowly stirring an industrial sized pot of the chili as if in a trance. And, with Hilly obviously oblivious, about a foot behind his right boot was a fresh and wet pile of dog shit, about the size and shape of half a cantaloupe. My gag reflex instantly hit fifth gear. Needless to say, my eating-at-CBGB-days came to an abrupt and permanent end. And, as I recall, the whole serving-food concept kind of disappeared not long after.
As our weekend with The Ramones drew near, I started getting nervous. Terry Ork's "You have to provide the PA" proviso was presenting a problem. The Planets didn't have a PA system. We didn't have a friend with a PA system. We didn't have the cash to rent a PA system. So, on the first day of our three-night gig, we got to CBGB early and set up my guitar amp, a Marshall/Hiwatt stack, with a 4x12 speaker cabinet sitting on little for-two tables on either side of the stage, with three on-loan mics plugged into an on- loan Technics four channel mixer the size of a toaster, and then into my Marshall 50 watt guitar amp. I was using our Tally's Fender Super Reverb for my Les Paul.
The first two Ramones to arrive were Johnny and Tommy wearing their uniform motorcycle jackets, white t-shirts, jeans blown out at the knees, and Chuck Taylor Cons.
"This is the PA?!?" blurted the instantly furious drummer, Tommy.
Guitarist Johnny wouldn't even acknowledge my presence. He just snorted with undisguised disgust and stomped past me.
And now, oh man, here was that ultra-weird singer, walking in the door. I was convinced that we were screwed. We would not be on this bill after tonight.
I ran up to Joey Ramone, quickly introduced myself, told him that I'd recently heard his band's demo at an A&R guy's apartment and how much I loved it (I didn't tell him that everyone else at this record label exec's cocaine party hated them), and I that was really sorry but this was the only PA we could come up with, and I know that this sucks and... uh...
Joey smiled down at me (from his lanky 6'6" scarecrow frame) and said in this peculiar lilting voice, "Oh that [the Marshall stack PA] will do just fine."
Dee Dee showed up last and never even noticed our band or the guitar amp substituting for a PA. Although at the end of the night he let me know that he "liked Power Pop a lot, too."
The Ramones were just starting to draw, and we'd hassled all our friends to attend, and so we played for nice sized crowd, maybe 75 people. To my great relief, we went down well.
At the end of our very first set that Thursday night, as I was walking off the stage, Joey Ramone, who'd been watching me leap around and windmill from the pool table area next to the stage, walked straight up to me and said, with a happy smile, "I'm a big Who fan, too!"
Our bonding was instant and forever. From that day forward, there was never a time that Joey wasn't friendly and happy to see me. A genuine sweetheart. Smart as shit, too!
And his band? Well, as someone who was there, the myth is justified. Onstage, in 1975, you had a band that had synthesized The New York Dolls and The Stooges and the Velvets, and unlike those three bands -- The Ramones' truly revolutionary wrinkle -- had gotten rid of the entire concept of lead guitar. And they really did do 11 or 12 songs in about 20 minutes.
"1234!" And... that ... was... that!
Everyone I ever turned onto The Ramones just loved them.
My favorite convert was my high school buddy, KISS's Paul Stanley. By the time CBGB was in full swing, KISS was already almost huge. One night, while Paul was off the road and back in New York for a minute, I dragged him down to a Ramones show at CBGB. Up 'til that point, he thought they were just a bad joke. Paul and I crawled up the ladder to the crow's nest lighting booth and from our above-the-crowd vantage point, within the first three minutes that they were blasting onstage, Paul had fallen in love with The Ramones, just like everyone else.
And no, much as I dug them, I didn't see the Punk Revolution erupting. I was standing way too close and just saw a really cool daring oddball band trying to land a record deal --- like the rest of us.
Regarding CBGB... The Planets were one of the first 15 or so bands to ever play there. After opening for Joey, Johnny, Tommy, and Dee Dee, our next two gigs were three-day weekends opening for Television. I wound up playing CBGB over 60 times.
Within a few months of our first show with The Ramones, Terry Ork left under vaguely negative circumstances and never returned. Owner Hilly Kristal took over the booking. There are some who feel he was clueless and lucky. This couldn't be further from the truth. He had an open mind, an open heart, and open ears. His slow, deep New York drawl and hungover demeanor could easily lull you into underestimating him.
But, aside from Mr. Ork's initial instigating involvement (and later, the savory and savvy assistance of Louise Parnassa-Staley), CBGB became the international institution it rightly was because of Hilly. Over the years, he became something of a surrogate father to me and many other musicians in New York.
On a regular basis, he'd amaze me with his insightful acumen. More than a few times, I would do a show, introduce some new songs in the set, and at the end of the night, as I was loading out my gear, Hilly, slumped at his desk by the front door, would sleepily say something like, "I liked the first new one you did tonight, especially the lyrics [yes, he'd listen to the words!], but the second one's chorus feels unfinished. You need to go back and work on that song, Binky." And... he'd be right!
So, now they're making a movie about CBGB with the wonderful Alan Rickman playing Hilly. No doubt it will be a fun flick filled with intentional and unintentional silliness.
I'm privileged to have experienced the real thing.
Coda: I was never tight with Tommy Ramone. But, for me, The Ramones Ramones Ramones was the original version with Tommy on drums. His style was never duplicated. Anyway, a few months before my Rhino book was released, I sent Tommy and his famous fan, Paul Stanley, my manuscript to see what they thought...
"Binky writes with the same infectious enthusiasm that drew me to him at The High School of Music and Art. We were the outcasts among outcasts. Ultimate fans in search of the ultimate dream; to be one with our heroes and share the glory, girls, and all the accoutrement to be reveled in as members of the Rock and Roll hierarchy. The Planets played with a reckless joy that was the heart, soul, and spirit of their founder and creative light, Binky. Almost too much of those qualities to ever stand the chance to survive and thrive. I'm thrilled that, in spite of what may never have quite happened for him, Binky remains a Fanboy at heart and still lights up at every memory tucked away in that file cabinet he calls his head."
- Paul Stanley, KISS singer/songwriter/guitarist
"Binky Philips and The Planets were one of the star bands of the original CBGB scene. They were already around when early 70's rock transitioned from Glam Rock into the Punk movement. There was a lot more variety at CBGB than people might now be aware of. The Planets were a great example of the virtuoso-led school of music, just one of the ingredients that made a night out at CBGB an eclectic event. Binky's story gives you a good view of what it was like to be in a band that was part of the inner- workings of the CBGB era."
- Tommy Ramone Erdelyi, Ramones drummer/producer