Seven Magazine 13th May 2007
Came free with The Sunday Telegraph
Pages 8, 9, 11, 12, 15
MUSIC SOMETIMES CRAZY, FREQUENTLY SEXY AND IMPOSSIBLY COOL... DEBBIE HARRY WAS THE PERFECT SUBJECT FOR ROBERTA BAYLEY, LEGENDARY PHOTOGRAPHER OF THE NEW YORK PUNK SCENE. HERE SHE INTRODUCES AN EXCLUSIVE SELECTION OF PICTURES FROM HER NEW BOOK, 'BLONDIE UNSEEN'
I FIRST MET DEBORAH HARRY AND CHRIS STEIN OF BLONDIE in 1974 at CBGB's, New York, while I was working the door for my then-boyfriend's band, Television. Debbie always had a great 'look'. In fact, it seemed to me she never repeated an outfit. She didn't just show up anywhere in jeans and a T-shirt - unless they were pink jeans, a cool T-shirt and a pink beret. Part of the fun of going out was to create a look. Even with little or no money this could easily be achieved, combining thrift-shop chic with bargains on 14th Street, and a little street-scavenging for good measure. Debbie had been part of the glitter scene, which relied on vintage discoveries for its glamour, and had had a band called the Stilettos, who played at the Boburn Tavern on 28th Street.
Chris saw Debbie at the Boburn and soon left his band, the Magic Tramps, to join the Stilettos. There were three girl singers, Debbie, Elda Gentile and Rosie Ross; Fred Smith was on bass, and Billy O'Connor played drums. Tommy Ramone invited the band to rehearse at Performance Studios on 23rd Street, where the Ramones rehearsed. Elda was dating Richard Hell, who invited the band to play at CBGB's. It was a pretty small scene.
This was the period when what would become Blondie was in a constant state of transition. The Stilettos broke up, then Debbie and Chris's band became Angel and the Snake for two shows, played a few gigs with no name, and then morphed into Blondie (because they briefly had two blonde back-up singers). Later, they played uptown at a club called Brandy's, with Tish and Snooky Bellomo (who would later have a boutique called Manic Panic on St Mark's Place, and start a revolution in hair colour). This version of the group was called Blondie and the Banzai Babies, and they played together for more than a year.
Around this time, Billy O'Connor left to pursue a non-musical career. The band auditioned dozens of replacement drummers, the last of whom was Clem Burke - who not only had great musical taste and a cool fashion sense, but also the youthful enthusiasm the band desperately needed.
The energy was building, and things were starting to come together. In August of 1975, the band moved to a loft on the Bowery, just down the road from CBGB's. Now they had a Blondie headquarters where they could live, rehearse, write and take bookings. An added bonus was the presence of a neighbour, the designer Stephen Sprouse, who would have a great influence on Debbie's image. Sprouse had worked with the fashion designer Halston in the early 1970s, but had a decidedly modern, downtown sensibility. He and Debbie would become close friends.
Clem took a few weeks off to visit his girlfriend, Diane Harvey, in London. Always a devoted anglophile, he returned with the first LP by Dr Feelgood, and energetic, stripped-down foursome who had just gone to number one in Britain. Maybe it was possible for some of this new music to be commercially successful.
Extracted from 'Blondie Unseen, 1976-1980' by Roberta Bayley
(Plexus, £16.99), is available for £14.99 + £1.25 pp. To order please call Telegraph Books on 0870 428 4115
New York, UK, Boston
In 1977, I travelled with the group twice to Boston, where they played the Paradise with David Johansen and Television supporting them.
When I'd left England in 1974, there was nothing going on musically, with the exception of a small pub rock scene. Now, with the Sex Pistols, the Damned and the Clash, there was a whole new thing happening. Blondie were already popular there.
When the band returned from its five-month world tour, everyone was completely burnt out. They were on a salary of $125 a week, barely enough to buy food, let alone pay rent! Debbie and Chris moved into the Gramercy Park Hotel, and later Southgate Towers, then inexpensive residential hotels.
For the cover of 'Parallel Lines', I enlisted the coolest downtown photographer I knew, Edo Bertoglio. His French girlfriend, the divine Maripol, was the stylist. She tried to get Debbie to go for a mini look on the shoot, but failed.
Onstage in Las Vegas, Debbie made a dramatic entrance, wearing a beautiful sequinned scarf over the white dress. I always thought it was a tribute to Elvis Presley, who had married Priscilla at the Aladdin and performed there many times.
Heart of Glass
Blondie continued to tour in Europe and the US, as the third single from 'Parallel Lines', a remixed Heart Of Glass, was climbing the US charts. The group made a video with fantastic op-art clothes by Stephen Sprouse, and appeared on television shows... Although some on the New York scene thought doing a disco song was a 'sell-out', the group were having fun, living in the moment and channelling the influence of Kraftwerk.
The Las Vegas show was one of their best. After the show Debbie collapsed on the sofa, her soaking wet hair wrapped in a towel. I thought she looked like a figure in a Renaissance painting.