Blondie

The Stillettoes

Debbie Harry knew she had to give music a try. If she didn’t she would regret it forever.

She was a singer. Her parents didn’t understand it. Why couldn’t she pursue a normal career? What’s wrong with being a doctor, anyway?

But it wasn’t the right thing for Debbie Harry. Harry was a punk. And she needed music. At least, she needed to try.

Harry had a friend who was also pursuing music, Elda Gentile. The two got together and called up another friend of Elda’s, named Rosie Trapani, who had a wonderful voice. The three christened themselves as The Stillettoes.

Harry had a vision for The Stillettoes. She was interested in combining the aggressive rock of the Shangri-Las with the more laid back R&B girl group sound of acts like Diana Ross & The Supremes. She wanted the group to be very entertaining and easy to dance to.

The Stillettoes recruited two male guitarists, Tommy and Jimmy Wynbrandt, along with Alter Ego on bass and Timothy Jackson on the drums. They also had an underground film and theater director named Tony Ingrassia recruited to choreograph the group. Ross dropped out and was replaced by Amanda Jones, and the band made their debut at the Boburn Tavern on 28th Street in New York City. The place was packed out. At a follow-up show, David Bowie was in the audience.

Debbie Harry loved the experience. “It was such fun. The Stillettoes were only ever watched by drunks and low-lifes in sleazy bars and we made no money, but it was fun.” Songs in their repertoire included “Dracula, What Did You Do To My Mother?”

When the group played their second gig at the Boburn Tavern, another spectator was in the crowd. His name was Chris Stein. The instant Debbie Harry saw Stein, she was gripped by his magnetic presence. She gazed at him throughout the whole performance.

The feeling was mutual.

Stein was also a musician, and one of the other girls in the group knew him. Debbie, who met Stein after show, asked him to join The Stillettoes. He accepted the offer.

As Harry and Stein developed song ideas and worked on moving The Stillettoes forward, their attraction to each other continued to sizzle. Their relationship grew from bandmates, to friendship, to physical and emotional intimacy in about three months time. Debbie was an independent spirit, but found in Stein an equal partner. Harry loved Stein’s intelligence and humor.

Meanwhile, musically The Stillettoes found themselves reacting against a certain mid-American rock aesthetic, full of road songs and lengthy guitar breaks. The Stillettoes couldn’t relate to it; it wasn’t true of their urban aesthetic and experience. The Stillettoes loved their new song. The record companies didn’t.

As the band continued on, now playing shows at the soon-to-be legendary punk venue CBGB’s, tensions grew within the band. Harry was interested in developing the band’s musical direction, whereas Elda Gentile was more interested in exploring the band’s innate theatricality. The tensions grew to the point of boiling over. The band’s final show would occur at Club 82. But this wasn’t the end for Harry, Stein, or their musical ambitions.

Blondie

Sometimes it all begins with a name. In this case, “Blondie”.

But Blondie wasn’t the first name. That was “Angel and the Snake”.

Angel and the Snake had four band members at the beginning: Chris Stein (guitar), Billy O’Connor (drums), Fred Smith (bass), and Ms. Blondie herself, Debbie Harry (lead vocals).

Angel and the Snake. formed out of the ashes of The Stillettoes. The new band played their first show at the iconic New York City punk venue and now-shuttered CBGB’s. Their opening band? Another band that would be on the punk rock forefront, The Ramones.

At this stage Angel and the Snake was in a state of constant change. They dropped their new name after only two shows. Musicians entered and exited the band. It was a musical haze of confusion. No direction home. Chris Stein played a guitar that cost him $40. He didn’t own an amp at this point.

Meanwhile, their drummer was in a constant state of debate about whether he really wanted to be a rock and roll drummer, or instead would prefer to evacuate the scene and create a stable life for himself as some sort of doctor or other. One could be forgiven for getting the impression that the band formerly known as Angel and the Snake didn’t have the slightest notion of what it was doing.

They did have vague notions of being a disco band and pursued that scene. They sang songs with names too obscene to be written here. Often, there would be five or so attendees at the shows. At one point, the band included three blonde women: two back-up singers known as Julie and Jackie, and Debbie Harry. Because of the abundance of blondes, the band settled on the name “Blondie”. The only problem? Jackie then went and dyed her hair a dark brunette shade. Whoops.

But the name Blondie had a deeper significance to Harry. In New York city, the striking blonde woman would often get catcalled by men who would yell out, “Hey, Blondie!” They probably didn’t know that they were actually alluding to a comic strip that ran in the newspapers that was also called Blondie. Harry loved the notion that the word “Blondie” denoted the idea of a comic strip coming to life. She believed this idea had a cool, punk rock aesthetic to it. She would bring this character to life as an embodiment of fun. It was punk attitude.

So from here on out, they were Blondie. And soon, they would be New Wave legends.

– Brian M. Reiser,
Tribut Apparel / Joe Bonamassa Official Blog

213