The Clubs and Hangouts Where Musicians Got Their Start

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Sex Pistols bass player Sid Vicious (aka John Simon Ritchie) — who was given his famous moniker by bandmate John Lydon after Lydon’s pet hamster Sid bit Ritchie’s finger — would have been 58 today. Before he became a music icon, his friends knew Sid as a David Bowie fan. In the book England’s Dreaming, Lydon recalled:

He’d do silly things to get his hair to stick up, because it never occurred to him to use hairspray. He’d like upside down with his head in an oven. Sid was such a poser, a clothes hound of the worst kind. Anything 19 told you to wear, he’d have to have it.

Clothes played a greater part in Sid’s life when he turned 17 and started hanging out at a shop in London that catapulted his image as a punk. Here are other hangouts and clubs where famous musicians found their start — the venues that helped plant the seeds of stardom.

Sid Vicious, SEX

Malcolm McLaren and Vivienne Westwood’s London boutique helped define the style of the punk movement — and a number of luminaries worked there, including Sid, Chrissie Hynde, and Glen Matlock. The shop sold provocative clothing that confronted social and political taboos.

New York Dolls, Different Drummer and the Endicott Hotel

Dolls members Sylvain Sylvain and Billy Murcia wanted to go into the clothing business together. They owned a company called Truth and Soul Sweaters (based in Woodstock), but eventually wound up working at the famed Lexington Ave. hippie boutique Different Drummer. It was across the street from a toy repair shop called the New York Dolls Hospital, which inspired the soon-to-be band’s name. Johnny Thunders would visit the guys at Different Drummer, and eventually a band was formed with David Johansen, Rick Rivets, and Arthur Kane. Sylvain replaced Rivets just months into the group. The Dolls’ first real gig was on Christmas Eve in 1971 at a homeless shelter on the Upper West Side, better known as the Endicott Hotel. The story goes that the guys were practicing across the street and some workers asked if they would play for residents in exchange for a free meal.

Suicide, The Museum of The Project of Living Artists

“There were riots. It was a nightly occurrence. We started getting booed as soon as we came onstage. Just from the way we looked they started giving us hell already. So it was pretty bad,” said Suicide’s Alan Vega of the group’s earliest shows. Many of them took place at Greene Street’s The Museum of The Project of Living Artists, a communal arts hangout and one of the first alt spaces in the city. Suicide played there into the mid ‘70s.

Iggy Pop, Chicago Blues Clubs

Before he became a bare-chested beast of the stage, Iggy Pop was James Osterberg from Michigan who was exploring his music career as a drummer with Ann Arbor blues band The Prime Movers. James took the name Iggy, inspired by his previous band The Iguanas, and the group traveled the Midwest hitting up all the blues clubs in Chicago like the Grande Ballroom, the Chessmate, and the Living End. They also saw blues legends like Little Walter and Big Walter Horton play at the same spots.

Debbie Harry, Head Shop

Fresh from North Jersey, Debbie Harry arrived in New York City and took a number of odd jobs before her singing career took off. She was a waitress at Max’s Kansas City for a spell and became a Playboy Bunny. In 1966, one of the singer’s jobs became a hang-out for the weird crowd — Jeff Glick’s “Head Shop” on East 9th — and introduced Harry to like-minded artists. She talked about her experience in an interview for the Red Bull Music Academy:

RBMA: So when did you first move here, Debbie?

Debbie Harry: I first moved here in the mid-’60s.

RBMA: And what were the first kind of jobs that you did when you arrived in New York to make it?

Debbie Harry: I just did anything, really. I worked in retail, or actually I worked in a wholesale market for – I forget the name of the companies – Hold Howard and Colonial Candle. I sold candles to department stores. I was terrible at it but they kept me on. (laughs)

Chris Stein: Didn’t you work for the BBC at some point?

Debbie Harry: I worked for the BBC after that, as a secretary, and then I worked in the first head shop in New York City and that was a lot of fun, to meet all the downtown people and have all of the great psychedelic posters and pipes and all that stuff. I fit right in over there.

Chris Stein: The first head shop was on 9th Street and off 2nd maybe?

Debbie Harry: Yeah, it was right around the corner from where Veselka is now. I think Veselka might have actually been there.

Strawberry Switchblade, The Silver Thread Hotel

Rose McDowall and Jill Bryson were teens in Glasgow causing trouble, trying to get into pubs, and hanging out at record shops bonding over punk music — which was banned from Glasgow and Edinburgh at the time. A punk scene started to develop in Paisley, a large town just west of Glasgow. Bryson tells the story of meeting Rose and hanging out at the Silver Thread Hotel, which became a legendary spot in Scotland’s punk history and influenced the young women who would soon become Strawberry Switchblade:

We used to all meet outside this record shop in Union Street in Glasgow with people looking at us disgusted. We’d all get on this coach to go to a club in Paisley outside Glasgow where – I think it was every week – they just played punk records and you could go and dance. And occasionally they’d have bands. Generation X played there, and a lot of the Glasgow bands. . . . You could hear records you liked and meet people who liked the same kind of music you did. It was so rare to find anybody into it. You could spot them a mile off! You kind of knew everybody, and there was a couple of record shops that we used to go and hang about in, we were that desperate. Most of us were quite young, around sixteen, seventeen, so we couldn’t get into pubs. But we used to get into The Silver Thread Hotel in Paisley, near the Coates thread factory. It was the most unlikely place you could possibly imagine.

The Ronettes, Peppermint Lounge

Three family members from Spanish Harlem started singing as teens, performing at sock hops and bar mitzvahs, known as the The Darling Sisters. Veronica Bennett — who would later take the name Ronnie Spector — her older sister Estelle, and their cousin Nedra Talley renamed themselves “Ronnie and the Relatives” after an amateur show at the famed Apollo Theatre. They signed a deal with Colpix Records shortly after. Four tracks were released, but a mixed-up club booking at New York City’s Peppermint Lounge (widely considered the home of go-go dancing) helped boost their fame. Confused for a dance group slated one evening, the young women took the opportunity to steal the spotlight. Ronnie even grabbed the mic from a performer to blow the crowd away with her version of Ray Charles’ “What’d I Say?” The stunt snagged them a regular gig dancing the twist and singing at the club, where Ronnie recalls seeing Elizabeth Taylor and Robert Mitchum in the crowd in her book Be My Baby. The Ronettes were born.

Kathleen Hanna, Reko Muse

After Kathleen Hanna graduated from high school in 1986, she worked her way through Evergreen State College in Olympia where she organized a photography exhibit that the school didn’t take kindly to. The images examined sexism and AIDS, but were removed before people had a chance to see them. This inspired her to start a feminist indie gallery called Reko Muse that became a meeting place for like-minded artists and “prompted [her] first foray into activism” that would find its way deeper into her music. She played shows there between exhibits:

In 1988, while still in college, Hanna and several friends started a women’s art gallery in downtown Olympia, calling it Reko Muse. The gallery frequently hosted performances by local bands, and Hanna and her two co-founders started a feminist punk rock band named Amy Carter, presumably after President Jimmy Carter’s daughter. Although she had been initially drawn to spoken word poetry as an artistic medium for expressing her views on feminism, she switched her focus to music after a conversation with feminist writer Kathy Acker. When Acker asked Hanna why she did performance poetry, Hanna responded, “Because I felt like I’d never been listened to and I had a lot to say.” Acker’s response: “Then why are you doing spoken word—no one goes to spoken word shows! You should get in a band.”