Nightclubbing | Blitz Benefit, 1978

Pat Ivers and Emily Armstrong continue sorting through their archives of punk-era concert footage as it’s digitized for the Downtown Collection at N.Y.U.’s Fales Library.

Video contains explicit language, but you already knew that.
Blitz Benefit Voice advert Village Voice ad.

The East Village was a very different and much more dangerous place in 1978. But it was still a shock to everyone on the Downtown scene when Johnny Blitz, the Dead Boys’ drummer, was stabbed in a fight on Second Avenue. Street violence isn’t quite what it was in those days, but one thing hasn’t changed: the problem of musicians and medical insurance, or the lack thereof. To help meet Blitz’s mounting medical bills, the CBGB community rallied with a four-day event, the Blitz Benefit (please, don’t call it “Punk Woodstock”). With a t-shirt created by the Ramones’ design guru, Arturo Vega, and more than 30 bands performing, it was a heartfelt outpouring of help and money for one of our own.

Billy Blitz, Johnny’s brother, recalled being just a teenager when his brother was stabbed. “I was in Cleveland so it was all new to me,” he said. “When I got to New York for the benefit, Stiv Bators [lead singer of the Dead Boys] and Tish Bellomo picked me up. They were shooting moons out the car window on the way to the club. I couldn’t believe it!”

Blitz benefit tee on modelEmily Armstrong Emily Conley in Blitz Benefit t-shirt.

At the show, he went on to recall, he took the stage to say something about his brother and someone yelled out an obscenity about the late musician, causing Billy to say something to the effect of “Get that guy!”; “But I sure didn’t expect fans to chase the guy down, beat him up and throw him out of the club,” he said. Look for Cheetah Chrome of the Dead Boys talking about this from the stage at 2:44 on today’s clip.

john belushi John Belushi filling in for Johnny Bitz on drums

Everyone from Blondie to Belushi showed up when we brought our camera down for the fourth and final night. But first, a few words about John Belushi. Four months earlier, at a party in the West Village, we met him and Dan Aykroyd while having a smoke on the balcony. We began needling them, because that weekend Saturday Night Live had booked the Sex Pistols (a gig that never happened: Elvis Costello ultimately performed instead). “Live from New York, it’s Saturday Night? Where’s the New York bands; have you ever seen any play?” We invited them down to CBGBs that weekend. Belushi came, he saw, he fell in love with the Dead Boys. Billy Blitz remembered, “He used to call our house looking for my brother. My parents had no idea who he was, it killed me!” It was the beginning of a beautiful friendship.

blitz benefit Rolling Stone Rolling Stone clipping.

The Blitz Benefit was everything that was best in the CBGB scene: it was wild, unpredictable and small-town in its own peculiar way. We remember Cheetah Chrome as MC, taking on a leadership role. We hope Rupert Grint, who will be playing him in the upcoming CBGBs movie, can understand: he was the glue that held those nights together. And who could forget Kathy Kurls, friend of the band, who stripped to “Sonic Reducer” right down to her pasties. Among so many others, Syl Sylvain and Arthur Kane, formerly of the New York Dolls, performed with their bands, the Criminals and the Corpse Grinders. Jeff Magnum, Dead Boys bassist, recalled using different drummers every night to fill in for Johnny. “It was cool to play with [ex-Doll] Jerry Nolan – he was a great drummer and Belushi was a lot of fun. To the tons of our friends who played for the benefit, we are eternally grateful.”

And of course, there was the grand finale at 3 a.m. on the last night when Divine and the Neon Women performed with the Dead Boys. Nightclubbing will be away on vacation next week, but we’ll be back the first week of August with that story!

For more great footage from the Nightclubbing archive, go here.