“Some people were Max’s people, some were CBGBs people,” – Jayne County.
Max’s Kansas City was a nightclub and restaurant at 213 Park Avenue South, in New York City. It was opened in December 1965, and closed in 1981. It was not owned by someone called Max, and was located about a 19 hour drive from the actual Kansas City.
It’s first incarnation was a hangout of Andy Warhol and The Velvet Underground, who played there regularly, including their last shows with Lou Reed in the summer of 1970. It was also New York’s toe-hold for the Glam scene of the early 1970s when it hosted shows by Marc Bolan, David Bowie, Iggy Pop, Lou Reed, Alice Cooper, and the New York Dolls. It was as cool as it was unpredictable and dirty, and Deborah Harry was a waitress.
By the end of 1974, and with the glam era running out of sparkle, the venue responded by closing its doors at the end of the year.
However, hot it’s heels, Max’s Mk 2 opened in 1975 under the stewardship of a former CBGBs booker and music director, Peter Crowley.
“Whereas East Village landmark CBGB famously launched the careers of the Ramones, Talking Heads and Television, Max’s – located roughly a mile uptown at 213 Park Avenue South – was home to a freer, often campier strain of punk that was more Rocky Horror than Marquee Moon”. – Ron Hart, Rolling Stone
By the mid 1970s Max’s was again on the rise, featuring bands including Cherry Vanilla, Wayne County & the Electric Chairs, Suicide, New York Dolls, Patti Smith Group, Blondie, Talking Heads, Sniper, the Dictators, the Cramps, Mink DeVille, Misfits, Little Annie, the Fleshtones, the B-52’s, the Bongos and Klaus Nomi. By 1976 and seeing the growing Punk movement, Crowley released a live album, Max’s Kansas City: 1976, intended as an advertisement for the venue, but an album that has since been recognised for its importance as an early recording the burgeoning Punk scene in it’s infancy.
The album, like a punk rock nuggets, included Jayne County’s “Cream in My Jeans” and the manic “Shake Your Ashes” by Cherry Vanilla and Her Staten Island Band.
The mixing pot of the glam, the camp, and the punk that thrived at Max’s would sometimes cause friction with the decidedly less arty CBGBs,
“I got along fine with people in both scenes. Though there was definitely a bit of homophobia running through the CBGB’s crowd. More of the gay community hung out at Max’s, but it wasn’t a gay place: It was a place for artists, and was accepting of all types of people. But CBGBs was a place where everybody was trying to prove how tough and rough they were, yet really underneath you could throw a bug at them and they’d scream like little girls.” – Jayne County
Sid chose Max’s for a short string of shows after the Sex Pistols implosion, but within a couple of years, many of bands that had come up through both Max’s and it’s cultural counterpart in the Bowery, had become too big to play at a venue of that size, and although it initially weathered the changes, Max’s closed up for good in 1981.
“In the end the scene didn’t belong to Hilly Kristal or me,” he admits. “It belonged to the bands themselves. They needed places to keep doing what they were doing. We were just vessels”. Peter Crowley