In the late ’70s, punk rock caught fire in Baltimore, as it did all over the country. The local epicenter of the scene from 1976 to 1985 was a dumpy space in the basement of the old Congress Hotel on Franklin Sreet called the Marble Bar. Sonic Youth, R.E.M., X, and members of the Sex Pistols and New York Dolls all played the space, along with local heroes like Thee Katatonix, Reptile House, and the Slickee Boys, while the scruffy young members of U2 were said to come in one night to check it out. Back in 2000, when the space was gutted as part of a redevelopment, City Paper sat down with scene vets to recall the glory days. Here are some of the highlights:
“I’ll never forget opening for Muddy Waters. It was incredible,” says Bob Friedman, who played bass in Loose Shoes, one the club’s first regular acts. After the show, Waters hung out with the crowd. “There he was, this big blues Buddha holding court.”
“I thought they were fairly incompetent as musicians,” Friedman says with a laugh of Talking Heads, fronted by Baltimore-bred David Byrne, who played the Marble in ’77. “They were basically artists with instruments. To hear David Byrne sing was embarrassing.”
“Iggy Pop played here a couple times,” says LesLee Anderson, who ran the place from ’78 to ’85 with husband Roger. “Iggy loved it. I remember I was mopping the floor and he was standing against the bar saying, ‘This is a great rock ‘n’ roll bar—this is going to be a rocking night.’”
“One of the best shows was the Dead Kennedys,” Anderson says. “We had 600 people come through the doors. I looked up from packing beers behind the bar, and kids were just flying around like wild fish—this place was mass lunacy. I’ll never forget how [head Kennedy] Jello Biafra left his pants here,” she adds. “I had to mail them back to him. They were soaking wet and full of holes, but he called me up and said he had to have them the next day. I offered to wash and dry them, and he said, ‘Absolutely not!’”
“You know who was good was Huey Lewis and the News,” Anderson says. “About 12 people paid a $4 cover to see them on a Tuesday night. But I want to tell you, they played like they were in a stadium.