Blondie’s Debbie Harry and Chris Stein on What It’s Really Like to Tour in a Rock Band
Blondie frontwoman Debbie Harry and guitarist Chris Stein look back on their most memorable tour experiences.
With 40-plus years of friendship and creative collaboration under their belts, it's no surprise that Debbie Harry and Chris Stein, the duo behind new wave band Blondie, can practically finish each other's sentences.
Here, the pair reminisces about their first experience on the road, favorite tour stops, and most starstruck moments in the early days of Blondie.
This conversation has been edited and condensed.
Chris: Had we done a tour before the Iggy and Bowie tour?
Debbie: No, I think that was the first.
Chris: That was a huge deal for us. We opened for Iggy, and Bowie was playing keyboards. Those guys were major heroes, so for them to ask us to go out on tour with them was totally crazy. What was the day-to-day like? Going as crazy as possible and throwing shit out of hotel room windows. My one really great memory of the Bowie and Iggy tour was when we were in Seattle a couple of us went to this local punk house with Iggy. We played a little impromptu set there. That was exciting — we all talked about it forever after that.
Debbie: I guess we were in a bus, weren't we?
Chris: Yeah, buses or RVs or something. Touring then was the same as it is now, it's just that buses were shittier.
Debbie: Going to Cleveland with the Iggy tour was pretty exciting because that was a real rock-and-roll spot. What was that place called? Swingos?
Chris: Swingos! Yeah, that was the rock-and-roll hotel. I don't know if it's there anymore.
Debbie: No, it’s definitely not. But it had been there for many years and it was like, the big hang after the show. The other place that really sticks out in my mind ... what was that place in Seattle where we stayed on the water? Riverfront or water something?
Chris: The Edgewater, where the Beatles stayed. They have pictures in the lobby of the Beatles fishing out of the window because the hotel was on a dock right over the water. It’s still there.
Debbie: To actually walk on the same carpet where Paul and Ringo had trod ... I guess it was all in our minds, but it was pretty memorable. It was just the very beginning for us, and those were very famous rock-and-roll places.
Chris: I don't know what I expected but every town at that point had a punk scene, even if it was small. There were these little groups of anarchist kids everywhere and they all were attracted to what was going on.
Debbie: On that Iggy and Bowie tour, San Francisco was pretty monumental for us because of that little punk scene that existed. We went to that bookstore, what was it?
Chris: City Lights?
Debbie: Yeah, City Lights. We were real tourists, we walked all around the city. There's all this history of the Beatniks and Chinatown and everything like that. It's a real comfortable city for being a tourist. You're walking around Union Square and going to the funky places, the Magoo High Gardens. There was so much going on. It was a real rock-and-roll kind of town.
Chris: I remember the first time we went to the U.K., we were surprised how physically enthusiastic everybody was. In New York there wasn't much rock-and-roll dancing going on at the time. Where the heck was that?
Debbie: I think it was in Bristol.
Chris: Yeah, everybody went crazy, throwing themselves all over the place. We weren't prepared for that. It was really a great moment. In New York it was still kind of in the Beatnik, coffee shop mode. People would sit and smoke cigarettes and snap their fingers, that type of thing. There just wasn't any rock dancing. Meanwhile in the U.K. there was pogoing and all that stuff. It was part of the whole spectacle. A lot of places in Europe stand out, like the Paradiso in Amsterdam. We played there a million times and it was always exciting. We’ve played in so many places, so when I get back to a venue and I remember it, that's always an indication that it has something extra going on. Just the history, or the vibe.
Debbie: In more recent years we've played a lot of casinos that are owned by different American Indian tribes. One of my favorites, I think it was in Minnesota, had a lot of modern art that the tribe was doing. It stood out to me; they were really proud of their heritage. As we were leaving one day there was a huge moose standing across the road. It just spoke to me that this was a very special place.
Chris: These days I like north L.A. a lot. There’s a certain kind of funkiness. The whole place hasn't been gentrified. I always am appreciative of that. There's a lot more fringe in Los Angeles.
Debbie: San Diego is also a great place to play and to visit. It's very beautiful, and it feels like I know the people somehow.