Artist and Musician Biographies


Here is The Patti Smith Group singing "Because the night 1978."

The Patti Smith Group was the first success story to come out of the CBGB's scene, as well as the first to draw large audiences into the unknown club. Born in 1946, the daughter of a New Jersey factory worker, it wasn't until her enrollment at the Pratt Institute, an art college in Brooklyn, that she made the migration to New York. While living in the Chelsea Hotel with photographer and mentor Robert Mapplethorpe, she was submerged in the culture that had inspired avant-garde literature and the poetry of William Borroughs who also had taken up residency at the Chelsea. As a successful rock critic for "Creem" and "Rolling Stone" magazines, Smith was simultaneously gaining a reputation as a poet.

Influenced by the mythology surrounding poet and 1960's rock icon Jim Morrision of the Doors, Smith began to perform her poetry publicly accompanied by guitarist and fellow rock journalist Lenny Kaye. Although the initial collaboration between musician and poet was intended as performance art rather than a traditional rock band, eventually keyboardist Richard Sohl was added to the line-up, and they had become a band. With their independently released single "Hey Joe/Piss Factory," a cover of the Jimi Hendrix classic altered by the addition of Patti's poetry, the group gained the attention of fellow musicians, artists, rock critics and major record labels.

Following a seven-week residency at CBGB's and addition of bassist Ivan Kral and drummer Jay Dee Daughterty, The Patti Smith Group recorded their debut album, "Horses." The Artista label release, produced by none other than John Cale from the Velvet Underground, was significant as the first punk album, and went on to become one of the few punk albums to hit the top fifty. The explosive energy and emotion of the group's sound coupled with Patti's ability to mythologize herself through verse instantly set them apart from the rest of the pack. It was this primary musical innovation of The Patti Smith Group, fusing rock and roll with poetry that would go on to have a heavy influence on bands of the 1980's such as R.E.M.

The commercial high point of Patti's career was the 1978 single "Because the Night," co-written by Bruce Springsteen. Just one year later she retired and moved to Detroit with her new husband Fred "Sonic" Smith, ex-MC-5 guitarist, where they lived in suburbs while raising two children. They released an album together in 1988, and after his death in 1994 she has returned to music. Although Patti's reputation as being political, opinionated, and outspoken often precedes her, the legacy she created endures as one that established the changing roles of women in rock, and the changing sounds that defined an era.

Page author: A.E.