CBGBs' Sound Guy, Taxi Briell, Lists Personal Gear Collection on Reverb

It’s not everyday that you get to talk to someone who was at the center of a legendary scene, but that’s one of the joys of working at Reverb. When we found out that the guy who built CBGBs sound system and ran the board there since its earliest days was listing gear here, hopping on the phone with him was a must.

Taxi Briell was there at CBGBs more or less since Hilly Kristal opened the bar, and he was literally there for it all: the Talking Heads, Television, the time they had to ban the Hell’s Angels.

In fact, the beautiful, custom–built console that he’s listing on our site — which has been sitting in his home studio in New Jersey where he made a practice of recording up–and–coming bands — was modeled on the one he set up at that dive bar on the Bowery that punk, new wave, and more called home. He says when he set up his personal studio, “I just pretty much replicated the CBGBs sound system.”

The shop contains a mix of Taxi Briell's personal gear, as well as equipment from his close associates, Mike Insetta and Steve Evers of Stuart's Hammer. In addition to the mixer, multiple piece of Briell's Furman rack gear are up for sale.

Taxi Briell's Custom Soundcraft Console

The most inspiring thread that ran through our conversation was that CBGBs was a true safe haven in lower Manhattan in the late ‘70s — a period when kids could escape hard living in a harsh city to catch some loud music in a loving venue.

You could watch history unfold as some of the most innovative and freakish kids in New York stumbled through sets and cut their teeth to make music that would help change rock forever.

What was the setup for sound at CBGBs? What was it like working with a band in there?

When you stood where we mixed and looked down the length of the club, over on the left was a wall that stuck out 90 degrees. Behind it was the men's room and the ladies' room, and over on the right was a small pool table where the Hell’s Angels used to hang out. When I started at CBs, the club was the Hells Angels home venue, it was their place. They lived a block and a half away, to the east of us.

Aside from them, the only people that came in the club were the Bowery bums, who had been around since the 1920s.

The sound system itself kind of looked like a toaster. It was chrome and black, and it was what Catholic churches would use in their bingo halls, and that was it, that was the sound system.

There is the Salvation Army facility a couple of blocks up town on Bowery, and these guys were all men wearing long black coats and black clothes. Most of them had beards, very unruly hair, and they would do whatever they could to get enough cash — enough quarters or whatever — to go into one of the bars by CBGBs and get a shot and a beer. And then they would go back out and panhandle more.

The stage at that time was like — picture a wedding cake that has three tiers and was small. It sat in the corner to left, and it only would fit in at 90 degrees. There were three small arcs, and it was very, very small. The only lighting was a light socket that hung down above the stage. They screwed a light bulb in that had a pull chain. It had a 60–watt bulb most of the time, but when Hilly had money, we put a 100–watt bulb in. And that was the only illumination of the stage.

The first time I walked in, the sound system was a pair of cardboard, fake wood columns that each had four 6x9 speakers — like [those] you [would] put on the rear packing shelf of your car back then for your car stereo.

The sound system itself kind of looked like a toaster. It was chrome and black, and it was what Catholic churches would use in their bingo halls. That was it, that was the sound system. It hung from the ceiling by coat hangers off of the sprinklers, which was illegal. And when Television did their first show there, that is what they played through. That is what the stage was for a long time.

It sounds like you overhauled the sound system there. What was it like once you updated it?

I brought in my own sound system. I had a pair of A7s and I had one Altec 1569A vacuum tube amplifier. Same amplifiers that they used at Indianapolis Motor Speedway and all. It was a 100–watt tube amp, and I would run the two A7s off of that.

The mixing console was made by Andre’s Electronics. Andre owned an electronics repair place that specialized in music instruments up on the west side in Midtown. And the joke was always that if you went to Andre before lunch, he did great repairs. But after his liquid lunch, you never knew what you were going to get.

He made a mixer that had four inputs with rotary knobs, bass and treble, and a master with mono — the CBGB sound system was always mono, from first day to last — and it did have a little aux send on it. It fit into a regular briefcase, like you can carry to work. And eventually, I had a pair of Southwest Technical Products, 50–watt solidstate amps.

That was the sound system, with four AKG D1000 microphones, for a long time.

Other things came and went a little bit because, if the band brought something, that was pretty cool and it was [often] better. The deal was always that if we use any of your gear to help your show, it stayed for everybody to play that night. That was very much a thing.

At one point, we had an Acoustic A50 mixer behind the bar, which we put on the deep freezer — like a 1950s deep freezer. Hilly, cause he had money, he would go out last minute and buy a couple of cases of beer, stick them in the deep freezer and get them cold before we opened the doors, which was illegal. And if you were touching that mixer and then touched that deep freezer, you'd get an 110 shock. I fixed all of that.

My biggest contribution in the beginning was safety. I redid the electric wiring.

Wait, so it was your own mixer? CBGBs didn’t have its own sound system?

For a long time, the Andre mixer and that tiny little stage — that was the sound system at CBGBs with the A7s. Later on, I worked at Phoenix Audio (which was a split off from Weisberg), and we brought in a Phoenix bass cabinet with a Weisberg horn on top and a nicer mixer.

But a lot of shows in the early days were done with that little Andre four–channel mixer that fit into a briefcase. And I would take it home with me every night in a briefcase, and that was the sound system when we built up. That was it, and the only monitors.

When they were doing the sound check with Talking Heads (when it was still a trio), David Byrne told me he couldn't hear himself. So I borrowed a Fender Twin from one of the other bands, put it on a chair in front of the stage, tilted it back, and put feed from the little mixer on the aux end over to the instrument input on the Fender Twin, and turned up the volume until it was good.

That was the monitor system for a long time. Whatever amp we could borrow, that's how we did it.

You were helping make rock ‘n’ roll history running sound at CBGBs. Was there a sense there was something really special going on?

I remember that we had a little room in the basement after the renovation, and the basement had a dirt floor. A lot of the old New York City buildings do, in the lower part of Manhattan.

And there was a storage room with a metal door, and then there was another room. Every time Hilly put a lock on that other room's door, we busted the lock off. That was our room for our production meetings, where we would be down smoking a joint, or if we were spending time with some girl that we met.

And I remember down there one night, the four of us were smoking a joint. We smoked a lot of pot in the club all the time. Now, this was before the laws changed about smoking cigarettes in clubs, and CBGBs was always filled with smoke, even though it had a monster air conditioning system.

And I remember standing around, smoking a joint one night when we were at our peak: three, four nights a week we sold out beyond capacity. We were up to [making] 20 dollars a day [each].

I remember saying to my friend, “You know what is going to be the worst part about the time we spent here and the years we were here?” And they are like, “What?” And I said, “We will never look back on this and say to each other that these were the good old days, because they're not. It's just too hard.”

How so?

We were doing up to fourteen sets of music a night. Eight to twelve sets were common because everybody played two sets. Now, they were short sets, because [the bands] didn't have a lot of material. Most of the bands weren't very good at their early parts.

It became a place where, if you could make it through that door, we took care of you. We took care of everybody, no matter what your content was.

If we talk about anything today, this is the most important thing I would like to say. With the inner core of our community that gravitated to the club and the bands and what we did, it became a very warm place.

It became a place where, if you could make it through that door, we took care of you. We took care of everybody, no matter what your content was. And some pretty awful things happened, some of the actions on that stage. But when you came through that door, you were taken care of. Everybody was.

The Official Taxi Briell Artist Shop Shop Now on Reverb

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