Meetings that made entertainment history: When Debbie Harry met Chris Stein

Music icon Debbie Harry is famous for leading Blondie, the chart-topping American band that has sold more than 40 million albums to date. Formed in 1974, the band split up in 1982, but reformed in 1997.

Their biggest-selling records include the singles Heart of Glass, and The Tide is High; both topped the UK and US charts in 1979 and 1980 respectively. In 1978, Parallel Lines achieved platinum sales all over the world.

© March 1977 / Private Stock Records

In 2006, the band was inducted into the US Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. A decade later, in 2016, Heart of Glass was inducted into the Grammy Hall of Fame. Today, despite Debbie being 75, Blondie is still going strong. Their eleventh studio album, Pollinator, in May 2017, reached number four in the UK charts.

Early life

Debbie was born Angela Trimble in Miami, Florida, on 1st July 1945. She was given up for adoption by her birth mother. Her adoptive parents, Richard and Catherine Harry, changed her name to Deborah Anne.

She was gifted academically and graduated from Centenary College in Hackettstown, New Jersey, in 1965, with an Associate of Arts degree. Moving to New York City, Debbie had various jobs before becoming a singer, including a secretary for BBC Radio; a waitress at Max’s, Kansas City; a go-go dancer in Union City and a Playboy Bunny.

Her music career began in the late 1960s when she became a backing singer for The Wind in the Willows, who released an album on Capitol Records in 1968. She joined a glam rock band called The Stilettos in 1974, with Elda Gentile and Amanda Jones.

Life-changing moment

Popular on the emerging punk scene, the band didn’t have great commercial success. However, it proved a life-changing moment for vocalist Debbie, as she met someone who was going to join her on the road to mega-stardom.

When Chris Stein met Debbie Harry, little did they know it would be the start of a relationship spanning almost 50 years to date. Beginning as a romantic relationship, it turned into a musical partnership that survived, even after the romance had died.

In 1974, The Stilettos were playing in New York, in a small bar. It would be fair to say Debbie, aged 29, was a struggling singer who was a million miles away from hitting the big time. In the audience was 24-year-old art student and guitarist Chris. Born in Brooklyn, he attended the School of Visual Arts and followed the local new wave music scene. Describing when he first saw Debbie on stage, he admitted, “I was very taken with her.”

Legend has it Debbie was smitten with Chris too and was singing only for him that night. They got on like a house on fire and it wasn’t long before they started dating, resulting in a serious relationship that lasted 15 years.

Musical collaboration

As well as becoming linked romantically, Chris and Debbie shared a love of music and an ambition to succeed in the industry. Chris was taken with Debbie’s looks, charisma and spirit. He said she didn’t fit into the typical “showgirl” style that was common in the mid-1970s.

Chris observed a more casual, “do-it-yourself” aspect to her style, which people seemed to appreciate. Her style matched her “fiercely fabulous attitude” as she strutted around the stage in her trademark leather jacket, ripped logo t-shirt and distressed denim. She matched her clothes with bleached blonde, backcombed hair and bright ’70s eye-shadow. Her look wasn’t calculated and was more spontaneous, according to Chris. He found her “rather disarming”.

Chris joined The Stilettos briefly on guitar, but he and Debbie left to form a band called Angel and the Snake, with Tish and Snooky Bellomo. Soon afterwards, later in 1974, they formed Blondie. The band’s name related to the catcalls Debbie received all the time after she bleached her hair.

Other band members included drummer Clem Burke, bass player Gary Lachman and keyboard player Jimmy Destri. Initially, they signed for Private Stock Records, releasing their debut album, Blondie, in 1976, but it wasn’t a commercial success.

Biggest hits

Signing for British label Chrysalis Records, Blondie re-released the album in October 1977 and this time, it entered the UK albums chart at number 75 and gained gold status. This was just the start of their meteoric rise to success on both sides of the Atlantic.

Their album, Parallel Lines, topped the UK chart in September 1978 and made the top ten in the US, Australia, Canada, Germany, Holland, New Zealand and Sweden.

Since their original formation in 1976, Blondie has released 11 studio albums, 14 compilation albums, four live albums, three remixed albums and 38 singles. Among the singles they are best known for are their chart-topping UK hits Atomic and Call Me in 1980 and One Way or Another in 1979, which attained silver status.

Another big hit was the single, Rapture, in 1981. They weren’t afraid to try different music genres and slipped easily from new wave to rap when they released this surprise hit, which topped the US charts and made number five in the UK.

Musical and personal relationship

Blondie reached the peak of their international fame in the late 1970s and early 1980s, until they suddenly split up in 1982, at the height of their success. According to media reports, there was increasing discord because of all the attention Debbie received, rather than the band members being given equal prominence as a collective.

After they disbanded, Chris was diagnosed with a rare auto-immune disease and became seriously ill. Debbie nursed him back to health and all the money they had earned in Blondie disappeared as a result.

After Blondie’s demise, Debbie released five albums, performing with artists such as Elvis Costello. She also played benefit gigs, released her autobiography and made several movies – including playing Velma Von Tussle in the cult film, Hairspray, in 1988.

Chris has enjoyed success as a producer and performer, including providing the soundtrack for the cult hip hop film, Wild Style, in 1983. He is also a renowned photographer and has published books of his photographs including Making Tracks: The Rise of Blondie, and The Advent of Punk.

Blondie re-forms

When Chris and Debbie’s romantic relationship came to an end in 1989, they remained friends. Blondie’s music remained popular through to the 1990s, with a new generation of fans. In 1996, Chris and Debbie decided to re-form Blondie. They succeeded in doing so in 1997, with the original five founder members. They played three outdoor festivals, the first being on 31st May 1997, at the HFStival at RFK Stadium in Washington, DC. They then embarked on a major international tour in 1998 and 1999.

Despite various personnel changes over the years, Blondie is still going strong with the nucleus of Chris and Debbie. In May 2014, Ghosts of Download was released as part of a double record entitled Blondie 4(0) Ever, marking the band’s 40th anniversary. The second record was Greatest Hits Deluxe Redux, comprising re-recordings of Blondie’s best-selling singles.

Blondie has announced a ten-date UK arena tour in November 2021, with Garbage as the support act.

For a first meeting, being at the right place can have life-changing consequences. Never underestimate the power of meeting someone face-to-face.

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