NEW YORK — Tom Verlaine, guitarist and co-founder of seminal proto-punk band Television, who influenced many bands while playing alongside the Ramones, Patti Smith and Talking Heads at ultra-cool downtown New York music venue CBGB, has died. He was 73.
He died Saturday in New York City surrounded by close friends after a short illness, said Cara Hutchison of Lede Company, a public relations firm.
“Tom Verlaine has passed into the afterlife that his guitar playing always hinted at. He was the best rock ‘n’ roll guitarist of all time and, like Hendrix, could dance from cosmic spheres to garage rock. That requires a special size,” tweeted The Waterboys’ Mike Scott.
Although television never met with much commercial success, Verlaine’s inventive playing influenced many musicians as part of the band’s two-guitar attack. Television released his groundbreaking debut album Marquee Moon – including the nearly 11-minute title track and Elevation – in 1977 and a year later the second work Adventure.
“‘Marquee Moon’ has become something of an independent rock holy grail in the years since. It’s clearly influenced artists like Pavement, Sonic Youth, The Strokes and Jeff Buckley,” wrote Billboard magazine in 2003.
Increasing tensions between Verlaine and fellow guitarist Richard Lloyd led to Television disbanding after his second album, Adventure. The group would reunite in 1992 for a self-titled album for Capitol Records and sporadic live performances.
“We wanted to further strip things down, away from the showbiz theatrics of the glitter bands and away from the blues and boogie,” television co-founder Richard Hell wrote in his autobiography, I Dreamed I Was a Very Clean Tramp. “We wanted to be strong and tough and torn, the way the world was.”
Verlaine released eight solo albums, his most commercially successful being his second solo album Dreamtime in 1981, which peaked at number 177 on the Billboard album chart. He frequently served as companion to former mistress Patti Smith.
Internet tributes included those of Susanna Hoffs and Billy Idol, who said Verlaine made music that influenced the US and UK punk scenes. Smith shared a tribute on Instagram, posting a photo of the two together: “Farewell Tom, aloft the Omega.”
Born Tom Miller, he later took the surname of 19th-century French poet Paul-Marie Verlaine after meeting Hell, née Richard Meyers, at a private school in Delaware. They were big, skinny, smug kids who dropped out and made their way to the East Village, where they worked in bookstores and wrote poetry together.
“He was known for his edgy lyricism and trenchant lyrical asides, a sly wit and an ability to shake every chord to its truest emotion,” his publicist said in a statement. “We will miss his vision and imagination.”