10 Surprising Facts About Blondie's Debbie Harry

Keystone/Hulton Archive/Getty Images
Keystone/Hulton Archive/Getty Images

This year marks the 45th anniversary of the founding of iconic New Wave and punk rock band Blondie. And on October 1, singer Debbie Harry will release Face It: A Memoir, a collection of Harry-penned essays alongside interviews with the journalist Sylvie Simmons. In anticipation of many more juicy tidbits to come, here are a few facts you might not know about the blonde bombshell and her band.

1. Debbie Harry is a natural redhead.

In a 2017 essay for InStyle, Debbie Harry revealed that her natural color pulls red. “My own hair was strawberry blonde with a lot of red in it,” she wrote. “In the summer my highlights would really come out. I hung out with older girls at the municipal pool in Hawthorne, New Jersey, where I grew up. There was one girl in particular whose blonde hair I really liked. Her mother was a beautician, so I asked her about accelerating the highlight process.” The girl told her to mix two-thirds peroxide with one-third ammonia and comb it through her hair—basically, a homemade Sun-In. “It worked,” Harry said. As an adult, she’d go increasingly platinum, favoring at-home box dyes and becoming ever more adept at achieving ultra-pale shades.

Even to this day, Harry mostly continues to bleach her hair at home. “I’ve always liked doing my color at home myself because I can walk around and do things,” she said. “I used to take a bath while I had the bleach on my head, and at the end I’d just submerge. It may not have been the best method, but it was expedient. I get very antsy in a salon chair."

2. As a child, Harry used to daydream that her real mother was Marilyn Monroe.

Born Angela Tremble in Miami, Florida, Deborah Ann Harry was adopted at 3 months old by New Jersey gift shop owners Richard and Catherine Harry. She learned that she was adopted at age 4, and said it gave her a sense of freedom. "They explained it to me in a really nice way," Harry told the Independent. "It made me feel quite special somehow. I sometimes attribute my, uh, adventurous nature to that ... I have an open mind about things. It didn't present me with any borders.”

3. “Blondie” was the nickname truck drivers gave Debbie Harry when they saw her sashaying along the sidewalk.

“It was just from what people yelled at Debbie,” Blondie guitarist Chris Stein told Boston radio station WBUR of the band name's origins in 2017. “Debbie came home one day with her hair dyed blonde and then told me within a week or so truck drivers were yelling, 'Hey, Blondie!' at her all the time.”

There’s apparently been a persistent rumor that the band was named after Adolf Hitler’s dog, but Stein debunked that myth. “The Hitler’s dog thing? I don’t know if I knew about that [then],” Stein said. “There’s no 'e' on Hitler’s dog’s name; it was B-l-o-n-d-i.”

The band’s original name was Angel and the Snake. They changed the name to Blondie in late 1975. In the early days, casual fans and the press seemed to believe that “Blondie” and Debbie Harry were interchangeable. So the band had buttons made that read “BLONDIE IS A GROUP.”

4. Another one of Debbie Harry's childhood nicknames wasn’t as flattering.

When she was a kid, Harry was nicknamed 'Moon.' "An oval face was considered beautiful, not a broad round blob like mine, which earned me the nickname Moon,” Harry revealed in the book Making Tracks: The Rise of Blondie. She’s since obviously grown into her face, with Vogue even including her in their list of the ‘Best Cheekbones of All Time.’

5. Debbie Harry once worked as a Playboy bunny.

Harry worked at New York City’s Playboy Club from 1968 to 1973, according to TIME, and her hair was long and (reddish) brown. Then in 1973, she met guitarist (and future boyfriend) Chris Stein, and the rest is history.

6. “Rapture” was the first Number 1 song in the United States to feature rap vocals.

Harry is realistic, however, and realizes that this does not make her a rapper. “Creatively it did one thing in particular: It was the first rap song to have its own original music. Commercially it made rap viable for the mainstream charts,” Harry told Rolling Stone in 2004. “I don’t think it was a tremendous influence. I am nowhere close to being a rapper. I’m completely in awe of great rappers.” A few of the rappers she admires? Missy Elliot, Lil’ Kim, Ludacris, and 50 Cent.

7. Debbie Harry likes a good bottle of Chardonnay.

In fact, it’s the one thing Harry has to have backstage when she’s touring. In 2017, Harry told Bon Appétit that she usually prefers Cakebread Cellars. However, there’s a nameless one that still sticks in her mind. “Once I was at a festival in Europe—I can’t remember where—and the promoter was really into wine," she said. "He brought out a bottle of Chardonnay that I probably would have slept with if it had been a person. So delicious.”

8. For decades, Harry believed she might have had a near-disastrous brush with serial killer Ted Bundy.

In 1972, when hitchhiking didn’t have the bad rap it does today, Harry climbed into a stranger’s car on Avenue C in New York’s East Village after she couldn't find a taxi. The driver was a good-looking, well-dressed young man with dark curly hair. According to Interview magazine, Harry’s original account of the event was detailed in an unnamed newspaper in 1989. “I got in the car, and it was summertime and the windows were all rolled up except about an inch and a half at the top,” Harry said. “So I was sitting there and he wasn’t really talking to me. Automatically, I sort of reached to roll down the window and I realized there was no door handle, no window crank, no nothing. The inside of the car was totally stripped out.”

To escape, Harry squeezed her arm out the window and opened the door from the outside. “As soon as he saw that, he tried to turn the corner really fast, and I spun out of the car and landed in the middle of the street,” Harry said. When she read about Ted Bundy’s execution years later, she thought back to that incident: “The whole description of how he operated and what he looked like and the kind of car he drove and the time frame he was doing that in that area of the country fit exactly," she said. "I said, ‘My God, it was him.'"

Her suspicion has since been debunked, since Bundy wasn’t known to have been in New York City, and wasn't known to abduct any women until at least 1974. Harry herself admits that the car didn’t match Bundy’s Volkswagen. She told RuPaul on an episode of his podcast, “I’m pretty sure that it wasn’t [Bundy’s Volkswagen]. It didn’t have the same dashboard. It was squarer.” Still, scary!

9. “Call Me” was originally earmarked for Stevie Nicks.

Written by songwriter Giorgio Moroder, “Call Me” spent six weeks at number one, becoming the biggest-selling song of 1980, according to NME. But the song almost never came Harry's way; Moroder had originally tried to give the song to Stevie Nicks. She reportedly loved the demo, but couldn’t use it due to inter-label politics (she had just signed with a new label, which somehow would have made working with Moroder difficult).

10. Debbie Harry is widely considered a style icon.

From very early on in Blondie’s evolution, Debbie Harry began collaborating with fashion designer and artist Stephen Sprouse on her outfits. Sprouse was working with Halston at the time, so Harry would often wear slip dresses and fabulous berets and trench coats and boots. But, as she told W magazine, they would also make use of found objects. “There was a real sense of play,” she explained. “New York City was bankrupt and garbage was all over the place, so you could always find fabulous things that people were throwing away. Or people were being evicted and the landlord would just heave-ho their stuff onto the street.”

Dazed & Confused magazine catalogued some of the singer’s looks, and one of the favorites was a dress fashioned from what was originally a zebra-print pillowcase, which Harry wore during an iconic 1978 photo shoot for ZigZag magazine. Other favorite looks include an “Andy Warhol’s BAD” T-shirt (Harry was immortalized in several works by the late artist); a child-sized leather motorcycle jacket (“I was very small then,” Harry said); and a screen-printed homemade T-shirt paired with a black beret and “really hot, good-looking pants.” The latter outfit, she says, was inspired by both Patty Hearst and Faye Dunaway in Bonnie and Clyde.

11 Surprising Facts About Johnny Cash

Johnny Cash in 1966.
Johnny Cash in 1966.
Hulton Archive, Getty Images

With his gravelly baritone and colorful lyrics, Johnny Cash became one of the 1960s’ most prolific crossover artists, bridging the gap between country and early rock ‘n’ roll with a moody, bluesy flair. But it wasn’t just his music that captivated audiences everywhere—it was also Cash himself, the especially intense “Man in Black” who struggled with addiction for most of his life and found strength in the arms of his fellow country singer and eventual wife, June Carter Cash. Learn more about Cash’s legendary life and career below.

1. Johnny Cash’s birth name was J.R. Cash.

On February 26, 1932, Ray and Carrie Cash welcomed their fourth of seven children in Kingsland, Arkansas, and simply couldn’t agree on what to name him. Carrie favored “John” or her maiden name, “Rivers,” while Ray wanted to name his new son after himself. As a compromise, they settled on “J.R.,” which technically doesn’t stand for anything. When J.R. enlisted in the Air Force, the recruiter wouldn’t accept initials as a full name, so he changed it to “John R. Cash,” which gave way to the nickname “Johnny.”

2. Johnny Cash's older brother died in a tragic accident.

Cash grew up idolizing his brother, Jack, who was two years his senior. “There was nobody in the world as good and as wise and as strong as my big brother Jack,” Johnny once said. But tragedy struck in May 1944, while Jack was working in his high school’s wood shop. Someone had removed the protective guard from the table saw and switched out its blade for a larger one; when he went to cut a piece of wood, the saw cleaved through his abdomen, and he died from the wound several days later. Johnny, who was just 12 years old at the time, took it upon himself to help dig Jack’s grave.

3. Johnny Cash’s vocal coach advised him to stop taking lessons.

Cash grew up with Gospel songs as his main musical influence and sometimes performed in school talent shows. His mother, who could play the guitar and piano, encouraged her son’s musical predilections, and even scrounged up some money for voice lessons. However, his teacher promptly advised him to quit, worried that any further formal training would alter Cash’s unique way of singing. “Don’t ever take voice lessons again,” she said. “Don’t let me or anyone change how you sing.”

4. Johnny Cash intercepted Soviet radio transmissions during the Korean War.

johnny cash air force
John R. Cash in the Air Force during the early 1950s.
USAMM Studios, YouTube

In 1950, a 19-year-old Cash joined the Air Force and spent three years in Landsberg am Lech, Germany, deciphering messages in Morse code from radio transmissions he intercepted from Soviet Union aircrafts. While there, Cash purchased his first guitar for about $5 and even established his first band—the Landsberg Barbarians, a play on the name of the military base’s newspaper, the Landsberg Bavarian. It was also while in Landsberg that Cash watched the documentary Inside Folsom Prison, which inspired his song “Folsom Prison Blues.”

5. Johnny Cash had four daughters with his first wife, Vivian Liberto.

Cash began a relationship with Vivian Liberto while training at Brooks Air Force Base in San Antonio, Texas, and the two kept up correspondence throughout Cash’s tour of Germany. They married on August 7, 1954, settled in Memphis, and went on to have four daughters: Rosanne, Kathy, Cindy, and Tara. But as Cash’s music career took off, his marriage deteriorated—due largely to his long absences, suspected infidelity, and destructive dependence on drugs and alcohol—and Vivian requested a divorce in 1966. It was finalized nearly two years later.

6. Johnny Cash met June Carter at the Grand Ole Opry in 1956.

Cash’s debut at the Grand Ole Opry in 1956 was an important moment in his career, but it had an even greater effect on his life as a whole. On that night, country singer Carl Smith introduced Cash to his then-wife and fellow performer, June Carter. Cash was instantly smitten, and Carter returned the feeling, later writing that she was captivated by his “black eyes that shone like agates” and impressed by the way he commanded the stage with a “gentle kind of presence.” The pair soon began touring together, and though it’s not clear exactly when their relationship turned romantic, it almost definitely happened while they were still married to other people—Carter married retired football player Edwin “Rip” Nix a year after divorcing Smith in 1956, and they had a daughter, Rosie, before separating in 1966.

“It was not a convenient time for me to fall in love with him, and it was not a convenient time for him to fall in love with me,” Carter told Rolling Stone in 2000. Cash felt the same way. “We hadn’t said ‘I love you.’ We were afraid to say it, because we knew what was going to happen: That eventually we were going to be divorced, and we were going to go through hell. Which we did.”

Cash proposed to Carter in front of 7000 people during a show at Canada’s London Ice House in February 1968. They married in Kentucky a few weeks later, and their union lasted until June’s death in 2003.

7. Johnny Cash became an ordained minister.

Despite his drug abuse and general status as a role model for outlaws, Cash was a devout Christian for most of his life. He and Carter both took Bible study courses at Christian International Bible College in the 1970s, and Cash became an ordained minister around that time, too. He even recorded a nearly 19-hour audio version of the New Testament of the Bible, and was also close friends with Reverend Billy Graham, who encouraged him throughout his spiritual journey.

8. Johnny Cash was once arrested for picking flowers—or so he said.

Cash may never have shot a man in Reno just to watch him die, but his reputation for lawlessness wasn’t exactly based on nothing. He was arrested a total of seven times (though he only ever spent a few nights in jail) for crimes like drug possession and reckless driving. Late one night in May 1965, after Cash performed a concert at Mississippi State University, police found him wandering the town of Starkville and arrested him for public drunkenness. Cash protested, claiming that he was just picking flowers, but it was no use—the officers took him to the local jail, where he continued to protest in a very loud, painful way.

“I was screaming, cussing, and kicking at the cell door all night long until I finally broke my big toe,” Cash later wrote. He was released the next morning, and the ordeal inspired his song “Starkville City Jail.” In 2007, the city of Starkville held its first annual Johnny Cash Flower Pickin’ Festival to commemorate the incident, and even pardoned Cash during 2008’s event. “Johnny Cash was arrested in seven places,” festival founder Robbie Ward said at the time. “But he only wrote a song about one of those places.”

9. Johnny Cash wrote a novel.

In addition to his two autobiographies—1975’s Man in Black and 1997’s Cash: The Autobiography—the prolific musician also published a 1986 novel called Man in White, which imagines the life and religious transformation of Paul the Apostle. It wasn’t exactly critically acclaimed; Kirkus Reviews wrote that it “barely functions as a novel” and is “strictly for those with the patience of Job, and then some.”

10. Johnny Cash died just months after June Carter Cash.

johnny cash and june carter cash in 1972
Johnny and June Carter Cash in 1972.
Michael Putland, Getty Images

On May 7, 2003, 73-year-old June Carter Cash slipped into a coma after undergoing heart surgery. She died on May 15, shocking everyone—especially her husband of 35 years. “After June died, life was a struggle for him," Kris Kristofferson, Cash's longtime friend and frequent collaborator, said. “His daughter told me he cried every night."

Cash continued to work through the heartbreak and his own deteriorating physical health, and finished recording his album American V: A Hundred Highways late that summer. He was hospitalized soon after, and passed away from diabetes-related respiratory issues on September 12, 2003, at age 71.

11. There’s a tarantula species named after Johnny Cash.

In 2016, arachnologist Chris Hamilton decided that Johnny Cash would be an especially apt namesake for a newly discovered species of tarantula for two reasons. One, the spiders were found around California’s Folsom State Prison, the setting for Cash’s legendary live album in 1968 (featuring his hit song “Folsom Prison Blues,” of course); and two, because the tarantula was covered in black hair, which reminded Hamilton of the dark clothing that the “Man in Black” so often sported. So he christened the tarantula Aphonopelma johnnycashi. “It immediately fit,” Hamilton told Live Science.

10 Wonderful Facts About Eric Clapton

Eric Clapton performing in Rotterdam, Netherlands in 1992.
Eric Clapton performing in Rotterdam, Netherlands in 1992.
Niels van Iperen/Getty Images

Eric Clapton is among the greatest and most influential guitar players in rock history. Rolling Stone ranked the British icon #2 on its list of the all-time best guitarists, right behind Jimi Hendrix. As a solo artist and a member of bands like The Yardbirds, Blind Faith, Cream, and Derek and the Dominos, the man known as “Slowhand” (and sometimes “God”) has thrilled generations of fans with his righteous bluesy wailing.

In honor of the rock icon's 75th birthday (March 30, 2020), here are 10 things you might not know about Eric Clapton.

1. Eric Clapton had a pretty unusual childhood.

For much of his young life, Eric Clapton believed that his maternal grandparents were his parents. His mother, Patricia, was just 16 when she gave birth to the future rock legend on March 30, 1945. His father was a 24-year-old Canadian soldier stationed in England during World War II. Clapton’s father returned to Canada before Eric was born, and Patricia gave the boy to her parents to raise. She returned for a time when Eric was nine, and to avoid scandal, the family told people she was his older sister. Patricia’s return traumatized Eric, turning him from a model student to a shy, artsy loner.

2. Eric Clapton quit playing guitar at age 13 because it was too hard.

Eric Clapton performing on stage in Philadelphia in the summer of 1974.
Eric Clapton performing on stage in Philadelphia in the summer of 1974.
Michael Putland/Getty Images

Young guitar students often begin on cheap instruments that are difficult and frustrating to play. That’s why many aspiring rockers quit before they reach Eric Clapton levels of playing (if they ever can). Yet Clapton himself nearly suffered this same fate: He received his first axe, a German-made Hoyer, when he was 13 years old. The steel-string guitar was nearly as big as Clapton was. "It sounded nice, but it was just such hard work, I gave up,” Clapton said. “So I started when I was 13 and gave up when I was 13 and a half.” Fortunately, he picked it up again.

3. Clapton’s nickname “Slowhand” has nothing to do with his guitar technique.

Eric Clapton’s nickname “Slowhand” is a strange one for a guy who’s made millions playing blazing guitar solos. You can’t shred like Clapton does without some seriously quick digits. As it turns out, the name dates back to his days with The Yardbirds, a band he joined in 1963 and stayed with until 1965. Clapton often broke strings during shows, and while he changed them, the audience would slow clap. This inspired The Yardbirds's manager Giorgio Gomelsky to come up with the name “Slowhand.” According to Clapton, it was meant to be ironic.

4. Clapton left The Yardbirds right after they released their first hit.

In April 1965, The Yardbirds tune "For Your Love" peaked at #3 on the UK charts. But Clapton wasn’t around to enjoy the success. In those days, Clapton was a blues purist who clashed with Yardbirds bassist Paul Samwell-Smith and manager Giorgio Gomelsky over the group’s increasingly poppy direction. Clapton didn’t like the mostly guitar-free sound of “For Your Love,” and it’s among the reasons he left the group soon after its March 1965 release. Clapton suggested session pro Jimmy Page as his replacement, but the future Led Zeppelin guitar god declined. The gig wound up going to Jeff Beck.

5. Eric Clapton was worshipped as a god (maybe).

In the mid-’60s, the graffiti slogan “Clapton is God” began popping up on walls around London. The phrase became part of the Clapton mythology, affirming his superhuman guitar prowess. While Clapton claimed he never actually saw the messages, he admitted in his 2007 memoir that he was “grateful” for their existence, as they gave him “the kind of status nobody could tamper with.” In 2016, Clapton suggested it wasn’t an anonymous fan behind the vandalism, but rather Hamish Grimes, a man employed by The Yardbirds’ manager to hype up audiences.

6. Clapton once got to play a Beatle for a day.

During sessions for The Beatles, a.k.a. “The White Album,” in 1968, George Harrison didn’t feel like his bandmates were paying enough attention to his song “While My Guitar Gently Weeps.” So on the way to the studio one day, he invited his friend Eric Clapton to come play the guitar solo. Clapton was reluctant—no outsider had ever really guested on a Beatles record—but it all worked out for the best. “I said, ‘Eric’s going to play on this one,’ and it was good because that then made everyone act better,” Harrison said. “Paul got on the piano and played a nice intro and they all took it more seriously.”

7. “Layla” was partly inspired by Clapton’s love for George Harrison's wife.

Ringo Starr, Maureen Cox, George Harrison, Pattie Boyd and Eric Clapton arrive at Heathrow Airport in 1968.
Ringo Starr, Maureen Cox, George Harrison, Pattie Boyd and Eric Clapton arrive at Heathrow Airport in 1968.
Evening Standard/Hulton Archive/Getty Images

One of Clapton’s signature songs is “Layla,” released in 1970 by the group Derek and the Dominos. Clapton was inspired by two things: the 12th century Persian story The Story of Layla and Majnun, and Pattie Boyd, then-wife of Beatles guitarist (and Eric’s good buddy) George Harrison. “I was amazed and thrilled at the song—it was so passionate and devastatingly dramatic—but I wanted to hang on to my marriage,” Boyd told The Guardian in 2008.

Boyd divorced Harrison in 1977, and two years later, she and Clapton were married. Amazingly, Harrison wasn’t mad—he performed at the wedding with Paul McCartney and Ringo Starr.

8. Clapton’s biggest U.S. hit was inspired by personal tragedy.

In March 1991, Clapton suffered an unspeakable tragedy. His four-year-old son, Conor, fell to his death from the window of a New York City high-rise. After a period of seclusion, Clapton worked with lyricist Will Jennings—who’d later co-author Celine Dion’s “My Heart Will Go On”—to write “Tears In Heaven.” Originally appearing on the soundtrack for the 1991 film Rush, “Tears In Heaven” reached #2 on the Billboard Hot 100 and became Clapton’s best-selling U.S. single. The song also earned him Grammy Awards for Best Pop Vocal Performance, Record of the Year, and Song of the Year.

9. Eric Clapton is not Sheryl Crow's "favorite mistake."

Eric Clapton and Sheryl Crow perform together during the 2007 Crossroads Guitar Festival in Bridgeview, Illinois.
Eric Clapton and Sheryl Crow perform together during the 2007 Crossroads Guitar Festival in Bridgeview, Illinois.
Tasos Katopodis/Getty Images for Gibson

Much like Carly Simon's "You're So Vain," rumors have swirled for years that Sheryl Crow's 1998 hit "My Favorite Mistake" was written in response to her breakup with Clapton. (The two dated for a couple of years during the late 1990s.) But Crow, who had previously dated Owen Wilson and was once famously engaged to Lance Armstrong, has put those rumors to rest, stating that, "'My Favorite Mistake' is about several people in my life who weren’t very good ideas—but not Eric. I’ve known Eric for over 10 years, and I can’t look at that relationship as a mistake."

10. Clapton is a three-time Rock and Roll Hall of Famer.

Eric Clapton was first inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 1992, when The Yardbirds received the honor. The following year, he got in as a member of Cream. Clapton’s 2000 induction as a solo performer made him the first (and to date only) artist to be inducted three times.

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