Jerry Brandt, Founder of New York Nightclub The Ritz, Dead at 82
Jerry Brandt, the music industry veteran best-known for establishing The Ritz concert venue in New York, has died at the age of 82.
Known as a vibrant character with a hustler's attitude, Brandt began his career working for the William Morris Agency, where he ascended to become director of the pop music division. While working at WMA he was credited for discovering Chubby Checker, while also bringing the Beach Boys and Sonny & Cher to national attention. He was also instrumental in bringing the Rolling Stones to America for their first U.S. tour.
After departing WMA, Brandt spent several years as a manager, working with Carly Simon and glam rock legend Jobriath. He then decided to get into the nightclub business, first as a promoter before opening venues of his own. Brandt founded the Electric Circus in New York and the Paradise Ballroom in Los Angeles, but undoubtedly his most iconic venue was The Ritz.
Established in 1980 and built inside an unused warehouse, The Ritz would quickly become the most prestigious rock music venue in New York. The spacious room, which notably had a dance floor in front of the stage instead of tables and chairs, became the premiere place to see headlining acts.
The list of performers to grace The Ritz’s stage included some of the biggest names in music, such as Duran Duran, Joe Cocker, Hall & Oates, Chuck Berry, Joan Jett, Jerry Lee Lewis, the Pretenders, Frank Zappa, Thin Lizzy and Prince. The venue was also instrumental in welcoming international acts to American soil. U2, Depeche Mode and Sting (as a solo artist) all played their first American shows there. Ozzy Osbourne’s first live album, 1982’s Speak of the Devil, was also recorded at The Ritz.
When MTV launched in 1981, Brandt made sure The Ritz embraced a similar culture. The venue utilized a 30 foot screen and projector to play music videos, a revolutionary move at the time. Throughout the ‘80s, MTV would host a series of concerts at the venue dubbed “Live at the Ritz.” Guns N’ Roses, Iggy Pop, Run DMC and the Cult were among the acts who participated. Throughout the decade, The Ritz maintained its place among the most glamorous night spots in the city that never sleeps.
"My philosophy? Have fun, make a buck and when the D.A. says 'Not guilty,' don't applaud," Brandt once proudly declared to New York Magazine during his heyday.
The Ritz would eventually move locations, only to close for good in the early ‘90s. Webster Hall, itself a well known New York concert venue, remains today at the original site of The Ritz.
Brandt eventually retired to Florida and, in 2014, released his memoir, It’s a Short Walk From Brooklyn, If You Run. In the book’s forward, music producer and former Stones manager Andrew Loog Oldham described Brandt as being “so damn imaginative I sometimes think he has spent the better part of his life avoiding his own ideas in case they killed him.”
According to The Village Sun, Brandt died on Jan. 16 of “COVID- and pneumonia-related causes.”