Ivan Kral, rocker with Patti Smith and others, is dead at 71

Ivan Kral, a Czech-born musician whose integral role in the Patti Smith Group, along with his work as a filmmaker who chronicled the earliest days of New York’s CBGB music club scene, made him a key figure in New York’s creative underground of the 1970s, died on Sunday at his home in Ann Arbor, Mich. He was 71.

His wife, Cindy Hudson, said the cause was cancer.

Mr. Kral also played in an early incarnation of Blondie and either co-wrote songs for, or contributed bass, guitar, or keyboard parts to, recordings by Iggy Pop, John Cale, John Waite, and Noel Redding, the former bassist with the Jimi Hendrix Experience.


A highly romantic song he co-wrote with Smith, “Dancing Barefoot,” was covered by myriad acts, including U2, Pearl Jam, and Simple Minds. A throbbing new wave piece he wrote with Iggy Pop in 1981, “Bang Bang,” was covered by David Bowie six years later on his album “Never Let Me Down.”

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On Monday, Iggy Pop posted a tribute on Twitter: “Dear Ivan, you were a great guitarist/writer, a handsome guy, a true rock believer, and a great credit to me and the Czech Republic.”

John Waite, who wrote songs with Mr. Kral on three albums in the ’80s — including “Every Step of the Way,” which reached No. 25 on the Billboard pop singles chart — described Mr. Kral in an e-mail as “a gifted songwriter,” “a cultured European” and a “kick-ass NYC guitarist.”

Born in Prague on May 12, 1948, Mr. Kral came to the United States in 1966 with his parents as refugees. His father, Karel Kral, was the United Nations reporter for the Czechoslovak news agency CTK, and in that capacity helped alert the world to the threat of a Soviet invasion of his country, which came about two years later. His mother, Otylie (Hajmaarova) Kral, was a botanist who also played classical piano.

Mr. Kral had refugee status in the United States until 1981, when he became a US citizen.


Before settling with his family in New York, he had played with a rock band in Prague named Saze, which later became successful in Czechoslovakia. Amid the gritty New York of the early ’70s, he formed a band, Luger, which became part of the glam-rock scene at Max’s Kansas City and was the opening act on Kiss’s earliest shows. He later played in the singer Shaun Cassidy’s backing group before joining the nascent Blondie.

Mr. Kral, a poetry fan, met Smith at one of her downtown readings and helped smooth her transition from poetry into music. He played bass and guitar on her debut album, “Horses” (1975), which was not only one of the first punk albums but came to be seen as one of the most influential albums of its era, based on its stripped-down sound, its integration of music and poetry, and its presentation of women. In 2020, “Horses” was entered into the National Recording Registry at the Library of Congress.

He went on to play on, and write for, all of her band’s crucial early albums: “Radio Ethiopia,” released in 1976; “Easter,” which made Billboard’s Top 20 two years later; and “Wave,” which had similar chart success in 1979.

Mr. Kral collaborated with Smith on two of her most high-energy songs, “Ask the Angels” and “Pumpin’ (My Heart)” (on “Radio Ethiopia”), as well as the grinding rocker “25th Floor” (on “Easter”) and three compositions on “Wave,” notably the poignant “Citizen Ship,” whose poetic lyrics alluded to Mr. Kral’s life as a refugee and which ended with Smith violently shouting his name toward the end to boldly assert his identity in a new world.

“Ivan was my guitar brother in the group,” Smith’s guitarist Lenny Kaye said in an e-mail. “He brought a pop sensibility to our improvisations, and helped us along our path to becoming a true rock ’n’ roll band.”


During his time in Smith’s group, Mr. Kral began filming, with a 16-milimeter camera, acts at local concerts, including the New York Dolls, Jayne County, and Queen, which he assembled into a film titled “Night Lunch.” He went on to focus on then-unknown punk groups like the Ramones, Television, and Talking Heads, shooting them silently before working with the filmmaker Amos Poe to edit in sound from the bands’ demo recordings.

“I had all these three-minute rolls of film,” Mr. Kral told The Ann Arbor News in 2010. “I decided I had enough to make it into 50 minutes. I spliced it together in one day.”

The result, “The Blank Generation” (1976), has served as source material for scores of exhibitions and music documentaries.

In 1979, after Smith retreated from music to concentrate on her family, Mr. Kral started working with Iggy Pop. He played on his 1980 album, “Soldier,” and on its follow-up, “Party,” the next year, for which he co-wrote nearly every song. After moving to Los Angeles, he wrote music for films, notably composing the score (with Bruce Brody) for the Barry Levinson movie “Diner” (1981).

Back in New York, he wrote scores for three underground films by Poe. He also recorded a live album with John Cale, an original member of the Velvet Underground, “Even Cowgirls Get the Blues.”

After the fall of Communism in Czechoslovakia in 1989, Mr. Kral returned to Prague and began working with many local artists to develop a thriving rock scene there. He also worked as a solo artist, releasing 15 albums during his lifetime, most of them in the Czech Republic.

He composed a memorial song for Václav Havel, the first president of the Czech Republic, titled “Rest in Peace,” which he performed on a national television event to honor Havel after his death in 2011.

In addition to his wife, Mr. Kral leaves a brother, Pavel.

His final solo album, “Smile,” is to be released this month. Later this year, his English-language biography, written by his wife, will be published under the title “Bloc, Shock, Rock.”