Category Archives: 1970s music

#153 – Heart of Glass

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#153 – Heart of Glass by Blondie

Blondie

– I’ll go ahead and claim to have developed at least some semblance of New York City street smarts by the time we closed out the 1970’s. That’s a brave statement considering I’d only lived in the city for a couple years. It was basically the result of a make-it-or-get-out survival technique learned from moving to the city while it was stuck in the seediest era of its modern history. With lots of time riding the subways and a job at Broadway theaters that included making night deposits of large sums of money in the seediest of all the seedy neighborhoods, Times Square, I picked up a defense mechanism that native city dwellers are born with:

Keep my eyes open and my senses on alert.

I was never near being as street as the punks and new wave rockers that hung around the seedy clubs in The Bowery and Manhattan’s Lower East Side. For one reason, that scene never appealed to me. I can understand later generations glossing it over as 1970’s urban poverty rock and roll chic thanks to the great music that came out of clubs like CBGB and The Great Gildersleeves. But I was more inclined to hang around neighborhoods where I didn’t have to pay too close attention to anyone walking behind me when I went out to buy a newspaper or cup of coffee.

There was no way I would fit in with that scene’s hard core street smart society.

Debbie Harry

By the time I arrived, the bands that had made it out of the Bowery clubs were a bit older and had moved onto bigger stages. That would include The Ramones, Talking Heads and Blondie, just to mention the upper tier of famous. What was left behind seemed to be mostly teenagers and early twenty-something wannabe’s who gravitated to what was still a seedy neighborhood after the now-gone rockers had given it some notoriety.

Is that where Heart of Glass takes me for this episode of The Classic Rocker?

To be honest, not really. As mentioned, I wasn’t part of the downtown scene where Blondie and the others had paid their dues. But it didn’t mean I wasn’t aware of what was going on.

I had heard of Blondie by the time the song came out in the winter of 1979. Anyone with an interest in pop music living in Manhattan would have to. But I don’t remember the song or band being anything close to ground-breaking or the new thing everyone always seemed to be waiting for. Heart of Glass was just one of many catchy songs getting a lot of play on the radio and in clubs where we would hang out.

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But it wasn’t ground-breaking or a new thing to rock my subconscious when I woke up with it in my head on October 26th. It was on my digital playlist and I had just heard it before heading off to my mind’s Club Dreamland. So with a flair of street smarts, I’ll shove it into the recent memory category.

Not too seedy for me

Even though I don’t recall anything specific when listening to Blondie’s Heart of Glass, it inspires me to dredge up images of the other New York City club scenes we hit while this song was riding the music charts. I never ventured inside CBGB, though I did rock to a few bands in the neighboring Great Gildersleeves. For the most part, the places we hit didn’t need an extreme teenaged punk attitude or dangerous look to fit in. But a sense of street smarts didn’t hurt.

I’ll name-drop a few.

Studio 54 was still a hot spot for the disco-scene wannabe’s, even though it was on its last legs the couple of times I went there. I don’t remember having any problems getting by the legendary velvet rope doorman, but once inside my interest was mainly just to look around, have a couple drinks and dance to a couple songs.

It was also cool to have some bragging rights just to say I had been there (and done that). And that’s what I just did (thanks for reading and being so impressed – ha!).

Next…

Doesn’t look like a Sunday night

My pals and I also hit Max’s Kansas City on (usually) Sunday nights. It was considered an “off night” based on crowds that packed the place on Fridays and Saturdays, and we could always get a seat at the bar. For a Blondie connection, Debbie Harry used to be a server at Max’s. But she had left for the music charts by the time we rolled in.

The third club I’m reminded of from this era was another legend, The Mudd Club which was located on White Street in Lower Manhattan. Since the TriBeCa district was a long haul for my gang of non-punks who were centered in Midtown Manhattan near Gramercy Park and Union Square, we only sprung for the taxi fare when it was a planned destination.

And since the venue was earning a major destination reputation for the rock and new wave scene in 1979, we made the field trip a couple of times just to say – once again – we had been there (and done that).

In case you’re not familiar with The Mudd Club and its reputation, check out the Talking Heads song, Life During Wartime.

“This ain’t no Mudd Club, or CBGB, I ain’t got time for that now.”

So yeah, I’m talking about THAT Mudd Club. And I have time for that right now…

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Our first visit was almost a major disappointment. After my then-girlfriend and two buddies got out of our cab on a dark White Street sometime after midnight, we saw the line to get in stretched around the block. There was also a velvet rope type of atmosphere with a large bouncer not letting anyone in until he felt like it.

At least that’s what it seemed like. It also seemed like he was not going to feel like letting us in.

The Mudd Club

Since my girlfriend wasn’t the type to stand in line and had born-in-her street smarts as a native New Yorker, she led the charge to find an alternative entrance. While sneaking through an alley behind the club, we spotted a door. We thought it could be a back door to The Mudd Club, but there was no way… And if it was, there was no way it would be unlocked…

And… surprise! It was.

One of us pulled the door open and walked into a dark room just behind the bar. We peeked around a corner and saw we weren’t far from the dance floor, so an on-the-spot plan was made to dance our way into the club. The goal was that we would easily blend in since it was crowded and the music was loud.

And… surprise! It worked.

We stayed in The Mudd Club for at least an hour, but it didn’t live up to our heightened expectations. Instead of the celebrity rockers featured on Page Six of The New York Post as they pretended to hide from the paparazzi (while paying publicists to make sure they were seen, photographed and featured) it didn’t seem any different than any other rock club. The best entertainment factor was all the girls looking like Debbie Harry and guys looking like Keith Richards.

My main memory is The Mudd Club looked like a sea of bleached or black dyed hair and black leather jackets. So, it really wasn’t our scene.

But… surprise! We tried it again.

Only this time we didn’t have an easy access pass…

After another cab ride we used our street smarts to bypass the line outside and headed down the familiar alley to our secret back door entrance. With my girlfriend acting like she had the cool of Debbie Harry and me assuming an attitude not even close to the cool of Keith Richards, we opened the door.

It was dark and loud, but not enough to miss seeing what was standing in front of us.

One of the Keith’s?!

Obviously, the back door entrance was not a secret anymore and we were face to face with a large bouncer. His job – also obviously – was to deter street smart deprived wannabe’s like us from skipping the line and paying a high cover charge to enter a club where you might actually see the real Debbie or Keith blending in with the wannabe Debbie’s and Keith’s.

Our not-so-friendly bouncer’s appearance certainly opened my eyes and heightened my senses – thus raising my New York street smarts aptitude.

Since I’m not afraid to exaggerate certain situations, let’s just say the bouncer was twice my size, had arms bigger than my legs and I saw flames coming out of his nostrils. He also sounded very punk rock-ish when he emphasized the “F-Bomb” when asking us, “Where the f**** do you think you’re going?

And… surprise! That was the end of our conversation and final destination journey to The Mudd Club.

Heart of Glass? Maybe the song was playing at the club that night, but I would’ve never heard it since my concentration was on getting us a cab and back to our less-seedy neighborhood. But even if I’d had enough street smarts to get past the back door bouncer and into The Mudd Club and Debbie Harry was actually hanging out avoiding the paparazzi, it’s doubtful I could’ve picked her out from the sea of bleached hair hanging out with the sea of Keiths.

Here’s the “official” video of Blondie performing Heart of Glass

 

 

To purchase Blondie Greatest Hits with Heart of Glass visit Amazon.com

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Dave Schwensen is The Classic Rocker and author of The Beatles At Shea Stadium and The Beatles In Cleveland. Visit Dave’s author page on Amazon.com.

Copyright 2019 – North Shore Publishing

 

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#156 – Smoke on the Water

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#156 – Smoke on the Water by Deep Purple

Deep Purple

– Two decades after this song came out Nirvana was grunge-ing about Smells Like Teen Spirit. But for boomers that frequented college parties and dance clubs when Smoke on the Water was released as a single in May 1973, after first appearing on the Deep Purple album Machine Head in early 1972, your sense memories should be drenched in teenage sweat at just the thought of one of the best known guitar riffs in rock, heavy metal and now, classic rock.

And like all great rock guitar riffs, you know exactly what song is playing after only the first couple notes. Chances are good you’ll also remember immediately jumping out of your seat and bouncing onto a dance floor whenever every local rock band cranked this one up to the max volume.

How am I so sure of that? Because that’s how I remember it.

I really don’t know what Nirvana was shouting about in the classic grunge-rocker from the 1990’s, but their song title fits what my sense memories recall from the pre-disco music scene in the 1970’s. I doubt there was any local rock band that didn’t have Smoke on the Water included in their repertoire – along with Roundabout by Yes.

And though I won’t earn any new classic rock fans and will probably lose a few by saying this, I remember both being way overplayed.

Did I just say that – really? Yeah, I did.

Blurred by 3.2% beer?

For a couple of years anyway, Smoke on the Water and Roundabout were guaranteed party-starters. The first notes of either song would cause a stampede of late teens and early twenty-somethings to abandon their “legal at age eighteen” 3.2 percent (alcohol) beers and jump around on a dance floor until the sweat of teen spirit was added to the already thick aroma of brew and smoke (as in cigarettes, which any twelve year old could buy at the time). These songs were such a sure thing to get everyone up and rocking we heard them so often I seriously can’t remember ever wanting to hear either again after we were done with the 1970’s.

That’s why Smoke on the Water joins this Dream Song list as a subliminal member. I hadn’t heard it in a long time, I’ve never owned a copy – and have no desire to change that. When the opening notes jolted me awake on October 15th I must have been unconsciously dancing under the covers since I was breaking into a sweat. I can only assume I was having a dream influenced by long ago teen spirit memories and was back on a dance floor jumping around like a college student powered by watered down beer on the last day of final exams.

Now, if you’ve followed these Classic Rocker ramblings you know I can’t leave you with just a general vague description of hearing Smoke on the Water at every music club we went to. There is one specific memory that jumps into my mind when hearing the opening notes…

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A few weeks after a bad breakup with a long time girlfriend (is there such a thing as a good breakup?) I escorted a new girlfriend to one of our local live music clubs. It was big place and typically crowded for a Saturday night. So of course, the first person I spotted was my “ex” hanging out with her pack of loyal girlfriends. With experienced knowledge you can’t learn in a college classroom, I immediately steered the new girlfriend to the opposite side of the club and found an empty table.

After ordering a couple 3.2% beers we suddenly had company.

To take the suspense out of this sense memory, it wasn’t the “ex” dropping by to say hello or put her cigarette out on my arm. Instead it was two of her friends that had obviously been given an assignment in espionage. Their mission (and they chose to accept it) was to scope out what the heck I was doing with this new girl and to gather any information and perhaps incriminating evidence that I may have been seeing her before the bad breakup with their friend.

Yeah, real teen spirit stuff.

They were on a mission!

Of course I hadn’t talked with the “ex” friends in what seemed like forever, but suddenly they acted like we were all new friends. Over whatever loud early 70’s rock the band was playing, we verbally danced over the obvious, “How are you?” “What have you been up to?” and more specifically, “Who’s your friend?” interrogation that was both awkward and annoying. But the new girlfriend and I handled situation like a team from Mission Impossible (the television series, since we were still decades away from the movies) with fake smiles, polite answers and another round of 3.2% beer.

Then Smoke on the Water came to the rescue.

When the local band hit the first few notes the current girlfriend grabbed my hand and gave me a look as if we’d been granted parole. I called out a (polite) “See’ya later!” and made a beeline onto the dance floor.

End of conversation.

After a lengthy version of Smoke on the Water that was most likely followed by the band’s cover of Roundabout, I suggested we go to another (probably hyped by me as better) club and we split the scene. I’m tempted to add I could feel a few sets of teen spirited eyes trying to burn a hole in the back of my head as we made for the exit, but that would only be speculation on my part. Where there’s no smoke (on or off the water) there’s no fire.

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Eventually the “new” became an “ex” and the first “ex” became a friend. Yeah, I know. It’s complicated. But in the teen spirit of the 1970’s, we all kept dancing – just with different partners in different places. But if I can assume at least one thing stayed the same after going our separate ways, it would be wherever we were and whatever local band was playing, we’d join the stampede onto a dance floor as soon as we heard the opening notes to Smoke on the Water.

Have a comment? Please use the form below.

Thanks for reading – and keep rockin’!

Here’s a 1972 video of Deep Purple performing Smoke on the Water

To purchase The Very Best of Deep Purple with Smoke on the Water visit Amazon.com

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Dave Schwensen is The Classic Rocker and author of The Beatles At Shea Stadium and The Beatles In Cleveland. Visit Dave’s author page on Amazon.com.

Copyright 2019 – North Shore Publishing

 

#157 – All By Myself

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#157 – All By Myself by Eric Carmen

 – It was never a definite thing, or as we would’ve referred to it in college as a lock. There were no promises or guarantees made, but if the planets aligned in a positive way there might be a very slight chance I could meet a Beatle.

Okay, I didn’t. But for this Classic Rocker it still turned out to be a pretty cool experience. Here’s the scoop – and yeah, I mean that with ink-stained, newspaper lingo.

In 2000 I was writing entertainment columns for a newspaper in northern Ohio. It wasn’t the big one in Cleveland, The Plain Dealer, but it still came with decent-enough credentials to score interviews and concert review tickets for most of the music and comedy shows I wanted to see. But there was one road block when it came to the music I really enjoyed. I wasn’t the official the pop-rock journalist, since that was how another writer earned his paycheck. I was the assigned country music expert, even though I knew nothing about real country music before accepting the gig.

What do I mean by real country music?

I’m talking about the original artists out of Nashville, Bakersfield and other locales south of my northern locale. When it came to my personal country playlists, they were limited to most of the tracks Ringo was assigned on Beatles albums and the occasional Rolling Stones efforts at twang on songs like Wild Horses and Far Away Eyes.

But I gained an appreciation while reviewing concerts and interviewing Willie Nelson, Garth Brooks, Tanya Tucker and quite a few others. And as a bonus, my country column also allowed me to hang out backstage one night with The Everly Brothers since the newspaper’s too-young, pop-rock reporter wasn’t classic rock savvy enough to realize Don and Phil were rock star royalty.

That was also a pretty cool scoop on my part.

I’d always feel a bit like a lottery winner whenever my writer colleague’s personal opinion that classic rock wasn’t really happening worked to my advantage. That’s also how I scored review seats for Paul McCartney and an invitation to a private rehearsal by The Monkees.

Ringo + All Starr Band 2000

I had a system going within my local newspaper gig when it came to classic rock and I played it like an all star.

So, I was more than psyched to learn Ringo Starr and his All Starr Band would be playing in Cleveland that summer. A quick call to my editor confirmed our pop-rock guy had no interest and I started polishing up my media pass for the concert.

I grabbed a press release sent to the newspaper and immediately called Ringo’s publicist. I was politely told I would be sent review tickets, but the former Beatle would only do one newspaper interview in each city. Cleveland’s belonged to The Plain Dealer’s legendary journalist (and my friend) Jane Scott.

Okay… so one win and one loss. I could live with that.

But then came a big score I didn’t see coming. The publicist told me one of the All Starr’s had a north coast connection and asked if I would be interested in doing a phone interview with Eric Carmen.

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Are you kidding me? My answer to that question was easier than the lock I’d had once on a college exam when the teaching grad student gave me the answers in advance.

Sign me up!

Let’s get this out of the way right now. I’m a major Eric Carmen fan as both a solo artist and member of The Raspberries. I can attribute this to a few things. I grew up near the band’s launching pad of Cleveland and even though I’ve never met any of the members, it almost feels like I know these guys. The nucleus of the group (without Carmen) were well-known throughout the area as The Mods, then after changing their name to The Choir scored a hit song in 1966 with It’s Cold Outside.

It was one of the songs that always brought together the guys and the girls from opposite sides of the school gym to dance during our junior high dances. And yeah, I have a copy on my digital playlist.

The Choir + Eric Carmen

Eric Carmen was in another area band in the early 70’s called Cyrus Erie. By this time, we were in high school and old enough to drive. That also meant we were old enough to hang out in teen dance clubs. I remember seeing them in a club west of Cleveland that was also called Cyrus Erie, but with an added tag of “West” to separate it from a same-named club on the east side.

Another memory of that long-ago night in Cyrus Erie West was when a cute girl with a flower painted on her cheek asked me to dance. And to really show off my memory, she said her name was Sunshine. I mean, really – how could any sixteen year old guy ever forget that?

The Choir and Cyrus Erie somehow merged, resulting in The Raspberries and international fame. Their brand of power-pop music was the needed alternative to (in my opinion) a rock scene that was getting too stuck in alternative music.

I seriously could not listen to twenty minute drum solos, over-long guitar improvisations or some guy blowing on a flute. Give me two to three minutes of rock and roll and I’m happy. And I know my college frat house pals would agree since our parties with sorority girls would’ve never been the wild times we still reminisce about if we hadn’t had everybody on their feet and dancing to Go All The Way, Tonight and I Want To Be With You.

Eric Carmen – The Choir

Then sometime during my college daze The Raspberries broke up. But my fandom was saved when Eric Carmen released his self-titled solo album that opened with All By Myself. It was one of the rare LP’s I could listen to all the way through without picking up the stereo needle and skipping any songs. It was also the go-to soundtrack at the end of our college parties with sororities when the lights were low…

All By Myself was also a go-to for my waking mind when it joined this Dream Song list on the morning of September 27. Of course I own a copy (duh), but surprisingly hadn’t heard it in awhile. I must have been rocking to The Raspberries or It’s Cold Outside that week instead. So for that reason, welcome to the subliminal memory category.

My phone interview with Eric Carmen to promote the Ringo and his All-Starr Band concert was scheduled and confirmed. I was psyched. Maybe a little too much…

I wish I could say the interview was one of my stellar moments as a music journalist, but that’s not how I remember it. I had done quite a few interviews previously with artists I consider to be heavyweights in the entertainment biz, but with Eric Carmen I very quickly morphed into fan-boy.

Remember the Saturday Night Live bit where Chris Farley interviewed Paul McCartney? All he did was tell the pre-Sir Paul how great he was and asked if he remembered all these great things he had done. If you don’t, here’s a reminder…

 

 

It was just like me talking to Eric Carmen.

Okay, maybe it turned out to be a bit more than that. I reminisced about everything mentioned above, including Cyrus Erie, The Raspberries, my college parties and his solo work. He was extremely polite and a nice guy, but all he really had to reply was, “Yes, I remember” and “Thank you.” Then I was onto my next memory.

Eventually we talked about the tour and performing with an ex-Beatle. So the article was salvaged and ran in the newspaper. I also saw a link to it on his website years ago, but in a recent search for this particular Classic Rocker rambling I couldn’t find it online.

It’s probably just as well – at lease for my journalistic reputation.

At the end of our talk I mentioned that my review tickets usually included a pass to go backstage after the concert. If it was cool, I’d like to say hello. He said that would be fine and if there was an opportunity, he might be able to introduce me to Ringo Starr.

Say what?! Call me fan-boy x2 and sign me up!

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The outdoor All-Starr concert was a major blast from the past with Carmen performing All By Myself and Go All The Way and Ringo singing his fab-twang classics. After the encore I temporarily ditched my wife Dancin’ Deb and our friends for a possible rendezvous with my hoped-for new best friends Eric and Ringo backstage.

As mentioned at the beginning of this rambling fan-boy confession, it didn’t happen.

Alas (do people still use that term?), my newspaper and name wasn’t on the list and I couldn’t talk my way past the strong-armed security guard road-blocking the backstage entrance. I’m sure I stood looking longingly (do people still use that term?) as Jane Scott and other VIPs walked through the gate and joined the far away inner circle that I could only imagine included Ringo Starr and Eric Carmen.

But in the long run, I can still claim to have had a very cool experience.

I rejoined Dancin’ Deb and our friends to share reviews of our favorite moments from the show. And if my more recent memories are correct, we ditched playing a Ringo CD during our drive home and turned up Eric Carmen. That’s called hometown loyalty.

Have a comment?

Please use the form below – and keep rockin’!

Here’s a video of Eric Carmen performing All By Myself on The Midnight Special television show from the 1970’s. This is the complete song – and not the edited version released as a single for radio play.

 

 

To purchase the album Eric Carmen with All By Myself visit Amazon.com

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Dave Schwensen is The Classic Rocker and author of The Beatles At Shea Stadium and The Beatles In Cleveland. Visit Dave’s author page on Amazon.com.

Copyright 2019 – North Shore Publishing

#158 – Stay With Me

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#158 – Stay With Me by Faces

Faces

– Summer heat and a packed stadium of wannabe boomer hippies morphing into mod rockers. Okay, maybe you won’t think it was as game-changing as I’m making it out to be, but let’s put it this way:

You had to be there.

Since The Classic Rocker is all (well, mostly) about memories this song brings back more than a few – including the scene mentioned above. Rod “The Mod” Stewart, future Rolling Stones guitarist Ron Wood, future Stones keyboard sideman Ian McLagan, future Keith Moon replacement in The Who, Kenney Jones, and original Small Faces bassist Ronnie Lane were throwing a booze-fueled rock and roll party on stage and everyone was invited.

And it was a needed party. At least that’s how I remember it.

This was happening in July 1972 following my first year in college and the country was going through a very heavy scene. We were hearing a lot of message songs on FM and campus radio not only about protesting the Vietnam War, but also serious odes to peace and love and coming together as a community. These were important topics for our generation and had been growing stronger since the late 1960’s.

In the Navy!

It especially hit home when my age of U.S. males became eligible for the military draft. With the end of student deferments and low draft lottery numbers (mine was #52 which was way too low for comfort), some of my college friends had no choice about their futures. You either went in or went on the run.

It was pretty serious stuff.

We still had rockers like The Who and Led Zeppelin blasted out future classics with attitude, but a lot of music was meant to be listened to. Acoustic guitar playing troubadours with flannel shirts and denim bellbottoms dragging on the floor were a popular sound and style. But as teenagers in the early 1970s some of us could only sit cross-legged around a stereo digging the heavy vibe for so long until feeling the need to cut loose.

The Rolling Stones’ Brown Sugar had kicked off the summer of 1971 and offered us an alternate vibe. The message was sex and being wild – and if that’s not rock and roll someone needs to come up with a better definition. It had crunchy electric guitars, a heavy beat, a screaming saxophone from Bobby Keys and major attitude. Mick Jagger and Keith Richards weren’t going to waste their time or ours by standing around with acoustic guitars looking introspective and thoughtful.

As soon as the stereo needle hit the vinyl we were in a better place.

Faces also sang about rock’s main topics, backed by electric guitars, keyboards and a drum beat that made sitting cross-legged on the floor virtually impossible. And it was a heck of a lot of fun.

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Legendary as the ultimate ode to backstage groupies, Stay With Me by Faces – as opposed to “The” Faces, which would be like saying “The” Led Zeppelin – was a definite party-starter. The song closed the first side of their late 1971 album A Nod Is As Good As A Wink To A Blind Horse and opened my eyes on September 26th as a recent memory. It’s one of my all-time favorite rock songs (along with Brown Sugar) and rarely off my digital playlists for any great length of time. In other words, I had just heard it.

So, what did I mean earlier about morphing from wannabe hippies to mod rockers? It all started on July 3, 1972…

As a nineteen year old U.S. male home from college with the second year riding on the results of an upcoming U.S. military draft physical, I was doing my best to emulate the Woodstock culture of the boomers a few years earlier. The style included hair to my shoulders, a faded t-shirt and faded denim bellbottoms long and wide enough to drag on the floor. My three best pals were also clones of the look as we took off in a beater car for a major rock concert experience at the Akron (Ohio) Rubber Bowl featuring Cactus, Badfinger and the main attraction, Faces.

When we arrived, the stadium was already packed with like-minded hippie wannabes. But for some reason we felt brave enough (stupid enough?) to wade our way through the crowd sitting cross-legged close to the stage. When we reached a space that gave us a great view, we sat. Seriously – we just sat down, practically on top of the fans who were already there. I remember some teenage girls and guys giving us the evil eye and saying something about our arrogance (stupidity?) but it worked out. We were basically good guys and actually funny enough to resemble a hippie comedy team.

It didn’t take very long before we were making friends and they let us settle in for the show.

Come to think of it, we probably made these fast friends because one of my pals had hid a bottle under his shirt and was free in passing it around. Combined with the 3.2 percent beer we were allowed to buy from venders at the legal age of eighteen, everyone seemed pretty friendly and the atmosphere could be described as party central.

Badfinger

Except for being a hot, humid day in July with more dirt and dust than grass covering the stadium’s pre-Astroturf college football field, I don’t have any highlights of the opening acts to share. I don’t remember any of us being into Cactus. They might have been part of the country-rock scene out of California, which we weren’t into at the time. I was psyched about seeing Badfinger since they were a Beatles-related Apple band, but they were a bit of a disappointment. I have a memory of one or two of them sitting on stools while playing the hits we wanted to hear. Not exactly the rock and roll energy we expected.

Faces fronted by Rod Stewart were the complete opposite.

They rock and rolled, pranced and posed and made no secret they had a party central happening on stage. We were close enough to see bottles of booze on the amplifiers and they took healthy swigs before, during and after songs. I’m not sure if Stay With Me was the closing number, but I like to think it was. As a dedicated soccer fan, Rod kicked soccer balls into the crowd and at one point either he – or it might have been Ron Wood – landed on his butt after an especially energetic and booze-fueled kick.

We roared our approval.

But what did I mean about a change from wannabe hippies into mod rockers?

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Faces were far from being flannel shirt and denim rockers. They were decked out in brightly colored slim-fitting, wide lapel jackets, flashy shirts, bellbottoms and high-heeled shoes. There’s no way these guys would’ve felt comfortable walking through the mud at Woodstock or showing up for a military draft physical.

They were traveling in style. Which is something I started to do within a few weeks of the concert.

My goal was to fashion myself like Rod and the band with what I can only call a “rock and roll jacket.” It had to be slim fitting with wide lapels, which turned out not to be as easy to find in northern Ohio as it must have been in London.

Not as cool as this!!

After hours of driving with my concert-going buddy Gary to every clothes store we could find near and far from Cleveland, we finally wound up back in Akron at a then-known but now-gone 1970’s fashion trendsetter clothes store called Chess King (as opposed to “The” Chess King). A mod-rocker sales dude pulled out a jacket in my (tight) size and I reached for my wallet.

And even though muddy brown sugar would never be called a flashy color by Faces or London fashionistas, I proudly wore it to add mod to my rocker status.

To end this Classic Rocker rambling in a way I feel is even more dramatic than landing on my butt after an energetic and booze-filled soccer ball kick into a standing room only stadium crowd of boomer, mod-rockers, the military draft fizzled out only months before my lottery number was scheduled to be inducted. That meant the rock and roll jacket would be my main uniform during a second year of college.

That also signaled another needed party – and I’m sure I wore my jacket. And even though it didn’t inspire the Rod Stewart solo-hit, in my teenaged mind I probably thought it: You wear it well.

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Here’s a live video of Faces performing Stay With Me looking like 1972 rock and rollers!

 

 

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Dave Schwensen is The Classic Rocker and author of The Beatles At Shea Stadium and The Beatles In Cleveland. Visit Dave’s author page on Amazon.com.

Copyright 2019 – North Shore Publishing

#161 – Sultans of Swing

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#161 – Sultans of Swing by Dire Straits

 – For some, moving to New York City can be like relocating to Ork. Now, if you get that reference you’ll want to continue reading. If not, go for it anyway and you’ll understand…

I was looking through photos of Manhattan taken in the late 1970’s. There was the famous skyline with The Empire State Building and Twin Towers of The World Trade Center, along with the various neighborhood highlights of theaters, diners, restaurants, stores and parks. It was everything I love about New York City.

But there were also photos travel agents from that time would never choose for a tourist inspiring vacation brochure. I’m talking about abandoned buildings, crime-ridden areas, graffiti everywhere, sinister looking gangs and scenes of poverty only a short walk away from wealth and luxury. Many city blocks looked dark and ominous, while the subway looked dangerous and filthy. Streets were jammed with traffic and sidewalks were filled with people.

These shots made the city image look dark, dirty and crowded. But without benefit of any brochures that might have changed my decision, I knew New York was the only place I wanted to live. So, in May 1977 I walked off a train in Penn Station with a copy of The Village Voice apartment listings and went looking for adventure.

I found it and it lasted for more than thirteen years.

My first vivid sense memory walking along West 34th Street between Macy’s and Gimble’s and into Herald Square was the strong smell of urine. It was a little offsetting for a Midwestern-raised guy in his early twenties to see homeless camped out in the park while at the same time people were leaving the department stores with big shopping bags.

Welcome to New York.

NYC 1979

Following advice from my cousins on Long Island, I focused apartment hunting to the Eastside of Midtown. But after three days of walking and disappointment I couldn’t find anything I thought affordable, even after a solid year of working and saving after college. I was mentally giving up and resigning myself to a permanent return to Ohio when walking on East 22nd Street to the subway I passed a renovated building with an “apartments for rent” sign.

As a last-ditch attempt, I went into the rental office. After being shown a small triplex with a very small terrace and located around the corner from Gramercy Park, I asked how much and held my breath waiting for the bad news. I’ll just call it The Miracle on 22nd Street because it was within my budget.

I signed a lease and moved in.

Okay, without any previous city life experience my budget planning wasn’t exactly accurate. I would’ve been broke by the end of summer, but I hustled through a few jobs and made it work. And the payoff was worth it and almost immediate in giving me a real New York City experience. Within the year I had lived through The Summer of 1977 Blackout, The Blizzard of 1977-78 and a garbage strike.

Yeah, I became a real New Yorker real fast.

Mindy & Mork

The first few months my budget was tight. There were lots of frozen dinners and staying in watching shows like Charlie’s Angles, Happy Days and Mork & Mindy on my small black and white, pre-cable television. Why did I just mention these three shows? Well, Angels was on when the blackout shut down the entire city, I thought The Fonz was cool, and Mork will play a part in this story.

But that’s coming up later…

For me, New York has always been two very different cities. There was the daytime with people rushing around with their nine-to-five jobs, packed subways and traffic jams. Then there was the nighttime, which is what I gravitated to right away.

By the fall of 1977 I was already into my pattern of working in theaters, bars, restaurants and nightclubs. And on my off-nights I started performing in the small folk music clubs in Greenwich Village. I had a close and growing circle of friends, made decent money and by that spring had a steady girlfriend.

In other words, life was pretty exciting and I loved New York – especially at night.

These late 1970’s memories come back whenever I hear Sultans of Swing, which is my excuse for this rambling sense memory since the song was running through my mind on September 20th. I hadn’t heard it in awhile, so it moves into the subliminal category of Dream Songs. And it reminds me of this special time in my city life because it was on just about every jukebox in just about every club we hit (and we hit quite a few) during the winter of 1979.

The song also reminds me of my girlfriend at the time, who for one night got to play Mindy to Robin WilliamsMork. But first, that claim needs to be set up…

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Most of my favorite memories of New York are on the dark side, but that’s only because we inhabited the night. I’d normally leave for work in the early evening and finish in the middle of the night. Then more often than not, that’s when we’d go out and meet up with our friends. Clubs and bars were open until 4 am (and later if you knew where to go), there were plenty of 24-hour delis and diners, street lights kept everything from being too dark and ominous, and you could always find a taxi.

My girlfriend was from New York, which made her very different from the girls I’d dated in Ohio. Growing up in the Bronx, she had street smarts and also wasn’t afraid of adventures. Her goal was to be an actress, which meant she also worked in a restaurant. And by the way, that’s an inside joke meant for fellow creative artists. I’m sure you’ll get it.

We decided we could make more money working in television commercials, so during winter 1979 we took a course together in Midtown Manhattan. We learned how to read copy (words), audition, and work on camera. I actually booked a few local commercials, but nothing that earned enough to quit my night job.

Outside Grand Central Station 1979

Our weekly class was the last one on Friday afternoons, so afterward we’d kick off the nighttime in a dimly-lit bar located on a grimy-looking block under the traffic overpass on the north side of Grand Central Station. I have no memory of the name, but it had a fun vibe with locals and commuters and happy hour prices.

It also had Sultans of Swing on the jukebox.

But every night couldn’t be a hanging out night and I still had rent to pay. So, three nights a week I bartended at a place just two blocks from my apartment. One off-night, which means a Sunday in Manhattan, I was stuck behind an empty bar while my girlfriend went out for adventures with her girlfriends. Sometime around midnight she called me on the bar’s payphone, which is a term today’s youngest generation will find confusing. Not only were we still decades away from cell phones, but public telephones still had rotary dials and cost a dime to make a call.

Where are you?” I asked.

At The Improv comedy club hanging with Robin Williams,” she answered.

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Even though I was still only working on my second year as a transplanted New Yorker, I had learned you never knew who you’re going to run into. Especially at night. But I just didn’t think the star of television’s top sitcom filmed in Hollywood would be hanging around a local club on an off-night. I was still a few years away from finding out how often that actually happens.

Yeah, right,” I said before added a healthy dose of sarcasm, “now tell me a western.”

The Fonz and Mork

Yeah, that’s exactly what I said. It was a cool put-down line going around in 1979, basically meaning you’re making it up and I don’t believe you. As comedy fans we had been to The Improv on West 44th Street and I didn’t doubt she was there, but hanging with the star of Mork and Mindy? Maybe he was in NYC and had performed on stage, but the hanging out part seemed to be stretching the story a bit.

Then about half an hour later…

I was standing behind a still-empty bar on East 20th Street when the door opened and my girlfriend walked in.

Behind her was Robin Williams.

Thanks to earlier budget conscious evenings in my apartment I had seen a few episodes of Mork & Mindy. But that shouldn’t have been an excuse for acting like a… well, I guess Orkan would fit this situation. That’s probably the best term because I stood at attention and flashed Robin the Nanu-Nanu hand gesture he did on the show as the alien Mork from Ork.

Yeah, I know… But I couldn’t think of what else to do. Let’s just say I was a little surprised.

No jokes,” he said.

Okay,” I answered, relieved I didn’t have to embarrass myself anymore.

They sat down at the bar and I gave my girlfriend a beer. Robin asked for club soda.

1979

Then we hung out and had a regular conversation. We talked about the actor’s strike going on at the time, which shut down production on Mork & Mindy. Rather than hang around Hollywood, he flew to New York and was doing sets in comedy clubs. We also talked about other stuff, but that’s what I specifically remember. He was heading downtown, shared a cab with my girlfriend and came in to prove she hadn’t been writing a western.

It was all very normal for New York City nighttime, which is my way of saying the experience was far from Nanu-Nanu. We hung out for about half an hour and then he had to leave.

Since the restaurant was deserted, the three of us walked outside to Third Avenue. It was cold being winter in NYC, but also nighttime so Robin had no problem hailing a taxi. It was one of the big, yellow Checker Cabs that used to be as synonymous with the city as the Brooklyn Bridge but were phased out in the 1980’s. We said good night and he climbed into the back seat.

That was when the entertainment portion of our program started.

Robin Williams

Rear seat windows on NYC cabs only opened halfway. While the driver waited for the red light to change, Robin rolled down the window, stuck the upper half of his body outside and presented us with a LOUD Robin Williams comedy shtick (for lack of a better term). This included facial expressions, different voices and accents, wildly swinging arms and a glimpse of Mork from Ork. The light turned green and my girlfriend and I stood there laughing, not only in disbelief over what was happening but also because he was very funny, as the cab took off down Third Avenue and eventually out of our hearing range.

Even though it was a Sunday night off-night in The City, I remember my pals and some customers coming in later to hang out at the bar until last call at 4 am. And I had a pretty good story for them.

You should’a been here earlier.

And I also remember Sultans of Swing. It was 1979 and was on just about every jukebox in just about every club, including the one where I bought Robin Williams a club soda and actually saluted him with Nanu-Nanu. Yeah, I’m such a nerd… Uh, I mean Orkan.

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Please use the form below – and keep rockin’!

Here’s Dire Straits with Sultans of Swing, providing a soundtrack for 1970’s nighttime in NYC.

 

 

To purchase The Best of Dire Straits with Sultans of Swing visit Amazon.

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Dave Schwensen is The Classic Rocker and author of The Beatles At Shea Stadium and The Beatles In Cleveland. Visit Dave’s author page on Amazon.com.

Copyright 2019 – North Shore Publishing

#163 – It’s Still Rock and Roll to Me

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#163 – It’s Still Rock and Roll to Me by Billy Joel

 – When this song came out in 1980 boomers were still controlling the music scene, but something strange was starting to happen. Our rebellious nature had been focused on the older generation, but now we were feeling the push of a generation coming up behind us. They were tagged as Generation X and many of us considered them too young to be of any real notice as we continued to groove through our late twenties. It was noticeable when the punks and new wave bands of the late 1970s (with members born in the boomer generation) started calling our favs like The Rolling Stones, Led Zeppelin, The Eagles and The Who “dinosaurs.”

I’ll go ahead and lay the blame on the newer and younger record-buying age group for pushing the latest vinyl 45 rpm singles to the top of the music charts during the late 1970s. My age demographic had been album-oriented since the late 1960s and the current singles really didn’t interest us.

If a new group didn’t have an album worth buying, we didn’t notice.

But teenagers were buying the singles, making them hits and influencing the latest styles. Since sales equals profit for record companies hoping to stay in the black (vs. going into the red and out of business) they focused on their new audience. And like boomers during our era, the latest look was influenced by new artists, which meant both the music and fashion trends were shifting away from us.

We had to adjust or join the pack of dinosaurs that risked going out of style and being labeled old.

Here’s what I mean:

In the late 1970s you could still be psyched about the latest album from your favorite band that had formed in the 1960s. Fashion-wise you could still maintain some type of cool looking like one of The Eagles from Hotel California, a disco freak from Studio 54, a punk rocker or Keith Richards. As a side note, the Keith Richards look always allowed for admittance into the other groups.

By the time we hit 1980 there was a major shift in music and fashion sense.

I was already three years into my New York City residency when I realized this new trend was taking over. Hippies were past tense, the Woodstock era no more than a memory, disco was dying, and punk was… well, for punks.

The music consisted of more electronics than guitars and the beat came from drum machines. To be fashionable and anti-prehistoric, the guys had ditched bellbottoms for skinny legs and shirts with skinny ties topped with loose jackets. Hair on girls would continue to get higher throughout the decade while the guys went shorter.

But again, the fault didn’t lie with my demographic of baby boomers. The younger crowd was coming into spending money and the music and fashion industries were catering to their newest and profitable big market.

It’s Still Rock and Roll to Me was a protest song about this.

A hit during the summer of 1980, Billy Joel defended our taste in music while still succumbing to a fashion statement in the song’s video that wouldn’t make him seem like a dinosaur. His shorter hair and skinny tie made that perfectly clear.

The song rocked enough to make adulthood challenged boomers still feel relevant while also signaling the end of our musical dominance. The 1980s would’ve only gotten worse for us if we hadn’t been saved by the advent of Classic Rock Radio. At least our hits would still be on the airwaves while it would be decades before our fashion sense became retro.

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It’s Still Rock and Roll to Me hit this Dream Song list on September 18th. I own a copy and it’s not an unfamiliar addition to my weekly playlists. But it hadn’t been recently. For that skinniest of reason, it goes into the subliminal category.

As a musician I was still playing what I felt was rock and roll at the time, even though it was a far cry from the rock and roll I lived for as a teenager. Over the previous decade bands like Zeppelin, Pink Floyd, The Who and yeah… even KISS had given it more volume, power and flash.

If you wanted to be in a rock band in 1980 you had to adjust.

I strummed here a few times!

After a couple years strumming an acoustic guitar and going nowhere fast in Greenwich Village folk clubs, I bought a bass and decided it was time to turn up the volume. Along with my pals Tim on guitar and Bobby on drums we formed a hard rock, high volume trio that we called Rox. I found out years later another band had used the same name and released an album, so in the end I guess they own it. But I also maintain we were first.

It’s just that no one outside of our NYC neighborhood ever heard of us.

As a band we spent more time rehearsing and recording than we did playing live shows. I thought it was mistake then and still do. Playing live really was the only way to be seen and hopefully discovered, but the others disagreed. Their logic was to record an album worth of original songs and sell it to a record company.

Rather than debate the merits of that decision let’s just say it didn’t work out.

But thanks to a good friend who worked as a producer of radio jingles and had been a fan of my earlier music in the Village clubs, we scored quality time in a state-of-the-art recording studio in Midtown Manhattan. She basically “piggybacked” us onto scheduled jingle recording sessions. If she had booked four hours for a jingle and it only took three to complete, we inherited the remaining hour. The result is that I own about three-quarters of a finished LP by Rox that no one outside the three of us and a few family and friends have ever heard. And to be honest, it’s pretty good.

Someday I should do something with it. But in the meantime…

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The few live shows we did were more concerts than club gigs. When the mood struck us, we’d rent a large loft near Gramercy Park, rely on friends to help build a stage (and I have no idea who donated the lumber for these “raves”), use a photographer friend’s lights, and borrow a sound system from another band. We’d schedule an opening act, print up flyers and end up packing the place.

These were hot, sweaty, energetic and LOUD performances. The crowd reaction was always great and called for encores until we ran out of songs. But instead of keeping the momentum going, my two band mates were content to spend weeks in rehearsal studios and hours recording our “breakout” album.

Again, it didn’t happen.

Fighting for Rock ‘n’ Roll

It’s Still Rock and Roll to Me was on the charts and video airwaves while all this was going on with Rox. And it reminds me of one live performance that was far from a concert since it was an audition for some type of talent show that was supposed to help us be seen by record people.

It was a Saturday morning (not the best time for rock and rollers) during the summer of 1980 when we carted our equipment via a NYC taxi to a studio in The Village. We set up in a room to play in front of a panel of about six people who would decide if we’d be part of this industry showcase.

Billy Joel’s video comes to mind because we played rock and roll but bowed to the current fashion trend. I remember wearing tight pants, white Capezio dance shoes, shirt with skinny tie and a white cloth jacket with the sleeves pushed up. I’m not sure what the other guys wore, but guessing it wasn’t too far removed from my look. The only real difference from Mr. Joel was our long hair.

The 80’s hadn’t changed us that much – at least not yet.

We were a loud and heavy band, but for some reason Tim and I had written the first – and only – slower, ballad type song we would ever do. It was called Forever and I played a very melodic bass line while Tim floated a flanged guitar effect sound over the top. Bobby kept a simple time on the drums, and I sang lead. By the end of the song it built into a heavier sound that I thought then – and still do – was very cool and more classic rock than ’80s hip.

When we finished the song, we were very pleased with how it went. However, one of the judges came over and asked if we could “turn down the volume” for our second song.

Say what?!

Turn it up to eleven!!

That definitely wasn’t what we were about as a band. We also realized, based on the judges looks (80’s hip) and attitudes (turn it down?) that this showcase wouldn’t be right for us anyway. The three of us came to a quick decision, scratched the idea of doing a more pop song we had planned and turned the volume on our amplifiers up to eleven.

We played one of the hardest rocking songs we’d ever written and recorded called Love On Wheels. I maintain we sounded like Guns ‘n’ Roses at least six years before any of us had even heard of Guns ‘n’ Roses. We also extended the ending lead guitar jam into what we called a Wall Of Sound and pretty much shook the building down to its foundation.

I remember a few of the judges walked out during our performance. I have a feeling their 80’s hipster ears were bleeding to the sound of Rox.

After finishing, we didn’t even wait for the “don’t call us, we’ll call you” decision. Laughing and giving each other high-fives, we dragged our equipment out onto the street, hailed a taxi and made it to our local neighborhood hangout for lunch and beers. A crowd of our friends turned the afternoon into a party and we never thought again about auditioning for a showcase.

We ended up doing one more huge loft gig that year before we split up – staying friends – for other career paths. In my case, my microphone and small practice amplifier were the only equipment needed to start a popular comedy club in our same neighborhood hangout that ended up taking me places and providing experiences I would’ve never dreamed of while protesting the “new sound” by being a rock ‘n’ roller in 1980.

Have a comment?

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And speaking of protesting and defending rock ‘n’ roll in 1980, here’s Billy Joel doing just that:

 

To purchase The Essential Billy Joel with It’s Still Rock and Roll to Me visit Amazon.com

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Dave Schwensen is The Classic Rocker and author of The Beatles At Shea Stadium and The Beatles In Cleveland. Visit Dave’s author page on Amazon.com.

Copyright 2019 – North Shore Publishing