Category Archives: 1970s television

#155 – On The Road Again

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#155 – On The Road Again by Willie Nelson

– My wife Cowgirl Debbie and I are sitting next to each other at a table on Willie Nelson’s tour bus. Yeah, that’s pretty cool in itself. But to make the scene even cooler, sitting across from us is Willie Nelson himself. I’m kind’a fumbling around for something to say that will keep him interested in our conversation. I hit on something, his face lights up and Cowgirl Debbie says…

Okay, now that I might have you somewhat interested, we’ll go back a couple decades before continuing with this scene.

In the late 1970’s I had a pretty cool apartment in New York City. I’ve talked about it before in these Classic Rocker ramblings, but to be brief it was in the Gramercy Park neighborhood, had three levels and a small terrace. For NYC it was living in style. However, since I was still basically a just-graduated college student trying to figure out what I was going to be when I grew up, most of my funds went into paying rent.

The furnishings consisted of whatever my parents didn’t want anymore and how much of it I could stuff into a station wagon for my move from Ohio.

My first big splurge of spending money for pure enjoyment was a subscription for Manhattan Cable Television. It’s now sort of a laughable starving artist memory since the only television I had was another parental castoff small enough to be balanced on my stomach while lying in bed. It also scores high on the memorabilia meter since it can be described by another castoff term – black and white.

As Ralph Kramden often said in a black and white sitcom classic called The Honeymooners: I was living in the lap of luxury. And as another piece of memorabilia for dedicated NYC television viewing veterans from the era, that show was aired every weeknight at 11 pm on Channel 11.

I know, because I watched.

HBO’s Finest!

With my cable television subscription, which included an extra length of cable in case I wanted to put the television on a table next to the bed instead of on my stomach, came a relatively new network called Home Box Office (HBO). This was revolutionary since movies and special features (comedy and music concerts come to mind) were broadcast without any commercials.

Hey, if they could land a man on the moon only a decade earlier, why stop there? Commercial free paid television was the next logical step.

After a few years of progressively improving personal finances I eventually had a color television in the living room with added cable networks like MTV, ESPN and Cinemax. But HBO was still the go-to for watching movies if you didn’t feel like heading out to a theater and paying an exorbitant seven dollar ticket price for a first-run feature.

But HBO didn’t seem to have an exorbitant amount of feature films at that time. In other words, they seemed to air the same movies over and over and over

But that was okay if the movie was really good or – even better – if it was really bad. The frequently run HBO classics that immediately come to mind during the early 1980’s fitting both requirements were Can’t Stop The Music with The Village People (and Bruce Jenner!), Thank God It’s Friday with Donna Summer and Honeysuckle Rose starring Willie Nelson.

Yeah, there were others. But this trio of music flicks were aired so often during my insomniac late nights they’ve been burned into my lasting memory.

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Speaking of memory, On The Road Again joined the subliminal category of this Dream Song list on October 21st. There’s no other explanation for its inclusion other than my burned-in memory since I don’t own a copy and probably haven’t heard it since we saw Willie Nelson in person the evening we sat with him on his tour bus.

To connect all the dots between the movie memories and our in person Willie Nelson experience…

Real life Honeysuckle Rose

On The Road Again was the Academy Award nominated theme song written by Nelson for his 1980 movie Honeysuckle Rose that seemed to be on HBO over and over and over… And of course, the title of the movie was also the name of his tour bus both in the movie and real life.

Got that? Okay, then one final classic movie note…

Not only was Willie Nelson the romantic lead in this “on the road” country-music-flavored film, but his co-star was one of my favorite American actors, Slim Pickens. Yeah, I know, a quirky choice on my part. But he made my personal all-star list with roles in the films Dr. Strangelove (riding on an atomic bomb into glory), Blazing Saddles and 1941. After playing these burnt-into-my-mind roles, I found it a bit unreal to watch ol’ Slim as a guitar player in Willie’s band, which is probably another reason I found it impossible to switch on a different cable channel whenever the film came on HBO during another late night round of sleepless viewing.

Two decades later, in 2002 to be exact, I wasn’t quite grown up yet (I’m still working on that) but was doing something I could’ve never dreamed or predicted when I made the long ago decision to splurge on Manhattan Cable Television. I was writing a weekly country music column for a newspaper in northern Ohio. Again, I’ve mentioned this in past Classic Rockers and how it gave me a fresh outlook on music I hadn’t paid much attention to previously.

Press Pass

It also brought me face to face with the country legend and star of Honeysuckle Rose on his tour bus. And though I’m not sure his 2002 updated traveling home shared the same name, I’ll go ahead and say it did just to keep you somewhat interested.

With two review tickets for Nelson’s July 22nd concert in Cleveland and a confirmed post-show interview, Cowgirl Debbie and I were psyched for a somewhat interesting evening. Debbie’s reason was based on her being a big country music fan (hence the name) and me because…

Well, come-on. I’m sure you’d also think it’s pretty cool to meet Willie Nelson.

Willie and his band played all his classic hits, but I somehow felt disappointed Slim Pickens wasn’t standing next to him playing guitar. On a sad note, Slim passed away almost two decades before in 1983. On a techno-psychological note, that shows the lasting power of cable television on the human brain.

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After Willie walked off stage following an encore or two, we flashed our media passes at a security guard and were escorted behind the outdoor venue to a closed off parking area and a large bus. Another guard stood outside protecting the open door.

After checking our passes, he told us to go inside and have a seat.

Willie’s living room

The front section of the bus was a living room that included a table with booth seating big enough for four people to have dinner or a card game. Then there was a closed door dividing what I assumed were private sleeping quarters in the back. The decor (if I remember correctly) included wood paneling and dark red curtains over the bus windows.

After just a few minutes the closed door opened. Willie Nelson walked in, said hello and sat at the table with us.

Doing my best Ralph Kramden impression from The Honeymooners, I probably started my newspaper interview with, “Homina, homina, homina…” BTW – veteran Honeymooners fans will know exactly what I’m referring to.

But as I should have expected, Willie Nelson was very cool. Soon we were talking about the concert, his tour, music and… well, it could have been somewhat more exciting than that. It was obvious to both of us I was asking – and he was answering – questions he’d heard countless times before.

So I went with something else:

What would you have done if music didn’t work out?

Willie looked at me, smiled and said, I’d like to be a professional golfer.”

Willie Nelson & The Classic Rocker

That takes us back to the beginning of this epic rambling story. Cowgirl Debbie, who had been uncharacteristically quiet (trust me on that) up to this point, saw his face light up and said…

On what? The Senior Circuit?

Okay, obviously Willie didn’t look like a teenager – even back in the days of filming Honeysuckle Rose. But Cowgirl Debbie’s remark was like a sucker punch to his funny bone. Willie started laughing and might have pretended to be offended by her age-related joke. But it didn’t matter since the timing, delivery and his reaction had all three of us cracking up.

After that ice-breaker the rest of the interview goes down in my memory as fun time. Willie was a genuine nice guy with a great sense of humor. And I’m sure if we had asked, he would’ve let us ride on Honeysuckle Rose with him to the next tour stop.

Okay, probably not. But the idea of us on the road (again?) with Willie Nelson might have kept you somewhat interested enough to read this far.

Have a comment? Please use the form below.

Thanks for reading – and keep rockin’!

Here’s a 1983 video of Willie Nelson performing On The Road Again.

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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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#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

#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.

Have a comment?

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