Category Archives: New York

#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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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

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#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?

Please use the form below – and keep rockin’!

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

#166 – C’mon Marianne

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#166 – C’mon Marianne by The Four Seasons

 – You don’t need to have age revealing personal memories of placing a vinyl 45 rpm on your portable Hi-Fi record player to know The Four Seasons were HUGE during the era when the times really were a’changing. Okay, that’s a round ’bout Bob Dylan-isk (I just added that ending syllable to make up that hyphenated word) way of saying they were having hits before, during and after The British Invasion. That’s was a HUGE accomplishment for a U.S. pop group, especially when success on the music charts after February 9, 1964 pretty much required an English accent and long hair.

The only other band I can think of with the same resume would be The Beach Boys. They held down the West Coast sound while The Four Seasons were… Jersey Boys.

Along with catchy tunes and harmonies, Frankie Valli was The Voice that made their sound distinctive. No one else sounded like him. Brian Wilson could hit some high falsettos singing about surfer girls and woody hot rods, which was a common West Coast term for a surfer dude’s car rather than a common term for a New Jersey guy’s… ah, never mind. But Frankie could belt the upper octaves. There was never a doubt who you were listening to when hearing a Four Seasons song.

And it’s lasted for decades.

Jersey Boys based on The Four Seasons was a hit Broadway show, movie and a favorite revue in regional theaters, Las Vegas and on cruise ships. It’s the power of their hit songs and a story that even during their chart-topping days in the 1960s was rumored to have had a little help from The Underworld.

But I won’t go there. At least not right now…

That’s for the theater and movie fans to drool over. For me it was about the music. And even as a fan of almost every song that came from an English accented, long haired band during the mid-1960’s, I would never change the AM radio dial when The Four Season’s latest release came on.

C’mon Marianne was on just about every AM station’s playlist during the summer of 1967, but those were really some fast changin’ times. Sgt. Pepper came out in early June and by mid-summer everything had changed. Well, just about everything. The Four Seasons stayed true to their sound and image and C’mon Marianne would be the last time they hit the Top Ten during this Decade of Change.

It was The Summer of Love.

Even as a junior high kid who only knew about hippies because I saw them on television, there was a feeling The Four Seasons wouldn’t be contributing to the soundtrack for my segment of the boomer generation for much longer.

Frankie and the boys still looked like they were hanging out in New Jersey while everyone else was shifting their focus to San Francisco and London. They were as far from psychedelic as Frank Sinatra Jr. and had a better chance of drawing a crowd in a Las Vegas lounge than by singing on the corner of Haight and Ashbury.

Don’t get me wrong. I’m not saying I didn’t like their music.

In fact C’mon Marianne is on my digital playlist and I had just heard it the day before waking up to Frankie Valli falsetto’ing (just made that word up too) through my mind on September 8th. And if you’re keeping count, that makes it a recent memory Dream Song.

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What I am saying is these Jersey Boys stuck to who they were and what got them there. When psychedelic music reached our portable record players in album form, The Four Seasons weren’t on the vinyl playlist. The times had a’changed (sorry, I’ll stop with the Dylan-isk innuendos).

It would never prevent me from telling Frankie Valli he’s a great singer and I’m a fan. And that’s a good thing because a couple decades and a few years after C’mon Marianne I had the opportunity to do just that.

In the early 1990’s I had a very cool job in Los Angeles scheduling stand-up comedians to appear on a television show called A&E’s An Evening at the Improv. My boss was the legendary Budd Friedman, known to everyone that has anything at all to do with the industry as The Godfather of Comedy.

There’s no underworld reference in that. It’s just that he’s The Guy that started the modern comedy club concept with The Original Improvisation (shortened to The Improv) in New York, then Hollywood and eventually throughout the U.S.

Yeah, it was like The Comedy Invasion and he was Ed Sullivan, if you catch my reference.

We would pre-tape these one-hour shows (running on The Arts & Entertainment Network, hence “A&E” in the title) at The Improv comedy club in Santa Monica. They were aired weekly, which meant there were fifty-two shows a year. Since production expenses would be too over the top to deck out the club with cameras, lights, sound equipment and crew every week, we’d film two or sometimes three hour long shows in one night.

The on camera set up went this way…

Budd, wearing his trademark monocle, would open each show by greeting the live audience and home viewers. Then he would introduce a celebrity guest host who would do a short monologue and introduce the comedians. While each performed his or her seven-minute set, the guest host would sit at a table with Budd until it was time go back on stage, announce a commercial break and after, introduce the next comedian.

Repeat the process for five comedians and that was a show.

The Godfather of Comedy

Since we filmed two or three shows at once, we had to make it look like each was done on separate nights. That meant Budd had to change into different clothes for each show since he would be on stage and sitting with the guest host at a table that the cameras would focus on a number of times so television viewers could see them laughing at the comics.

Me? I didn’t have wardrobe changes in my behind-the-scenes job requirements.

Usually during one of the shows there would be an open seat at the four-person table and Budd would ask me to sit with them. That was also very cool because I knew when it would air and could tell my parents in Ohio to watch for me. Yeah, almost – but not quite – a celebrity son. Then after that particular episode was finished, I would disappear to sit at a table behind the cameras to keep up the illusion each show was filmed on a different night in front of a different audience. It would look pretty suspicious for television viewers to see This Guy (me) sitting at the featured table wearing the same exact clothes for what would seem to be two or three weeks in a row.

As mentioned, I worked with the comedians. So I never really gave much thought about the guest hosts. To be quite honest, I didn’t even know who many of them were. Most were supporting actors on sitcoms I didn’t watch, or hadn’t been on television for years and needed some screen time to let people – and casting directors – know they were still around.

The Godmother of Rockin’ Cars

But one guest host that really attracted my attention was the actress Tawny Kitaen. She played Tom Hanks‘ fiancé in the movie Bachelor Party, but was better known to my male buddies back in New York City as the “hot chick” rolling around on top of a hot car in an MTV music video for Here I Go Again by Whitesnake. It had been on heavy viewing rotation when I lived in NYC pre-Hollywood and if we were hanging out in a bar when it came on television, everything stopped. You could hear a pin drop and ever guy’s jaw hit the floor.

She was The Babe at that moment.

When it came time to film Tawny’s guest hosting episode, I was unfortunately minus a wardrobe change and relegated to a back table. But it was one of the few times I ever brought a camera to a taping and immediately after introducing myself we cheerfully (at least for me) took a photo together. When I mailed copies (pre internet) to my buddies at our local NYC hangout, I’m sure everything stopped except for their jaws hitting the floor.

Don’t worry, I haven’t forgotten about Frankie Valli. That’s the next episode, but first an interesting commercial break…

I don’t know the relationship and again, I won’t go there. Not even later. But Tawny had an entourage with her and there were only four chairs at Budd’s table. So some of her gang was sitting at a table next to me. Following a commercial break Tawny announced there was a celebrity in the audience – and introduced O.J. Simpson. A spotlight and camera zoomed in on the table directly behind me where O.J. stood up and waved to the crowd.

This wasn’t too long before the infamous murder and notorious trial. So at the time it was no big deal. But thinking back on it now… Yeah, it’s kind of creepy.

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There was one other time I wished a camera had been a job requirement. It was when I arrived for a taping and learned Frankie Valli would be our guest host. Normally I would meet the guest hosts in the club’s showroom right before filming started. But this moment dictated an exception to that routine.

For the first and only time I went searching backstage to find The Voice.

Since it wasn’t a large area and a small office would be set up as a dressing room, I very quickly looked past a half-opened door and saw Frankie sitting in a chair. He was wearing makeup (remember, this was television) and a dark suit with a high white collar and tie looking like…

Well, looking like a Jersey Guy.

Now it might have just been me. In fact, I’m SURE it was ME basing my first impression on a preconceived stereotyped image.

The Godfather of Vocals

I knocked on the door and introduced myself as the talent coordinator for the show. Once he was assured I had a reason to be there we made small talk about the comedy biz before I took the opportunity to tell him I’d been a big fan for a long time and it was a thrill to meet him.

Frankie Valli could not have been a nicer guy.

That should have been the end of the story and it actually is, except for my misconstrued preconceived stereotyped image kicking in. Frankie held out his hand for me to shake and I remember noticing he wore a large ring – or maybe even two that definitely told me he wasn’t just another guy from just another neighborhood in New Jersey. With his high collared buttoned white shirt, dark tie and suit, and a hair style that was closer to Sonny Corleone’s than a hippie holdover from The Summer of Love my mind wandered to the rougher parts of New Jersey, The Underworld and…

Well, I was greeting The Voice himself.

Yeah, I might have mentally viewed it closer to The Don (as in Sonny’s dad) – which is wrong. I know that. But when it comes to Frankie Valli he deserves respect. And just to dig myself into a deeper hole with insinuations, preconceived notions, unfounded stereotyping, too many long-gone rumors and too many viewings of Jersey Boys, when he said I could enter dressing room to say hello…

It was an offer I couldn’t refuse.

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Sorry – I searched – but couldn’t find a video of Frankie Valli and The Four Seasons performing C’mon Marianne. So what I found instead was this STRANGE film of STRANGE teenagers from the 1960’s with the song used as a soundtrack. Enjoy? That’s up to you. It might find it difficult just getting through it.

 

To purchase The Very Best of Frankie Valli and The Four Seasons with C’mon Marianne, 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 2018 – North Shore Publishing

#170 – Purple Haze

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#170 – Purple Haze by Jimi Hendrix Experience

Jimi Hendrix Experience

Like chewing aluminum foil. I’ll let that roll around in your mind for a moment…

This might be difficult for younger classic rockers to grasp, but Jimi Hendrix wasn’t an instant, overnight success. His earliest records released in England during 1967 were not exactly hits, even though other rock musicians were taking notice. On May 29th he opened a concert in London with the song Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band. The Beatles were in attendance and more than impressed since the LP had been released only three days earlier. That moment has been written and talked about countless times since because Hendrix is such a legend.

But at that time in 1967 he wasn’t… yet.

On June 3rd Sgt. Pepper was released in the U.S. and organizers for the Monterey Pop Festival starting two weeks later were doing their best to coax The Beatles into performing. They turned it down, but Paul McCartney suggested Jimi Hendrix. They went for it and that’s when the legend started becoming real.

At least for the people that were there.

Let me stand next to your fire!

For many younger teenagers living near the northern Ohio metropolis of Cleveland, now home to The Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, we didn’t hear much (if anything at all) about this legendary rock ‘n’ roll event. This was before Rolling Stone Magazine started covering the hippie scene for those of us thousands of miles away and the film Monterey Pop with Jimi’s legend-making guitar burning performance didn’t even come out until December 1968. I’m pretty sure I didn’t see it until it made my university’s late night film lineup during the 1970’s.

Hendrix’s album Are You Experienced with Purple Haze was released in late August 1967. And since none of the songs were played on our reliable Top 40 AM “pop” radio stations, we pretty much had no idea who Jimi Hendrix was.

But during that same Summer Of Love, riots in Detroit forced my grandmother to get the heck out of Dodge. With army snipers on the roof of her apartment building near the Detroit River, she caught a Greyhound Bus and made it to our isolated niche on the shores of Lake Erie. When the fires simmered down we drove through the battle zone, packed up her stuff and moved her into an apartment near us.

It was around this time I started hearing rumors about underground music on FM radio stations.

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Since grandmothers are usually programmed never to say “No” to their favorite grandchildren, she allowed me to commandeer her FM stereo radio. Not long before this, FM was pretty much a wasteland for teenage pop music fans by featuring talk, easy listening music, weather and news. The older generations might have tuned in, but boomers were only within hearing range when we were stuck in a doctor’s or dentist’s waiting room playing FM stations that numbed us to near-death with background elevator muzak.

Through grandma’s radio I listened to songs by groups that were leading us from pop to rock. This included the Jimi Hendrix Experience and the songs Purple Haze, Fire and Foxy Lady. It was called psychedelic and sounded electric, heavy, soulful and very cool.

I was hooked.

In early winter 1968 mom and dad took my sister and me to New York City to visit our Radio City Rockette cousin. Thanks to a lake effect snowstorm that shut down the Cleveland airport, we boarded a passenger train for a twelve hour ride to Grand Central Station. Somewhere near Rockefeller Center between watching shows by the high kicking Rockettes, I wandered into a record store and saw Are You Experienced.

I bought it.

After an all night train ride home spending as much time looking at the LP cover as I did looking out the window, I finally had the chance to rip off the plastic wrapping and put it on the turntable of our family stereo. This might also be difficult for younger classic rockers to grasp, but a stereo in many boomer’s homes during the 1950’s and 60’s doubled as a piece of furniture. So I was a bit surprised when my parents allowed me to commandeer the stereo and move it into my bedroom for my own personal use. They didn’t mind rock ‘n’ roll (after all, they had taken me to see The Beatles), but this gave them a better chance to hear what was on their FM stations when I listened to Jimi’s guitar feedback behind my closed bedroom door.

But similar to discovering Jimi Hendrix at the age of fourteen, I realized my room wasn’t cool enough for this new music. Hendrix also had a look and my room had none.

Sometime that summer I found a psychedelic poster of Jimi Hendrix with the words, “Like chewing aluminum foil.” My first impression was that it was funny. But it was also different and seemed very cool.

I bought it.

But it needed a better display than just being hung up in my room, so I also bought a blue light bulb. Don’t misunderstand. This was not a blue light that could be paired up with a lava lamp to turn any kid’s bedroom into a hippie hang out. It was exactly what I said it was – a blue light bulb. I slid open my closet door, pushed the clothes on hangers as far to the side as possible, tacked up my Jimi Hendrix poster and replaced the regular light bulb (with a pull string to turn it on) with the blue bulb.

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I had a cool room.

When my pals came over I would open the closet door, push aside the clothes, pull on the blue light bulb string, and play Are You Experienced. Oh yeah… we thought we were very cool.

Purple Haze joined this Dream Song list on September 2nd. I still own my original vinyl album, but in the years since have added it to my digital playlist. And since I had just heard it, the song joins the recent memory list.

Like chewing aluminum foil? Yeah, since we weren’t really that cool you should know what’s coming…

During this phase of our high school careers, my best pal Kevin and I were pretty much inseparable. We were about fourteen or fifteen years old and if I wasn’t at his house he was at mine. We’d ride our bikes around town looking for great adventures and throw parties so we could talk-up the cute girls in our class. On weekends we’d sleep over at one of our houses so we could stay up all night watching the dumbest movies we could find on television.

Actually, we were pretty bright kids and really didn’t get into any trouble. But then again, even smart kids can be dumber than the dumbest…

One night with my Jimi Hendrix poster displayed in it’s (not that cool) blue light, we started debating what like chewing aluminum foil really meant. Was Hendrix trying to tell us something? Was it about the music or the experience?

There was only one way to find out.

We walked into the kitchen, took out two pieces of aluminum foil, popped them into our mouths and bit down. Maybe it had to do with having one or two metal tooth fillings that were popular with muzak-listening dentists in the 1960’s, but there is only one way to describe the sensation.

OUCH!!!!!

If you’ve ever made the claim that you’ll try anything once in your life – cross this one off your list. It was like having a jolt of Jimi Hendrix electric guitar feedback screaming through every nerve ending connecting our jaws to our brains. We couldn’t spit it out fast enough while trying to muffle our cries of agony so we wouldn’t wake up my mom and dad. It was bad enough to learn how dumb we could be without letting my parents in on the realization.

Decades later I can still dredge up the pain like a bad acid flashback – even though I’ve never taken acid. If you’ve ever wondered what it would be like to stick a live electric wire your mouth, it’s…

Like chewing aluminum foil.

To this day if Kevin and I see each other all we have to say is, “LCAF.” Believe me, the impression was lasting and we both know exactly what we’re referring to.

The legend-making part of Jimi Hendrix’s career was also a short explosion that only lasted only a few years. He died in September 1970 while I was still in high school and at a time when some rock stars were only just starting to figure out there might be a dark side to doing drugs – and teenagers learned not to chew aluminum foil.

But we didn’t stop playing his records. Like The Beatles, The Rolling Stones and a certain few other legends of the rock world, Hendrix still seems to be relevant. He is still referred to as one of the best – if not THE best – rock guitar player and innovator. He changed the music forever.

He also changed the way I look at aluminum foil. LCAF.

Have a comment?

Please use the form below – and keep rockin’!

For a live performance video of Purple Haze by the Jimi Hendrix Experience, check this out…

To purchase Are You Experienced with Purple Haze 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 2018 – North Shore Publishing

#174 – Brass In Pocket

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#174 – Brass In Pocket by The Pretenders

 – I find celebrity sightings to be more credible in major cities than I do in… well, say my backyard. I could tell you I partied with The Rolling Stones last night, but it only means I sipped a light beer while listening to Honky Tonk Women. I doubt anyone would believe Mick or Keith – or even Mick Taylor – would have wandered by and accepted my invitation for a cocktail.

But even in world entertainment capitals like New York, Los Angeles or London, you have to be wary of imposters or wannabe’s. The only time one of those sightings ever worked in my benefit was a morning in Hollywood when my boss arrived at the office before me. Normally I had it timed to get there just before he did and make it look like I had been hard at work. When I walked in late and he was looking for me, I excitedly told him about “maybe” having seen Elvis driving a car, so I followed him just to be sure. After all it had only been about fifteen years since he “faked his own death” and “disappeared.”

I know he didn’t buy my story – though I sold it with all the comedic-actor talent I possessed. But at least he never asked me again for an excuse when I was late.

The real deal Chrissie Hynde

The Pretenders lineup that released Brass In Pocket as a single in late 1979 and on their first album in early 1980 was the real deal. The band was rock ‘n’ roll enough to stand out from the late 70’s punks and the early 80’s New Waver’s. Lead singer-guitarist-songwriter Chrissie Hynde was the focal point of the group and the rock star everyone could recognize from their videos, played in high rotation on the newly debuted MTV.

So for rock music fans, it wouldn’t have been too difficult to recognize Hynde hanging out in a major entertainment capital like New York City. Or was it…?

During the spring of 1981, I was managing and bartending at a Cheers type of establishment in Gramercy Park. Celebrity sightings weren’t an every day thing, but we’d had our share including Robin Williams, Van Morrison, Peter O’Toole and the members of Journey. The band had such a good time they came back the next night and gifted “the gang” with concert t-shirts.

Yeah, they were the real deal.

Some of our younger “rocker” regulars started talking about Chrissie Hynde hanging out in our neighborhood. Okay, it’s possible…

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Then one night they brought her to the bar. The locals tried to act semi-cool, but she had no problem talking about The Pretenders, their songs, recording and touring. She looked, talked, dressed and acted like how you’d expect Chrissie Hynde to act and everyone seemed to buy her act hook, line and sinker.

It was cool to have one of the biggest rock stars of 1981 hanging out with us. Or was it…?

Is she or isn’t she?

The more we saw her, which became almost nightly for the next couple weeks, something appeared off to me. And I wasn’t alone. I was playing in a rock band at the time and our drummer Bobby, who was a few years older and more cynical than the younger rock fans groveling for our new local rock star’s attention, felt the same way.

We didn’t think she was the real deal.

In fact, we knew chances were better Elvis would drive down Third Avenue and offer us a ride in his pink Cadillac than for this wannabe to be the real Chrissie Hynde.

So we actually came up with a plan…

We’d heard on our favorite NYC FM radio station that The Pretenders were getting ready for a European tour. The first show would be on Saturday, June 17th in Essen, Germany. Because of the time difference, it would be recorded live and broadcast the same evening in NYC on our favorite FM station.

Live from… where?

So that Saturday around… oh, I’ll guess it was 8 pm EST, I was working behind the bar and turned on the radio. Bobby came in, sat down and we both listened to The Pretenders (Rockpalast broadcast) playing in Germany.

That same night…

It really wasn’t that much of a surprise for us – but it had to be for our local pretend Pretender when she walked in the bar. We told her how good the band sounded live, but also wondered how she could perform in Germany that night and still hang out with us in New York? If I remember correctly, cynical Bobby did most of the talking while I watched her slowly meltdown and mumble something about actually being a cousin of Hynde’s and some other excuses I don’t remember – or really want to.

That was the last any of us ever saw of her. I can only guess The Pretend Pretenders Tour moved on to her next destination and a new fan base.

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Though I never saw the real Pretenders perform Brass In Pocket, the song was touring through my waking mind on August 19th. It may have had something to do with just having read an article about Hynde, but since I hadn’t heard the song in awhile it goes down in the subliminal category.

Which is also where this pretend Pretender story has been hiding since 1981. Thanks to… whomever… for the reminder. It goes down as just another entertaining story from one of the entertainment capitals of the world.

Have a comment? Please use the form below – and keep rockin’!

Here’s a video of the real deal original lineup of The Pretenders performing Brass In Pocket in 1981.

 

 

To purchase The Best of The Pretenders with Brass In Pocket 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 2018 – North Shore Publishing

August 15, 1965 – The Beatles At Shea Stadium

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– It started earlier than you might think…

sidbernstein

Sid Bernstein

During the winter of 1963 Sid Bernstein, a New York producer and entrepreneur, decided to expand his horizons by taking a course in Political Science. The instructor said if students wanted learn about democracy they need to study Great Britain, so Bernstein trekked down to Times Square every week and bought the British newspapers.

After reading updates about the government, he turned to where his real interests were – the entertainment section. He noticed the name of a pop group called The Beatles. At first the articles were small, but each week they continued to grow in size. They also included two words about their performances that caught Bernstein’s eye:

SOLD OUT!

To his producer’s way of thinking, these were the same words that described fame-predicting appearances by Frank Sinatra and Elvis Presley, two of the BIGGEST names in showbiz. Since expanding his horizons could also mean taking a chance, he located the Beatles’ manager Brian Epstein and booked the group – then unknown in the U.S. – for two shows in February 1964 at Carnegie Hall in New York.

Epstein Beatles

Brian Epstein and “The Boys”

When dealing with Epstein there were always stipulations. If The Beatles were not getting radio airplay in the U.S. by December 1963, the deal was off. It was a long wait, but as history tells us they made the deadline. I Want To Hold Your Hand broke the airwave barrier, they were scheduled for three February appearances on The Ed Sullivan Show – and Bernstein SOLD OUT both shows at Carnegie Hall.

Following the Beatles summer and fall 1964 tour of North America, Bernstein took another chance and scheduled them to appear in the brand new, state of the art Shea Stadium in Flushing, Queens. Again there were stipulations that included no advertising without a paid deposit, but Bernstein made a bold guarantee and backed it up by selling 55,600 seats through word of mouth. Once again…

SOLD OUT!

Nothing on this scale for a pop concert had ever been attempted before. Elvis had performed a handful of stadium shows leading up to his army induction, but the largest had been in front of 26,000 fans at The Cotton Bowl. The Beatles had to more than double that number to fill Shea Stadium.

Dressing Room

Away from the crowd

On August 15, 1965 The Beatles landed on top of a building at the neighboring New York World’s Fair and were delivered into Shea Stadium via a Wells Fargo armored truck. The dressing room was crowed with visitors including Mick Jagger, Keith Richards and future kingpin business manager for Apple Corp and three of the four Beatles, Allen Klein.

If only Brian Epstein had known…

Their entire visit to New York, beginning Friday, August 13th through Tuesday, August 16th, was filmed for a Beatles In New York (not the title, but the idea) television special. Only backstage and concert footage was used for the final version.

Introduced by Ed Sullivan, John Lennon, Paul McCartney, George Harrison and Ringo Starr ran to a small stage set up over second base on the baseball playing field and performed ten songs in about thirty-seven minutes. Whether anyone heard them depended on where they were seated, if they were screaming – or if they were next to someone screaming. Many of the male fans thought they sounded great. Many of the female fans don’t remember.

Shea on stage

Never before in the history of popular music…

Filmed in 35mm, the quality of the concert footage is similar to blockbuster Hollywood movies of the era. For comparison, The Monterey Pop Festival and Woodstock movies were filmed in 16mm.

The resulting television special, The Beatles At Shea Stadium, was planned for holiday (Christmas) airing in December 1965. One member of the Beatles inner circle approved the version submitted by Ed Sullivan Productions, while five others didn’t. A secret recording session took place in January 1966 to correct the sound and the special wasn’t broadcast in the U.S. until a year later. By that time fans were only weeks away from the release of Penny Lane and Strawberry Fields Forever by a mustached, psychedelic-clothes-wearing, pre-Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band.

The film has been restored, color-corrected with both the overdubbed and original audio remastered for mono and stereo. It has yet to be released.

But on television that January evening in 1967 they were still the mop-topped Fab Four riding high on the release of their summer 1965 film, Help! And they played, sang, laughed and sweated during a hot New York August night in front of a SOLD OUT audience of 55,600 fans.

It was 50 years ago on August 15, 1965.

It was the birth of stadium rock.

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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 2015 – North Shore Publishing