Tag Archives: The Improv

#144 – Ding Dong, Ding Dong

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#144 – Ding Dong, Ding Dong by George Harrison

George Harrison

For a Classic Rocker like myself, this song has become more of a New Year’s tradition than the previous chart-topper of New Year’s tradition songs, Auld Lang Syne. That one was geared for our parents’ and grandparents’ generations. Then again, this George Harrison singalong probably already has that same reputation with generations younger than the boomers.

It’s funny how age will do that. And it’s a guarantee – like turning the pages on a calendar.

Even though I remember reading Harrison wrote this to be a New Year’s “ring out the old, ring in the new” celebration song, I don’t quite remember getting that message when it was included on the Dark Horse album that came out in December 1974. There had been a lot of excitement the month before over Harrison’s (and any Beatle) first solo tour of North America and the the LP’s first single, also called Dark Horse. Ding Dong, Ding Dong seemed to be a hidden gem only heard after purchasing the album.

In other words, I don’t remember this being a radio hit. At least not during the 1974 holiday season.

Harrisongs in concert

I purchased the Dark Horse LP when it was released. But the bigger excitement was scoring tickets to one of Harrison’s two concerts at Richfield Coliseum (Cleveland, Ohio) that was supposed to take place on December 2, 1974. I say supposed because both shows were cancelled due to a major snowstorm. They were never rescheduled – but that’s not even the worst part of this sad story…

On the day of the show, my girlfriend and I had at least a two-hour drive from our college to the Coliseum. And that would be with no snow covering the highways and back roads. We listened to radio updates all morning with deejays reporting roads were almost impassable, but the concerts had not been cancelled. Harrison would be on stage whether we were there or not.

So we took off in my Chevy Vega station wagon, which was great for hauling stuff to college, but not exactly known as an all-weather vehicle. An hour into our drive we were still only about ten miles from campus, but the radio reports were egging us on. Finally, the announcement came.

Harrison couldn’t get to Cleveland and shows were officially cancelled.

Making a U-turn on a snowy and slippery road, my trusty Vega slid into a ditch. In the days when cell phones were nothing more than a space age wristband in a Dick Tracy cartoon, we sat and waited until a tow truck – obviously making emergency runs up and down the highway – stopped and pulled us out. We eventually made it back to campus in time to declare our concert night would now be transformed into a frat party night.

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Three of the wildest concerts in Beatles – and rock & roll – history!

The Beatles At Shea Stadium:

The Story Behind Their Greatest Concert

+

The Beatles In Cleveland:

Memories, Facts & Photos About The Notorious 1964 & 1966 Concerts

*

Both books available in paperback and eBook through Amazon.com

For information about Dave’s author programs visit BeatlesProgram.com

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And if it adds to the story, this was the only time in my life I had grown a beard. I doubt it looked good at all, but it was 1974 which was an era stuck post-Woodstock and pre-disco. With that excuse in mind, a beard seemed like a good fashion statement at the time – right up there with leisure suits and platform shoes.

So, to “protest” (yes, that’s the term I used after only one or two beers) the delay in cancelling the concert, I shaved the beard off that night. I’ve never had one since.

What I have had since are plenty of Dream Songs and this one joined the list on July 17th. Yeah, I know – far from New Year’s Eve, but I have no control over the just-waking mind. I sometimes wonder if I even have any control over an already-awakened mind, but that’s another mental concept I’ll need to drag from my personal ditch in the future.

But I am conscious enough to admit I own a copy of Ding Dong, Ding Dong and adhere to no seasonal restrictions when adding it to a digital playlist. In other words, I had just heard the song, so it enters this Dream Song List in the recently heard category.

Since there have been references to New Year’s Eve in this Classic Rocker rambling, it seems only fair there should be a corresponding memory. Okay, here’s one…

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About two and a half decades following the release of Dark Horse and Ding Dong, Ding Dong I was managing the top comedy club in New York City. Based in the West Side Hell’s Kitchen neighborhood of Manhattan, we were only a couple blocks from Times Square where – if you know anything about New Year’s Eve in Manhattan – thousands of partying tourists gather to watch the ball drop at midnight.

A Beatle at the NYC Improv

Dick Clark and a whole slew of celebrities make it a celebration while nightclubs, like The Improv comedy club where I had been hired to maintain some type of control, were packed with sold-out audiences.

I won’t mince any words in saying I view New Year’s Eve as “amateur night.” I know you’ve heard the term and I won’t take any credit for making it up. I just lived it too often and learned through experience I’d rather work in a nightclub then try to live up to everyone’s party expectations. I always had just as much fun (probably more) and was paid to do it.

After this particular New Year’s Eve 3-show comedy club extravaganza, I locked the front door and looked forward to heading downtown to my Gramercy Park neighborhood for late night hanging out with friends. In NYC a special holiday license allowed bars to stay open until 8 am on New Year’s and my fellow working pals would just be getting together a few hours before that. So we would have plenty of time to ring in the year at our local watering hole.

Along with my girlfriend (a different one from above) and a best pal I had invited to be my guests for the late comedy show, we stood on the corner of West 44th Street and 9th Avenue looking for a taxi. BUT since the Times Square thousands were also looking for rides and carried a well-earned, decades-old reputation for being more than a little inebriated after hours of partying in the streets, taxis were not picking up anyone.

As each red light turned green, countless cabs drove past us with their “Not In Service” lights turned on.

“Yo taxi!!”

It looked like we were going to be in for a long night / early morning wait for a miracle cab. It was either that or riding a packed subway with booze-saturated amateurs or making a long cold walk downtown. None of these choices would be a great way to kick off a New Year.

Then my adopted New York street smarts took over…

During the umpteenth red light with mobs of tourists filling the streets with the same objective, I went for broke. I ran out into the intersection and slapped a twenty dollar bill on the windshield of an off-duty taxi. I yelled through the window at the driver, “This is yours on top of the fare AND a tip!

He looked at me and said, “Get in.

I jumped in the back with my two companions and laughed as we drove off, leaving everyone without New York street smarts behind. We made it downtown and hooked up with more friends in plenty of time for our own New Year’s celebration and great advice for anyone desperate to find a taxi in an overcrowded city.

Ding Dong, Ding Dong. The lyrics, “Ring out the old, ring in the new” is the message in this song. But sometimes old traditions make a lot of sense. In this case the age-old advice simple:

Money talks.

Here is the first music video George Harrison ever made for one of his single records:

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To purchase the Dark Horse LP with Ding Dong, Ding Dong by George Harrison, visit Amazon.com

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

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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 2021 – North Shore Publishing

#146 – My Way

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#146 – My Way by Frank Sinatra

Frankie

– This edition of The Classic Rocker is not going to go the way you think it’s supposed to. In fact, this will be nowhere near what you might be expecting…

First of all, My Way is Frank Sinatra’s signature song. Yes, I know there are many others to choose from over a career in which he was as popular in the 1940s as Elvis was in the 50’s and The Beatles were in the 60’s. But unless you’re leaving Yankee Stadium at the end of a baseball game where Frank’s version of New York New York is still ringing in your ears, My Way was Frank’s way of telling you he was king of the hill.

My Way hit a line drive through my sleeping mind on January 14th. The tune is actually from a 1967 French pop song, but the English lyrics were penned by American pop star and composer, Paul Anka. Everyone from Paul to Elvis to Sid Vicious recorded a version, but Sinatra’s is the classic of the bunch. It may not be considered classic rock, but it joins this Dream Song Countdown in the subconscious category since I don’t own a copy and haven’t heard it since before my last visit to Yankee Stadium many seasons ago.

Chairman of the Board w The King of Rock and Roll

But as mentioned earlier, the memory induced by this 1969 worldwide hit song undoubtedly varies from any memories it may bring to you. Mine includes a very different star from a different world of entertainment.

Back in the late 1980’s I was manager of the world famous Improv Comedy Club – officially known as The Original Improvisation – in New York City. This was actually the first comedy club in the country and the one all others were modeled after. It was a hotbed of laughter on West 44th Street between 8th and 9th Avenue in a district still known as Hell’s Kitchen.

During recent visits to Manhattan I’ve described the updated city as more Disneyland than The Gotham City I remember. The Improv is long gone and the famous original brick wall that stood behind the stage is the only reminder left. It’s now part of an Italian restaurant that displays a plaque listing many of the famous comedians that had been regular performers at the club.

And no… my name is not included since there’s no “management” listing. Ha!!!

Former Manager

One rainy and dark off-night, meaning not a Friday or Saturday when we always had comedy fans lined up around the block waiting for our next show, I was doing my best to look busy. What that actually means is I was trying to decide what comedian would go on stage next. The “name” comedians were always scheduled for earlier in the shows, while newer performers would come to the club around midnight and hang-out, hoping they would be chosen for time on stage.

It wasn’t uncommon for famous comedians to pop in and do a guest set.

It was always exciting because we never knew who might walk off the mean streets and in through the club entrance. I could name-drop some impressive drop-ins right now, but let’s concentrate on one who in comedy circles is probably just as legendary as Frank Sinatra is with singers.

So, on this particular night I was talking with the two “door guys” – who were both very funny up-and-coming comedians still needing jobs to earn money – near the club entrance. Since it was the 1980’s and Hell’s Kitchen was more Adventure Land than Disneyland, we always kept an eye on the door to make sure any trouble was kept outside. Let’s just say the streets could be wild and though there was never a sense we were in any type of real danger, we had to be cautious about who walked in.

————————————————————————

Three of the wildest concerts in Beatles – and rock & roll – history!

The Beatles At Shea Stadium:

The Story Behind Their Greatest Concert

+

The Beatles In Cleveland:

Memories, Facts & Photos About The Notorious 1964 & 1966 Concerts

*

Both books available in paperback and eBook through Amazon.com

For information about Dave’s author programs visit BeatlesProgram.com

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At the same time during this late, dark and wet city night, the three of us noticed a sinister figure jaywalking across 44th Street to the club. The guy was dressed in a jogging suit with a hood covering the upper half of his face and didn’t seem to be walking too steady. Both door guys started to lock the door, which was a standard move when we saw potential trouble coming our way.

But just as the hooded figure stepped onto the sidewalk, I caught a glimpse of his face in the streetlight. “Wait,” I told the guys. “It’s okay – that’s Rodney.”

They stepped back, the door opened, and Rodney Dangerfield walked in.

Getting no respect!

Yeah, he looked just like the characters he played in Caddyshack, Back To School and Easy Money. He introduced himself (like we didn’t know who he was) and got a drink at the bar. As I did whenever a celebrity came in, I asked if he would like to go on stage and say “hello” to the audience. He walked to the showroom door, looked inside and declined. He didn’t seem all that interested in an “off-night” crowd that wasn’t the same as a sold-out crowd.

He finished his drink and took off into the dark, damp night to his next destination.

I ended up seeing Rodney more than a dozen times during my New York and Los Angeles career and this was only our first meeting. I bring it up because we never seemed to know “what” Rodney we would get. Honestly, the way he approached the club on West 44th Street that night had the guys almost locking this “sinister” looking person out. But there were other times he was a Hollywood legend basking in celebrity.

But getting back to “my way” – Rodney did things “his way.”

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In New York City, the night before Columbus Day always had a party atmosphere and shows we booked at The Improv followed that theme. We would schedule the city’s best comedians and definitely new it would be an “on-night” with a full audience. One year during our pre-Columbus Day show the comics were hot and the club was steaming with laughter.

Then in through the door – unannounced – walked Rodney Dangerfield.

Following my offer to say “hello” to the audience, he looked in the showroom, saw it was packed and said okay. When the comedian on stage finished his set, I told the MC to introduce Rodney. As he walked to the stage the audiences’ cheers raised the excitement to another level.

Then he made an announcement. “No jokes,” he said into the microphone, before taking a sip from his drink. “I’ll just answer questions.”

I was as surprised as my door guys while we stood in the back of the showroom and watched. The first question from the audience was, “Are you going to make any more movies?”

“No,” he answered. “Next question.”

No jokes?

This is a detailed description of his performance during the next ten minutes he stood on stage. There would be a question, his one or two word response, a sip from his drink, and then a request for the next question. It wasn’t exactly what any of us would call “entertainment.”

Finally, he did tell one joke – that has been lost to my memory. But I’m sure it included his famous line, “I don’t get no respect.” When he finished, he waved the the audience and walked off stage.

Disaster? I assumed it was.

However, the crowd jumped to their feet and gave him a standing ovation. Rodney walked by us, hit the bar for one more and then disappeared back into the NYC night.

After closing, I grabbed a taxi heading downtown with both door guys and another comedian from the show. We were all very excited about how the evening had gone with a line up of top comedians, a full audience and a lot of laughs – until we stopped talking about it, looked at each other and pretty much said at the same time…

Except for Rodney.

We couldn’t figure out why he didn’t want to tell any jokes to an audience that was obviously thrilled to be in the presence of a comedy legend and movie star. But that’s just the way it went. As a club manager I never knew who might walk through the door or how they would respond to my invitation to “say hello to the audience.” But one thing I learned from working with Rodney.

He always did it his way.

And now back to our regularly scheduled programming…

Here’s a video of Frank Sinatra performing My Way. It’s not at The Improv, but it was close. New York’s Madison Square Garden was only about ten blocks away. Too bad Rodney didn’t wander in to say hello.

 

To purchase My Way 50th Anniversary Edition by Frank Sinatra, visit Amazon.com

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

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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 2020 – North Shore Publishing