Thursday, May 12, 2005

Go Go forth

All this talk about go-go-ing inspired me to investigate a NY club which incorporated one of thee key phrases of the '60s in its name. Might be a bit of a misnomer as I don't believe go-go dancing took place there...but if you ponder the original French derivation of "a-go-go," which as I understand it means something like "galore," "as much as you like," or "to the nth degree," you can see how the appellation applies to this venue. The list of performers who graced its stage represents a staggering gathering of grooviness...galore!

CAFE AU GO GO--152 Bleecker Street. Owned by one Howard Solomon, about whom I know next to nothing except that he also managed Fred Neil, and passed away on June 3, 2004. The name certainly conjures images of fringed, frugging females, but this club was more serious, offering a varied mix of blues, jazz, folk, stand-up comedy, avant-garde performance and film, and, by the late '60s, psychedelia. Presumably established sometime in the early '60s (couldn't pinpoint an exact year), the club was on the lower level of a building which also housed the Garrick Theater upstairs. I had a hard time finding descriptions of its atmosphere until I came upon an interview with Greg Shaw, author of The Doors on the Road. This fellow is not the same Greg Shaw of Bomp/Mojo Navigator legend--he has more of a New York background: "My brother and friends frequented the Cafe au Go Go in Greenwich Village, which was a long rectangular club that couldn't have accommodated much more than 100 people. The stage dimensions were so narrow that the bands practically played into the opposite wall while the majority of patrons were seated on either side." He may be a little off on the seating capacity, which most accounts gauge at 300 or so. Still, that's quite small in relation to the caliber of many acts who enjoyed bookings there. [On the other hand, when big names played there, they were usually booked for several nights in a row, two shows per night.]

Johnny Ace, NYC blues bassist, has fond memories of the place:

I think the Cafe Au Go Go on Bleeker Street in the West Village was my favorite place to go hear blues. They didn't have a liquor license-so no liquor. This meant that at the ages of 15, 16 or 17, I could go in and see Muddy Waters with Otis Spann. I would also see James Cotton with his great band: the late Luther Tucker on guitar who played with everyone in Chicago (Sonny Boy Williamson II too, Little Walter, etc.) the late, crazy Alberto Gianquinto on piano who told me he had a try out with the New York Baseball Giants when he was 16, Francis Clay, Muddy Water's x-drummer, the gentleman of the blues who dressed so elegantly in his suits and scarves and who played so great on drums, and little Bobby Anderson, the heart beat of the group on bass. Bobby had a heart of gold and was my mentor. When I first met him at the cafe Au Go Go, he asked me if I was hungry and took me outside for a hot dog. I got to know them and I would get into all their gigs at the Au Go Go and the Fillmore East for free.
[Side note: A while ago I read somewhere that a more dance-oriented club operated in the building from the mid-to-late-'60s--maybe it took over the Garrick Theater's space? I cannot recall the name of this phantom club, and lately I haven't been able to find any references to it on the web, in books, or in my notes. Maybe I dreamed this factoid, or I'm thinking of some other place. A senior moment at 34? I'll have to dig further to find out...]

George Carlin, Lily Tomlin, and, most infamously, Lenny Bruce (apparently with Tiny Tim as the opening act), were among the innovative comics who wowed 'em at the Au Go Go. (These links offer more details on the Bruce obscenity trial.) Andy Warhol premiered his film Harlot at the club on January 10, 1965, and in October '65 Nam June Paik screened one of his earliest video works there. But alas, it's music which concerns us most, so here are just a few of the musicians with CAGG gigs under their belts:

Stan Getz with Joao and Astrid Gilberto on August 19, 1964, which resulted in a live album, Getz Au Go Go (Verve). (See the front and back covers here.)



The Blues Project were practically the house band throughout '65-67. Their Live at the Cafe Au Go Go (Verve/Folkways) was supposedly recorded during the "Blues Bag," a series of shows over Thanksgiving weekend '65--an event which yielded another live album on Folkways, Living Legends, featuring Son House, Skip James, Bukka White and Big Joe Williams.


Speaking of live blues albums, John Lee Hooker was backed by Muddy Water's band for his own Live at the Cafe Au Go Go, released on ABC-Bluesway in 1967.

The Paul Butterfield Blues Band played a few shows in July 1966.

John Hammond, Jr. enlisted the back-up aid of Jimmy James and the Blue Flames during some Go Go gigs ca. 1966. The Flames were simultaneously booked at the Cafe Wha? over on MacDougal, so they'd have to hightail it between the clubs to make their sets on time--can you picture Jimi Hendrix running down Bleecker, guitar case in hand? Randy California, later of Spirit, was also in the Flames, but was too young to accompany Hendrix on his star-making journey across the pond. Hendrix later headlined at the Au Go Go in July 1967, and occasionally sat in on after-hours jam sessions there when in town, like this one from March 17, 1968.

Folkies at the Au Go Go included Fred Neil, Tim Buckley, Tim Hardin, Tom Pacheco, Dave Van Ronk, Ian and Sylvia, Richie Havens, Chuck & Mary, Joni Mitchell, and the Au Go-Go Singers, a folkie troupe which included Stephen Stills and Richie Furay.


On to the rockers and psych-meisters. Here's a short list--click on the links for specific dates and other pertinent details if they're available.
  • Blood, Sweat & Tears (or, as my old buddy Bruno used to call them, the Excretions).
  • The Jefferson Airplane
  • Country Joe & the Fish
  • The Youngbloods (see also this article).
  • Frank Zappa and the Mothers of Invention, though some of these shows were upstairs the Garrick Theater (with Sandy Hurvitz, a.k.a Uncle Meat)
  • Procol Harum
  • The Doors
  • Cream (see some pics here and here. According to an article on rollingstone.com by Little Steven, "I first saw Clapton with Cream, at the Cafe Au Go Go in New York in 1967 -- sort of. I stood outside. It was sold out. I couldn't get in. But you could see them -- the band was right in the window. And it was loud, even outside." Hmm...was the stage set-up similar to that of the Lakeside Lounge?).
  • The Nazz
  • Moby Grape
  • Them
  • The Grateful Dead (who evidently didn't care for the place. According to an excerpt from Blair Jackson's Garcia: An American Life published here, "That place was really strange," says Laird Grant. "You're jammed into this brick, low-ceilinged tube — this room — where they served ice cream and everyone was sitting down instead of dancing like we were used to. That was a weird trip..." "We hated the Cafe Au Go-Go," adds Mountain Girl. "It was all painted black inside and it smelled really bad. The ceiling was about 7-feet high; you could reach up and touch it. It seemed like we'd come a long way for such a small gig. The stage was tiny and all the equipment had to be wedged in there.")
  • Rhinoceros
  • Soft White Underbelly (precursors to Blue Oyster Cult)
  • The Fugs
  • The Jagged Edge
  • Silver Apples
  • The Chambers Brothers
  • The Godz [News flash: the Godz' Paul Thornton has been doing some musical stuff lately with two former members of the Left Banke, according to the leftbankism yahoogroup. He's also been establishing an acting career and word is he'll appear on The Sopranos next season--I wonder if the aforementioned Li'l Steven helped him get that gig...]
  • The Paupers (opening for Cream) and Luke and the Apostles (two bands from Toronto's Yorkville scene).
Cafe Au Go Go closed sometime in the early '70s. The space was reopened as the second location of the Gaslight, which had moved its operations from 116 MacDougal. (Apparently in the mid-'70s there was also a strange private club called the Cockroach Club in a loft on an upper floor of the building). I'm not sure how long the Gaslight Mk II survived, nor am I sure what occupies the site now. But I'm visiting NYC next week, and if I get a chance maybe I'll take a ghost-stroll down ol' Bleecker.

[UPDATE 5/24/2005: It appears that the original buildings at the southeast corner of Bleecker and Thompson Streets were torn down and replaced by an apartment building which, judging from its architecture, was probably built sometime in the '80s. The ground floor of this building has a few storefronts facing Bleecker; the one occupying 152 is a nail salon.]

[UPDATE 1/14/2010: I've recently made the e-mail acquaintance of a fellow blogger named Corry, co-author Rock Prosopography 101 and a couple of other blogs devoted mainly to exploring the lost venues and bands of the Bay Area. His purview often reaches beyond the West Coast though, as in this fine roundup of practically every gig known to have taken place at the Cafe Au Go Go. Corry has heaped much praise on yours truly, but my efforts pale in comparison to the research skills of him, his co-author "The Yellow Shark," and his friend Marc who compiled the list. Bravo!]

[UPDATE 5/23/2010: Check out psychlops' post delving deeper into the background history of the Au Go Go/Garrick Theater building, at his blog They're Dancing in Chicago, down in New Orleans, Dead-icated to exploring various Grateful Dead venues.]


[UPDATE 11/16/2011: I posted a whole bunch of 1967 Cafe au Go Go ads from the Village Voice here.]

2 comments:

Anonymous said...

I was also at the Led Zeppelin show at the Pavillion. I've been telling the story for years that I saw Zep "when all they had was the 1st album", the next month it was Iron Butterfly.
Bruce Lombardi

Mark Waldrop said...

For a period of time in 1969, towards the end of its'life, I was allowed to pretty much come and go and see the shows at the Cafe Au Go Go, as I was pals with the woman who worked the door.
On Oct.9-12, 1969 at Cafe Au Go, I'm Mark Waldrop of Waldrop & Rountree who shared the bill with The McCoys and Danny Kalb & Blues Project II.
Still playing music and running my guitar shop in San Antonio.