Thursday, February 08, 2007

Where the Action Was

Venturing outside city limits for this one. I'm a Queens girl after all, firmly entrenched between the ultimate urbia and the ultimate suburbia, and equally influenced by both extremes. I began researching this entry in several fits and starts last year, but frequent life's-aggravation interruptions kept me from finishing it until now.

ACTION HOUSE—50 Austin Boulevard, Island Park, New York. Few suburban rock clubs were ever so accurately named. As Lenny Kaye wrote in his essay "New York in the Sixties": "[T]he real home of the Long Island sound, as it came to be known, was a large club outside the city in Island Park called the Action House, where groups like the Vagrants (featuring guitarist Leslie West), the Rich Kids, the Hassles (with a young Billy Joel behind the Hammond) and the Vanilla Fudge indulged in all manner of baroque showmanship, complete with drummers twirling sticks, heavily-vibratoed voices, ornamental starts and melodramatic stops." In operation from the mid-'60s through the early-'70s, the club also hosted many of the era's biggest international touring acts.

It was owned by Phil Basile, described in this New York magazine article as “the all-time classic Island club owner. A reputed Luchese crime-family member, Basile operated several famous L.I. clubs—the Action House, Speaks, Channel 80, Industry—three of which were the same club (on Austin Boulevard) with different names.” He also dealt in artist and tour management. The Action House itself changed names, ca. mid-1970, to the Rock Pile. But unfortunately, I haven’t located many concrete details on the history, appearance, or atmosphere of either incarnation of the joint. This quote, from an otherwise terrific article on L.I. rock and roll entitled “Beaches, Bars and B-3s,” is about as colorful a description as I’ve been able to find:

Throughout the '60s, the party would hang a left up Long Beach Boulevard to The Action House, so aptly dubbed. Mike Ricciardella, drummer for The Illusion, described it, "The Action House was a wild place back then. The bouncers were nuts and very wild! The drug scene was wild! The chick scene was wild! The parking lot scene was the wildest, though. Really nuts. The parking lot was the place where the crowd hung out and got high. Inside was rock'n'roll, outside was Fantasyland."

While wild is certainly among the most evocative of ‘60s descriptors, I need more to go on than that! If you've got any good memories to share, I implore you to leave a comment. Meanwhile, it's a good thing the list of legends associated with the Action House is long and stellar enough to speak for itself.

First, some locals. I wish all ‘60s-band websites were as comprehensive and memorabilia-rich as Feast your “Oh Those Eyes” on the gallery pages in particular, which feature an incredible array of band photos and gig ads/posters/flyers. The two Action House ads at the site also list gigs for Wilson Pickett, the Outsiders, the 5 Illusions (precursors to the aforementioned Illusion), the Young Rascals, and Mitch Ryder & the Detroit Wheels.

Be sure to check out the captions for the Vagrants' live photos, which reveal a treasure trove of obscure NYC and Long Island club names, including the Big Toe Au Go Go in the Bronx, Tempo Dance City and the Golden Note in Brooklyn, the El Patio Beach Club in Lido Beach, the Bustard Buzzard in Baldwin, the Mod in Mt. Sinai, and Danny Maser’s My House in Plainview (described as the “Home of ‘the Hassles’ featuring Billy Joel”). About the only names I recognized were Queensboro Community College, the Scene, Scott Muni’s Rolling Stone (304 E. 48th St. at Second Avenue), and Brooklyn’s Action City. Further info on any of these joints would be greatly appreciated! More Vagrants vittles are yours for the clicking.

Fortunately for all Action House aficionadoes, rivals in scope. The Fudge were heavily influenced by the Vagrants, and are perhaps even more closely associated with the club than their forebears, as Phil Basile acted as their manager. Essential links include the Fudge Chronicles, a Mark Stein interview, a Vince Martell interview and bio, these George "Shadow" Morton interviews, and the Bandlog of Fudge gigs (including support dates for the Fifth Dimension, Moby Grape and Canned Heat at the AH). I'll poach only one quote pertaining to the AH, from the Mark Stein interview:

The Action House was like...the melting pot of Long Island. Everybody went there from all over the island, you know? Everybody hung out there, everybody rehearsed there, everybody met people there. Like I said, it was like the melting pot. T'he place was always packed. Every weekend there used to be one of the top bands playing there. From time to time there would be a record act there. It was a hell of a place they had going.

The Fudge played their original farewell gig at the AH on March 14, 1970. Tim Bogert and Carmine Appice soon formed Cactus, which in turn had their earliest gigs at the AH; at one of these, the other Fudgemeisters joined them onstage for an impromptu reunion jam.

Other local Action House/Rockpile regulars include the aforementioned Hassles and Rich Kids, the Bohemian Vendetta, Ohio transplants the Angry, the Hives, the Variations/Streetcorner Society, and Trux.

Now for a partial list of non-Islanders.

Actually, these guys were pretty local, and Lou Reed did grow up in Freeport. The Velvet Underground played at a party sponsored by Night Beat magazine called "Freak Out '66" on December 4 of that year. About the only other names I can make out on the flyer are those of M.C.'s Clay Cole and Scott Muni.

UPDATE 1/25/2013:  I recently obtained a larger version of a "Freak Out '66" flyer from a long-time Bomp buddy of mine named Michael L.

The Doors, June 16 and 17, 1967. As indicated in the ad above, these dates were in the middle of the band's residency at the Scene. According to a Doors fansite, "The Scene closes for three days during The Monterey Pop Festival and The Doors, who do not represent the peace and love image of the venue, are overlooked and not invited. Before the first show here Jim reportedly instructs the bartender to line up fifteen shots of Jack Daniel's, and then drinks them all, one after the other, just prior to taking the stage. As the show progresses Jim then asks the bartender to line up fifteen more and also drinks them. Jim is soon extremely drunk and obviously begins to show the signs but before he passes out he attempts to disrobe onstage! The band intervenes and the show, near conclusion, is ended abruptly. The next night, Sat. the 17th, is The Doors' shortest performance ever! At the start of the show an extremely hung over Jim Morrison places the microphone in his mouth and begins to make awful groaning sounds for a long period of time until the other members help him, once again, off stage. The Action House is primarily a dance club and the club's sound system soon takes over without much ado."

Moby Grape, September 11 and 22, 1967 (opening for Cream on the 22nd), and October 18, 1968

Country Joe and the Fish, an unspecified date in September, 1967 with the Vanilla Fudge and the Doughnuts.

Procol Harum, an unspecified date in the Fall of '67.

The Yardbirds, April 12-14, 1968.  UPDATE 1/25/2013:  Here's an amusing quote from Chris Dreja, which I recently saw in Light and Shade: Conversations with Jimmy Page:  "The people who ran the promotions, especially in America, were mainly mafia.  I remember playing Vanilla Fudge's club in Long Island and being introduced to truly menacing people who were eight feet tall, with chewed up ears and smashed-in faces, and had names like Vinnie."

The Mandala from Toronto, April 17, 1968. (Also June 10, 1967, according to the above ad showing the Doors' dates--though their name is misspelled as "The Mandella." I see the Blues Project is also listed on the ad for June 9 that same week.)

Rhinoceros, June 27, August 8-9, and October 1, 1968.

I was unable to confirm a date for this, but the aforementioned Mike Ricciardella of the Illusion remembers the night they opened for Sly and the Family Stone at the AH as the best gig they ever did.

The Peter Green-era Fleetwood Mac, an undetermined date in January 1970.

The Faces, April 24-25 and October 24, 1970

Lifetime, May 8-9 and August 28, 1970.

Alice Cooper, September 9, 1970.

The Grateful Dead, with New Riders of the Purple Sage, November 9 and 10, 1970

Badfinger, May 7 and 8, 1971.

Mott the Hoople, May 28 (supporting Mandrill) and May 29 (supporting Hog Heaven), 1971.

Gary Lucas recalls seeing T.Rex and Humble Pie at the Rock Pile during the summer of '73.

As always, there are countless bands I'm leaving out, but hey, I can only spend so much time ferreting out these factoids. I'm not sure when the Rock Pile closed, but apparently the building was later used for another Basile-owned club called Speaks, where the early Twisted Sister often played. Not sure what's on the site now.

UPDATE 6/25/2010: Here are some 1969 Voice ads for the Action House.

UPDATE 3/15/2012:  Here is a revised and updated post on 1969 Action House ads.

UPDATE 1/25/2013:  Somehow I forgot to put links here for the posts I did on ads from 1970 and 1971.  Sadly, I couldn't find as many for 1967.

6/8/67 issue.

6/29/67 issue.

9/21/67 issue.

Here are a couple of pictures of the building during its Action House and Speaks periods, which were posted a few months ago on the "Long Island and New York City Places That Are No More" FB page.

And here's an ad for Pablo's Lights that I found in the 3/2/68 issue of Billboard.


Anonymous said...

08/19/66 The Vagrants/The In Crowd


08/20/66 Napoleon the XIV/The Vagrants/The In Crowd

*The In Crowd (or 'Joey Greco & the In Crowd')featured Peter Criss (of Kiss)on drums. Of course he was still Peter Criscuola then...

Unknown said...

Hi to anyone who reads this blog, miss the old days of the Action House. Could I tell you stories, but I will keep them to myself. After Vanilla Fudge, went on to produce many concerts, then went to LA and help start up Alice Cooper, then worked with some other groups, then in 1978 I promoted Aretha Franklin at Carnagie Hall in New York. Live outside San Francisco now. I still keep in touch with some of us old folks from the greatest days of our lives. THE 60's once in a while i get an email from someone who asks me if I was Jed from the Action House.

Anonymous said...

The Dec 66 Night Beat show was apparently quite star-studded, though I agree it's hard to tell from the size of the reprinted flyer. According to one member of the Godz, who played that night, the bill also included (along with the Velvet Underground) the Fugs, the Ronettes and the Young Rascals. About the only one of those names you can make out on the handbill is the Fugs but, wow, what a show that would have been!

Anonymous said...

poster for dec 4:

the mothers of invention
andy warhol - nico - velvet underground

the exploding plastic inevitable

the fugs

the ????

the seventh song

rudy stern & richard alsercroff & them infinity machines

(timothy leary) - monty rock iii

a psychadelic experience as told by scott ross

plus ... special guests

the ronnettes

the vagrants

carl holmes & the commanders with ruth macfadden

the shangrilas


clay cole - scott muni

plus a dozen more listed

the mothers never played there, this must have been an early version of the poster

anyone have a photo of the action house ?

Anonymous said...

Found two recordings of the dead at the action house.....

Anonymous said...

And wasn't the Action House a home away from home for Detroit bands like the MC5 and the Stooges?
First time I ever heard of Action House was in an interview with Iggy, in an old issue of the EAST VILLAGE OTHER!

Anonymous said...

the Mothers of Invention definitely played the Dec. 66 Night Beat show at Action House -- i saw them -- in fact, i was in a band called The In-Keepers, on the bill that night -- Vito T. on organ, Steve S., drums, Mike L., bass, Alan F., guitar & me (Gary M) vocals

Anonymous said...

I second that Gary M. I was on keyboard in your group (Vito T.) and remember that Zappa blew his PA system and needed a loaner for the gig and we loaned him ours. Oh wow!

Anonymous said...

- before it was The Action House, it was The Shell House -- and even after the name change, there were a couple of large, now incongruous, white "sea shells" (made of plaster? or plastic?) affixed to the outside of the building, left over from the former incarnation--
-- as The Shell House, it also had bands, and it was about half a biker bar -- fights that swept across the floor were a regular feature --
-- but with the change to The Action House, the clientele changed from Hell's Angels and hitters to hippies -- and the floor was given over to dancing -

Anonymous said...

Smokey Robinson and The Miracles played The Action House, but I don't know the date.

Signed D.C. said...

Thanks so much for your comments everyone...really helps fill in the gaps!

Anonymous said...

I worked for Phil @ Action House 1971 ,remember Chubby,Red and Larry ?
Great time , Where's the Time Machine!

Anonymous said...

Anyone remember "Space" AKA "The Living End", mid to late 60's as house band at Scatt Muni's Rolling Stone? I was a great rock band from Puerto Rico, with great vocals and a lady lead singer on congas.

Mark C McCague said...

When I was sixteen, I purchased an older friends Draft Card to get into the AH. I lived in Lawrence and would hitchhike there, drink & seven-and-seven's, party and take "Lou's Taxi" home. On separate occasions in 1968 I rememeber seeing Sam & Dave, Lee Michaels and an up and coming band - Chicago. When I sold a Fender Jazz Bass later that year, the musican played at the AH, and we tested it out there.

Mark C McCague

Anonymous said...

I remember seeing The Byrds at the Action House, must have been '69. I only lived on the Island in 68-69, so I'm pretty sure it was '69. It was a great show, I believe Vagrants too.

Anonymous said...

the club was about the illusion>we went to every show> greg abbott (manager of the naked grape ) , his brother dennis and mike horbacz(white pimp ) . we all hung out in the girls bathroom, dancing and socializing the nite away > the people who went to the action house were hip, well dressers and had fantastic hair styles > never will be anything like it> too bad!

Anonymous said...

speed was the drug of choice ,in the latter years of the action house.People didnt snort lines< they snorted weight. thats why the dancing was so intense. The band called the illusion was the house band and their music were to speeders like socks were to feet> The parking lot was where all the fun was, the club was the magical mystery tour. It was either the electric circus or the action house> my choice was mostly the action house.

happy said...

ii can't believe i found this site, action house was my home away from home in long island. many friends and good times. recently came across hundreds of stubs from all over, many from action house, greg abbot and me aka, happy, and tony, much that will not be written, nevertheless, it will live forever to all who attended. see you again. happy

Anonymous said...

amazing that i found this site. spent the late '60's there and knew the vagrants and the illusions. don't forget about a group that played there called the amboy dukes. their guitarist was ted nugent.

happy said...

hi, 42 years ago the first step on the moon happened, and i was in leones, and my girlfriend joanie,comes in and pulls me across the street to a bar where it was on tv.we watch history.then go back and rock out with the illusions.what a time, life was good.we need more of it. love all,keep the faith,rock.. happy

Anonymous said...

today one of us went to the next life. nights and days in and around the action house, with one less memory to explore. a loss. thought i'd say more ,the words now escape me.bye.

Anonymous said...

I saw Fleetwood Mac there in January 1970 on their last tour with the Peter Green, Danny Kirwan, Jeremy Spence lineup. Amazing show, would love to find a setlist somewhere.

Anonymous said...

I was at a Fleetwood Mac concert at the Rock Pile. Peter Green was filling in for Jeremy Spencer who had just left to join a religious group. I'm pretty sure it was in 1970 or thereabouts.

Anonymous said...

Every time I drive down Austin Blvd. I try to envision exactly where the Action House was. I have finally found out it's now a warehouse. But I remember the parking lot as being huge and I don't remember that there was a street behind the AH. But at least now I know where it was. In addition to all the great bands I saw there, my favorite was when the Illusion did "Hey Joe", I also remember a huge bar and this one big bouncer, a black guy, that back then looked tremendous. Does anyone know who he was? Anyway, I could go on and on but all of you who experienced the AH don't need me to go into detail. What a great time in my life! Love to all!

jim said...

Quite cool to find this site. I was a frequent visitor to the Action House and Leone's in 1970-71Here a list of AH shows I saw (I kept a log):
04-24-70 Rod Stwart & Small Faces, Boomerang, Velvet Nite
05-02-70 Manfred Mann, Hamilton Face Band
05-08-70 Pacific Gas & Electric, Cactus, Happiness Is
05-15-70 Cold Blood, Six
05-23-70 James Gang, Steeplechase, Factory
05-29-70 Illusion, Creedmore State
06-19-70 Tee Set
06-26-70 Illusion, Boomerang, Steeplechase
07-24-70 Delaney & Bonnie,Dr.John, Boomerang
08-07-70 Terry Reid, Chickenshack, Boomerang
09-04-70 Illusion
09-18-70 Savoy Brown, Amboy Dukes
10-02-70 Rhinoceros, Hog
10-16-70 Spirit, Crystal Mansion
10-24-70 Rod Stewart & Small Faces,
Toe Fat, Towne
10-30-70 Butterfield Blues Band, Fat
12-26-70 Illusion (at Rockpile)
06-18-71 Canned Heat (at Rockpile)
I've got some ads too from the Action House if anyone is trying to get more dates sorted out.
I remember that the place was always pretty hot with some great looking chicks and just great music week after week. Lots of weed in the parking lot. I remember Sandy, who was the DJ at the time.
Leone's in Long Beach had the Illusion playing at times, but the 1970 house band seemed to be Yorkville Grind.

Hans said...

Wrong "In Crowd"....this "In Crowd" was from Canton, Ohio - I know, I was part of it and part of that night. We were in town on a revording contract with reprise but got broken up by the draft and drifted away!! What a place, the Action House!!

Anonymous said...

I'm pretty sure I saw Tommy James & the Shondells & the Chambers Brothers there several times in the late 60's!!!!

trex said...

The action House was the place in the sixties---left out on the playlists were Cold Blood ,Genya Ravan & 10 wheel drive--the Flock--
and so many times to see the Illusion (did you see her eyes)i have that album somewhere--
Sly --MC5--canned heat-james gang-vanilla Fudge-mothers of invention-1910 bubble gum factory-rhinoceros-mandrake memorial, spirit-alice cooper-the 5th demension-mott the hoople and t-rex-chambers brothers--i think i even saw the good rats and B.S.& Tears--

Anonymous said...

Jimi Hendrix and Chuck Berry were just a two more icons who performed at the AH! It was awesome.

Unknown said...

Was at the Action House 1968-69 with Sly and the Family Stone. Curtain opens and out crawls Sly on stage. Well the curtain closes and out comes Arhie Bell and the Drells "Tighten Up."'[ The audience starts throwing bottles at the stage. It was a bust nite.

Anonymous said...


Anonymous said...

Let get the address right---50 Broadway, Island Park...printed on the back of Vanilla Fudge albums as the fan club address,,,

Lone Star Dead Radio said...

OKAY so who was the band HOG???
anyone? Band Members? anything?

Anonymous said...

Saw J Geils band at the Rock Pile

Anonymous said...

Before the Action House the building was The Shell House. Stars of the early sixties... Marvin Gaye, Jay & the Americans, The Four Seasons, Bobby Vinton, Lil Anthony (befor the Imperials) Comics Howie Storm, Kirby Stone Four and so many others. I managed the place in 1961. It was fantastic. Where is Gene Berkowitz, Esq. now. He was the Owner.

cpa1 said...

Do any of you remember a small disco from the 60s on the north side of East Park Ave, just east or wes north of Long Beach Blvd, North side of the street. It might have been called the Tug Boat or the Steam Boat or something with the words Gold or Coast in it (The Gold Coast disco was in Oyster Bay or Glen Cove)or something totally different.


oldguy said...

Sly & The Family Stone played at The Action House on Friday, March 22, 1968.

Anonymous said...

Originally from Rockville Centre I saw The Flying Burrito Bros. with Gram Parsons at the Action House and at nearby Leones in Long Beach I saw Savoy Brown...T-Rex and Rhinoceros circa 1969-1970. Good times!!

Anonymous said...

Saw Lee Michaels there. Do you know what I mean. Also Yardbirds with a young Jimmy Page.
Illusion Beach was in the back.

Unknown said...

the Shell House was never a biker bar or bucket of blood--the Shell House was a Dinner Club with appearances by Johnny Mathis-Roy Hamilton-Jerry Vale and that type of entertainment....

Anonymous said...

Sly & The Family Stone played 2 nights at the Action House

1968 March 22 Action House
1968 March 23 Action House

Anonymous said...

I was probably at most of these shows, Friday nights was all of it to be there. The music, the dancing, the girls it was an amazing time. We were the kids from Ozone Park that hung out by the A/C unit by the back door. Shit I'm push8ng 70 now but oh the memories.

bobbmd said...

Anyone remember a joint called the steamboat where the rascals might have played in the mid '60s? Or the knotty knee where the good rats played also in mid 60s

Unknown said...

One night my phone rang and it was a man named Ralph the manager of speaks and he said I heard you spin records and he asked me if I wanted to be the DJ at speaks that night that they where opening I was only 17 years old and I sId yes and then I showed up a t speaks and at the end of the night Ralph asked me if I wanted to be there DJ wed and Saturday nights and I said yes on my first night st speaks there was only one speaker working on the left side of the stage and in a few weeks they asked me to be there full time DJ wed thru Saturday and then it happened they got a new sound system that was made for rock speakers everywhere.if Ralph only New that when he called me my life was changed for ever. It was the time of my life being SPEAKS DJ for bands like twisted sister and zebra and so many others . Still to this day I am in the music industry I am blessed being speaks DJ. I want to thank Ralph and Frankie and Phil . For changing my life. My heyday I would never change and I miss the days of Speaks your truly STEVENMEINSTER

Unknown said...

I remember hanging out there every Friday night. I saw most of the groups that were posted. I remember Sandy Braus as the MC. I always got the coupon from Newsday to get some money off from the admission. I also remember the house band as Dream Company, loved when they sang Three Dog Night's Celebrate!!. So many good times and memories. Kids this day don't have anything like this to make good memories. Always remember seeing the Fudge hang out at the bar even though they weren't playing.

Anonymous said...

Yes they did!! Not sure if it was summer of 65 or 66. I think half of C.W.Post went that night! I practically laid on the stage and no one made me move!

Steven M Meinster said...

To day is January 14 2019 I am the DJ at Speaks and I am trying to have a Speaks reunion any help from anyone would be very appreciative please get in touch with me stevenmeinster on Facebook. We can do this it has been to long that the bands that played speaks have gotten together again. Let’s make this happen

Steven M Meinster said...

To day is January 14 2019 I am the DJ at Speaks and I am trying to have a Speaks reunion any help from anyone would be very appreciative please get in touch with me stevenmeinster on Facebook. We can do this it has been to long that the bands that played speaks have gotten together again. Let’s make this happen

Joe O said...

hello band played the Action House we were called Trinity. we also played Deans in Long Beach & Leones. we then expanded & called ourselves Yorkville Grind. those were the days my friends!! Joe O

Anonymous said...

trying to find Roger Basile I trained horses for his dad and the whole family. I have lost his number and cant seem to find him. I know he got in trouble for that baseball brawl but that was then this is now. Saw him last summer in Freeport. If anybody knows where I can fin Rog please send an email to

Anonymous said...

Good evening all, my mom used to date Phil back then and I am just trying to get some info just curios if anyone remembers her , her name was Yvonne. She would always tell stories and would mention Phil and chubby. They were amazing stories. Hope someone remembers her,

Anonymous said...

I was raised in Rockville Centre. Experienced many a concert at the Action House. Had an altered birth certificate so I could get in. So many Vagrants shows. Also saw the Rich Kids, Mitch Rider, the Doors and Charles Lloyd there. What great memories!

Unknown said...

Hi. I Played the AH in 1969 with SANCTUARY our lead singer Jon Ventura wrote I think 6-7 lyrics for Mountains 1st Album. I jammed with Lesley a few times (drummer) did acid together in times!

Joe O said...

I played with the Realms at Ryan's in Hempstead, with Trinity at Deans,Baldwin Manor& Leone's & Yorkville Grind also at Leones. Did a few gigs at the Action House opening for the Rascal's,James Gang,Spencer Davis Group [Stevie Winwood] and many others during the English Rock Group Invasion. always an interesting experience collecting our night's pay from Chubby, didn't know if he would pull out a gun or our Money!!!

Kim said...

Hi Joe O,
Not sure you'll remember me, Kim I worked at Leone's from 70-73. I think my brother Bryan had played organ with you for a short time. I use to hang at Ryan's and Dean's. Chubby recruited me to work at another place they owned in Barnaby Rudge Pub. Chubby was either real happy or angry :).
I use to sneak into the AH with fake ID. Remember alot of the bands mentioned here. I've kept in touch with Rennie now and then through email. Last I heard he was living in Florida.
Lot's of good times

Joe O said...

Kim, I remember your brother, Brian Gorman! he played with us a short while. Hope he & yourself are well......Joe O