Thursday, February 15, 2007

Breusooklyn Feusox, beusaby!

I should probably wait until I track down that elusive copy of Murray the K Tells It Like It Is, Baby before I tackle this topic, but hey, I'm rarin' to go.




BROOKLYN FOX THEATRE--20 Flatbush Avenue at Nevins Street, Downtown Brooklyn. As usual, the gateway for everything you could ever want to know about the Fox's movie palace past is its cinematreasures.org page, but I'll summarize a few historical details here. The 4,088-seat house was designed by C. Howard Crane and incorporated elements of several architectural styles--Gothic, Spanish Baroque, Byzantine, Near Eastern, and Art Deco, according to the keen eyes of cinematreasures folk.





Among its many splendid appointments was a Wurlitzer "Special" organ, one of five identical models often erroneously called "Fox Specials or "Crawford Specials," which were the largest ever built for theaters prior to the installation of an even bigger model at Radio City Music Hall. (Pictured below is Rosa Rio, house organist in 1933.)






The Fox opened on August 21, 1928, as one of five flagship theaters in William Fox's nationwide chain (St. Louis, Detroit, Atlanta, and San Francisco were the other flagships, three of which are still extant). Fox would not revel in palatial glory for very long, however; the stock-market crash, anti-trust actions, and bankruptcy soon forced him to relinquish control of the Fox Film Corporation, which subsequently merged with Twentieth Century Pictures. Fabian Theatres, a Warner Brothers subsidiary, operated the Fox from 1934 through 1966, screening Warner and Columbia product. I haven't seen much evidence of live stage shows in the '30s or '40s, but the theater apparently did host a popular amateur night. Yet according to one cinematreasures mega-expert, the Fox was never a terribly profitable operation:

It had a few good years during the World War II era, and then felt the full brunt of competition from newfangled home TV. Its "legendary" rock-and-roll shows were comparatively few and not enough to offset all the losing weeks in between. It was far too large for its own good, and also had to contend with a "product split" in downtown Brooklyn where it usually ran its programs for at least two weeks and often longer...In its final years, the Fox lost its exclusive first-run status for Brooklyn as the result of the introduction of saturation release. Prior to that, people traveled from all over Brooklyn to the Fox. After that, they could see the same movies in their own neighborhoods.

Unlike this fellow, who elsewhere on the cinematreasures page downplays their significance, I've come to praise the Fox's rock shows, not to bury them. In the magical mythos of pre-'67 NYC rock and roll, their legend looms as large as all those misty-eyed tales of doo-woppers graduating from streetcorners to recording studios, or of songwriters pounding out pop masterpieces in piano-equipped Brill Building/1650 B'way offices. Conveniently coinciding with school holidays, the shows were regularly-scheduled rambunctious rituals for all manner of tri-state-area teens. True, the stars had to deal with a hits-only, all-killer-no-filler, five-shows-a-day format--but by almost all accounts they rarely failed to wow the crowds. Even if the performances sometimes weren't quite as on-key as the records, who could argue with the bargain bonanza of 12-to-20 diverse hitmakers, LIVE and IN PERSON, at $2.50 a ticket?








Alan Freed's last Big Beat blowouts before the payola scandal were staged at the Fox. I imagine that the first, held during Labor Day week (August 23-September 9) in 1958, probably would have happened at the Brooklyn Paramount had Dick Clark not booked that house for a competing event--a booking which ultimately didn't come to pass. However, some researchers speculate that Freed moved to the Fox because the Paramount's management had turned leery of hosting his shows in the wake of reported riots at his May '58 Boston Arena event. In the ad above I can make out the Everly Brothers, Chuck Berry, Frankie Avalon, the Elegants, the Kalin Twins, the Danleers, Larry Williams, the Poni-Tails, Jimmy Clanton, Teddy Randazzo, Jack Scott, Bo Diddley, the Royal Teens, Duane Eddy, Joann Campbell, Ed Townsend, the Cleftones, and Bobby Freeman. This article states that the highest grosses of Freed's career were made during this engagement.





That year's Christmas show, featuring some of the same acts as the Labor Day event, was held at Loew's State in Times Square, but Freed returned to the Fox in '59 for what would prove to be his final Easter and Labor Day extravaganzas. Among the many delights of the comprehensive, must-to-peruse alanfreed.com are scans of ledgers from the two events, which clearly list the acts involved and their earnings. The Easter Jubilee, held March 27 through April 3, included Fabian, Fats Domino, Jackie Wilson, Duane Eddy, Bobby Darin, Jimmy Clanton, Larry Williams, the Cadillacs, Thomas Wayne, the Impalas, the Skyliners, Bobby Freeman, JoAnn Campbell, Sandy Stewart, the Mello-Kings, and Dale Hawkins. The Labor Day show (September 4-13) starred Lloyd Price, Jimmy Clanton, Dion & the Belmonts, the Skyliners, the Crests, the Tempos, the Isley Brothers, JoAnn Campbell, Jackie Wilson, Bo Diddley, Ronnie Hawkins, the Mystics, and Santo & Johnny. (Elsewhere I've found references to Danny & the Juniors, the Passions, and the Flamingos as being among the acts.) Dig Peter Sando's memories:

The show would run for ten days. There were five shows a day noon through midnight. Each show was preceded by a B movie. When we arrived at 3:30 a.m. the line was already a half a block long. The mounted police hadn't arrived yet, but the barricades were up to contain the teenagers to the sidewalks. It was a strange scene in the twilight, all these kids, black, white, Hispanic, all with a common thread binding them together, The Music! And everybody was there--all the Rock and Roll stars--sometimes over 20 acts in a show! All for $2.50. No, they didn't play long sets--you would never be bored for a minute--every act came out and did their two or three best hits and went right off leaving the crowd dying for more.




Somewhere along the post-payola line, manic motormouth WINS DJ Murray "the K" Kaufman inherited both Freed's primetime radio slot and his mantle as the premier presenter of NYC package shows. Exact dates and rosters have been difficult to track down. When time permits and if the T.O. Reference Library has the appropriate microfilm, I hope to slog my way through '60s NYC newspaper movie theater ads to see if I can nail down such info. Meanwhile, I'll discuss as much as I've found thus far.

It appears that Murray's earliest M.C. duties took place not at the Fox but at the Brooklyn Paramount (Christmas 1960, co-hosting with Clay Cole and starring Brenda Lee; and July 4th Weekend 1961 with Jackie Wilson) and the Academy of Music (Christmas 1961 with Johnny Mathis, Bobby Vee, Dion, Joey Dee & The Starliters, Gary U.S. Bonds, Bobby Lewis, Timi Yuro, the Isley Brothers, Jan & Dean, and others).





But the Fox soon became Murray's steady venue. This auction site page, which might be gone by the time you click on it, boasts a collection of autographed '60s concert programs and posters for sale, including several Brooklyn Fox playbills. Although the dates aren't given, many performers are listed, making this the best source of info on Fox show bills that I've yet found. I'll reprint the names here, grouping them according to each show, and in the order the programs are listed at the auction site--which is not chronological. My (as Popeye would say) edumacated guesstimates about the years are in brackets after each listing. As always, click on the links for further info/reminiscences.




  • "Show of Shows": Dion, the Orlons, Dee Dee Sharp, the Coasters, the Vibrations, the Dovells, the Harptones, the Ronettes, Steve Alaimo, Chuck Jackson, Little Peggy March, Lou Christie, Johnny Mathis. ['63?]
  • "Holiday Revue": Jan and Dean, the Drifters, the Dovells, Jay and the Americans, the Tymes, Randy & the Rainbows, Ben E. King, Little Stevie Wonder, the Shirelles, Gene Pitney, the Miracles, the Angels, the Chiffons. ['63?]
  • "Big Holiday Show": Marvin Gaye, the Miracles, the Supremes, Martha & the Vandellas, the Contours, the Temptations, the Searchers, Dusty Springfield, Millie Small, Jay & the Americans, the Dovells, Little Anthony, the Newbeats, the Shangri-Las. [Labor Day '64?]
  • "Big Holiday Show": The Four Tops, Marvin Gaye, Stevie Wonder, the Lovin' Spoonful, Patti Labelle & the Bluebelles, the Wildtones, the Beau Brummels, Martha & the Vandellas, the Temptations, Brenda Holloway, Patty Michaels. ['65 or '66?]
  • "Christmas Show": Chuck Jackson, Ben E. King, the Shirelles, the Drifters, the Shangri-Las, Dick & Dee Dee, the Nashville Teens, the Zombies, the Hullabaloos, the Vibrations. ['64?]
  • "Christmas Show": Lloyd Price, the Miracles, Wayne Newton, Mary Wells, Martha & the Vandellas, the Duprees, Tommy Hunt, Jay & the Americans, Betty Harris, Ruby & the Romantics, Tommy Roe, Little Anthony & the Imperials, Dale & Grace, the Vibrations. ['63?]
  • "Christmas Revue": Jackie Wilson, the Four Seasons, the Shirelles, the Dovells, Mike Clifford, Johnny Thunder, Bob B. Soxx & the Blue Jeans, Joey Dee & the Starliters, Little Eva, Lada Edmund, the Ronettes, Dionne Warwick, the Earls, the Crests, the Cookies, Sam & Dave. ['62?]
  • "Christmas Show": Peter & Gordon, the Fortunes, the McCoys, the Moody Blues, Patty Michaels, Wilson Pickett, the Toys, Lenny Welch, Cannibal & the Headhunters, the Vibrations, the Spinners, the O'Jays, Bobby Diamond. ['65?]
  • "Easter Show": Joe Tex, Little Anthony & the Imperials, Jay & the Americans, Deon Jackson, Mitch Ryder & the Detroit Wheels, the Rascals, the Shangri-Las, Patti Labelle & the Bluebelles, the Gentrys, the Royalettes. ['66?]
  • "The Fifth Beatle presents his BIG Easter Show": Chuck Jackson, Ben E. King, the Shirelles, Johnny Tillotson, Dionne Warwick, the Tymes, the Chiffons, the Kingsmen, Dick & Dee Dee, Bobby Goldboro, Little Anthony & the Imperials, the Righteous Brothers, the Younger Brothers. [Maybe '64, 'cause Murray would be fully exploiting the "Fifth Beatle" moniker that year, but my gut feeling is '65...]
  • "Big Holiday Show": Gerry & the Pacemakers, the Miracles, Marvin Gaye, Martha & the Vandellas, the Temptations, the Marvelettes, the Del Satins, the Four Tops, the Righteous Brothers, the Rag Dolls, Cannibal & the Headhunters. ['65?]

See also the "live shows" page on murraythek.com, which has images of covers from other undated programs that don't seem to be represented in the list above. On one of them, entitled "Sid Bernstein presents the Easter Parade of Stars, M.C. and host Murray the K, Special Added Attraction Clay Cole," I think I recognize the likenesses of Chubby Checker, Del Shannon, Freddy Cannon, Jimmy Clanton, Dion, and Ben E. King; can't make out the other folks. On another, for a "Labor Day Show of Stars with Murray the K," I can recognize Jackie Wilson, Etta James, and Jerry Lee Lewis, but can't figure out who the others are. At any rate, it's possible that these events weren't at the Fox.



[UPDATE 5/24/2010: Rejoice! A fellow named Peter A. who works for the Murray the K Archives website just sent me a near-complete list of show rosters, venues, and opening dates--see it at the link or at the end of this post.]


Americana chroniclers/Roadfood raconteurs Jane and Michael Stern distill the essence of Murray's Fox shows like nobody else in their exquisite exegesis on '60s archetypes, Sixties People (NY: Knopf, 1990). In my favorite chapter, "Young Vulgarians," which explicates all aspects of the early-to-mid-'60s Northeastern urban teen experience from Max Factor Erace to sharkskin suits, they write:

At Easter and Christmas, [Murray] put together knockout concerts that had kids ricocheting off the walls at the baroque old movie palace. These were among the last great neighborhood rock & roll shows--before the quantum escalation in scope that happened when the Beatles played to sixty thousand fans at Shea Stadium in 1965. Grand as it was with its vintage velvet seats and crystal chandeliers, the Fox was simply a movie theater with a stage in front of the screen. Teenagers could sit in the fifth row and bouce up and down in their seats and scream as Wilson Pickett sang "In the Midnight Hour" or Lesley Gore moaned, "You Don't Own Me." It was safe and familiar; and even if an occasional scuffle broke out and pocketbooks got trampled and hairdos mussed, it was a gas.

The playbills for these concerts provide a vivid picture of NYC teen life in the early sixties. Scattered among the studio photos of singers such as the Del Satins and Cannibal and the Headhunters are pictures of platters of cold cuts--ads from Regina Caterers of 6401 11th Avenue, Brooklyn; ads for clothing that "guarantees pants that hug you tight" and stores that promise "Man--the selection is hepzee...with the most boss lookin' duds you ever saw." Thom McAn offers shoes in a style called the Voodoo ($4.95), which boasts a "tiny stacked heel that sends out signals."

The shows began with Murray the K walking onstage to signs of MURRAY WE LOVE YOU, MURRAY FOR GOVERNOR, and LUV MURRAY FOREVER. When he paced back and forth, trails of flying love missives followed him--Jujubes, jelly beans, gum balls, change purses, compacts, and combs. He launched into a string of hyperboles to tease his audience about the show they were about to be bombarded with; then, to the delight of all young vulgarians, he trotted out the Murray the K Dancers, led by his wife, Jackie the K.

Jackie's bouffant hairdo soared toward the proscenium arch, scarcely jiggling as she frugged her way across the boards. Jackie the K wore some of the heaviest eye makeup in history--jet black to match her hair. She was an utter fox--a pale-lipped minx all dolled up in bell-bottoms and cuban-heeled boots. Here was a role model for all young vulgarian girls! She was exactly what they wanted to be. No one in today's world even approaches it, except perhaps Elvira, the sexy host of TV horror movies. Jackie the K did not even have to frug to elicit oohs and ahs. Simply standing center stage was enough: the spotlight outlining her immense hair, whitening her pale face, glinting off her long nails, and shimmering against her skin-tight sequined clothes.

(Mrs. K., formerly Jackie Hayes and apparently the daughter of Murray's manager, was married to Murray until the early '70s--her current whereabouts are unknown. Murray later married another Jackie, General Hospital regular Jacklyn Zeman.)



Ronnie Spector's autobiography, Be My Baby (New York: Harmony, 1990, with Vince Waldron; the first few chapters comprise a primary source on golden-age NYC rock and roll teenhood) also offers a delightful evocation of the K show mystique. The Ronettes first encountered Murray in Miami of all places. They were then a struggling girl group with only a few flop Colpix singles and a regular gig as dancers at the Peppermint Lounge to their credit. When the Lounge opened a branch in Miami, the girls were flown down as a feature dance act for opening night. Murray was in attendance, got knocked out by their charisma, and inquired as to whether they ever made it through New York--not realizing he was talking to Harlem natives and regular Swingin' Soiree listeners!

Going to one of Murray the K's rock and roll revues at the Brooklyn Fox was the highlight of any New York kid's week in the early sixties. For two dollars and fifty cents you got to see at least a dozen acts, and these were the top names in rock and roll--from Little Stevie Wonder to Bobby Vee to the Temptations, everybody played these shows. Murray first put us on the bill for his springtime revue in 1962.

They started out as "Murray the K's Dancing Girls," twisting and doing comedy shtick with Murray in between acts. Pretty soon they were allowed to sing back-up for other groups, and then sing their own numbers. During the interminable hours backstage between sets, they'd pass the time by primping to tough-girl perfection, amplifying their already sultry, Spanish Harlem-inspired looks to outrageous extremes. Exaggerated eyeliner, super-sexy slit skirts, and torridly teased tresses became their trademarks, all so that their obvious appeal would register with even the most myopic four-eyed fanboy in the upper balcony. (One wonders whether Jackie the K had an influence on the Ronettes' style, or vice versa.) Despite their lack of hits up to that point, the Ronettes became a sensation at the Fox. One Phil Spector was sometimes in the audience, presumably taking notes--though he pretended not to know who they were when they first came to his office for an audition.

When I look at some of the playbills from those shows today, I'm amazed at the lineup. I still have a program for one of the shows we did a couple years later, in September of 1964, when the artists included the Shangri-Las, Marvin Gaye, the Miracles, the Supremes, Martha and the Vandellas, the Contours, the Temptations, the Searchers, Jay and the Americans, the Dovells, Little Anthony and the Imperials, and the Newbeats. All that and a movie for $2.50! Can you believe it?

With all those stars running around, you'd expect the worst ego battles backstage. But actually there was almost always a great feeling behind the scenes at the Brooklyn Fox. Everybody had to do three shows a day, so we all knew we'd be stuck back in the theater for like twelve hours straight. So everyone tried to make the best of it. The dressing rooms were all next to each other on this long hall, so the acts couldn't help but mingle. Diana Ross would come in to borrow our lipstick, and I remember Little Stevie Wonder loved to play tricks on us. "You girls sure look great tonight in those red dresses," he'd say, making light of the fact that he was blind and couldn't have seen our dresses if they were on fire.

Ronnie does admit to some animosity with the Shirelles ("Boy, they were stuck up"), and bemusedly recalls Dusty Springfield's favorite backstage stress-relief technique--flinging cheap dishes (purchased in bulk from a nearby Lamston's dime store) down the hallway until they broke in shards.

The other most exalted goddess of NYC girl-groupdom, Mary Weiss, shares her recollections of Dusty's crockery-throwing prowess and other lore from the Shangri-las' Brooklyn Fox days in her essential interview with the head honchos of her new label, Norton Records:

Mary: [The shows] were real brutal. From early morning until late at night. Seven sets, back to back. You have a record on the charts--there you are...
Billy Miller: There's a story of you putting Murray the K's motorcycle on the roof of the Fox.
Mary: Come on, Murray didn't even have a motorcycle.
BM: But you did hit him in the face with a pie onstage at the Fox.
Mary: That was long overdue! One thing that we'd do at the Fox was if there was a really good group onstage, we'd grab a microphone behind the back curtain and there'd be a four part harmony going on like a chorus. It was wonderful!


[UPDATE 9/29/2007: Mary offers some other Fox memories in this NY Sun interview.]

The Zombies were part of the Christmas 1964 bill. Contrary to Mary's denial, Zombie drummer Hugh Grundy does remember the presence of a motorcycle backstage for "Leader of the Pack." In the liner notes for the Zombie Heaven box set, he claims, "Nobody else seemed to have any gumption as to how to start this thing up, so I used to do it at the appropriate point." Rod Argent's finest memory was of Chuck Jackson's rendition of "Since I Don't Have You," accompanied by improvised harmonies from the other soul acts waiting in the wings. "On the real holidays like Christmas Day itself, there were really very few white kids allowed out, so it would tend to be mainly a black audience. Those days were really brilliant because...all the black acts would stop when they came to a chorus, and the whole audience used to sing." The late Paul Atkinson recalled:

Those shows were "She's Not There" and occasionally one other song, five times a day. So in ten days we'd played "She's Not There" 50 or 60 times. We were rubbing shoulders with all these other great acts, like Chuck Jackson, the Shirelles, and Patti LaBelle and the Bluebelles...They did look at us as a novelty at first, it was friendly but it was very much "you guys are flavor of the month"...Patti would wail and we had to follow them. Murray the K said, "Don't worry about a thing, you're English, it doesn't matter what you play!" We went out there and you couldn't hear a thing, we might as well not have plugged in...The Nashville Teens and...the Hullabaloos were also on the bill, and the black acts didn't like them. I mean Chuck Jackson wouldn't talk to them, but he'd talk to us. We hung out in Ben E. King and the Drifters' dressing rooms, and we'd play poker and sing and play guitar--Colin would sing blues and they were impressed...(One of the dancers on the show, Molly Molloy, was to become Paul's first wife.)

Colin Blunstone isn't quoted, but there is a cool photo of him being mauled by a frenzied female fan on the Fox stage.



[EDIT 6/19/2009: Here are some photos of the Shangri-Las from the Christmas '64 extravaganza...look closely and you'll spot a motorcycle, some Zombies, and some Hullabaloos, among other folks I can't recognize.]








Another cinematreasures guy reminisces:

I remember sitting up in the top of the balcony at one of Murray the K's shows. It seemed like I was miles away from the stage. To a kid that place was massive! It cost $2.50 back then to see Murray the K's rock n roll show which also included some lousy movie. If you arrived early you got a free Murray the K album. We would get to the Fox hours before the show started and waited on lines that snaked around the block for a good seat & free l.p. We even got to meet the Shangri-las at one show when they stepped out to get something to eat. They were stuck up and wouldn't give autographs. I think I must have seen every important singer/group of the 60's at these shows.

Some of those free albums, which were either oldies collections or live recordings from previous shows, were issued on Murray's Brooklyn label, an Atlantic/Atco subsidiary. A CD compilation of tracks from a couple of '63 and '64 shows was released on Britain's Magnum label in the mid-'90s. Unfortunately, little in the way of live film has surfaced. The only footage I know of is in Murray's 1965 TV special, It's What's Happening, Baby. This way-out program, produced in conjunction with the Office of Economic Opportunity, featured a mixture of wacky scopitone-like lip-synched videos, a handful of live Fox performances, and frequent Meusurray-messages exhorting kids to either stay in school or, if that wasn't an option, write the OEO for info on youth employment. Clips are available at murraythek.com, and on DVDs about the Supremes and the Munsters (Fred Gwynne appears in Cannibal & the Headhunters' spot). The entire show can be viewed at the Museum of Television and Radio, and I'm sure it's probably a hot commodity on the bootleg '60s-video-trading circuit.








While Murray's concert series was well-loved and presumably profitable, regular movie attendance at the Fox was pitifully low throughout the '60s, forcing the theater to close up shop on Sunday, February 6, 1966; Where the Spies Are was the final flick shown. It reopened for one last Murray blast over the Easter holiday that year, and according to another cinematreasures expert, rock shows continued to be held on a sporadic basis until April, 1968. The house was then rented by the Salmaggi Grand Opera Company for a few months, and a "Humphrey for President" rally was held there in late '68. It stood vacant for a couple of years after that, finding use only as background for a movie-theater scene in the film They Might Be Giants. The building was subsequently purchased by the Borough of Brooklyn and razed in 1970; a Con Edison office block now stands in its place. (A few relics from the Fox survived the demolition. The Wurlitzer Special, or at least its console, was first moved to the Cardinal Music Palace in Fort Wayne, Indiana, but currently resides at Wurlitzer Manor, an inn on the Puget Sound in Gig Harbor, Washington. And a leaded glass window with the Fox insignia is housed at the American Movie Palace Museum of the Theatre Historical Society of America in Elmhurst, Illinois.)






Murray was also associated with a big Long Island discotheque, Murray the K's World, situated in an old airplane hangar on then-disused Roosevelt Field. As we've seen in a previous post, the disco's backer, theatrical producer Michael Mayerberg, had originally sought the Andy Warhol imprimatur for the joint--but ultimately decided to go with Murray's less-freaky image. The club opened in the spring of '66 and featured a trippy multimedia environment designed by USCO, effectively bringing the best of Cheetah-style nightclubbing out to the suburbs. The Rascals, the Isley Brothers, Mitch Ryder, and Gandalf are among the acts known to have played there. Apparently Murray and Mayerberg had a falling-out after a while, whereupon the club was simply called the World. Not sure how long it was open, but as all good Lawn Guyland consumers know, the historic former airfield (point of origin for Lindbergh's transatlantic flight) is now the site of the Roosevelt Field mall.

[EDIT 11/8/2009: According to their '60s tour schedule, the Hollies were the featured band at the World's opening weekend!]



Murray's final package show, "Music in the Fifth Dimension," was held at the RKO 58th Street Theatre over Easter, 1967 (March 25-April 2). By then Murray had helped usher in freeform rock radio at WOR-FM, so the bill was hip to changing tastes. A few familiar folks from previous shows reappeared--Mitch Ryder, Wilson Pickett, the Rascals, and of course Jackie the K and the K Girls in their wild fashion show (Smokey & the Miracles, though booked, apparently never showed up). Among the more revolutionary newbies were the Blues Project, the Hardly Worthit Players, the Chicago Loop, the Mandala, Phil Ochs, Simon & Garfunkel, the Blues Magoos, and, in their U.S. debuts, "the" Cream and the Who, "DIRECT FROM ENGLAND." Legends abound, but it was obvious to all involved that this new kind of rock simply could not be contained within the traditional showbizzy "two songs and yer off--NEXT!!!" framework. Though not a rock concert per se, the coinciding Central Park Be-In on that Easter Sunday was a harbinger of rock-festival-style presentation to come. The RKO 58th Street itself closed down later that year, following its final films, a double feature of The Viscount and The Cool Ones.




Murray apparently staged a "Brooklyn Fox Reunion" show at the Palladium in July 1978, but other than mentions on two Jan & Dean sites, I've found no details about it. Now excuse me while I go do some lone twisting at the submarine races. AH-BEY!


[UPDATE 3/11/2010: A reader named LHM sent in some reminiscences and pics from the '67 Easter show...see them here.]


[UPDATE 5/24/2010: Courtesy of murraythek.com, here is Peter A.'s compilation of opening dates and lineups--with the exception of the 1965 shows, and the actual dates for the '64 and '65 Xmas shows, which have yet to be confirmed. And click here for a couple of short Murray-related posts I put up recently.]


December 29, 1960--The Clay Cole Christmas Show with Murray the K, Brooklyn Paramount: Ray Charles, Neil Sedaka, Dion, Little Anthony & the Imperials, Chubby Checker, the Drifters, the Shirelles, Bobby Vee, the Bluenotes, the Coasters, Jimmy Charles, Kathy Young, Dante and the Evergreens, Bobby Vinton. [UPDATE 5/25/2010: Clay Cole himself wrote in to add that Brenda Lee, Johnny Burnette, Bo Diddley, and the Skyliners also performed.]

April 1, 1961--The Easter Parade of Stars with Clay Cole and Murray the K, Brooklyn Paramount: Dion, Chubby Checker, Ben E. King, the Shirelles, Bobby Rydell, Carla Thomas, Bobby Vee, Johnny Burnette, Jimmy Clanton, Maxine Brown, Freddy Cannon, the Marcels, Rosie, Del Shannon, Little Anthony & the Imperials, the Capris, the Isley Brothers, the Olympics, Maurice Williams and the Zodiacs, Frank Gari, Andy Rose, Johnny Tillotson, Johnny Mathis, Chuck Jackson, the Landon Sisters, Bobby Bongard.

September 4, 1961--The Murray the K Labor Day Show of Stars, Brooklyn Paramount: Jackie Wilson, Jerry Lee Lewis, Etta James, Clarence Henry, Brian Hyland, Ral Donner, the Cleftones, Linda Scott, the Belmonts, Bruce Bruno, the Chantels, Frank Gari, Curtis Lee, the Vibrations, the Regents, Tony Orlando.

December 28, 1961--Murray the K's Twist Party, Academy of Music: Joey Dee & the Starliters, the Vibrations, the Chantels, Bobby Vee, the Isley Brothers, Johnny Mathis, Dion, Bobby Lewis, Timi Yuro, Gary U.S. Bonds, the Belmonts, the Crystals, Jan & Dean.

September 8, 1962--Murray the K's Golden Gasser Show of Stars, Brooklyn Fox: The Shirelles, Chuck Jackson, the Four Seasons, the Ronettes, Bobby Vinton, the Capris, Mike Clifford, the Marvelettes, the Del-Satins, Tony Orlando, Little Eva, the Dovells, the Thornton Sisters, Tommy Roe, the Majors, Fabian.

December 27, 1962--Murray the K's Christmas Revue, Brooklyn Fox: Jackie Wilson, Joey Dee & the Starliters, the Shirelles, the Four Seasons, the Cookies, Mark Valentino, Sam & Bill, the Dovells, Bob B. Soxx & the Blue Jeans, the Ronettes, the Earls, Little Eva, the Crests (featuring James Ancrum on lead), Dionne Warwick, Johnny Thunder.

April 18, 1963--Murray the K's Show of Shows, Brooklyn Fox: Dion, Chuck Jackson, the Vibrations, the Dovells, the Orlons, Little Peggy March, Lou Christie, Dee Dee Sharp, the Coasters, the Harptones, Johnny Mathis, the Ronettes, Steve Alaimo.

September 4, 1963--Murray the K's Holiday Revue, Brooklyn Fox: Ben E. King, Little Stevie Wonder, the Drifters, the Miracles, the Tymes, the Chiffons, Randy & the Rainbows, the Angels, Jan & Dean, the Ronettes, Jay & the Americans, Gene Pitney, the Dovells, Dionne Warwick, Dick & Dee Dee.

December 30, 1963--Murray the K's Christmas Show, Brooklyn Fox: Lloyd Price, the Miracles, Mary Wells, Little Anthony & the Imperials, Martha & the Vandellas, the Duprees, Tommy Hunt, Jay & the Americans, Ruby & the Romantics, Tommy Roe, Dale & Grace, the Vibrations.

September 9, 1964--Murray the K's Big Holiday Show, Brooklyn Fox: Marvin Gaye, the Miracles, Martha & the Vandellas, the Supremes, the Contours, the Temptations, the Searchers, Dusty Springfield, Millie Small, Jay & the Americans, the Dovells, Little Anthony & the Imperials, the Shangri-Las, the Ronettes.

December XX, 1964--Murray the K's Christmas Show, Brooklyn Fox: Chuck Jackson, Ben E. King, the Drifters, the Shirelles, Dick & Dee Dee, the Shangri-Las, Patti LaBelle & the Bluebells, the Vibrations, Dionne Warwick, the Zombies, the Nashville Teens, the Hullabaloos.

April 11, 1966--Murray the K's Easter Show, Brooklyn Fox: Joe Tex, the Young Rascals, Mitch Ryder & the Detroit Wheels, Jay & the Americans, Little Anthony & the Imperials, Deon Jackson, the Shangri-Las, Patti LaBelle & the Bluebells, the Gentrys, the Royalettes.

December XX, 1966--Murray the K's Christmas Show, Brooklyn Fox: Peter & Gordon, Wilson Pickett, the Fortunes, the McCoys, the Moody Blues, the Toys, Lenny Welch, Cannibal & the Headhunters, the Vibrations, the Spinners, the O'Jays, the Bloodless Revolutionaries.

March 28, 1967--Murray the K's Music in the Fifth Dimension, RKO 58th Street Theater: Mitch Ryder & the Detroit Wheels, Wilson Pickett, the Who, the Hardly-Worthit Players, Cream, the Blues Magoos, the Blues Project, Jim & Jean, the Mandala, the Chicago Loop, Phil Ochs, Simon & Garfunkel, the Young Rascals. (Smokey Robinson & the Miracles were also on the bill, but most accounts I've read said they failed to show.)



UPDATE 12/21/2010:  I've been re-reading the cinematreasures.org pages for certain classic NYC theaters-turned-rock-venues, in search of updated rock and roll info.  Few of the posts that have been added to the Brooklyn Fox page since I last visited have anything to do with the Murray era, but I did see one intriguing tidbit about an event in 1967, posted by "Tinseltoes" in March, 2010:  "During the last weekend in January, 1967, the Fox presented a three-day stage engagement of James Brown and his entire crew of entertainers, including the Famous Flames, the Jewels, Butterbeans & Dixie, the Go-Go Dancing Girls, James Crawford, Bobby Byrd, and an 18-piece band. During that Friday through Sunday, performances were continuous. Advertising made no mention of any movies being on the bill."

I also found this picture from the Michael Ochs Archives on Getty Images.  It's on there several times, dated September 1, 1964, January 1, 1965, and January 1, 1970--the September date seems to come closest in accuracy.  The watermark obscures most of the figures, but the following names are listed in the credits: "Marvin Gaye, The Searchers, The Supremes, The Miracles, The Temptations, Martha & The Vandellas, The Contours, Jay & The Americans, The Dovells, The Newbeats, Little Anthony & the Imperials, The Shangri-las and The Ronettes."  I can make out a few of those personages, but I don't think all of them are present in this shot.  See more Murray pics on Getty here.


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 thevagrants.net. 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, vanillafudge.com rivals thevagrants.net 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.


Wednesday, February 07, 2007

Mother's Father

I'm back--hopefully on a far more prolific basis than I was throughout 2006. Sorry, my head was just in a whole 'nother place, so the best I could manage were various little updates here and there. Thanks to all the fine folks who left comments, corrections, and encouragements--your input is most appreciated.

A while back, and I'm ashamed to say it was well over a year ago, Peter Crowley--former booker for Mother's and Max's Kansas City and manager of W/Jayne County--stumbled upon my sketchy entry on Mother's and contacted me about it. Deeming it "pretty accurate but incomplete," he kindly offered some further background details on the joint, which I shall henceforth paraphrase.

Crowley's association with Mother's began in 1974. He had been attempting to get Wayne County and the Back Street Boys a gig at CBGB to no avail, and asked a friend named Mike Umbers if he knew of any other bars where he could put on shows. Umbers recommended Mother's, a gay bar that was struggling to make a go of things. The management were amenable to Crowley's ideas and allowed him to turn the place into a rock & roll club.

Mother's occupied two narrow storefronts on 23rd. They shared a common disused kitchen area at the back, which served as a makeshift dressing room. Entry to the club was through the right-hand/eastern storefront, where the bar and jukebox were located. At the rear by the end of the bar you'd find the entrance to the "back room," or the left-hand storefront, where the shows would take place; admission, usually 3 bucks or so, was collected at this doorway. There had been a tiny stage by the blacked-out front window when Crowley arrived, but he enlarged it to accommodate bands.

During the first week Wayne County and the Backstreet Boys played two shows a night, with rotating support from the Fast and the Outkids--and the response was so good punters sometimes had to be turned away. Crowley stayed on at Mother's until a point in 1975 when he was hired to be the music and art director of Max's Kansas City. Some Mother's regulars took the place over and changed its name to ZEPPS. They continued to book bands there for a couple of years afterwards, but I have been unable to locate any reference to this incarnation of the club.