I was very pleased and honored to be asked to compile a short piece on NYC venue history for Wolfgang's Vault earlier in the week. (I guess this means they've forgiven me for "borrowing" a few Anderson Theater poster scans from their site several years ago!) I tried to be concise yet comprehensive, and to my surprise editor Victoria Keddie left the post basically intact, save for removing most of the links I'd provided. I suppose all that excessive underlined hypertext might have been unsightly, but since I like my readers to have as much immediate info access at their fingertips as possible, I'll put my original link-laden final draft up here as well.
I do update old posts often, but only when I happen to come across or am provided with new information. In my search for new links for the article, I've found that there's quite a bit more material out there about some of the places I've covered than there was when I first started writin' this thang...so I probably should go back and do some thorough re-digging and rewriting to bring older posts further up to code. However, since I've got a greater desire to investigate joints I haven't covered yet, that may take a while.
I want to give a special albeit belated shout-out to the prolific NYCDreamin' of This Ain't the Summer of Love. I was already familiar with some of his work, having seen a few of his posts on historic NYC photography via links from other NYC blogs. Unbeknownst to me though, he has also written exhaustive pieces on the Hotel Diplomat and the Coventry--which kindly acknowledge and build on the posts I'd already done, but truly go the extra mile that eludes me by delving much deeper into building history, citing more sources, and listing accurate and complete show dates. He did an extensive series on the Mercer Arts Center too, a topic I was frankly a little frightened to tackle...and probably others I haven't found yet, but will find soon since I intend to read his blog "cover to cover" over the next few days. I bow to you sir!
Well, here 'tis. Please be kind, it was the best I could do under a rather tight deadline and with some insomnia issues.
As a rock & roll-obsessed New Yorker, I’ve long wished that somebody would write a detailed book on the many places where the music happened in my hometown. When such a book still wasn’t written by 2005, I started blogging about NYC’s lost rock & roll landmarks in my spare time—mainly to satisfy my own curiosity about these joints and the fine folks who performed and partied at them. Five years later, I’m no closer to being an authority on this vast subject than I was before, but I have learned a lot…so when Wolfgang’s Vault asked me to write a brief rundown on some key historical venues and clubs, I felt quite honored, and readily complied.
I haven’t yet delved as deeply into NYC’s ‘50s scene as I would like, simply because I’d be hard-pressed to track down so many untold and undocumented streetcorners, record hops, and uptown R&B bars. But the music’s earliest mass meetings were definitely Alan Freed’s colossal package shows. Most were held at the Brooklyn Paramount and the New York Paramount, though several other movie palaces and halls were also used. WWRL DJ Tommy “Dr. Jive” Smalls presented his own multi-act revues at the beyond-legendary Apollo Theater during the same period.
Freed’s career may have been in scandalous ruins by the ‘60s, but venue possibilities expanded and exploded throughout the decade. Old movie theaters continued to be granted a second adolescence: Clay Cole’s and Soupy Sales’ package shows and even the Beatles at the NY Paramount; Sid Bernstein’s early British Invasion shows at the Academy of Music; and Murray the K’s twice-yearly revues at the Brooklyn Fox. The Village Theater (formerly Loew’s Commodore) showcased many an up-and-coming underground act and hip happening before “Wolfgang” took over and renamed it the Fillmore East—as did the nearby Anderson Theater. But the rock & roll nightclub also came into full fruition at this time, offering a more intimate, energetic, and audience-participatory experience. Naturally the Village boasted a ton of them—Gerde’s Folk City, the Gaslight Café, Café Wha? (that David Lee Roth’s uncle ran that joint is even more remarkable to me than its most famous discovery), Café au Go-Go, Trude Heller’s, the Night Owl, and Generation to name a few…not to mention the mind-melting Dom/Balloon Farm/Electric Circus crosstown on St. Marks. There was the Peppermint Lounge, the Cheetah, Ungano’s, and the incredible Steve Paul’s the Scene on the West Side, and swank East Side discotheques like Arthur, the Phone Booth, Ondine, and L’Interdit. Numerous teen clubs sprouted throughout the boroughs and Long Island, most notably the Action House. And outdoor venues also proliferated—not only the Schaefer Music Festival at Wollman Rink in Central Park (co-founded by Ron Delsener and future CBGBs honcho Hilly Kristal), but also further-afield places like Downing Stadium on Randall’s Island, Gaelic Park in the Bronx, and even the grounds of Staten Island’s Daytop drug rehab center. The section of north-central Queens where I grew up was quite the hotbed of open-air action in particular—and we’re not just talking about the Beatles at Shea here. When I see old lineup schedules for the Forest Hills Tennis Stadium, the N.Y. Pavilion, and the Singer Bowl (footage from the Doors’ show/riot there wound up in the recent Doors documentary When You’re Strange), I imagine that my hipper-than-moi predecessors hardly had to schlep to Manhttan at all for kicks during those late-‘60s summers.
While Madison Square Garden and the Felt Forum hosted the hugest touring acts of the ‘70s, the Academy of Music (later rechristened the Palladium) and the Beacon Theatre still flew the flag for theater-scaled presentation, and the Bottom Line held up its end with a more cabaret-style setting. The go-go discotheque scene had sadly quieted, but there were still some in-crowd hangouts like Nobody’s and Harold C. Black’s 210 Loft. A common theme running through most punk rock history books states that there were absolutely no clubs offering original live music in town before CBGB came along. However, with places like the upper floor of Max’s Kansas City, the Oscar Wilde Room at the Mercer Arts Center, the Hotel Diplomat, Club 82, Mother’s, and the Coventry in existence, this could not have been entirely true. CBs did eventually rule the roost, and Hilly Kristal even attempted to open a bigger satellite venue inside the old Anderson Theater—which didn’t last, but did set a precedent for more successful large clubs like Hurrah, Bond’s Casino, Irving Plaza, and the Ritz. Other punk and post-punk places I wish I could have experienced include Great Gildersleeves, the Mudd Club, Club 57, the “new” Peppermint Lounge, the Pyramid, Danceteria, and the Dive.
My own time is actually not my favorite musical era, so I have not yet done as much research into ‘80s and ‘90s venues. I also moved to a whole other country at the turn of this century, and have just barely kept up with NYC’s changing live scene since then—which has shifted much of its current focus toward Brooklyn. Still, praise must be given to joints like the second Ritz (relocated to the old Studio 54 space), the Academy, Roseland, Tramps, the Lone Star, Maxwell’s (in the “sixth borough” that is Hoboken, N.J.), the old Knitting Factory on Houston, the Mercury Lounge, the Bowery Ballroom, Brownie’s, the Continental, Coney Island High (these last two never bothered to dismantle their sites, bless them), and numerous others too lost in time to mention. All stomping grounds of my generation’s formative years, and major waystations on the hopefully continuing trajectory of New York City rock & roll.
[UPDATE 5/21/2010: A kind archivist at murraythek.com just wrote to remind me that the Brooklyn Fox shows usually happened three times a year (over the Easter, Labor Day, and Christmas holidays), not twice as I erroneously and brain-fartedly wrote above. He also informed me that Murray would occasionally emcee a smaller fourth show at a summer-specific venue, such as the Westbury Music Fair.]