Thursday, December 09, 2010

Tramps like them




TRAMPS--Since this place has been mentioned a few times over the last couple of years on two of my favorite blogs, The Hound and Dangerous Minds, I've been meaning to do a post on it for a while.  Considering its long lifespan, I haven't found quite as much information on it as I'd expected to, so I'm afraid this piece won't live up to my self-imposed standards of comprehensive detail--but I'll share what I managed to find. 

The joint had two incarnations: its intimate 150-seat original spot at 125 East 15th Street (which I'm sorry to say I'm too young to have ever attended), and larger 1,000-capacity digs at 45-51 West 21st Street, opened in 1989.  [A brief NY Times item notes that when the first club closed in 1988, the initial relocation plans were then for a space on Varick Street.]  What I did not know was that the first Tramps opened in 1975, and apparently in its earliest days it was considered something of a cabaret-type venue.  This Billboard article from November 6, 1976 makes it sound a bit like Reno Sweeney, and mentions that the club was getting much music-biz attention for having recently hosted shows by Cathy Chamberlin's Rag and Roll Revue and Stormin' Norman and Suzy

Owned by Terry Dunne, who would also manage the Nails--and with bookings at the second location handled by Steve Weitzman--Tramps dealt in musical eclecticism and diversity. It featured local and touring acts performing everything from roots rock, country, folk, singer-songwriter stuff, reggae, cajun/zydeco, celtic music (which might help explain the Hound's recollection of the first location as a frequent hangout for the Westies), garage rock, indie rock in all its permutations, hip hop, and the occasional megastar club date-cum-video shoot from the likes of Bruce Springsteen and the E Street Band or Bob Dylan.  Yet even with all this variety, Tramps--the original club in particular--was best known for specializing in blues, R and B, and soul. 

Since I spent a fair amount of my '90s nights out at the second Tramps, in researching for this post I was most curious about the first one.  From what I could gather it seemed like a pretty cool scene, one enjoyed by many folks who would eventually form the WFMU/Norton Records axis of rrrreal rock and roll fanpeople-preservationists (my heroes).  But so far I've only found a few factoids about it, most of them culled from the Billboard and New York Magazine archives on Google.


Billboard, July 21, 1979: "Tramps, a fashionable cabaret that has helped launch several artists in that genre, and the Squat Theatre, an off-off Broadway location that has featured predominantly avant-garde plays, have almost simultaneously scheduled a series of appearances by blues artists who haven't breathed the air here in years.  Koko Taylor inaugurated the series June 22 and she's already booked to appear again in August.  Blind John Davis entered the room July 4 and played through Saturday (14).  Otis Rush comes in Wednesday (18) through Sunday (21), to be followed by Eddie Kirkland and others whose dates are still tentative."

Billboard, Oct. 11, 1980: "Tramps has become more blues-oriented than ever with owner Terry Dunne scheduling such acts as Lightnin' Hopkins, Jimmy Rogers, Syl Johnson, Luther Johnson Jr., Solomon Burke, Mighty Joe Young, Otis Clay, Eddie Shaw and the Wolf Gang, O.V. Wright, Jimmy Johnson and Sam and Dave.  The club has also booked reggae artist Big Youth."

Billboard, Oct. 25, 1980:  "Tramps, the center of this new [R and B] activity, has booked Rufus Thomas, Carla Thomas, Solomon Burke, Syl Johnson, and Big Twist and the Mellow Fellows...[Terry Dunne says,] 'We are trying to bring in some of the better known acts, and when people realize how great this music is, there will be more word of mouth.  You have to understand that a lot of these acts have done many Southern tours but have not played Manhattan in many years.  So some are not that well known here.'  Some of the other acts that Dunne has either already booked or is working on booking include Don Covay, Clarence Carter, Eddie Floyd, Chuck Jackson and Joe Tex.  Dunne says he is getting a mostly white audience divided between those who remember the music from the first time around and those who have recently discovered it."

All kidding about "Hot Hot Hot" novelty-ism aside, David Johansen created and honed his Buster Poindexter act at Tramps, as explained in a New York article from May 4, 1987.  "Maybe Poindexter's R and B revivalism...is at home here because Terry Dunne is an ethnomusicologist himself, and Tramps happens to be the best blues and R and B bar in town.  Dunne, an Irishman who moved here in 1968 and worked the minor-rock-club circuit for six years before opening Tramps in 1975, took it upon himself to track down two dozen half-forgotten bluesmen and bring them to the big city."


If you've got any anecdotes that can help expand and vivify this account of the first Tramps (or the second one for that matter), please leave a comment!


Here's a very partial and non-chronological list of folks who performed at Tramps.  I'm feeling a bit too lazy to organize it or add dates and links to all of the references I found, but I will provide links to some of the cooler ones.  [More names are hopefully to come in the future, when/if I get to the ads in later issues of the Voice.  Again, most of these references came from the Billboard archive.]

  • Esquerita, a.k.a. Eskew Reeder
  • Pat Benatar
  • The Foo Fighters
  • Bullet LaVolta
  • Danny Gatton
  • De La Soul (who recorded a live album there)
  • A Tribe Called Quest
  • The Uptown Horns
  • Carla Thomas
  • James Carr
  • Swapp Dogg
  • The Mavericks
  • The Jayhawks
  • Wild Jimmy Spruill
  • Otis Rush
  • Ben Harper
  • Nashville Pussy
  • Papas Fritas
  • They Might Be Giants
  • Alanis Morrissette
  • Cibo Matto
  • P-Funk
  • Elliott Smith
  • John Fahey
  • Guided By Voices
  • Johnny "Guitar" Watson
  • Modest Mouse
  • The Harm
  • Patti Rothberg
  • John Mooney
  • Chuck Brown
  • The Family Stand
  • Cheap Trick
  • Graham Central Station
  • Lost Boyz
  • Albert Collins
  • Koko Taylor
  • Lester Chambers (from the Chambers Brothers), backed by the Uptown Horns
  • Mighty Joe Young
  • KRS-One
  • The Continental Drifters
  • Morris Day and the Time (oh-wee-oh-wee-oh)
  • Screamin' Jay Hawkins
  • Steve Earle
  • Merle Haggard
  • Son Volt (played the closing show at the 21st Street location).
  • An item noting the club's 20th anniversary in the September 16, 1995 issue of Billboard mentions upcoming shows from Ray Charles, Ray Davies, the Blasters, the Beat Farmers, Joe Ely, Mike Watt, Francis Dunnery, Shawn Colvin, Boozoo Chavis, and a tribute to Peter Tosh.
  • Another article on the 20th anniversary in the NY Daily News also notes upcoming shows from Wilson Pickett, Buckwheat Zydeco, Luna, and Foetus, and discusses past appearances from Big Joe Turner, Buddy Guy, Blind John Davis, Solomon Burke, Junior Wells, Lightnin' Hopkins, Charles Brown, and Nappy Brown.

At my "advanced age" I'm getting really bad at remembering the shows I've been to and where they happened, but a few Tramps gigs I can semi-clearly recall include the Muffs (with the Groovie Ghoulies I think), Thee Headcoats (with the Insomniacs; my addled brain recalls the Makers as another opener, but this NY Times blurb swears it was the Make-Up), the Donnas, Link Wray, Dale Hawkins, and the Swingin' Neckbreakers.  I am certain I was there for more shows, because for a time in the mid-to-late-'90s their bookings were right up my alley--but I'm totally blanking out on the names now.  [I remember a then-friend of mine telling me that Maxwell's/Telstar Records honcho Todd Abramson was involved with the bookings at that point, but I don't know for sure if that's true.]  I must admit I never felt any super-special sentimental fondness for the place.  The sightlines could often be pretty poor with all those columns in the way, and to me the atmosphere usually seemed to lack excitement or electricity.  Still, it was as decent as any mid-size club in town.

Tramps closed in 1999.  Soon it became Centro-Fly, a dance music/hip hop club graced with retro-futuristic op art decor.  When that closed in 2004, it became Duvet, a resto-lounge where patrons ate in beds instead of at tables.  That's no longer operating either--even if it were, I doubt it would get much business these days with NYC bedbugs so bubonic-plague rampant.  I have no idea what, if anything, is on the premises today.  Steve Weitzman went on to handle bookings at the Village Underground and Warsaw...not sure if he's still doing this lately, as the most recent references I've found on him date from 2001.  Apparently Terry Dunne now owns an Irish pub called One and One at 76 E. 1st Street, replete with a swank basement lounge called Nexus.


UPDATE 2/19/2015: Brooklyn Vegan recently published an interview with David Johansen, in which he briefly discusses the Buster Poindexter origin story and Tramps' part in it:  When we first started Poindexter it was down at this place on 15th Street in Gramercy Park called Tramps which was just like a little bar with a backroom where they'd have like Big Joe Turner who would do a residency there and Charles Brown would do a residency there. On Monday, the bar was open but in the back room nothing was going on, and it was the only night of the week where they really didn't have anything going on back there, so I used to hang out there. I was on the road at the time with the David Johansen group, and I was listening to a lot of jump blues like Jimmy Liggins and music like that - the Central Avenue sound, so to speak. I decided I wanted to make a show so I could sing some of this music. I decided I was gonna do four Mondays in that room, and then it became a really hot new thing so we started doing the weekends and it just evolved from there. When we first started in that room, the vibe was really great and it was just in that little room. The thing about the Café Carlyle is it kinda reminds me of that vibe and the intimacy of it where you could just talk and muse on things and sing songs and people are listening, whereas where you're at a concert or an arena it's like "Our next song will be!" (laughs). But in a room like this it's more like "You know, I've been thinking," so it's really where you can talk from your heart and from the top of your head. It's a kind of entertainment. It's not really like anything. It's kind of like its own genre in a way.

23 comments:

Caryn said...

Ah, Tramps. The 15th St. Tramps. I used to spend a lot of time there when I was in college, so 81-85 mostly.

Buster Poindexter launched there because David Jo lived close by and Tramps was his local. I'm sure he and Terry Dunne got along so well because of their shared musical interests, but David hung out there because it was close to home.

It was originally just David - pre-Harry Smiths, pre-'Hot Hot Hot' - wanting to play the RNB that he love & inspired him. What most people don't know is that "Buster Poindexter" was the name of his publishing company. So when, one day, you saw the ad in the Village Voice listing "Buster Poindexter" and you followed David at all, you knew what was up and you headed down there. He used to have Glenn O'Brien do a comedy bit - as a Catskills comedian named 'B.S. Pulley Jr." as an opening act.
The rest of the band was Brian Coonin (who's in the Dolls now), Tony Machine, and - I could be wrong but I doubt it -I want to say Tony Garnier on bass. But I could be wrong! I should go look this stuff up.

We - and when I say 'we' I mean 'the kids who followed David because we worshipped the Dolls' - were there every weekend when no one was there. We would laugh during the comedian so the audience would laugh. We would hold up pots & pans for Tony Machine to use as percussion.

And then Keith Richards showed up, and our fun ended. Then there was a line, and a list, and we kids couldn't have the front table any more for both sets, because there were too many people coming down to be part of the scene. And then it moved to the Bottom Line and became something different, and I wasn't interested any more.

Also remember that in pre-Palladium dormitory days, your drinking choices in that area were not exactly thick on the ground. So Tramps was a good meeting spot for Irving Plaza or Palladium shows. And it had the greatest blues artists. I saw Big Joe Turner at least three times by hanging out there on random Thursday nights. I wish to fucking hell I had seen Sam & Dave there.

I wish I could remember the name of the bartender. He kept the pervs away and took care of us girls.

I left the city for a while in 88 so I never went to the 'new' Tramps. But I will point out that Springsteen just filmed a video there. He didn't play there regularly or even once. It was a closed by invitation only shoot.

I'll get some other David Jo/Tramps folks to come over here and leave a comment or two.

Signed D.C. said...

Wow Caryn, thanks so much for your insights, I really appreciate it! Yeah, I know the Springsteen thing was a contrived invite-only situation...I'll update that sentence accordingly.

pherkovi said...

Hi,
Was curious about the omission of, what I thought, was the original Tramps on 6th Ave. and 21st or so. Became a bagel place as I remember.
Paul

pherkovi said...

OOPs, after discussing this with a friend I realized that I was actually thinking of SNAFU's. I think I got this confused because the band I originally saw at SNAFU;s played at TRAMPS the night I met my wife. A few brain cells got washed away with all the rum.
Paul
btw Love the blog, first came upon it looking up info on Club 82. Waltzing down memory lane.

Gary Mitchell Gray said...

I lived on 15th street, 2 blocks from tramps 1979-81. It was either the Lone Star 2 blocks south or Tramps. Terry and I were not close, but friends just the same. I opened for Luther Allison one night. At the time my group was "The Fabulous Blueroots". Later on I was with Sleepy LaBeef, and we opened for Merle Haggard, and the Marshall tucker Band. Both shows at the 21st street Tramps. There were many great clubs in NYC in the 80's. It's sad now that there is no scene. ♫

Staten Island Bob said...

I used to be the Blues DJ, (on Blues nights only), in the winter/spring/summer of 1979-1980. I could give you a pretty complete list of the Blues talent that played there. But what I am really interested in finding out is what happened to Michael O'Donoghue, the musical adviser, (not the SNL guy)? My wife and I haven't been able to track him down. You might remember the guy with the dinner jacket and the paisley pants who drank Chivas Regal all the time. (He was the real brains behind the music, as his extensive knowledge of jazz, blues and R & B came into play when choosing who to book. He also contributed recordings to Ashley Kahn's WKCR broadcasts, and Kahn showed up quite frequently in those days, as did other late-night regulars like East Side George and David Johansson, as a spectator, at first.)

Staten Island Bob said...

I posted a story about Bluesman Jimmy Johnson, (and the Tramps connection),on my site. I attempted to copy it here but you have a character limitation in place. Maybe you would be interested in reading it. (You also don't take URLs, but 'Staten Island Bob' in Google will take you there).

45ea6566-324d-11e2-980a-000bcdcb8a73 said...

Hi, was just wondering what happened to Terry and the Coyne brothers when I came upon your post about Tramps. I was the booking manager there (Irving Place) for all of calendar year 1980. I can confirm that we did Big Joe Turner on several occasions, Luther Allison and Inner Circle among many others. Best regards, Jumpsturdy

'tine said...

Not sure if you're still checking your comments, but I saw the Lounge Lizards there around 1990-1991.

Anonymous said...

Impossible not to add Storman' Norman and Suzie to your list. The played for at least 3 weeks there in 1977 or '78 and Suzie Williams, one of the greatest voices and most magnificent performers of the time - of all time - blew everyone out of their shoes every night. I was lucky enough to do their lights there... Otherwise, I did bookings as well as sound and lights for others at Tramps for a bit.
And perhaps the name of the barman that the first comment person was looking for was the charming Michael Coyne - in any event, it was Michael (Terry's partner) behind the bar in the late 70's... and he taught me how to drink.

rhytonen said...

The Bartender at ("the old")Tramps on E.15 was Tommy.. Coyne? (related to Terry's partner Michael)
he doormn at the Poindexter eplosion was Michael O'Donnell(sp?)

Other bands that played there a lot were Elliot Murphy (with Ernie Brooks from The Modern Lovers on bass,) Loup Garou (with Toy Guarnier who made gumbo on Sundays) and The Delancey Street Hawaiians, the band I played bass in (with Tony Machine, Wild Bill Thompson fron The Senders and Robert Gordon, sometimes Wayne Kramer, and Johnny Collins our front man/singer from Bang Zoom, the Terrorists, Tijuana Bible, Death Tongue, Last Words of Dutch Schultz, and so many others.)

Tramps was where you went (well, all the time if you lived in the neighborhood, & weren't at The Gloc' or Molly's, and were a musician)before/after/during Irving Plaza concerts, after Max's, and before the coffee shop on 3rd Av. to throw sugar packets back & forth at Johnny T..(& te The Nursery, Mudd Club or Robots) And those who went to Max's went to tramps after Max's had closed for good.
I have one tape(of many gig & rehearsal tapes) with Johansen bellowing drunkenly over thunderous applause, after one of the Hawaiians' infamous third sets, "My favorite band! My favorite band! My favorite band! and the cops made 'em stop!(laughs)"

rhytonen said...

O'Donahue! not O'Donnell. Right! (Lovesick maniac..;)

Jay Kirchheimer said...

I was the sound-man on 15th St about a year and a half over 85 and winter spring '87 Bull Moose Jackson.... Delancy St Hawaiians,Loup Garou and Bukwheat Zydeco and several other well known Zydeco Groups....

RHytonen said...

Hey Jay - I still have a lot of the tapes of us you made.. ;)
-Rod

Faith said...

Ah Tramps. God, I miss the place. I started going there to see David and never left until they closed the doors for the last time. Also in his band was Joe DeLia, later replaced by Charlie Giordano, now playing with Bruce Springsteen and Tony Garnier. The bartender, as someone else said, Was Tommy Coyne, who became a locksmith!

Michael Coyne lives in Seattle and Brendan lived there for a while, and then moved back to Ireland.

Miss those days

Anonymous said...

Michael O Donoghue resides in New Orleans....has for years.

And yes, his musical knowledge is spectacular.
He is not to hard to find!

Anonymous said...

If your serious about getting the full Tramps story...you need to contact Michael O Donoghue...(staten island bob refers to him)
He talks about who they used to book all the time...Hes living in New Orleans and can always be found at the Louisiana music factory on Frenchman st. On most Saturdays.

Signed D.C. said...

Thanks for the tip, but I'm no pro writer and I'm super-shy about contacting/interviewing legends.

Dawn Eden said...

Thanks so much for this post. I have fond memories of working for Dena Hatton, doing publicity and occasional bookings for Tramps (my night was called "Eden's Eve"). I started there as an intern in December 1986, if I recall correctly (my memory could be a year off; it may have been December '85). Eventually the work became a part-time job, which I think continued until shortly before the move to the 21st St. location.

Among the bands I booked at Eden's Eve were Willie "Loco" Alexander, Richard X. Heyman, Cowboy & Spin Girl, Mod Lang, Powderhorn Jones & the Hellions, Kenn Kweder, the Cheepskates, Deep Six, the Mighty Mofos, and (at an NMS showcase in July 1988) Teenage Head with the Secret Service opening. I also seem to remember booking Michael Mazzarella there, pre-Rooks, accompanied by drummer Ken Anderson (now of Hungrytown).

Coyne said...

Michael coyne lives in Washington with his family. I'm his daughter

Charles said...

I tended bar there in 1987 along with Mike's brother, I think, on weekends. We'd split weekday nights. Mike was a good guy. Is he still wearing his Crater Lake baseball hat?

Shutting off the lights in the bathrooms at 4:15 a.m. and having people come spilling out. Walking home through Washington Square at 5:00 a.m. with nothing but the rats and me inhabiting the place. Stuffing the night's cash above the ceiling in the basement at the end of the night. Hanging out with the old merchant marines and listening to Tommy Dorsey.

...all at age 22. It was fun.

Faith said...

Charles, even though my friend Fern and I were at Tramps probably four nights a week during that time period, neither of us remember you working with Brendan. Did you have a different name then?

Anonymous said...

I saw White Zombie with Raging Slab as the opener there . Thurston Moore was in the audience . I also saw Blind Idiot God there . These were the later WFMU years . Also my friend and I went there to hire Buster Poindexter to play his wedding and Terry said he couldn't do it but we could hire the band that played David Johanson's wedding (some Tramps Regulars) and we did!