Tuesday, June 07, 2005

Making the (Steve Paul) Scene

I've been chancing upon references to this club lately--in a recent Warhol book, and on a Classic Albums documentary about the making of Electric Ladyland--so clearly the universe was telling me it was time to explore:

STEVE PAUL'S SCENE, 301 W. 46th Street. Technically it's Steve Paul's The Scene, but that's a tad awkward, no? At any rate, the Scene was among the most "in-crowd" of happening hotspots in late-'60s Manhattan. Major rock stars of the day not only performed there, they relished hanging out there, and these hang-outs frequently evolved into all-night jam sessions. As Lenny Kaye wrote in The History of Rock (1983), "Steve Paul's The Scene provided a watering hole for the late-night superstar, giving over its small, stamp-sized stage to after-hours jams and visiting dignitaries, the coming of age of all that would be known as Sixties rock." In the aforementioned Classic Albums doc, the Scene's maitre d', Jim Marron, describes the space as being "like a Paris disco, in that it was a cave-style. It had three rooms that focused in, like, a cross on the stage, and as a subterranean basement, it had the sort of Paris-cave-disco style to it."

I wish I could find out more about Steve Paul. As for what I do know...seems he first made a name for himself by working as the Peppermint Lounge's publicist during its twisitin' heyday, and later formed a management company, Blue Sky, which had the likes of Johnny Winter, Rick Derringer, and David Johansen on its roster. According to a groovy self-penned article in the May 1967 issue of Hullabaloo magazine, his ambitions for the impresario field were formed via frequent childhood viewings of the Late, Late Show:

The owners of nightclubs in ['30s and '40s] movies had loads of people to keep 'em company. Huge sofas and many phones in massive modern offices. Rising stages. Hidden safes loaded with cash. Beautiful girls in abundance. Bodyguard chums and not a blanket in sight. Doctors and do-gooders and firemen and free-thinkers had to go to bed at night. Nightclub owners didn't. Someday I'd grow up and own me a nightclub...I'd create me a world of reality within the world of reality. Make your dreams come true. It can happen to you. It would be called The Scene. Big S(cene) in name. Little s(cene) in reality (within reality). A place where together people could get together. I'd own it. But so would you. I'd work there. But so would you. I'd play there. But so would you. We'd all give what we could. For the scene's common good.

From what I can gather, the club initially opened in '65 to great fanfare. In the article, Paul writes of the Lovin' Spoonful, the Young Rascals, and Sammy Davis, Jr. gracing the stage. In Popism: The Warhol '60s (New York: Harper & Row, 1983), Warhol writes of a Scene party attended by himself and Edie Sedgwick; other guests included Liza Minnelli and Peter Allen, Baby Jane Holzer, "and Marion Javits and Huntington Hartford and Wendy Vanderbilt and Christina Paolozzi, who was the first model to appear nude in Harper's Bazaar," among other breathlessly dropped names. There's a pic of Edie meeting Mick Jagger at the Scene in Edie: An American Biography (New York: Knopf, 1982), and David McCabe's A Year in the Life of Andy Warhol (London: Phaidon 2003) has some fab shots of Warhol stars cavorting there while watching the Executives, a band made up of 12-year-olds in business suits. After about a year, though, the place got stale:

I know The Scene was great for a while. Because it was real. And because of that it began to stink. Even our scene stinks every now and then. Some of the kids who started coming were only chronological kids. The spontaneous entertainment tonight was yesterday's spontaneity. Being busy became bad. Instead of good. The publicity started stopping. We got what we deserved. We started sinking. And sunk...We owed $90,000. We weren't even doing business on Saturdays. You know where that's at. Real nowhere is the address.

The Scene closed up shop temporarily, but with some help (financial and otherwise--Paul specifically credits Peter Yarrow, Allen Ginsberg and Tiger Morse) it was able to successfully reopen. Legend has it that members of the Junior Mafia regularly came 'round to collect protection money; a certain Sopranos cast member (rest assured it's NOT Li'l Steven) is said to have been among the shakedowners. But such unsavory aspects didn't seem to stop the celebs and heads from packing the place. Chief among the rock gods in residence was Jimi Hendrix. As David Henderson writes in his fabulously florid 'Scuse Me While I Kiss The Sky (New York: Doubleday, 1978):

Jimi soon found the Scene Club irresistible...Fans did not hassle you there. It was dark and intimate, almost labyrinthine, yet you could go there and party, or play and just sit alone and drink, and no-one restrained you either way. And most important of all was that he could play there. He could play any time he wanted to. He could woodshed right in the middle of New York City. The Scene Club was like a miniforum model for every arena he would ever play. The shouting stark frenzy of the close room is what he brought with him to every stage around the world. It was always the small intimate room he was really playing to. The thousand and one nights of playing long into the Scene Club's night. When the chairs would finally be upside down upon the tiny tables. When Steve Paul himself would finally have to pull the plug, while Jimi alone in his universe would be totally unaware of the hour or of the devotees and workers who patiently waited within the exhilaration of his sound. At the Scene, Jimi would completely let himself go--playing all he knew and didn't know, going beyond sharing--playing all. Trying to get it all out.

Henderson describes the layout of the club as follows:

Out front, a big lighted entrance; inside are narrow rectangular panels leading up to a dim box office. You sweep past into a zigzag-shaped mazelike room with tiny tables and tiny-backed chairs. But up on the tiny stage, two feet off the floor, the music happens as it happens in all major cities of the Western world.

He goes on with a delightful account of a night Hendrix spent there with supergroupie Devon by his side--but you'll have to seek out the book to read it. [Speaking of groupies, parts of the 1970 doc Groupies were shot in and around the Scene.] Jimi's wee-hours jam sessions with various mega-musicians not only made their way into legend--some of 'em germinated into tracks on Electric Ladyland, recorded at the nearby Record Plant at 321 W. 44th Street. Hendrix also took part in a benefit concert for Biafran relief at the club--here's a pic of him and Joan Baez hanging out backstage between sets. Hendrix and Paul must have forged a strong friendship over those late Scene nights, for upon Jimi's death his management specially flew Paul in to attend the Seattle funeral.

Before moving to London and snagging a certain Beatle, Linda Eastman honed her photography skills while regularly making the Scene. Her friend Michael Weber provides an atmospheric account of the club and her picture-taking techniques, which I'll excerpt here (but do check out his site for more):

We met at The Scene in the heart of Hell's Kitchen, the most happening music joint in New York City. Linda was rumored to be the heiress to the Eastman Kodak fortune, a myth perpetrated by the fact she often sat with The Scene's resident millionaire, Deering Howe, as in John Deere tractors. Here was this perfectly clad debutante schlepping two Nikons around her neck while everyone else was tripping-out in their caftans. To say Linda stuck out like a sore thumb would be putting it mildly, but she was no heiress. The Scene was the place the top groups got together to jam when performing at New York's bigger venues. Getting past owner Steve Paul at the door was no mean feat, if you got past Teddy first, his sharkskin-suited maitre ‘d, up on the sidewalk. Paul was a brash 21-year-old kid, and if he did ordain your entrance to his club it was not before he unceremoniously put you down. That was his cover charge, a patented one line insult. Rarely, if ever, did he charge his regulars admission. I can't remember Steve ever insulting Linda, though. Her passion was photographing musicians and his was giving them a home. Linda and Steve were simpatico. Tiny Tim always warmed up the house, strumming camp show tunes on his little ukulele while singing along in that nasal falsetto he made famous years later on the Johnny Carson Show. When Tiny decided to finish, it could be one song it could be seven, the Super Groups would get up and jam. That's when Linda sprang to action. She worked seamlessly, blending in with the act. No matter who they were, how famous or infamous, Linda got in their face. That's how she got her portfolio together. For a while Linda was as much a fixture at The Scene as Tiny Tim. That's really saying something.

The Doors played a number of Scene dates in June, July, and October of 1967. Doors researcher Greg Shaw--again, not the Greg Shaw of Bomp fame--presents another evocative account of the club, which appears to come from another Hullabaloo article (please click the link for Doors-specific details):

Steve Paul's The Scene is a popular midtown nightclub at 46th St. and 8th Ave. It sports a labyrinth floor plan which extends through a bizarre network of brick walled cellar rooms and passageways. While the club caters primarily to the jet-set, it also attracts a growing number of the hippie community. Steve Paul once described the purpose of his club in this way: 'To use music as a common denominator for the fusion between music, musicians, people who like music, and people who are music in their very being.' Steve Paul, who had an uncanny eye for spotting new stars, would often feature new talent at his club long before word of them had gone out. Among the wide variety of performers featured at The Scene are the Velvet Underground, Pink Floyd, Jeff Beck, Traffic, the Rascals, Fleetwood Mac and The Chambers Brothers.

A short list of other Scene-sters:

The May, 1967 issue of Crawdaddy! printed this tasty little item:

Steve Paul is producing a series of two-hour color TV specials on pop music and people and the interaction between them; the show will be seen on Channel 5 in New York and certain other Metromedia stations across the country. Steve's club, the Scene, has recently been the late-night home of some very nice New York jam sessions, particularly while the Cream, the Chicago Loop, and Wilson Pickett's band were working nearby in Murray the K's Easter show at the RKO 58th. [From The Crawdaddy! Book (Milwaukee: Hal Leonard, 2002).]

As far as I know, only one of these specials, entitled The Steve Paul Scene, made it to air, featuring the Blues Project, Moby Grape, and the Staples Singers--it's a tripped-out artifact of a bygone era, available for viewing at the Museum of Television and Radio.

And as for the Scene, it closed sometime in 1969. Steve Paul himself had prophesied its demise in the Hullabaloo article. "This time we'll try and make it last. But it won't. Nothing great lasts all the time. Just some of the time and always meaning to the rest. NIGHTCLUB (A definition): A childhood dream come untrue, a reality sinking up instead of down, a Scene, a scene."

[EDIT 11/20/2009: You can see footage of the entrance and interior of the Scene in this excerpt from Groupies.]

[EDIT 3/11/2010: Another one from my "Yes, I DO live under a rock" file...despite being on Facebook for a number of years now, I only just dicovered today there is a Facebook fan page for the Scene! I guess I should start searching for other ancient NYC club pages, stat.]

[UPDATE 5/6/2010: Here are a few Scene ads recently unearthed by a long-time Internet pal of mine, the eagle-eyed Rob B.]

[UPDATE 5/7/2010: Evidently the Motions also played there around June of 1969, with Davy Jones and Micky Dolenz in attendance! These clips have been on youtube since 2006 but I only just discovered them today.]

[UPDATE 5/12/2010: Found an article about Steve Paul and the club in the July 19, 1967 issue of the Village Voice.]
[UPDATE 5/26/2010: NYCDreamin' of This Ain't the Summer of Love posted a cool Scene "win a free record" ad a while back.]
[UPDATE 5/31/2010: Scanned from Clinton Heylin's All Yesterday's Parties: The Velvet Underground in Print, 1966-1971 (NY: Da Capo Press, 2005).]

[UPDATE 6/7/2010: I posted a whole mess of 1967 Scene ads here and here.]

[UPDATE 6/25/2010: Here are some 1969 Scene ads.]

[UPDATE 5/15/2012:  Revised and improved posts on 1967 and 1969 Scene ads.]

UPDATE 5/8/2013:  Jeremiah's VNY reports that 301 W. 46th Street is slated for demolition.  Also, learn a bit about the Scene's predecessor, the Cave of the Fallen Angels, at Gotham Lost & Found.


Anonymous said...

and now steve's back! http://www.downtowntv.com, the site hasn't really launched yet but it sounds cool.

Michael J. Weber said...

I was doing some research on a new book when I came across this blog which links back to my site. I can attest to its accuracy.

Great work!
Michael J. Weber

Anonymous said...

Marty Angelo, former manager of the band, Raven writes about Steve Paul and the Scene in his book, "Once Life Matters." ISBN-0961895446. Mentioned in the book is how Jimi Hendrix discovered Raven and convinced Steve Paul to book the group. Truly a interesting story.

Bluesluvver said...

Steve paul's scene was part of 3 great clubs back in the day,besides the scene were Ondine's on East 58 st(next to the humane society today)Buffalo Sringfield,the Doors among others,and Ungano's on West 70th street,fantastic bands to many to list let alone remember(Those days are a little foggy to me now as they were even then)

Anonymous said...

This was one of the best experiences I ever had, being a part of "Steve Paul's The Scene" with Tiny Tim a regular act there, and Teddy Slatus the manager, and Charles Anderson, one of the bouncers...Seeing all the acts (most still unknown) up close and personal was even better. I remember seeing Jim Morrison, and Van Morrison, not to mention the Hell's Angels. Best yet, was being a part of the "Steve Paul's The Scene" TV Special. My email is

Anonymous said...

The Smoking Gun.com has part of the jury summation from the trial of that "Junior Mafia"/Sopranos cast member to whom you alluded, Gennaro (Tony) Sirico, known to the world as Paulie Walnuts.

The ADA said that Steve Paul's The Scene was forced to close down and Paul was forced to leave town, due to Sirico, whom he called a "menace to society." Sirico also successfully shook down the owner of Ondine's. After Ondine's closed, a club called Together opened on that site. Its owner, John Addison, went to the police after Sirico asked Addison, who'd been resisting his shakedown efforts, if he'd heard what happened to Bobby Woods. Woods had owned Salvation, a club on Sheridan Square.

The mob had shaken down Woods big time, to the tune of over 250K and driven him out of business. He was found in Queens with five .32 bullets in his head the previous month. Addison was aware of this. Sirico told Addison that could happen to him, too, if he didn't show Sirico the "respect he deserved." Detectives arrested Sirico that night.

On March 19, 1970, over two weeks later, the New York Times reported that Sirico had been the manager at Woods' Salvation discotheque (it's common Mafia practice to force businesses they're "busting out" to put no-show employees on their payrolls). Woods left papers telling the tale of how he'd been shaken down for over 250K with his lawyer, telling him to turn them over to police if he was murdered. It was noted that homicide detectives wanted to question Sirico about Woods. As with virtually all gangland killings, nothing came of this and there's no mention in the summation excerpt on Smoking Gun about Sirico's connection with Woods (other than the threat to Addison).

Sirico was allowed to plead guilty to felony gun possession and served 20 months of a four-year sentence in Sing Sing.

After his release, Sirico got extra work (and a SAG card) in "Crazy Joe" and "Godfather II." (Gianni Russo, who played Carlo in the first "Godfather," was also a connected guy.) And the rest is show biz history.

Anonymous said...

i worked at the Scene for about two years until it closed. it was a fab place to work until the "junior mafia" arrived. they bullied everyone and commanded all the attention from the staff. we were all afraid, we didn't know any better, and yes, the "head" gut is on the Sopranos. after the Scene closed, i went to work at Salvation, but i never saw him there.


I fondly remember ONDINE'S the trendy in club where I first saw the DOORS before they made it big and I fondly remember seeing BUFFALO SPRINGFIELD play on a New Year's Eve..the music mattered not the money..I went to Ungano's often but Ondine's was my favorite..Steve Paul's Scene was also something you could never see today..my brother called me one day and said I had to see this guitar player..Jimi Hendrix..these were small litle clubs with great energy and staffs...I am always glad to be my age because I had all that and The Beatles ,Stones,Rascals...the best of everything musically speaking...remember Scott MINI's club the rolling stone?? ..another great in club...

Les Mills said...

A girl I knew from Art school in Wales was waiting on tables at the Scene and got me in there a few times. There I sat mesmerised by the Rock legends all around me, I don't think they noticed I was a nobody because I looked like a British Rock star [I did play the drums later in an arty NY group called the Artweisers - legendary in some circles ]-I particularly remember sitting next to Albert King who was jamming great blues whilst drinking beer That same day I'd seen Johnny Winter trying out one of those cool transparent guitars in the guitar shop on West Broadway. Later on the Welsh girl got me a job working in The Salvation checking in coats.

Anonymous said...

Long Live Steve Paul!

Jofloors said...

WOW! I'm blown away with all those memories, I would have loved being a part of that scene,I'm still pissed off that a place of that historic Rock & Roll history & culture is gone. I was lucky enough to have great memories @ CBGB'S with the Punk movement


I was there for CBGB's as wellm it was down the street from GREAT GILDERSLEEVES where Bon Jovi, Queen Latifa gotmthere start,,,I'm always grateul to be my age, older, very older, for if Iwere younger I would have missed all that msic, live music at affordable prices, when they did it for the music not the money...

Ralph said...

I'm trying to get dates for a residency that the Soft White Underbelly did at the Scene back in 68 - drummer Albert Bouchard reckons he can pin a date to the middle of the week because of the following incident:

"During our week of playing at the Scene - there's a Beatles book, I think it's called "Off the Record" or something - it came out 2004 or so and it is a day-by-day chronology of the Beatles from pre-Hamburg to their breakup... June 18th 1968, Ringo goes to the Scene with Jimi Hendrix and Hendrix jams with Jeremy Steig and Ringo declines to play drums, OK?... And that was my drums that he declined to play on... I said it'd be a great honour for you to use my drums... but he said "No no thank you very much"... I wanted to see Ringo with Hendrix, that would've been awesome, right? And after everybody left right - Teddy Slater the house manager of the Scene came over to me and said "You know why Ringo didn't want to play your piece of shit drums? Because they're just crap!! You need some new drums"... and that was June 18, 1968..."

So - I was wondering - is there anybody out there who's keeping track of all the gigs played at the club, or failing that, does anybody have a copy of this Beatles book he mentioned who could verify the date given...?


Signed D.C. said...

Aaargh. Never seen that book but I'll see if the library has it. I've been collecting Scene ads from the Village Voice archive on Google, but naturally the issues from 1968 are missing.

Signed D.C. said...

Ralph, I contacted my fellow rock venues blogger Corry from Rock Prosopography 101, and here's what he told me:

We are fortunate that crack researcher Mark Skobac shares his research with me, for no reason that I can tell except that he's a super nice guy. He does most of his research at the New York Public Library, so he's not affected by Google's gaps. His list for The Scene shows the following

June 1968

1-2 Gary Burton and Larry Coryell
4-8-Crazy World of Arthur Brown, Mose Alison
9-12-Mose Allison, Steppenwolf, Kenny Rankin
13-15-Mose Allison, Kenny Rankin
16-21-Jeff Beck Group w/Kenny Rankin, Earth Opera
22-30-Earth Opera

Nothing about the Soft White Underbelly, unfortunately. However, the tiny ads in the Village Voice just had "highlights" of coming attractions, as you well know, rather than a detailed listing. This seems to imply that Kenny Rankin opened a few days for the Beck Group, and Earth Opera moved in for two weeks. June 16-21 (the Beck residency) was Sunday through Friday. If there was a "transitional" day between Kenny Rankin and Earth Opera, Tuesday June 18 would make the most sense.

Ralph said...

Thanks for that info. Looking at those dates, I suppose it's possible that SWU might have supported Earth Opera a few days later maybe....

I'll have to try and get a look at that Beatles book somehow - I tried searching Google Books for it - I think I found the correct one but didn't get anywhere looking for an occasion where Ringo visited the Scene with Jimi Hendrix...

The hunt continues...


Anonymous said...

I was raised on 62nd and 3rd, and was a regular at Ondine, which I could see from my window! Also went to The Scene, there the night of Sha Na Na, saw Jimi, Davey Jones of the Monkees (what a guitarist!)...and yes, remember Junior well.
Oh what great times.

RephStar said...

Steve Paul is New York City!!! RIP

Anonymous said...

Damn! I never knew about any of this, and I've been there at least twice...that I can remember, it was all so long ago. My ignorance stems from the fact that for one thing,I was a jazz fan (saw Dewey Redman while sitting with Ornette Coleman and his girlfriend. Later saw pianist Jaki Byard. As I recall, these were Saturday afternoon sessions put on by Jazz Interactions.) And aside from not being a rock fan at the time, I was still in high school and wouldn't have been able to get in! The Byard date would have been in the fall of 1968, by which time I was a freshman at C.C.N.Y. Until now I never knew what I had missed (sigh).

Anonymous said...

Concerning Ringo's visit to the Scene club, from what I have researched, it was probably June 16, from the account given by Mal Evans, Beatles' equipment manager and inner circle member who travelled with Ringo and George at the time. He remembered "went to see Jimi Hendrix and a flute player - Eric Clapton showed up, all back to the Drake Hotel"

eagleeye said...

you left out the chambers brothers and Creedence Clearwater and Janice Joplin...Saw them all...and lets not forget “Junior Sirico, Howie Tannenbaum, Georgie Costa and the rest of the “Little Mafia”

Ralph said...

> Concerning Ringo's visit to the Scene club, from what I have researched, it was probably June 16

Thanks for that info - it's very helpful!

Hotel Diplomat Historian said...

Don't forget the Hotel Diplomat on 42rd street NYC shows!

Hotel Diplomat Historian said...

I'm mean 43rd street!

freezonetrumpet said...

I need Chambers Brothers stories.

The Scene was where it was at said...

I, Michael Christopher, now Vogel, spun records there for 2 1/2 years. While there Lou Gosset sang, Tiny Tim performed w/ his ukulele (w/crossed band aids on the back)& a bag full of sheet music. Lester Wilson, who would later choreograph "Saturday Night Fever" w/ Danny Terrio, Linda Goodman, who wrote "Sun Signs", Charlie Smalls, who wrote the music & lyrics for "The Wiz", was the house piano player, Richard Pryor would stop by from "The Improv", which was around the block. He was at that tie undiscovered,Jose Feliciano & his dog Suzie would perform regularly along w/ The Rascals (where they introduced "Groovin". So much more I remember and would like to share with you all!

The Scene was where it was at said...

The Chambers Bros. played The Scene regularly. They were great to work with & I enjoyed their music & energy immensely. I have a story about them at The Big Sur Music Festival in 1967, which predated Monterey Pop. The emcee, whose name escapes me, introduced them as the sun was setting. "Before we go completely to black, Ladies & Gentlemen, The Chambers Bros., who had a white drummer from England.
The Chambers Bros' "Time has come today" was used in "Coming Home" w/ Jane Fonda & Jon Voight.
We used the tune during a yo-yo demo in SF at The Avalon Ballroom complete with fluorescent lighting!

The Scene was where it was at said...

During my tenure there we had everyone from Tim Hardin, Big Mama Thornton, Sam the Sham & the Pharohs, Tommy James & the Shondells, David Clayton Thomas w/ The Mandal from Canada who appeared in canvas breakaway suits. Richie Havens, The Rascals, Jessie Colin Young & the Youngbloods, Corky Siegel w/ the Siegel-Schwall Blues Band, The Velvet Underground & Andy Warhol, Al Kooper & The Blues Project.
Andrew Loog Oldham would come in regularly along with Jackie Gleason. I also met Lily Tomlin & the late Carol Channing there. Bernadette Peters hung out there while doing "Dames at Sea" off Broadway & was good friends w/ Candy Culkin, sister to Bonnie Culkin & aunt to McCauley, Keirnan & Rory Culkin. I'm sure you've heard of them.

Anonymous said...

Add Jerry Lee Lewis to the list of performers, it was a one time "special event" that I did PR for; it might have been the one time that people screamed at me, cussed me out and threatened never return my calls again since the door list was full.
It was a horror show on so many levels but the music was amazing.

Rick said...

Played @The Scene in the early days a few times with The Young Executives - Three 13 Year Olds signed to Mercury Records. One of those appearances was a party thrown by Steve Paul, for The Rolling Stones. I remember seeing Who's Who of The Arts & Entertainment @The Scene. btw, We had a special permit from The mayor's office to appear in Nightclubs at such a young age.

Anonymous said...

Don’t forget Salvation