Friday, September 30, 2005

Fame, set and match

Our next site got a prominent mention in No Direction Home on PBS earlier this week. How timely--since I've been in Queens mode over the last couple of posts, I was already planning on covering it...

FOREST HILLS TENNIS STADIUM--1 Tennis Place (off Burns Street, north of 71st Avenue), Forest Hills, Queens. Founded in 1892, the West Side Tennis Club operated at several inadequate Manhattan locations over a twenty-year period before planting permanent roots in then-pastoral Forest Hills. The well-appointed new club, opened in 1913, became so highly regarded that the U.S. Lawn Tennis Association decided to hold its National Championship there two years later. These games--later renamed the U.S. Open--continued to be held annually at West Side until 1978 (whereupon they were moved to Louis Armstrong Stadium in Flushing). To accomodate spectators, a 14,000-seat stadium (some reports say 15,000) was built on the grounds in 1923. For highlights of the site's role in tennis history, check out these links.

Ron Delsener is given credit for establishing the stadium as a music venue. According to an article in the Wharton Journal, he came up with the idea one summer while employed there (presumably in a non-musical capacity) in the early '60s: "You didn't have to pay for heat or air-conditioning. Kids were out of school. And with the exception of the Hollywood Bowl and maybe one or two other places, no one else was doing this [outdoor pop-music concerts]." The earliest concert dates I've found are the Kingston Trio on August 5, 1960, Judy Garland on July 1, 1961, and Joan Baez on August 17, 1963 (at which Bob Dylan joined her for a couple of numbers). There must have been other early '60s shows, but it seems like the ball really got rolling over the summer of '64.

Put aside whatever personal vendetta you may have against Barbra Streisand for a sec (I dig her, OK?) and check out this page documenting her FHTS appearances on July 12, 1964 and August 8, 1965. You'll see a couple of ads for the Forest Hills Music Festival, as the summer concert series was then dubbed. In addition to Barbra, the '64 ad lists the following shows (most dates are difficult to read): Trini Lopez, Count Basie and Woody Allen (stand-up, not clarinet); Harry Belafonte and Miriam Makeba; Joan Baez (August 8; Dylan again sang with her for part of the set); Johnny Mathis; and, in the ultimate '64 booking coup, the Beatles on August 28-29. The '65 ad is much harder to decipher, but I can make out the likenesses of Peter, Paul & Mary, Judy Garland, Count Basie, Frank Sinatra, and Barbra and Woody again, among others. One Forest Hills resident on remembers the era fondly: "Besides the US Open playing 3 blocks from my house, the Forest Hills Tennis Stadium once played incredible concerts. The summer of '64 must have had the most star studded lineup ever. Sinatra played with Count Basie. There was Judy Garland, Barbra Streisand, Louis Armstrong, Peggy Lee and Chet Baker to name a few. And lets not forget the Beatles who caused so much mania they landed in a helicopter on the courts of the West Side Tennis club. My folks took home movies of the mobs packing Burns Street all the way to Continental Avenue. The other great thing was you could hear the shows from the Street if you could not get tickets."

The Beatles' dates were their first New York appearances since Ed Sullivan and Carnegie Hall in February '64. Leslie West offers some memories of the show, and of growing up in Forest Hills, here. During the afterparty at the Hotel Delmonico on that first night, Al Aronowitz introduced the lads to Bob Dylan--who in turn introduced them to the demon weed, according to legend (though I've always found it hard to believe they hadn't already encountered pot in tough Liverpool or the wild Reeperbahn).

[UPDATE 8/25/2010: Read Binky Philips' fab memories of this show here.]

Speaking of Dylan, his August 28, 1965 FHTS date is almost as notorious as the Newport "goes electric" appearance a month previous--and probably received an even more hostile crowd reaction. Al Kooper gives a great account in his Backstage Passes and Backstabbing Bastards (New York: Billboard, 1998). It's too lengthy for me to quote here, but he summed it up well in No Direction Home--to wit, the crowd basically booed, heckled, and cussed all through the electric portion of the show, stopped to sing along with "Like a Rolling Stone" (#1 on the charts that very week), then continued to boo afterwards. Eyewitness reports and photos are available at these links. I'm assuming this pic was taken at the soundcheck.

As if seeking to complete some kind of Ultimate Sixties Band trifecta, the Rolling Stones played FHTS on July 2, 1966. Enjoy these fan reminiscences--one notes that Martha and the Vandellas and the Standells opened.  [UPDATE 4/6/2012: Apparently that fan's memories were a bit faulty, and it was actually the Ronettes who were among the openers.]

[UPDATE 5/25/2010: The Life archives have about three pages of fab fotos from the show!]
[UPDATE 4/2/2012:  Why yes, I was indeed thrilled to have this show play a major part in Mad Men episode 503, "Tea Leaves"!!! The Trade Winds connection was a completely new factoid to me...and the reference to a sack of 20 from the White Castle on Queens Boulevard was a killer touch.  A color poster for the '66 summer show lineup appears here, and here's a setlist.]
[UPDATE 4/6/2012: Mad Men fansite Basket of Kisses did a post about the '66 Stones tour, and Gothamist also did a post on the FHTS Stones show.  I just started reading Johnny Ramone's memoirs, and his ticket to this show is reproduced in the book.]

This terrific ad lists the rest of that summer's line-up:

  • Sammy Davis Jr. and the Count Basie Orchestra, with Jay and the Americans opening, July 8 and 9
  • Andy Williams and Henry Mancini, July 30

  • The Mamas and the Papas and local boys Simon and Garfunkel, August 6

  • Herb Alpert and the Tijuana Brass, August 13

  • Three of Motown's finest--the Supremes, the Temptations, and Steve Wonder--on August 20

  • Ray Charles, August 27.

[UPDATE 5/21/2009: I was just perusing some '66 issues of Billboard that Google has recently added to their Book Search archive. There's a short article in the 8/20/66 ish about the Mamas and Papas/Simon and Garfunkel show which reports that the M and Ps' set was cut short when a gang of 20 or so unruly teens attempted to rush the stage. The group split the scene after their last song and wouldn't come back for an encore despite Good Guy Dandy Dan Daniels' pleas for more.]

The Lovin' Spoonful played with Judy Collins on June 24, 1967--possibly the last show with the original lineup.

The infamous Monkees tour with the Jimi Hendrix Experience as openers rolled in from July 14-16, 1967. Contrary to a crafty Lillian Roxon press release, Hendrix was not kicked off the tour due to pressure from the DAR--rather, he split simply out of frustration with the teeny-boppers' constant Monkee-chants during his sets. The Forest Hills crowd may have been particularly annoying, for legend has it he gave them the finger before storming offstage.

I wish all complete line-ups of the Forest Hills Music Festival were as easy to find as that of 1968--though admittedly that season wasn't quite as rockin' as previous ones. According to, that summer's roster featured:
  • Nancy Wilson and the Fifth Dimension, June 22

  • Judy Collins and Arlo Gutrie, June 29

  • Peter, Paul and Mary, July 13

  • Trini Lopez and Lainie Kazan, July 20

  • The Four Seasons and Bobbie Gentry, July 27

  • The Supremes and Stevie Wonder, August 3

  • The Bee Gees, Spanky and Our Gang, and the First Edition, August 10

  • Simon and Garfunkel, August 17 (other S and G dates include 8/12/67 and 7/18/70)
  • And the Four Tops, Marvin Gaye, and King Curtis on August 24

Janis Joplin played the FHTS twice--July 19, 1969 with the Kozmic Blues Band, and August 2, 1970 with the Full Tilt Boogie Band.

The Who's two-night stand on July 29 and 31, 1971 included a few aberrations. For one, Keith Moon's headphones--which he used to hear the pre-taped synth tracks on "Baba O'Reilly" and "Won't Get Fooled Again"--caught fire and had to be doused by a water bucket from a quick-thinking roadie. At another point Keith accidentally broke the head off John Entwistle's bass (it had been leaning against an amp when he tripped over it), which inspired a rare fit of bass-smashing from John. Furthermore, a security guard was stabbed to death by an ex-con who had been denied entry to the second show.

Few other '70s shows were quite as, ahem, eventful as those. So far I've found references only for the likes of Neil Diamond, Frank Sinatra, Barry Manilow, Linda Ronstadt, and Joni Mitchell. The Neil article states that his show was the first concert at the stadium in five years; perhaps the stabbing incident had led to the hiatus, and to the subsequent booking of more M.O.R.-type acts. Things were marginally better in the '80s--but for every Elvis Costello (8/27/82 and 8/18/84) or Talking Heads (8/21/82), you also had acts like Genesis and ASIA. Full geek disclosure--in my sole Forest Hills concert experience, I got physical with Olivia Newton-John on August 13, 1982, accompanied by my older sister. I was 11--no accounting for taste at that age.

The stadium has seen only very sporadic concert use since then--including K-ROCK's first Dysfunctional Family Picnic on July 1, 1997 (with Blur, Bush, Luscious Jackson, the Foo Fighters, Soul Coughing, and Echo & the Bunnymen), the Furthur Festival on July 3 (with various Grateful Dead offshoots, Jorma Kaukonen, Arlo Guthrie, the Black Crowes, and Moe) and the first two Reggae Carifest shows in '98 and '99. Since the place is plopped down right in the midst of a residential area, I would imagine that many locals frown upon potentially loud and rowdy events like these. This 2003 article reported that the stadium was in dire need of repair, but tennis tournaments are still regularly held on the premises.

UPDATE 5/25/2010: I found a few more lineup posters, for 1964 (from, 1967 (Wolfgang's Vault), and 1970 (from a Simon and Garfunkel fanblog). I can't believe I failed to find any Doors show references (8/12/67, with Simon and Garfunkel) back when I first researched this entry! And lookee here at some fantastic Life photos from the Stones show!!!]

Forest Hills Tennis Stadium Youtube videos.

Article from Feb. 2011: "Will Forest Hills Stadium Rock Again in the 21st Century?"

UPDATE 3/14/2013:  According to an article in the Forest Hills-Rego Park Times, concerts may return to the stadium this summer.

UPDATE 6/24/2013:  Big news in the 6/23/2013 New York Times, in an article written by Corey Kilgannon.  "After decades of languishing in obscurity and disrepair, one of the most famous sports and concert sites in New York will again reverberate with the sound of live music. The Forest Hills Tennis Stadium in Queens, which opened in 1923 and has played host to Jimmy Connors and John Lennon, sits next to an expanse of grass and clay tennis courts at the West Side Tennis Club, the stadium’s owner. Club officials and a promoter have an agreement to hold 19 concerts over the next three years. The stadium is still in shoddy condition, and after an accelerated renovation to make it ready, one concert is planned there this summer — an Aug. 28 show by Mumford and Sons  — followed by six in each of the next three summers. This summer’s concert will serve as something of a pilot, to convince residents of Forest Hills Gardens, the exclusive neighborhood of elegant Tudor homes around the stadium, that the concerts will not be a nuisance, said the club’s president, Roland Meier. Concerts have not been welcomed in the neighborhood in the past. Mr. Meier said he hoped the concerts — which will begin as the club celebrates its 100th anniversary in Queens, and the stadium turns 90 — would finance the refurbishing of the stadium and lead to the return of tennis and other top events."

Friday, September 23, 2005


Last night's (9/22/2005) archive of WFMU's Aircheck show presented excerpts from the final broadcast (dated 8/28/69) of FMU's original freeform incarnation, featuring DJs Kevin Taylor and Danny Fields. It's a cool listen all around, but it holds particular fascination for me as it includes an announcement for the MC5/Stooges show at the New York State Pavilion. Contrary to the dates listed on an MC5 giglist page, Kevin and a fellow DJ named Bill announce it as happening on September 3, 1969. Here's a partial transcription:

Bill: Well, another thing I think is kinda really relevant right this minute is the fact that next Wednesday night, that's September 3, uh, the Pervilion, Flushing Meadow Park--
Kevin: [Corrects Bill on the proper pronunciation of Pavilion...]
Bill: Flushing Meadow Park, now I said that right, with my "bext accent"...Now this is next Wednesday night, you're gonna have the MC5, the Stooges, and a third group yet to be announced.
Kevin: David Peel and the Lower East Side'll be there too.
Bill: Probably the third group.
Kevin: No, there's a fourth group.
Bill: Oh really?
Kevin: There's one more after that.
Bill: And that's only for what, 3 bucks?
Kevin: 3 bucks for the whole night. Starts about 8 o'clock, 8:30.
Bill: And in case the, uh, the train, you're taking the Willets Avenue, the F or E or whatever it is and you get stuck four stations this side of Flushing Meadow, you'll still hear it, just open the window--
Kevin: Sure will--
Bill: Wow, that's gonna be somethin'.
Kevin: The MC5 come on hard and strong--
Bill: Hard and strong, and they don't stop--
Kevin: Right on...[brief discussion of MC5's sense of tuning and dynamics]...[T]he Pavilion is one of the nicest situations for music on the East Coast, man, it's just very together. It's in the old New York State Pavilion.
Bill: The State Pavilion, yeah, I remember being in there--
Kevin: It's all open, it's like a big carousel, and they have, uh, barbecue pits set up upstairs, food, and they have mango punch there, for those of you who are into mangoes--they're really exciting fruits--
Bill: Can you imagine freaking out on mango punch, man?
Kevin: Aw, it's goooood stuff--
Bill: Wow--
Kevin: And if you stay around long enough, they give it away free, so you don't have to spend any money buying it. After about 2 o'clock when they start emptying things out, then you wanna stick around and you get free mangoes and you get free hot dogs and junk, y'know--
Bill: Great!
Kevin: It's good. Plus Lenny the P works there, so--
Bill: Oh does he?
Kevin: Yeah, Lenny's the doorman.
Bill: I didn't know that.
Kevin: Oh sure, he's been there for half the summer now.
Bill: No kidding.
Kevin: Sure, Lenny's into, uh, working at rock & roll concerts now. He's doing a good job, man, y'know, he's uh, y'know, being as righteous as possible.
Bill: Yeah well, I'll never forget the photo of him in the, uh, priest's hat, he looked so righteous.
Kevin: Like Tim Conway in that photo--y'know, the guy from, um, McHale's Navy. BURP! That's something I've been wantin' to do for a long time, really. I did it one night, one night I had my dinner, I'd just finished my dinner and I had to turn the microphone on, and as a good Irishman always does, I always belch after my meals, and boy I let out one--hoo-wee!
Bill: Well, in many places that kinda shows appreciation for what you eat--it's not like, real bad, necessarily.

They go on to rap about the trials and tribulations that had recently faced the station and the importance of freeform radio--plus they thank their supporters, including staff members at the Fillmore East, Zacherle, and Richard Robinson.

Speaking of whom--yesterday I read a couple of recently eBayed back issues of Rock Scene. In the March '75 issue, Wayne County's advice column includes the following exchange:

Dear Wayne,
I'm a trendy made! [sic.--should be male.] When at Club 82 which lavatory should I use, men's or women's?
Jack Zipp, N.Y., N.Y.

Dear JZ: The 82 has changed a lot since it became the well-known hangout for the in-crowd and superstars. At the beginning, it was perfectly okay for men either dressed as men or women to use the same bathroom. Now all that has changed. The 82 has become famous and has been invaded by a younger, and much straighter crowd. Lots of complaints were made by the girls about the men coming into "their" bathroom. The main reason I used the women's room there was because the men's was so absolutely disgusting. Also, a lot of times, I was in full drag. Now that the 82 is no longer after hours and is trying to be more legitimate, they have stopped men from using the women's bathroom and have stopped drag queens from even coming into the 82. Apparently, the owners of the 82 are obeying the law after a friendly reminder from their local gendarme.

The same issue has a pic of John Phillips and then-wife Genevieve Waite seated beside "an antique organ--one used by Nico when she used to perform at Steve Paul's The Scene." The February '78 issue has a Debbie Harry spread which includes a few photos of the Stillettoes at Club 82 (in one shot the gals are backed by the Dolls). It also has a feature on bands from Toronto's Crash and Burn club--but that's beyond my purview.

Thursday, September 22, 2005

Starship trouper

In this day and age when just about every near-forgotten factoid of rock & roll history has been exhumed and exposed, it is truly mysterious that no pictures of Jeff Starship--the glitter guy who later evolved into Joey Ramone--have surfaced. Neither have any photos of his pre-Ramones band, Sniper, seen the light of day. None that I've been able to find, anyway. I mean, come on--there's at least one photo of the Tangerine Puppets (featuring Johnny and Tommy Ramone) in circulation, On the Road with the Ramones (London: Sanctuary, 2003) contains a few choice shots of Butch (featuring a slightly glammed out Tommy and "Really Well-Organized" Monte Melnick), and I swear that one picture in Jim Bessman's Ramones: An American Band (New York: St. Martin's, 1993) shows Johnny in what appear to be skintight silver satin slacks. Yet the only evidence we have concerning Joey's glam alter ego is anecdotal.

Joey, quoted in Ramones: An American Band: I was into dressing up in my own style. I had a black satin-like jumpsuit made of stretch material with a bullet chain hanging around the groin with the zipper open, and elbow-length black leather gloves and a chain. I had pink-lavender boots with six-inch platform heels, a leather jacket, black sunglasses, long hair. It was pretty androgynous, but in those days you could let go. Still, a lot of people wanted to kill me!

From McNeil and McCain's Please Kill Me (New York: Grove, 1996)--Mickey Leigh: Joey really got into the glitter thing. He was stealing all my mother's jewelry, her clothes, her makeup, and her scarves, which created even more fights between them. She would flip out when she saw all her clothes were missing...[I]t was really dangerous to hitchhike down Queens Boulevard looking the way Joey did. Joey's so unusual looking to begin with, so tall--he's about 6'6'' naturally, but in platform shoes he stood over seven feet tall. And he wore a jumpsuit. At that time, you really couldn't be doing that safely. You were taking a chance hitchhiking down Queens Boulevard looking like that. Joey: When I was hitching I'd be completely decked out. I used to wear this custom-made black jumpsuit, these like pink, knee-high platform boots--all kinds of rhinestones--lots of dangling belts and gloves. I got rides, but that was my first time experiencing queers. All of a sudden you'd be halfway there and they'd say, "What do you think about going under the bridge?" Usually, if I was close enough, I'd just jump out of the car.

Evocative imagery for sure--but I'm jonesing for an actual IMAGE. Was he camera-shy in those days? Or did he burn all potentially embarrassing mementoes of past lives? What gives?

At any rate, the end destination of those risky Queens Blvd. hitches was a club Jeff Starship frequented as both a patron and, later, performer.

THE COVENTRY--47-03 Queens Boulevard, Sunnyside, Queens. One could be forgiven for never expecting rock & roll to emerge from the squaresville shadows of the 7 viaduct. Yet this little Queens club held pride of place as one of the few regular venues for new bands in the pre-CB's city. "The Coventry was one of the glitter-rock places in New York, and if you were doing original music, that was the ONLY place to play," says the Dictators' Andy Shernoff (in this interview). I'm not sure of its opening year, but the place was originally called the Popcorn Pub as popcorn was a featured concession at the bar.

According to Nina Antonia's Too Much Too Soon (London: Omnibus, 1998), the New York Dolls "took the Coventry in Queens by storm and established the club as a rock joint." But the Coventry is most famous for being the site of KISS' earliest gigs ever in late January, 1973. With fewer than 10 people in attendance (including the bar staff) at their first show, they certainly had humble beginnings--but by the end of the year they were booked at the Academy of Music, and were soon thereafter hot on the (platform) heels of "hottest band in the land" status. Check out the flyer for some September '73 Coventry gigs, and guffaw heartily at these examples of Coventry-era KISS outfits and makeup. The KISS-themed "Psycho-Circus" video game included references to the Coventry. (Speaking of Queens-KISS connections--some legends have it that the band's name is decidedly NOT an acronym for "Knights In Satan's Service," but rather a reference to Kissena Boulevard in Flushing. And for a brief period I did a fill-in gig at a Queens Library branch where one of the staff members was Gene Simmons' aunt.)

The Dictators were fixtures at the club in '74 and '75, despite the fact that they didn't quite fit the prevailing aesthetic. According to a John Holmstrom article in Punk magazine, "they'd often heckle and call out the other groups, calling them fags, wimps and homos. Remember--this is 1973 when glitter is in. Dictators weren't." "We were the only punk rock band playing there so we were outcasts there," says Andy Shernoff in this interview. Enjoy these ads for several 'Tators Coventry shows. The ads also make reference to a Coventry II club on the Upper East Side (1550 First Avenue @ 80th Street). Lord only knows who played there, though--seems like the Queens outpost was hipper than its Manhattan counterpart.

As for that otherworldly Jeff Starship creature, I'll let Handsome Dick describe his presence at the Coventry: Back in 1974, the Dictators were playing regularly at a joint on Queens Blvd. called the Coventry. We saw Kiss play there and we opened for bands like the NY Dolls & the Harlots of 42nd St. I always noticed this guy at the bar at the Coventry. He was ALWAYS hanging out. You couldn't help but notice him. He was very tall, very skinny, & very unique looking. "Who is that guy?" I wanted to know. "That guy?--that's Jeff Starship--he's got a band called Sniper!" Well, Jeff soon became Joey and his band soon became the Ramones!

That's not quite correct--Joey was the only future Ramone in Sniper. But it was through Sniper that Joey made his Ramone connections and honed his onstage persona. Though they both grew up in Forest Hills, Dee Dee and Joey didn't really meet until Dee Dee was in a Sniper audience.

Dee Dee, in Please Kill Me: I saw Sniper play with Suicide one night, and Joey was the lead singer and he was great. He was really sick looking. I thought Joey was the perfect singer because he was so weird looking. And the way he leaned on the mike was really weird. I kept asking myself, How's he balancing himself? The thing was, all the other singers were copying David Johansen, who was copying Mick Jagger, and I couldn't stand that anymore. But Joey was totally unique.

Joey, from Ramones: An American Band: I knew John from seeing him around and hanging out after high school. He and Tommy were friends, and he was in a band with my brother Mitch. Then I got to be friends with Dee Dee, and he and John were friends, too. He mentioned me to John, and John called and asked me to be in a band...I thought John and Dee Dee looked really cool. John had the same kind of haircut as now, and his presentation was the same as when he plays--a very intense demeanor. We didn't have the superficial image of bands today. Maybe we were more dressy in the glitter days, but the later look became jeans, sneakers, leather jackets--what we wore when we walked around the street. We are like we seem.

Goodness knows what happened to the other members of Sniper--but I needn't elaborate on Joey's destiny. While Sniper were apparently Coventry regulars (as were the aforementioned Butch), the Ramones are known to have played there only once, as openers for the Heartbreakers on May 30, 1975.

Other Coventry-affiliated bands include the Dogs, the Brats, Television (ad enlargement here), Alexis, and Piper. I presume the place closed around '76 or so as I've found no post-'75 references. The address currently appears to be occupied by a neurologist's office.

Take a stroll down Queens Blvd. courtesy of I'll leave you with a Queens-centric excerpt from a 1991 Fleshtones interview:

Most people in Australia would have absolutely no idea what you mean when you say you grew up in Queens and there is a "Queens Sensibility." What exactly is it?

Keith Streng: There's New York City and you have five boroughs. Everybody is generally into Manhattan, that's where everything's happening, but you have the boroughs around where all the lunatics grew up, like us. I tell you, like, the Ramones are from Queens, Dictators are from Queens, some of the members of Television were from Queens, and the Fleshtones are from Queens.
Peter Zaremba: Right, and a lot of the [New York] Dolls.
KS: A lot of the Dolls. I think even people from, like, even groups as horrible as Kiss, but, um . . .
PZ: [laughing] Kiss was from Queens.
KS: They are, they are! They played at The Coventry, you know, they were a bunch of, you know, Jewish guys from Queens.
PZ: Definitely.

So what is it about Queens that breeds rock & roll musicians?

PZ: I think the only thing that breeds rock & roll musicians, is just, there's a lot of people there, so out of all those people--
KS: Right, somebody's gotta do something.
PZ: Right.
KS: I don't know about the other boroughs, but in Queens we were the people that were meant to do something.
PZ: Right. It's a bedroom borough, they call it, and it's just a bunch of bored people.
KS: Also a lot of garages for bands to rehearse in.
PZ: Ah ha! And basements.
KS: And basements. I prefer a garage, you know you can get sunlight.
PZ: But we had a basement.
KS: [laughing] Yeah. You know.
PZ: We made do.

UPDATE 7/20/2007: I recently came across the fab, which is loaded with images of rare memorabilia, including a number of gig flyers. There's a primitive flyer for a series of shows the Magic Tramps did with Link Wray at the Popcorn Pub, the Coventry's earlier incarnation. The dates are listed as September 1,2,3/8,9,10; no year is given but I imagine it was probably '72. Also check out the photo page, with has a couple of shots of the band taken at the Coventry.

UPDATE 5/26/2010: NYCDreamin' of This Ain't the Summer of Love did a magnificent annotated Coventry concert chronology in September 2009. (OMG, even Link Wray played there!!!) Quite a while ago, I was contacted on myspace by the son of a former Sniper member. He was going to find out whether his Dad might have any photos of the band and Jeff Starship, but I never heard back from him. I'm waiting on a library-reserved copy of Mickey Leigh's I Slept With Joey Ramone, but I did have a look at its photo pages at a bookstore last Boxing Day...still no pics of a glammed-out Joey to be had!

UPDATE 8/25/2010: Read Binky Philips' incredible account of one dangerously memorable night at the Coventry here.

UPDATE 9/17/2013:  You need to get your grubby mitts on the essential Nothin' to Lose: The Making of KISS, 1972-1975 by Ken Sharp, which includes a lengthy account of the band's stint at the Coventry.  Here's Binky's review.

Wednesday, September 21, 2005

A trying adieu

It's always disheartening to hear of theater closures, but news of the Trylon's desecration particularly saddens me. Not only was it a rare well-preserved art deco beauty still operating as a single-screen theater--it was one of my locals. I know, time marches on--but would it have killed the new owners to at least leave the gorgeous Trylon mosaics intact? If the apartment house with the Trylon and Perisphere stonework motif on 108th Street in Corona ever gets torn down, I'm gonna have a serious meltdown.

While never a rock venue, the Trylon does have some tenuous rock & roll connections. Charlottle Lesher--a.k.a. "Mama Ramone"--ran an art gallery called the Art Garden adjacent to the theater. According to Jim Bessman's Ramones: An American Band (New York: St. Martin's, 1993), her son Jeffrey "play[ed] drums in the basement of his mother's art door to the Trylon Cinema on Queens Boulevard, where he lived after she kicked him out of her apartment in the Birchwood Towers, for his own good." More on what became of young Jeffrey in the next post.

Wednesday, September 14, 2005

Strong to the finich

POPEYE'S SPINACH FACTORY--2301 Emmons Avenue, Sheepshead Bay, Brooklyn. Apparently this joint was originally a bar/restaurant (presumably serving seafood, given the location) called the Lewis House. The name was changed to Popeye's in the early '70s; later monikers were Davy Jones' Locker and Captain Walter's. During the Popeye's period the bar offered live music seven nights a week, but the only "cool" gig I've thus far found is the Dictators on March 29 and 30, 1974. The first night of this two-night stand is particularly notable--it marked the coronation of HDM as King of Men, as explained in this Punk Magazine article by John Holmstrom and Mark Rosenthal:

Popeye's was a derelict bar in Sheepshead Bay in Brooklyn. The clientele should have gone to Alcoholics Anonymous. The bar tried live rock'n'roll to boost business. The Dogs (who still play in Los Angeles), opened the night. The late great Eric Emerson fronted the Dogs. The Dictators played their usual set--Fireman's Friend, Master Race Rock, Backstreet Boogie, Back to Africa, Weekend. Adny asked Richard Blum, one of their roadies, to come up on stage. He slammed into "Wild Thing," giving one of the great live performances of that song in this century, despite the fact that he had never set foot on a stage before in his whole life except to fix the mikes or set up the drums wrong. Something happened. All the bums in the bar--proud to see a fellow derelict make it big--went NUTS. They liked this degenerate so much they started climbing the bar stools, throwing bottles, and screaming for more, more, more! They danced and ranted and raved--not realizing that Handsome Dick Manitoba was born.

Debbie Harry also recounts the event in Making Tracks: The Rise of Blondie (London: Elm Tree Books, 1982; reprint New York: Da Capo, 1998):

One night Eric [Emerson], Chris [Stein], and Barbara [Winter, ex- of Edgar and Eric's girlfriend] went to see the Dictators at Popeye's Spinach Factory in Brooklyn. Eric got raging drunk, jumped up onstage with the Dogs, and tore his shirt off. Then the Dictators came onstage and their big fat roadie jumped on too and sang "Wild Thing." That was Dick Manitoba. Everybody in the room was completely drunk. It was like a fraternity party.

Haven't found any other bands/dates, but I suppose few could top such a spectacle anyhow. Lord only knows what stands at this address today.

In other "news"--found this item in Michael Pollack's "F.Y.I" column in the New York Times' City section this past Sunday, 9/11/2005:

Q. I see that Judge Crater is back in the news, with a Queens woman claiming that her husband was told who killed the judge. Is it true, as I've often heard, that Judge Crater had something to do with Roseland ballroom?

A. Actually, he did. Judge Joseph Force Crater's disappearance on Aug. 6, 1930, is still a mystery, as the police have found no evidence backing up the lastest allegations. But his connection to Roseland, at 239 West 52nd Street, is no mystery.

The ballroom began life as a skating rink. As recounted by the architectural historian Christopher Gray, in 1916 a company called Iceland leased an old roller rink on Broadway at 53rd Street and converted it for ice skating. Judge Crater, a powerful Tammany lawyer, was one of the three original incorporators.

In 1922 Iceland built a new rink around the corner on 52nd Street, west of Broadway. Roseland Dance City was founded about that time in the old Iceland space on Broadway, and moved in 1956 to the Iceland building on 52nd Street, where the rink was converted for dancing. There is no record that Judge Crater ever skated at Iceland

Wednesday, September 07, 2005

Midtown strutter's ball(room)

HOTEL DIPLOMAT--108-116 W. 43rd Street, just west of 6th Avenue. Haven't located any historical details on the hotel itself, though it does apparently have a file at the New-York Historical Society. I gather the place had a rather, uh, diplomatic policy when it came to events bookings and clientele. At various times it played host to jazz performers (such as Miles Davis and Albert Ayler), salsa bands, Libertarian conferences, Chilean solidarity meetings, civil rights poets, Abbie Hoffman drug busts, art exhibitions, and drag balls. On, Hattie Hathaway remembers, "I was friendly with the desk clerk and took many johns there, though it was a fully operational normal hotel...There was even a fully operational coffee shop that included that archaic NYC phenomenon--the soda jerk--who made fierce cherry-lime rickies and egg creams. People would come from all over the city for them." A decadent-but-classy discotheque called Le Jardin operated in the basement during the mid-'70s. But I'm most concerned with the rock shows held in the hotel's ballrooms, ca. '69-'79.

A late '60s pamphlet attributed to George Metesky entitled F*ck the System, which gave advice on how to scam free stuff in NYC, advised the following: "The Group Image--Performs every Wednesday night at the Hotel Diplomat...and you can get in free if you say you have no money (sometimes). If you promise to take your clothes off it's definitely free. If you ball on the dance floor, you get a season's pass."

The MC5 headlined a benefit for the Liberation News Service on May 13, 1969. Also on the bill were Children of God, the Pageant Players, and the Pablo Light Show. Dig the power-to-the-people poster.

Robert Christgau mentions some kinda hippie benefit show featuring Communications Workshop and Season of the Witch in this July 30, 1970 Village Voice article.

From Nina Antonia's Too Much Too Soon (London: Omnibus, 1998): On May 29, 1972, the New York Dolls played their second date in the Palm Room of the Diplomat Hotel, where the Pox had debuted. Adjacent to the Times Square porn palaces and peep shows, the Diplomat gig was organized in conjunction with the Warhol crew and featured Jackie Curtis in a support slot. At the bottom of the bill was a band called Shaker, whose drummer, Jerry Nolan, rather impressed Billy [ prophetic.-Ed.]. The event, advertised as an "Invitation Beyond the Valley," garnered a couple of lousy reviews in the theatrical sections of local papers. Some of the Dolls' very early appearances baffled critics who were unsure as to whether they were a theatrical troupe, a rock act, or both.

The Dolls played the venue again on March 16 the following year; openers were the Brats, featuring erstwhile Doll Rick Rivets.

KISS booked the Diplomat themselves for some of their earliest Manhattan dates--July 13 and August 10, 1973. Check out the flyers here and here. Click here for personal recollections from Paul Stanley and Gene Simmons (who describes the Diplomat as "a hotel for hookers and junkies"). Click here for fan/observer accounts and photos from the gig, offering a rare glimpse of primitively primordial KISS kostumes.

Television also played a couple of their earliest gigs ever in the hotel's Crystal Room--April 5 and 10, 1974.

Seems like the place was a haven for hip-hop's originators as well--Kurtis Blow writes of watching Grandmaster Flash DJ there ca. 1977 in the liner notes to Rhino's History of Rap Vol. 1.

The Buzzcocks, Mission of Burma, and the Monochrome Set, September 15, 1979.

The Police, with The The, in the Grand Ballroom, September 27-29, 1979.

Neon Leon, dates unknown.

That's all the names I've been able to track down thus far, though there were surely others. What became of the Diplomat is unclear; this site claims the building is "now home to many of the North African/Senegalese," whatever that means--but I'm skeptical.

UPDATE 7/20/2007--Just discovered, which has images of flyers for three shows the Magic Tramps played at the Diplomat Ballroom. Can't purloin them, you'll have to click on the link to see them. The years weren't clearly listed, but hints were given in fine print on each flyer; my guesstimates are in parentheses.
  • Satan's Celebration: A Rock and Occult Festival, Halloween Night ('72?), with Elephant's Memory (probably sans John or Yoko), Ruby and the Rednecks, Chris Rush, White Satin, Suzan Bader, Satan the Eternal Fireman, and various witches, occultists and psychics.
  • The First International Costume Glitter Ball, Saturday, December 30 (1972?), with Satan's Angels of the Universe, Shaker, and the Harlots of 42nd Street.
  • "Strut Yo' Stuff," an "Easter Parade" show on Sunday, April 14 (1974?) with Canon, Street Punk, and the Harlots of 42nd Street.
I also recently found two archived NY Times articles that shed more light on the history of the building.

UPDATE 5/23/2010: I am appallingly late in discovering this, but blogger NYCDreamin' of This Ain't the Summer of Love wrote a much more detailed and exhaustive account of Hotel Diplomat history in early 1999. He kindly acknowledged my post, but truly went to research lengths that I could not achieve...or rather (perhaps more accurately), that I in my laziness could not be bothered with. Bravo!!!

UPDATE 9/17/2013:  You'll want to get your mitts on the latest KISS tome by Ken Sharp, Nothin to Lose: The Making of KISS 1972-1975, which includes a lengthy discussion of the band's stint at the Dip.  By the way, I located a bunch of Hotel Diplomat ads while I was perusing the Voice archives a couple years ago--just click on the Hotel Diplomat tag on the list at the right to see them.  Also, get a load of these goodies I found on the Bay last night.

Sunday, September 04, 2005

What a drag--too many snags

In loving memory of avant le deluge fabulousness.

CLUB 82--82 E. 4th Street between 2nd Avenue and the Bowery. As glam evolved into punk, its musical mutants found an early home at Club 82. What more appropriate locale could there have been for the waning glitter scene than a slightly down-at-heels drag bar? Throughout the '50s and '60s, Club 82 was the NYC equivalent of San Francisco's famed Finocchio's; click on these links for history and memorabilia on the place and its performers. Club 82's drag revue had been well-attended by gays and straights, locals and tourists, celebs and plebs alike for years--but by the early '70s business had begun to slow, setting the stage for another kind of sex change. Ronnie Cutrone explains the situation in McNeil and McCain's Please Kill Me (New York: Grove, 1996):

The 82 Club was a famous old drag place where Errol Flynn used to whip out his dick and play the piano with it. It was a wild place, then it completely died. One night my girlfriend Gigi said, "You gotta come meet my family." So we went into the 82 Club and there was an old man named Pete and two very old dyke bartenders, Tommy and Butch. That was the whole place--one john at the bar and three transvestites. So Pete, Tommy, and Butch said to Gigi, "Hey, maybe you could drum up some business for us."...We were New York's fun couple. Whatever we said, people listened...So we'd go to Max's and say, "Hey, there's this great place that's just right for having fun, the 82 Club on Fourth Street." Pretty soon it became THE place to be.

Most accounts cite the New York Dolls as the first rock band to play there--including Nina Antonia's Too Much, Too Soon: The Makeup and Breakup of the New York Dolls (London: Omnibus, 1998):

[T]he 82 Club had been an influential drag revue since its opening in 1953. Anyone who wanted to make it as a serious drag artist performed there and by the mid-sixties it was a big draw for any celebrities who wanted to take a little walk on the wig side. By the following decade however, the club had lost its clandestine appeal and most of its clientele. The Stonewall riots had taken drag out of secretive smoky bars and on to the street. David Jo: "We used to always go there and say to Tommy, who was this butch dyke who took the tickets, 'You should have rock & roll here.' The place was dying, that whole speakeasy element was over, 'cause everything was out in the open. People didn't have to go there and hide what they were doing anymore but Tommy didn't get it. 'Where are all the people going?' 'They're doing it in the street, Tommy.'"

A photo of Tommy posed with "valet of the Dolls" Frenchy appears in the book. The band's first show at the club (on April 17, 1974) was performed in drag--save for Johnny Thunders, who refused to wear a dress.

David Jo: "The stage was behind the bar, so when you're singing, the bartender is in front of you. Butchie the bartender was Tommy's partner and she had one of those voice box things that you hold up to your neck to talk. We used to really like Butchie, she was really something. We played the first song and Butchie's trying to get my attention from the bar, waving her hands at me and kicking me on the leg, so I lean over 'cause I can't hear her because of the voice box, which she then puts up to her neck and says, 'I always thought you were a fag.'"

The Dolls did a couple more non-drag shows in August that year, but these gigs may have been symptomatic of some problems.

Chris Charlesworth, reporting for the Melody Maker, took the Dolls' pulse and found all was not well..."For the past two Mondays, the Dolls have appeared at the Club 82, an ideal place for premiering new 'glittery' talent in New York, but hardly the kind of venue for a band with two British tours and two albums under their belt. An obvious step down...In a club, a small, sweaty, noisy, crowded basement like the 82, the Dolls are perfect. On a concert stage, exposed before the eyes of a few thousand, their imperfections stand out like sore thumbs..."...Their second 82 show on August 19 was curtailed by the arrival of police officers who slapped writs on the club management for overcrowding, and the disappointed Dolls were swept out like debris, into the night.

Despite such difficulties and Charlesworth’s insults, the Dolls were part of a viable scene at Club 82. In Clinton Heylin’s From the Velvets to the Voidoids (New York: Penguin, 1993), Bob Gruen states, “Since the Club 82 had had this outcast image for so long, the punk and the early glitter kids were treated very openly by the management. They didn’t think they were weird and didn’t try and cash in on ‘em—they’d been dealing with weirdos for forty years! So when bands started going there they brought the young rock & roll crowd.”

[UPDATE 2/7/2007: The legends casting the Dolls as Club 82's first rock band are apparently apocryphal. A former Club 82 glam-era regular left a comment stating that bands were booked there as early as 1972, and that Another Pretty Face were the house band in 1973. Thanks for settin' me straight, so to speak.]

Perhaps the best depiction of Club 82’s ambiance appears in Gary Valentine’s memoirs, New York Rocker: My Life in the Blank Generation (London: Sidgwick & Jackson, 2002). As a wide-eyed but wordly teen, some of his earliest forays into New York nightlife were at the 82--occasionally accompanied by his local Jersey pal and fellow future Blondie member Clem Burke.

In between the fall of the Mercer Arts Center and the rise of CBGB, groups like the pre-Blondie Stillettoes, Suicide, and Wayne County, and glitter casualties like Teenage Lust and the Harlots of 42nd Street hit its stage, while celebs like Lou Reed and David Bowie headed there for a walk on the slum side…The place was run by two very old bull dykes, Tommy and Butch. Tommy worked the door and Butch handled the bar. When I first saw them, they looked as if they’d been there for twenty years—which, in fact, they had. It took me a while to figure out they weren’t men…Butch had to speak through a voice box she held to her throat. The stage was behind the bar, so with the band playing or dance music blasting it was impossible to make out what she was saying. If she was asking you what you had ordered you had to nod and hope for the best. The place had the effect that all good sleazy joints do, of making it seem that once you were inside, the world outside didn’t exist. Going in you really entered an underworld. It was a basement club, and to get to it you had to walk down a steep stairway, lined with photographs of famous female impersonators, actresses and celebrities. It had an aura of sadness and tragedy, a Cinderella quality that was especially apparent at the end of the night, when the music stopped, the lights came up and the dark mysterious faces were suddenly revealed in all their stubble…There was nothing very remarkable about Club 82. It was dark and smelled, as all nightclubs do, of cigarettes and stale beer. The walls were mirrored and the ceiling was decorated with those rotating, strobe-lighted globes that Saturday Night Fever would soon make very popular. There was a hallway or foyer that ran behind the stage from one side of the place to the other, and often this was used by people to make out…Guys with girls, girls with girls, and guys with guys. Half of the times you couldn’t tell who was with who, and that, I guess, was part of the attraction. The dance floor was to one side of the bar and stage. A few tables bordered this, but most of the seats were on a raised section which reached back into the greater darkness. Here people engaged in more serious matters, like snorting coke and getting head, sometimes simultaneously. Sometimes there’d be no one in the place but a handful of drag queens, some glam rockers looking for the scene, and us. Other times it would be packed with tourists, weekend voyeurs anxious to be hip, well-heeled individuals trying to impress their dates with some downtown slumming, gold coke spoons and openness to transvestitism. One of the regular attractions was Wayne County…If the Dolls brought trash to rock and roll, Wayne was a one-man landfill…Occasionally the DJ would blast “Rebel Rebel” or “Suffragette City.” Once in a while you heard some Stones. But most of the time the PA was given over to “Rock the Boat,” “Honey Bee,” Barry White or some Donna Summer Dreck…

Valentine goes on to narrate some of his misadventures there, including an encounter with Bowie and Reed (who was then romantically involved with a tranny named Rachel)—but you’ll have to seek out his highly recommended tome to read them.

Some bands associated with Club 82 include Blondie precursors the Stillettoes, the Dictators, Television (see dates and ads here and here), the Heartbreakers, the Dogs, the Brats, the Mumps, Leather Secrets, and Another Pretty Face. I haven't found any references to gigs after 1976, leading me to believe the club's rock & roll period was rather short-lived--but apparently it remained open for drag-bar business until 1978. NY Songlines states that a gay bar/movie theater called the Bijou resides there now, but I'm not sure about this; I'm more inclined to believe it's currently some type of restaurant.

UPDATE 10/5/2007: I picked up Roberta Bayley's Blondie: Unseen 1976-1980 (London: Plexus, 2007) a couple months ago, but only just got around to reading the text--the intro of which includes a few further details about Club 82:

The Club 82, at 82 East 4th Street, was originally owned by one of Lucky Luciano's early cohorts, Vito Genovese. Though heroin was at the center of the Genovese empire, Vito also owned several nightclubs, usually purchased in other people's names. The 82 Club (as it was then called) featured drag queens, which was considered risque at the time. At its height, the 82 drew celebrities such as Elizabeth Taylor and Montgomery Clift. By the seventies it was a discotheque, and was put on the map when David Bowie visited one night.

UPDATE 4/22/2009: Here's a scan of an article about a Dolls appearance at Club 82 taken from the October '74 issue of Rock Scene.  [Question to self on 11/27/2014--did I personally scan this?  I have no recollection of doing it, but if so, I also have no idea why it appears so cruddy and small.  You can see it in better condition on the Rock Scenester archive, page 38.]

UPDATE 1/29/2014: As part of its "Storied Venues" series, the Bedford and Bowery blog featured a post about Club 82.

UPDATE 11/27/2014:

My ancient entry on Club 82 has probably gotten the most criticism of anything I've written here. Too short, too inaccurate, too inauthentic, too unauthoritative. I completely agree, and I'm grateful for all the real-deal first person stories left in the comments section by those lucky enough to have hung out there. [I mean jeez, when I wrote it I didn't even make the connection that Ron Wood's short-lived Woody's, which I'd been very much aware of during its existence, was in the Club 82 space. All I can do is apologize for lack of research oomph that day.] The Bedford + Bowery blog has also helped flesh out the club's story by running a couple of pieces about it over the past year: a mini oral history of the glitter period, and a peek at what occupies it now, the Bijou. Just a few days ago, an anonymous reader of this blog wrote a comment about the Bijou. It was accidentally left on an adjacent post about the Hotel Diplomat, so I'll just insert it here it its all-caps glory.


I recently saw a Guitar Center Sessions show with Blondie, which dates from 2011, but was aired a few months ago on the nearest thing to a music documentary channel we have up here, AUX TV. There were interview segments in between the songs, and to my delight Club 82 was brought up. Since the whole show isn't online, I felt compelled to transcribe the discussion.

Clem:  I saw the Stillettoes play at Club 82, which made me become aware of the two of them [Debbie and Chris]. This Club 82 was around the corner from CBGB.
Chris:  The 82 Club was a fabulous scene. It was in a basement.
Clem:  No one ever talks about Club 82.
Deb:  It was such a great place.
Interviewer:  So let's talk about it.
Chris:  People were fascinated by it here and there, but generally it's not known.
Clem:  It was a gay sort of slash lesbian bar slash trans--
Chris:  It was a tranny bar. It was a transvestite bar.
Clem:  --combination anything goes type of bar, and I dunno if you know, like, in Times Square for instance, the dancers, like, y'know, the topless dancers would dance behind the bar on a platform. And they had a platform like that at Club 82, and that's where the bands would play. The bar would be here [gestures] and the bands would play behind the bar, whether it be the New York Dolls or Wayne County or these guys [the Stillettoes]. And it was basically a dance club, y'know, that had rock and roll one night a week--what night was it, Wednesday night, right?
Chris:  Yeah, that sounds right.
Clem:  That was the rock night.
Chris:  And it was really, but it went way back, to probably even the 1940s. And they had pictures in the background, and there was a picture of Abbott and Costello with a drag queen, that had been taken at the club, and I always wanted to steal it but I regret that I probably didn't. But I dunno what happened to any of that stuff or any of those people.
Clem:  It had the aura of a speakeasy.
Chris:  Yeah, it was just great and funky and had fake palm trees and all this stuff. It was run by all these like hardcore butch old ladies.
Clem:  And all the music was dance music, except for when the New York Dolls or the Neon Boys would play. All the music was dance music otherwise, which kinda, I think it kinda made me get into dance music more, 'cause it was always in the background during punk rock, the way dance music and punk rock started, kinda started happening at the same time in a lotta ways.
Chris:  Yeah, sure.

And I suppose it should come as no surprise that the club is also lovingly mentioned in arguably THEE New York Rock Book of the Year, Paul Zone's Playground (New York: Glitterati, 2014). "Spending my nights at a place like Club 82 was better than anything the mainstream could have offered. It was a drag club in the sixties that became a glitter rock hangout in the early seventies without any redecorating: the ruffled glitter valence curtains, backdrop, and three-sided wraparound stage framed our glamorous icons perfectly." [I don't think the 82 was mentioned at all in Chris Stein's Negative, but it's still a New York Rock Book contender.]

By the way, a few years back I found a bunch of Club 82 ads in some early '70s issues of the Village Voice.  You can see them here and here, or click on Club 82 in the Labels list to the right.

UPDATE 12/8/2014:  Marky Ramone has a book coming out next month. As part of the advance publicity, Bedford + Bowery did a cool post on his favorite East Village clubs of yore, including the 82.

Thursday, September 01, 2005

Chow down on this Gaines-burger

'Tis most likely the end, according to this Voice article by one of my heroines Donna Gaines.