Monday, October 29, 2007

Welllllllll, meet me, baby, down on 45th Street...

Bup-shoo-buh, bup-a-bup-a-shoo-buh...

(Thanks to my hip tipster Flipped Out Phil! Despite the Jackie K. cover I hadn't even perused this month's VF table of contents at the grocery checkout like I usually do!)

Friday, October 26, 2007

Let's swim to the moon, uh-huh...

I promised myself I'd crank out a post before leaving for Cavestomp! so here 'tis.

By the way--check out the Bowery Boys' wonderful blog on NYC history every Friday for a wicked wayback trip through all eras of New York nightlife. They're pros, so Lord knows they'll get to some of the more rockin' joints I've been meaning to cover way before I will! Actually, you'll wanna read it on a daily basis if you're any sort of an NYC history geek.

ONDINE--308 E. 59th Street. Arguably the hippest of the posh mid-'60s East Side discotheques that sprang up in Arthur's wake, this frequent Warhol-crowd hangout is best known for hosting the Doors' first New York gig. According to most sources it opened in 1965 and was co-owned by Jerry Schatzberg and Olivier Coquelin. However, the club's sound engineer and DJ Jim Reeves cites Howard Pratt, Claude Bell and Geist Ely as the owners. Reeves explains some of Ondine's internal workings far better than I can on his site:

"Ondine was an exclusive private discotheque club, pretty much a celebrity-based restaurant and dance club which pioneered a new trend in "happenings" of the era and after a year or so of its existence to the public, the then manager, Brad Pierce, had some connection with industry types, and somehow began to book the current acts. There weren't that may venues then so I guess it was a logical step for all involved in entertainment to take.

Around '64, as a recording engineer at Skitch Henderson's Studio 3 during the daytime, my mentor, Dave Sarser, who had set up private discotheques like Le Club (almost "speak easy"-ish) in the '50's and '60's, assigned me to a new club called Ondine. It was named after an Olympic winning sailboat. I was to install their sound system...I had become the head Discaire (now known as "DJ") as a result and played back to back pop records at night and weekends, stirring up a frenzy of go-go dancers. I also handled the sound for the house band, The Losers, and eventually for transient bands like the Pilgrims, who wore tunics styled after the knickers look of the Young Rascals who started out at the Barge, a sister discotheque in the Hampton's on Long Island. There was Arthur's, another New York disco owned by Sybil Burton, whose house band was the Fuzzy Bunnies. Many clubs followed as the trend caught on like Harlowe's and The Coney Island Pub and Nepenthe and many others.

At Ondine, The Doors, The Druids of Stonehenge, Buffalo Springfield, Jimi Hendrix, The Denims were among the list of performers. Live PA sound systems were just in their infancy then. It was new and exciting. Lots of real action. Bikers outside, mingled with the limousines. Jackie Gleason and Jackie Kennedy and Faye Dunaway would be mingling with Monti Rock III and Eric Burdon and Hilton Valentine of the Animals, while Jimi bit his guitar strings on the 8'x12'x18" stage. What can I say? Sonny and Cher would pop in. We'd hang out together with Steve Stills in the kitchen snacking on staff dinners together. Hendrix and I would go out after the club closed to the Brasserie for late night dinners. That's how it was. Nothing to compare it to then. Eventually it all led to The Cheetah and Studio 54, along with the Fillmore East and the Electric Circus and so on. It was all new to all of us."

The Olympian yacht Ondine was surely named after the water-sprite. And accordingly, the club was decked out in a nautical motif--an "undersea discotheque heavily draped in fisherman's nets," according to Michael and Ariane Batterberrys' On the Town in New York (New York: Routledge, 1999; orig. 1973). (Hmmm...wonder if it looked anything like T.O.'s The Boat?) Some suggestion of this can be seen in these photos of Curtis Knight and the Squires, found on (note porthole beside the head of the guy dancing in front of Jimi).

Reeves offers some details about the club's layout on the Hendrix page: "After the new management (with Brad Pierce) took over, they moved the stage to the south wall. You can see the arched, ship-like rafters above on ceiling and the porthole near the guitar on the stand....Ondine was not at all a large venue. There was a 18' to 22' foot bar at the front and a coat check room across from it. Continuing on to the rear was a 25' x 35'x 9'h room with a stage, dance floor, and beyond that, a fairly large kitchen. There were booths around the perimeter of the room. "The Losers" was the house band. They were a funky blues rock pop band. Joe Nessor (bass and vocal), Tony Sal (Guitar and vocal), Brian Keenan (drums) and Russell ??? (guitar) I think."

Did the superstars in Warhol's firmament dig the place because one of their own was named Ondine? Andy doesn't say, but he does give some of the best available evocations of the club's ambiance in Popism: The Warhol Sixties (New York: Harper & Row, 1980; Pat Hackett, co-author).

"A discotheque called Ondine (just a name coincidence...) the very beginning of '65, and that was where you started seeing lots of beautiful girls in mini-skirts (they weren't even called that yet, though), short and pleated with stripes and dots and big colors and stretchy knits. Everyone started going to Ondine right away, all the celebs in town. The girls there were beautiful--Gerard picked Marisa Berenson there one night on her very first modeling trip to New York and brought her to the Factory for a screen test. Edie went there all the time, throwing a lot of money around in the beginning when she still had it, picking up the check for as many as twenty people every night..." [p. 99]

"[A]fter working all day at the Factory, we'd usually go out to Il Mio and then to Ondine and wind up at Arthur. A band called the Druids had been playing at Ondine for a couple of months. Jimi Hendrix--this was before he was Jimi Hendrix, he was still Jimmy James--would sit there in the audience with his guitar and ask them if he could play with them and they'd say sure. He had short hair and really beautiful clothes--black pants and white silk shirts...before the bandanna and the twangy guitar and all that. But he was already playing with his feet. [p. 189. Probably misheard in the transcribing; I'm sure he meant teeth. --Ed.]

"In November [1966] the Doors came to New York for the first time and they played at Ondine. When we walked in, Gerard took one look at Jim Morrison in leather pants just like his and he flipped. 'He stole my look!' he screamed, outraged. It was true enough--Jim had, I guess, picked it up from seeing Gerard at the Trip...The Doors were at Ondine because, according to Ronnie Cutrone, who should know--he hung out there enough--the girl who played the records, Billie, knew them from L.A. (She also knew the Buffalo Springfield from the Coast and she got them a gig there, too, right after the Doors...)...After [that], the image of the place went from chic to rocking, and groupies started hanging out there, beautiful girls like Devon and Kathy Starf***er...When you walked into Ondine, on the right was the coat check, on the left was a red leather couch, then there was the bar, and then a narrow strip with tables in it, and then the back room that was the dance floor, with the record booth at the end of it. Jim Morrison got to be a regular there, and the Doors played there again a few times the following spring. Jim would stand at the bar drinking screwdrivers all night long, taking downs with them, and he'd get really far gone--he'd be totally oblivious--and the girls would go over and jerk him off while he was standing there." [p. 189-90]

The Doors had three residency gigs at Ondine--November 1 to 30, 1966, January 19 to 29, 1967, and March 13 to April 2, 1967. Here are some more pics, and here are some of Richard Meltzer's reminiscenses (he refers to Ondine as a "plush clip joint...under the 59th St. Bridge").

[UPDATE 5/16/2010: Just found a fantastic "Pop Eye" column by Richard Goldstein in the March 23, 1967 issue of the Village Voice, covering several cool topics: Zal Yanovsky's rep as an informant; the growing use of psychedelics among musicians; the Toronto scene ("the influx of draft dodgers has given that city's hip community the status of an international mecca"); Joe Tex; the Monkees; the Fugs; a review of an attempted series of happenings called "Rock Flows" at the Broadway Central Hotel; and a fabulously evocative account of the atmosphere at Ondine during the Doors' stand that month.]

Following a one-night Night Owl stand on December 30, 1966, the Buffalo Springfield did a residency at Ondine's from New Year's Eve '66 through to January 9, 1967, as a support act for Mitch Ryder & the Detroit Wheels. According to this Springfield chronology, during one set Otis Redding sang "In the Midnight Hour" with them; during another, a fight broke out between Stephen Stills and Bruce Palmer after Palmer refused to turn down his bass amp.

Unknown gal sharing a confidence with Bob Dylan at Ondine.

Other bands known to have played there include the Daily Flash, Peck's Bad Boys, the Graypes, and the Remains--who recorded their audition for Capitol Records the morning after one of their very late Ondine nights (immortalized on Sundazed's A Session with the Remains).

[UPDATE 5/6/2010: I can't believe I missed any references to the Bobby Fuller Four's engagement, which started on May 2, 1966! The Barbarians apparently played there also. What can I say, the Billboard Google Archives didn't exist at the time I first wrote this. Must do a more thorough Ondine search there soon.]

I'm not sure how long Ondine was open, but I haven't come across any references to it dating later than 1967. Under new ownership it briefly operated as a disco called Together. Both incarnations of the club were frequently shook down by mobsters, including a certain Sopranos cast member.

Not sure if the same building still stands at 308, but apparently the address is currently used by Danny Alessandro, Ltd., a fireplace specialist.

The fabulous has a scan of a terrific article on the mid-'60s discotheque scene. There's no direct link, so click on "music," then "dances," and you'll come across it. One of the "discaires" pictured in it, Annette of L'Interdit, was on What's My Line once; it was hilarious to hear Bennett Cerf ask her about the "watutsi" and "frug" (which he incorrectly rhymed with rug).

[UPDATE 5/6/2010: A while back I actually uploaded the WML clip--here 'tis.]

Lastly--the CBGB gallery space is set to become a designer clothing store. No word yet on the fate of the club itself.

If you happen to be in T.O. tomorrow night--BOO!

Friday, October 05, 2007

A few Doll houses

I'm currently working my way through Kris Needs' and Dick Porter's Trash: The Complete New York Dolls (London: Plexus, 2006). It's somewhat more detailed than Nina Antonia's fine Dolls bio of a few years back, particularly on the individual members' pre- and post-Dolls activities. As any good New York rock and roll book should, it discusses some of the jernts where it all went down--and so I'll summarize a few of those discussions here. I've covered a few of these places already, but will offer some Dolls-centric updates to those previous entries.

QUINTANO'S SCHOOL FOR YOUNG PROFESSIONALS: "Although they weren't full U.S. citizens and thus had no need to beat the draft, Syl and Billy enrolled at Quintano's--a well-known Fame-style school located behind Carnegie Hall that groomed students for careers in the performing arts. 'It was sort of like a school for young professionals,' explains Syl, 'a lot of cool people came out.' (One of whom was Mary Weiss of the Shangri-Las.)" [p. 25] While students there, the pair formulated their groovy knitwear company, Truth & Soul. Syl also got a job at a hip men's shop called The Different Drummer, located at 63rd and Lex. "Right across the street from that shop...was this toy repair shop upstairs. It was called the New York Doll Hospital. That's when I first thought of the name...I thought it was a f***ing great name!" Seems like Quintano's was one of those only-in-New-York, only-in-the-'60s-and-'70s institutions, replete with liberal applicant-acceptance policies and lax attendance requirements. Other students associated with it include Bernadette Peters, Andrea Feldman, Rick Derringer, Steven Tyler (who described it as a "school for f**k-ups like myself where you just had to show up to graduate"), and some members of the Left Banke (whose management thought it prudent to re-enroll them in high school as a sort of draft-dodging measure--learned this tidbit off the leftbankism yahoogroup).

NOBODY'S--Not sure where this was, but it was one of the young Dolls' favorite bars. Needs writes that it was "described by Jayne County as a hangout for 'young guys from Queens who wanted to be Rod Stewart.'" [p. 36] [UPDATE 1/16/2008: Two folks have informed me that Nobody's was located on Bleecker Street.]

ENDICOTT HOTEL: A welfare hotel at 81st and Columbus--located near Rusty's Cycle Shop, a bike shop in whose basement the early Dolls frequently rehearsed. Around Christmastime 1971, workers at the hotel were organizing a party for the residents; they heard the Dolls jamming across the street and asked if they'd play in exchange for free food. "Faced with a mainly black and Puerto Rican audience, the Dolls launched into a set consisting of covers such as Otis Redding's 'Don't Mess with Cupid,' 'Showdown' by Archie Bell and the Drells, and other R and B covers. 'They got a real hoot out of it,' recalled Johansen. 'We were terrible, but we felt real proud.'" [p. 39] First and last gig with Rick Rivets and without Syl Sylvain, who was in London at the time.

HOTEL DIPLOMAT: "By May 1972, the quartet had gathered sufficient confidence to make their live debut at a proper venue. This took place at the Palm Room, a basement club housed beneath the Hotel Diplomat on West 43rd Street. At the time, the room showcased rock groups, but it would later become a popular gay disco hangout where Gloria Gaynor was inaugurated as the Queen of Disco in 1975. 'We found out about this benefit for this anarchist that was coming up, a "free somebody" programme at the Hotel Diplomat,' David told Melody Maker in 1978. 'Some kid who had another band told us about it, and we said, "Get us on it!" We didn't play the benefit for political reasons--we played it because it was a gig...That was the first time we ever got dressed to play...just a nice pair of pants and a nice shirt. We got a great response. There were a couple of people from the music business there--Danny Fields for one told me he thought the band were great, and all this heavy stuff, so I figured we would stick to it."...On 29 May, the Dolls made a return to the Palm Room, under the banner 'An Invitation Beyond the Valley.' The event was partly organized by Warhol's organization and featured Jackie Curtis as support...[T]he Diplomat gig would mark the beginning of the Dolls' ascent towards occupation of the niche vacated by the Velvets at the nexus of the Big Apple art/rock confluence...Support at the Palm Room came courtesy of Shaker, who featured Jerry Nolan on drums." [pp. 44-45]

MAN COUNTRY: The band's next gig was at this Brooklyn gay bathhouse--address unknown. "On the first night the band dragged up for the occasion, but most of their potential audience opted to carry on f---ing. The next night they wore leather, which intrigued the revellers sufficiently for them to emerge from their booths." [pp. 45-46]. Syl described this as their first paying gig in a 2005 interview for Creem Online.

MERCER ARTS CENTER: Home of the band's star-making residency, housed in a former grand hotel that would famously collapse in 1973. Thoroughly well-documented elsewhere. [The Modern Lovers opened for the Dolls' '72 New Year's Eve gig...I simply adore the audience member who can be heard marveling "He REALLY means it!" on the live recording of this!]

MY FATHER'S PLACE--19 Bryant Avenue, Roslyn, NY. "A former Long Island bowling alley, which had been converted into a 400-capacity bar and concert venue by promoter Michael Epstein. " [p. 89] The Dolls played there on August 14-16, 1973, returned on April 15 the following year, and possibly did an early '75 date as well. [I hope to attempt a more thorough write-up at some point, but don't hold yer breath...]

THE WALDORF-ASTORIA: "On 30 October [1973], the Dolls hosted a triumphant homecoming Halloween party at the Waldorf-Astoria Hotel Grand Ballroom...NBC News reported that a thousand or so punters, some ticketless, smashed the glass doors to pour into the venue." The costume contest (judged by Tommy Tune among others) was won by "a Mae West look-alike and a fan who'd dressed as an exotic alien to win the prize of a night on the town with the Dolls." [p. 96] (The runner-up won a night for three in a Newark motel.) Bob Gruen's All Dolled Up DVD features footage from local CBS news coverage of this event, including blast-from-the-past reportage from Jim Jensen and Joel Siegel.

ACADEMY OF MUSIC: "Mercury stumped up for some promotion and David recorded a radio advertisement that featured him declaring, 'Man, I'm getting tired of seeing your face every night this winter. There's one thing about this winter. We've got the New York Dolls coming to the Academy of Music on Friday night, February 15. We got our own St. Valentine's Day Massacre, honey, since all the deco got stacked up. That's this Friday, honey. You better be there.'...Almost as soon as the Dolls launched into their customary opener, 'Personality Crisis,' the sound system cut out. After a short delay they stormed through a triumphant homecoming..." [pp. 115-6] View part of Bob Gruen's "Lipstick Killers" short, as screened before this gig, here.

CLUB 82: "This had been one of Manhattan's most glamorous drag venues between the 1940s and late sixties, playing host to a bevy of transvestites and female impersonators. Latterly, 82 had lost some of its sparkle once such establishments could operate openly, but still employed a team of lesbians to man the door and bar. In keeping with the spirit of their surroundings, the Dolls dragged up more thoroughly than usual...The Miamis supported and acted as the Dolls' 'gentleman dates.' 'That was the only club that we ever did anything like that, really devised shit,' recalls Sylvain. 'It was run by this lesbian woman who was gorgeous, called Tommy, and ran it like a brick shithouse. It looked all tropical. The Copacabana goes gay, if you will. The center of it was the actual stage, like a square. Completely around the stage was the bar. We would hang down there. The prostitutes were on Tenth Street and after their work hours they would go down to Club 82 and drink down there. They would have like drag shows and performances...Tommy never used to want [rock & roll bands]...But business was bad for them. They needed new fun and excitement again. That's where the New York Dolls came in. They still talk about what we did at Club 82 because it was the most exciting thing going. It came at a time when the Dolls had been on their way up and then on their way down and this was sort of the valley of their career.'" [pp. 118-9]

LITTLE HIPPODROME: Needs' account of the Red Patent Leather shows pretty much reiterates others I've heard, but he also notes that the Hippodrome had a capacity of 2000--somehow I didn't conceive of it as being quite that large. Check out the fab poster at, and actual video on youtube!