Tuesday, August 30, 2005
GREAT GILDERSLEEVES--331 Bowery between 2nd and 3rd Streets. Presumably named in honor of the '40s radio show and film series The Great Gildersleeve. In Punk magazine's "Summer 1979 Punk Club Guide" [see Punk: The Original (New York: Trans-High Publishing, 1996)], Gildersleeves is given a 3-star, "This place is smokin!" rating. But to my frustration I've yet to locate any concrete background info about the joint--ownership, exact years of operation, history of the building, atmospheric accounts, etc. Thus the best I can offer is a brief list of some bands who played there. Most gig dates are in the '79-'83 range, so I gather the place didn't see the other side of 1984.
On April Fool's Night, 1979, Elvis Costello and the Attractions played a whirlwind three shows at three separate venues--the Bottom Line, Lone Star Cafe, and Gildersleeves. This was around the time of Elvis' notorious denigrating remarks about Ray Charles; here's a Rolling Stone article which describes the controversy and mentions the extra security needed for the G.G. gig (including a couple of Hell's Angels recruited from around the corner).
Public Image, Ltd., April 22, 1980--a couple of days after a show at the Palladium.
The J. Geils Band, April 27, 1980. That night's rendition of "Love Stinks" was later released on a 12" promo picture sleeve. Listen to the mp3, which starts off with the club's outgoing phone message regarding the gig--apparently the band was billed as Juke Joint Jimmy and His Houseparty Rockers.
Starz, sometime in 1980--read one fan's memories here.
Sonic Youth played the club on June 3, 1981 (their second show ever, as openers for Glenn Branca), and on June 12 the following year. Seems Thurston Moore played there again on February 20, 1983, as a member of Even Worse (which included future Big Takeover honcho Jack Rabid).
Thrash guitarist Neil Turbin played the club as a member of the Newrace and Anthrax. Dig some Village Voice ads for a couple of his '82 gigs here--one of them lists Johnny Thunders and the Heartbreakers on October 2. Thunders & Co. are also known to have played there on November 27 and New Year's Eve of '82, and February 26, 1983. Here are sound engineer Jimmy Miller's recollections of one of these shows.
The Tickets, various dates in '82/83.
Black Flag, March 13, 1983.
Husker Du, April 17, 1983. Robert Christgau was there and maintains that fewer than a dozen witnesses were present. (Also dig this Christgau state-of-the-scene Voice article dated October 23, 1978, which discusses several noted clubs of the time.)
The Beastie Boys, still in their hardcore period, April 24, 1983. The flyer for this show also lists Reagan Youth, the Blessed, Artless, and You Suck, and further announces a Circle Jerks gig for the following week. Then a "teenage shutterbug," my pal Justina snapped a photo of the Jerks at that show--and also got a few shots of Heart Attack on some other Gildersleeves night.
This flyer for a May 29, 1983 show with S.S. Decontrol also lists several big-name hardcore shows for June of that year, including the Misfits, Minor Threat, G.B.H., and D.O.A. (who also did at least one other date on December 6, 1983).
Other bands/performers associated with the club include Iggy Pop, Another Pretty Face, the Flashcubes, Thundertrain, the Nihilistics, 15 60 75, the Savage Skulls, Amtrak, Kraut, Jackal, the Blind Dates, the Privates, Marshall Crenshaw, Gemini Jones, Doug Wahlberg, the Laughing Dogs, the Crumbsuckers, the Brats, and these unknown mudwrestlers.
One of the few bits of commentary about the club that I was able to find comes from Bruno Ravel of Danger Danger: "I started going there when I was 14 and continued for years until they closed down. It was a great scene. It gave me the bug to become a rock musician. Sure, I loved to play and loved music but hanging out in this club was like being backstage at a concert. Totally decadent, trashy and cool. I wish I could go back, even for one night." The band's 2000 album was entitled The Return of the Great Gildersleeves; its cover photo was taken on the same block where the club had been.
Lord knows what's at 331 Bowery now--probably a condo construction site. But here are a couple of blog entries about the NYC club-closure issue, here's the site for the club currently most at stake, and here's an essay on the history of NY hardcore written by Uncle Al of Murphy's Law.
UPDATE 12/29/2012: Unbeknownst to me at the time I wrote this post, the building still exists. A while back I posted a bunch of 1977 and 1978 Gildersleeves ads from the Voice. Here's a 2009 post about the club from the Ffanzeen blog. A Gildersleeves reunion show was supposed to happen in November 2012, but was cancelled due to Superstorm Sandy. And the place gets a brief mention on page 76 of Cyndi Lauper: A Memoir (New York: Atria Books, 2012): "In Blue Angel, we recorded expensive, bad demos to send around to record labels and played clubs like Great Gildersleeves, which was (physically and sort of symbolically) right down the block from CBGB. Gildersleeves was never the place, never the 'scene.' Instead it was always the corny rock place that had the straighter bands."
FREEBEING RECORDS, 129 Second Avenue just south of St. Marks Place. Or was it Free Being? I've seen the name of this late, lamented '70s/'80s record shop spelled both ways. According to the aforementioned Mike Fornatale, it "was one of the few places buying/selling used LPs in 1972...(sigh)...those were the days!" I recently rented the DVD of The Nomi Song--a required-viewing elegy for both a man and an era gone by--and among the many excellent extras is a brief "slide show" of some of director Andrew Horn's fave old East Village haunts. To a photo of Freebeing's front sign, he narrates as follows:
I think this was the first record store that I can remember where I started noticing the first sort of independently produced records. There was a point at which the bands at that time started realizing that for a few hundred dollars you could press your own record, and suddenly there was this explosion of records all over the place. And every week or every day [the store] would paste the new single that had just come out in the door, and the door would be full of all these singles. And I think this is the first place where I ever saw the B-52s single and the Elvis Costello.
Some other customer recollections are available here, here, here, and here, but unfortunately they have more to do with records found there than with the vibe and appearance of the store itself. I visited the store a few times as a tentative teenybopper during my earliest solo East Side expeditions (only after fully exploring the Greenwich Village frontier was it finally time to venture beyond Broadway's DMZ). Can't recall any specific items I bought, but I do remember the shop as a loud, crowded, lively hive of frenzied record-flipping activity. I'm not sure when it closed down, but ISTR a San Loco taco stand appearing in its stead by the late '80s. If I'm not mistaken, around that same time there was a record shop on Carmine Street calling itself Freebeing--but I may have the name wrong, and even if I am correct it may not have been a new location for the original. [Despite my iffyness about the Carmine St. shop's name, I can clearly recall how overjoyed I was upon finding a mint vinyl copy of the Jam's All Mod Cons there during my big 1988 Paul Weller phase.]
Since I never got into Friends I haven't seen this, but apparently one of the storefronts near Central Perk was named Free Being Records in honor of executive producer Kevin Bright's fond memores of the shop. As for the real storefront, it is currently home to Cinderella Falafel.
UPDATE 7/20/2006: Just found out that The Big Takeover's Jack Rabid worked there in the mid-'80s.
UPDATE 11/1/2010: This photo was recently posted to the NY Rocks Facebook group--a portion of the store's sign is visible in the center.
Also, quite a while back I located some ads in the 1971 Voice which revealed that the store was originally called Silverlight. Here's one example, from the 7/29/71 issue.
Tuesday, August 23, 2005
The nail salon now occupying the former site of Wows!ville is called E-Nail.
Even the old Army-Navy store at Bleecker & Christopher, which certainly kept several generations of Village Persons outfitted in skintight Levi's and Sarge-fetish gear, has become a day spa.
Saturday, August 20, 2005
The main reason for our unfortunate hottest-week-of-the-year timing was so I could see DEVO at the Hammerstein Ballroom. Never saw 'em before, and they don't seem to want to put T.O. on their tour itinerary, so we bit the bullet and shelled out $55 a piece (plus Ticketmaster fees) for the privilege despite my moral opposition towards outrageous ticket prices. The band was freakin' phenomenal, but the show was over much too quickly. Drummer Josh Freese (also with the Vandals and other acts), perhaps the most rhythmically precise percussionist I've ever heard, injured his hand about 45 minutes into the set--I didn't witness the actual accident but presumably he sliced it against a cymbal. Emergency first aid was administered and he managed to play a few songs in one-armed Def Leppard guy mode, but clearly couldn't continue to the end. Yeesh--you'd think the spud boys would have all the rhythm parts pre-programmed for just such an emergency. Thus we didn't get our money's worth--upsetting, but not exactly a situation you could feel pissed about given the circumstances. There was an afterparty at the FUSE Gallery/Lit Lounge in conjunction with a Mark Mothersbaugh art exhibit, at which a mostly female DEVO cover band called DEVA was to perform, but somehow we were too disheartened to venture there. Other hi-lites:
- Beating the heat at a Union Square 14 afternoon matinee of The Aristrocrats.
- Hanging out with my dear friend Cristina at Life Cafe and the Lakeside Lounge, and later drinking more beer at the Raven during their "Mod Mod World" '60s night.
- Venturing to Coney Island for one last Nathan's lobster roll and Wonder Wheel ride before the area's slated devolution into some kinda antiseptic mall-like attraction.
- Watching Peter Sellers clips, a Tom Snyder Tomorrow show tribute, and the A&E Brill Building doc at the Museum of TV (which brought back fond memories of the 2001 premiere of said doc at the Museum--Shadow Morton and Mary Weiss of the Shangri-Las were in attendance!).
- Chowing down at Pongsri, one of the best Thai places in the city.
- Cheering on pals Fuzzco and Moparlary at the Subway Surfers' Maxwell's debut.
- Eating massive meals with my Pops and brother at some of our old regular haunts--the Moonstruck Diner on 23rd, venerable El Quijote in the Chelsea Hotel, and Umberto's of New Hyde Park.
- And reviving our walk-weary souls with cool tunes and frozen drinks at Otto's Shrunken Head.
Due to massive electrical storms our Sunday night flight home was cancelled, but this later led to another highlight. While stumbling through the baggage claim area at Pearson the next morning, I walked right by Elvis Costello. He and wife Diana Krall, who I later learned had come to town to play at some special tribute to Oscar Peterson, were heading toward the baggage service counter as I was trying to find the LaGuardia carousel. I'm too much of a shy goof to ask for an autograph--and besides, maybe he was livid over a lost suitcase or something--but I had fun furtively staring at him and we did exchange "meaningful" eye contact. They say you better listen to the vice of reason...but they don't give you any chice 'cause they think that it's treason...
Saturday, August 06, 2005
As part of a BLR-list debate about the likely demise of CBGB, Mike offered some thoughts on the effects of past venue closures, waxing most eloquently about the fate of his beloved Fillmore East. He kindly allowed me to quote an excerpt from his e-mail, which I offer as an update to the 7/1/2005 post:
All I can tell you is this: when the Fillmore East shut down, the building stayed empty for three years -- then some shoestring promoter tried to repoen it as the "NFE" in '74 or '75. I think there were only about three or four shows there before it shut down again. IIRC, Ike and Tina were the headliner on opening night. Then the building was sealed up like a tomb for years and years. Finally it reopened, after a radical re-modeling, as The Saint -- essentially a gay disco. Three floors, replacing the old orchestra/mezzanine/balcony sections. In 1984 or 85, someone had the bright idea to have some sort of Hippie Reunion Show thingy there. It was on the top floor. The stage was up against what had been the back wall of the old theatre. Everything inside was different -- EXCEPT the lobby, which was just as it had been back in the day. And I can't describe to you the way it felt to walk into that lobby. And, once inside, to note what parts of the stairwells were still as they were, and what architectural thingamabobs were still in place from 1968 (hell, from 19-TWENTY-8) and gaze at them fondly. Well, now the building's gone, except for the facade. And nobody will ever see that again. Of course, hell, none of us are still alive anyway.
Mike's next local appearance will be on September 30 at Magnetic Field with Shaw 'Nuff. Also in the band are Wendy Fornatale, Michael Lynch, the Headless Horsemen's Peter Stuart, and the Gripweeds' Kurt Reil. No, they're not an Enuff Z'Nuff tribute band, but they do specialize in tasteful covers, and at this show they'll be aping the Monkees. Be there if you know what's good for ya!
Thursday, August 04, 2005
NIGHT OWL CAFE, 118 West 3rd Street b/w Macdougal Street and Sixth Avenue. I have no idea what businesses occupied this space before the Night Owl era, nor have I been able to ascertain the Night Owl's exact years of operation. Seems like it was open through much of the decade, though--specializing in folk, blues, and jazz at first in the early '60s, and gradually evolving into a rock club by '64/'65. The most vivid description of the joint by far is on Peter Sando's website--he performed there frequently with the Rahgoos, who later metamorphosed into Gandalf. These links are must-reads, but I can't resist quoting a pertinent excerpt on the club's atmosphere:
It was a very unique room, a long and narrow storefront. The stage faced straight at a wall in the center with one church pew at the foot (the "crotch watchers bench"), an aisle, and then another pew against the wall. All the other seating was to the left and right of the stage, giving a side view. The PA was very trebly and faced to the sides. The music crashed into the wall and died, leaving the vocals very bare to the bulk of the crowd to each side. You had better sing on key or else it was a disaster. Good harmony went a long way at the Night Owl! The cast of characters: "Jack the Rat" at the door, a frightening cat with teeth missing and dirty clothes; Joe Marra, the owner; Annie, head waitress (very bossy)...The waitresses all used four letter words that we had never heard from girls before...shocking to four straight, naive, suburban rockers! There was Pepe, the openly gay cook (we had never seen anyone "openly gay"); and of course, all of the great bands! An interesting and happy family indeed...Joe Marra would blink the stage lights on and off, kind of a poor man's strobe light effect...Waitress Shelly Plimpton appeared in the original cast of "Hair." [And later had a daughter with Keith Carradine--peerlessly cool actress Martha Plimpton. -Ed.] Every Thanksgiving the Night Owl had a huge feast. Everyone was there past and present--even The Spoonful...and The Mothers of Invention served the food! Yes, we "believed in magic"!
Indeed, the Lovin' Spoonful was unquestionably the most successful band to emerge from the club. Richie Unterberger traces the twisted roots of the group in this excerpt from Turn! Turn! Turn!: The '60s Folk Rock Revolution (San Francisco: Backbeat Books, 2002); elsewhere in the book he discusses their early '65 Night Owl residency:
The Night Owl, a narrow room of about 75 by 20 feet with a stage so small that [drummer Joe] Butler had to play on the floor, was the Spoonful's equivalent to the Byrds' residency at Ciro's, giving the musicians time to refine their sound and develop material as they lobbied labels for a recording contract. When they weren't at the Night Owl, they were rehearsing at the Albert Hotel, where they lived in a single room that also included all their instruments, dodging the rent by having their friend Denny Doherty sweet-talk the female bookkeeper.
They soon fielded offers from Elektra and Kama Sutra, but ultimately opted for the latter's rock & roll teen appeal over the former's folkie street cred. The band's Top Ten potential was realized later that year with a song inspired by a twinkle-toed gal in the Owl audience, according to this quote from John Sebastian:
"We were playing pretty steadily for the local people from Greenwich Village who were part of the Jazz scene or part of the kind of downtown 'in crowd.' They were 'finger poppers,' guys who played chess, 'beatniks.' But there was this one particular night as we were playing, I looked out in the audience and saw this beautiful 16-year-old girl just dancing the night away. And I remember Zal and I just elbowed each other the entire night because to us that young girl symbolized the fact that our audience was changing, that maybe they had finally found us. I wrote 'Do You Believe In Magic' the next day."
An instrumental entitled "Night Owl Blues" appeared on their first album, and Sebastian later recorded a song called "Night Owl Cafe" on his '93 solo album Tar Beach. A 1965 live set recorded at the club was supposed to be released on Varese Vintage in the late '90s, but remains in the can.
Other Night Owl notables may not have reached the same lovin' lofty heights of stardom, but most are no less esteemed by '60s garageniks and folkfiends. Here's a brief list:
The Magicians were named after the aforementioned Spoonful hit, if the liner notes to An Invitation to Cry on Sundazed are to be believed. Various Village denizens made up the band--but unlike the Spoonful, the Magicians were assembled as a recording unit first (by Bob Wyld and Art Polhemus of Longhair Productions), and actually got a contract with Columbia before settling into a regular Night Owl gig. Their alliance begat the great songwriting team of Bonner and Gordon. Garry Bonner still sings with doo-woppers Kenny Vance and the Planotones. Alan Gordon, also still in the biz, frequently contributes to the Spectropop yahoogroup, always signing his informative missives as "That Alan Gordon." Guitarist Allan "Jake" Jacobs stayed active in music through the years as well.
The Blues Magoos also made it to the Longhair Productions stable, but they did so the old fashioned way by gigging around first. And after gaining a fan base at the Night Owl, they managed to become the club's second most commercially viable success story. Here's an article about them from the February 24, 1967 issue of Billboard. Also check out Peppy Castro's site.
The Strangers are often cited as being an outstanding Owl band, but what little they recorded apparently has not been comped, and thus I cannot judge. Regardless, you can't help but dig this photo showing them, the Magicians, and the Blues Magoos (utilizing the original spelling, Bloos) all listed on the Night Owl's entrance awning. Strangers drummer Eric Eisner was the boyfriend of Woody Guthrie's daughter Nora; the two collaborated on one of the most bizarre songs of a decade filled with 'em, "Emily's Illness"--read an excellent article about that record here.
|I've been told the fella in the center is Steve Martin from the Left Banke.|
I'm no big James Taylor fan, but I'm nonetheless impressed that he paid his initial dues as part of the Albert Hotel/Night Owl scene. Following stints at a strict private boys academy and a mental institution, teenaged Taylor moved to New York in 1966 and soon formed a band called the Flying Machine. Despite an Owl residency and a recording contract, the band went nowhere, and the emotionally volatile Taylor succumbed to a heroin addiction. The experience did provide fodder for his future direction, however. In "Fire and Rain," the line "sweet dreams and flying machines in pieces on the ground" (or as The Simpsons would have it, "flying machines flying safely through the air") is a reference to his old band. You can hear some Flying Machine sound samples here (including "Night Owl," later covered by erstwhile wife Carly Simon--the club may have inspired the title, but the lyric has nothing to do with the place). I was hoping their material would be in straight-up garage mode, but they're not far removed in wimpiness from Taylor's later output. Keyboardist/Flying Machine fan/all-around character Mark "Moogy" Klingman offers some memories of the band here and here.
Taking a break from their standing residency at the Cafe Au Go Go, the Blues Project played the Night Owl from October 7-9, 1965. [Coincidentally, I'm currently reading Al Kooper's Backstage Passes and Backstabbing Bastards (New York: Billboard, 1998)--highly recommended!]
Fred Neil was a frequent fixture on the Night Owl's stage--here's a 1966 article about him from Hit Parader.
Circa '64-'65, Tim Rose, Jake Holmes, and Richie Hudson comprised an early folk-rock trio with a steady Night Owl gig. They called themselves either the Feldmans or Tim Rose and the Thorns, depending on which source you trust. The band was short-lived, but Rose and Holmes later regularly performed at the club as solo acts.
After being discovered at It's Boss on the Sunset Strip, Tim Buckley was booked for his first New York engagement at the Night Owl in mid-1966. That August Jac Holzman signed him to Elektra posthaste. Here's a picture of him performing there; the same Buckley fansite also has a great photo of the front of the building.
Lothar and the Hand People's New York debut was booked at Trude Heller's, but they were soon fired for "talking too much between numbers," according to this article. Fortunately they found a more receptive environment at the nearby Night Owl. San Francisco's Sopwith Camel later opened for them there in early '67 (and soon toured with fellow Owl alumi/Kama Sutra labelmates the Spoonful).
Other performers with Night Owl connections include Tim Hardin, Richie Havens, Dino Valenti, the First Foundation Blues Band, the Ginger Men, the Fifth Avenue Band, the Myddle Class, Random Concept, "Big Mike" DeVita, Tom Pacheco (with the Ragamuffins), Stan Penridge, Stephen Stills, and of course all the names listed on Peter Sando's page. You can read some audience member reminiscences here, here, here, and here. And here's a 1967 Tiger Beat article that mentions a visit to the club paid by Micky Dolenz and some members of the Raiders.
Not sure when the Night Owl closed, but I have not found any post-1967 references to the place. Following a '70s stint as a poster/button/head shop, for close to three decades now the storefront has been occupied by Bleecker Bob's Records. It's perhaps the most overpriced record shop in town, but apparently Bob at least has the common decency to keep a picture of the Blues Magoos onstage at the Night Owl displayed in the front window.
UPDATE 1/24/2013: The Night Owl Cafe Tribute Page has just been established on Facebook--please join and share your stories and pics. Here are some more images I've gathered over the last couple of years, mostly from my pals on tumblr.
|Menu--pretty sure this scan came from "cheapocheapo."|
|John Sebastian relaxing between sets.|
If you can deal with the Evil Getty Watermark, there are some cool exterior shots of the club on the Getty website. I haven't seen the Jeff Buckley/Tim Buckley biopic yet, but I hear it includes a scene depicting Tim performing at the Night Owl, which was shot at Sophie's bar. A few months ago I read two memoirs which contain some Night Owl stories--Carole King's A Natural Woman, and Kathy West's A Song for You: The Quest of the Myddle Class. And as you've no doubt heard by now, the closure of Bleecker Bob's is imminent.