Friday, May 28, 2010

Muni-ficent moss-gathering

SCOTT MUNI'S ROLLING STONE--304 E. 48th Street, near Second Avenue. Full disclosure: Scott Muni is one of the very few music biz/radio legends that I've personally encountered--but not in the way a fangirl-type would typically like to interact with someone of his stature. Back in the early '90s I did an internship at WNEW-FM--an enjoyable experience, but one which disavowed me of any notion that I was cut out for a career in commercial media. (I understand the station is now defunct on the FM dial, but has been resuscitated via HD2 and the internet.) I can recall being told on the very first day, "Don't talk to Scott, he doesn't like interns." So I never did, and I'd kinda cower and give him a wide berth if I ever happened to pass him in the hallways. I did get sent downtown to Venus Records a few times to pick up some imports for his "Things From England" segments, but dealt only with his very nice secretary in those instances.

It's not as if I ever would have approached him anyway--I'm a rather shy, "don't speak unless spoken to" type, especially around "celebs." But if he'd deigned to give me the time of day--and I must say, everyone else there, including the other on-air talent, did so willingly and welcomingly--he'd have known I probably had more knowledge of and respect for his career than your typical intern. And what was his problem anyway--did he think we were just some troublesome flaming hookie-dookie whippersnappers out to usurp his position as the Professor of Rock & Roll?

So although I've long had his nightclub on my list of places to investigate, given my understandably tainted perceptions of the man, perhaps I've subconsciously been a little reluctant to fully engage in that endeavor. But I happened to get a little note from Left Banke bassist/international disc-jockeying man of mystery Tom Finn a few days ago, which helped encourage the pursuit. (Um, squee!!??!! Sorry, I don't mean to come across as an inveterate name-dropper...we've merely chatted a few times on facebook ever since he and leftbanke.nu webmistress Charlemagne started a fab Left Banke facebook page.) "Hey, I hear you're into New York sixties clubs. Ever hear of a place called the Rolling Stone?" I can only guess he must have seen the Wolfgang's Vault article and noticed I'd left it out--quite inadvertently, I assure you. But enough of my personal palaver...clearly this was a sign from the universe that it was time to take on Scottso's domain!


Unfortunately, details about the club have not been abundantly forthcoming--and the fact that it shares the name of a certain ridiculously well-exposed band didn't make the search any easier. I was initially skeptical about how deep Muni's financial interests in it were, but since he was somewhat between radio gigs at the time, it seems plausible that he could have been the actual owner, at least in part. According to his wikipedia entry (corroborated by a musicradio77.com article on the WMCA Good Guys), "In 1965, Muni left WABC and ran the Rolling Stone Night Club while doing occasional fill-in work for WMCA." And in a fine tribute to Muni from areuonsomething.com, Ray D'Ariano writes:


Muni left WA-Beatle-C. Over the next few years Muni did overnight fill-in work at WMCA and he found another night shift gig. On the New York rock scene it was the era of the Hammond B3 organ and the blue-eyed soul bands made popular by The Rascals. The Hassles featuring a young Billy Joel, The Pigeons who would become famous as The Vanilla Fudge, and The Vagrants with guitarist Leslie West played at a slew of rock clubs known as discotheques. There was The Phone Booth, Cheetah, Ungano's, and a club on East 48th where The Vagrants were the house band, Scott Muni's Rolling Stone.

Muni was a Scotch aficionado who had the ability to function flawlessly even after imbibing. One evening there was a brawl on the street out front. He intervened and discouraged the participants from continuing their aggressive behavior so close to his establishment. He did it with fewer words than the last sentence. A short while later he felt ill. He went home early only to twist and turn all night with a harsh pain in his lower back. The ex-Marine toughed it out, but was shaken the next morning when he awoke to see his sheets covered in blood. During a sober investigation he realized he had been stabbed while breaking up the fight. Later that night he was back on stage with the Vagrants. It was only rock and roll.


I've pored over the streetsyoucrossed bookshelf in search of equally atmospheric references, but so far the literature has yielded only two minuscule mentions.


From Andy Warhol's and Pat Hackett's Popism: The Warhol Sixties (NY: Harcourt Brace Jovanovich, 1980) From the Gymnasium we usually went on to a discotheque called the Rolling Stone, and then to Trude Heller's new place on Broadway and 49th, a few blocks down from Cheetah--"Sweet Soul Music" was the big song at all the clubs--and soon after this, Salvation opened down on Sheridan Square, so there were suddenly all these new places to go.


[Wait--there was a second Trude Heller's uptown?] [UPDATE 5/31/2010: Apparently so. I just saw a tidbit about it in the April 27, 1967 issue of the Village Voice: "And uptown, Trude Heller opened a new discotheque. Most amazingly dressed was six foot plus model Donyale Luna." A pic of her dress was printed on the front page but the reproduction in the Google archives is not very clear.]


And from Clay Cole's Sh-Boom: The Explosion of Rock & Roll (NY: Morgan James, 2009): I was told when I was auditioning dancers, I rejected both Geri Miller and Goldie Hawn. Geri was now a go-go girl at the Rolling Stone club, the girl with her legs in the air on its famous swing. Geri was overly ripe at a time when the Twiggy-look was all the rage...As Dominique, she became one of Andy Warhol's underground film stars, then a super-groupie, a topless dancer and finally a porn star. [Hey, she was in a band for a spell too y'know! Not quite finished with this book yet, but if I come across more R.S. references in it I'll let you know.]


A couple of tasty gossip column items from 1965 turned up via the Google News Archives. I jotted them down verbatim, but didn't copy the links when I first found them. As of this writing the articles are not turning up, so I cannot back up these quotes with visual proof and linkage...but hey, would I lie to you about this stuff?


Earl Wilson, N.Y. Post, September 17, 1965 (as syndicated to another city's Herald-Tribune): The washroom at the Rolling Stone discotheque features a blackboard and chalk. The sign reads, "We don't wish to repress creative talent, so if you must write, write here."

Dorothy Kilgallen, N.Y. Journal-American, October 12, 1965 (as syndicated to the Toledo Blade): Disc jockey Scott Muni, who scored with the Rolling Stone discotheque, has a table set aside for his colleagues. It's equipped with the latest music trade publications, a list of the top 40 records, and a pretty girl whose job is to see that their requests are played first. [As a What's My Line? fanatic, I can't help but notice this column was published less than a month before Kilgallen's mystery-shrouded death.]


Since Tom Finn inspired this post, I asked him if I could pick his brain for Rolling Stone synapses, and he graciously obliged.

I first went to the Rolling Stone with Mick Wexler who was the writer, singer and guitarist for The Magic Plants. Warren Sherhorst and I signed on after the record "I'm A Nothing." Anyway Mick was a Mick Jagger imposter. Back in late '65 a lot of people didn't know what Jagger looked like. So we went to The Rolling Stone. Mick was wearing a big pair of sunglasses at night in a already darkened nightclub, and he sported a heavy Cockney accent...Everybody knew he wasn't Jagger, but he insisted anyway. So I saw The Vagrants perform, and WOW! What a production! I had never heard a group play with so much volume and production. I was impressed--I didn't think they were a recording type of group, but live they were amazing. So when we were leaving Mick tripped over a little rise on the floor, and fell on his face. I remember people saying what's the matter Mickey Boy. They ridiculed him. But he deserved it. Imagine dark glasses. I thought The Club was pretty big compared to Ondine or The Scene. It looked like a fancy type of place.


Well, the Vagrants seem as appropriate a band as any to head our short list of R.S. notables. I haven't tracked down any dates, but I gather this was their main Manhattan showplace in '65 and '66. Check out pages 3 and 4 of the photo gallery on the splendid thevagrants.net for some visual evidence. I won't steal those pics, but I'm compelled to purloin their copy of an R.S. flyer.




The Yardbirds played there on September 17, 1965--the club's biggest international booking that I know of. (Pic came from stratcollector.com.)



I was hoping the Billboard archives would hold at least as many items on the Rolling Stone as it did for the Phone Booth, but I managed to find only two: for the Seven of Us ("a new vocal combo") in the November 6, 1965 issue, and for the Bit'a Sweet ("a new rock-soul group") in the June 4, 1966 one.

A British Beach Boys site reveals this tidbit involving '70s B.B. pianist Carlos Munoz: "From 1965 to 1968, Muñoz led a rock band with Jorge Calderón called The Living End, a.k.a. Space (jazz-rock band); they were the house band at Scott Muni´s Rolling Stone and released a single album, Space (Capitol Records)." (It's a long shot, but I wonder if Carlos was at all related to Scott, whose real name was Donald Allen Munoz.)

In an interview with Ugly Things editor-in-chief Mike Stax, Peter Sando discusses how his band the Rahgoos fit the scene: "Most of the uptown Discotheques were dominated by Rascal-clone bands like the Rich Kids, the Vagrants, and the Pilgrims. We were not immune to that as we converted to a B3 sound when we played at the Rolling Stone and Phone Booth...but as the band progressed, we were falling into the Rascal sound too much." Lineup changes and a gradual evolution toward psychedelia led the band to change their name to Gandalf--apparently inspired by a copy of The Hobbit that drummer David Bauer happened to be reading one night backstage at the Rolling Stone.

60sgaragebands.com offers profiles on two bands who played there, the Teemates (later renamed the Kickers after their second manager's involvement with the N.Y. Jets) and a Dallas band called Truth. And Mike Patalano of the Others--famed among caveteens for "Can't Stand This Love, Goodbye"--gave some nice recollections to Fancy Magazine. (Be sure to check out the great pic of the club's front sign: "Come in tux or tights and give our girls in the swings a push...two dance floors, no cover, no minimum.")

Bob Marshall became our manager. He got us a gig at the Rolling Stone Discotheque in NYC at the corner of 48th and 2nd Ave. that summer of 65. We were the house band and played six nights a week, half hour on, half hour off, 9 pm to 3am. We all got paid a couple hundred dollars a week. We had lines of people around the block for hours waiting to get in. It was owned by Scott Muni. He would stop in and introduce us to the crowd every once in a while. We had a blast—Met David Winters, the dancer from West Side Story, and Gene Pitney there. There were go-go girls, and a swing. Afterwards we would be invited to parties all over the city. It was wild.

Apparently there is now a karaoke bar and a parking garage at the address. But folks, I'm afraid that's about all the info I've been able to find so far! Please don't hesitate to leave a comment if you have any recollections or facts of your own to share--this skimpy post could sure use 'em!









UPDATE 9/24/2010:  Bob Polhemus of Bobby and the Teemates sent this great shot of them playing at Scott Muni's Rolling Stone. "His club the Rolling Stone was one of the hottest gigs I ever played...The place was like a celebrity gathering with every soon to be legend of rock visiting...The picture is us The Teemates--Me second from left. We were the house band there the first week he opened the club. We were there a month followed by the Vagrants, with the Yardbirds doing a set every now and then along with Eric Burdon, Chas, The Gentrys. Opening night there was a line stretching up 48th Street to Second Avenue...Barry Oslander was the Sound Engineer there, and co-produced our LP "Jet Set Dance"...This was our last week there. Scott was furious we gave up our Beatles squeaky-clean look for these striped shirts. Cancelled our contract--Vagrants followed...The picture above was taken shortly after the Teemates changed their name under new management with a guy by the name of Bill Blackburn who was associated with the New York Jets--thus the name 'Kickers." I believe this was our last week at Scott's, after which the Vagrants or another Band followed us in."


3 comments:

Anonymous said...

- re Scott Muni & the Rolling Stone club, here's a fragment of memory -- (i may have heard Scott talk about this on the air -- not sure, was not taking notes) --
- The Rolling Stones (the band), or, at least, Mick Jagger, got miffed that Scott's club was ripping off their name -- and there was grumbling from Mick about a lawsuit -- Scott's response was that Mick should talk to Muddy Waters about it --

Anonymous said...

Pretty sure the Seven of Us (Billboard's "new vocal combo") were a Bronx-based group featuring Joey Spampinato and Frankie Gadler, later to co-found NRBQ. LOVE the blog, btw...

Gitpicker said...

If you are interested, there is one inconsistency in this story that was also on the 60sgaragebands.com website concerning the Teemates. They state that they were the original house band at Scott Muni's Rolling Stone for a month and were followed by the Vagrants as house band.
I was the lead guitar player for The Others, who most definitely were the house band in the summer of 1965. To my recollection, the first band at the Rolling Stone was called "Fish and Chips", which was only there for 1-2 weeks. We then took over and were there through Labor Day '65. Fish and Chips would play on Monday nights, our one night off. These were the only bands that played at the Rolling Stone in the summer of 1965.
So I'm not sure when the Teemates were there (could have been when we left to go back to college in September, unless they were formerly Fish and Chips). We got the job through Bob Marshall, our manager in NYC (also manager for the comedian Myron Cohen and Ed Ames, the singer/actor). Joey Dee (of Peppermint Twist fame) was a regular at the Rolling Stone, as well as the casts of Hullabaloo and the Follies.
Not that any of this really matters after 50 years, but I thought you might be interested in some more info on The Rolling Stone.