The Backbeat you can’t lose it…part 1
I was standing in line to go see Edward Albee’s, Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf , or perhaps it was The Tempest, or Waiting for Godot, performed by Santa Clara University’s Clay M. Green Players, with Kathy Sheehan and some other of my pals when I heard Terry Grundy and some of the “Honors Program” guys talking about some fellow named Andy Warhol.
They were amused by the fact that Warhol was interested in how so much of the world is “plastic.” Having never heard of Warhol we chatted about him, asking a lot of questions. It turns out that he was going to be doing the “light show” for a rock dance-concert that was going to happen in a few weekends at an old dance hall called the Fillmore Auditorium in The City.
When that May 27th, 1966 Friday evening came around several of us including Kathy, Greg and Sharon Quintana, maybe Dan and Pete, and a few more trucked on up the Bayshore. Now, I loved rock and never missed a dance or live band party if I could help it. Our college weekends had been replete with frat parties, barn dances, concerts, pier dances, and concerts. Kathy and I had recently made the difficult choice between Bob Dylan’s Highway 61 Tour playing in the old San Jose Civic or the Rolling Stones playing the next weekend in a church hall out on the east end of East Santa Clara Street, deciding to spend the 12 bucks each on old Bob. Joan Shirley and some folks had recently put on a dance with Jefferson Airplane in a tiny auditorium in Nobili Hall. That was the first time I’d seen people dressed in white dancing in the electric glow of blacklights, Joan dancing like a May Queen twirling florescent white ribbons from her ballet dancer arms. But I had never seen anything like that night at the Fillmore.
I want to back up a bit and also hover for a minute…
The hover is all about rock and roll being the rhythm line for my life. Whether listening to the Airplane in rotten canvas tents in BinhDinh, sitting in the mess tent ripped on Thai sticks listening to Otis Redding while watching Rodriquez bake the bread and cake for the morning convoy, dancing in the Fantasio Club in Amsterdam (still rocking out even today), dancing in the Albers Mill, Portland waterfront with my 50 year old sister Kaywood and Waynette as Santana and Rusted Root played a combined set with no less than 15 musicians, at least 7 percussionists and 5 guitarists, or introducing Jenny and her friends to a guy named Stevie Miller at the amphitheater at the Oregon State Fair ( “Gosh dad, I knew every one of those songs he played”) dancing the bop with Margo Peter at WA to Clyde McPhatter and Ben E. King records, or out under the Washington stars with Nick and the boys while Dave blew the Gorge apart, every time slice has a song list and every song can call back a memory. I write this as I listen to my Pandora channels in the Idaho woods: Mary Wells, Buddy Holly, James Taylor, Bob Dylan .. amazing long tail for these ancient rockers.
I first started listening to Rock and Roll when living in Belle Harbor, Queens, New York. My mom, older sister Kaywood, and little sister Meg had a wonderful little apartment a block from the beautiful Atlantic beach. We were there while my dad was stationed up in Thule, Greenland as Commander of the Army troops there who were building a vast battle cave complex under the ice cap ( http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Camp_TUTO ). This was in late 1955 to early 1957. There was the enormous controversy in late summer ’56 on whether we’d be allowed to watch Elvis on the Ed Sullivan show. By then R&R was a fait accompli in our family, although not approved. If my father had been there it might have been a different story but at this point Mom had more to worry about as Kay was entering high school and head over heels with a fellow named Frosty and I was running ‘till midnight with the (6th grade) McManus gang.
I had gotten one of the little transistor radios and would listen under the covers with my beagle “Penny”.
We didn’t listen to WINS and Alan Freed then since they didn’t play R&R at night. The station that really introduced most kids to rock was a powerhouse out of Buffalo called WKBW – 1520AM. They had a host of crazy DJ’s headed by Dick Biondi and a late night jock named Russ “The Moose” Syracuse. Syracuse came to San Francisco in 1962 to be the all night R&R DJ at KYA, before KMPX revolutionized radio. Ben Fong-Torres acknowledged Syracuse’s influence thusly: “ …long before Tom Donahue hooked up with KMPX, Syracuse was a hero of what came to be known as “the counterculture”, and when some radio people talk about the true beginnings of free-form radio, they talk about the Moose.” ( http://bayarearadio.org/people/syracuse.shtml#listen ) But in 1956 Queens The Moose was loose in Buffalo and all the guys were listening! ( my old friend Louis Branson, subject of another posting – The Rock Of Gibraltar, Jan 26, 2012 – would be a DJ under the moniker “The Ginger Man” at KMPX in 1968)
New York Rock was all about Doo-Wop…If you look at the Top 100 Billboard songs of 1956 you gotta throw away Theresa Brewer, Nelson Riddle, Perry Como, Mitch Miller, Eddie Fisher, Gogi Grant and their ilk..sure they were fun to listen to but they were not Rock and Roll..you see the names of the great black R&B rockers. Sure Elvis had 5 songs in the Top 100 but the Platters had 4 – AND one in ’55 when Elvis was nowhere! There is Frankie Lyman, Clyde McPhatter, The Cadillacs, The Diamonds, Fats. Not in the Top100 yet but playing nightly were the likes of The Coasters, The Drifters, The Dell-Vikings, The Bobbettes, Little Anthony with the Chesters and The Duponts, etc.,etc. and these were the guys that really turned us on.
As my dad came back in February 1957 we moved from New York, where I had gone from First to Seventh grades, to an army base near Williamsburg, Virginia where I would complete junior and senior high with the Sisters of Mercy nuns at Walsingham Academy.
It was there one evening in fall ’57, on an olive drab bus making the rounds to drop the kids off from a dance evening at the post Teen Club, that I felt myself, in a warm glow of camaraderie, move from kid to teenager. I don’t think I had ever yet danced with any girl. At 12 I was much too shy, but I can still feel the evening, gazing at the lovely, wonderful, unreachable, mysterious, young ladies and then watching and listening to them from a scrunched up corner of the bus. Of course rock and roll was all about young love!! …Sonny James had told us that for every boy in this old world there was a girl; and then Tab Hunter had covered it and told us again. And it would be that way until Bob Dylan pulled Paul Butterfield and Al Kooper off the streets, hooked up his Strat, and cranked out Highway 61 Revisted – but that was almost a decade in the future.
The names and hazed faces and blurred figures are still here. The ones kissed and the ones admired, worshipped and dreamed of from afar. The ones danced with on a non touching Stroll or Hully Gully or the ones held tight or even with both hands wrapped around their backs. Jo Cady and Jo Daugherty, Barbara Ross and Barbara Sturm, Patty Bammer and Barbara Butts, Lynn Albano, Trish Holden, Olive McShane, Cheryl Lirette, Margo Mullin, Marguerite Stouffer and especially Margo Peter. We’d gather every weekend and it was always to dance, dance, dance
We all remember them – everyone has their favorites. Probably most impactful were Jerry Lee Lewis, and Little Richard..WILD STUFF! then Buddy Holly, Dion, Gene Chandler, The Shirelles, Mary Wells, Rosie and the Originals, The Chiffons, Sam Cooke, Maurice Williams and the Zodiacs, Connie Francis, Big Bopper, The Coasters, The Drifters, Jimmie Rodgers, Chuck Berry, The Fleetwoods, Santo & Johnny, The Impalas, The Crests, Four Season’s; country Ferlin Husky, Everley Brothers, Marty Robbins, Brenda Lee…man! seemed like the list never stops.
My father was a sweet fellow – gentle and kind. He loved music – classical music; he played the piano as did Mom – Bach, Beethoven, Strauss – and played the organ for Sunday Mass. We often listened together to the Metropolitan Opera Saturday Matinee. They taught us to love and appreciate the great composers. But he didn’t like this music – Dad called it “that Jigaboo music”. Like so many of his generation he had a blind spot to racial prejudice. So we couldn’t really listen to this stuff in the house.
But then something happened that changed Mom’s whole view and made her a believer – Big Time.
In early 1958 a guy named Dave White wrote a song for him and his 17 year old partner in a Philadelphia doo-wop group. Dick Clark heard it, suggested they change to name from “Do The Bop” to “At The Hop” and the first Named Dance, mega-hit, R&R, song cum dance was born. The Bop version of the Lindy Hop/Swing, which had been the basic move since Elvis’s explosion, was quickly swamped by an array of new and reborn steps, moves, and rhythms. Right behind The Hop was The Stroll, Cha-Cha, Mashed Potatoes, Hully Gully. Then the big one The Twist and all of its developments and evolutions driven by Chubby Checker, Joey Dee and the Starlighters, and Gary US Bond.
Dancing was now all the rage. Mom was trying to do The Hop – organizing “Twist Parties”. These were harmless since the boys didn’t hug the girls. Dad didn’t have a chance.
“Dance, Dance, Dance” ( Stevie Miller Band, 1976), that was it for the next 8 years. We danced in the school cafeteria, at the school gym, at the Officer’s Club and the “? Mark Club” where we’d have Christmas Balls with the girls in ball gowns and the college boy’s would wear their West Point/Citadel/VMI uniforms, Winter Cotillions, Summer Cotillions (where it was chic to wear a White Sport Coat, Bermuda Shorts, Plaid bow tie, and Knee socks). Our high school only had 100 kids so everyone went to the Prom. Sunday evenings were CYO meetings starting with bible study and ending with dancing to Jackie Wilson and the Bog Bopper. There was a sophomore gal who lived in the street behind us who every afternoon on the bus home would collar me and demand I come over to her house to practice the latest dance steps while we watched American Bandstand. At the army fort we kids had gotten a new, bigger, Teen Club, with a stage, dance hall, and pool tables. This was in southern Virginia and white kids didn’t yet have R&R bands but the local black musicians could wail away. Our senior year spring dance band was called “The Arabian Knights” from Hampton. It was the first live band ever to play in W.A. and they were all black guys. There was one black girl in the school and we considered ourselves integrated – what did we know then? They played Ray Charles’ “What I Say” and the Isley Brothers’ “Shout”.
I saw my first rock dance concert with a name band in a small hall at the Newport News shipyard in the fall of 1961. It was Joey Dee and the Starlighters – man they were slick and the music was fast, fast. As they reached about the 5 minute mark of the “Peppermint Twist” the drummer was pounding so hard he fell off his stool – but didn’t miss a beat as he continued to drum with his butt firmly planted on the wooden floor.
My next big live concert was a sedentary one in 1962 in Virginia Beach with Ray Charles..god, we wanted to stand up and dance so bad but NO DANCING signs covered the dome. Can you believe it?
Summer and the beach were made for Rock and Roll or was it the other way…no matter – The summer scenes up and down the Eastern Seaboard were much, much different and much more exciting than they were on the West as I would sadly find one foggy chilly, windy Sunday at Half Moon Bay. We’d hang out with our Davaney cousins at the Jersey Shore watching our sisters swing dance together on the Avalon Pier, trying to build up the nerve to ask a strange girl to dance to “Sea Cruise” by Huey “Piano” Smith and “Sleepwalk”; beach houses on Isle of Palms or Folly Beach South Carolina. Spring Break parties at Pauley’s Island or SAE houses in Florida; drinking 3.2 Beer at the Virginia Beach Pavilion when 18 was still the drinking age. I remember well one beautiful early summer evening at a fair in Williamsburg, sitting on the car hood with Margo Peter, Margo Mullen, Bill Cross, Cary Peet, and Dave DeWald singing “Runaround Sue”. And a wild blowout on Folly Beach Pier with half pints of BoubonDelux and Mary Francis Medlin. Each season new songs would celebrate the mysteries and pains of those summer romances: “ You Belong to Me” by the Duprees, Theme from “A Summer Place” “See You in September” by the Tempos, “Under the Boardwalk” by The Drifters, and later “Summer in the City” by John Sebastian and The Loving Spoonful.
So life went as a teenager – dating, parties, drinking, driving, stories, pranks, and all nighters to make the GPA – from Williamsburg VA, to Charleston SC, to Menlo Park CA and finally to Santa Clara U as I turned 19 in 1964.
My cousin Laddie Davaney was one of those really, really smart ones. His sister Sheila had a PhD in Theology from Harvard and published 11 books. His elder sister Debbie is a brilliant community leader, mom, and married to one of the top financial guys in Chicago. But Laddie was different – his live has been devoted to contemplation of Schopenhauer and Wittgenstein – at least I think I have that right – Lad often keeps his own counsel. In the summer of 1964 Lad and his mom, Helen, my father’s younger sister, had rented a house in Los Altos Hills to have a short return from their recent move to Chicago and visit old friends. One evening I was over there and sitting on the porch in the lovely California evening when he asked if I had ever listened to Bob Dylan. I answered no – I had heard his name but had really been listening to jazz most of the last 2 college years, outside of the parties that is. So Lad turned it on “With God on Our Side”, then went on to “Only a Pawn in Their Game”, “Masters of War”, and “A Hard Rain’s A-Gonna Fall”.
I was immediately captivated. I recall be struck by how long these songs were – how could a song be about these subjects, and be so long, and yet not boring, and be full of so many words, and rhyme so well? And while his voice was pretty raw, his poetry and topical ideas were something, really, that I had never heard of. And that was when Rock & Roll became about more than Summer Love and Break -up-then-Make-up. Of course it took about a year for that transition to happen – more of an integration, as represented by him and The Beatles, sitting in a hotel room in England getting high. And without “Like a Rolling Stone” and “Positively 4th Street”, R&R might have indeed died in those few years of ’63, ‘64, and ‘65
If you look at the Top 100 for 1963 you see that the rot of bubblegum pop was rampant – # 1 Song “Sugar Shack” (ugh)!, Top 15 including “Blue Velvet”, Skeeter David, “Hey Paula” “SukiYaki”, Lesley Gore, Andy Williams. But, if you look at the Top 100 for 1965 you find the Top Eleven included 4 British bands with 2 genius groups, (The Stones and The Beatles), 2 Soul genius groups (Temptations and Four Tops), “Lovin Feeling” by the Righteous Brothers, “Help Me Rhonda” by the Beach Boys, and “Wooly Bully” was #1… need I say more? – OK so Herman’s Hermits were in there and number 12 was “King of the Road” but, who’s counting?
And if you by any chance missed that transition you also were probably destined to miss “The Sixties” and all that meant and means socially, artistically, and politically.
My sister Kay graduated from high school in ’59 – I in ’62; As she went through college and to Vietnam as one of the first Army nurses, she had firmly moved on from R&R to Andy Williams, Ferante & Teicher, Steve Lawrence, Robert Goulet, Pat Boone, FRANK, The Lettermen, Henry Mancini, Percy Faith and the soft sounds of innumerable silken singers and classical music. She was mad about a pianist named Van Cliburn. In those 3 years between us was a musical gulf as big as the Ritz. I suspect Kay never danced to Satisfaction nor owned an Eric Clapton tape.
In 1963 I had begun the weaning process from the decaying R&R as High Fidelity and Dave Brubeck/Paul Desmond made jazz accessible and stupendously listenable ( I was a campus radio DJ for a 2 hour, late night, jazz show in late 1964) BUT was jerked back by this intersection of three forces
- British Bands playing US Blues,
- Bob Dylan bringing serious topics, folk sensibilities, and a disdain for superficiality,
- and The Beatles/George Martin supreme creativity
In 1965 this intersection bloomed with the new generation represented in the Top 100 by not just the aforesaid but also Yardbirds (Clapton & Beck & Manfred Mann), Moody Blues, Byrds, Marvin Gaye, Sonny & Cher, The Supremes, The Animals, Smoky Robinson, James Brown, 3 Dylan covers, and Bob himself with “Like a Rolling Stone”. It was also the year of the last “commercial pop” album by The Beatles “Help”, and the “major step forward in maturity and complexity…which embraced deeper aspects of romance and philosophy” (and lots of pot) which was “Rubber Soul”. It was also the year Dylan created a scandal at Newport and his first electric album. Also Ken Keysey’s first “Acid Tests” with The Warlocks playing…which takes us back to standing in line at the little theatre at Santa Clara University.
This ends Part 1…it’s a lot more info than I imagined and I got no work done on it in Russia, A’dam, or SF Bay
…stay tuned, if you enjoy, for in my room, gentle on my mind, Bangkok 1967, Stanyon Street 1968, the Airplane, The Matrix, The Family Dog, Otis Redding in VN, guitar lessons, Pete, me, Joan Baez, Jim Murphy guitar, Kathy, While My Guitar Gently Weeps, and my Top 10 Live Concerts of my experience (so far)