Allan Pepper and Stanley Snadowsky opened their 400-seat room, The Bottom Line, on February 12, 1974 with two shows headlined by Dr. John. Neither a dance club nor a hipster lounge, “The Bottom Line put musicians in front of audiences who came for no other reason than to pay attention to the music.” (Jon Pareles, The New York Times, 1.26.2004)

Lou Reed live at the Bottom Line (1983)

Lou Reed live at the Bottom Line (1983)

The Cars, the Police, Dire Straits, DEVO, Elvis Costello & the Attractions, Tom Petty & the Heartbreakers all played The Bottom Line in their early careers. In August 1975, Bruce Springsteen & the E Street Band played ten shows over five nights to launch Springsteen’s career-making album Born To Run. The Bottom Line presented major artists in every non-classical genre including country (Tammy Wynette, Dolly Parton), jazz (Bill Evans, Charles Mingus), folk (Joan Baez, David Bromberg), and blues (Muddy Waters, Stevie Ray Vaughan).

After Stanley Snadowsky moved to Las Vegas in 1992, Allan Pepper continued to operate The Bottom Line. Later he engaged in protracted but ultimately unsuccessful lease negotiations with the club’s landlord, New York University. The last show was a various-artists tribute to Woody Guthrie held January 10, 2004; The Bottom Line closed January 22, less than one month shy of its thirtieth anniversary. The building now houses NYU classrooms.

Studio A3 at The Hit Factory (NYC)

The Hit Factory: Studio A-3

Songwriter/producer Jerry Ragovoy (“Piece of My Heart”) opened the original Hit Factory recording studio in 1968 on West 48th Street near Broadway. He later relocated to a converted duplex apartment at 353 West 48th Street, where a winding staircase served as an echo chamber. In March 1975, Ed Germano bought the Hit Factory and eventually moved it to 237 West 54th Street. One of the new room’s first important clients was Stevie Wonder, who recorded “Sir Duke” for his multi-platinum 1976 album Songs in the Key of Life.

In 1991, Ed Germano bought a nearly 100,000-square-foot building at 421 West 54th Street and opened a new Hit Factory in which each of five dedicated floors housed a separate recording studio: Studio 1, on the top floor, could accommodate a 60-piece orchestra. The building also housed the affiliated Hit Factory Mastering; a fully equipped gym with steam room; and the studio’s executive offices, storage areas, and tape library. The Hit Factory attracted a steady stream of major artists ranging from Tony Bennett and Bruce Springsteen to Madonna and 50 Cent. In 1994, the studio made musical history with 41 Grammy Award nominations for songs recorded, mixed and/or mastered at its facilities.

After Ed Germano died in February 2003, his widow and company CFO Janice Germano took over studio operations until the Hit Factory closed in March 2005. The West 54th Street complex was sold for an undisclosed amount (reportedly as high as $20 million) and converted into condominiums that were marketed with the slogan “Live in the House That Rock Built.”

The original Gaslight Cafe, located below The Kettle of Fish.

The original Gaslight Cafe, located below The Kettle of Fish.

John Mitchell opened the Gaslight Café in 1958 in a grimy converted coal cellar under a bar, The Kettle of Fish. According to legend, the very low ceiling made it impossible to stand upright in the room so the owner lowered the dirt floor by shoveling it out himself. A combative and determined man, Mitchell played a crucial role in establishing the coffee house as a Greenwich Village countercultural institution and made the Gaslight a showcase for poets and monologists. In 1961, he sold the 110-capacity club to former Mississippi lumber salesman Clarence Hood (whose son Sam later joined his father in the operation) and the entertainment changed to folk music—which could play on until dawn, since the Gaslight served no alcohol.

Bob Dylan began performing at the Gaslight in June 1961, and there he premiered “Masters of War” and “A Hard Rain’s a-Gonna Fall.” Dave Van Ronk, Mississippi John Hurt, Reverend Gary Davis, Son House, Doc Watson, Ramblin’ Jack Elliott, Jose Feliciano, John Hammond Jr., and Richie Havens all played the club. The Gaslight closed in 1967 but reopened a year later under new owner Ed Simon; it shut down for good in 1971. The limited edition Bob Dylan album, Live at the Gaslight 1962, was released in 2005.

Electric Circus impresario Jerry Brandt

Electric Circus impresario Jerry Brandt

Beginning in the 1920s, 19-25 St. Mark’s Place was the site of the Polish National Home. In the second-floor space called The Dom, Andy Warhol staged his Exploding Plastic Inevitable with the Velvet Underground in April 1966. Former William Morris talent agent Jerry Brandt acquired the lease and opened the Electric Circus early in the summer of 1967.

Brandt tamed the wilder experimental edges of the Exploding Plastic Inevitable for mass consumption. He hyped his non-alcoholic club as “the ultimate legal experience”—a dizzying immersive environment combining sound, lights, visual projections, and performance elements like a trapeze artist and a resident astrologer. Progressive Architecture described the club as having “a little of the look of a high-school gym, transformed beyond the wildest dreams of the prom committee.” Electric Circus headliners included The Seeds, the Chambers Brothers, Sly & the Family Stone, the Sun Ra Arkestra, Ike & Tina Turner, the Grateful Dead, and avant-garde composers Terry Riley and John Cage.

Crime, hard drug use, and political tension were rising in the East Village when, on March 22, 1970, a bomb exploded in the Electric Circus and injured fifteen people; the club closed for good in August 1971. The interior was demolished by 2003 and remodeled into commercial space for Chinese and Mexican restaurants and, briefly, a CBGB retail store.

Designed by Henry J. Hardenburgh and completed in 1884, the Dakota apartment building combined elements of German Gothic, French Renaissance, and English Victorian architecture in its distinctive construction. The Dakota has been home to many people in the creative arts including actress Lauren Bacall and classical composer/conductor Leonard Bernstein; and filmmaker Albert Maysles, co-director of the 1970 Rolling Stones documentary Gimme Shelter. Roberta Flack, Sting, Bono, and Paul Simon have all lived at the Dakota, but in 1980 Billy Joel was turned down by the co-op board in his efforts to purchase an apartment. The Dakota, which was added to the National Register of Historic Places in 1972, is referenced in songs by Nas (“Thief’s Theme’), Tim Curry (“I Do the Rock”), and Hole (“2 Years in the Dakota”).

In 1973, John Lennon and Yoko Ono moved into a large apartment in the Dakota; their son Sean was born there two years later. On the night of December 8, 1980, the couple was walking into the building’s 72nd Street entrance when Lennon was shot four times by Mark David Chapman. The former Beatle was rushed to Roosevelt Hospital where he was pronounced dead at 11:07 p.m. Yoko Ono still resides in the Dakota.

A 3,500-seat movie and vaudeville theater opened in 1927, the Academy of Music hosted early U.S. appearances by the Rolling Stones and the Dave Clark 5. In 1971, promoter Howard Stein began producing concerts at the aging movie house including Roxy Music, Black Sabbath, and Lou Reed (whose December 21, 1973 show was released as Rock ‘N’ Roll Animal). Two of Stein’s most memorable New Year’s Eve shows were headlined by The Band in 1971 (released as Rock of Ages); and by Blue Öyster Cult in 1973, supported by the Stooges and KISS.

In 1976, the theater’s name was changed to The Palladium but it remained an important rock venue for the next nine years. Frank Zappa’s Halloween shows became a fall tradition, and the Clash made their New York debut at the Palladium in February 1979. In 1985, Studio 54 founder Steve Rubell transformed the theater into the city’s leading disco featuring top DJs like Junior Vasequez as well as sporadic live shows by dance-oriented acts like James Brown and Was (Not Was). The Palladium closed in August 1997 following the sale of the building to New York University; it was subsequently demolished for the construction of a residence hall, also called Palladium.

Erected in 1914, Irving Plaza was both a vaudeville theater and a meeting place for labor unions and political groups. The Polish Army Veterans Association of America purchased the building in 1948 and named it “Dom Weterana” or “Home of the Veteran.” The success of independently produced shows like “New Wave Vaudeville” in 1978 led brothers Miles and Ian Copeland to mount shows with Iggy Pop, the Police, the Cramps, and Siouxsie & the Banshees, all in 1979. During the Eighties, Chris Williamson’s company Rock Hotel produced many hardcore punk and metal gigs at the 1,000-capacity venue.

The increasingly rundown four-story building was revived in 1990 when new lease¬holder Andrew Rasiej brought in a long-running musical, Song of Singapore. In 1991, Rasiej and soon-to-be-partner Bill Brusca began promoting concerts at Irving including appearances by the Dave Matthews Band, U2, and Eric Clapton. In 1997, Irving Plaza Concerts Inc. was sold to veteran New York promoter Ron Delsener. In 2007, Rasiej sold the business once again, this time to Live Nation, and the venue was renamed “The Fillmore New York at Irving Plaza.” Bob Dylan, Johnny Cash, and Prince all have played Irving Plaza; so have Marilyn Manson, Nine Inch Nails, White Stripes, Wu-Tang Clan, Jewel, Sheryl Crow, the Cure, and Oasis.

The St. Nicholas Rink opened in 1896 as a members-only skating club. In 1906, it became the St. Nicholas Arena and opened up to professional boxing: Jack Johnson, Rocky Graziano, and Cassius Clay a/k/a Muhammad Ali all fought there. On January 14-15, 1955, the pioneering disc jockey Alan Freed hosted his first New York rock & roll shows at the St. Nicholas Arena. The concerts, both of which sold out the 6,000-capacity venue in advance at $2.00 per ticket, featured an all-Black roster of performers including Fats Domino, Clyde McPatter & the Drifters, Ruth Brown, the Moonglows, the Clovers, the Harptones, Charles Brown, and Big Joe Turner.

Based on his previous three years’ experience of promoting such events, Free wasn’t surprised by the SRO crowds. But as John A. Jackson wrote in his 1991 biography Big Beat Heat: Alan Freed and the Early Years of Rock & Roll, “what made the deejay’s St. Nicholas dance a milestone in the acceptance of rock & roll was the racial composition of the audience, which was estimated to have been half white—the first such documented ratio.” Alan Freed soon moved his rock & roll revues to other stages; the St. Nicholas Arena was demolished in the 1980s for construction of new offices for the ABC television network.

April 15, 2009

Archives, Gigs

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Solomon Burke at Jazz Festival Wien (Austria) in 2008

Solomon Burke at Jazz Festival Wien (Austria) in 2008

In this performance at B.B. King’s in Times Square, Solomon Burke proved beyond doubt that — at 64, after more than 50 years on stage — he is still one of the great American singers. Even if he held  his stentorian vocal power in reserve, those moments when he chose to unleash it (cf. the final phrases of Ton Waits’ “Always Keep a Diamond in Your Mind”) were awe-inspiring. I was saddened to see Solomon brought on stage in a wheelchair; he must weigh close to 400 pounds (and he’s not tall). But I marveled at how, from a seated position, he was able to hold the crowd’s full attention and to maintain total control over the proceedings.

Unfortunately, Solomon’s still-formidable chops and wily showman’s skills were not always enough to overcome the shortcomings of his band. I realized how accustomed I’d become to seeing him backed by the Uptown Horns—and the band he had at B.B. King’s made the Uptown Horns sound like King Curtis & the Kingpins circa 1967. The playing was “tight” and “professional” but also slick, superficial and not very soulful with the possible exception of “Rudy” on Hammond B-3. The presence of a woman playing the harp (not the Little Walter kind) was as irritating as it was inexplicable.

Another source of frustration was the choice of material. For me, Solomon was at his best whenever he sang an actual Solomon Burke record, be it “Diamond in Your Mind” or “Soul Searchin'” from 2002 or “Down in the Valley” from 1962 I even enjoyed the over-familiar ballad medley (“If You Need Me”/”Tonight’s The Night”/”He’ll Have to Go”/etc.) that has been a staple of his show for at least a quarter-century; after all, these were some of the biggest and best-loved songs of his Sixties career. The “Soul Clan Medley” was nice too, a fitting tribute even though it omitted anything by SC charter member Joe Tex.

But a good part of the set was devoted to the best-known songs of other soul singers: “A Change is Gonna Come” and “Havin’ a Party” by Sam Cooke or “I Got a Woman” and “Georgia” by Ray Charles. At these moments, the show became something of a K-Tel genre exercise: Solomon Burke Sings Soul Songs Every White Person Knows By Heart. But Solomon Burke fans can pull from our own record collections twenty great Solomon Burke songs (several written or co-written by him) that we may never hear Solomon Burke sing on stage: “It’s Been a Change,” “Detroit City,” “I Wish I Knew (How It Would Feel to Be Free),” etc. And in Solomon’s hands, with his voice and presence, I’m certain those songs would have proved just as captivating to the B.B. King’s audience as his very broad and rather hollow rendition of “A Change is Gonna Come.” (As for his daughter Candy’s rendition of “I Will Survive”—the less said, the better.)

Despite these criticisms, it was just great to “see Solomon be Solomon” and still in such vital command of his unique singing and performing abilities. Just for “Don’t Give Up On Me” and that brief closing benediction, it was worth the trip to Times Square and the Port Authority Music Terminal B.B. King’s.

Born January 1, 1925 – New York, NY
Died October 27, 2002 – Aventura, FL

Tom Dowd At The Controls

Dowd At The Controls

“Sometimes,” Ahmet Ertegun once said, “the guy who brings the coffee produces the session.” At the Atlantic Records of Ahmet Ertegun and Jerry Wexler, such creative serendipity often balanced precariously on the narrow but sturdy shoulders of Tom Dowd. One of the most gifted and innovative engineer/producers in recording history, he died October 27, 2002 at a nursing home in Aventura, Florida after a prolonged respiratory illness.

A youthful prodigy in physics and electronics, the New York City native graduated Stuyvesant High School at age 16 (my father, Howard Schwartz, graduated from the same school at the same age) and attended City College of New York before being drafted into the Army in 1942. Instead of being shipped overseas, Dowd was able to continue his work and studies in the physics labs of Columbia University as part of the US government-sponsored task force known as the Manhattan Project in the development of the atomic bomb. Dowd was also a trained musician (violin, piano, string bass, sousaphone) who performed with the Columbia band and orchestra. His horror at the destruction of Hiroshima and Nagasaki in 1945 is said to have led him to abandon nuclear physics and enter the recording field.

Beginning circa 1948, Tom toiled in various small New York studios recording everything from radio adverts to groundbreaking jazz dates with Dizzy Gillespie and Charlie Parker. The Guinness Encyclopedia of Popular Music credits him with engineering the first stereo album, by the Wilbur De Paris Dixieland Band, “which required customized equipment, including two needles, to play it.” Dowd joined Atlantic as a full-time employee in 1954 (about a year after Jerry Wexler), when the label’s New York office still sometimes doubled as its recording studio. He became, in Wexler’s words, “the architect of the Atlantic sound,” bringing an unparalleled clarity and concision to the recording of r&b and jazz.

“Tom pushed those pots [volume controls] like a painter sorting colors,” wrote Wexler in his 1993 autobiography Rhythm and The Blues,  co-authored with David Ritz. “He turned microphone placement into an art…When it came to sound, he displayed an exquisite sensitivity.”

In an October 1999 interview for MIX magazine, Dowd noted that “in February of ’58, the first [Atlantic] session on 8-track was Lavern Baker. Within the next 90 days, I went through Bobby Darin, the Coasters, Charlie Mingus, Ray Charles…I would be sitting in the studio doing the Coasters at 2 o’clock in the afternoon with Mike [Stoller] and Jerry [Leiber]. Ahmet would call me up and say, ‘Ten o’clock tonight, we’re going to do Mingus.’ You want culture shock? Go from the Coasters to Charlie Mingus in ten hours!” Dowd designed Atlantic’s first 8-track studio on West 60th Street in 1959 and began recording there the following year.

In 1963, on his first visit to Stax Records in Memphis, Tom performed emergency repairs on the label’s archaic mono equipment and the next day cut Rufus Thomas on “Walkin’ The Dog.” Two years later, in July 1965, Dowd installed the first two-track stereo tape recorder at Stax, then broke in the new setup by recording Otis Redding’s entire Otis Blue album in two marathon sessions within 24 hours.

During his Atlantic years, Tom Dowd engineered landmark sessions by John Coltrane (including “Giant Steps” and “My Favorite Things”), Modern Jazz Quartet, Ornette Coleman, Charles Mingus, Aretha Franklin, Wilson Pickett, the (Young) Rascals, Dusty Springfield (including Dusty In Memphis), and Cream (including Disraeli Gears, which “was finished in one weekend” according to Eric Clapton). Some less celebrated albums from his immense Atlantic discography include The Fantastic Jazz Harp of Dorothy Ashby, Suddenly the Blues by Leo Wright, Cher’s 3614 Jackson Highway, Latin Bugalu by Charlie Palmieri, Blues From The Gutter by Champion Jack Dupree, and High On The Hog by Black Oak Arkansas. Dowd was never admitted to the Atlantic partnership and did not share in the rewards from the $17 million sale of the label in 1967. He remained a high-salaried employee until the mid-Seventies, when he left Atlantic to pursue independent production.

Musicians loved him for his great patience, his peerless technical ability, and his total dedication to the task at hand. It was Tom Dowd who introduced Duane Allman to Eric Clapton, and who a short time later produced Derek & the Dominoes’ 1970 double album Layla, And Other Assorted Love Songs. The Dowd/Clapton partnership persisted into the Eighties through such albums as 461 Ocean Boulevard, EC Was Here, and Money and Cigarettes.

“For better or worse, the strength of [Layla] rested almost entirely on Tom’s faith in me,” wrote Eric Clapton in an essay published on the occasion of NARAS (the Grammy organization) presenting Dowd with its 2002 Trustees Award. “I had no finished songs, no real concept or idea of where I was going, nothing but an abstract burning passion for live, spontaneous music.”

“On top of everything else, I refused to make the record under my own name, and was developing a powerful drink and drug problem – not a great position for any record producer to be placed in, but Tom pulled it off. He saw the potential and exercised the most incredible patience in getting through the obstacles that I would constantly place in front of him. It’s little wonder that I eventually came to look on him as a father figure.”

Dowd formed a similar long-lasting bond with another gifted but troubled musician, Gregg Allman, beginning in 1970 when Tom produced the Allman Brothers Band’s second album Idlewild South. Producer and group soldiered on through four more LPs, including the classic 1971 live double At Fillmore East. The band split in 1980, then regrouped nine years later—and Dowd took the controls once again for a pair of live sets and three more studio albums. (Where It All Begins, from 1994, ranks with the ABB’s best post-Duane Allman recordings.) Their final, touching reunion came September 13, 2002 when Tom—now using a wheelchair and and an oxygen tank—attended an Allman Brothers Band performance in West Palm Beach, Florida.

A less affectionate but even more lucrative affiliation was with Lynyrd Skynyrd for the albums Gimme Back My Bullets, One More From the Road, and the original band’s final testament Street Survivors. Dowd also made numerous dully-professional albums with the likes of Rod Stewart, Meat Loaf, and Chicago. But in his last professional decade, working with the Allmans, Primal Scream, and Joe Bonamassa, Tom returned to the forceful, blues-based electric music that he had helped bring to prominence twenty years before.

As an album producer, Tom Dowd shared in other people’s Grammy Awards like Allmans’ 1995 win for Best Rock Instrumental Performance. Incredibly, Dowd never won his own Grammy Award in the Producer and/or Engineering categories. His only elective Grammy, for Best Album Notes of 1992, was earned for his contribution to the liner booklet for the Aretha Franklin box set Queen Of Soul – The Atlantic Recordings—an award he shared with six other contributors. Ten years later, in a belated attempt to correct this gross oversight, NARAS presented Tom with both a Lifetime Achievement Grammy and the Trustees Award. He was also the subject of the 2003 documentary film, Tom Dowd and the Language of Music, directed by Mark Moormann.

“There is a tribe of musicians, spread all over the world, who have been fostered and nurtured by Tom Dowd,” wrote Eric Clapton. “We know who we are, and we are proud of who we are, but most of all, we are proud of him. I am honored and privileged to be one of them.”