In the summer of 2008, I was hired as a contributing writer in the creation of The Rock Annex, described by Ben Sisario in The New York Times as “a smaller, quicker offshoot” of the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame and Museum in Cleveland OH. The Annex occupied a 25,000-square foot space beneath an Old Navy store at 76 Mercer Street in Manhattan’s Soho district.
For the Annex project, I wrote the text panels introducing each thematic section: “Roots and Influences,” “Moments to Movements,” etc. I created some captions for specific exhibits or artifacts. I also researched and wrote the descriptions for “New York Rocks,” a 26-foot long scale model of Manhattan identifying the location of two dozen different historic music sites. The Annex was slickly designed and built to a high professional standard by operating partner Running Subways. There were special exhibits dedicated to The Clash (where it was nice to see an old issue of my former magazine New York Rocker on loan “from the collection of Mick Jones”) and to “John Lennon: The New York City Years.”
The Rock Annex opened in late November 2009 with considerable fanfare. I attended the gala opening party, held in a vast Soho loft where corporate sponsors proffered freebies ranging from vodka shots to makeovers, with live performances by Dave Mason and Blondie’s Chris Stein & Deborah Harry.
This was less than three months after Lehman Brothers filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy, plunging the US economy into its worst crisis since the Great Depression (and far from over, at this writing). Meanwhile, a ticket to the Rock Annex cost $26.50 — at that time, more than the Museum of Modern Art. There was a gift shop, but no screening room or performance/lecture space in which to hold ancillary events. The Rock Annex closed January 3, 2010 after just over a year in operation. The artifacts were returned either to Cleveland or to private collector who had loaned them; the exhibit components, including my text panels, were sold at auction a few months later.
Before the closing, I returned to the Annex in late December 2009 with my good friends Doug Milford and Eliot Hubbard–and with permission to photograph all but the John Lennon exhibit, in order to have a visual record of my work. Doug Milford shot the photographs posted below, and I thank him for his invaluable contribution to this post.
The premier country music venue in New York, the Texas-themed Lone Star Café opened in February 1976 and was recognizable for many blocks by the 40-foot sculpture of a spiny iguana (created by artist Bob “Daddy-O” Wade) that sat on the roof of the building. In the narrow, rectangular interior, a winding staircase at one side of the low stage led to additional seating in the balcony where patrons craned their necks for a better view of the show.
Willie Nelson and Roy Orbison made their first New York appearance in many years at the Lone Star, in 1979 and 1981 respectively. John Belushi and Dan Akroyd debuted there as the Blues Brothers in 1977. Other Lone Star headliners included Carl Perkins, Delbert McClinton, Memphis Slim, Bobby Bare, Roy Buchanan, Jerry Jeff Walker, Albert Collins, Irma Thomas, and Ernest Tubb. Singer/songwriter and 2006 Texas gubernatorial candidate Kinky Friedman was long-running attraction, and his 1987 detective novel A Case of Lone Star is set in the milieu of the club.
When the Lone Star Café closed in April 1989, owner Mort Cooperman already had opened the larger Lone Star Roadhouse at 240 West 52nd Street. The scene of Garth Brooks’ first New York appearance, it was shuttered circa 1992.
The West Village rock club Generation was a favorite hangout and jamming spot for Jimi Hendrix. When it closed after six months in the fall of 1968, Hendrix and his manager Michael Jeffery bought Generation and hired Jim Marron to oversee its remodeling. Marron soon convinced his clients to create “a recording studio that was like a nightclub, in that it could be a place that Jimi could entertain his friends—you could do private parties—but it would be a non-public club, one that was fully wired [for] multi-track recording.”
Construction was prolonged and costly but Hendrix began recording at Electric Lady weeks before the official opening party on August 25, 1970. This event marked the last time Jimi Hendrix set foot in Electric Lady. Immediately afterwards, the guitarist flew to England to appear at the Isle of Wight festival; he died in London less than a month later, on September 18.
The loss of the studio’s inspirational figurehead was followed, in later years, by floods, fires, and ill-conceived renovations. Yet by 2008, Electric Lady had survived all of its major competitors to become New York’s longest-running major recording facility. Albums recorded entirely or in part at Electric Lady include Cry of Love (Jimi Hendrix), Led Zeppelin III, Some Girls (Rolling Stones), Voodoo (D’Angelo), Horses (Patti Smith), Talking Book (Stevie Wonder), and Shaman (Santana).
The world’s most famous rock club opened in December, 1973 when musician/actor/nightclub manager/concert impresario Hilly Kristal took over the decrepit Palace Bar and christened it CBGB & OMFUG (Country, Blue Grass, Blues & Other Music For Uplifting Gourmandizers). Beginning in early 1974, as Richard Hell later wrote, CBGB “housed the most influential cluster of bands ever to grow up — or to implicitly reject the concept of growing up — under one roof,” including Blondie, the Dead Boys, the Dictators, the Heartbreakers (with Johnny Thunders), Richard Hell & the Voidoids, the Ramones, Suicide, Talking Heads, and Television.
Tens of thousands of performers—from multi-platinum rockers Pearl Jam and Guns ‘N Roses to country superstar Alan Jackson—played CBGB until October 15, 2006, when the club closed for good following a protracted rent dispute. The Patti Smith Group headlined the last show, and PSG guitarist Lenny Kaye told the NY Times: “When I go into a rock club in Helsinki or London or Des Moines, it feels like CBGB to me there. The message from this tiny little Bowery bar has gone around the world. It has authenticated the rock experience wherever it has landed.” Hilly Kristal died August 28, 2007 at age 75 from complications of lung cancer. In April 2008, designer John Varvatos opened a boutique in the former CBGB.
Harold S. “Nappy” Grossbardt and his partner Sidney Turk founded Colony Records in 1948 after Grossbardt’s former employer, Colony Sporting Goods, went out of business at Broadway and West 52nd Street. The store’s extended hours and prime location made it popular with musicians, theatergoers, and nightclub patrons. In 1970, Colony moved to the Brill Building, at 1619 Broadway, where it continues to do a brisk business in the sale of sheet music, soundtracks, and Broadway memorabilia.
The Brill Building was erected in 1931 and named for the Brill Brothers clothing store that occupied its corner retail space. During the Depression, a paucity of commercial tenants forced the owners to rent space to music publishers, and by 1962 the Brill Building’s eleven floors housed an estimated 165 music businesses. These included record labels and small recording studios, but most of the offices were occupied by songwriters and publishing firms including Hill & Range, Arc Music, and Jerry Leiber and Mike Stoller’s Trio Music; and composers Neil Diamond, Jeff Barry & Ellie Greenwich, Doc Pomus & Mort Shuman, and Burt Bacharach & Hal David. The Dixie Cups’ “Chapel of Love,” The Drifters’ “This Magic Moment,” and “Don’t Make Me Over” by Dionne Warwick are among the many pop classics that represent the Brill Building scene at its early-Sixties peak.
When the American Federation of Musicians moved its union offices to 50th Street and Sixth Avenue, the time was right for saxophone salesman Manny Goldrich to open Manny’s Music on West 48th Street in 1935. Manny’s quickly became the instrument retailer of choice for the many musicians who filled the ranks of the big bands and Broadway show orchestras. The arrival of the Beatles and the soaring popularity of the guitar (acoustic and electric) further enhanced Manny’s reputation. Jimi Hendrix, Pete Townsend, and the Beatles all patronized the shop; 14-year-old Paul Simon accompanied his father to Manny’s to pick out his first guitar. After Manny Goldrich died in 1964, ownership of the store passed to his son Henry Goldrich (co-author of The Wall of Fame: New York City’s Legendary Manny’s Music) and then to Henry’s two sons in 1998; the following year, the 20,000-square-foot store was sold to its long-time West 48th Street competitor, Sam Ash Music. It continues to operate under its original name, its walls still papered with hundreds of photos autographed by everyone from Count Basie to Madonna. “Manny’s was a place where you could almost feel the spirit of those musicians whose photos adorned the walls,” said Carlos Santana. “I treasure my experiences in this wonderful place.”
The fourth Manhattan building to be known as Madison Square Garden opened February 11, 1968 with a “Salute to the USO” concert starring Bing Crosby and Bob Hope. Rock and roll arrived November 27-28 when the Rolling Stones headlined two sold-out shows at the 19,000-capacity venue. Jimi Hendrix, Janis Joplin, and Elvis Presley all performed at MSG; indeed, Presley’s four shows in June 1972 were his first and only New York performances. Every former Beatle has played The Garden: George Harrison and Ringo Starr at The Concert For Bangladesh in 1971; John Lennon as the surprise guest of Elton John in 1974 (Lennon’s last live performance); and Paul McCartney as recently as 2005. The last concert ever completed by Bob Marley & the Wailers took place at The Garden on September 20, 1980.
In 2008, Billy Joel held the record for the most number of shows performed in a single MSG run (eleven, in 2006). But close behind him are Bruce Springsteen (ten shows, 2002) and the Grateful Dead (nine shows, first in 1988 and again in 1991. On March 25, 2007, Elton John celebrated his 60th birthday by playing the sixtieth MSG show of his career—and setting a new record for the most appearances by any artist or group at “The World’s Most Famous Arena.”
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)
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.
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.”
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.