Thursday, March 22, 2018

Atlantic City Concerts - Summer 2018

Top Upcoming Atlantic City Concerts – Summer of 2018
1)     Saturday 14 April – Englebert Humperdinck – Golden Nugget
2)     Saturday 5 May - Paul Anka – Golden Nugget
3)     Saturday 12 May – Jackson Browne – Borgata
4)     Friday 25 May – John Fogerty and ZZ Top – Borgata
5)     Sunday 27 May – Kenny Logins – Borgata
6)     Saturday 2 June – Sir Ringo Starr and His All-Star Band – Borgata
7)     Saturday – 9 June – Three Dog Night – Trump / Righteous Brothers – Borgata
8)     Saturday – 16 June – Boz Scaggs – Trump
9)     Saturday 23 June – Stephen Stills and Judy Collins – Trop
10)  Wednesday 27 June – Bobby Rydell – Caesars

Sunday 15 July – Huey Lewis and the News – Borgat
Thursday 19 July and Friday 20 July and Saturday 21 July - Britney Spears – Borgata
Friday 3 August – Yanni – Borgata
Saturday 4 August – Rod Stewart and Cyndi Lauper – Boardwalk Hall
 Sunday 2 September – Earth, Wind and Fire – Borgata
Saturday 15 September – Jefferson Starship – Tropicana

Tuesday, May 30, 2017

Dreaming of George McGonigle

I had a dream that I went to Gregory's bar in Somers Point and George McGonigle was bartending and I took a selfie photo of him with my camera.

And then I found this among my old photos, I think my brother Leo took this in the late 1970s

Dreamin' of you George, you old rascal.

Tuesday, May 23, 2017

Herb "Bubba Mac" Birch RIP

Herb "Bubba Mac" Birch - RIP

Herb "Bubba Mac" and Carmen Marotta
Two Jersey Shore Music Heavyweights

By William Kelly

It was at the Tony Marts All-Stars concert on the Somers Point beach last summer (2016) when I was approached by a hesitant young kid who asked me if I was Bubba Mac.

"No," I said to the clearly disappointed kid, "but if you follow me I'll introduce you to The Man himself," and his face lit up and he followed me to the stage where Bubba was standing with Carmen Marotta, son of the legendary Tony Mart and primary promoter of the Point beach concert series, now in its 25th season.

While I somewhat resemble Herb Birch with now white hair and beard and we are about the same height, he was older, wiser and richer than me by a long shot.

We shook hands and he gave me a big biker hug and I said hello to Carmen and Herb's son Mac, and then introduced him to the kid who wanted to meet Bubba Mac.

Herb didn't look too good, as he was on oxygen, but played his guitar and sang in his distinctive voice and put on a great show with the other Tony Marts All Stars.

So it was with much dismay that I learned of his recent death.

In retrospect - I recall when he first came to town in the late 1990s, buying a house in Ocean City and frequenting the Point, looking to put a band together.

Having sold his Maryland medical services company for millions, he had deep pockets and money to spend.

First he put a band together - one with a blues bent that consisted of him and his good friend Ritchie Baker on guitars, and brought in the best local talent money could buy - including guitarist Danny Eyer, Lew  London on fiddle, Chris Sooy on piano, and rounded it out with Charlie Winters on harp and vocalist Terri Showers.

Then he needed a place to play, and sat down with Randy Scarborough, whose bar/restaurant was up for lease. Randy's father had pretty much built Cherry Hill as a suburb of Camden, and Randy, being a racing sailor, bought the bayside land at the north end of Bay Avenue, erecting upscale townhouses that came with boat slips. He also built a large restaurant, got a liquor license and leased it out to the son of the president of an Atlantic City casino they called Markers - as in ship markers.

It was an upscale carpet joint in a shot and beer drinking town with a fishing problem, and it served the people with money - no riff raff. But after five years, someone new tried something different - a Friday's type place that didn't work for long. But Bubba had his own ideas and Randy handed the keys over to him in 2000and Herb opened the Bubba Mac Shack - a mid-scale barbecue and beer joint with live music - featuring The Bubba Mac Blues Band. And the Riff Raff were welcome.

Somers Point hadn't seen such a big place since Bay Shores and Tony Marts bit the dust in the late 1980s. With two stages - the first up front in the main bar, and he built a new large wood stage out back that had a dance floor and balcony, the Shack had four bars - one outside overlooking the bayside boat slips - and you could arrive by boat as transient slips led right to the bar.

Besides his own really terrific band - CDs are still available, Herb hooked up with Carmen Marotta and Jerry Blavat - the Geater with the Heater - the Boss with the Hot Sauce, who spun the oldies but goodies on dance night. Carmen introduced Herb to a lot of great talent that played the Shack's main stage over the years - blues harp man the late great James Cotton, Hubert Simkin - Howlin' Wolf's legendary guitarist, drummer Levon Helm from The Band and Bill Haley's Original Comets, who made a Labor Day weekend performance a regular gig for years.

Sunday afternoons were particularly popular as Herb gave the main stage to local talent Jackie Major, whose band was solid and visiting guests really jammed.

Herb "Bubba Mac" Birch brought a rush of fresh air to the Point and brought back the great music the  town was know for in its heyday glory years, something no one believed would happen.

Now I don't know what happened, but from what I understand, it was the neighbor's complaints that did the Shack in, as some of the people who lived nearby didn't appreciate the music or noise that came out of the Shack until two in the morning - something the Point was known for. You don't buy a house next to an airport and complain about the planes.

So Randy, shortly before he died, let Herb finish out his lease and then sold off the liquor license and tore the building down - a parting shot if ever there was one.

But Herb kept the band together, opened another Bubba Mac Shack on the Ocean City boardwalk, and kept plugging the blues - sponsoring a fantastic two day Blues Fest at the big baseball field - Bernie Robbins Stadium in Atlantic City - the last time I saw Woody and the late Carol Stone - founders of the Cape May Jazz Festival.

And now Herb - Bubba Mac Birch is gone too, leaving us with his big smile and a lot of great memories of the music he brought to town - the Music Man.

Bubba Mac and Jerry Blavat - TGWTH-TBWTHS

Levon Helm on drums and Bubba at the Mic at the Old Shack

Bruce Aydelotte's photos of Levon at the Shack - Circa 2001

Sunday, January 15, 2017

Robbie Robertson Remembers Tony Marts - The Summer of 1965

Image result for Robbie Robertson     Image result for Tony Marts

Robbie Robertson – from the autobiography Testimony (2016)  – Chapter 12 p. 158

IN THE SUMMER of 1965 we had booked a gig at Tony Mart’s big dance club in Somers Point, New Jersey. Tony’s was a hot spot, a popular club that sometimes had three bands playing on separate stages over the course of the evening. A big round bar sat in the middle of the club, handy for a refill no matter where you were standing. Tony himself was an unusual club owner, a real character.

A bit stocky, no-nonsense, and Sicilian born. Anthony Marrota spoke broken English and hardly ever smiled. He ran his “circus” with a strong hand, wandering through the crowds while yelling order at bartenders and bouncers. Every once in a while he’d walk by the center stage we were playing on and call out, “Hey, turna downa the jukebox!” We took this to mean we were playing too loud for an early-evening crowd.

On the first weekend we were there, you could tell the audience was into our type of music. Conway Twitty and some of his original band were in residence too, which was a nice surprise. When we went on, the place came alive. By Saturday night the club was so packed you couldn’t move. Tony Mart pushed his way through the crowd and called up to us, “Hey, turna upa tha jukebox!” and gave a little grin.

After the first two weeks, Tony asked us to come back for two more weeks later in June. It was very unusual for us to play two stands so close together in one spot like that, but we were glad to plant our feet for a while. And lo and behold, our old road manager, Bill Avis, showed up in Somers Point too, managing a band of lesbians calling themselves the Female Beatles.

In between dates in Somers Point, we would head up to New York City to meet with production companies that had seen us play and were interested in signing us. We listened to songs they thought we could record, but none of them really connected….The acoustic folk setting was thriving in New York. You could feel it goring in Toronto’s Yorkville district, but Greenwich Village was the epicenter of this world.

John Hammond (Jr.) asked me to come hear him play at the Gaslight Club. He talked up Dave Van Ronk, Fred Neil and a couple other guys he thought were very soulful folk singers. The Gaslight had a sign out front announcing the next act that would be performing there – Mississippi John Hurt. I told him about our jam with Sonny Boy Williams, and he said, “Sonny Boy one or two?”

One afternoon John came by the Forest Hotel to collect me for a trip downtown to a hip record store,…then he hit the breaks and said, “Oh, man, I forgot something. A friend of mine is recording around the corner and I promised him I would stop by….”

Before long we were on the elevator in the Columbia Records building heading for Studio A. In the control room people were listening to the playback of a song they had just cut. John said hello to a man in round wire-rimmed glasses with shoulder-length grayish hair.

“Robbie, this is the great music manager Albert Grossman,” Sitting in the corner silently was Dion of Dion and the Belmonts. Then John went over and gave a big greeting to his friend who was recording. He turned to introduce me.

“Hey, Bob, this is my guitar-player friend Robbie, from Canada. This is Bob Dylan.”

You could barely see his eyes through the dark glasses he wore, but there was high voltage in the room coming from his persona.

Bob said hello,a nd then to John. “You want to hear something.”

“Yea, I’d love to.”

Bob teased. “You sure you want to hear this? You never heard anything like this before.”

Albert Grossman and the record producer nodded in serious agreement.

“It’s called ‘Like a Rolling Stone,’ Bob said with a little smirk.

Bob was right – I’d never heard anything like this before. The studio lit up with the sound of toughness, humor and originality. It was hard to take it all in on one listen….

By then we’d begun our second stand at Tony Mart’s club in New Jersey, and on our nights off we would slip over to the Wonder Gardens club in Atlantic City, where we caught some of the best jazz-organ combos going. Jimmy Smith played there, and we also saw Brother Jack McDufff, whom Garth appreciated for his unusual style. Shirley Scott, “Queen of the Organ,” was a favorite of mine, with her husband, Stanley Turrentine, on sax. Most of these jazz organizats played a Hammond B2 with bass pedals, which meant they could play a lead part with their right hand on the upper keyboard and chords or counterparts (and sometimes lead) with the left hand on the lower keyboard. At the same time they’d be changing sounds and controlling the speed with both hands while playing the bass part with their feet. The whole thing was a remarkable balancing act. And of course the grove and texture of the B3 was sexy cool. It made you want to order Cutty Shark and soda. Garth played a whole other kind of organ, the incomparable Lowrey. Different sound, different touch all together from the Hammond B3, and you could bend the notes like a horn or guitar, which completely baffled a lot of listeners. So great when Garth would kick into a free-for-all jam by himself, with those bass pedals in full effect. Gave you the shivers.

One night after we finished playing Tony Marts, Garth began telling me about some ideas and effects he was experimenting with. He was always devising new modes of ‘hot rodding’ the Lowrey organ and its Leslie speaker to create brilliant new sonic wonders. As he described his research and discovery approach, most of it went over my head, but the results were undeniable. The sounds that came out of Garth’s keyboards or wind instruments had originality stamped all over them. Garth experimented endlessly, like a Harry Partch or Les Paul. He never stopped wanting to expand on his technical abilities inside or outside the instrument. None of the rest of us Hawks was so inclined. 

Some people wanted to know how a watch works, and other people just want to know what time it is.

Quite regularly on our days off I would head up to New York City, sometimes crashing out with our Canadian pal Mary Martin, who had taken a job working for Albert Grossman’s management company. She was always so supportive and would try to turn us on to new music that was happening, like John Sebastian’s new group, the Lovin’ Spoonful. Sometimes one or two of the other Hawks would join me on these excursions into the city, but it soon became evident that I was the one most drawn to the metropolis….

Of all the groups that played Somers Point in the summer of 1965, Tony Mart’s personal favorite was Levon and the Hawks, though it was sometimes hard to tell whether he like the swampy sound of our music or the ringing of the cash registers.

Towards the end of our stint, our relationship with Tony had grown warm, almost familial. He hired us to finish out the season, which proved ideal for future recording sessions and continued access to the city. Everyone in the band seemed to be in a good place during those days.

The only dark cloud that passed over us that summer (other than the enduring stress of the drug bust in Canada) was when we got word that our dear Sonny Boy Williamson II had passed away from tuberculosis, and that the beautiful dream we had of recording together had died with him.

Soon after I got a message from Albert Grossman’s office, asking me to come up to the city on our next day off to meet with Bob Dylan. I’d only met him briefly with John Hammond when they were recording “Like a Rolling Stone.” I asked the guys if they knew any of Bob’s music. I wasn’t that familiar with it myself, though I remembered a song he’d done a few years back called “Oxford Town.” It rang true, and the tone of his voice really stood out for me. Richard offered that Bob’s record of “Subterranean Homesick Blues” reminded him of Chuck Berry’s “Too Much Monkey Business.”

“Yea,” I said, “That staccato rhythmic phrasing is reminiscent.”

Albert Grossman’s office set up for me to meet with Bob the following Monday. I couldn’t help but wonder what this was all about.

Image result for Robbie Robertson

Image result for Tony Marts

Monday, October 3, 2016

Bruce Springsteen's book Born to Run Reviewed

Image result for born to run bruce springsteen book cover

Born to Run by Bruce Springsteen (Simon & Shuster, 2016)

A review by Bill Kelly 

Bruce Springsteen’s autobiography Born to Run is on the streets.

I didn't stand in line with the other 4,000 fans to get an autographed copy, a selfie and thirty seconds to shake hands and exchange words with the Boss, but if I did I would have told Bruce to get an index, as every serious work of non-fiction should have one.

I wanted to read Springsteen's book for a number of reasons - to see who his ghost writer is, to hear what he has to say about a few particular people, to see if there were any key South Jersey connections and to find any personal associations between my life and his, as we both grew up Jersey Shore Guys at the same time.

But without an index as a search guide I couldn't "research," cut to the chase, cheat or read the Cliff Notes, and would just have to buckle down in the front seat, riding shotgun on the passenger side, and read it, all 510 pages with color photo supplement.

I also wanted to know if this was to be like a Billie Holiday or Howard Hughes imaginative autobio or more like Dylan's (Volume 1), that actually answers some questions and at least tries to get to the heart of things, which in this case cuts close to home.

I didn't have to look far for a South Jersey connection - there on the front cover is Frank Stefano's 1978 black and white photo of Bruce in front of Stefano's Haddonfield home, leaning against his $6,000 1964 Corvette convertible, as if waiting for you to take that long walk from the front porch to his front seat - let the screen door slam, and the trip begin.

As Bruce explains it he met Frank Stefano through Patti Smith, another South Jersey connection, and they're both in the book.

But like Dylan's auto bio it isn't always who you mention but who you leave out, and a few prominent names go unmentioned – like for instance President Obama and Governor Chris Christie, both big fans on opposite ends of the political spectrum. Bruce backed Obama for President, campaigned for him and sang at his inaugural, but like Sinatra and JFK, they apparently had a falling out. It was the other way around with Christie, who gets first row seats to Bruce concerts, but was snubbed by the boss until after hurricane Sandy, when Christie moved beyond party politics and gained Bruce's admiration, however temporary. Both understandable snuffs.

If Dylan is the conscience of our generation, then Bruce is the spirit, and both are the only living contenders to Walt Whitman's title of America's unofficial Poet Laureate. And there's an affinity between them that's quite evident, and there paths would cross down the road a number of times, most notably when Bruce introduced Bob to the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. But they also were at Sinatra’s funeral together and met a number of times privately and Bob probably edges out Bruce on influence and seniority.

The answer to the first question is the Ghost Writer is Bruce himself, and it isn't hard to imagine the person who penned "Blinded by the Light," “Thunder Road,” "Born to Run" and "Spirits in the Night" could write a complete sentence and put the story into words and paragraphs instead of rhymes and rhythms.

“Madman, drummers, bummers, Indians in the summer, with a teenage diplomat…- The screen door slams. Mary’s dress waves like a vision she dances across the porch…- In the day we sweat it out on the streets of a runaway American dream. At night we ride through the mansions of glory in suicide machines. Sprung from cages on highway nine, chrome wheeled, fuel injected, and steppin’ out over the line…- Crazy Janey and her mission man were back in the alley traden’ hands, ‘long came Wild Billy with his friend G-Man all duded up for Saturday night. Well, Billy slammed on his coaster breaks and said, ‘Anybody wanna go up to Greasy Lake? It’s about a mile on the dark side of Route 88 I got a bottle of rose so let’s try it….”

They’re well baited hooks that grab you and the take you for a ride that feels like magic.

But it isn't reassuring to read his opening line of his book - "I come from a boardwalk town where almost everything is tinged with a bit of fraud. So am I a member in good standing amongst those who 'lie' in the service of truth...But I had four aces in youth, a decade of bar band experience, a good group of homegrown musicians attuned to my performance style, and a story to tell."

And a story to tell it is indeed, but only one we've heard through his songs and music, and by others, not from the man himself, and he warns us from the get go that he’s a bit of a fraud and will ‘lie’ in the service of truth, so hold on to your hats and keep your elbows in the window.

As one fan told him, after hours in line, he got his 30 seconds with the Boss and said, - "You know Bruce, if this book thing doesn't work out you can always write songs."

And for the millions of Bruce fans who grew up with him, it's time to jump into his skin and rewind the ride from the front porch, - beginning with the typical family problems everyone experiences, skipping high school graduation to go to the Village, getting evicted from Freehold, Greetings from Asbury Park when it was still the pits, back and forth up and down E-Street a few times, on to world tours and the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame up to now. And the rides not over yet.

You don't have to read it from beginning to end but can pick it up anywhere you are interested and it will still make sense - it is in chronological order, until the end, when he regurgitates some of the early feelings that were hard to express early on, such as how he found his voice, realized it wasn’t so hot, and knew he had to overcome that with other finer attributes, like spirit, style and a little magic.
The book is written in a bare bones Hemingwayesque prose much like the parting note - in case you didn't know - "About the Author: Bruce Springsteen has been inducted into the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame, and the New Jersey Hall of Fame. He is the recipient of twenty Grammy Awards, an Academy Award, and the Kennedy Center Honors. He lives in New Jersey with his family. For more information go to"

Just as a local newspaper columnist complained about Springsteen fever, - he just didn't get it, you have to understand the music to appreciate it, or appreciate it to understand it – as they go hand in hand.

Bruce is well known as a Jersey Guy, but like Frank (Sinatra) and Jack (Nicholson) and Joe (Piscopo), they are NORTH Jersey Guys - with closer affinities to New York and are Giants, Devils and Mets fans, rather than the South Jersey connection to Philly and Philadelphia Eagles, Flyers and Phillies fans. There is a difference, and I know of only a few occasions when Bruce ventured down and performed south of Toms River. He did it early in his career at the Earlton Lounge bowling alley in Cherry Hill and the Satellite Lounge in Wrightstown, both of which get a mentioned in the book. 

The Satellite gets a whole chapter because the gig was the first for a new drummer, and the owner threatened to kill Bruce if he reneged on his contract and didn't play, but would love him if he did. Greg Gregory of Somers Point was a Temple student and bartender at the Satellite and recalls charging Bruce a dollar for a beer.

Early in his career Bruce also played Ocean and Burlington Community College gigs, that put him just over the Jersey Mason-Dixon Line.

Then there was the time in 1988 Bruce sat in and jammed on a few songs with Jackson Browne on the makeshift stage in the parking lot of Bally's casino in Atlantic City, the first and only time Bruce has ever played a casino.

Then there was the 2002 Rising Tour show at Atlantic City Boardwalk Hall, but that’s pretty much it.
Bruce is a North Jersey Guy, who made it in New York mainly through the efforts of his agent and promoter Mike Apple and John Hammond, Sr., who signed him to CBS Records, both of whom are seriously dealt with in the book.

But he also acknowledges the Delaware Valley fans were the first to really embrace him, with a tip of the hat to David Dye (now at World Cafe WXPN) and Ed Sciaky both acknowledged.

Another local South Jersey Shore music writer Kurt Loder of Ocean City gave a five star Rolling Stone magazine review of Springsteen's The Rising album, and David Kamp writes a flattering cover story profile of Bruce in Vanity Fair that refers to Bruce's suffering year-long bouts of depression, that some attribute to his alcoholic father, who was hot and cold with his kids and packed up and moved to California in 1969, leaving behind 19 year old Bruce and 17 year old daughter with child.
While his Italian mother was full of love and family, maybe it was his salt and fire Irish father who inspired Bruce to pick up the guitar and believe he could, like the Beatles and the Stones, make a living playing rock and roll.

As Bruce said in his R&R Hall of Fame speech, “I’ve gotta thank him because – what would I have conceivably written about without him? I mean, you can imagine that if everything had gone great between us, we would have had disaster. I would have written just happy songs – and I tried it in the early ‘90s and it didn’t work; the public didn’t like it.”

More so were the influences of Sinatra, the Beatles and the Rolling Stones, all of whom he would cross paths with down the road, after his mother bought him a $60 guitar and he began to play with local garage and bar bands.

Bouncing around for years, playing with a series of bar bands – The Castiles, Steel Mill, Earth, Dr. Zoom & the Sonic Boom, Sundance Blues Band, until he gets the Bruce Springsteen Band together in 1971 and as with the evolving E-Street Band, there's no disputing who is the boss, though they did get a big boost from Mike Apple, who signed Bruce to contracts as an individual - not as a band, and in 1972 he got Bruce the audition with John Hammond, Jr., the legendary CBS Records A&R man who signed Billie Holiday, Bob Dylan and Bruce.

While Dave Marsh wrote the 1998 Born to Run biography - you can't copyright a title - it was another music journalist Jon Landau who wrote “I saw rock and roll future and its name is Bruce Springsteen.” Landau then stepped in as a producer who gave Bruce the advice and direction he needed to go even further, and his role is well amplified in the book.

Some of the stories Bruce tells make the book – like the time they travel onto the Indian reservation in the Southwest, where they found Thunder Road, the time they got thrown out of Disney Land because Steve Van Zant wouldn’t take off his bandana, how he met Patti his second wife at the Stone Pony, how he met Sinatra through Patti’s pedicurist, and Dylan and Jack Nicholson at Frank’s funeral.

The business end of things wasn't his major interest and making a lot of money not a motive, but making the magic in the performance was - and he honed his band to do it right, night after night, and they pretty much did.

Bruce says that outside the bouts of depression, he only felt he lost the magic a few times – first when he played his first large scale stadium show in Ireland, then at a Madison Square Garden show when he performed "American Skin," about the police killing of a young black boy, to which the police benevolent association took exception, and then while practicing for the  E-Street Band revival after 10 years hiatus.

The last time, after weeks of practice behind closed doors in the Asbury Park Convention Hall, Bruce felt the music was dull, uninspiring and the spirit lacking, until he opened the doors and let the fans waiting outside in.

Suddenly he came to life, looked into the faces of the fans who expected magic, and he reached back and found it - just as he found it in Ireland and at the Garden, the fans provided the missing ingredient that mad the magic - just add love.

They get it.

And for the fans, old or new, who read this book, who get in the car with Bruce, they too will get it, and go back, back to Greasy Lake, drink the rose wine, dance under the stars and among the lightning bugs, fairies and the fell the magic in the spirits in the night, the magic that Bruce has brought us over these many years, a trip that's still unfolding, as the magic is still there, if you want it. Just get in and go for a ride with Bruce behind the wheel.