Friday, February 22, 2008

Blues Bros Do AC


Can Atlantic City survive the Blues Brothers?

When “Jersey Joe” Piscopo realized the kids need some help, he recruited the Blues Brothers and some of his Saturday Night Live (SNL) alumni to do a special show at Caesar’s on the boardwalk in Atlantic City.

Persuaded by Piscopo to back his Positive Image Foundation (PIF) that helps at-risk kids, Elwood (Dan Aykroyd) and “Zee” Blues (Jim Belushi) and their band will headline the show Saturday night that may also include SNL veterans Chevy Chase, Adam Sandler, Dana Carvy and Father (Don Novello) Narduci.

It’s a benefit show that city officials hope will not be like the Chicago1980 benefit concert to save their old orphanage, immortalized in the Blues Brothers movie, that practically destroyed the city of Chicago.

Security in Atlantic City is already on high alert because of the Presidential inauguration, and the city’s public safety has recently survived a brief internship of Paris and Nicole without any major calamity, so they are prepared for anything.

It was 25 years ago, in 1980, when Piscopo and a new generation of entertainers took over from the original SNL crew, and later that year the Blues Brothers got together to play what became a notorious benefit concert that included Aretha Franklin, Ray Charles, Cab Calloway and other stars, backed by a group of studio musicians who can play.

The band’s talent, and the selection of classic material for their set lists made for one great performance, and movie. The Blues Brothers, still loyal to the strict nuns who raised them, sometimes strayed from their patron’s vision, and in the movie they cut a swathing path of destruction through the streets of Chicago, totaling hundreds of CPD patrol cars.

Now Piscopo and the Brothers are getting the band and the SNL gang together to do the same thing on the boardwalk for “Jersey” Joe’s kids, and Atlantic City is ready. City officials have reportedly checked with their Chicago counterparts to make sure there are no outstanding warrants for the Blues Brothers or any member of their band, which includes some of the best studio musicians on record.

The Casino Control Commission (CCC) has also conducted a background check on Dan “Elwood Blues” Akyroyd, as one of the principle partners in the House of Blues (HOB) showcase venue that is set to open soon at the Atlantic City Showboat casino. The opening of the HOB, together with the Trump Marina rock concerts, the opening of the Quarter at the Trop, and the anticipated Caesar’s Pier, will together take Atlantic City to another level as a tourist attraction, targeting a decidedly younger, hip and lucrative audience.

And Piscopo, the quintessential Jersey Guy, wants to remind those dipping into this money pit to not forget the kids.

In a telephone conversation a week before the show, Piscopo said, “Atlantic City is happening Now. With all that’s going on and all the money that’s there, you have to remember the kids, and give something back to the community, and that’s what I’m trying to do.”

“The community,” that Piscopo is talking about isn’t the glitter of the casinos, but the back street ghettos of Newark, Camden, Atlantic City and his own hometown of Passaic, New Jersey. Along with Frank Sinatra, Bruce Springsteen, Jack Nickelson, Danny DiVito, Bruce Willis and….., Piscopo has come to represent the Jersey crew in Hollywood, and is even mulling over a possible run for governor, like they do in California.

Besides his entertainment career that began in 1970(s) as a stand-up comic at the Jersey Shore (Joe Pop’s on LIB), SNL (1980-85) stint, and a slew of major motion pictures ( “Wise Guys,” “Johnny Dangerously,” “Dead Heat”) Piscopo has done an HBO special (“Bloomfield Avenue”), and helped revive “Grease” on Broadway. Most recently he’s been a guest star on TV’s hit “Law & Order,” playing an action-movie star suspected of murder.

Piscopo has also been honored for his off-camera contributions to charitable causes like Big Bros/Big Sisters, and was named to former New Jersey Governor Chritine Todd Whitman’s “Commission to Deter Criminal Activity.” From there he went to starting the Positive Image Foundation (PIF).

Besides just throwing money at an issue, Piscopo was looking to make a real difference with PIF, “to help youth to discover their true potential by mentorship, recognition and community involvement – teaching them that they’re valuable citizens that can achieve more through cooperation with their parents, teachers and community leaders.”

With offices based in Washington D.C. [2801 M. Street N.W., DC. 20007 – 202-338-6100] , the PIF began with a series of TV shows (Produced with PITV – Enterasys Networks), described as a “Groundbreaking series that mixes education and entertainment to reinforce positive behavior and lifestyles among at-risk youth….,” and a million dollar grant to increase Internet and computer access for inner-city schools.

“We’re doing good things in underprivileged areas,” said Piscopo, who mentioned his visit to Camden as an example. “I walked down Mt. Emphrium Avenue in Camden,” said Piscopo, and there aren’t many more dangerous places in the country, “That’s where I found the Unity Community Center.” Through his PIF, Piscopo supports the Camden center, founded by Robert and Wanda Dickerson to “help at-risk communities … through educational, recreational, developmental and the performing arts, and re-establish values of family life, improve character, educate and teach the basics that our youth need to survive in …low income urban areas.”

As a non-profit umbrella group that includes the Riletta T. Cream Family School, the Universal African Dance and Drum Ensemble, and a karate school, all of which preach self-worth, achievement, confidence and discipline, the Unity oasis in Camden reflects the kinds of programs that Piscopo wants to implement.

“I went through some bumps and bruises in my own life,” said Piscopo, “and I can’t tell you why I was such a jerk, but what I want to do is a hard-sell. If I hear – ‘It’s not our target audience,’ one more time,….” While poor black kids in the ghetto may not be a target audience for some big time executives, the talent he’s assembled is certainly going to get some attention, and support for his cause.

“I reached out to Jim Belushi and Dan Akyroyd and I’m going to reach out to others,” said Piscopo, mentioning Chevy Chase, Adam Sandler, Dan Novello, Danna Carvy, and the fact that Eddie Murphy’s already checked in with a nice donation.

As for the Blues Brothers, Akyroyd has already made a big commitment to open a House of Blues (HOB) in the newly renovated Showboat, adding on to the string of mid-sized showcase venues that are already successful in LA, Vegas and other cities on the new “Chitlin’ Circuit,” which promises to bring in a retinue of new, good blues acts to town.

For the Blues Brothers, whether it was with the late “Jake” or his younger blood brother “Zee” as Elwood’s sidekick, they’ve always been the co-emcees of a the show who also sing, dance and do the occasional cartwheebut l, as Elwood said, “The songs and our band are the stars, we are there in service to these classic American songs.”

If the show comes off without the complete destruction of Atlantic City, it’s the appreciative audience and the kids on the street who will benefit the most. Tickets are $100 and can be purchased at Caesar’s box office or through Ticketmaster [ 1-800-736-1420 ] or on line at or .


Sunday, February 17, 2008

ACCC Taproom Grill Opens to Public

Taproom at ACCC Open to the Public.

By William Kelly

With the transfer of the liquor license is approved by the city of Northfield, the storied Tap Room of the historic 110 year old Atlantic City Country Club is now open to the public for the first time in living memory.

Previously a private club open only to members and their guests, the Atlantic City Country Club, once purchased by Bally-Hilton, was used only by the casino’s executives and select guests until last year, when the course was opened to the pubic for the first time.

Now the historic clubhouse, banquet rooms, restaurant and Tap Room are open to the public as well. Previously, without a private or public liquor license they couldn’t even legally serve the high rollers, so they arranged the purchase of one of the two liquor licenses in town from the J.J. Kemp’s Pub, formerly the Owl Tree/the Parrot on Route 9. (The other license is Ventura’s Offshore CafĂ©).

When the club held an open house, showcasing the historic clubhouse and grounds to the public, the Tap Room began serving Bloody Marys when it opens for breakfast at 8 am Friday, March 16, the Opening Day of the 2007 Golf Season and Tap Room beer was flowing from the taps on St. Patrick’s Day.

The Tap Room Grille will be open on weekends for breakfast and lunch, and for dinner on weekends at 5 pm and slowly expand their hours and days thru the summer.

The historic clubhouse and classic championship links course make for many legendary myths, some of which are actually true.

The Tap Room is where Babe Zaharius played the piano after winning the 1948 U.S. Women’s Open, and where Sam Snead played the trumpet in 1980 during the first PGA Senior’s tournament (now the Champion’s Tour).

The Tap Room’s small, straight hardwood bar is against the wall next to the Locker Room, and sets the stage for a small dining room that sports comfortable booths, walls packed with historic memorabilia and a large bay window overlooking the course, the bay and the Atlantic City skyline on the horizon.

Above the bay window is a panoramic photo of Shawnee on the Delaware, an equally historic course where early club pro Johnny McDermott defeated British champions Harry Vardon and Ted Ray by 8 stokes in 1913, and set up the “Greatest Game Ever Played” by promising they wouldn’t take the U.S. Open championship home with them.

The ceiling of the adjacent Locker Room is lined with painted portraits of the winners of the Sonny Fraser tournament (1945-1999), one of the premier amateur invitational tournaments in the country. Among the portraits are Sonny Fraser, Dr. Carey Middlecoff, Julius Boros, Billy Hyndeman III, Howard Everett and Billy Ziobro, who also won the New Jersey Amateur championship and N.J. Open in the same year, a hat trick that’s never been duplicated.

Ziobro was named the first pro in the casino era, an esteemed position now held by Steve Sullivan, who has announced he too is moving on soon. There are a few of the long time employees still working there, including some waitresses and the chef, as well as manager Kenny Robinson, who can answer questions about the history of the place and the accuracy of some of the stories.

Among the yarns is how the term “birdie” was coined there in 1903, how Johnny McDermitt became the first and the youngest (at 19) to win the U.S. Open, which he did twice (1911-12), how the women’s tour was nurtured there and how the U.S. Senior’s Tour got started over many discussions, arguments and a few beers in the Tap Room.

It’s not true that McDermott celebrated his victories in the Tap Room (he was a teetotaler), but it is true there used to be slot machines in the Tap Room for many years in the pre-casino era.

The Tap Room slots became famous when Florida Senator George Smathers complained about them when club owner Sonny Fraser and club members Hap Farley and Olympic champion John Kelly (Grace Kelly’s father) decided to build the Atlantic City Race Course. Smathers thought the race course was competition to Florida gambling venues and complained about the slots machines. Instead of getting rid of the slots however, Sonny Fraser sold the club to his brother Leo, a returning World War II hero, and the slots stayed into the early 1950s.

Over the years the Tap Room was the center of social life at the famed club, where everyone gathered after a game, a tournament, wedding or just a Saturday night at the clubhouse. A First Class establishment with exquisite charm, the Atlantic City Country Club is a throwback to a time forgotten by the glitz and the glitter of today’s Atlantic City.

The opening of the Tap Room to the public for the first time is an historic event in itself, ensuring that history will continue to be made there.

[William Kelly is author of the book “Birth of the Birdie – The First 100 Years of Golf at Atlantic City Country Club.” He can be reached at]


Longtime Atlantic City political boss Hap Farley, stands tall in the middle, holding court at the Tap Room bar, sometime in the 1940s. Can anyone identify any of the other people in the photo? If so, please contact the Current or Kelly at / 609-425-6297.

Atlantic City Pop Fest Flashback 1969

ATLANTIC CITY POP FEST - Flashback, August 1969.

Two weeks before Woodstock became a household name in the late summer of 1969, 110,000 people converged on the Atlantic City Racetrack for the Atlantic City Pop Festival - which included many of the acts who made Woodstock famous - Joni Mitchell, Canned Heat, Santana, Jefferson Airplane, B.B. King, the Byrds, Little Richard, Three Dog Night, Procol Harem, the Chambers Brothers, Frank Zappa, Rare Earth, Creedence Clearwater Revival, Chicago and a dozen ther bands.

While Woodstock became a major cultural phenomenon, media event and movie, the Atlantic City Pop Festival was a musical experience of a lifetime for those who were there.

"It was the frist time something of that magnitude hit the Jersey Shore, and nothing like it has happened since," says Robin Young, one of the the many who paid $15 for a ticket for the three day affair. A one day ticket for the August 1st, 2nd or 3rd, 1969 event were $6.

As one of the first major shows, and by far the largest at that time, produced by the Electric Factory, the A.C. Pop Fest had its roots in the 22nd and Arch Street psychedelic warehouse in Philadelphia, where many of the new bands of that era performed.

Larry Magid, along with his partners Herb and Alan Spivak, introduced the Philadelphia audience to many of the West Coast groups that were then in the vanguard of the cultural revolution that was sweeping the country. San Francisco has its Haight Ashbury, New Yourk has Greenwich Village and Philadelphia has Rittenhouse Square, wher all the hippies would congregate to protest the war in Vietnam, play guitars and throw firsbees.

Around the corner on Sanson Street was the Apple Head Shop, owned by Dan and Pam Davis, who also owned the Birdcage Head Shop on the boardwalk in Ocean City. They sold posters, incense, pipes and jewelry, while aroud the corner, the Electric Facory brought in the music that attracted an increasing larger crowd of the psycheldelic generation.

On February 2nd, 1968, Magid and the Spivak brotehrs opened their club with the Chamber Brothers, whose song, "Time Has Come Today," with its cowbell rhythim, was on the pop charts.

"Music is something you can rally around," says Magid today, noting that for the most part, the bands booked for the Atlantic City Pop Festival had previously played the Electirc Factory. "Chicago, then known as the Chicago Transit Authority, still played the Electric factory, but by that time, we had strated doing shows at the Spectrum."

The A.C. Pop Fest however, was the biggest show they had attempted, and they did it right. The acts matched up and were equal to if not better than Woodstock, and the festival itself was much better organized.

Whereas Woodstock was overwhelmed with a flood of counter-culture campers who crashed the gate, threw a party, left a mess for others to clean up, and lost money, at least unitl the movie came out, the Atlantic City Pop Festival went off without a hitch.

"They had a nice dream for Woodstock," says Magid, "they certainly had the place. People knew Woodstock at the time as the place where Bob Dylan lived. But they forgot to do the most important thing until it was too late - put the gate up. They sold too many tickets. Maybe if they were able to control their ticket sales they would have been able to control it."

On the other hand says Magid, "We had a good show, and I think it was successful mainly because it was a controlled enviroment at the race track, rather than an open field in the country."

Like Woodstock, which actually took place on Max Yasker's farm near Monticello, New York, local Mays Landing officials tried to ban a gathering of such undesirable elements.

Woodstock itself is still much the same small artists' colony it was 20 years ago, with local residents fighting attempts to hold similar large scale festivals.

From his Electirc Factory office in Philadelphia, where he still runs the company that promotes concerts, Larry Magid said, "Any time you have a large influx of people, the township has to be concerned, and rightfully so. People around the country at the time weren't exactly thrilled with kids with long hair. But we thought we attracted a lot of people. We brought additional revenue to the area. We filled a lot of campgrounds and motels. And we ran an orderly show. Any problems we did have, we were able to contend with them quickly."

"We had a birth, we didn't have any deaths," says Magid, "and we had a good mix of progressive bands that were just beginning to get popular radio airplay, so we didn't have just kids, and sold tickets to people of all ages."

"For Dan Fogel, a Margate musician, it was a family outing. "My parents even went dressed up as hippies," Fogel recalls, "with my mom dressed like an Indian and dad as a cowboy. That's as far as hje got with the hippie thing."

"That was a big year for me," says Robin Young, of Ocean City. "It was the year I made the beach patrol and became a lifeguard. It as also the convergence of a lot of things - the anti-war movement, the psychedelic era, and the music."

"The thing that stands out the most in my mind," recalls Somers Point bartender Jonas Alexy, " is the guy I saw with a crewcut and military jacket with 'Cong Killer' scrawed across his back."

Some people confuse the Atlantic City Pop Festival with another Electric Factory show with Crosby, Stills, Nash and Young/Santana concert held at the same location a few years later. And for many, the good times of that period blend into one memory bank where its difficult to recall many details. To put all of this in the right time frame, the Atlantic City Pop Fest was held on Friday, Saturday and Sunday, August 1st, 2nd and 3rd, 1969. The Vietnam war was raging, the ghettos were burning, Richard Nixon was president and man had just landed on the moon.

The counter-culture movement rallied around music, and it was the music that was the attraction. "It was the first time that people in this area were hooked up with the West Coast music scene," contents Robin Young. The Byrds, with their "Eight Miles High," "Mr. Tambourine Man" and "Turn, Turn, Turn," were there along with the Jefferson Airplane, the Chambers Brothers and Janis Joplin, rounding out the West Coast coningent.

There was also "B.B. King," already familiar to the Atlantic City audience, Dr. John, Iron Butterfly ("In-a-Gadda-Da-Vida"), Frank Zappa, Joni Mitchell, Three Dog Night, Creedence Clearwater Revival, Rare Earth, Booker T. and the MGs.

Procol Harum played their classic, "Whiter Shade of Pale," Canned Heat did "Goin' Up the Country," and Author Brown sang a rousing version of his song, "Fire,.....I get you to burn,...," which was then a hit on the pop charts and radio.

While Woodstock was billed as "Three days of Peace and Music," with a schedule of eight acts a day, folk one day, rock the next, Atlantic City had 29 top flight acts. Magid claims that, "while their show developed into that, it was both good and bad for them. It became unmanageable for the people that were running it, yet it was good because of what it became. Perhaps we gave them a little push."

The 110,000 attendence figure is also a little bit misleading. While Woodstock attracted over a half-million (500,000) people, the A.C. Pop Fest had between 30,000 and 40,000 people each day for three days, wit many of the same people returning for each day. They were swimming nude in the Horese Shoe motel pool on the Pike, and when the motels and campgrounds were full they pitched tents in the woods behind the track.

Bill Muller of Ocean City was in boot camp at Fort Dix at the time. "Some guys from down south in my unit got leaves for the weekend and went looking for somebody who knew how to get to McKee City," Muller recalls. "I told them I would show them where it was if tehy would take me along, so I went AWOL. I took them right to the back stretch instead of to the front gate. We hopped the fence and enjoyed the weekend before going to Nam."

Young remembers that the only big problem he saw was when Hugh Maaskela came on and played some soft quiet music after another band had just stirred the crowd into a frenzy with sname dancing in lines up and down the isles. "One guy was so hot and sweaty he decided to take a dip in the infield lake," Young recalls, "and before long all the people were running towards the lak, pushing and shoving, and I think some people got hurt." The only known casuality.

As far as concert security goes, Magid says, "Rock n' Roll is just like any other industry - it matures. You develop different systems to meet different problems. Hopefully there will be even better ways to do things. We'd like to make the audience more comfortable."

Between sets many people mingled among the flea market booths that were set up in the Club House. At the time many people drank cheap wine, like Boone's Farm, out of brown suede flasks. Another guy says, "Me and my buddy didn't see too much of the music, we were really busy trying to score with the hippie chicks."

Dan and Pam Davis, who ran the head shops on Sansom street and the Ocean City Boardwalk, set up a table concession at the track and sold posters and trinkets to the audience. "That was some show," Dan said, reflecting on the Pop Fest. "I'm still into it today, on tour with the Greatful Dead - riding around the country from concert to concert in a mobilhome, selling things in the parking lot before and after the shows." Pam says that "Turquoise is making a comeback, but crystals are the big thing now."

Could the Atlatnic City track be the site of another festival? The Enviromental Response Network wants to put on a seminar and benefit concert for enviromental, non-profit organizations in September, and Magid says the track is still a good venue. "It's just that there are others that are better."

"We had one other show there, the Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young and Santana. But it is very expensive to have a show at the track. It's hard to work around the horse race meets, and sometimes in this business, it's not possible to do that. Artists compete for dates or go to the place where they'll do the best. We were happy with the two shows wed did there, but now we have JFK and the Vet, which are less expensive and bigger."

The Atlantic City Pop Festival, it seems, was a once in a lifetime occurence.

I caught the last show on the last night and will never forget it. Having graduated from high school that spring, and getting ready for college, I worked all weekend making pizza at Mack & Manco's on the Ocean City (NJ) boardwalk. My peers were persuasive in convincing me to go along with them after work Sunday night to try to catch the last few acts.

The gates were open and people were starting to leave, but as we made our way towards the stage, through the throngs of people, I could see Little Richard swinging a fur coat around his head while singing, "Good Golly, Miss Molly!" It was starting to drizzle , but the place was going wild. Everone was dancing, their arms flaling when Little Richard took his fur coat and flung it into the crowd.

When he broke into "Tutti Frutti," I suddenly realized what rock n' roll was all about. I looked at my buddies and we all knew the answer to the question we had been asking all week, "Are we going to Woodstock?"

The Atlantic City Pop Fest may not be as famous as Woodstock, but it was a better concert, a more organized show, and changed the lives of a lot of people.

"It was the right place at the right time," says Larry Magid. "It was the timing as much as anything, right smack in the middle of that whole era. It was a good experience for many, and when that movement kept getting bigger and more popular and was not just for the moment, not just a fad, the festival became part of our history and folklore."

[Originally published in part in the August, 1989 edition of the Atlantic City Monthly]

Vineland Music Fiasco

The Vineland Music Festival, set for August 8-10, 2008 on a 579 acre farm where organizers expect 20,000 - 30,000 people to camp out for three days of Peace & Music.

It sounds familiar, but the promoters are new to this area - Melvin Benn, an Englishman who has helped organize an annual Reading, England festival since 1989, is reportedly teaming up with C3 out of Austin, Texas and Live Nation, the conglamorate that has bought up every major venue in North America, including Electric Factory and House of Blues.

With an option to purchase the property if the initial festival is a success, the promoters are looking towards making the Vineland Music Fest an annual affair, and fill the promise that the Atlantic City Pop Fest exhibited in 1969.

Benn's London based Festival Republic, has previously featured Radiohead, the Red Hot Chili Peppers, the White Stripes and Neil Young and Crazy Horse.

While there's a division among the locals around Vineland, some looking forward to the new music venue, influx of hundreds of thousands of tourist dollars that can jump start a local economy and the good vibes, others are already complaining - "Do you want 80,000 people partying in our neighborhood?", one protesting leaflet asks.

Rowdiness, intoxicaiton, loittering, traffic, property damage, and without mentioning drugs and fornication, are all anticipated with increasing anxiety by the restless natives.

More to come on this one.

Most recent Link: NARCS - Neighbors Against Rock Concert -

Story below -

Here's some links:

And a report from the CP's Phaedra Trethan:

New group may sue to stop Vineland rock festival
Developer Pete Steenland suggests Cumberland County Fairgrounds as alternate site
By JULIET FLETCHER Staff Writer, 856-237-9020
(Published: January 3, 2008)

VINELAND - A group of city residents, led by prominent city developer Pete Steenland, met Wednesday at a downtown conference-room to air their objections to the rock festival planned for August in East Vineland.

Steenland said he was prepared to take legal action in what he described as his battle to relocate the weekend-long event, which was announced in November.

"It's an uninvited guest," he said.

Keen to make clear that it was the location of the festival that was at issue, Nick Possumato, 74, said that from his house on Quail Street, he thought he would be able to hear the bands play. "It's not my kind of music," he said, referring to the much-hyped but unconfirmed lineup of mainstream and indie-rock acts, "but the thing is I wouldn't want to listen to Beethoven till 3 in the morning."

With him sat former City Council president Ruben Bermudez, Steenland's daughter Joy Marion, whose house backs onto the planned site at Sherman Avenue and Hance Bridge Road, former council candidate Adam Goldstein and his campaign manager Dennis Hill, and two local residents from across the age spectrum: Dan Theokus, aged 85, and Jon-Mark Grussenmeyer, aged 20.

"With a city struggling so much with drugs and alcohol, the last thing we need it is an event like this," Grussenmeyer said. "At those concerts, I know what goes on."

Theokas, meanwhile, said that the way he felt the decision had been made had left him thinking, "Does anyone care about us?"

Mayor Perry Barse, who first announced the planned concert with its promoters Melvin Benn and C3 Presents, and followed up with a town-hall meeting on the event Dec. 6, said by phone Wednesday that Steenland's threat of a lawsuit did not surprise him.

"We anticipate legal action," he said. "Mr. Steenland has said he will do everything he can to stop the festival, and so we assumed that meant legal action."

Among the group, which has christened itself NARCS - Neighbors Against the Rock Concert Site - one concern was whether a contract had already been signed between the promoters and the owners of the proposed site, Elwyn New Jersey.

Steenland said that following conversations with representatives from Elwyn, he believed it had not.

And he cast doubt on the claims made by the city administration and promoters regarding the size and scope of the event, because of what he called inconsistencies in the way the project has been described.

"The fact is, we were informed of an event that will have an impact for years to come, and that occurred without any input from the people of Vineland," he said.

In a one-page group manifesto, members itemized their fears. Possumato expressed concerns about the environmental impact of the concert on the site, and Hill added that he wondered how the 570-acre space could be left as a recreational space for the rest of the year without additional security. Marion, meanwhile, said that she was not convinced by the prospects of economic advantages for the city. And Steenland said that values of neighboring properties would fall. "There's no way anybody would even look at a house if there was going to be an event like this nearby," he said.

Bermudez, who lives half a mile from the site, spoke up for local farmers, who might have to deal with greater traffic woes at a crucial time of year. "It gets busy down there," he said, "as they bring their tractors out."

And Hill recalled that an earlier planned 1,100-unit senior-housing development in the area had been nixed because of fears about dangers an increase in traffic might pose to students attending Rossi Intermediate School. Referring to the summer's possible festival attendance of up to 50,000 campers, he said, "I don't think you can talk out of both sides of your mouth like that."

Steenland said he was hopeful that another concert site, such as the Cumberland County Fairgrounds, could be found, and that he hoped to mobilize other members of the public to attend the group's next meeting 7:30 p.m. Jan. 10 at the Panther Road Hall in East Vineland.

"We're not against a festival," he said. "We just don't want it on this site."

There At the Conception of Rock & Roll


When Dick Boccelli told his friends he was getting his band back together, they were naturally incredulous.

After a decades long hiatus and them being scattered all over the country, they hadn't practiced since the '60s and the fact their average age was about 70, well, it wasn't like the Blues Brothers getting the band together to save the orphanage.

Boccelli is the drummer for Bill Haley's Original Comets, the former Saddlemen from Chester, Pa., who were playing the Hofbrau nightclub in Wildwood, N.J. when their song, "Rock Around the Clock" (RATC), became the first Rock & Roll song to place Number 1 on the pop charts.

While some other cities - Memphis, Cleveland and now Glouchster, make claim as "The Birthplace of Rock & Roll," the time and the date RATC made #1 is written in stone - July, 1955, riding on the heels of the summer release of the teen rebel movie "The Blackboard Jungle," which used "Rock Around the Clock" as its opening theme song.

From the Hofbrau nightclub in Wildwood, where there is now an historical plaque on the sidewalk on the street where the club once stood - razed during the Urban Renewels of the 60s, Haley & the Comets went from the club scene to Wildwood and Ocean City Convention Halls, Ed Sullivan and Dick Clark shows and Cleveland, where a radio DJ Alan Freed coined the term "Rock & Roll" while describing the music Haley & the Comets played, a mix of country and rhythm and blues.

Haley's success however, didn't play well with the Comets, who were given a $50 a week raise while Haley and the band's managers bought themselves new Cadilacs. So three of the Comets left the band and formed the Jodimars, who became popular in Europe and earned fans in Liverpoole, where the Beatles covered one of their songs "Clarabella."

After a few years of playing casinos in Las Vegas, they broke up, one staying in Vegas, another moving to Florida and Boccelli returning to home to Ocean City, N.J. They remaine in contact with one another, and discussed a reunion, especially after Haley passed away in the 1980s.

Then they did get together and played a TV gig in honor of Dick Clark, and had such a good time they decided to stay together and play a few paying gigs and discovered that they still had a strong fan base, especially in Europe where the rock & roll fans know the original band from its sound.

"They're so used to cover bands playing our songs," says Boccelli, "and groups calling themselves Bill Haley's Comets but nobody in the band even knew Bill Haley. They know Franny's guitar style, and how we sound, and appreciate the fact we're the originals."

Altough they play major arenas to thousands of people in Europe, they couldn't find a gig in their own backyard - Wildwood and Atlanic City, so I arranged for them to play the 75th anniversary part at the Flanders Hotel on the Boardwalk in Atlantic City.

Picking up bass player and frontman Marshall Lytle at the Philadelphia Airport, as we drove off the the Walt Whitman bridge into New Jersey, Marshall looked down at the city of Gloucester and recalled playing the Twin Bar there in the early 1950s, wondering if it was still there.

It is, and now the Original Comets will return this Saturday, June 14, 2007, for a homecoming and the mounting of a new historic plaque in frot of the Twin Bar that commemorates the site where Bill Haley & the Comets performed for years before "Rock Around the Clock" became the first Rock & Roll song to top the pop charts.

While there's no argument as to the July 1955 Wildwood birth of Rock & Roll as a popular phenom, there is quite a discussion as to where the music was conceived, the Memphis acts didn't make the pop charts until Haley & the Comets kicked open the door, the Twin Bar at least is still standing.

And it's still serving cool drinks in the old, blue colar, working class neighorhood that is now trying to parlay their histoirc connection to beginnings of Rock & Roll into a revival of their bar, neighborhood and often neglected city.

The day long gig and block party, with the Twin Bar as ground zero, will also include Charlie Grace, another early rock & roller ("Butterfly") who is also more popular in Europe, especially England, than he is in his own hometown (South Philly).

A very special session is planned as Bill Haley, Jr. is expected to stop by and sit in with the Comets as he has done in the past at the Bubba Mac Shack in Somers Point, where the Comets played for five consecutive years every August until the Shack closed last year.

Bill Haley, Jr. looks remarkably like his old man, with the same moon face, smile and lock of hair that protrudes across his forehead.

That is pretty remarkable, that over a half -century after Bill Haley and the Comets played together at the Twin Bar and the Hofbrau in Wildwood, his son is now singing with the same band.

While we know where and when Rock & Roll was born, with "Rock Around the Clock" in July, 1955, at the Hofbrau in Wildwood, it was earlier convieved in the bars and nightclubs of Wildwood, the Jersey Shore, Gloucester, Memphis and where ever rhythm and blues and country music got together.

Bill Kelly
July 11, 2007

THERE AT THE CONCEPTION – Jack’s Twin Bar – Gloucester City, N.J. 1952

Rock & Roll was an orphan before it had a hit or even a name, but now, more than half-century later, potential heirs to the music revolution it spawned are laying claim to historic recognition of competing birthplaces.

There may be some confusion in the minds of some, especially those who trumpet Cleveland, Memphis and other places that boast being “the Birthplace of Rock & Roll,” but according to some of those who were there at the time, there is no question Bill Haley and the Comets were there at the conception.

At least that’s the consensus among those patrons at Jack’s Twin Bar in Gloucester City, New Jersey, where there is now a permanent historical marker on the side of the building that proclaims this neighborhood tavern is the “birthplace of rock & roll.”

Like Liverpool, Asbury Park, Memphis, Cleveland and Wildwood, N.J., Gloucester City is just the latest municipality to try and cash in on the new, and growing rock & roll tourism trade, showcasing the sites where rock & roll history were made. Historical markers and have sprung up at wayward outposts destinations for music loving pilgrims searching for the elusive soul of rock & roll.

While Liverpool leveled the original Cavern, before its historic and tourist value were realized, a new Cavern has emerged to cater to the thousands of tourists who only know Liverpool as the home of the Beatles.

Asbury Park’s Stone Pony is also threatened by development, even as busloads of oriental and European tourists visit the home turf of the Boss and the E-Street Band.

Memphis has the old Sun Records recording studio, and its blues and R & B legacy, and promotes itself as the “Birthplace of Rock & Roll,” since numerous black bands, and Elvis, were playing and recording there before the music even had a name. And Cleveland has the “Rock & Roll Hall of Fame Museum,” where Alan Freed undisputedly coined the term “Rock & Roll,” while discussing the music of Bill Haley & the Comets in 1955.

But if you go by the money list, as professional golfers and tennis stars are rated, then there is no debate or question, as Rock & Roll came of age in July 1955 when “Rock Around the Clock” became the first rock & roll song to make Number One on the Billboard Pop chart.

At the time, the song was riding on the popular reaction to it’s inclusion in the teen rebel movie The Blackboard Jungle, the movie of the summer of ’55. At the time Bill Haley & the Comets were playing at the Hoffbrau nightclub in Wildwood, at the New Jersey Shore.

Today there is an historic marker on the sidewalk in front of where the Hoffbrau was located before it was leveled in the misdirected Urban Renewal of the late 1960s. Today Wildwood celebrates its rock & roll roots with annual rock & roll revival concerts at its new Convention Hall, and is unwilling to relinquish its claim to be the real cradle of rock & roll.

You can’t get around the fact that “Rock Around the Clock” was the first rock & roll song to make Number One on the pop charts, remained there for eight weeks, and Bill Haley and the Comets were playing Wildwood at the time, establishing a judicial provenance that other claimants don’t have, but Gloucester and Jack’s Twin bar does have some DNA linkage.

Before Bill Haley called his band the Comets, he had the Saddlemen, and ran a country & western music radio show out of Chester, Pennsylvania. Playing out of a number of local bars and roadhouses in the outskirts of Philadelphia, Haley’s band played Jack Twin Bar in Gloucester, N.J. every week for about two years, 1952-53.

Just across the Delaware River from the U.S. Navy Yard in South Philly, regular ferry service ran from Gloucester, near New York ShipYard, so shipbuilders and sailors went back and forth routinely, until the Walt Whitman bridge was built, which made the transit even easier. The ship builders and the navy boys were the primary patrons of Jack’s Twin Bar and the other bars that catered to that clientele, but Jack’s had a special draw - Bill Haley’s Saddlemen.

At that time Bill Haley was going through a personal transformation, forgoing the country-western music that had been his mainstay, and getting into the more upbeat boggie woogie – race music the black bands like the Treniers were playing.

Adding a little rhythm & blues to the country-western backbeat, the new style of music was infectious and catchy, and catching on with everybody who heard it. At Jack’s Haley & his Saddlemen began playing a particular song that everybody liked, “Rock This Joint,” which includes the lyrics, “We’re gonna’ rock this joint tonight.”

Then came “Rock Around the Clock,” probably the most influencial rock & roll song of all time, and didn’t make Rolling Stone Magazine’s Top 100 Song List. “Rock Around the Clock,” though it is probably one of the most important songs of all because being the first it kicked open the door so the others could follow.

There were other great songs that are considered early rock & roll songs, before “Rock Around the Clock” made No. 1 and before they called it “rock & roll,” like Big Joe Turner’s “Shake, Rattle & Roll,” which Haley also made a hit, Jackie Brenston’s “Rocket 88” (1951) and Elvis’s “That’s Alright Mama,” (1954) .but there’s no mistaking “Rock Around the Clock” as the first rock & roll song to make number one on the pop charts.

And another rock & roll song, before they called it rock & roll, was “Rock This Joint,” which Haley played a lot of when they did their steady gig at Jack’s Twin Bar.

As those who were at Jack’s Twin Bar at the time (1951-52) recall, Haley would introduce the song saying, “All you hillbillies go home now, ‘cause we’re gonna play a little cowboy-jive, so cut loose and let the cool cats in, ‘cause we’re gonna rock this joint tonight!.”

At least that’s what they put on the back of the Jack’s Twin Bar “Birthplace of Rock & Roll” t-shirts.

The historic plaque they placed on the outside wall of Jack’s reads: “Twin Bar 1951-52 – At this corner tavern Bill Haley & the Saddlemen, later to become Bill Haley & the Comets, introduced their new ‘rockabilly sound,” then an unfamiliar and strange mixture of ‘rhythm & blues’ and ‘country & western’ – with a heavy backbeat, to become a new brand of music that would be called ‘ rock & roll.”

“It was here that a song called ‘Rock This Joint’ would be played by Haley and the band over many months. Bill Haley, with Johnny Grande, Billy Williams and Marshall Lytle along with studio musician Danny Cedone recorded this song in 1952. Danny’s guitar solo on “Rock This Joint” would again be recorded two years later on the album “Rock Around The Clock” which became one of the best selling records of all time.”

Of the original comets, only Marshall Lytle, Johnny Grande and Dick Boccelli are left to carry on the traditions, and they do in fine style – plade jackets, Marshall throwing the big bass around over his head, and each taking an improvised solo, sparking some in the crowd to get up and dance and then a standing ovation.

Marshall, who most certainly was there, at least according to the plaque, and is now the front man, recounted the days when they played Jack’s, and Bill Haley met the women who would be his second wife. She was there for the occasion, along with her son, Bill Haley, Jr.

Bill, Jr., some said, may have been conceived in Jack’s parking lot, and he looks a lot like his dad, same face, same smile and same voice.

While some may dispute the idea that rock & roll was born here, there’s no doubt of the local DNA provenance (‘the origin or source from which something comes’), especially when Bill Haley, Jr. joined the Comets on stage and sang the last three songs, “Rock This Joint,” “Rock Around the Clock” and “When the Saints Come Marching In.”

The return of the Original Comets to Jack’s Bar in Gloucester City was certainly an historic occasion, especially with Bill Haley, Jr. sitting in and singing with his dad’s old band fifty years after the conception of what we now know as “rock & roll.”

[Bill Kelly can be reached at]


Billy Hector "Hard Drivin' Blues"

NIGHTBEAT – 050407 – Billy Hector’s Hard Drivin’ Blues

Ocean City SandPaper

I went looking for the future of rock & roll and found it never left Jersey.

Billy Hector is still here, he’s never left, but has yet to venture to the South Jersey Shore.

And he has it all – guitar licks, tight band, great songs and a new CD “Hard Drivin’ Blues,” being released today. The music is there, but there’s something missing – fame and fortune. He drives hard, but not far enough.

Here he is playing a piney roadhouse juke joint in the middle of No Where New Jersey, 20 miles in any direction from a red light, Wa Wa or gas station, plugging into the mahogany wall of the Hedger House, an ancient pit stop for weary travelers. The Hedger House is technically in Tabernacle, but is actually a few miles north of Chatsworth, the unofficial capitol of the Pine Barons (Post office, no light

The Hedger House location is literally hundreds of years old and you can find it on some of the oldest maps of New Jersey, right there in the middle of nowhere. So it attracts patrons like a light in the forest, especially bikers, Pinies and people who like good music.

It’s acoustic night, with Billy booked by himself, but Sim Cain, Tim Tindal and Winston Roye, his regular drummer and alternate bass players show up anyway and play along without the amps, just for the fun of it.

Sometimes they play with the whole power trio in the other, larger room, and Billy is booked to play outside every other Sunday afternoon all summer, but for this Friday night it’s up against the bar room’s wooden booths, the crowd pressed close together.

Usually Billy Hector plays what they call “down the shore,” but it’s really down the North Jersey Shore. Hector’s done time in Asbury Park, in the heyday, when he first made a name for himself playing guitar with the Shots, Hot Romance and the horn heavy Fairlanes. Stints in those bands earned a whole chapter to himself in Gary Wien’s book “Beyond the Palace,” a chronicle of the Asbury Park music scene. But now it’s different. He’s beginning to branch out beyond the Park, but hasn’t yet made it to the South Jersey Shore.

You know Bruce, Southside Johnny and Little Steve, but if you’re not from North Jersey you haven’t heard of Billy Hector even though he’s won three Asbury Park Music Awards for best guitarist, best blues band and a living legend award. He recently played with Sumlin in Asbury Park and backed Bonnie Rait at the Muddy Waters tribute at the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame. But it’s still Billy Who?

After playing with the Stone Pony’s post-Jukes house band, the Shots, Hector continued playing with Susan Lastovica, and put together a separate power trio that’s come together so tight that you’re not surprised to learn they’ve been playing together for years.

Not your typical new, flashy kid with a guitar, Hector is a veteran journeyman who’s been on the road a long time, though that road has been pretty much limited to North Jersey and New York.

Playing primarily blues, some key originals and classic songs he bends with a Hector twinge, he’s accumulated a vast repertoire and a small but growing clan who follow him from club to club. He plays with with an acoustic gig with Susan Lastovica at the Ragin Cajun every Wednesday in Belmar every Thursday with the trio at Magees (Rt. 88) in Point Pleasant, and a small circuit of clubs like Harpers in Clementon, the Stanhope House, Daddz, Dempsters and Clarkes in Mt. Holly and the Hedger House.

Once a month (May 12) he plays the Bitter End in New York City where he entertains the visiting tourists and is gathering another small cadre of serious city fans.

Having traveled to most of those places to see Hector perform, I’ve come to know some of his most regular crowd – led by Roger Beckwith, a former radio DJ whose Roadhouse web site has been listing live band gigs for the past decade.

I first heard of Billy Hector from one of his fans who claimed Hector is “the best guitarist playing today anywhere,” a statement I challenged at the time, but now have reluctantly come to agree with.

You know how restaurant critics eat at a place three times before rating it? Well, after witnessing Hector performs more than a dozen times at many different venues, I’ve never been disappointed and in fact, he continues to amaze me. He seems to be taking his talent to another level each time I catch his act. Billy Hector is the real deal. Of course he couldn’t just be getting better now, or was always so good, but nobody noticed, so he must be just coming into own.

Hector plays with a decided blues bent, having shared the stage with Bruce, B.B. King, Billy Preston, Bo Diddley, Johnny Winter, Buddy Guy, Dr. John and most recently at Asbury Park with Hubert Sumlin, Howlin’ Wolf’s guitarist. But he gives everything he plays some kind of a unique Hector twist that even makes classic songs (“I Fought the Law,” “Stray Cat Blues) a little bit different.

“The future will not be blues as we know it,” Hector says, “after all, there’s only one Wolf…,” but it seems Billy has a roadmap in his head that will take the blues to another level, and maybe come out with a new Jersey Blues vein.

One Friday night I had the opportunity to see New Orleans piano giant Dr. John, but instead of standing in line to pay $50 for tickets and go through the cattle call arena routine, I caught Billy Hector at a little Piney bar and had a better time. Billy Hector is the Dr. John of guitar, complete with hat, bandanna and style.

Billy has a pug face out of an Our Gang Bowry Boys neighborhood, and a quirky smile that gives you the impression he knows something special, and maybe he does. He’ll play an obscure Dylan – “It’s alright Ma,” with a slide guitar and slow sleepwalking solo. Then he’ll do a totally unique original “Last Night I Got Loaded,” which is to the blues what ska is to reggae - offbeat, upbeat and danceable.

I’ve never fawned over any musician before, but it’s been a long time since I heard such jaw dropping, mesmerizing riffs that take you to some interesting places on such a roller coaster ride that when it’s over, makes you want to get back on again. And nobody’s talking, the whole room is listening and appreciates the fact they are experiencing something special.

So if this guy is so great, why haven’t we heard of him?

Well, the only answer I can come up with is that Billy Hector is part of the North Jersey Scene, and hasn’t yet crossed the South Jersey barrier, which also separates the fans of Eagles and Giants, Flyers and Devils and Sixers and Nets. It’s an unofficial Mason-Dixon line that runs south of Trenton to Atlantic City that is strictly adhered to, even by the Philly and New York mobs.

Like Springsteen, who has never played South Jersey Shore below Atlantic City, Billy Hector and other Asbury Park bands play Spring Lake, Belmar and Point Pleasant, but never consider playing such garage band bar south shore towns like Somers Point, Sea Isle City, Wildwood and Cape May, which might as well be in another universe. We’re outside their territory, which encompasses everywhere in New Jersey north of Atlantic City.

North Jersey bands stay north of AC and South Jersey bands play the South Jersey Shore scene, and that has made all the difference.

Maybe we can have a battle of the bands, featuring a shoot-out of the hottest guitarists, North Jersey vs. South Jersey bands, and Billy Hector and Little Steve verses Lew London and Danny Eyre, and see who comes out on top.

I have a feeling however, that those guitar gunslingers who check out Billy Hector’s chops won’t even show up to duel, though there’s still time for a South Jersey Shore club owner to be the first to book Billy Hector South of Atlantic City.


To check him out in person, Billy Hector will be playing this Sunday afternoon at the historic Hedger House (Rt. #563, Chatsworth Road) in the Pines, and every other Sunday there all summer. He will also headline the Jersey Shore Jazz & Blues Festival [] at Red Bank on June 1.

Though he hasn’t driven far south enough yet, Billy Hector’s new CD “Hard Drivin’ Blues” is now available [See:], with the release party held (Friday, May 4) at PK’s Shamrock in Belmar.

[Bill Kelly can be reached at ]