Sunday, July 31, 2011

Atlantic City Country Club - Open to the Public

Ladies and Gentlemen, the Atlantic City Country Club is now open.
By William Kelly (Published in spring 2007. Also See:

The venerable 110 year-old Atlantic City Country Club, one of the most historically significant golf clubs in the world, is now open to the public, a change in policy that is itself historic.

This formal announcement brings the club full circle, as it was in the beginning, a golf club built for the pleasure and convenience of the guests of the Atlantic City boardwalk hotels. Now once again owned by Atlantic City boardwalk hotel interests, the club is experiencing a Renaissance that anyone can enjoy.

After more than a half-century as a private club and ten years into its casino ownership, the club has begun a new public era that allows ordinary golfers to go where golf history was made repeatedly.

Since the casino company is currently changing owners, how long it will last is yet to be seen. So those who take their golf game seriously should take advantage of the opportunity this season to experience what venerable golf is all about.

Previously a private club owned by the Fraser family, and open only to members and guests for more than a half-century, shortly after Harrahs took over the previously merged Bally-Hilton-Caesars company, the new casino owners opened the course to the public last year

This year, with a recently acquired public liquor license from the city of Northfield, they opened the historic clubhouse to the public as well. Purchasing one of the two liquor licenses in Northfield from J.R. Kemp’s Ale House (formerly the Owl Tree), the Tap Room began serving drinks in early April, just after the club held an open house to showcase the historic clubhouse and grounds. For the record, the first beer was served to long time pro shop manager, starter and club historian Kenny Robinson.

Kenny has been around the club longer than anyone, and can answer most of the questions that come to mind.

Long known as “the Northfield Links,” the classic Lakes Bay links course was totally revamped in an $8 million makeover by Bally-Hilton, updated to today’s standards by classical revivalist architect Tom Doaks.

But as a private casino course it was seldom used by casino management and high rollers, mainly because they couldn’t serve liquor, so the greens are pristine and course is in prime championship condition.

Originally built in 1897, laid out by Philadelphia Country Club professional John Reid, the course was the scene of a number of early major championships and historic events, like the 1901 U.S. Amateur (won by Walter Travis with the then radical Haskell ball), and was where the term “birdie,” for one under par, was coined in 1903. Club pro Johnny McDermott was the first American and youngest ever (at 19) to win the U.S. Open, which he did twice (1910-1911).

One of the players in the first “birdie” game was George Crump, who went on to build Pine Valley, recognized as the finest golf course in the world, while others associated with the Atlantic City Country Club established Seaview, Oakmont, Wildwood, Great Bay, Boca Raton, Oakmont, Mays Landing, Brigantine, and Avalon, among others, making Atlantic City something of the mother club to many other, also historically significant courses.

Since the early 1940s the club was owned by the Fraser family, “the first family of golf,” whose patriarch “Jolly” Jim Fraser was a golf pro from Fraser, Scotland and one of the first pros at Seaview. His son, great amateur Sonny Fraser and his associates sold the club in 1944 to his brother Leo, a returning war hero and golf professional who became head of the PGA.

A great proponent of the game, Leo Fraser made it a championship course again, with a number of USGA Women’s Open Championships (1948, 1965, 1975) that helped set up the LPGA, and the first PGA Senior’s tournament (1980), the humble beginning of the PGA Senior (Now Champion’s) Tour.

In 1997, after a year-long centennial celebration, the Fraser family sold the club to the Bally-Hilton casino company. The Frasers then renovated their Mays Landing Country Club and built a new one in Florida (designed by Arnold Palmer).

When the Bally-Hilton-Caesars group merged with Harrah’s/Showboat, becoming one of the largest casino companies in the world, the new corporate owners decided to open the course to the public.

Although open last year, the course still didn’t get much play without promotion, and a sliding green fee scale ($140-$200). This year, even though the clubhouse will be open for business and there will be more people around, they don’t anticipate a big increase in course use this season.

While the course has been upgraded significantly, the clubhouse has changed little, and is still pretty much the same as it’s been in the past fifty years or so. There’s the bell at the front door, rung for the last trolley of the day, and the McDermott Room just off the front door. You can spend an entire afternoon roaming the hallowed halls of the Leo Fraser Library, the Sonny Fraser Room, the magnificent ballroom and dinning rooms, the storied Tap Room (See: Sidebar), the Locker Room and pro shop, all of which are now open to the public. Each room has a story to tell and their walls are lined with photos and memorabilia that outline the history of golf from its earliest days in America.

It’s still a first class operation (there is no second class here), and the prices reflect that, as meals are priced accordingly for lunch and dinner, and you get all the amenities, quality and service.

Former club members who return will recognize some of the employees, waitresses and the chef, as well as items on the menu. Although now a public venue, it still has that private club atmosphere, style and tradition. With the new liquor license, the Tap Room Grille is open for lunch and dinner on Fridays and Saturdays (from 5pm), and the Ballroom and dining rooms are available for private parties and meetings.

What we don’t know is what the future will bring, as golf pro Steve Sullivan has announced his departure and yet another major conglomerate is in the process of purchasing the Bally-Hilton-Caesars-Harrah’s-Showboat Empire, of which the Atlantic City Country Club is but a very small part.

It’s hard to believe there are bigger fish than the current casino owners, but when the Texas Pacific Group and Apollo Management LP complete the multi-billion dollar deal, the new owners may not even be aware they own the club, a small percentage of the new company’s assets/holdings. Texas Pacific’s David Bonderman, James Coulter and William S. Price III and Apollo Management’s Leon Black and Arnold Rosenstein (KSL Fairways), may or may not play golf and have an affinity for history and tradition.

They could keep the club as is, make it private again, spin it off to a local group or develop the course with condos.

In any case, whatever the future holds, now is the time to appreciate the Atlantic City Country Club, one of the most historically significant golf courses in the world. A first class experience, in the clubhouse and the course, caddies are available ($50), and you “play a round with history.”

The club stands as a testament to the definition of the word “venerable,” as Webster’s says it is “made sacred by historical association, and calling for respect through age, character and attainment.”

The venerable Atlantic City Country Club is now open to the public.

For more information contact the Atlantic City Country Club, One Leo Fraser Drive, Northfield, N.J. 09225-0236 – (609) 236-4400 for reservations; (609) 236-4401 for front desk; (609) 236-4411 for pro shop or visit on line at]

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

Taproom at Atlantic City Country Club Open to the Public - By William Kelly
(Published in March, 2007)

With the transfer of the liquor license approved by the city of Northfield, the storied Tap Room of the historic 110 year old Atlantic City Country Club is now officially 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]

Atlantic City Country Club

They used to ring the bell to alert golfers of the impending arrival of the last Shore Road trolley to Atlantic City.

The Birdie Patio overlooks the Atlantic City skyline across Lakes Bay and sits adjacent to the green where the term "birdie" was coined.

Atlantic City Political Boss "Hap" Farley, who took over when Nucky Johnson went to jail, holds court at the Taproom bar. And as it looks today.

The legendary Men's Locker room has its own bar, sports on TV and is where the band sets up on Thursdays Happy Hour if its raining or thunderstorms and they can't entertain on the Patio.

Saturday, July 30, 2011

Philly Folk Fest

The 50th Annual Philadelphia Folk Fest is coming up soon and its going to be a great one, with such enticing headliners as Levon Helm, Dave Bromberg, Tom Rush and many many more.

As a veteran of both the Philadelphia Folk Fest and Woodstock, the Folk Fest comes in first by any comparison because its so much better organized.

The best part is after the stage shows are over and you sit around a campfire singing songs and jamming with new friends and old alike.

The primary Master of Ceremonies Gene Shay has a popular Sunday night radio show on WXPN 88.5 in which he plays some classic tunes and usually has on a guest who performs some acoustic stuff live. Shay's show has been on for the half century mark too, with my favorite program being the time he had Jim Croce on and he made Kipling's poem to Gunga Dinn a neat rhyming ballad.

WXPN used to feature a Sunday night radio show by a guy named Meatball Fulton, who I would like to learn what ever happened to - and introduced a lot of people to Captain Beefheart and Frank Zappa. On the same night over at WMMR, Dave Herman began playing entire albums, I think they called it AOR - Album Oriented Rock in order to get it past the program managers, who preferred beautiful music.

In any case, it was during one of these radical Sunday night radio shows when one of them played "The Weight" by the Band, which just blew me away and tugged at me to get into the music.

I've heard and read a lot about the biblical and philosophical interpretations of this song, but then it all really made sense when Robbie Robertson explained that the part about "pulling into Nazareth" isn't the Nazareth in the Middle East where Christ used to hang out, but Nazareth, Pennsylvania, where the Martin guitar factory is located and where they once visited. It was probably on a day trip from Somers Point, NJ in the summer of '65 whe the Band played as Levon and the Hawks.

Now Levon's returning as a headliner with a new band.

In the photos below the first is a Jersey Shore contingent of campers - Bob Lang and Dorry Dude are two.

The old man is playing a pair of bones - spare rib bones.

Then there is one of a Martin Guitar Workshop, and I imagine the company is still one of the sponsors of the festival.

As a word of explanation, these are black and white photos because it wasn't that log ago, I guess it was the 70s and 80s when newspapers still only published black & white photos, and I sometimes did my own developing, printing and enlarging.

I'll be writing a preview of this years festival so stay tuned. - BK

Caroline's Bay Ave & Longport Blvd.

Caroline's - Bay Ave. & Longport Blvd. is now run by Caroline, whose father Dave Tyson passed away last year.

Dave was a building contractor who was partners with Bill Morris, who purchased the historic Anchorage Tavern down the street and had Tyson renovate it.

Dave then purchased the old strip joint on the Cardiff Circle after Gov. Christie Whitman complained about it during a visit to the FAA's NAFAC research center near the Atlantic City airport, so Dave got rid of the girls and renamed it Chrstie's after the governor.

I understand Dave also bought and restored the old Barington bar near Wayne Kline's home.

Caroline's used to be an Hawaiian themed bar and restaurant in the Sixties, before becoming the Rock Box in the Seventies, which featured live bands, and then a sports bar.

When Dave bought it, with two lawyers as partners, he divided the building into offices for the lawyers and leased out an upscale plumbing retail store, then expanded the bar towards the bayside, adding a dining room and porch.

Inside, he laid out Caroline's bar exactly as he had done at the Anchorage, with a large rectangle bar in the middle and covered the walls with old, framed photos and memorabilia.

Wednesday, July 27, 2011

Where the Bands are July 29 - Aug 4

Mike Pedicin, Jr. does a performing workshop on Sunday afternoon at the Ocean City Public Library at 17th & Simpson, featuring the music of Dave "Take Five" Brubeck, one of the most influential jazz band leaders of all time, which included sax man Paul Desmond. Mike played with the Dave Brubeck band for a number of years.

WHERE THE BANDS ARE - July 29 – August 4

FRIDAY July 29

Dr Bobby Fingers with “Ernie T” Trionfo: Popular Music Somers Point Beach

Danny Eyer Duo 3;
Steve LaManna 8 Beach Club Seaglass Golden Inn Avalon
Carl Behrens 4:30, Back 2 Life 9 at Rusty Nail at Cape May.
Paul Sottile 6:30 Ebbitt Room Virginia Hotel
Wesley Ochs 8 Brown Room; Duane Anthony 9 Boiler Room Congress Hall CM.
Cheers Carney’s Cape May
The Sensational Soul Cruisers Cabanas Cape May
George Mestrhazy Merion Inn Cape May
Steamroller Picnic Ugly Mug 9:30
Michael James 6 Harpoon Henrys N. Cape May.
Third Watch Harbor View Cape May
Patty and Bugsy and Soul Custody at Coconut Cove Wildwood
Sindi Raymond at Lighthouse Point Wildwood
Tommy Zito and Juliano Brothers at the Wharf Wildwood
Matt Kelly, Johathan Harwood and Jerry Smith Westys Irish Pub NWW
Grape Street Riot, Darin MacDonald, 52 Pickup at Windrift Avalon
Laura Lea & Tripp Fabulous at Jacks in Avalon
LeCompt 10:30 at The Rocking Chair in Avalon
Broken Strings at Buschs in Sea Isle City
Emily’s Toy Box at the Princeton in Avalon
Gene and Ryan, LeCompt at Springfield in Sea Isle City
Jim Maher & Son at Deauville Inn Strathmere
Dan Brown at Tun Tavern AC
Mr. Greengenes – Backstage at House of Blues Showboat AC
John Eddie Stone Poney Asbury Park


Not Worth Stealing 12; Mike Thompson Band 3:30; Steve LaManna 8 Golden Inn Avalon
Chris Vittese 4:30; Third Degree 9; the Rusty Nail Cape May
Paul Sottile 6:30 Ebbit Room Virginia Hotel
Darin MacDonald 8 Brown Room; Poker Face Boiler Room Congress Hall CM
Crystal Roxx Carneys Cape May
Ravioli Shanker Cabanas Cape May
George Mesterhazy Merion Inn Cape May
Beachomber Bill 6 Harpoon Henrys N. Cape May
Stage Pass Harbor View Cape May
One Hot Mess Casys on Third N.WW.
Sindi Raymond – the Wharf
Secret Service Windrift Stone Harbor 4
Andrew Dice Clay Trop AC
Rodney Carrington Hilton AC
Bob Saget Borgata
Steely Dan, Borgata

SUNDAY July 31

Mike Pedicin Quarte Jazz Ocean City Library 1735 Simpson 2:00 pm Part 3 of a three-part educational series - includes performance and discussion. The Music Of Dave Brubeck 609-399-2434 Free admission

Reggae Sunday 12:30; Audrey Snow 9; at Rusty Nail Cape May

Dr. Bobby Fingers plays at the Sons of American Legion #352 Summer Barbecue 4pm, 1st St. and Pennsylvania Ave., Somers Point. All you can eat. $20.

Jack Light Move 12; Raggamuffins 3:30; Doug Knight 7 Seaglass Golden Inn Avalon
The Exceptions The Deck at Golden Nugget AC Inlet 3
Erik Simonsen 8 Brown Room; Open Mic Boiler Room Congress Hall Cape May
Animal House Carneys Cape May
George Mesterhazy Merion Inn Cape May
Bondage 1; Beachcomber Bill Harpoon Henrys N. Cape May
It’s a Sinatra Thing Harbor View Cape May
Mike Lecompt Springfield Inn 9 Sea Isle City
Secret Service 5 ; Mr. Greengenes Ocean Drive Sea Isle City
Verdict – Baia on Bay Ave. Somers Point 7
Patty Blee 800 Bay Somers Point

MONDAY August 1

The Ottis Clay Band. Blues. Kennedy Plaza. AC Boardwalk

Joe King 3 The Beach Club Seaglass Golden Inn Avalon
Mike LeCompt 4 Carousel beach bar Springfield Inn Sea Isle City
Guy Petersen solo, 4:30 at the Rusty Nail Cape May
Audrey Snow Brown Room Congress Hall Cape May
George Mesterhazy Merion Inn Cape May
Dave Christopher Band Coconut Cove

TUESDAY August 2

Cyril Neville and Tribe 13. New Orleans legends. Kennedy Plaza AC.

Vince Schneider Duo 3 at Beach Club Seaglass Golden Inn Avalon
Joe Kozat 4:30 at Rusty Nail in Cape May
Don Shaw (duo) Brown Room Congress Hall Cape May
Jazz Trio Merion Inn Cape May
Sal Anthony – Harpoon Henrys Cape May
Justin Steere, Gypsy Wisdom and Darin MacDonad at Windrift Avalon
Red Garter Night at Coconut Cove Wildwood
Patty Blee 800 Bay Somers Point


Feraba – West Africa rhythms. Kennedy Plaza AC Boardwalk

Bubba Mac Band at The Deauville Inn Strathmere 6-10

Stellar Mojo 3 Beach Club Seaglass Golden Inn Avalon
Wesley Ochss 4:30 at Rusty Nail Beach Shack Cape May
Matt Santry Brown Room Congress Hall Cape May
Big House Carneys Cape May
George Mesterhazy Merion Inn Cape May
Evolution Coconut Cove
Joe and Friends / Phil Stocker Steve & Cookies in Margate
Secret Service 10 at Ocean Drive in Sea Isle City.
Patty Blee 800 Bay Somers Point


Dominick Farinacci CBB Youth Jazz Ensemble. Kennedy Plaza AC

Foster Child Duo 3; Steve LaManna 8; Beach Club Seaglass Golden Inn Avalon
Marnie & Nate at the Rusty Nail Cape May
Paul Sottile 6:30 Ebbitt Room Virginia Hotel Cape May
Terry’oke 9 Boiler Room Congress Hall
Animal House Carneys Cape May
George Mesterhazy Merion Inn Cape May
Jay Bethal of Bluebone 8 Pilot House Cape May
The Excpetions Windrift 8 Avalon
Patty Blee Library III Black Horse Pike EHT
Joe and Friends Steve & Cookies Margate.
Jerry Blavat at Lighthouse Point Wildwood
Burnt Sienna at Ocean Drive Sea Isle City
Gary and the Kid at Deauville Inn Strathmere

Rufus Harley

The late Rufus Harley decided to learn how to play the bagpipes as a young boy after he heard the Scottish Black Watch Regiment perform in President John F. Kennedy's funeral procession. He bought an old bagpipe at a pawn shop and also learned to play the sax.

As the first and only jazz bagpipe player Rufus was something of an oddity. He led the first Atlantic City St. Patrick's Day Parade down the boardwalk, played the sax in Eddie & the Cruisers' band and performed at Wayne Piersanti's Shire Tavern on the Washington Street Mall in Cape May where I took the black and white photo of him that's out of focus.

While a comment has been made that that is not a photo of Rufus, by a member of his family, who should know, I distinctly recall taking the photo sometime in the late 1980s and believe it is him. -

Robert Hazard

The late Robert Hazard had a number of big hits in the 80s including - "Escalator of Life," of which there are a number of videos of his performances on Youtube.

He also wrote "Girls Just Wanna Have Fun" that Cyndi Lauper made a hit.

Robert lived in South Jersey, his wife owned an antique shop in Cape May and he played on occasion at the Shire in Cape May and other local venues, including the 75th Anniversary party at the Flanders Hotel on the Boardwalk in Ocean City (NJ), a show that also included Bill Haley's Original Comets and original rock & roller Mike Pedicin, Sr. ("Shake A Hand"), father of jazz man Mike Pedicin, Jr.

Lew London

Legendary Lew London is the premier local string man on guitar, mandolin and fiddle.

I first caught Lew's act in the first floor bar of the Old Chelsea Hotel in Atlantic City, and then at the Stockton Pub when the college first opened.

Lew then played frequently at the Library III on the Black Horse Pike and cut a critically acclaimed album "Swingtime in Springtime."

I used to catch Lew all the time at the Library, and when Brien O'Keeney and I were traveling out west we were driving through the desert one night when a college radio station played Lew's album on the radio. What a treat that was.

Lew played solo and as a duo on the Deauville Inn deck for many years, and now returns there every Wednesday as the lead guitarist with the Bubba Mac Blues Band, which is pretty much a local all-star band of the best musicians around.

Lew also plays regularly at Steve & Cookies in Margate

The Harpists - Sonny Boy Cotton & Butterfield

I guess you can say that Sonny Boy Williamson's King Biscuit Flower Show on the AM radio out of Helina, Arkansas was one of the earliest roots of rock & roll.

Both Levon Helm and James Cotton mentioned the influence that show had on them and others who would take up the beat and continue it today.

I caught Cotton many times over the years, but the first time was the best, as I went to the show with Billy Mueller, the lead guitarist with Backroads and collector of Les Pauls.

It was at the now defunct Bijou Cafe in Philadelphia, and after his first set, while the Persuasions were singing downstairs, me and Billy went up to Cotton's dressing room and knocked on the door. He was glad to see us and we went in and sat with him for about a half hour and I tape recorded the interview in which he recalled how he heard Sonny Boy on the radio and went to see him when he was a teenager.

Cotton said that after he figured out how to play the harp like Sonny Boy he went to the radio station and knocked on the door. Sonny let him in and when it was time to do the commercial, Sonny Boy let Cotton play the theme song on the air, his first live performance.

"Hell," Cotton said, "I'll play it for you right now, the first time I done it since then," and he slapped his knee and played some notes on the harp and then sang, "I got King Biscuit on my table," and played some more, and then sang, "I got King Biscuit on my table..."

I have that old cassette tape around here someplace.

Then someone came up and told Cotton something and he said, "I'll be with him in a minute."

Billy Mueller then asked Cotton a few questions, and one of them was, "What ever happened to Hubert Sumlin?"

Billy looked at me and said, "That's Howlin' Wolf's old guitarist," he explained.

Cotton smiled and said, "Well I just learned he's outside that door right now wantin' to say hello," and he let Hubert in.

Dressed in a tight suit and tie, Hubert was all smiles and explained that he was then living in Philadelphia and still playing.

Rick Danko at Good Old Days

Rick Danko at Good Old Days Picnic at Kennedy Park Highbanks Somers Point(circa late 90s)

Carmen and Nancy Marotta at the picnic table at Good Old Days

Richard Manuel and Rick Danko in the 80s

Sunday, July 24, 2011

Johnny Caswell and Crystal Mansion

Johnny Caswell – Crystal Mansion

At the Shore

School is out
Come on, let's go

Come on, baby
Let's hit that road

We're going down to the shore
Just like we did once before
Cause there's no school anymore
So, baby, meet me at the shore

Hey, there'll be lots of fun
Yeah, lying in the sun
One the boardwalk, holding hands
Beach parties in the sand

Everybody's gonna be there
The hippies, the conservatives
And even the squares
Dancing til we can't no more
Come on and meet me at the shore

We're gonna swing every single night
Everything's gonna be all right


Hey, there'll be lots of fun
Yeah, lying in the sun
One the boardwalk, holding hands
And beach parties in the sand

Everybody's gonna be there
The hippies, the conservatives
And even the squares
Dancing til we can't no more
Come on and meet me at the shore

(CHORUS) 2X to fade

Johnny Caswell At The Shore Lyrics

Listen to: At the Shore

Bill Kelly Notes: By the time I was old enough to get in the band bars in Somers Point Johnny Caswell had come and gone, though they still talked about him, and some of his songs were on the juke box at the Anchorage. Then after Tony Marts and Bay Shores were gone, Harris Berman, who tore them both down, built the Waterfront where Bay Shores was and Egos Disco where Tony Marts was located.

Although Egos had a hundred thousand dollar sound system, it was set up for disco recordings only, and didn't have a stage for bands, which Berman thought an unnecessary expense.

Harris Berman was lawyer who had worked with my father in the Camden County Prosecutors Office, so my father introduced me to him when my family had dinner at the Waterfront when it first opened. As I got the story, Berman's brother had owned a big hotel in Florida that he sold for millions and had to spend the money so not to pay capitol gains taxes, and so he bought Bay Shores and Tony Marts and tore them down and built the Waterfront and Egos.

After convincing Berman to allow us to bring a band to Egos - The Band, with Levon Helm, Garth Hudson and Rick Danko, he made out a like a bandit, and made so much $10,000 on liquor sales that night that he wanted us to do it again. But we said no thanks, as we got royally screwed on the deal. In any case, Berman now recognized that the bands brought in the people who drank the booze he was selling, so he brought in some acts himself - including the band from the Animal House movie.

When he asked for some other suggestions, people requested that he bring back Johnny Caswell, so we reached out and got a hold of him working in a recording studio in California and he put a band together and came back for a belated encore performance at the Point. While he played the gig at Egos, he also got a week at a casino lounge in Atlantic City.

The year - 1986, and this is the short review I wrote in my Nightbeat Column in the Ocean City SandPaper.

Nightbeat – Caswell Makes His Comeback – The SandPaper/Thursday, August 21, 1986


Johnny Caswell, with a revamped Crystal Mansion, returned to Somers Point after a ten-year hiatus and impressed a small but enthusiastic crowd with his stirring voice and tight band.

The consensus of his old fans, some of whom drove in from out of state, is that Caswell looks the same as he did 20 years ago when he first started playing this area, and sounds better.

Playing three long sets through Tuesday night, Caswell sang all of his hits – “The Thought of Loving You,” “Boogieman,” and his rendition of Livingston Taylor’s “Carolina On My Mind,” as well as some lesser-known but strong numbers, the bluesy “I Don’t Need Nobody,” and “Let Me Get This Straight Again.”

With Rick Morley on percussion (congas), Ronnie Gentile on guitar, Mario Sanchez and Greg Moyer jiving nicely. Sal Rota, who is performing in the band at the Springfield Inn in Sea Isle City, sat in with his old buddy.

Kenny and Charlie of the Soul Survivors (“Expressway to Your Heart”) were also on hand and threatening to join in a later session, as Caswell is booked to play a casino lounge for the rest of the week and hopes he can return another day to play the showroom.

Swaying sideways as he sang, and occasionally flicking his wrist in patented motions, Caswell still has what it takes to enchant an audience, whether it’s old fans or new ones. “I want to see all my old friends,” Caswell said, “I’m ecstatic, my heart’s pumpin’ fast, and I want it to happen,” and it always does.

Rock & Roll Philadelphia -

A brief history
Johnny Caswell was a successful Philadelphia Artist. He had one chart record, AT THE SHORE, that was written and produced by Madara/White. He went on to form a group called The Crystal Mansion, and had another chart record, "The Thought of Loving You," written by Dave White.

John Madara's memories
Johnny was a very exciting artist to watch. Very exciting in the studio. With him Dave and I produced eleven sides.

What happened next?
Johnny Caswell, along with partner, Jan Parent, formed a company in 1992 called CenterStaging. The company specializes in providing musical instruments, rehearsal space, and technical support to the film and TV industries. They currently maintain facilities in Burbank, CA and the Philadelphia, PA suburb of Bensalem Township.

You Don't Love Me Anymore
At The Shore
What's The Matter Baby
Carolina On My Mind

At the Shore
What’s the Matter Baby?
You Don’t Love Me Any More

Tuckahoe Inn - Beesley's Point

THE TUCKAHOE INN – Besleys Point, Cape May County, NJ

The land on which the Tuckahoe Inn resides has been the site of a tavern and inn since the earliest European settlers arrived in the mid-seventeenth century. Before that it was a popular seasonal vacation spot for many of the transient Indian families and the year ‘round home of the Tuckahoes, a tribe of the Turtle Clan of the Lenni Lenape Indians who gave the Tuckahoe River its name.

Many Indian artifacts have been found in the surrounding area, and an official archeological survey documented continuous human habitation for the past 10,000 years, so it is a popular spot.

One of the first early European settlers to this area, William Golden, was an Irish general who fought with King James against William and Mary until the Battle of Boyne in 1691, when Golden fled Ireland to and settled in with a small group of Quakers at what they called Golden’s Point. Golden was later tried and found innocent of killing an Indian.

In 1693 John Somers of Somer Plantation was named supervisor of roads and on October 2, 1695 was granted a authorized by the Grand Jury of Gloucester County to operate a ferry “for man, hors and kattle,” over the river between Somers Point and Golden’s Point.

Setting the toll they noted, “He shall and may exact for passage of every single person twelve pence per head and for sheep and hogs four pence per head, and for all manner of grain, two pence per bushel.” For many years this ferry was the only overland transportation link between Cape May and Camden/Philadelphia.

The ferry was once described as, “Consisting of an open boat worked by sails and oars, and frequently in operative because of rough weather.” After Somers’ son Job assumed its operations it ran from Job’s Point – what is now a unique black community called Morris Beach to Foxborough Hill at Golden’s Point, near where the electric factory is now located.

While the name Golden’s Point would last until 1750, Golden sold his land in 1736 to Nicholas Stilwell, reputedly to cover the legal costs of defending himself against the charges of murdering an Indian, which was ruled done in self-defense.

Eventually Golden’s Point would become known as Stites Point and then Beesley’s Point, but the Tuckahoe Inn would remain the focal point of activity on the south side of the ferry, an important stagecoach stop and transport link between upper Cape May County and Somers Point, which is part of Atlantic County.

On June 12, 1963 the Harp family opened the Tuckahoe Inn for business and it remained in the Harp family for decades, until Peter Harp sold the Inn to Tyson Merryman and his family. Tyson had previously leased and operated the kitchen at the Historic Anchorage Tavern in Somers Point after it was purchased and renovated by Bill Morris and Dave Tyson in 1993.

Today Tyson Merryman maintains the reputation for fine food and drinks while providing some of the best live entertainment around, both inside and outside in the Back Bay Cafe.

The Mighty Parrots play every Friday, Bob Campanell Band performs on Sunday and Wednesday with Simple Minded Budz reggae, and Danny Eyer is with Hawkins Road on Thursdays, with a different but really good band every Saturday.

The Baia Restaurant, Bay Avenue Somers Point

Baia – The former Waterfront and Bay Shores

The restaurant currently called Baia sits on the oldest and most historic bayfront location in Somers Point. As the dock of the Somers’ Plantation in colonial times, a tavern has been seasonally active since ferries ran scheduled runs to the barrier islands of Ocean City and Absecon at Longport.

The Hotel Bayview was the end of the line for two trolley lines, the Shore Road trolley and the track line that ran to the Atlantic City boardwalk, so the last stop was a popular watering hole for travelers waiting for the ferry or trolley.

Judge Larry Brannigan, who was known as the “Judge Roy Bean East of the Patcong Creek,” owned both the Hotel Bayview as well as the Anchorage Tavern down the street until he sold the Bayview to Charles Fox. On May 17, 1917 Fox requested a license in a petition in which he said to “be desirous of obtaining a license to keep an inn and tavern and to sell wines, spirituous and other strong liquors in quantities of less than one quart, in what is known as Hotel Bayview at the foot of Bay Avenue and Main Street.”

Fob’s Hotel Bayview eventually became Bay Shore, which was operated by Ma Dean during prohibition and later by Hap Ross. With a dance floor that stretched out over the bay on pilings, Bay Shores was where they drank and danced the nights away.

In 1946 Hap Ross sold Bay Shores to John McCann, Sr. and Dick McLain. McLain was a builder who owned the historic General Wayne Inn outside of Philadelphia, while McCann was familiar with Bay Shores from his bootlegging days, which he carried over after prohibition as a legitimate beer baron of Philadelphia.

Jack Murray, McCann’s brother-in-law was the manager of Bay Shores, which for many years served Gretz beer on tap. In 1950 McCann hired Vince Rennich to work for him, and Rennich later recalled, “They had three guys working the tap and people would drink it as fast as they could pour it. One guy poured the beer, another guy took the money – ten cents a beer, and a third colleted and washed the empty glasses. Waiters delivered the beer around the crowd like it was a ballpark.”

There were two stages, one in the back by the dancefloor that stretched over the bay and the other by the front bar, with a partition that separated the two, and older folks staying in the back and younger kids upfront where the loud music was played.

Early rock & roll was born at Bay Shores with the dance bands like Mike Pedicin, Sr., the Carroll Brothers and Roco and the Saints.

Pedicin had a regional hit with “Shake A Hand,” his signature song, while Pete Carroll was known for playing “Sweet Georgia Brown,” and Roco and the Saints had a 16 year old drummer named Bobby Rydell and a kid trumpet player Frankie Avalon.

With two stages the bands rotated so that when one went off the other would immediately pick up the beat, so nobody left, though people often drifted across the street to check out the other bands at Tony Marts and Steels Ship Bar.

Of all the clubs in Somers Point the best competition was between Bay Shores and Tony Marts. Bay Shores also featured Bobby Duke and the Dukes, Little Richie and the Upsetters, Tido Mambo, The Isley Brothers, Skyliners (“Pennies from Heaven”) Johnny Caswell and the Bonnevills (and later the Crystal Mansion), Hereafter, the Monkeymen and Sam the Band. The Sunday afternoon jam sessions from 3pm-6pm were very popular and brought in many of the people off the beach still in their suits, and whenever it rained they held spontaneous jam sessions that packed the dance floors.

Since the music in Somers Point had to be off by 2 am and the bar cleared by 3 am by municipal law, McCann and McLain built the Dunes nightclub out on the marshes on Longport Blvd. in Egg Harbor Township, where the liquor licenses were permitted to operate 24 hours a day. Some of the bands from Bay Shores went over to the Dunes after hours, and most of the crowds did too.

In 1980 attorney Harris Berman bought Bay Shores, leveled it and built the Waterfront, a restaurant with the live music moving out to its popular deck. It was later purchased by real estate guru Jay Lamont, who operated it under the name Bay Shores Alumni. Lamont then sold the property to an Ocean City industrial contractor who has had a number of different operators run the bar and restaurant.

Herb Bubba Birch & Carmen Marotta

[Photo from the Bubba Mac archives]

Two heavyweights on the local music scene, Herb "Bubba Mac" Birch and Carmen Marotta, son of Tony Marotta of Tony Marts. Herb owned the now defunct Bubba Mac Shack in Somers Point and has his own band, the Bubba Mac Blues Band, and organized the Atlantic City Blues Festival in 2007. Carmen ran his father's nightclub in the final years, and helps book the bands for the Friday night Somers Point beach concerts, the Good Old Days Picnic at Kennedy Park on the Saturday after Labor Day and on the Atlantic City Boardwalk in front of the Boardwalk Hall.

Saturday, July 23, 2011

Deauville Inn, Strathmere, NJ

A Strathmere Sunset - Deauville Inn Postcard

THE DEAUVILLE INN – 201 Willard Road, Strathmere, NJ (609) 263-2080

Strathmere used to be the end of the barrier island where you could get away from the crowds that only locals knew about. Well the secret is out.

Down at the Deauville Inn at prime time there’s no place to park, the deck is full, there’s a wait for a table and its three deep at the bar. There’s music on the deck on weekend afternoons, the Beach House bar is cookin', and everyone’s anticipating the featured attraction of every afternoon - the sun set in all its glory.

It wasn’t always this way. It was even more grander a hundred years ago, when the place was only a few decades old and tourists came by train and steamboat from Philadelphia and New York to dine, drink and gamble in the second floor casino. Into the Roaring 20s, during prohibition, it was a rum runner’s haven, and during the Big Band era, the ballroom featured big stars of your grandfather’s day – Jimmy Durante, Eddie Cantor and Sophie Tucker.

Then the Deauville faded into a fifties funk, for decades, when Madelyn Weiss ran it as a local’s bar only, and wouldn’t even unlock the front door to let you in if she didn’t know you, personally, and liked your company. Those who did get in, like bartender Jack Hahn, remember the plants and cats that were everywhere, and the front bar was like her living room. In fact it was her living room where she lived, leaving the rest of the sprawling old hotel to slowly deteriate.

There were a few lazy and slow decades before Walt and Gloria Carpenter came down from Woodbury in 1980, looking for a retirement project, and they liked sleepy little Strathmere.

Like the T-shirts say, “Where the hell is Strathmere?” is a good question. Officially it is located in Upper Township, Cape May County, but you can’t get here from there because its cut off from the rest of the Township by the bay waters and Sea Isle and Ocean Cities.

Sitting on the north end of the barrier island that also includes Sea Isle City and Townsend’s Inlet, the Deauville Inn stands out as Strathmere’s icon, a Victorian wonder that’s survived storms, the depression, wars and the ever changing fortunes of generations.

For Walt and Gloria and the Carpenter family it was a daunting task to renovate and give the old Willard Hotel a makeover. While Strathmere has no police department, it does have building codes, and convincing the inspectors that the place could be salvaged at all was as much of a challenge as actually restoring the place, which they did over the course of a few years.

Since Madelyn Weiss wouldn’t let me in that day when I came knocking, I was surprised to see the front door invitingly open one day in the spring of 1980. Gloria Carpenter invited me in and gave me a tour of the old hotel, showing me the casino room on the second floor that they made into a family quarters. Then there was the broken pipe on the top floor that leaked, for years, dripping through two floors and a ceiling.

Keeping the place open while they worked on it, they kept a cash flow going and utilized the expertise of their extended family and friends to restore the place, renovating the dining room, porch and enlarging the picture windows to better appreciate the bay views and sunsets.

Kenny Brown, who married Walt and Gloria’s daughter Linda, for many years ran the bar along with bartenders Jack Hahn and Frank DiStascio, all three former Ocean City firemen, so they know most of the locals and the locals know them.

Today most people come from all over just to go to the Deauville for its seafood, sunsets, drinks and entertainment on the deck, but in the fall, when the crowds thin out, the locals come back and the entertainment shifts from the deck to the dining room.

For many seasons, over a decade, Lew London performed on the deck and now he’s back as a guitarist with the Bubba Mac Band, one of the best bands at the Shore, who play the Deauville every Wednesday from 6-10 pm.

While the Deauville is the crown jewel of Strathmere, if you time yourself you might be lucky to find its neighbor Twisties open. Down the street about a block, just past the old Coast Guard Station, Twisties is another throwback in time, a rum runner’s bar that’s never been renovated (except for the bathrooms) and retains it 1920s style and motif.

Twisties too was once a Strathmere secret, but now the cat’s out of the bag and like the Deauville, its been rediscovered by a new generation.

Bubba Mac Blues Band

Legendary Lew London, Danny Eyre - the human percolator and Herb "Bubba" Birch of the Bubba Mac Blues Band.

Herb Bubba Birch has brought together the best musicians at the Jersey Shore to play in his band, including guitarists Lou London, Danny Eyer, Richie Baker and Mike Conti, and with Chris Sooy on keys, and Terri Showers and Karen Logan-Graham on vocals, this is basically an All-Star Band.

They play three days a week - every Friday on the Baia deck in Somers Point (7-11), Reddings (1545 Pacific Ave.) in Atlantic City every Sunday (5-9) and every Wednesday on the Deauville Inn deck in Strathmere (6-10).

Friday, July 22, 2011

Where the Bands are July 22 - 28

Edgardo Citron at Somers Point Beach Friday 7pm


FRIDAY July 22

Edgardo Cintron Band with Dane Anthony Latin Sounds with a Tribute to Santana. At Somers Point Beach.

Bubba Mac Band - Baia Restaurant Bay Ave. Somers Point

Scream – Cabanas Cape May
Jumper - Carney’s Cape May
Elvis Costello – Borgata Events Center
Dionne Warwick – House of Blues – Showboat AC
Carl Behrens, Tru Bruddahs at Rusty Nail at Cape May.
Michael James – Harpoon Henry’s Cape May
Moe Fishbone – Harbor View Cape May
Patty and Bugsy and Soul Custody at Coconut Cove Wildwood
Sindi Raymond at Lighthouse Point Wildwood
Tommy Zito and Juliano Brothers at the Wharf Wildwood
Matt Kelly, Johathan Harwood and Jerry Smith at Westys Irish Pub in N. Wildwood
Grape Street Riot, Darin MacDonald, 52 Pickup at Windrift Avalon
Goodman Fiske at Jacks in Avalon
Pickles at The Rocking Chair in Avalon
Broken Strings at Buschs in Sea Isle City
Gene and Ryan, LeCompt at Springfield in Sea Isle City
Jim Maher & Son at Deauville Inn Strathmere
Dan Brown at Tun Tavern AC
Dionne Warwick at House of Blues Showboat AC


Another Tequila Sunrise (Eagles Tribute) Centennial Park Wildwood
Secret Service, Gypsy Wisdom, Dave Gustafson, Dennis Holmes at Windrift Avalon
Reflex – Boiler Room at Congress Hall Cape May
Dead Poets – Cabanas Cape May
Taste Buds – Carneys Cape May
Stage Pass – Harbor View Cape May
Beachcomber Bill – Harpoon Henrys Cape May
Gregg Carpener, John McNutt at Rusty Nail in Cape May.
Evolution and Cheers at Coconut Cove Wildwood
BLT Band at Lighthouse Point Wildwood
Sindi Raymond and Animal House at the Wharf in Wildwood
Sindi Raymond and boilermakers at Westys Irish Pub N. Wildwood
Larry McKenna at Buschs Sea Isle City
Please Please Me, Juliano Bros, Goodman Fiske at Springfield SIC
Mr. Greengenes at Jacks in Avalon
LeCompt at The Rocking Chair in Avalon
Jerry Blavat, the Boss w/ Hot Sauce spins oldies at Memories Margate.
Gin Bloosoms – House of Blues – Showboat AC
Howie Mandel – Borgata Music Box AC
Daniel Tosh – Borgata Events Center AC
Dark Star Orchestra - Hilton AC
Goo Goo Dolls, Michelle Branch - Trop AC
Lucky You and Tall Boys at Princeton in Avalon
Patrick Stoner at Tun Tavern AC
Goo Goo Dolls w/ Michelle Branch at Trop

SUNDAY July 24

Eddie Morgan Quintet plays Jazz at Ocean Ctly Library. 2 – 3:15 PM Part 2 of a three-part educational series – includes performance and discussion. The Music of Art Blakey with The Eddie Morgan Quintet Ocean City Public Library 1735 Simpson Ave., Ocean City, NJ 08226 609-399-2434 Free admission Somers Point Jazz Society

Bubba Mac Band - Reddings 1545 Pacific Ave., Atlantic City 5-9pm

Reggae Sunday at Rusty Nail in Cape May.
Animal House – Carneys Cape May
It’s a Sinatra Things – Harbor View Cape May
Big Romeo and Rockets at Coconut Cove Wildwood
Gary and the Kid at Lighthouse Point Wildwood
Matt Kelly and Greg Parker at Westys Irish Pub N. Wildwood.
The Chiclettes at Fox Park Amphitheaer Wildwood
Soul Cruisers, The Zone, Darin MacDonald, Long Miles at Windrift Avalon
Vince at The Rocking Chair in Avalon
Shes Trouble, Juliano Bros, LeCompt at Springfield Inn SIC

MONDAY July 25

Cyril Neville and Tribe 13. New Orleans legends. Kennedy Plaza. AC Boardwalk.
Billy Walton Band at Breezes in New Gretna
High Society at Centennial Park Wildwood
Nate Cwik at Rusty Nail in Cape May
Ann Oswald – Harpoon Henrys Cape May
Stellar Mojo at Lighthouse Point Wildwood
David Christopher Band at Coconut Cove Wildwood
Rob Lipkin at The Rocking Chair in Avalon
Mike LeCompt and Table Ten at Springfield Inn SIC
Patrick Stoner, Jim Bannach and karoke with Lori Kelly at Windrift Avalon

All Star Jam at Ocean Drive in SIC w/Laura Lea of Tripp Fabulous, Rick Artz from Love Seed Mama Jump, Brian Bortnick of The Brian Bortnick Band and Mike Thompson of Kirko


Sal Anthony – Harpoon Henrys Cape May
Joe Kozat at Rusty Nail in Cape May
Justin Steere, Gypsy Wisdom and Darin MacDonad at Windrift Avalon
Cyril Neville and Tribe 13. New Orleans legends. Kennedy Plaza. AC Boardwalk.
Red Garter Night at Coconut Cove Wildwood


Bubba Mac Band at The Deauville Inn Strathmere 6-10

Barynaya. Russian folk ensemble. Kennedy Plaza. AC Boardwalk.
Joe and Friends perform in the Piano Room at Steve & Cookies in Margate, where Phil Stocker also does a popular flashback tunes.
Barynaya. Russian folk ensemble. Kennedy Plaza. AC Boardwalk.
Secret Service at Ocean Drive in Sea Isle City.


Monnette Sudler Tony Day Quartet. First Lady of Guitar. CBB, Kennedy Plaza. AC

Lefty Lucy at Atlantic City Country Club
Joe and Friends Jam in the Piano Room at Steve & Cookies in Margate.
Jerry Blavat at Lighthouse Point Wildwood
Burnt Sienna at Ocean Drive Sea Isle City
Gary and the Kid at Deauville Inn Strathmere

Thursday, July 21, 2011

Warren Zevon at Stockton (circa 1985)

Twisties in Strathmere

Twisties in Strathmere is one of the most legendary bars in New Jersey, mainly because it actually still exists, and pretty much intact, while most legendary bars have gone the way of the buffalo or dinasours.

You usually discover the Deauville Inn before you learn about Twisties.

The Deauville is a centuries old Victorian era Inn that sits on the south side of the inlet across from the barrier island of Ocean City. Because Ocean City has been a dry town with no liquor licenses, the closest towns of Somers Point, Egg Harbor Townshp and Strathmere all have bars and liquor stores right by the bridges to Ocean City from every direction. From the south there's the Deauville Inn, which has gone through a century of transformations.

Just down the side street, heading south along the bay, about a block and a half, across from the old Coast Guarde station, is Twistie's.

Owned by the local reaitor - Mr. Riordan, Twistie's for many years that stretched into decades, only opened for a few weeks a year, at the end of the summer, just so the bar could maintain its liquor license. It was closed 350 days a year, and you had to time youself if you wanted to experience the place when it was open.

Made of old wood, the bar extends from just to the left of the front door and around the back wall which has windows that look out onto the bay and the unblemished marsh landscape, other than the Parkway lights that run like a string of pearls across the scene.

It used to have an old mechanical jukebox that actually took quarters, and gave you three songs, and the whole place was sort of a throwback in time.

Other than the jukebox and the TV with sports on it, there was little sign that anything had changed in fifty years or more. On the south wall there were a dozen fish trophys, one of pretty much each kind you could find around here or Florida.

Running along the top of the panneling near the ceiling was a shelf with dozens of Indian head face carved coconuts that a previous owner had brought back with him from Florida, once each time he went.

Most of all Twisties was known to be a Rum Runners haven, even though it was just down the street from the Coast Guard station. There were no police in Strathmere or Sea Isle City for many years, and the State Police didn't want to come out this way, so the locals and visitors alike pretty much had to live in peace with one another. And that didn't seem to hard, at least for those who patronized Twisties and the Deauville.

Wednesday, July 20, 2011

Sunday, July 17, 2011

With Dion DiMucci at the Jukebox

Dion DiMucci – The Wanderer Checks In

If you remember the Sixties they say, then you weren’t there. It’s a clichĂ© that holds true, at least in part for Dion DiMucci.

The Wanderer, who is still married to his high school sweetheart, Runaround Sue, is still wandering and playing rock & roll, but the wonder years are a thing of the past, and mostly a blur in his memory banks that were shortcircuited by booze and drugs.

Dion, who had ten songs in the top ten charts in the Fifties, Sixties and Seventies, hasn’t had a drink or a taste of drugs since April 1, 1968, and hasn’t had a hit song since then either. He’s a survivor however, and he’s lived to tell the story of the heydays of rock & roll, at least what he remembers of them.

I caught up with Dion at the Island Highroller lounge, just off the Sands casino floor, shortly after a Labor Day weekend performance. Most people didn’t recognize him since he was wearing a baseball hat instead of his trademark floppy Andy cap. The Papparazi Queen noticed him though, tugged my arm and said, “There’s Dion over by the jukebox.”

Dion and the Belmonts – Dion’s original group of singers included Freddie Milano, Angelo D’Aleo and Carlo Mastrangelo, all kids from the hood – which in his case was centered around the corner of Crotona Avenue and 187th Street, near Belmont Avenue in the Bronx.

They fused a motley conglamoration of R&B, country, side walk acapella and doo-wop into a new stream of rock & roll. While most of the Belmonts drifted off into a jazzy acapella realm, Dion stuck with rock & roll.

Since I had him cornered I went up to the Juke Box and put some more money in and he looked at me as if to see if I wanted to fight, and then smiled. I introduced myself and he asked us to join them at his table.

Asked how it differs today from touring in the early days of rock & roll Dion said, “I think it’s difficult, sometimes for the later generations of rockers to appreciate a time when there were no rules, no expectations, no luxury busses, no stage monitors. We were just a bunch of street singers who were regarded by society as degenerate infidels, one small step away from jail or the gutter, you know? But it was a lot of fun because it was a very creative time. Rock & roll didn’t exist, since we were making it up as we went along. And it was very cool traveling with guys like Gene Vincent, Eddie Cochran and Buddy Holly.”

He’s been on the road since he was 14 years old, playing honkeytonks, roadhouses, school auditoriums, arenas, concert halls and casinos. He was Bobby Daren’s roommate on one tour, and was with Buddy Holly, Frankie Vallens and the Big Bopper when they decided to get off the bus and rent a plane, but Dion didn’t have the $38 a seat.

“It was sub-zero degree weather and we didn’t have those beautiful luxury converted touring buses that we have today,” he recalls. “It was just a school bus, and we slept in the luggage racks, and it kept breaking down. I was supposed to be on the plane, we were recruiting people, the more people the less the fare would be, and when I found out it was $38, I bowed out. My parents were paying $38 a month rent in New York City at the time, and it was a lot of money.”

“I was baffeled. I was 19 at the tiem, Februray 1959, and we were riding on top of the world at the time, and the rug was pulled out from under me.”

Like Runaround Sue, there really was a Wanderer, a guy by the name of Jackie Burns. “He was a real character,” Dion explained, “a real guy with a lot of swagger. He had Flo tattooed on his left arm. When he broke up with Flo, he he had it covered with a panther, and then got a Mary tatoo, and had to cover that up with an elephant” and he kept going until he had to cover them all with a battleship. “I like writing about strong characters,” Dion quipped.

Besides a 1987 tribute concert at Madison Square Garden that featured Billy Joel, Paul Simon and Bruce, and a tribute album that features Brian Adams, Phil Spector and Patti Smyth, getting inducted into the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame was his biggest thrill. “That meant a lot to me. It was a great night. I was inducted with Stevie Wonder, the Rolling Stones, the Temps and Otis Redding.”

“And to look out into the audience and see Sprigsteen, Bob Seeger, Paul Simon – they came there to honor me. It was a wonderful feeling.”

Does he ever get tired of the old songs? “Well, you know, it’s a funny thing. You’d think I’d be tired of them, but those particular songs, those hit records have become more valuable to me as time moves on. They mean more to mean, and I think they mean more to the people that come and see our shows. I see the response. We hold these songs in a very fond place in our hearts and I enjoy singing them today.”

I had bought a copy of his book at the concert, so I asked him if he would sign my copy of his book, and he was happy to oblige.

After telling him that “Runaround Sue” was one of the most popular songs on the Anchorage Tavern jukebox he looked up at me and smiled before writing, “To Bill Kelly and the gang at the Anchorage – Dion,”

He then wrote down September, and looked up and asked, “What year is this again?”

Dion opened the summer concert season at the Trump Plaza in May and will be at the NJPAC in Elizabeth on July 27 and at the Count Base Theater in Red Bank on July 31.

Also see: The Wanderer – Dion’s Story (Beech Tree Books, William Morrow Press, NY, 1988)

[Bill Kelly –]

Thursday, July 14, 2011

Mike Pedicin, Jr. Monday Nites at Sandi Point Loft

Mike Pedicin, Jr. leads the jazz jam on sax Monday and every Monday night in the Loft at Sandi Point in Somers Point.

When he was a kid Mike used to play a toy sax at the feet of his father, the leader of the house band at the old Bay Shores nightclub. Mike Pedicin, Sr. had one hit song, "Shake A Hand," but he didn't like to travel to promote it, and just stayed around Somers Point and Philly area.

While his dad was early rock & roll and r & b, Mike, Jr. liked jazz, and traveled extensively with Dave Brubeck (Take Five) and other top flight acts before settling down in Atlatnic City where he ran his BayShores Music company and was entertainment director at the Trop casino.

Now he's promoting jazz in Somers Point, the Somers Point Jazz Society events (Blue Moon Summer Series), doing a jazz education program at the Ocean City Library and playing every Monday night in the loft at Sandi Point (formerlly Mac's).