Monday, July 28, 2014

Finding Bill Kelly

Finding Bill Kelly – July 28, 2001

Flashbacks and Memories of the Summer of ‘63
By Suzanne K.

Heading “down the shore” as they say in Philly, on a late July Monday, old ghosts haunted me. My good friend Gerry happily agreed to be my tour guide as she is Tinker Bell and is always up for adventure and fun.

Had not been inside a bar in Somers Point since the 60’s. Also last saw Ocean City in full season in the summer of ’71.

Was following the advice of my writing teacher to find old haunts from the early ’60s. "It’s tax deductable,"  he said, with more encouragement than I had hoped for.

Since I spent most of my leisure hours at the Point, our first stop was the Anchorage Tavern, where we found a busy restaurant and empty bar around 1 pm.

The bartender was very nice but too young for the memories I was looking for. But he told us, “You just missed the best person in town to talk to – Bill Kelly.”  

“Wow,” Gerry said, “I have his book ‘300 Years at the Point!’”

“You might find him at Gregory’s,” the bartender said, and off we went in search of Bill Kelly.

Gregory’s was the second stop on our list and driving up and seeing what looked like a flash back to the past sent waves of nostalgia flooding my senses. Cheep beer, romance and good times were always available at Gregory’s. It was always the first stop on the way to Tony Marts or Bay Shores or both. The evening often ended at the Dunes – Dune’s Till Dawn.

When I got off the bus in early April of ’63, I was 18 going on a hundred. By the time Memorial Day arrived and serious carding kept most under-age drinkers out of the Point, I was already a regular and no one carded me. I looked older and was glad, would like to think I look younger now. How time changes the way we want to be perceived!

Back in the early ‘60s the Point had a sophisticated style as college kids prevailed and cool was in. To my 18 year old eyes it was ever so special.

The lunch crowd at Gregory’s sat around an oval bar, most at the far end. It was an older crowd and exactly what I had hoped for.

Walking in bravely, I carried my Cannon Rebel camera and Gerry carried the notebook where the famous research notes would be collected. We were trying to look cool and professional, women to be taken seriously.

“Is Bill Kelly here?” I said in a loud and determined voice. Silence filled the room.

“Does anyone here know Bill Kelly?” I asked, and laughter brightened the room. The bartender said, 
“Everyone knows Bill Kelly.”

Quickly the smiles retreated. Felt like strangers who walk into the tavern at high noon in an old western not welcome and often shot.

I explained that I was writing a novel about the early ’60’s when I waitressed in Ocean City, and I heard he had written a book about the Point.

Smiles returned but silence remained. No one agreed to be interviewed. I gave the bartender my card with psychotherapist crossed off and “writer” written below. Put my cell number on the back, which I use only for emergencies, though this was beginning to feel like one.

Told the bartender to give the card to Bill Kelly as we would like to take him to dinner, if we should get so lucky!

We headed for the Point Diner, the third place on our list. It’s impossible to miss as you drive around the circle on your way to the bridge to Ocean City. If driving into your past was possible this was it.

Only thing missing was the bakery, the late night Soprano crowd and the guy who left me with a heart in a thousand pieces. The juke boxes in the booths brought flashbacks of “us” sitting there after a night of dancing and romantic young love, the kind you never forget. How easy it is to love a stranger!

Our next stop was the Ocean City Historical Society and the local library. We never got there that day. “One more stop at Gregory’s, you run in and if you are not out in five minutes I will park,” Gerry said.
Walked into the larger late lunch crowd of about 14, including a few stragglers from before, all over 40. Felt like I had entered a time warp.

Almost everyone smiled this time except for one guy in a Hawaiian shirt who looked like half of him should be in Key West. The baseball cap gave him a friendly boyish look even without the smile.

Asked if Mr. Kelly ever showed up?

Someone pointed to the part-local guy. Walked over and asked him if he was, in fact, Bill Kelly?

Serious mistrust clouded his face and I saw my card in front of him. Suddenly I panicked, thinking my ever so private cell number was being passed around the room.

Grabbed my card and started to leave with a few choice words trailing behind me. The bartender stopped me. “He really is the guy you’re looking for.”

Returned and put my card back. Bill almost smiled and said, “Your number is already on the bathroom wall.”
I had to laugh even if it was true. “

“Your card says psychotherapist?”

“Not anymore,” I said, being looked at in disbelief. I explained as fast as I could, figuring I had about one minute to reinvent myself. “My writing teacher Bill Kent from Penn sent me here to do research.”

Suddenly a smile, he had heard of him.

Gerry then walked in and my trip down Memory Lane started as Gerry furiously took notes.

Bill introduced us to the cast of characters. Bill said, “You need to talk to that guy over there, he was the head lifeguard on the 9th Street Beach in the early ‘60s.”

Looked across the bar to see a man who looked toned and God-like. Not only did he validate my memories, he misted over when I asked him if he knew a beautiful and voluptuous women who ended her nights sleeping on his beach in her blue jeans. There were so many witnesses to help me fill in some of my cloudy memories.

Skipping down Memory Lane an adorable man, who was somewhere between 16 and 40 brought in his catch of the day – a golf bag! This was Peter Pan who brought laughter to everyone, including some of the ghosts in the room, sealing this moment in time forever. I took a picture of him outside with the Gregory’s sign in the background. Got another of him inside with Tinker Bell.

Bill gave me his book and I have had time to read it! He may have only been 12 in ’63 but he was able to capture the spirit of those times more clearly than one who was there. Guess that is what makes him a great writer. He also gave me some other ideas that have been priceless to me. We invited him to dinner. It was his birthday! He invited us to join him and friends at the Bubba Mac Shack where Bubba was having a 50th birthday celebration along with Jerry Blavat, owner of Memories bar in Margate. Many remember Jerry mainly as a famous DJ from their past.

At Gregory’s we said goodbye to all and finally made the trip over the bridge to empty the car and return to Somers Point around 7. What a celebration and dance party! Bubba’s was rocking with “oldies” like me. Wondering if we would ever find Bill again, we asked the hostess and she directed us to the dance floor. 

There he was standing on the stairs overlooking the dance floor, relaxed and smiling among his friends. He looked happy to see us and introduced us to his many friends who never stopped coming over with birthday greetings. Fifties music prevailed and Gerry and I danced with each other, Bill and others. It really did not matter who you danced with! Taught Gerry the stroll as she is too young to remember it. What fun! Felt like the entire night was at trip into the Twilight Zone.

Lost him again, and wondered if we would ever find Bill Kelly again. We asked a women we had met earlier if she saw him. We are supposed to take him to dinner!

She laughed, “Honey this is a small town, everyone knew you and your friend were coming here tonight.”
Maybe my number is on the bathroom wall beside free dinner. Oh, well, who cares anyway?

Found him again, glad he wears that cap even though at one point he took it off and he is covering up some gorgeous hair. Ended up back at Gregory’s for a five star dinner. Did I ever eat dinner at Gregory’s in the ’60’s. No I don’t think so, would have remembered food this great!

People came and went all bringing birthday cheer and hugs and kisses. Some stayed. Clearly this was a man loved by many. We were not the only ones to feed him. He could barely finish all the food he ate before joining us at the bar.

Finally Bill signed his book for me and we left him with his friends. Not wanting to break the spell we left before the clock struck 12. Turned out to be a day I will always remember. Never knew research could be so much fun! Not only did we find Bill Kelly and my memories, we found a guy with a heart as big as the ocean and new memories a good as the old ones.

Yes, you can go back, and God bless bartenders everywhere!

Sunday, July 27, 2014

The Songs that Made Tony Marts Famous

The Songs that Made Tony Marts Famous

Seeing people at the shore dining and drinking and dancing disco or listening to soft jazz and thinking they’re having a good time should see how people had a good time in the same place a few decades ago – swinging and dancing to live bands, not a person in the place sitting down or standing still – rock n’ and rolling and really partying into the early morning hours.

Then, after a good half century run, beginning in the early 1980s, all the old rock & roll nightclubs were renovated into classy restaurants, going from what the late Vince Renich called “sawdust joints” to “carpet joints,” and the live bands were replaced by D.J.s and jazz.

But they continued to play live music, only at different venues – mainly community organized outdoor affairs – with Somers Point’s Friday night beach concerts the epitome of a dozen similar ventures in Wildwood, Atlantic City, Ventnor, Ocean City and EHT.

When they tore down Bay Shores and Tony Marts and replaced them with a ski lodge and disco, the new owners said they didn’t even need a stage for a band, but soon found out that the live music scene was a very fluid enterprise, and they needed a stage and dance floor for weddings, so the bands eventually wiggled their way back into the clubs, but they also found gigs at community affairs.

Besides having live music at the annual Good Old Days Picnic on the weekend after Labor Day, and on Bay Avenue for the spring Bayfest, Somers Point began to present live bands on a makeshift stage on the Bill Morrow Municipal beach every Friday night all summer long, and it’s been a big hit with the locals and tourists alike. Who wouldn’t like sitting in a beach chair under the stars and listen to a free concert of some really good music.

There really is only two kinds of music – good music and bad music, and all of the Somers Point shows are really great music is because of Nick Regine, Carmen Marotta and Mike Pedicin, Jr. and some music savvy people like them.

Nick started the outdoor shows when he was director of Community Education and then went on to found the Somers Point Jazz Society, while jazz saxman Pedicin began playing as a child at the feet of his father on the Bay Shores stage.

Marotta however, has probably had the most immediate impact on the local music scene as he is responsible for booking many of the bands that play Somers Point, and is now doing similar shows in Atlantic City.
The son of Tony Marotta, the original Tony Mart, Carmen grew up in the nightclub business and ran the club in its later years, he maintained his interest in music, and after his family sold Tony Marts, he opened Levon Helm’s All American CafĂ© in New Orleans and continues to visit the Big Easy for the annual Jazz and Music Heritage Festival. While there he not only catches the headliners (Bruce Springsteen was one the past few years), he checks out the lesser known local talent, and books the best of the Bayou bands and brings them to the Jersey Shore. He also books the best of the local South Jersey talent and tries to represent all types and styles of music.

Marotta persuaded the Radiators, “Jumpin’ Johnny” Sansone, Terance Simien  et al, to visit Somers Point, and hopefully we can look forward to more of it, not only in Somers Point but Atlantic City as well, where Carmen has booked some of the same acts to play Kennedy Plaza in front of Convention Hall and on the beach – Charlie Daniels on August 11th.

Last Friday night’s beach concert in Somers Point however, didn’t feature a single band, but rather, a conglamoration of the best local musicians – Bob Campanell, Dr. Bobby Fingers,Danny Eyer, “Ernie T.” Trionfo, Howard Isaacson, Rich Kurtz and Jimmy “Old School” Glenn jamming together to play the music that made Tony Marts famous.

While I interviewed Carmen at his Bay Avenue home many years ago – that you can read here:
Carmen lists  the songs – Ray Charles’ “What ‘d I Say,” Isley Brothers “Shout,” Otis Redding – “Try a Little Tenderness,”  Bob Dylan “I Shall Be Released,”  Bruce Springsteen – “Rosalita!”; and the bands – Bill Haley and the Comets, Duane Eddie, Del Shannon, Conway Twitty, Mitch Ryder and the Detroit Wheels, Joey Dee and the Starlighters, Bob Dylan and the Band and a grand finale featuring the original soundtrack from “Eddie & the Cruisers” movie that was filmed at Tony Marts shortly before it was razed in 1982.

On August 12, the day after the Charlie Daniels show on the beach, Carmen will bring in John Cafferty and the Beaver Brown band to play their hit songs from the “Eddie & the Cruisers” movie – “On the Darkside,” “Tender Years” and “Wild Summer Nights,” followed by a blistering set by the hottest band at the Jersey Shore at the moment – The Billy Walton Band. 

Stay Tuned - More to Come