Wednesday, March 4, 2015

Bob Dylan at the Jersey Shore 1965-2015

 Bob Dylan's Local Links to the Jersey Shore - Bill Kelly

Fifty Years from the Point
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Tony Marts on Bay Avenue in Somers Point during its heyday.

When Bob Dylan took the Borgata stage in Atlantic City April 10 it marked 50 years since one of the most seminal events in the history of rock & roll - and it all began at the Jersey Shore.

After writing his masterpiece "Like a. Rolling Stone," Dylan knew he had a hit and excitedly played it to his manager at Albert Grossman's New York City office.

Already known as a folk and protest singer - the "conscience of a generation" and heir apparent to the poet laureate  in the Whitman- Lowell-Ginsberg tradition, Dylan was about to test the conscience of a generation once again.

Not a folk song, "Like a Rolling Stone" was full of energy and needed  an electric boost.

The Byrds had already taken Dylan's folk song "Mr. Tambourine Man," added drums and guitars and made it a pop hit on the charts.

Dylan wanted a back-up band - the best rock & roll band around - and when Grossman began to go through his size able rolodex, his receptionist-secretary Mary Martin spoke up.

The best rock and roll band she ever heard was from Canada - The Hawks - the band that backed rockabilly Ronnie Hawkins she had heard in Toronto.

Others say that blues singer John Hammond, Jr., son of the Columbia Records talent scout who signed Dylan (and Billy Holiday and Bruce Springsteen),  made the introductions.

All Canadians, except for Arkansas drummer Levon Helm, the Hawks had tired of touring with Hawkins after five years on the Chitlin' Circuit, and had taken a steady summer gig as the house band at Tony Marts nightclub in Somers Point at the South Jersey Shore.

Dressed nattily in suits and ties,    Levon & the Hawks played three sets a night every night, before and after a headliner like Conway Twitty.

Legend has it that Dylan came to Somers Point incognito and saw the Hawks in person, some say they remember him standing back against the wall taking in the eclectic Tony Marts experience, but some recall otherwise.

Tracking down the Hawks through their booking agent Colonel Howard Kudlets, Dylan is said to have called Tony Marts and asked to speak with one of the Hawks.

The late Levon Helm recalled taking the call in his autobiography "This Wheels on Fire," and Dylan asking him if they wanted to play Carnegie Hall.

"Who else is on the bill?" Helm said he asked incredulously

"Just us, " Dylan replied.

Helm said at that point he had never heard of Dylan but others in the band quickly filled him in, so early one morning Helm, Robbie Robertson and a few of the Hawks piled into a car and drove the two hours to New York to meet Dylan at Grossman 's office.

Dylan convinced them to join him on an upcoming tour that included the Forest Hills tennis stadium, Newport Folk Festival and gig in England.

But there was the matter of their contract with Tony Marts, where they were scheduled to play through Labor Day.

Tony Marts was owned. by the irascible cigar chomping Sicilian Anthony Marotta,  who didn't like the idea of his hot house band bailing out on him on the biggest weekend of the summer.

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But Tony liked the Hawks, and later remembered them as real gentlemen who treated him with respect, not like the drug fueled hippies who later came down the pike. So he let them out of their contract - with the provision that Colonel Kutlets provided him with a good substitute group - which he did - a new band out of Detroit - The Wheels, riding the hit, "Devil with the Blue Dress On."

On their last night Tony even threw them a party - complete with a cake, and wished them well on the rough road ahead.

As chronicled in the history of rock & roll - the Hawks went from Somers Point to Woodstock and rock & roll infamy.

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Levon Helm with Tony Marts T-Shirt - Backstage at the Bubba Mac Shack in Somers Point (circa 2000)
Bob Dylan - 50 Years from the Point

Dylan's August 28, 1965 Forest Hills N.Y. concert with the Hawks was controversial because Dylan went electric and jilted the classical folk purists but before the show was over the jeers and boos had turned to cheers and applause as Dylan, riding "Like a Rolling Stone," dragged the reluctant crowd into a new era of Rock & Roll.

Then he took the show on the road to England. With the Hawks behind him Dylan was a new man who had conquered folk and was taking on the world. According to the Rolling Stone Encyclopedia of Rock & Roll, "the music Dylan made in 1965-1966 revolutionized rock. The intensity of his performances...were a revelation, and his lyrics were analyzed, debated and quoted like no pop before them. With rage and slangy playfulness, Dylan chewed up and spat out literary and folk traditions in a wild, inspired doggerel."

Then tragedy struck.

Dylan had taken a liking to staying at Al Grossman's - his manager's Bearsville, New York rural retreat near the artists colony at Woodstock, where he crashed his motorcycle on July 29, 1966.

The Hawks visited him while he was recovering at Grossman's spacious digs, where the sign at the gate read: "If you didn't telephone you are trespassing."

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The Hawks liked Woodstock too and rented a new split level pink house in nearby West Saugerties, where they set up their equipment in a basement-garage and jammed, Dylan eventually joining them. Garth Hudson had a reel to reel tape recorder that he would occasionally turn on and record the proceedings - tapes that were later bootlegged and recently re-recorded by new artists.

As the local townsfolk began to refer to them simply as the Band, they took on that moniker, and released their first LP album "Music from Big Pink," that as history records "was a revolutionary album; although it's long-term influence was enormous, it has yet to be certified gold."

Eric Clapton said that when he heard "Music From Big Pink" he was floored, and quit the super group Cream because it was going in the wrong heavy metal Headbanging direction and The Band's back-to-the-roots sound was the right way to go.

"Big Pink" includes "The Weight," with the biblical lyrics "Pulled into Nazareth," but Robbie Robertson later said that's a reference to visiting the Martin Guitar factory in Nazareth Pennsylvania when they were playing at the Jersey Shore.

There's also Garth's organ recital - "Chest Fever," that includes references to the "goons at the Dunes" - the old now defunct all-night roadhouse on Longport Blvd.

Dylan did the art work for the Big Pink album cover and word spread they were holed up in Woodstock, where a major music festival was being planned. But the Woodstock town council, in all their wisdom, denied the permit because they didn't want an influx of thousands of kids and hippies, so the 1969 concert was held near Bethell, New York, about 30 miles from the hamlet of Woodstock.

While The Band did appear at Woodstock, Dylan didn't and manager Grossman would't permit them to use The Band on the Woodstock recording or in the film.

The Bamd's second album is considered their masterpiece and includes "The Night They Drove Old Dixie Down" and "Up on Cripple Creek," but the years they backed Dylan are considered to be some of the best live performances ever. Eventually they recorded and Martin Scorsie filmed a grand finale "The Last Waltz," considered a classic.

While guitarist Robbie Robertson spun off on his own, the rest of The Band continued on - with Levon Helm, Garth Hudson, Rick Danko and Richard Manual.

They were booked to play the new disco nightclub that had replaced Tony Marts in 1986, but tragedy struck again - Richard Manuel committed suicide in a Florida motel while they were on the road. Robbie Robertson was right and they couldn't continue on the road they were on.

I caught Richard and Rick Danko play as a duo at the Chestnut Cabaret a few weeks before he died and as the three of us talked after the show Richard seemed to be looking forward to the Somers Point - Tony Marts homecoming.  He fondly recalled the summer of '65 and spoke highly of Anthony Marotta.  "He was the Boss," Manuel said before breaking into a deep gravely voice unmistakably imitating Tony saying. "You Bums get outta here!"

Death comes in threes and before The Hawks returned to the Point both Anthony Marotta and Albert Grossman passed away, but the gig came off and was a night that everyone there remembers.
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Rick Danko brought his band down from Woodstock to play the Good Old Days Picnic in Somers Point and Levon Helm played the Bubba Mac Shack a few times while he was battling cancer - that he overcame. Helm had opened Levon Helm's All American Cafe in New Orleans with Tony's son Carmen Marotta and always maintained his affinity for Somers Point and the Jersey Shore.

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Finally Levon Helm headlined a show at the Borgata in Atlantic City and he won a Grammy for "Dirt Farmer" while hosting shows in his Woodstock barn before the cancer returned and put him down.

Garth Hudson and Robbie Robertson are the last surviving Hawks who pulled onto Bay Avenue Somers Point to play Tony Marts in the summer of '65 and then went on to fame and misfortune and change the history of rock & roll.

And now, 50 years after taking the Hawks out of Tony Marts, Bob Dylan is playing the Borgata in Atlantic City, a sort of homecoming for those who remember the transcendental Summer of '65.

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Tony Mart's Scrapbook - An interview with Carmen Marotta



It was actually 50 years ago this month, in the spring of '65 when "Colonel" Harold Kudlets, a premiere talent agent out of Toronto Canada convinced Tony Mart (Anthony Marotta, Sr) to give a young band, Levon & the Hawks, the opportunity to bring their rock and rhythm and blues sound to one of the hottest night clubs on the east coast.

After being formed and rehearsed on the road for five years by the Canadian Rockabilly star, Ronnie Hawkins,the band left Ronnie Hawkins and became Levon & the Hawks in the winter of 1964-65. They were a sizzling hot rock and roll band with no place to go in Arkansas and Memphis. Colonel Kudlets asked Tony Mart to "Just give them a chance! Please! Just give them two weeks and if you don't like them you can get rid of them." Tony Mart loved them. And so did everybody else!

Word of this incredible rock 'n roll, rhythm and blues ensemble spread like wild fire up and down the east coast. Being from Toronto the personal assistant of Albert Grossman knew about "The Hawks", Grossman, Bob Dylan's manager, became very interested in what was happening in Somers Point, NJ because he was looking for the right band to help Bob Dylan transition from folk music and acoustic protest songs to electric rock.

He sent John Hammond, Jr down to the Jersey Shore to verify that this in fact was "the band".

Dylan's talent scout walked into the pulsating Tony Mart's in the summer of '65 and felt the awesome power of Levon & the Hawks driving the dance floor and amazing audiences with their spellbinding performances, embellished by the guitar licks of Robbie Robertson, the incredible, soulful voice of Richard Manuel and the incomparable vocal performances and harmonies of Levon, Richard and Ricky Danko. He instantly knew that this was, in fact, THE BAND.

As these Rock and Roll Hall of Famers have stated throughout so many interviews in their vaunted careers, the summer of '65 was one of the greatest times of their lives. Doing 4 shows a night, 6 nights a week they were rockin' the Jersey Shore in Somers Point with their enrapturing southern, rootsy rock 'n roll when Bob Dylan offered them 5 times as much money as they were making at Tony Mart's and took them away to Woodstock to record and help compose and arrange some of the greatest folk rock songs in the history of music.

In Somers Point a year or two later, the next thing we heard was a recording called "Music from Big Pink" the name of the house where Levon & the Hawks officially became "THE BAND" forever.
The rest of the story, as they say, is rock 'n roll history.

Tony Mart Presents the 50th Anniversary of this milestone in Rock 'n Roll history with shows throughout 2015 beginning with the Dan Burke Bands "Tribute to Bob Dylan & The Band" at Spring Fresh Craft Beer and Wine Festival on Saturday, April 18th at the EHT Elks Club and again at the Somers Point Beach Concert on the 4th of July.

For more information go to or or 609-653-6069.
Carmen Marotta 609-457-1316

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