Sunday, June 22, 2008
They have so much fun at these Tony Marts Reunions there's going to be another one, and another, and see how far this can go.
With continuous live music, cheap draft beer, barbeque and gumbo, there was all the ingredients of what was the best of Tony Marts back in its heyday.
This time the venue was the back yard barbeque at the Somers Point American Legion Post, with a makeshift stage set up under the trees and Richard Spurlock's barbeque smoke blowing in my face, it didn't feel like Tony Marts until the band kicked in.
Led my master entertainer Dr. Bobby Fingers on keys, the man with the happy fingers can also play the Pide Piper and lead you through a real good time. Time out first for a happy birthday rendition of some song for a blushing patron, then settle down with a serious rock & roll set and after Jacque Major plays a set, a makeshift jam session, just like the good old days.
Orchestrated and MCd by Carmen, Anthony Marotta's son, who grew up at Tony Marts, it was a great affair, the bands and the music, as well as the barbeque, were all terrific.
Bobby Fingers plays in the Spike Lee/Len Carey and the Krackerjacks Marti Gras Mummer tradition, and can fit in with anybody, especially Billy Walton and Jacque Major, who he's jammed with before. Plus, Jacque's bassist and Billy's drummer stayed on, and the Mainline Horns chipped in on the side with sax and trumpet.
Bobby, Billy and Jacque each did a quick set and then all came back on together at the end for a killer set that included Walton doing a Hendrix style version of Dylan's "All Along the Watchtower," an ecclectic version of Beaver Brown's "On the Darkside," from the Eddie & the Cruisers movie, and a rousing "Rosellita," a boss favorite that got the whole yard dancing.
There was dance contest, judged by audience applause, and they gave two lifetime achievement awards to two Tony Marts soldiers who were in the trenches during the heydays and went above and beyond the call of duty in their service, and are still alive to tell about it.
One award, that included a framed Courier Post newspaper article with photos of Tony Marts and Steels, went to Joe Fraunce, the beer delivery truck driver, who moonlighted as a bouncer at night, and Uncle Willie from South Philly, the day manager of Tony Marts for a decade - 1954-1964.
Two other awards will be given to Daniel Antolini, former owner of Daniel's in Somers Point, and city councilman and former bartender John Walsh, at the next Tony Marts Reunion, on Saturday, September 6th, after the Good Old Days Picnic, at Stumpo's, just like last year.
This year they will be celebrating the 25th anniversary of the release of the movie "Eddie and the Cruisers," and they're working on getting John Cafferty and the Beaver Brown Band to play, if not then, at the following Tony Marts Reunion, that will probably be held in Atlantic City.
I asked Carmen to look into Rockabilly Ronnie Hawkins, who just had a big birthday (70?), is kickin' ass, and should be brought to Somers Point before he kicks in.
Billy Walton did a fantastic version of Bo Diddley's "Who Do You Love?," which Ronnie Hawkins made famous, as Carmen pointed out, in the "Last Waltz" film.
So after sitting there taking in all the barbeque smoke and getting my appitite up, I finally went over to get a burger and they were fresh out. Ah, the procrastinator's lament.
And it was good to see all my old friends, many of whom I hadn't seen since Tony Marts, and I met a few new friends, including Susan McLain, the daughter of Dick McLain, co-owner of Bayshores and the Dunes with John McCann, Sr. and former owner of the colonial era General Wayne's Inn outside of Philadelphia.
She remembers "working the door," or taking money as cover for patrons to get in the joint, and says she has pictures, but they're not scanned, though I'm going to try to get some of them and post them.
It was, for four hours, like a Brigadoon return to the Glory Years of Rock & Roll, when music rulled, and thanks for the memories.
Friday, June 20, 2008
Opening for Phil Lesh of the Greatful Dead, there were a lot of old hippies and Dylan Freeks arriving early (5:30pm) to see Levon Helm and his hot band play the outdoor, open festival venue on the Delaware River waterfront.
This is the second Philly show for Levon this year, as he appeared earlier at the Electric Factory, a well received show that got great reviews and was even attended by EFC co-founder Larry Magid. Around the same time he did a radio show with David Dye on WPEN's World Cafe Live, but instead of Levon playing at the local studio cafe, David went to Woodstock and recorded the interview and show at Levon's barn. I'll check to see if there's a link to both.
Thinking this show was at Penn's Landing, where I'd seen Mike Pedicin, Jr. play with Dave Brubeck many years ago, I parked near 2nd and Front Streets, where I checked in to the Kyper Pass for a cold one and get my bearings. There was on New York guy also in for the show, but he was a Deadhead here to see Lesh, while I was there to see Levon.
Walking around the corner to Tiny Bubbles?, I talked to the manager there and confirmed that the owners had sold Mac's in Somers Point, but to who remains a mystery.
Lucky I had on my Chucks, as the new outdoor concert venue is on the other side of the Ben Franklyn Bridge, about a mile away, but the hike was worth, it as I passed Elfrith's Alley, where I hadn't been since I was a kid, and learned about a few neat, new bookstores.
At the scene of the show I remembered why I stopped going to festivals and major entertainment events - lines. There was a line down the block, and they hadn't opened the gates and it was almost five o'clock, and showtime is at five thirty?
I went over to Cavanagh's next door, run by the same family who owns a few other Cavanagh bars near UP and 30th Street station, but this one is almost all one big deck. It might even be the joint that colapsed into the river a few years back since the pilings go out pretty far.
They opened the gates and from Cavanagh's deck I could see the lines get smaller so I went over and got my $40 ticket, and then stood in another line to get frisked by security. After a brisk tour of the perimiter, lined with concession stands ($8 Philly Cheesesteaks, $3.50 waterice) I checked out this hugh, air conditioned tent, like the Eagle's practice facility, where they had a bar and a dj playing tunes, none of which I recognized.
The stage is huge, and faces the river, where equally huge cargo ships pass by, occassionally blowing their fog horns.
The thing about Festival Seating is there is no seats, except a few VIP tents that you have to upgrade your ticket to have access to.
While it looked like fun, sitting on blankets on a concrete lot in front of the stage, I went off to the side and sat on a gardrail in the shade.
Levon and the band came onstage about 5:45, Levon sat down at the drums on stage right, in front of the baby grand piano, and began playing drums and singing strong right away, though I didn't recognize the first two tunes, heavy on the horns. Levon is back all right, steady drums and strong voice.
"Ophelia" was the first of the old Band songs and it got quick recognition. "Ophelia, where have you gone?"
Levon introduced blues harpist Little Sammy Davis, who plays on some of the Midnight Ramblin' sessions, and fit him into the songs nicely.
Playing a few songs off the new, Grammy Award award winning Dirt Farmer, Levon switched between drums and a playing mandolyn on a stool and singing "Got Me A Women," next to his daughter Amy, who also took over some of the vocal chores and hit them all strong.
Do you think he has a good band? After all these years, the one time Ring Star's All Star drummer could have his pick of all stars, and he bring in some ringers, and gives them all an opportunity to shine. First off he brought in the fiddle and acordian, which set a bluegrass feeling.
This continued with "Long Black Veil" ballad, sung by Amy.
While a lot of the young Deadheads didn't exactly understand what was happening, "Who is that again?" they started to get it when they played "Rag, Mama, Rag," and a few other recognizable songs and people started dancing up front and along the fringes.
Of course, "The Weight" is the standout song that they do a unique rendition of, a jazzy version, heavy on the horns during the refain, but only the drums, bass and keys when he's singing, and featuring blues and jazz riffs by the now renown Mr. Davis, on harp, and the sax man, each laying it on just right and taking a great song and making it different. God bless them.
And that was it, thirteen songs, some obscure, some from the new album, and a few old classics, just the right mix, and a fine setup for Phil and Friends, who I'm sure played well into the night.
If Levon was the featured attraction, I'm sure he would have come out for an encore, but opening for Phil gives him the thirteen songs and out. I'd like to hear Levon headline, and let a Deadhead spin off band open for him.
While the festival setting worked for awhile, you do get tired of standing and dancing and need a place to sit down once in awhile.
I saw a couple of guys taking pictures and gave them my email address, so I might have some photos of the show to post in a few days, if I can figure out how to post pix.
The Woodstock flashbacks were starting to come with more frequency when I had the realization that I hadn't met one single person that I knew, as usually there's always this small clique of real music buffs who make all the big shows, and just as I was about to jott down that tidbit in my notes, I heard a familiar voice, "Look at that old hippie."
It's Timmy Todd, a Mirror Lake neighbor, and confirmed Deadhead, who missed Levon all together but would catch the main attraction.
And whatever I missed I'm sure I'll get the low down from Tim at JC's tomorrow.
Before leaving town I drove up Walnut and back South Street, looking for Boston Rick's bar, but can't find it, and drive by Jimmy's Steaks, but alas, there was a line to get in and no where to park.
So it's back home, to file this erstwhile report, just hours after the show.
And here's a bonus free link to Levon at Woodstock on World Cafe Live.
Beyond The Band with the Blues:
And here's a review of the EFC show by Ryan Cormier:
That's it from Philly,
BK over an out.
Here's Ryan's Review, but check out his music column, from DelawareOnLine:
Less than a week after winning a Grammy Award for Best Traditional Folk Album and beating out Wilmington's David Bromberg in the process, Levon Helm made his return to Philadelphia this weekend to complete his improbable comeback.
The 67-year-old's struggles have been well documented.
The legendary drummer for The Band was diagnosed with cancer of his vocal chord in 1996, which is the same year he last performed at the Electric Factory, joining The Band's Rick Danko and Garth Hudson for a pseudo-Band reunion.
The tumor was removed, he withstood untold waves of radiation and in 2004, when his voice began to return, he sang again at his beloved "Midnight Ramble" sessions in his studio/barn at his Woodstock, N.Y. home.
The voice that fans thought had forever been silenced was back.
On "Dirt Farmer," which snagged him the Grammy, Helm's voice is surprisingly strong, but not quite back to it's old form.
And on Friday night at the Electric Factory, where fans watched as Helm blew his nose in between nearly every song leaving a trail of used issues across the stage, his voice was clearly strained, probably due to a cold.
But there was no way he would cancel his return to Philadelphia. With an endless smile on his face, Helm enjoyed the adulation of the jubilant crowd. In between each song, people yelled that they loved him. He would respond in kind or by giving a thumbs up.
As one ecstatic fan told me, unsolicited, "We're lucky. He might not be here in 10 years. We're lucky to be here with him tonight."
The show was not a celebration of his Grammy-winning album nor was it a heavy-handed resurrection of The Band's hits.
Instead, Helm and his 8-piece band, which included four musicians on horns, celebrated American music, giving fans a guided tour of Americana from the only member of The Band that was actually born in the United States.
Helm and his band, which featured former Bob Dylan guitarist Larry Campbell and Jimmy Vivino, who normally is seen every night playing guitar with the Max Weinberg 7 on "Late Night with Conan O'Brien," jumped from jazz and dixieland and zydeco to country and blues and rock with ease.
In addition to Helm, five others sang lead vocals throughout the nearly 2-1/2 hour show, which included covers like "Forty Days & Forty Nights," by Muddy Waters, "I Ain't Got No Home," by Woody Guthrie from The Band's "Moondog Matinee" album, Bruce Springsteen's "Atlantic City" and "Long Black Veil," which The Band recorded for "Music from Big Pink," but was originally recorded by country legend Lefty Frizzell.
Only a few songs off "Dirt Farmer" made it onto the set, including the playful, "Got Me A Woman," in which Helm sang that he and his "pretty good woman" live with a monkey and Chinese acrobats. For "Got Me A Woman," Helm left his drum kit and sat center stage playing the mandolin, which he repeated for several songs.
Aside from The Band's songs that made up the bulk of the second half of the show, one of the highlight's of the night came when Helm, one of Dylan's first drummers, and Campbell, one of Dylan's most versatile sidemen, paid tribute by performing a jazzy "It Takes a Lot to Laugh, It Takes a Train to Cry," a song that Bromberg also recorded for his Grammy-nominated album, "Try Me One More Time."
While the crowd devoured every moment with Helm and his all-star band, the reaction to the songs of The Band was thunderous. Earlier in the show, Helm sang "Ophelia," the first of The Band's songs to fill the Electric Factory, which began celebrating its 40th anniversary with the Helm show.
Later in the night, "Rag Mama Rag" had the near-sellout crowd dancing, but it was the final stretch of the concert where The Band's songs truly came alive once again.
"The Shape I'm In" sung by Brian Mitchell on piano was followed by "Tears of Rage" off "The Basement Tapes" sung by Vivino. Then came an extended "Chest Fever," with Campbell on lead vocals and updating the song's introduction with a searing guitar solo. All the while, Helm slammed away on his drum set.
Sure, his voice may have taken hit by his medical problems, but his drumming skills have not.
As the band began to walk off stage, Helm stopped everyone, twirled his finger in the air and sat back down behind his kit. The band launched into "The Weight," which turned into a sing-a-long with the audience, a perfect way to close his return to Philadelphia that, frankly, no one was sure we'd ever see.
Even though Helm was clearly under the weather, Helm never let on, smiling throughout the night and singing as hard as he could. And the crowd knew it. But he didn't need any sympathy. This was a celebration of his life and his music with his fans, who are like family to him, as he invites them to is Woodstock home for those legendary "Midnight Ramble" shows.
But there was one thing missing Saturday. Helm's daughter, Amy, a member of his band and singer with the night's opener Ollabelle, was not in Philadelphia. She was home because she had given birth to Levon's grandson less than a week earlier.
It was Amy who went with Levon to all 28 radiation treatments. It was Amy who was by his side when he first realized he had totally lost his voice. And it was Amy who, on the eve of his Grammy win, named her newborn son Levon, after her father and one of America's musical treasures.
Levon Helm is not gone and Friday night proved he will never be forgotten.
Thursday, June 19, 2008
By William Kelly, Jr.
When Bob Dylan performed at the Spectum recently, his keyboard man was Alan Pasqua, a South Philadelphia native picked up by Dylan at an open audition for the tour.
Many of the other times that Dylan had performed in the past decade, he had been accompanied by The Band, a group of musicians who achived success on their own, after being recruited by Dylan from their moonlighting summer gig in Somers Point.
As a wateringhole just across the bay from dry Ocean City, Somers Point is mainly renown for its taprooms. From the Somers Point circle you can see the giant neon sign on the roof that becons you to "Follow the Arrow to Tony Mart." The blinking arrow points down to the door of one of the nightclubs nestled into the corner of the waterfront neighborhood catering to the young college crowd whjo enjoy dancing to the loud and 'live' sound of rock & roll.
Things haven't changed much since the doors first opened in 1944. Tony Marotta can still be found perched upon his stool at the small elevated bar next to the door.
Besides the front of the building being belatedly whitewashed clear of the psychedelic day-glow paint of another era, the only visible alteration is the new stage on the south wall.
The band was playing a disco number recently as couples danced among the moving dots of lights reflected from twerling mirrored balls suspended from the ceiling.
Tony surveyed the scene and between songs, reminisced about some of the bands that have played his club in the past 38 years. As he leans back and puffs on his pipe, he has the same twinkle in his eye as the successful schoolmarm who can count a president among her former pupils.
Asked if he remembered a group called Levon & the Hawks, Tony said, "Yea, we've had the best bands in the world play here, and some of the worst, too. It's all in the scrapbook."
Tony knew the Hawks were in the former category.
The scrapbook is faithfully kept on a dusty shelf in the closet of the manager's office. It is filled with nostalgic memorabilia and promotional photos of faded stars, including Frankie Avalon, Duane and Eddy (Sic), Bill Hailey (Sic) and the Comets, Conway Twitty and Levon and the Hawks.
They were there in the spring of 1965, "Canada's most popular band," playing between sets with the now forgotten Famale Beatles. They performed at Tony Mart's six nights a week for 24 weeks and were given top billing most nights.
An eight-by-ten glossy promotional photo depicts the Hawks as five clean-cut boys, sporting formal jackets and ties, in portraits that could have been taken from a high school yearbook. They slightly resemble the distinguished musicians they have become.
The Hawks' last tango in Somers Point was a pre-Woodstock pitstop to stardom. Their favorite instrumental of the era, "The Third Man Theme," echoed from the closet.
"The entertainment policy has never changed since I first opened," Tony says, always siding with the audience when it comes to playing either popular music or an unknown original song the house band always tries to sneak in a set. He remembers the Hawks as fine gentlemen who always referred to him as "Boss," - a far cry from the drug-crazed "animals" of the following generation.
He gave Levon a room above the club for his drums and trusted Garth Hudson with a key to front door so he could get in to practice at odd hours.
Tony even supports the local legend that Bob Dylan came to Somers Point to hear the Hawks peform, not an entirelly unlikely possibility considering where they went. Tony recalls that, "I know they weren't coming back when I found out who he was, and they were gone like a bullet."
Shortly after the summer of '65, the Hawks moved to Woodstock, New York, where they regrouped, practiced and recorded in the basement of a big pink house. Levon Helm, Garth Hudson, Robbie Robertson, Richard Manuel and RickDanko dropped the name the Hawks and becam known simply as The Band.
With the release of their first album, "Music from Big Pink," they hatched what would become a legend. One song on that record was written by Bob Dylan, who also turned up rather predominately on the bootleg basement tapes recorded at Big Pink. After Dylan recouperated from a motorcycle accident, he invited The Band to back him up at the Isle of Wright (Sic) concert, one of the first of the large, outdoor concerts. Soon thereafter, they took the show on the road.
Tony however, continues auditioning young kids who have formed a rock band and have come to him for that one big break.
When Tony Marotta cashes in his chips, an era will have come to an end.
BAYSHORES REVISTED AND RESULTING FLASHBACKS
A few years ago I wrote this Nightbeat Column for the SandPaper. It has since been posted at The Pointers:
BAYSHORES REVISITED - THE WATERFRONT'S LAST BANDSTAND
There's Bayshores II grill on Bay Avenue in Somers Point, Bayshores bar in Bargaintown, Mike Pedicin, Jr.'s Bayshore Music Company and Jay Lamont's Bayshores Allumni real estate group, all named after a legendary nightclub that doesn't exist anymore, except in people's memories and imagination.
The site of the Waterfront restaurant for the past 20 years, the upcoming changes will reflect on it's past, particularly the Bayshores era. Bayshores was an old, wood clapboard building that jutted out over the bay. It had a half-dozen bars, two stages for continious music and a nice dance floor.
My first visit, when I was a teenager and the drinking age was 21 (circa 1969), was a rainy Sunday summer afternoon when I was working at Mack & Manco's Pizza on the Ocean City boardwalk. When business slowed down, an older piemaker, Duncan MacRae, a marine helicopter pilot just back from Vietnam, made three pies to go and told me to pick them up and follow him. Driving us across the causeway in his Corvette at breakneck speeds, we pulled into the Bayshores parking lot and parked next to the door since the parking lot was full. There was a line to get in, but we gave the guy at the door a pizza and walked in.
Once in the door the blast of the music pushed me back, as I glanced around the room. The left wall was painted with a list of dozens of bands that had played there, while to the right there was a big rectangle bar in front of a dance floor and stage, where Malcolm and Hearafter were playing "Maggie Mae."
The second pizza went to the bartender, a talll, thin, tan, Magnum type guy, who I later learned was Buddy Twiel, who served us bottles of Bud. The third pie went to the band, when they finished their set, which had the crowded room rocking.
The band played all afternoon, then came back and played again at night, until 2am, when everybody went to the after hour joints - the Dunes, Mothers, Attic or Brownies, all of which had live bands that played all night long, until dawn. That's the way it was for decades, until the early 1980s.
The death knell for the rock & roll era was sounded earlier however, when the drinking age was lowered from 21 to 18. Because they were drafting teenagers to fight the war in Vietnam, soldiers who couldn't vote or drink, it just wasn't fair. But instead of ending the senseless war, they lowered the voting and drinking age.
While it took awhile for the new, youthful electorate to make their feelings felt at the voting booth, they certainly learned to party right away. When the drinking age was 21, the 30-40 age group was still part of the action, but when the drinking age was lowered, they sort of pushed the older generation into the Crab Trap and Mac's. The new drunks took over, and those who didn't die in Vietnam, some became highway stats before the laws were rectified. But then it was too late.
By the early 1980s, only Bayshores, Tony Marts and the Anchorage were left, and they were fading fast, shells still vibrating from their glory years, half-empty holdouts, who caught Sam the Band as the last Bayshores band.
When Harris Berman came along, the lawyer and former prosecutor had, with his brother, sold a Florida hotel, the proceeds of which were used to buy Bayshores, tear it down and build the Waterfront, which was designed as a Pocono ski resort. It was to be a restaurant without a stage and no live music at all.
Then Berman bought Tony Marts across the street, tore that down and built Egos, a sophisticated nightclub, with a dance floor and canned music and no stage. Eventually however, it was realized that live music is part of the equation, along with food and drink, and part of the overall Jersey Shore experience. So eventually live bands were brought back to both places, especially so after Jay Lamont bought them from Harris Berman.
With the Waterfront deck going strong in good weather, and live music inside the bar most nights, the Waterfront once again was a stronghold of good, live entertainment. Now, however, as the Waterfront fades into history, and Bayshores is just a memory, it appears that the music will die again. The new vision for a new era looks at the Bayshores and sees housing units, rather than the musical heritage that still rings true, if not even there.
From: The Weicksel Family.
Subject: Bayshores Revisited.
Dear Bill Kelly,
We traveled down memory lane last week. My 87 year old mother and my sister and myself spent the week down at Ocean City, New Jersey after many years of hiatus from our old stomping grounds. We had a super week and wanted to tell you how much we all thoroughly enjoyed your article about the "Old Clubs".
My mother heard stories that she never heard and my sister and I relived our fun pasts.
We both worked at the Sindia "Pennsylvania Dutch Restaurant" for 3 summers in the mid Sixties. We're from Lancaster County, Pa., and the owners came to Lancaster to hire the girls from "Good Pa. Dutch families"...ha.
They even interviewed our parents before they hired us. We lived above the Sindia those summers (22 girls, waitresses and kitchen help). We slept four to five a room, had only two bathrooms, one old bathtub, and one outside not enclosed shower and thought we were staying at the Ritz.
We had three wonderful never to be forgotten summers.
As we go olde and my sister graduated from college and myself from nursing school in Phila. we worked at the "Birdcage" which was a "Hippie Shop" on the boardwalk. My sister spent many a night at Somers Point....I wasn't old enough yet. (That summe the drining age went back to 21 much to my disapointment).
We also knew Duncan MaCrae from our high school. He was ahead of us in schol and we would go up to Mack & Manco's to say hi to him. He was always nice to us...he was a little older than us, and we also knew he was way too cool for us.....ha.
Anyways, 1969 I finally turned 21, but not till Dec. so I watched my sister and all our friends go to Somers Point every night, but the next year I made up for lost time. My nurse friends and I worked at a Philadelphia hospital and in the summer of 1970 we thought nothing of once a week after working 3 - 11 driving to the Dunes till Dawn and coming back to Phila. around 6am and going to work again at 3pm. We spent a lot of time at Bayshores, Tony Marts, and the Anchorage too.
The bands at the clubs were fabulous!!!!!
We lived to dance back then.
My sister and I really enjoyed your article and I have always wondered what bands played there at the time. Do you have any idea or lists of some of the groups that are famous now that played there?
We just likied the music, but I've often wondered who might have played there that we might now know.
If you have any information that would be great.
We have an elementary school in Lancaster that was named after Duncan MaCrae's mother. Are you in touch with him at all?
We did drive around Somers Point and it's very classy looking now, but I miss the look it had. There was nothing like it, was there?
Long live the Dunes and Rock & Roll!!!!!
Thanks for making us remember and laugh...super article.
From Michael W. Dewees
An employee I work with brought me the SandPaper Nightbeat article about the original Bayshores. He knew it would be of interest to me because I had told him about my band playing there form 1962 to 1964 before I went into the Navy.
Our four piece group was called the Searchers.
We were all local kids that got a chance to play opposite groups like Mike Pedicin, Sr., Teto Mambo, Joey "D" and the Starlighters, and Bill Haley and the Comets.
Easter weekend was the start of the summer for us. We played well enough to hold the early afternoon crowds until the big named bands came on. We did well enough that the management kept us on through the summer as the alternate band. During breaks, we would run across the street to Tony Marts and enter the weekly talent contests until someone caught on.
My summer day job was just as exciting. I worked morning shift at the arcade next door to Bayshores making breakfast/lunch for the band members like Duane Eddy, etc. What a thrill!
Our group also played dinner music at the Sandpiper restaurant next to (above) the Dunes, from 5:00 to 8:00pm. We would pack up our equipment and rush to Bayshores.
Once 2:00 am rolled around, we packed up again and headed for the Dunes (open 23 hourse a day). They closed 1 hour to clean.
All the groups would be there and we would jam together (no charge to patrons). What a routine!
If I had the money, I would reestablish that great time again in the same location. Yes, the crowd would be older, but I bet we could still party like we did.
Michael W. De Wees
Dear Mr. Kelly,
I just happened to be searching on the web for some info. as to what happened to a band named Johnny Caswell and the Chrystal Mansion, and came upon your site. I absolutly loved it!
I used to be a bartender at Tony Mart's and Bayshores in the mid Seventies. It was one of the best times of my life.
When I looked in your article on the best bartenders I was shocked to see that Buddy Twiel had passed! I knew Buddy from working with him and didn't know he had passed. He was a wonderful character!
I also worked with a bartender at Bayshores that was called "Beautiful Bill." He and Buddy alone were the reason for our large female clientele!!! LOL
But I was surprised to see you hadn't included Gay Beadman as one of the best bartenders. Did you know her? She is a really neat person and knows all the good secrets from those days! LOL
I will look forward to checking out your site often, I really miss the old Point as it was!
I guess it would be an impossible dream to see it back the way it was.
Thank you very much for doing this site. It helps to keep the good old memories alive and the heart happy.
Dear Bill Kelly,
I was the organ player on the back stage with the Bonnevilles at Bayshores during the summers of 68 and 69.
The front stage had Johnny Caswell and the Secrets, and later called the Chrystal Mansion.
(102 straight nights and matinees on Saturday and Sunday).
What a great time that was. We also traveled to Philadelpia a few times to appear on the Jerry Blavit show.
Got drafted in October 1969. Got out in September 1971. Ended up as an Air Traffic Controller and retired in 1996. Got in to flying at South Jersey Airways the summer of '69 cause I didn't have anything to do during the day. I'm now in my second career as an instructor pilot on the regional jets and fly for Atlantic Southeast Airlines based in Atlanta, Ga.
If you have any pictures of Bayshores from back then, I'd love to see them.
Enjoyed your nightbeat article.
Thanks, Joe "Sonny" Romino
JOE JUST SENT THIS ADDITIONAL FLASHBACK :Hey Bill,
Yes, I have the link. I enjoy reading events from the past. "The Good Ole Days".
When I think of Tony Mart's I think of how hot it was on those humid summer days when the beer and liquor trucks were the only things moving, unloading there goods. We were meeting and listening to the latest "guest bands" practice during mid day getting ready for there week or two week long stint at Tony Mart's.
We, the Bonnevilles, a couple days a week, would be working on new songs across the street and would go to Coaches Corner, The Anchorage, Gregory's or the Point Diner for lunch then hang out back at the clubs. Really not much happening this time of day. Just hot and humid, empty parking lots, with the smell of the bay at low tide in the air. Cleaning crews and beer trucks moving about. Bar stools upside down on the bars so the floors could be cleaned. Dempsy Dumpsters full of broken bottles waiting to be emptied. The bar tenders would show up around 5pm or so preparing their areas for the night's festivities. Norman, the manager, would be there too.
Bill, the Bayshores security guard who checked I.D.'s at the front door, and the bouncers would show up around 7pm. After that the whole area started to buzz. By 10pm it was going strong. Three sets to go, 2 sets, 1 set, let's go to the Dunes. "Til dawn" meant til after dawn.
The Dunes had double door entryways, and 4X8 hinged pieces of plywood to swing down to cover the windows just before dawn. If you couldn't see it get light outside, you would stay longer. No idea what time it was, and really didn't care.
Oh " the Good Ole Days". More later. Joe.
Saturday, June 14, 2008
TONY MARTS REUNION 2008
Sunday - June 22nd 4 - 8 pm
American Legion Post #352
1st and Pennsylvania Aves.
Somers Point, N.J.
Dr. Bobby Fingers
The Mainline Horns
Follow the Arrow to Tony Marts.
The Current, Wednesday, June 18, 2008:
TONY MARTS Yesterday and Today – By William Kelly
For over forty years Tony Mart’s giant neon arrow on the roof guided you from the Somers Point circle to Bay Avenue, where Tony Marts was the centerpiece of a small strip of nightclubs where early rock & roll history was made. Now, there’s only an historic marker to memorialize they were even there.
Today, the building at the site of the legendary Tony Marts nightclub sits barren, empty, boarded up and overgrown with weeds, with no real development plans on the horizon.
But at one time, for decades (from 1944 to 1982) it was one of the hottest nightclubs on the East Coast featuring major recording stars and rock & roll bands on two stages, six bars, two dance floors and a line to get in.
It’s been a quarter of a century now since they filmed the movie "Eddie & the Cruisers," held a Last Hurrah party, and then demolished the place, but people just won’t let the good times go.
The trip from then to now was fun for most of those who were there, and the uncertainty of the present situation doesn’t detract from the history of all the good times, which will be celebrated at a Tony Marts Reunion this Sunday afternoon (from 4pm) at the Somers Point American Legion with live entertainment, dancing, good food and t-shirts.
There have been other Tony Mart reunions every few years, the first in June 1986 at Egos, the club that replaced Tony Marts, which featured The Band, who played at Tony Marts in the summer of 1965 as Levon & the Hawks. A ten year reunion was held at Omar’s in Margate, and last September they celebrated the Twenty fifth anniversary of the filming of "Eddie & the Cruisers" at Stumpo’s. "I knew we were going to have a reunion, but I just realized it was 25 years," Tony’s son Carmen Marotta said at the party.
In the last few summers at Tony Mart’s, Carmen would often set up a barbeque pit in the parking lot in the afternoon and share ribs and pork sandwiches with friends and passersby. That’s what this reunion will be like, with locally renowned chef Richard Spurlock, whose father ran the Bay Avenue barber shop, cooking up the grubs.
Although the music will be provided by bands that never played Tony Marts, Billy Walton, Jacque Major, Bobby Fingers and the Mainland Horns certainly exemplify the type of music that they featured at Tony Marts for over forty years.
Billy Walton is one of the hottest young guitarists playing today, and recently opened for Jacque Major at the Stone Pony in Asbury Park. Bobby Fingers is the best sing-a-long piano player in these parts, and the Mainline Horns will certainly round out the proceedings.
"Tony Mart’s is remembered and is famous for "rock & roll," said Carmen, "but actually a broad spectrum of music was played there – big band swing, Dixieland jazz, rhythm and blues, and rock & roll."
For Carmen, who grew up at Tony Mart’s, his earliest memories, "are running around there as a child, playing with the bouncers and musicians, eating cherries, drinking cokes and just being there. I can recall things from 1961 or 1962, when I was about five or six years old. I remember the Fall Guys playing ‘Alabama Jubilee’ and ‘Tiger Rag,’ and doing the Sunday night Showtime, when they would do a Dixieland Southern type of show, dance on the bar and play ‘When the Saints Come Marching In,’ in sort of a mummers kind of way."
While the memories of Tony Marts are still strong, and all of the old nightclubs are gone, the music remains. Carmen, as a member of the city’s cultural commission, helps book the acts for the Friday night beach concerts and Good Old Days picnic, which continue the popular Tony Marts musical traditions.
Tony Mart’s Reunion. Sunday, June 22, 4-8pm, American Legion Post $352, 1st and Pennsylvania Avenue, Somers Point, N.J. For tickets or more info call: 609 653-6069.
More to come on this one.
In the meantime, here's some links:
Somers Point: When Music Was King by Geoff Douglas:
YouTube Video Clip of Sept. 2007 Tony Mart Reunion at Stumpo's featuring Jeff Schwachter
ACW Article by Jeff from 2005 - Anniversary of Levon & Hawks at Tony Marts
Kit Kats Recall their gig at Tony Marts
Bill Donoghue reviews Eddie & Cruisers Movie
Bill Sokolic's recent CP story that mentions Tony Marts
Eddie & the Cruisers Synopsis and Fan Comments
Eddie & the Cruisers Info
Photo of Egos/Club Ice
Looking back at a legendary South Jersey club Tony Mart’s
(The SandPaper, Friday, May 28, 1999)
By Bill Kelly
At one time there was a nightclub at the South Jersey Shore called Tony Mart’s.
Just off the circle in Somers Point, Tony Marts was known as "the Showplace of the World" and a Mecca of rock & roll. It was a place where early rock music germinated, legendary entertainers performed before they were famous, and where even today, its memory is still etched in the minds of everyone who was there.
While rumors of a sale of the Tony Marts’s liquor license and a possible change of ownership of the site has revived memories of the old place, the spirit of Tony Marts has been resurrected in New Orleans with the opening of "Levon Helm’s Classic American Café."
A French Quarter bar, restaurant and cabaret legally chartered as "Tony Marts Orleans," Levon’s Classic American Café was established by Carmen Marotta, whose father began the original Tony Marts.
For over 40 years Tony Mart’s giant neon arrow on the roof guided you from the Somers Point circle to Bay Avenue, where Tony Marts was the centerpiece of a small strip of nightclubs that mainly catered to the tourists and college kids that seasonally flocked to Somers Point from dry Ocean City, on the other side of the bay.
There were other clubs on the circle and down the street with equal claim to fame – Bayshores, the Gateway Casino, the Under 21 Club, Longo’s, Your Father’s Mustache, Steel’s Ship Bar, Ziggie’s, the Jolly Roger, the Med and the Anchorage. But Tony Mart’s stool out as being the marquee attraction, the one with the biggest newspaper adds, the biggest neon sign, the brightest lights, the most bars, the biggest stage, the cheapest drinks and the best bands.
Anyone who was there through four decades, until the last night, Tuesday, September 14, 1982, can attest to the veracity of some of the legends and a few of the myths.
It was in the quest of one of the myths that led me there, fresh out of college in the early 1970s to try to determine the truth of the story that the rock group known as The Band had played Tony Marts in the days before they became famous.
Although new to journalism, I was not new to Tony Marts and knew the doorman. Above the door there was a sign that read: THROUGH THESE DOORS WALK THE MOST BEAUTIFUL GIRLS IN THE WORLD.
"Doobie" Doberson, with his moptop hair and easy grin, worked behind the little round bar by the door, while Anthony Marotta sat at the little corner sidebar, by the door, against the wall, facing the stage.
I sat down next to Tony, introduced myself and shook his hand. I sipped a bottle of beer while he smoked a cigar and listened to the rock band on the stage. Between songs, I asked Tony if he remembered a group called The Band.
"The Band!" Tony exclaimed, blowing a puff of smoke, "You mean Levon and the Hawks. The bums. Yea, I remember The Band. They left me without a band on the busiest weekend of the summer. Levon and the Hawks, the bums."
Tony Marotta kept his conversations down to brief staccato clips, spoken in a very distinctive deep, gravely voice and is still reverently referred to by many generations of entertainers as "The Boss."
Whenever quoting him directly, they naturally revert to a precise intonation of the unique reflection of his voice, saying something typically Tony like, "Stay away from them grils in the kitchen," or "You bums is fired. Get the hell out of here."
To be honest and blunt was just one of Tony Marotta’s attributes, which served him well in the entertainment industry. It was also his nature to be fair and compassionate, and after brief reflection, Tony added, "But the Hawks," puff, puff, puff, "They were gentlemen and good boys. They were the last of the gentlemen. From then on they was all animals. It’s all in the book."
The book, said Tony, was a scrapbook that was kept in the back office. Tony instructed me to come back during the day and the day manager would show me the book. Tony then took another pull on his cigar and the band kicked in with another song.
Born in the town of Nasco in the province of Mesina in northern Sicily, Anthony Marotta came to Atlantic City because other natives of Naso had already settled there. In Atlantic City he met and married Mary Basile, also from Naso, and they began living the American Dream.
They opened a small luncheonette on the Atlantic City Boardwalk at Columbia Avenue, which he called Tony Mart’s, where Tony made sandwiches while his wife Mary worked the counter. They say hot dogs were the best seller, though Mary’s brother Tony Basile opened another sandwich shop, the famous landmark White House Sub Shop, which could count the Beatles and Frank Sinatra among its patrons.
Anthony Marotta was a good businessman because by 1944 he sold enough hot dogs to buy the old Schick’s Hotel on Bay Avenue in Somers Point.
Schick’s had been a hotel and rathskeller for the previous half century, and had a colorful history of its own, but from then on it was Tony Mart’s.
Tony began renovations that would impress I with his own image and personality, and would ride the post World War II boom times into the 1950s, which spawned a generation of Baby Boomers that included his daughter Tina and sons Tony, Jr. and Carmen.
For a career that spanned a lifetime and a club that clocked 38 years, a review of the scrapbook, as Tony suggested, is the best way to chronicle the history of the place.
In its heyday, the book was kept on a shelf in the warehouse office behind the club, where among the stacks of beer kegs and cases of liquor, the day manger ordered liquor and booked the bands.
Today the book is kept at the Marotta home on Bay Avenue, adjacent from where the club used to be. While all family scrapbooks contain pictures that cherish personal memories, Tony Mart’s scrapbook is one that has memories that can be shared with the thousands of people who met there, danced there and celebrated summers of lost youth.
When I first saw the scrapbook back in the mid-70s I was looking for The Band – Levon & the Hawks, who worked there as the house band for one summer a decade earlier. The book was full of newspaper clippings, club advertisements and an eight by ten black and white glossy promotional photos.
If arranged chronologically, one of the earliest newspaper advertisements promoting live entertainment at Tony Marts features Len Carey and the Krackerjacks, the one band that took Tony Mart’s from being a small piano bar to a big showplace club.
Len Carey was a protégé of Spike Jones, a famous bandleader of the Swing era who lasted into the 1950s and was known for his unique blend of music and comedy. Len Carey had played with and was inspired by Spike Jones, adopted his style and promoted it as "Jazzmania Smile," a schtick that would become a traditional Tony Marts mainstay for the house bands.
Although Len Carey and the Krackerjacks settled in for seven summers, and helped push Tony Mart’s into the realm of one of the most popular nightclubs on the East Coast, it was the headliners who garnered most of the attention. Besides the house bands, who played for most of the season for a set rate, the big name acts that were on tour were brought in to overtop them as the main act.
The financial figures reflect that in its heydays, as far as the gate went, Duane Eddie was Tony Mart’s best draw, and was paid $7,000, big bucks in those days, to work one week in 1964, and in that week, grossing more than any other entertainer who played Tony Marts.
"Tony Marts is remembered and is famous for rock & roll," says Tony’s son Carmen Marotta, "but actually a broad spectrum of music was played there – big band swing, Dixieland jazz, rhythm & blues and rock & roll."
"My earliest memories of the club," Carmen says, "are running around there as a child, playing with the bouncers, eating cherries and drinking cokes."
Carmen recalls when he was six years old and seeing the Fall Guys playing, "Alabama Jubilee" and "Tiger Rag," and doing the Sunday afternoon Showtime, when they did a Dixieland Mummers sting band type of show, dance on the bar and end up with the traditional, "When the Saints Come Marching In."
According to the scrapbook, The Skyliners played a number of gigs at Tony Mart’s, making their hit, "Pennies from Heaven" such a local favorite that it never left the jukeboxes of some local establishments.
Then there was JohnY Mastrangelo – aka Johnny Maestro and the Crests, who had the hit single, "Sixteen Candles." Maestro went on to work with the Brooklyn Bridge and record another hit, "The Worst that Could Happen," but only after being fired by Tony Marotta for being overly egotistical. For Tony, musicians might be artists, but they were still entertainers who were being paid, not to make up new songs, but to make patrons happy.
"The musicians are playing for themselves," he would say, meaning they were playing with an artistic slant, rather than for the crowd. He wanted to keep the room moving, with people drinking and dancing, and any band that would play to themselves were simply fired. And it wasn’t hard to get fired from Tony Mart’s. Some bands would be fired more than once, others wouldn’t get a second chance. Many of the bands that were fired would just walk across the street to Bayshores where they would usually find a gig.
They say Joey "D" and the Starlighters learned to rock & roll at Tony Marts before they put out "The Pepperment Twist."
One advertisement has Bill Haley and his Comets, Conway Twitty, Del Shannon and the Fall Guys, all in one week.
Haley is credited with putting out the first rock & roll song "Rock Around the Clock" to make number one on the pop charts, in July 1955, at a time he was playing the Jersey Shore.
Conway Twitty was a rock & roll star who became one of the biggest country music stars of all time, while Del Shannon had such hit songs as, "Runaway," "So Long Baby," "Keep Searchin’ (We’ll Follow the Sun)" and "Dea of Love."
The Falls Guys were the penultimate house band with the Spike Jones/Len Carey schtick, playing such songs as, "My Blue Heaven," "Unchain My Heart," "Peanut Butter" and "Twist and Shout."
The legal capacity of the club was 1300 at any one time, but since there were three or four shows a night on two, and later three stages, people came and went, so the total number of patrons on a given night could be in the thousands.
The club changed considerably over the years, with the addition of the parking lot when Steel’s Ship Bar burned down. A second, and then a third stage was added, and their locations shifted over the years, eventually ending with the band playing behind two bars, one against the south wall and the other in the north wing, which was lined with a road iron rail.
College pennants lined the ceiling while giant zodiac signs hung along the walls.
There was an admission charge, and sometimes a two drink minimum, $1 to get in and $2 for two drink tickets. Then there was a pricing scheme, 60, 70, 80 or 60 cents a beer, 70 cents a mixed drink, and 80 cents for top shelf liquor, which would go 70, 80,. 90 cents when things got rolling. Tony Marts was also the first to introduce seven small five-ounce glasses of draft beer for a dollar.
Although the Anchorage Tavern down the street made 7 for 1 famous from 1966 to 1972, especially with their T-shirts, the idea began at Tony Mart’s, where every gimmick and every band got a shot at making it.
It was just before then however, when Tony Mart’s was at its peak.
According to Carmen, "I would say the absolute height of the very best years were from 1963 to 1966. That’s when things were really hoppin’."
The drinking age was 21, but if you dressed right, acted mature, or knew the doorman you could get in and get served at 17, when there wasn’t a big problem with drinking and driving.
In the early ‘60s, there were professional Go Go girls dancing in cages, and a different dance for every night of the week. Monday was Mashed Potato night, on Tuesday it was the Twist, Amateur Talent Night was Wednesday. Thursday was Limbo night, while the headliners played Friday and Saturday. Sunday featured matinee afternoon jam sessions, especially when it rained and people flocked in off the beach.
But of course some people just can’t stand to see others having a good time, and some new residents in the newly developed Somers Point bedroom communities thought the Bay Avenue strip was a virtual Sodom and Gomorrah. On any given Friday night in the summer season there was a sudden influx of several thousand young people, mainly college students, who followed the neon arrow light from the roof of Tony Mart’s to Bay Avenue where they drank cheap liquor, danced with new friends and rock & rolled until the early hours of the morning.
"Even though some of the ne’r do-well, do-gooders tried to make it out like it was just a drunken’, roudy crowd," says Carmen, "just the opposite was true. There was a distinct collegiate nature to the crowd," which was evident in the many college penants that graced the ceiling for many decades. "The patrons and employees of Tony Mart’s, Carmen maintains, "were mainly college students who went on to become professionals, many successful doctors and lawyers."
Still, they made the papers. A 1961 Philadelphia newspaper headline read: "Thirsty Teen Throngs Besiege Point," with Tony Mart’s making the New York Times in 1963 when it reported, "A New Look Slowly Comes to the Jersey Shore – Some Abrupt and Flamboyant."
It seemed that it all came together in the summer of 1965, when among the most flamboyant characters you had entertainers like Pete Caroll, Johnny Caswell and Tido Mambo, all of whom were, at one time or another, fired by Tony Marotta.
Other entertainers, like Conway Twitty and Levon and the Hawks, came and left Tony Mart’s on their own accord, their paths crossing together at Tony Marts during that fateful summer of 1965.
LEVON & THE HAWKS
In the back storage room office behind Tony Mart’s, the day manager took the bulging scrapbook off a shelf and let me page through it. An eight by ten black and white glossy promotional photo portrays the cleancut Hawks in suits and ties. A newspaper advertisement announced their impending arrival in May 1965.
Atlantic City Press entertainment writer Ted Schall, in his column Nightly Wherl, wrote, "Don’t forget that tonight is going to be a big one in Somers Point, and at Tony Mart’s in particular. The renown Conway Twitty arrives at the offshore nightspot to join a Canadian group that has rated plaudits for a number of weeks, ‘Levon and the Hawks.’"
How Levon & the Hawks came to Somers Point was a mix of fate, fortune and the tentative ties among the touring acts, roadies and managers of the roadhouse circuit that stretched from Toronto, Canada, through the South’s Chitlin’ Circuit and back up the Eastern Seaboard cities of Atlanta, DC, Philly, Atlantic City and New York.
The Hawks were nominally a Canadian group, with drummer Levon Helm, from Arkansas, being the only exception. The Hawks took their name from their former leader, "Rock-a-billy" Ronnie Hawkins, with whom they had toured prolifically.
Leaving Hawkins, they found themselves without a leader and without work, so when they decided to look for some new gigs on their own, they looked up their former roadie Bill Avis, who they found working with the Female Beatles at Tony Marts in Somers Point.
Tony offered them a set salary for a week’s work, plus a room above the club and all the cheesesteaks they could eat. Bill Avis, the roadie, was already there and vouched for the place.
With two keyboards set up behind a railing that ran along the stage, Richard Manuel set up his piano on one side, while Garth Hudson set up his B3 organ on the other side, with Levon’s drums in the middle. Bass player Rick Danko and guitarist Robbie Robertson were out front.
As Helm recalls it, "Tony’s place was the biggest teenage nightclub in the East: Three stages, seven bars and 15 cash registers. There were stools and bars, no chairs, and the capacity was suposidly 1300, but threee times that many college kids crammed into that place on weekends."
"As soon as one band finished, the next was supposed to pick up immediately on another stage," recalled Levon. "Tony didn’t want any time to go by between numbers, and if you could make the other band’s last note your first, well, Tony liked that."
Before the end, they made a movie and had a last hurrah. The movie stemmed from a novel, "Eddie & the Cruisers," by a Vineland, New Jersey high school teacher. Set in the heyday of early rock & roll, the producers were incredulous that they found such a realistic set as Tony Marts.
While the movie did not make it at the box office, when it hit cable TV the young kids liked the music of Beaver Brown, with three hit songs, "On the Darkside," "Wild Summer Nights" and "Tender Years," that put the soundtrack album on the pop charts. The movie also captured Tony Marts on film, as best it could, before it closed.
After the club was sold they held a farewell party on September 14, 1982, when a lot of old friends, including the original Fall Guys, returned to pay their respects to Tony and the club.
Shortly thereafter, Anthony Marotta, Albert Grossman the agent and Richard Manuel all passed away.
In 1986 a Tony Mart’s Reunion, featuring The Band, was held at the new nightclub built on the site of the old Tony Marts.
And now Carmen Marotta has reforged his family’s links to Levon Helm and The Band, opening Tony Marts Orleans, Levon Helm’s Classic American Café on Decatur Street in the French Quarter of New Orleans, which includes a stage that will feature some of the same music that made Tony Marts famous.
[Originally published in The SandPaper of Ocean City, Friday, May 28, 1999]
A very creative article by Mark Tyrell from Atlantic City Mag.
Tony Mart’s Long live rock – and the memories of the places we first heard it.
By Mark Tyrrell (Atlantic City Magazine, December, 1991)
The Young man with the dark mussed hair stood in the back, leaning against the wall, his arms folded, stoically observing the whirl of commotion before him. The kinds – the place was wall to wall with them – had scarcely noticed him. They were too busy fliring, dancing and downing beers.
Hotter’n hell in here, the young man thought to himself as he watched the mob. Crowded and noisy. Uncomfortable.
There in the shadows, he could feel the bass player’s riffs vibrate in his chest, and he could small smoke, and beer, and the bay, all at once.
Then, as he leaned there, studying the scene as if it were a Monet painting and he an esteemed art critic, something struck him. Perhaps it was the band. They were good. Very good. But he suspected it was something more, and he was right. In all this madness, in all this noise, he suddenly realized he did not see one person who didn’t seem to be totally enjoying himself. And with that, a slight smile ran across his face.
The band onstage called themselves Levon and the Hawks, and in his, the summer of 1965 at Tony Marts, they were the band. The kids were coming to Somers Point – to Tony Mart’s – from all over to hear the Hawks, along with groups like The Female Beatles, Phil Humphries and the Fendermen, and Conway Twitty and his Six Man Oklahoma Review. They thirsted for live music, the company of the opposite sex, and, of course, the beer. And all were in plentiful supply at this old white building at Bay and Goll avenues.
It was past midnight when the young man – not much older than those sweating and laughing and dancing around him – made his way over to the nearest bar and peeled a cocktail napkin from the top of the stack. When he finally got the bartenders attention, he asked for a pen, then quickly scribbled something on the napkin. He could feel the bartender’s stare, and he knew the wheels were turning in the guy’s head.
The young man had gotten a similar look just once before on this night – a look of recognition, he first thought from a girl at the bar – but then it passed quickly. As long as he wasn’t the ABC he figured she didn’t care.
He looked up from the napkin as the bartender started to say something to him.
"Don’t I know you from – " he began, before he was drowned out by the intro of another song by the Hawks.
With that, the young man put the pen on the bar, gave the bartender a quick wink, then turned and headed for the door. The bartender was still trying to place him when he was snapped back to his senses by the words that, before Labor Day, he would hear in his sleep: "Yo! Seven beers down here!"
Once outside, Bob Dylan folded the napkin and put it in his pants pocket. He stopped on the way to his car only to light a cigarette.
EVERYTHING ABOUT TONY Mart’s was larger than life: the bands, the crowds, the stories. Inside, it was sprawling, boasting a half-dozen stages and just as many bars. Outside, high above, the trademark sign with its giant red letters – TONY MART – and the arrow streaking above it glowed like a beacon for fun seekers making their way around the Somers Point Circle.
Mostly, Tony Mart’s was a sanctuary for those too old to stay home and watch Ed Sullivan with the parents, yet too young for Atlantic City’s 500 Club. For almost 40 years, it was the centerpiece of Somers Point’s Barbary Coast, a string of creaking old alehouses teetering on the fringe of Great Egg Harbor Bay.
Across Bay Avenue from Tony Mart’s was Bayshores, a spacious Structure of wood and shingles that was so close to the bay, it looked as if a stiff westerly might send it toppling in at any time.
Further north on Bay Avenue was The Anchorage, a three story wonder with porthole windows and a porch that seemed as big as a football field. A block west, up on Shore Road, were the more modest pubs – Charlie’s, Gregory’s, and on the traffic circle, Jolly Roger’s. If you were ambitious enough, it was possible to do "the loop" – make pit stops at each of these taverns – on any given Friday night. And if Friday night succumbed to Saturday morning before you succumbed to Friday night, it was out to the Dunes on the Longport Boulevard, as their slogan said ‘Til Dawn.
To the kids on the mainland, however, the place that Anthony Marotta opened in 1944 was the granddaddy of them all.
Marottas named it after a luncheonette he had owned on the Atlantic City boardwalk, and the names he lined up to play in Tony Mart’s over the years – from Bill Haley and the Comets to Mitch Ryder and the Detroit Wheels – were legends in their own right.
The stories were innumerable. After playing some gigs at Orsatti’s, a popular Somers Point nightclub in the 40’s and 50’s, Cab Calloway went over and had beers at Tony Mart’s. And, as the story goes, one night in the mid ‘60s, Robert Zimmerman – a young folk singer who borrowed a new last name from the late poet Dylan Thomas – stopped by and took notice of the Hawks, who were making $700 a week for six nights’ work (split five ways, of course). Dylan’s alleged discovery boosted the group into the rock limelight as The Band, starring Levon Helm and Robbie Robertson.
IT WAS ONCE WRITTEN that if Linwood – a quaint, dry town just north of Somers Point – were a beverage, it would be an international coffee. In Tony Mart’s heyday, then, the Point would have been a Schlitz.
As Tony Mart’s was the centerpiece of the Somers Point night life, Somers Point was the centerpiece of the mainland. With both Ocean City and Linwood being dry, Somers Point, nestled in between, was an oasis. And on a good night along the bay, you could hear a band, get seven beers for a buck, a date to split them with, and coffee and lemon meringue pie at the Point Diner. All you needed were a comfortable pair of Keds and maybe $5 in your pocket.
What also became larger than life about Tony Mart’s was the amount of back taxes that Anthony Marotta owed the city of Somers Point on his place in the fall of 1976. Marotta made the payment – some $14,000 – in December of that year, and the rock’n’ roll faithful who defiantly held off the disco era still had their place intact. But perhaps even then the handwriting was on the wall.
In the summer of 1982, not long after segments of the movie Eddie & the Cruisers were filmed on location at Tony Mart’s, Anthony Marotta – with retirement on the horizon – sold his landmark club to an entrepreneur who had other plans for the property.
The end came quickly. On September 15, 1982, Tony Mart’s doors closed for the last time. And in early 1984, at perhaps the Jersey’s most famous night spot during the formative years of rock & roll, the walls came tumbling down.
By then, Bayshores, across the street, had already met a similar fate. Jolly Roger’s is now a Chinese restaurant, and The Dunes is dead. But down the street, The Anchorage remains intact, as well as Charlie’s and Gregory’s, which have managed to roll with the changes to cater to their more socially conscious clients.
At the corner of Bay and Goll avenues, however, there is no sign of the way things once were. Anthony Marotta, Tony Mart himself, died in 1986. Ironically, the neighborhood where the club once stood is now part of Somers Point’s Bayfront Historic District. Today at the Tony Mart’s site stands a dance club called Crazy Jane’s. Across the street, on the Bayshores lot, is the yuppie hot spot known as The Waterfront.
Perhaps it is better this way. Tony Mart’s, after all, has been excused from the era of the dance mix, with men in the billowy pants and Lycra-clad women who move as if they’ve practiced at home. It has been spared the embarrassment of serving something called dry beer; saved from the spectacle of dwarf tossing contests. It has been pardoned from the age of ferns and brass; when live music is defined by a guy who thinks he’s the next James Taylor, playing an acoustic guitar. On a deck. Where beers cost $3 each.
Somewhere, Anthony Marotta must be laughing. Ultimately, his club’s demise granted it deliverance from these, the days of whines and poses. And anyone who remembers Levon and the Hawks – or what it was like to buy more beers for a dollar than you could drink – should be grateful.
Sunday, June 1, 2008
In any case, I got the LP for a quarter and didn't really like it, or rather, just didn't get it at the time, having been predisposed against the organ by Larry Ferrari's TV show.
But a few years later Chris Columbo took me on a walk down Kentucky Avenue, and stopped into Grace's Little Belmont, a little joint in the middle of the street, with glass cubes below the front windows by the front door. In side, there were booths along the walls and a horseshoe shaped bar behind which was a huge Hammond B3 organ that "Whild Bill" Davis used to make the whole room vibrate with his jazz.
I had already picked up on Garth Hudson't organ in the Band, and got into Brian Auger's Oblivian Express while in college, and then met Dan Fogel after a Buddy Rich show at the Mediterranian Lounge in Somers Point.
The Med, on MacArthur Blvd, is now a furniture store, but it used to be an all night diner up front and a nightclub in the back where a lot of special shows transpired, including Buddy Rich, the late, great jazz drummer. It was at that show I also met two original tap dancers from Atlantic City who knew Buddy from the Big Band days.
Well while Buddy was getting into the bus after the show, he stopped to talk to some fans, including me and Dan Fogel, a Margate native whose father owned a big commercial refigeration company in Philly, and lived along Mansion Row there in Margate. Dan invited me over to his place to hear him play jazz on his B3, which blew me away.
Dan turned me on to other great jazz organists from Philly, incuding Jimmy Smith, Joey DeFrancesco, et al., and I really began to get the jazz organ bug bad.
When we brought the Band back to Somers Point to play Egos in the mid-80s, Garth requested, and got a B3, which we had to rent from some shop in Vineland.
In any case, the origins of the jazz organ in my life go back to picking up that used Jimmy McGriff album in Atlantic City, and learning to pay attention to the music these guy produce.
Now Jimmy's gone, and here's his obits.
I've read his obits in the Philly Inky and Washington Post, and see that right now, as I write this, there's a musical tribute to Jimmy going on at his old church in Philly where he got the organ bug, and his funeral is tommorrow in Vorhees, about thirty miles from where I am, and then they have a church service on Tuesday before they bury him.
God bless Jimmy McGriff, and Jimmy, I just might crash your funeral if theres going to be any more jamming going on in church.
Also want to thank the good folks over at WRTI FM in Philly, who have a local antenna that covers Ocean City - Atlantic City at the shore, for playing some Jimmy McGriff tunes on the air, and giving him a proper eulogy.
This afternoon, like most Sunday afternoons, WRTI had a special one hour Wannamker Organ Hour, featuring live performances from the Wannamaker Organ in Center City, at what is now, I think, Macy's Philadelphia store. Anybody who grew up anywhere near Philly would meet people at the Wannamaker Organ and remember it from Christmas visits to the city.
It's cosponsored by the Friends of the Wannamaker Organ, which reminds me of the huge organ at the old Atlantic City Convention Hall, now the Boardwalk Hall, which they spent $90 million restoring a few years ago but didn't bother budgeting the money needed to repair and restore the organ, one of the most significant items in the house.
There's two organs at the Boardwalk Hall, one in the ballroom, and the other at the main stage.
I always had the hope that there would be a benefit concert at the Boardwalk Hall featuring primarily organ players, like Jimmy McGriff, Garth Hudson, Dan Fogel, Joey D, and all the great Philly guys who can play a Hammond, and raise the money it will take to get the big organ up and running again.
Then with the new organ, hold another benefit party and let people hear what that thing can do.
Except for Jimmy, now he'll have to pull some strings from the other end.
Sunday, June 1, 2008