One of the best things about growing up in New York City in the 60′s was the abundance of great clubs to hear live music. Another interesting fact was that all of the clubs served alcohol and none of them proofed us underage patrons!
I was fortunate to live 2 blocks from, in my opinion, one of the best clubs in NY Ungano’s. Owned by Nick and Arnie Ungano, it was “the” place to play because of all the A & R reps and agents who frequented it. I used to wait until my parents fell asleep and I would sneak out of the house and go see groups like the original Fleetwood Mac with Peter Green, Faces with Rod Stewart, Dr. John the Night Tripper and many others. I had always wanted to play there but to no avail. An interesting twist, when it closed, it became a cabaret club called The Grand Finale and I played there a number of times. Once with a pre Saturday Night Fever Karen Lynn Gorney who incidentally, plays a mean guitar!
Another hot spot was the “original” Peppermint Lounge located on West 45th St. Probably the best known band to come out of there was Joey Dee and the Starlighters. Some very famous musicians filtered through his band; Jimi Hendrix and Gene Cornish, Eddie Brigati, and Felix Cavaliere of the Young Rascals. The house band was a group called Jordan Christopher and the Wild Ones whose claim to fame was that they recorded the first version of Wild Thing The Wild Ones were produced by Gerry Granahan in 1966 when he asked songwriter Chip Taylor if he had anything for them to record during an upcoming session. Taylor wrote “Wild Thing” in response that afternoon and gave it to them; Granahan and the band, however, changed the tempo and added horns to the arrangement, altering the song and failing to hit with it, thus giving the opening for the Troggs to score with the song.
Speaking of Jordan Christopher,in May 1965, a little over a year after her divorce to actor Richard Burton, Sybil Burton opened a discotheque called Arthur on 54th Street. It would rapidly become the hottest nightclub in New York. Clearly a shrewd businesswoman Sybil raised the cash to set up the club by selling shares to showbiz pals at $1,000. These patrons included Roddy McDowell, Julie Andrews, Leonard Bernstein and Stephen Sondheim. The incredible success of Arthur was due in part to its fashionable mod aesthetic (see pic), which Burton had imported from such London hang outs as Ad Lib. The name Arthur is itself a jokey reference to one of the Beatles’ hairstyles. The democratic door policy also helped. Maybe her upbringing in a mining community had some influence here, for she was keen for young, hip, working people to attend her establishment. Not that this populism ever stopped the rich and famous turning up in their droves: Tennessee Williams, Princess Margaret, Lee Remick, Nureyev, Truman Capote and Andy Warhol were all regulars. In his book,Popism, Warhol reminisces about meeting Bette Davis, Sophia Loren and the astronaut Scott Carpenter there. In some quarters Arthur has been viewed as Sybil Williams’s ultimate revenge on the ‘Burton and Taylor’ franchise. Her elevation in status to NY’s top nightclub hostess certainly gave her a glamour and power that as mousey Mrs Burton she had never previously enjoyed. She was featured in Time and Life magazines and opened up other establishments in LA, Dallas, Detroit and San Francisco. She even managed to shock everyone by marrying handsome Jordan Christopher, who was more than 10 years her junior, and the lead singer in Arthur’s house band the Wild Ones. Arthur’s other claim to fame is that it is noted for being one of the first clubs to showcase the DJ. Terry Noel was no anonymous background figure spinning the discs but an important element in creating the club’s ambience. became so good at reading thecrowd’s mood and building excitement on the dance floor that eventually the live band was out of a job. . Before The Wild Ones were out at Arthur, they recorded an album “
The Arthur Sound – Recorded Live at Arthur”, which actually turned out to have been recorded in a studio with a bunch of people brought in to chatter and simulate a discoteque crowd.
As in most nightclubs drugs could be purchased there – acid, coke, amphetamine and crystal meth were, apparently, the narcotics of choice, but trade was discreet and far from being Arthur’sraison d’etre. Unfortunately, toward the end of its existence, criminal elements began to move in on the scene and Arthur even witnessed a racially motivated shooting. Sybil sold the club in 1969.
The Electric Circus was a famous American nightclub, former hippiediscotheque, open between 1967 and September 1971 in the East Village at 19-25 St. Marks Place between Second and Third Avenues. With its invitation (from one of its press releases) to “play games, dress as you like, dance, sit, think, tune in and turn on,” and its mix of light shows, music, circus performers and experimental theater, the Electric Circus embodied the wild and creative side of 1960s club culture. Flame throwing jugglers and trapeze artists performed between musical sets, strobe lights flashed over a huge dance floor, and multiple projectors flashed images and footage from home movies. Seating was varied, with sofas provided. The Electric Circus became “New York’s ultimate mixed-media pleasure dome, and its hallucinogenic light baths enthralled every sector of New York society.” Its hedonistic atmosphere also influenced the later rise of disco culture and discos. Experimental bands such as The Velvet Underground, jam bands such as The Grateful Dead and early composers of electronic music (Terry Riley and Morton Subotnick), played there as well as Raven and “Soft White Underbelly” before it became known as “Blue Öyster Cult, The Allman Brothers, The Doors, Sly and the Family Stone and The Chambers Brothers
Steve Paul’s Scene was a popular midtown nightclub at 46th St. and 8th Ave. It sported a labyrinth floor plan which extended through a bizarre network of brick walled cellar rooms and passageways. While the club catered primarily to the jet-set, it also attracted a growing number of the hippie community. Steve Paul once described the purpose of his club in this way: ‘To use music as a common denominator for the fusion between music, musicians, people who like music, and people who are music in their very being.’
Steve Paul, who had an uncanny eye for spotting new stars, would often feature new talent at his club long before word of them had gone out. Among the wide variety of performers featured at The Scene are The Velvet Underground, Pink Floyd, The Rascals Jeff Beck, Traffic, Fleetwood Mac and many others. I used to go there after gigs with my band and see amazing jam sessions with Jimi Hendrix, Steve Winwood and the list goes on! An interesting side note, Steve Paul managed David Johansen/Buster Poindexter