|I'm not black and I only passed through Mississippi once,
but I have a deep understanding of the blues. I guess growing up in New
York City can do that to you. People are so involved in themselves that
you hardly ever get noticed. Maybe it's because I was an only child or
should I say "lonely" child.
My parents couldn't live with each other and that sent
me out on my own to find whatever love NYC had to offer.
||Saturday afternoons were spent at the movies. It was a good way for my parents to get rid of me for 50 cents. At the age of seven I would go to the movies by myself or sometimes with a friend. In 1957 I saw "Rock Around The Clock" with Bill Haley and The Comets. He was the star and his guitar was the reason. I must have seen that movie every Saturday for at least 6 to 7 months, but I didn't really want to play guitar or maybe it was that I didn't think I could ever play that good.|
When I was nine my mother bought me a cheap student guitar and got someone local to start teaching me. We all went out one night to the Copacabana to see Trini Lopez sing his "Lemon Tree" and "If I had a Hammer". I watched him play and it made me want to learn to play. Back then it was off to bed early. I was confined to my room. I never went right to sleep.. I would listen to my radio. I was fortunate to have my own radio back then since my father was in the wholesale radio business. Not like kids today who have a TV and a computer with their own Web Page.. Well not all kids, but many kids... Anyhow, listening to Lonnie Mack's "Memphis" and whoever recorded "Guitar Boogie Shuffle" were the first guitar instrumental hits on radio that would wake me right up in the middle of the night to listen. I would keep my radio on low when I was sleeping. I guess this was ruff on the tubes but it kept me warm.
There were no samplers back then... and one day while I was at my cousin Carole Bayer Sager's house, she had a reel to reel tape recorder with a mic. My dad had to drag me home after seeing that. I had to have one. Then I would sit by the radio, wait for my favorite song and tape it. Yeah we had records back then but the only record I had was "Little Darlin'" by the Diamonds. I would jam along on guitar, burning' in the I-VI-IV-V progression. You know the I-IV-V blues progressions sounded more like "Devil" music to my parents and to people that where into Sinatra and Percy Faith.
1963 brought The Beatles, The Stones, The Animals, The Yardbirds and even Surf music. My friends were all learning to dance but I was playing guitar at the parties getting every one to sing along. Central Park at the fountain on a Sunday was my stage for many a year. I would go there, start singing, playing and jamming for eight hours straight. All kinds of people would sit in on guitar, flute, horn and my favorite was the Latin dudes with the percussion. Because of all the new laws in NYC on noise pollution, you don't see 6-10 percussion players jammin' out just rhythms anymore.
In 1964 I started a Ventures tribute band with Doug Issacs called "The Knacks" (not The Knack - who did "My Sharonna"). We played "Pipeline", "Walk Don't Run", "Outer Limits", "Apache" . We got a gig that summer a the World's Fair at the NY State Pavilion. Doug's mother was dating Art Carney and we would rehearse at their home. We would come out of Doug's room Art would be sittin on the couch, not dressed as Norton" in a tank top, but in a three piece suit.
I talked my father into going down and helping get a deal from Manny's on a new Fender Stratocaster which was about $258.00 back then. I had only $200 saved up and I thought my dad would chip in but when we got to Manny's Henry wouldn't budge on the price. The Herman's Hermits were in the store trying to sell back the instruments they just bought because they didn't want to pay the duty to bring them back to England. My dad pulled the guitarist aside and gave him my $200.00 for his Rickenbacker 360 and it was mine. The guitar came with a price. I was banned from Manny's for a number of years. The day that Hendrix was there trying out wah wah's I wasn't let in. I had to listen from outside and wait to say hello from the street.
By 1965 I was playing with The Pipers every Friday and
Saturday nights at school, church and temple dances. That summer we got
booked for 10 weeks at The Carteret Club in Asbury Park, NJ, right down
the block from The Stone Pony. We were the opening act for "Joe Cuba, ("Bang,
Bang" and "I'll Never Go Back To Georgia").
The Pipers - front Right to Left - Bobby Nathan(Lead Guitar),
Jody Geller(Rythm Guitar), Steve Schactel(Drums) and Fredddy Stolz(Bass)
Carole, was a staff writer for Screen Gems. Neil Sedaka, Neil Diamond, Carol King and Jerry Goffen were all writing there in little rooms. We would go into a tiny room with a piano and my guitar. In less than an hour we would turn out a song. One of the tunes "Girl You're the Black Sheep of My Mind" was released by a Tommy James sound-a-like group called "The Cinnamon".
That fall, The Pipers recorded a single "Wake Me, Shake Me".
It was never released but we sure played the "hell out out it" at our gigs and at parties. Now, if I could only find my copy of it!
At night, I was hanging around Greenwich Village, playing guitar in the park. Bloomfield and Kalb were it as far as guitar players went. Clapton and Hendrix hadn't hit the scene yet. After all I was only 15. I would go to the Night Owl Cafe to see the Lovin' Spoonful, The Paul Butterfield Blues Band with Mike Bloomfield, The Blues Project with Danny Kalb, and The Fugs at The Village Theater. I went to The Cafe Wah the night Jimmy James and The Blues Flames were playing but the doorman Lou Gosset, Jr. didn't believe my phony ID and I wasn't allowed in.
In 1965 I worked for Sam Brooks (Brooks Brothers) in his
Lexington Ave Store.
It was an exciting time in the fashion industry. I modeled and got all kinds of cool clothes to wear.
The Nahru jacket was the rage. Sam developed a new shirt for Johnny Carson.
It was called the "Carson" collar. If you watched the Johnny Carson show, you may have noticed Johnny always adjusting his shirt collar up on his neck.
The Carson collar became his uniform. Then came the colors.
At that time, men's dress shirts were only white or lite blue.
Sam Brooks introduced all the wildest colors for men's dress shirts.
The happening club uptown was a place called "Mike Malkin's"
on East 79th Street.
We get in with our phony ID's and hang out with all the happening people like Brian Epstein, The Beatles, The Stones, The Cyrkle, Twiggy and many others.
I spent the Summer of 1967 in Westhampton Beach on Dune Road. We saw the Rascals at The Barge and The Chambers Brothers at The Eye (now known as Summers). My view on music and life changed that summer as we tuned into a new sound, the Jimi Hendrix "Are You Experienced" Lp.
My father had opened a used car showroom accross from
the Ed Sullivan Theatre called "Stage Motors".
He became the first Datsun dealership in the United Sates,
but you couldn't give Japanese cars away at that time.
I worked there and got to rehearse with my bands there. At night I would get into the Cheetah club and saw all the happening acts. My Dad went to his hang out, Jack Demsey's.
One morning I woke up and found a giant of a man sleeping on our living room couch.
It was world heavyweight champRocky Marcinano!
In 1968 I rehearsed at Baggies where Hendrix rehearsed for his concert at Hunter College. I saw him there and he sang through the house auditorium PA. The only words I heard over the music was in the stop breaks in "Foxy Lady".
In 1969 I was tending Bar and was one NYC's first DJ's at an upper Eastside Club called Geordie's. I actually missed going to Woodstock cause I had to work. Getting free records as a DJ was a gas though and I remember getting Led Zeppelin's "Whole Lotta Love" which became my club anthem. Little did I know that "Willie Dixon" had penned that tune.
That fall I had met Jerry Ragni (Hair) at Max's
Kansas City and wrote several songs with him.
He had dubbed me as 'Robert Rainbow-shine".
One of the songs "Man, your Fire" was to be used for an unreleased play.
It was my job to get famous people to come and eat and maybe play a little.
I started a Sunday Music Jam there that became a tradition and lasted well after I had left.
Some of the early people I got to jam were:
Richie Havens, Dave Mason, Steven Stills,
Xuma and Odetta.
In 1972, on a Friday Nite she calls me at the clubs and say's "John wants to come and have dinner after his live Plastic Ono concert at the garden". I said great, but she said "There's only one catch, He doesn't want anyone else in the club except him , his band and the staff". So I had to make something up, I told everyone in the club that there was a gas leak and everyone has to leave now !!!. A while later the limo's pulled up with the band (Elephant's Memory) and we started serving them drinks and dinner. But no John. Richard the owner had come in and now was pacing the floor, worried about the money we lost by clearing the club and laying out dinner and drinks. Finally there was a knock on the door and two Hassidic Rabbi's with full beards and payus with hats and robes were standing outside. It was John and Yoko. They had pulled up a dirty black VW bug. John was in great spirits that nite and was drinking Wild Turkey on the rocks with me at the bar. We gave him his Home T shirt and a photo was taken which became the rear cover of the "Somewhere in NYC" LP.
In 1973 I was hired by Lloyd Price to be head bartender of Lloyd Price's Turntable on Broadway and 52nd Street ( now known as the Kit Kat Club). The club then changed it's name to the Crawdaddy Club cause the magazine's offices were upsatirs. Lloyd had all these great R & B bands from Ohio playing at the club and even built a 16 Track studio in the club where I first learned to engineer. Mike Qwashi (The Limbo Champ) was the Maitrede and Don King was always hangin out.
In 1973 I meet my wife and soul mate Joanne at a band
Together we worked for Norby Walters playing behind all of his groups that he managed.
We backed up The Angels, Dion and The Belmonts, The Chiffons, The Crystals,
We formed our own Disco R & B group called "Uptown".
Disco in the early seventies was were the money was.
We played 6 nites a week at many NYC area clubs including Max's Kansas City.
That group broke up just as we were offered a record deal.
We then formed another 6 piece group called "Strawberry".
We played six nites a week on the Jersey shore in all the Art Stock clubs.
That group broke up too and some of the members formed The Silver Convention.
I switched to playing keyboards.
We named the group "Unique".
Joanne and I backed up Gloria Gaynor, The Tramps, Musique and other disco acts.
We became the House band at NYC's Disco Sally's
(55th and Bway , around the corner from Studio 54).
In 1978 we rented a space where the orginal Jerry Ragavoy's
Hit Factory started.
We had hoped to build a rehearsal and recording studio for own use.
We began having a few sessions on weekends so we could have the studio to ourselves all week.
Then we switched to having sessions all week so we could have weekends, then we would only take time if the studio wasn't busy and the next thing you know we never got into the studio at all!
We called it Unique Recording
and have been running it ever since.