Sunday, September 21, 2008

Richie Havens Saves Marc Levine's Butt In New York City

One of the earliest concerts we played, that I can remember, was as the opening act for Richie Havens. The performance was held at a concert hall on the Barnard Baruch campus of the City University of New York. At that concert, a strange and wonderful thing happened to our bass player, Marc Levine.

Since the concert was in New York City, it was only short drive for us from Long Island to the Bernard Baruch campus of CUNY. Our roadies, Bob Kolowitz and Ricky Morgenstern took all of our equipment in a van and we followed in a car. While Bob and Ricky set up our equipment on the stage the rest of us went downstairs to get changed into our stage clothes for the show. As we were winding our way through the dark, dank basement of the building, we walked past a fellow in one of the hallways. At first I didn’t recognize the man. He was older than we were and when he turned around to say hello I noticed that he was toothless. It then dawned upon me that it was actually Richie Havens. (Of course, later, he had his false teeth in place when he performed.) We all said hello to each other and when we referred to him as Mr. Havens, he said: “Just call me Ritchie.” He told us to have a good show. We thanked him and proceeded to our dressing rooms.

A little while later it was time to go on stage. Almost immediately, Marc had a look of panic on his face. Apparently, his bass amp had died and with no spare parts with which to fix it and no spare amp the situation looked hopeless. At that point the roadie for Richie Havens called Marc offstage and told him that Richie had offered to let Marc use his bass amp. What a strange and wonderful thing that was! Bob and Ricky quickly switched bass amps for Marc and we were able to proceed with our set. After Richie had played his set we met up with him backstage to thank him for his generosity. He was very gracious and told us it was no big deal. He then asked us to join him at a “beer blast” that he had been invited to by some of the CUNY students at the concert. As I remember, we declined his invitation.

All in all it turned out to be a good concert and that’s how Richie Havens saved Marc Levine’s Butt in New York City.

Saturday, September 6, 2008

Playing With Sly At Lehigh

In late 1969 we were booked to play as the opening act for Sly and the Family Stone at Lehigh University in Bethlehem, Pennsylvania. This seemed like a great opportunity for us, since Sly and the Family Stone had played such a great set at Woodstock in August and had, since then, garnered a lot of appreciation and attention in the music industry.

We drove from Long Island to Pennsylvania and arrived at Lehigh University in the early afternoon on the day of the concert. As we drove down Packer Avenue, on the Lehigh University campus, we noticed two huge tractor trailer trucks parked outside the hall where we were to play that evening. People were already milling around outside the venue and the excitement level seemed high. At first we thought that the tractor trailers were there to haul Sly’s equipment, but we were wrong. As it turned out, those trucks were hauling one fourth of the sound equipment that had been used at Woodstock. When we entered the hall we could see a very large stage flanked, on each side, by incredibly high scaffolding on which the sound equipment was stacked from floor to ceiling. On the stage we could see all the equipment that belonged to Sly and his band, as well as a myriad of sound monitors on the floor at the apron of the stage. Our equipment was set up in front of Sly’s equipment and it seemed very small in comparison to the wall of the amps and other equipment that belonged to Sly’s band. However, to me, it was a spectacular sight none the less. Then it was on to the dressing rooms to get ready for the concert.

As we walked down the hall to our dressing rooms we could see into the empty dressing rooms of Sly’s band members. In one of the dressing rooms I could see a table, on which was a mortar and pestle. I wondered about that, but we had to get dressed for the concert and we moved on. When we had changed our clothes and were ready to go on stage to play our set we had to retrace our steps and pass by the room with the mysterious mortar and pestle. By that time, some of Sly’s band members were in the room, gathered around the table. As it turned out they had used the mortar and pestle to grind up a large amount of psychedelic drugs and were now partaking of the mixture. One of them saw us in the hallway and asked if we would like to sample some of their stuff. All of us politely declined. They wished us well and we proceeded to the stage. By this time the hall had filled with a raucous crowd. We took our places and began to play. The Woodstock sound system was incredible and the floor monitors allowed us to hear each other and blend our six-part harmonies perfectly. The audience was very gracious and gave us a large round of applause after each song and at the end of our set. I can say, without hesitation, that it was absolutely the best set we ever played.

Now it was time for the headliners to do their set and with a grand flourish Sly and his band took to the stage. The audience went wild. We had gone to the back of the hall to see and hear the rest of the concert. With each song the excitement level grew and when Sly sang “Stand” every person in the hall jumped to their feet, waving their hands while singing along. The only downside to the whole performance was when Sly got up from his keyboard and began to walk towards the apron of the stage. Apparently, the mixture from the mortar and pestle was a little too intense and we watched, with some amusement and a slight degree of horror, as Sly wobbled around and proceeded to fall of the stage into the audience. Some members of the audience helped to lift him back on stage and he wobbled back to his keyboard, seemingly unfazed, and continued to play. This small glitch made no difference to the audience and Sly and his band finished the concert to thunderous applause.

All in all it was a great concert and truly a once in a lifetime experience.