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.

Tuesday, June 3, 2008

Northern Hippies & Southern Hospitality

When I first found out that the band was going to tour the south I was excited because there would be new people and places to see and experience. My mother, on the other hand, had many reservations about the prospect of my exposure to the discrimination she, herself, had experienced during World War II, when she was following my dad as he was transferred from base to base in the Southern states. Being young, naïve, and somewhat foolish, I reassured her that since there would be at least eight of us, on tour, I would be safe. Boy, was I wrong!

The following, although not necessarily in chronological order, owing to my aging mind and somewhat disjointed memories, are my recollections of some of the Southern Hospitality that we experienced.

The first incident that stands out in my mind was a stop at a gas station somewhere in South Carolina. All the band members were stuffed into Leah’s father’s Mercury sedan. The roadies were in a truck with all of our equipment. As we pulled into the gas station we noticed that there were about three or four guys hanging out in front of the station. After we stopped in front of the gas pump one of the guys came over to the car to see what we wanted. You have to remember that all the guys in the band had very long hair. I think George was driving. He rolled down the window and as he did so the gas station attendant said in a very loud voice, “Yes ma’am, can I hep ya?” In his deepest voice, George asked the guy to fill up the tank. The gas station attendant then yelled over to his buddies that the lady wanted a fill up. The other locals started to move towards our car and that’s when we decided to find gasoline somewhere else.

The next incident occurred at a roadside hamburger stand. We had just checked into a motel and before we had to get ready for that night’s gig it was decided that we all wanted some food. I was sent, along with one of our roadies (I think it was Bob Kolowitz) to obtain the food. Bob and I found a hamburger stand and got in line at the ordering window. After waiting in line for about fifteen minutes it was finally our turn to order. As we approached the window the guy inside the stand slammed the window down in our faces. The other people waiting to pick up their food laughed. Bob and I decided not to make a scene and went to find food somewhere else.

On another occasion, in South Carolina (Greensboro perhaps), we had to make hotel reservations on the run. We called a hotel and made the reservations for four or five rooms. When we entered the hotel and approached the person behind the main desk we were told that there were no reservations for us. After many protests, on our part, that we had just called a few minutes earlier to make the reservations, we realized that there was no hope of getting any rooms at that hotel. Eventually, we did find a hotel on the outskirts of town.

Another standout moment occurred at the Atlanta, Georgia Airport. We were between flights and roaming around trying to keep ourselves amused. Our drummer, Eddie, had recently bought some cowboy boots and they were hurting his feet. He opted to have us push him around in a wheelchair. While doing so, we approached a lunch stand in the airport and waited for a waitress to take our order. We waited and waited, but no one came over. Even after calling out for a waitress, none would come over to take our order. I guess that a bunch of hippies, including one in a wheelchair who looked like a black man with an afro, was too much for the people behind the counter to handle.

Finally, a remembrance of the night we played for the senior formal at the Virginia Military Institute. Being a military school, VMI had strict rules about women on campus and what clothes they should wear. Leah and I did not wear dresses and that was a problem with the cadet assigned to keep an eye on us. Eventually, he realized that our wardrobe was what it was and gave up. The band played the gig and afterwards we wanted to have some dinner. The only place to get food at that time of night was a roadhouse a short distance from the campus. A few of the cadets, who had come to like our music and us, offered to take a couple of us over to the roadhouse to pick up some take-out food. They explained that the guys in the band would not be welcome and could possibly face some physical harm at the roadhouse. Leah and I went with the cadets to pick up the food. All of us were now dressed in regular street clothes; no uniforms or stage attire. While we waited for the food to be brought out to us, some of the local guys started hitting on Leah. Leah sort of laughed it all off and that did not go over well with the locals. The VMI cadets had to physically restrain those yahoos as Leah and I ran out of the roadhouse to the safety of the cadets’ car. Somehow the cadets managed to get our food order and we left in quite a hurry.

These are just a few of the instances of negative Southern Hospitality that we experienced. For the most part, the people at our concerts and appearances were very receptive to our music and to us, as well.