When I was growing up in Brooklyn, by far the biggest and best live music events were hosted by the famous DJs of the day like Murray the K, Cousin Brucie, and Alan Freed. They would be held at some of the old movie theaters that were once so elegant but had fallen into disrepair, like the Fox and the Paramount.
Each artist would do a song or two — that would be it. Usually, it was a number from the Top 40 list, so many of the artists, one-hit wonders, sunk into oblivion and never were heard from again.
Still, I can remember some biggies. The great Jackie Wilson; Dion, a kid from the Bronx who was cool and totally ahead of his time — he wrote “Runaround Sue” and rocked the house with it.
People like Johnny October, The Tempos, and Sam the Man Taylor made less of an impression. I vaguely recall a black dude with eyeglasses and a plaid jacket who seemed a little awkward, even out of place. I remember thinking, though “I’m digging that guitar beat!” That was Bo Diddley, so even then I knew.
Nothing we saw or heard in Brooklyn prepared us for the next era of live music. I remember walking down an alley behind the Warehouse in New Orleans. Huge diesel trucks chugged. The smell was horrendous, like a war zone. My eyes burned. Inside, it was worse.
The first note felt like a missile going through my heart. I heard ringing in my ears for a month afterwards. Ladies and gentlemen, The Who.
The best concert of all time? I was at The Fillmore to see The Allman Brothers, performances captured on the seminal album. The Brothers were on a long tour. I had seen them in New Orleans, and they were tight. Duane, on slide guitar, was the best in the world. I swear I can hear me screaming on the soundtrack between songs.
It’s hard to believe how long ago that was.
Is The Who an oldies-but-goodies act? The band is on the road so we’ll soon find out. Roger Daltrey, the sexy, shirtless lead singer, plays a guitar now. The band refrain from blowing up instruments after the show, which used to be a nice touch.
The disc jockeys were loud and flamboyant but offered little to the proceedings. Murray the K, who referred to himself as the Fifth Beatle, died in 1982. Cousin Brucie, aka Bruce Morrow and Bruce Meyerowitz, is 83. As it turned out he lived right down the block from me all these years.
As regular readers know, my favorite rock band is The Rascals. I hitchhiked to Riverhead to see them when they were unknowns and it literally changed my life. Cousin Brucie and the rest never prepared me for the onslaught of precision and power.
My man Bo Diddley, aka Ellas Otha Bates, rocked until he dropped at age 80. His “Not Fade Away” is a jam band staple and Grateful Dead favorite.
I’ve interviewed Felix Cavaliere of The Rascals many times. Once I had seen the band in Patchogue and was embarrassed it was hosted by a couple of DJs doing the Murray the K schtick. I told Felix that. “Your music is more alive today than ever. These songs mean something!” He was forlorn. “The people want to hear the old stuff,” he said.
Cavaliere is the king of blue-eyed soul, his songs, like all the good ones, bring me back to that place and time, and I remember how I felt when I first heard them. It’s a magical transformation.
A highlight of his show is when Felix segues into “Your Love Is Lifting Me Higher” and channels the great Jackie Wilson.
Felix will be at the Suffolk Theater on July 12 in Riverhead. The Who play Madison Square Garden the next night. Both Felix and Pete Townshend, The Who’s founder, remember being on “The Ed Sullivan Show” and realizing they had hit the big time.
Wilson, a singer’s singer, was on many times. Elvis Presley heard Wilson sing “Don’t Be Cruel,” got himself booked on Sullivan, and sold a million copies of the song.
Bo? He was on Ed’s show in 1955, rippin’ his box-shaped electric guitar and belting out “Who Do You Love?” when all of our future hippies were still wearing diapers.
“I got a cobra snake for a necktie and a house made out of rattlesnake hide,’’ he growled.
It’s all a great big circle, folks. Everything comes around. It’s the miracle of music.