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The New York Club Scene

When I first really started to play out in earnest, early in my career, it was the early “70s, and my local club scene playing was mostly confined to the Manhattan landscape as well as the upstate NY Woodstock clubs. There were many positive “growing” experiences to be had during this time, yet some of the negatives were absolutely incredible, as well as mind-boggling to say the least!

At this time, I was also involved in touring with artists all over the Country as well as the world, so sometimes it was rather jarring to be getting the “royal treatment” in foreign territories such as Japan, where they really know how to “roll out the red carpet” for you, only to come home to play a club in Greenwich Village that may not even have a dressing room! Still, the combination of all these kinds of venues and levels of treatment was certainly eye-opening as far as the sheer breadth of what rally was “out there”, and what it all meant to me.

Tony Bird - The Village VoiceThe New York club scene in particular, had its own dynamic, and it existed on several levels. There was the “Cabaret” scene, where I played clubs such as Reno Sweeney, which one night I can even recall Cissy Houston bringing her little Whitney Houston up onstage to wow the audience with her young set of pipes! Or, the lower Manhattan “West Village” scene where I’d be playing with a band that Patty Smith was opening for, only to find, upon my arrival, that her band and my band had already been involved in a backstage fistfight with each other! Never quite got the real story of what THAT one was all about!

I guess one of the saddest things about that scene and some of the clubs, was the “pay to play” sort of mentality that was pervasive in the opulent record company era of that time, and which still exists even today. I can recall one club, uptown, called JP’s that you literally had to “pay to play” in, because, supposedly, it was THE place to be heard, since so many record exec types liked to hang out there, as well as bigtime musicians. (I once had to help the bouncer throw an extremely drunk Hamish Stuart, lead singer of The Average White Band, out of the place!). One time, I was playing there with Tony Bird, a wonderful South African singer I had been working with there, and not only did they ignore our set, but they talked loudly right through it….all of a sudden, Tony appeared on the back cover of The Village Voice, a very influential newspaper at the time, and we then played again at JP’s the next weekend. Well, as it turned out, all of a sudden, the audience was cheering, paying attention to every note we played, and just couldn’t get enough of us! I felt so lousy about it all, because this was really a blatant show of how “flighty” and easily swayed these key “opinion makers” really were, and that it was all just a bunch of people jumping on the bandwagon of our popularity, with absolutely no regard for the real music at hand! More on this saga in future blogging! Till next time…

Arlen Roth


Posted: 3/9/2009 6:50:48 PM with Comments | Add Comment | Email Link | Permalink
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