by Jim O'Hare
Rock and Roll hit Saltaire in the 1950’s and 1960’s like it hit the rest of the world. I can recall Labor Day shows in the late 1950’s with an occasional nod to Rock and Roll—Richie Millus took a beagle on the stage and did a talking version of the Big Mama Thornton/Elvis hit “Hound Dog.”
Bruce Wright, Bill Ervin, Eugene Piper, and Robin Torrey over a period of summers all played very good rock and folk guitar.
Lots of kids from Saltaire went to Forest Hills Tennis Stadium to see the Rolling Stones and the Beatles in 1964 and the Beatles at Shea in 1965.
It was in 1966 that I became really convinced that this was not just a fad, not just a Beatles & Stones thing that would eventually go away, as so many parents had been hoping. For me, the epiphany came the night in the summer of 1966 that I brought THE NIGHT PEOPLE to Saltaire.
I didn’t realize exactly what I was getting into in the summer of 1966 when I was asked to be the "Junior Commodore” at the Yacht Club. I was actually too old for the job—I was 19—but someone wanted to get wholesome night time activities for the younger “teens. ”
I was to make arrangements for a “Teen Dance.”
This did not seem like a very good idea to me because the only live entertainer the Club had in those days was this guy named Ken Thompson. Ken Thompson was about a hundred years old. The oldsters never complained about Ken Thompson because he generally showed up pretty late on Saturday night after everybody had finished a few rounds.
In earlier years, Thompson used to try an Arthur Godfrey type “talent show” for kids. They were so bad that sometimes Thompson had to pull unwilling kids out of the Coca-Cola bar and make them do a song and dance.
But those shows had long died for lack of interest, so my thinking was that, by the summer of 1966, Saltaire teenagers had had no interest in old man Thompson pounding on an out- of- tune piano and singing “Let me call you Sweetheart” and “Edelweiss. ”
So I figured, if we want kids to come, let’s get a rock and roll band. A real one.
My talent scout was the older, more mature Drew Weinlandt, who went to Greenwich Village to track down a band willing to come out to Saltaire for a dance.
Drew calls me up on the phone all excited. He had gone to this coffee house in the Village called the “Night Owl” and saw a great band called "The Night People.” They were the backup band that summer at the Night Owl. The main attraction at the Night Owl in 1966 was the future Hall of Fame band Lovin' Spoonful, who had hit the charts big by then with “Daydream” and “Do You Believe in Magic.”
Drew was ecstatic with how well "The Night People" could cover “Do You Believe in Magic,” and he said that they would come out to Saltaire for a few hundred bucks for a night.
So arrangements were made for The Night People to come out on a Thursday night, July 28, 1966.
Suddenly a tide of concern arose among some senior members of the Yacht Club: who were these “Night People?” Is it a cult? What 'element' would they attract? What if the Club building’s foundation collapsed under the constant pounding beat of a Rock and Roll band and 150 kids stomping in unison?
I had to convince them that all would be OK. Fortunately, Norma Ervin was on our side and she pretty much calmed everyone down.
Thanks to Norma, the show would go on. July 28, 1966. But no outsiders. No Kismet, No Fair Harbor, no other “elements” were to be admitted. Only for “members and their guests” born prior to January 1, 1954.
So we sold every last ticket, but these guys never return our calls so we don’t know for sure if they are going to show until 6:00 on July 28, when they arrive at the terminal in Bay Shore, looking as raunchy as all get-out.
They had all kinds of heavy equipment: instruments, amplifiers, etc, all those things we told them they should have dropped off at the freight boat.
Capt. Al Skinner was pissed about having to carry the equipment on the Islander.
Meanwhile, back on the island, word of mouth had spread from Kismet to Lonleyville and all points between that there was gong to be a real Rock and Roll Band Saltaire that night.
Scores of teenagers from all over started showing up. The Village authorities and busybodies were taking note—and shocked to see — all kinds of unknown teenagers—especially girls—showing up outside the Yacht Club. Talk about the Magic of Rock and Roll.
Once they got to the Club and were setting up, the band members were pretty upset that people—especially girls—were being turned away.
But the show went on with a lot of non members peeking in through windows and eventually finding their way in.
And yes, the band did excellent covers of “Do You Believe in Magic,” British Invasion stuff like "Play with Fire," and R&R standards like “Walk the Dog, ” “G-L-O-R-I-A,” and “Summertime Blues,” but mostly they did their own stuff, which was heavy and raunchy. The volume shocked the oldsters—but the lyrics went right over their heads. The kids understood.
At a break halfway through the show, one of the band members told me to cancel the water taxi that we had promised to take them back after the show. It seems that they had all magically gained invites to stay on the Island overnight.
This caused my immediate consternation, because for the previous two hours I had been begging every sort of Yacht Club and Saltaire authority to not tar and feather these guys after the show. Now they were going to stay? In Saltaire??? “With our children?” somebody shrieked in dismay.
Fortunately, it turned out that the offers to stay were from about a dozen places in Kismet, Fair Harbor, Dunewood every place but Saltaire.
None of our Healthy, Happy Saltaire Youth would be violated
In reality, "The Night People" was a great band – and all went quite smoothly inside the club, and the kids – Saltairian or otherwise—loved it. And the building did not collapse. You just couldn’t peel the kids away from the Club that night. I would have invited "The Night People" back, but for the reaction of all the “grown ups.” We could have filled up the ball field if we brought them back.
About midnight, after the concert was over, I saw two of the band members walking along Lighthouse Prom headed for Fair Harbor. They had a dozen people carrying their equipment for them, rolling the amps on dollies, and, carrying the guitars and drums, the whole bit. It looked like a medieval traveling show.
This was 1966--a couple of years after the Beatles had landed—and it was clear that this craze was not going away soon, regardless of what the oldsters hoped. You really could believe this was magic
Do you believe in magic in a young girl's heart
And it's magic, if the music is groovy
It makes you feel happy like an old-time movie
I'll tell you about the magic, and it'll free your soul
But it's like trying to tell a stranger 'bout rock and roll
Mary Campbell said...
Loved this story about the Big Teen Dance!I doubt I was there, as I was born post-January '54. On the other hand, I do have memories of being on the outside looking in. So, that's probably where I was...outside jockeying to look through the windows.Those were the days, weren't they? When life's biggest worry was what you were going to wear to the Big Dance!
November 20, 2008 12:50 PM
Nov 25, 2012
Mary Campbell said...
I doubt I was there, as I was born post-January '54.
On the other hand, I do have memories of being on the outside looking in. So, that's probably where I was...outside jockeying to look through the windows.
Those were the days, weren't they? When life's biggest worry was what you were going to wear to the Big Dance!
I am sure you were there peeking through the Yacht Club windows-- any person with a pulse was out there-- unless your parents locked you in your room and forbade you to come out.
Susie Chadburn...Fair Harbor
At any rate, the last time the aforesaid Bob Mason and Alan Musgrave were seen in Saltaire was that night with all those kids roling their instruments down towards Fair Harbor.