My favorite time in Philly’s music history was ’79 to ’83 or ’84. The city was a mess then. It was bankrupt and every other building was boarded up. The entire city was coated with fliers for shows. A lot of them were really creative, and you could generate buzz and excitement overnight. Because Center City was so shady, you could put on shows at the drop of a hat, and nobody really gave a damn. The police were enforcing the liquor laws, so you’d just hand them a hundred bucks and they’d go away.
There was no radio support, and that’s what killed that scene. WMMR could have offered that kind of support back then; they did launch the Hooters. And back in ’79 or ’80 WMMR played live broadcasts from Emerald City — Psychedelic Furs, XTC — great performances still in their vault somewhere. But the station stopped short of supporting local music. It cleaned house of all that stuff starting in ’81 or ’82 and evolved into the piece of shit it is today.
I worked at JC Dobbs from 1989 to 1990. I did Green Day there. It sold out like a motherfucker. We let in over 460 people (capacity was 190). These kids kept saying, “I just drove up from Maryland” or “I just drove down from Boston — you have to let me in!”
Some girl standing in the very back had an epileptic fit and someone called 911. The cops came and shut the thing down in 15 minutes. For 15 minutes Green Day made about $2,000 from the door and about $2,000 from merchandise sales.
It even beat the Nirvana show, which had the highest attendance before that. After that show there were 400-plus people screaming for encores. Cobain threw his guitar down and ran upstairs. I could see Krist [Novoselic, Nirvana’s bassist] running after him screaming, “Asshole, we’ve got 400 people demanding a fucking encore! Come on! We have to give them something!” But I think it was [Kurt’s] fix time.
In 1994 I started working for Upstairs at Nick’s. Right after Woodstock III in ’99, John Entwhistle came to play. You know how everybody has a drunken uncle that your parents didn’t like at the family functions but you thought was hilarious? He was like that: cranky but very funny. And very, very drunk. It took an extra hour for the show to start because he didn’t want to stop hitting on these two girls, and he didn’t want to be parted from his Courvoisier.
Some guy there was all happy because every time John Entwhistle came to town, he’d bring his wife over and his wife would fuck Entwhistle. And he’s bragging about it: “Yeah, John Entwhistle sleeps with my wife every time he comes to town. I just go into the other room.”
In the mid-’90s R.E.M. came to play. They’d been on the road for two years and wanted an after-hours thing to blow off steam. They showed up at about 2 a.m., and we locked the doors and they jammed with the Go to Blazes guys until about 4 or 5 in the morning.
Michael Stipe just sat in a corner and got fluttered over by his little harem of young boys. The band and the roadies were onstage jamming and were god-awful because they weren’t doing their own songs. They were doing an hour-long version of “Who Do You Love?” and the sloppiest, most god-awful drunken bar band stuff. And their tour manager was like, “The last time they did this was in Bangkok. Thanks a lot for letting us come in.”
After Nick’s closed, Jack Prince [owner of Bob and Barbara’s] said, “Okay, you’re hired as a bartender.” It was a totally different crowd. That was great, especially after having dealt with so many petulant, miserable, pissant rock “musicians” — and I use that word in the broadest sense. Nate Wiley and the Crowd Pleasers are consummate old-school musicians who have been playing since the ’40s. When there was a blizzard and someone asked, “Nate, will you be here?”, Nate said, “I’ll be here if the snow’s asshole-high on a tall man.” He has not missed a show in 20 years.
At Bob and Barbara’s–and we’ve tried to carry this over to Tritone — you get people from Germany, India, Italy. You get lawyers, bikers, punks; you get gays, you get straights — they’re all there, packed into the one room. And everyone gets along.
With Tritone, I wanted to make something diverse so you’d never know what you were going to get when you walked in. I didn’t necessarily intend to get so much into avant jazz, but I’m thrilled we did because the best musicians in the world are coming to my club and saying, “Can we play here?” One of my favorites, Jamaal Tacuma, one of the world’s best bass players, comes once a month and brings friends from around the world to sit in and play with him. He brought James Blood Ulmer, Calvin Weston and Fostina Dixon. Weston and Jamaal together is one of the most amazing rhythm sections you’ve ever heard in your life. I’ve seen literally thousands of bands in the last 20 years, and that was one of the best things I ever saw. I felt like I was having an acid flashback.
–As told to Jonathan Valania, October 2002 [Via Philadelphia Weekly]
Calvin Weston, Jamaaladeen Tacuma and Vernon Reid, live at the Tritone, Philadelphia, PA 3.17.07