Monday, July 27, 2015

Episode 10 - The Hawks Kick In at Tony Marts

Episode 10 - SUMMER OF '65 Revisited – The Hawks Kick In at Tony Marts

Image result for Levon and the Hawks

Levon and the Hawks - Circa Summer 1965
Left to right: Rick Danko, Richard Manual, Levon Helm, Garth Hudson, Robbie Robertson


The Hawks had only been in Somers Point for a few hours when they reconvened back at their second floor dressing room upstairs at Tony Marts Cafe on Bay Avenue in Somers Point, New Jersey.

When Levon and Garth arrived they found Rick Danko and Richard Manuel already there getting ready, putting their stage suits on.

Although Tido Mambo and some of the other bands like the Monkey Men didn't bother dressing up and wore jeans and t-shirts, the Hawks were old school, and even though they played some of the most hillbilly roadhouses in the South, they usually dressed up and put their show suits on when they went on stage, as did all of the other old school bands like Bill Haley and the Comets, the Beatles, the Stones – pretty much everybody.

Tony insisted on it, as that's one of the things that got Tido fired half-way through his first audition.

As they dressed the Hawks discussed the type of crowd they would confront in order to put the song set list together, and after much discussion, they decided to wait and see the crowd, whether they were young or old, hip or square, and see how it goes from there.

On the main stage round spot circles of light shown on the drum kit that read: “The Hawks,” while another shined on the saxophone stand and another on the guitars at rest.

Garth Hudson went downstairs first and made his way through the crowd that was still coming in. There was a line to get in outside the door, and those inside were scrambling to get good bar sets or along a table with a view of the stage. Among those who came early were Mike Pedicin, Sr., who was on break from playing next door at Steel’s Ship Bar, and accompanied by Tom Waldman, the mayor of Ocean City and a few of their friends in the older crowd.

As he came in, and waved a few of his friends in so they wouldn’t have to pay the cover, Pedicin looked around and saw Johnny Caswell at another bar nearby and waved over and smiled, knowing Caswell did the same thing and arranged his sets for the night so he could catch the Hawks’ debut. Both Pedicin and Caswell, being in the music “biz,” had heard all about the Hawks and where they were and where they were coming from and how they were the best. “Well, we’ll all see for ourselves soon enough,” Caswell said to someone talking about the Hawk’s reputation.

Garth walked up on stage and felt his way behind the Hammond B-3 organ, that didn’t have a spotlight on it, flipped a switch and as the machine came to life and began to hum he looked around the room, taking it all in.

Spotting a few notes to judge the volume, Garth then began to play the notes that would become “Chest Fever,” soloing for a few minutes as the other Hawks, one by one, slowly arrived on stage. There was another band playing on the other side of the house, but they were winding down now and some of the younger crowd and the hippies who came to see them were drifting across the street to see Tido Mambo be carried into Bay Shores in a casket on the back of his well named band – The Upsetters. He drew most of the hippie crowd and Tony didn't really want them in his joint anyway.

And one by one, beginning with Rick Danko on bass guitar, and then Richard Manuel on piano, the other Hawks began to chime in.

Sitting in the back of the room at the small raised square bar next to the door, Anthony Marotta took a hit of his cigar and watched closely as the Hawks filtered on stage and began to make some noise as the band on the other side of the room finished their first set of the night.

By the time Robbie Robertson had plugged in his guitar and gave it a test, Levon was sitting behind the drum kit and holding back, but ready to kick in.

Photo and Set list from Dallas, Texas June 5, 1965 - a few weeks earlier.

Although Anthony Marotta’s son Carmen was only a kid at the time, he was a like a fly on the wall and remembers the Hawks. Carmen remembers the Hawks playing a lot of the songs that are on the Moon Dog Matinee album they later recorded – including Clarence “Frogman “ Henry’s “Ain’t Got No Home,”  Allen Toussaint’s “Holy Cow,” Junior Parker’s “Mystery Train,” and Buck Ram’s (The Platters) “The Great Pretender,” “Crying Heart Blues” and “Didn’t It Rain” – all standard covers of the day.

They also did “Deadric Malone’s “Share Your Love (With Me),” Fats Domino’s “I’m Ready,” Chuck Berry’s “The Promised Land” and “Going Back to Memphis,” Sam Cooke’s “Shakin’” and ended the set with their uniquely adapted “The Third Man Theme,” which was getting another revival with the recent release of the Orson Wells cold war mystery thriller "Third Man" movie.

They didn’t even bother trying to fit in any new original material, as many of the bands try to do, much to Tony’s chagrin. They just played it straight ahead.

Unlike most band who start off easy, play some slow dance tunes and build up to a climax so the dance floor is filled by the time the set is over, the Hawks kicked in and didn’t let up until they were done – and while some of Garth’s sax solos stood out, and Robbie Robertson’s guitar riffs shined brightly, it was Levon’s steady drumming that set the tone and pace of the entire set. It was clear to everyone in the room that these guys were tight, had been playing together for some time, and knew exactly what they were doing. And they were really good at it. Not great, but really, really good. Great was yet to come.

 The Main Stage at Tony Marts - College Pennants on the Ceiling

When the last note was sounded a huge round of applause erupted from across the room – as it was unanimous, from the college kids on the dance floor to the older folks at the tables and the other musicians at the bar – the Hawks were the best in this town on this night, no doubt about that.

As the spot lights were turned off and the sound of the music shifted immediately to the stage on the other side of the room, the Hawks, hot and sweaty, took their time putting their instruments down. Rick Danko loosened his tie, smiled and went up to one of the Go Go girls and started dancing and making time with her. Levon jumped off stage and with his drum sticks still in hand, he walked to the back bar where Anthony Marotta was sitting and as Levon approached, Tony Mart  put his cigar down on the bar ashtray, lifted his right foot up like a Miss America showing her shoes, and pulled up on his trousers revealing his white ankles, getting a laugh out of Levon and Doobie the bartender, who remarked – “You knocked his socks off!”

“You did good,” Tony said, waving Levon over. “You worked hard, sit down and have a drink,” motioning him to sit down on the seat next to him. “You guys did a good job,” and that’s what it was to Tony, a job, a job that had to be done and done right. And the Hawks did it. Now they had to do it three or four times a night for seven more weeks.

Tony told Levon that the Hawks had the main stage until Conway Twitty came back the following week, as Conway was a featured attraction and had a lot of fans, and he deserved the main stage, while the Hawks were the House Band, and the best band in Somers Point, at least until Conway came back.

[Next: The Scene at the Chatterbox and Seaview – Grace Kelly and Mick Jagger make cameos]

1 comment:

  1. It is tough hard work gigin' in bars on the Road. When they started backing Dylan they became stars. My old friend, Phyllis Schwartz, sent me Levon Helm's book, Wheels on Fire, which tells about how tough it is to stay on top. I am glad I am too old for the life on the road in smoky bars, just an old softy now.