Tuesday, August 18, 2015

Act II Episode 11 - The Nomads Case out the Scene

The Nomads Case out the Scene - Joe Walsh and the Nomads Come to Town

 Image result for Shrivers Pavilion Ocean City NJ boardwalk 1965
 Shriver's Pavilion - 9th Street Ocean City, N.J. 

With all of the mainstream media publicity – the newspaper profiles and especially Life Magazine calling Ocean City – Somers Point the “Sin Cities of the East” and with a National Enquirer supermarket tabloid sneak preview of  a story Newsweek was preparing on where the Beach Blanket Bingo and Hippies meet the Bikers, the area began to draw an unwarranted amount of new tourists who had never been to the South Jersey Shore before, including a lot of musicians and garage bands looking for work in the vibrant nightclub scene the mainstream media played up and the old folks were all complaining and harping about.

Take the Nomads for example. As an upstate North Jersey high school band from Montclair, they couldn’t cut it in finding work or paying gig in New York City so they packed their VW van with their equipment and headed south on the Parkway to Somers Point and Ocean City.

Joe Walsh, the leader of the Nomads, even spelled it out as he drove down the road – “S-U-M-M-E-R-S-P-O-I-N-T” he sang to the tune of “Gloria” or a sports team cheer – saying “anyplace called Summers Point must be a great place,” and was surprised to see the Exit 30 sign say “Somers Point,” with the correct spelling.

Driving around the Point circle and over the causeway they got excited as they drove into town to see all the college kids walking up and down 9th Street and parked at a meter on the street and walked up on the boards to check out the scene.

It being late afternoon, most of the beach goers were gone or were leaving, but the Shriver’s Pavilion hippie crowd was just gearing up, and there were already a half dozen guitars playing on deck and two or three under the boardwalk, in the shade and shadows and out of the glare of the setting sun.

Joe and the other two guys in his band just walked around for a while and took it all in. There were four but the keyboard player couldn’t make this trip so they decided to make the Nomads a power trio. They each grabbed a slice of pizza at the front counter of Mack & Mancos and walked over to Shriver’s Pavilion to listen to the hippies play.

Joe had his acoustic guitar strapped across his back and his drummer brought a long a little duel bongo set that they sometime used to jam in living rooms, but the more they listened the more they realized that these guys were good, not just your typical hippies playing songs in the park.

Just as the competition between the Tony Marts and Bay Shores bands raised the level of the music to new heights, when one guy plays a really good song, it makes the next guy try a little harder and makes them all better, so Joe and his pals just listened for a while. And though they knew they could play with these guys, they had to go put another nickel in the parking meter and while walking across the boardwalk, Joe stopped to ask the clown selling balloons if there was a place for them to crash that night, other than in their van.

Since it was a week night, some of the rooming houses had a few openings, but it was pretty tight. The clown, a local guy named Freddie Prinz, suggested they go to the Purple Dragon Coffee House on 8th Street, a few blocks away, and ask them about finding a place to crash, maybe meet some hippie chicks who would put them up if they played some love songs.

Freddie was a good source for anything. He could sell you a balloon or a house, as he was also has a license to sell real estate, and had a pickup truck he used to clean out garages, attics and cellars. But at the moment, he was selling balloons, and walked over to a little girl, crying on her father’s shoulders, and gave her a balloon. The tears immediately stopped and a big smile lit up her face as she took hold of the helium balloon with the Mickey Mouse face.

The father was a bit startled, and asked how much the balloon costs and Freddie said “It’s on me. Just seeing her smile was enough,” but the father insisted, as Freddie knew he would, and handed him a $5 bill for a $2 balloon, a psychological ploy that Freddie had finessed as a salesman.

Joe watched that little charade, and bought a balloon he would put on his VW van radio antenna, and thanked Freddie the Clown for the Purple Dragon tip.

Freddie then mentioned, by the way, Tony Marts in Somers Point had open mic night that very night, a sort of audition for new bands, and it could be an opportunity for them if they were any good.

Pumping a few more nickels in the parking meter, the three Nomads walked down the street and around the corner at 8th street and could see the giant Purple Drago paper Mache head jutting out over the front door of the coffee house like a Thanksgiving Parade float.

Now 60s era coffee houses did not really have much to do with coffee like a Starbucks has today. It was more of a counter-culture hangs out for the hip entertainers and beat nick poets, run by a Catholic priest and a protestant minister from the local churches, providing a safe place for young people from out of town to conjugate.

At the Purple Dragon Joe and the Nomads signed up to play later that night, after they went to Tony Marts where the open mic night started at 7 pm. From Stephanie, one of the young girls there, they learned about a rooming house around the corner, where they could park their van and share a two bed bedroom with a cot for ten bucks a night.

Then they drove over the causeway to Somers Point and made their way down to Bay Avenue, following the red neon arrow on Tony Mart’s roof, and parked close to the door so they could move their equipment in if they got an audition.

They were early, and met Tony - Mr. Mart, sitting in his usual seat at the little rectangle elevated bar just to the side of the front door, drinking slowly and smoking a cigar. He asked them a few questions and said they could go on first.

Since his house band, Levon and the Hawks were leaving soon, along with his star attraction, Conway Twitty, Tony was looking for some more talent to fill in the cracks in the lineup, to keep both stages going steady for the next few weeks until Mitch Ryder and the Detroit Wheels came in for Labor Day weekend, riding their hit song “Devil with the Blue Dress.”

Tony Marts was just getting started for the evening, so the waitresses, bar backs and bartenders were setting up their stations, and the stage hands were moving equipment around. The Nomads had to set up their own drum kit and plug in their guitars, but Tony Marts would supply the sound system so they didn’t have to bring in all of their amps and speakers and stuff that filled up the van, keeping them from sleeping in it.

Most bands are four or five guys, but the Nomads, without their keyboard player, were just a drummer and two guitars – bass and lead, and while Tony wasn’t used to it, they did play some songs he recognized and made it clear they had been practicing together a lot so Tony gave them a serious listen. He didn’t give them the hook or pull the plug on their electricity, which he was known to do on some bands that were especially bad, and after a half hour set of six songs, Tony stayed quiet until Joe put his guitar down and went up to him and asked, “How’d we do Mister Mart?”

“Well,” Tony said, “youse boys aren’t that bad, you play the right songs, but the three of you just don’t cut it. Why don’t you go get a few more guys to back you up and a girl lead singer and come back next week and give it another shot.”

With that, Joe smiled, it wasn't a no, and shook Tony’s hand, thanked him for the opportunity and promised to come back with a bigger band next week.

Pumped up from the audition, they went back to Ocean City and set up their equipment in the Purple Dragon where they would play for an hour for $20 and tips and then head up to the boardwalk where they would jam with the hippies there until the cops kicked them out, looking for a keyboard player and a female vocalist to round out their band, the Nomads.

Shriver’s Pavilion had no shortage of good talent, most of which came from the Philadelphia area where the hippies from Rittenhouse Square were spending their summer, but more and more were coming down from New York City where the “Sin Cities” of Ocean City and Somers Point were just getting some media and word of mouth promotion in the Village, attracting an even more professional musical crowd, including the likes of Phil Ochs and Richie Havens, before they were popularly known.

And as the center of the hippie society at the Shore, Shriver’s Pavilion was of particular interest to the Ocean City Police Department Special Investigations Squad, who considered the drugs, loud music and the counter-culture crowd to be a security threat, and had a film camera set up in a second floor window above Shriver’s Candy store from where they captured everything that went down there on celluloid as evidence.

The Philly crowd, who pretty much knew each other from school shows, dances and sporting events, were not to be out done, and their talent really stood out – including a number of performers who would go on to fame and fortune, including John Hall and Darrel Oats, Todd Rundgren, Jim Croce, Patty Smith and Stevie Nicks, whose grandmother ran the rooming house where the Nomads would stay their first night in town.

Stevie Nicks, at 17 was from California, but staying with her grandmother for the summer and working as a waitress at Watson’s Restaurant – you could tell by her waitress uniform, but after work she usually went to the Purple Dragon or came by Shriver’s Pavilion to listen to the hippies play and occasionally sit in and sing while strumming a borrowed guitar.

She borrowed Joe’s guitar for a little while, played two songs she said she wrote herself, “I’ve Loved and I’ve Lost” and “I’m Sad But Not Blue,” and after she was done, Joe asked her if she would join the Nomads and sing a few songs with them the following Monday, talent night at Tony Marts. He told her about their audition earlier that night, and the invitation to come back with a bigger band. Sure she said, she would take next Monday off, but they had to practice a little as she said she didn’t want to make a fool of herself on stage in front of someone she's only heard about like Mr. Mart himself. She also said she knew a few keyboard players and could get one to join them for the next audition.

Then, around ten o’clock, as the boardwalk police came by, nocking their Billy clubs against the metal boardwalk railing and wood benches of Shriver's Pavilion, telling them it was time to go, the music came to an end, and they walked back to the Purple Dragon and continued jamming into the night, mainly for the under 21 crowd who were too young to get in the Somers Point nightclubs, where the real action was going down on another typical summer night in the Sin Cities.

Next: Act II Episode 12 - Number One in '65 - the songs, books and movies of the Summer of '65.

 Seth Poppel Yearbook Library.
 Joe Walsh when he was with the Nomads

Below - Stevie Nicks at 17

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