There was that Sunday in the early 60’s I’ll never forget. Radio D Jay’s the night before had put out word that, that Sunday was going to be a day that all of music history would remember. During this time NYC had the infamous “Blue Law”. No stores opened on Sunday’s except now, the local candy stores so you could buy The Sunday Newspaper but only until 12pm.
|We had this same car in this exact colorway!|
It was going to be one of the special Sundays, when the whole family would pile into my father’s car the ol’ 56′ Buick Special 4 door with the fake exhaust ports on the side, that should have been real and would turn on the radio to listen some Jazz or Symphony music, usually for the drive out to my Aunt in South Ozone Park Queens. To me it was like going to another country. They had their own house with trees, a front yard, backyard, and an up and downstairs all to themselves. My Uncle there, was a Lincoln Mercury man though.
My father started up the Buick and I quickly turned the radio on to see what was happening that the D Jay’s had been talking about. Now understand at this time there was a ban on radios playing Rock N Roll before 9pm at night, and never on Sundays before 12pm in NYC. Lo and behold Rock n’Roll came blaring through the car radio and my father proceeded to change the station, cursing which he rarely if ever did, “Turn that Damn Rock n’Roll off Boy!” Ha ha ha the next station he turned to had Rock n’Roll on too, and the next, and the next. Matter of fact that’s what the D Jay’s were talking about at 12pm that Sunday they all collaborated to play Rock n’Roll shows at the same time on every available channel. No once could turn them off because they were all locked in their studios with on air lights on Lol. My dad’s solution, ” Ok we just won’t listen to the Daggone Radio then, and ride in silence. WOW… the creepiest ride I had to Queens ever, that day that Rock n’Roll was born the pregnancy was over, and I had to miss the whole thing!
Now let us fast forward to about Christmas time of 1962. That’s when my sister and I, at about 10 years of age I was, were brought out to So Oxford St. in Brooklyn to visit one of my favorite Aunts. When we got there around 11am, she said she had a special treat for us. Yeah as I wondered, we walked a short distance towards Flatbush and Atlantic Av, near the Old Daily Newspaper plant where now stands the Barclay Center. Across Flatbush we went to a theater called The Brooklyn Fox. WOW they had the Christmas special Murray The “K” Rock n’Roll show. We waited anxiously in line to get our three tickets to go in, my aunt, sister and myself. When we got to the ticket booth, the white lady behind the glass looked down at me and said, “Oh he can’t go in children have to be a teenager, at least 13 years old. My heart dropped once again no Rock n’Roll for me. That’s when my aunt, rapid fire answered back as she took the 2 tickets, “Oh well, I guess he’ll have to stay out here in the booth with you?” The white woman’s jaw dropped as if to say, “I can’t be watchin and baby sitting no Negro kid!” Ha ha it worked the woman slipped my Aunt another ticket and just said, “see the usher here right behind me”. He got us good seats right in the middle of the crowded auditorium where no one would notice me.
The show started after an indeterminable amount of movies and cartoons, which I placed at about 3 hours worth. Finally it got dark as the show was about to start. Bright white lights flickered rapidly on and off. I was in shock my first experience with a strobe light. The actors running across the stage seemed to be moving cyclically forward and in reverse. There is a sample from YouTube below and be warned, THERE IS AN EXTREME SEIZURE WARNING (which we didn’t know back in 1962).
At this concert I saw everyone from Jay and Americans, to Frankie Lymon and the Teenagers, Dion and The Belmonts, The Shirelles, Little Anthony and The Imperials, The Shangri-Las, Smokey Robinson & The Miracles, Bobby Vinton, Martha and The Vandellas and the first woman I fell in love with at 10 Patti Labelle of Patti Labelle and the Blue Belle’s Ahhhhhh ain’t love grand (I wonder if she’s still single?).
That was the defining moment for me that got me wanting a career in the music field. I jumped at the chance a year later in 1963 when my father offered for me to learn guitar at DeWitt Clinton HS in the Bronx, although I had to start on Folk Guitar at least it was a start. A little later that year in the fall, my by best Junior High School friend and I put a band together, and of course me being black got relegated to being the bass player, plus I had a hard time memorizing all the chords to play rhythm or lead anyway. The Beatles were just hitting the US big, giving back to us our same ol R&B records that the US white population had neglected for years, calling it race and Jungle music. England you see was just a little bit more open at the time.
Racial tension at the time was bubbling up to the surface of American society. We hardly noticed the indifference in my neighborhood of Edenwald Projects, because it was an experiment in early integration. Thank God someone had a real forward thinking brain in their head, so basically we saw racism on TV except for the occasional throwback teacher that would try to teach that black people were that color because God left them in the oven for too long. Oppps that teacher got her head handed to her. Even the gang had trouble when they fought others because our gang was an interracial one. As stated in the previous article on this subject I believe that is what lead to the proclivity of so many artists and musicians coming from the area. Creativity and open mindedness was abundant.
On my way to band practice at our managers basement on 222nd St and Bronxwood Av in the Bronx, I would walk past 222nd and Laconia Av and hear singing, piano and drums from a house, that I would later find was Gil Scott Heron’s early bands rehearsal spot. I thought of leaving my band to join his as they lacked a bass player, but knew the trouble that would ensue so never followed through.
We played at local CYO’s, VFW’s AFW posts and clubs from the Bronx all the way to Upstate New York, when in 1969 a pivotal year for music we decided to buy tickets to Woodstock. Little did we know at the same time in Brooklyn, Harlem and the South Bronx, others not being able to afford the expensive musical instruments we acquired (wink wink 😉 as to how we got them but that’s another story) a new direction was forming in music like Hank Spann, Frankie Crocker, The Last Poets and a Turntablist at Yankee Stadium that was doing like Richie Havens and putting a message and beat to their music but in a more African American, Bob Dylan Civil Rights fashion.
This was actually the start of Hip Hop… Salute Hank Spann (google for yourself) and Pigmeat Markham