Jean Mikle and Stan Goldstein are back with their latest in an open-ended series of musical and historic timelines that took place here on the New Jersey waterfront region.
A number of books have been written about the escapades of Bruce Springsteen and his brethren, but Goldstein and Mikle have hit a unique pace with this tour edition, laying out a broad and engaging array of fun facts, little-known accounts and a diverse range of locations that make up the impressive harmonious Mecca of New Jersey.
The book itself is visually gratifying, combing 196 pages of acquired details with the black and white photography of shooters such as John Cavanaugh, Mark R. Sullivan, Joe Streno, Louis Bloom and Debra L. Rothenberg. And while the central theme throughout this edition encompasses Bruce Springsteen, the writers have done a smart job logging peripheral storylines that surround the subject and tie it all together with seamless continuity.
As an avid fan of no longer existing restaurants, clubs and businesses, I found that Rock & Roll Tour Of The Jersey Shore offers an absolute walk down reminiscence lane. Some of the areas that are no longer with us represented the finest examples of a time where life was powerful and vibrant, and it’s gratifying to see them brought back to life on these pages.
I was charmed by the stories about notable buildings such as Convention Hall. Built in 1929, Convention Hall played host to all the greats during the fascinating ’30s, ’40s and ’50s. Icons such as Tommy Dorsey, Glenn Miller and Count Basie ruled the hall, making way for singers such as Connie Francis and Frankie Avalon in the ’60s.
Erected by the same firm that built Grand Central Station, Convention Hall radiated top-notch design style and class. In the mid-’60s, Moe Septee was responsible for bringing the big rock acts of the day, and everyone from Electric Light Orchestra to The Rolling Stones played this grand seaside venue.
The book proceeds through a euphoric timeline, laying out researched material that comes directly from Asbury musicians and production support people present during some famous moments along the strip and beyond. The important character of this book is that it points the reader toward colorful scenes that have been neglected or just totally left off the now generation’s radar. It’s a valid wake-up call.
One of my favorite stories is the piece on Mrs. Jay’s Beer Garden. First a hot dog stand, owners John and Ida Jacobs (Mrs. Jay) built their tiny stand into one of the region’s most iconic rooms of the day. After adding a bar next to the dog stand, word spread quickly, and the couple became the very first business to have a liquor license on Ocean Avenue. That little beginning eventually led to Mrs. Jay’s taking up most of a city block, including the area where The Stone Pony now sits. The Beer Garden became an expansive outdoor eatery, drawing superstars of the day such as Milton Berle, Sophie Tucker and Rudy Vallee, who were often seen fraternizing at Mrs. Jay’s after their individual Convention Hall shows. Steaks, cocktails, music and the bubbling ebullience of life were part of Mrs. Jay’s throughout the early ’60s. As with most cultural scenes, the focus changed and vanished over the years, and the bar moved into a smaller location and a patronage of the two-wheeled species.
Other stories about mythical rooms abound. The Wonder Bar is highlighted, and while records before Lance and Debbie are missing, I do know that this was another essential part of the circuit back in the ’60s, toiling as both restaurant and watering hole to actors, performers and local working stiffs before decaying into obscurity. Lance and Debbie resurrected the room in 2003, and the rest is history. If there is one true independent set of the music scene guides that follow in the tracks of Tom and Margaret Potter of the Upstage, it’s Lance and Debbie. Without their vision, this room would have remained shuttered or would have probably been reopened as some godforsaken, over-priced tourist trap. The Boss has taped videos here and the list of famous artists that have graced the stage and bar run the range from Big Country, Joe Grushecky and Black Francis to Lance Larson and many local champions. Slated as part of the city’s redevelopment area, The Wonder Bar’s tomorrow looks to be the same gloomy outcome as the Baronet and the Fast Lane.
Speaking of the Fast Lane, there’s a whole segment on the famous club and the goings-on inside. The notorious U2 show is cited here as are superstar blasts from the past including everyone from Sam Moore to Tiny Tim. The popular exploits of Southside, Bruce and Bon Jovi are posted alongside stories and photos of Ian Hunter, George Thorogood, Joe Jackson and others. Strangely enough, there’s really no mention of The Rest, the Monmouth County-based medium that launched Bon Jovi’s musical career and won the hearts of so many Fast Lane followers. Bon Jovi accomplice and Rest guitarist Jack Ponti went on to capture the entertainment world as producer, manager and ultimate CEO of a major record label. Other captivating stories abound, with reminiscences from John Figlar, Stan Goldstein and seasoned promoter Tony Pallagrosi.
If there was ever a club that won the country’s imagination of Asbury Park back in the ’70s and ’80s, this is it. Unhappily, like many other landmarks located in the devil’s den of improvement, it is now nothing more than a vacant lot scattered with garbage.
The multi-page spread about Upstage is a valuable addition. Tom and Margaret Potter created a scene among scenes back in the heady 1960s. Musicians such as Springsteen, Southside Johnny, Little Steve Van Zandt, Vinnie Lopez and others sharpened their unique crafts at this all-night club. The Potters were ages ahead of their time, and their predictive comments about Asbury’s visibility were dead-on perfect. Tom Potter, who passed away in 1997, had his legacy continued by granddaughter Carrie Potter, who wrote her own in-depth book on Upstage called For Music’s Sake, a centered look into the Upstage and Green Mermaid in their glory days.
The incorporation of Palace Amusements was another important point in the book. Flying through a timeline of sunny summertime carousels, Ferris wheel rides through rooftop openings and funhouse screams from cavernous rooms, the authors hit on the musical moments that featured the Boss in his evolutionary process. With a “six degrees of separation” feel, the book weaves in and out of the author’s main musical theme, arriving on succinct, sidebar news before flying off to the next stand. Billy Smith’s Rock And Roll Museum is examined, as is the conundrum of Tillie, the grinning face created by Steeplechase founder George Tilyou and adopted by the Palace in the 1950s. As the decades rolled on, the Palace became a seedy and hazardous problem. It was deserted in the ’80s and listed for final demolition. There was a major campaign to protect Tillie, and finally one of two Tillie’s was preserved (the only thing that survived) from the wrecking ball in 2004.
Moreover, though the Quack Quack and the Sunshine Inn are parking lots, and the Student Prince morphed from Xanadu into the bland and irrelevant Porta, there are still many important areas which can be revisited and experienced by those who share this homesick passion of the authors.
You can still see Springsteen’s boyhood home, stop in at Frank’s Deli for a meal or see Jack Nicholson’s childhood haunt. You can catch a new artist over at the Atonement Lutheran Church, gaze upon the legendary carousel house, rub elbows at The Stone Pony, and get to know dozens of other important places that have earned admittance in this action-packed guide to the city by the sea.
This is a book you will read over and over again. With close to 100 documented locations with maps and info, you are sure to find something of interest each time you read it. Like storytelling prose, new jewels of unearthed data flash bright on this engaging tour of the rock and roll shore.
Rock & Roll Tour Of The Jersey Shore is available for purchase over at njrockmap.com.