Friday, June 17, 2016

Playhouse Square: Fall 1974

The 2,860 seat Allen Theatre auditorium, 1971, William Gesten/Foto Arts Inc.

The fall of 1974 saw kicked off with a Hawkwind/Elephant’s Memory show at the Allen on Wednesday, September 4, a show I have no memory of. Meanwhile preparations were well underway at the Palace for Alice! which would open on October 4, and Brel was still packing them in at the State. 
Ad from The Plain Dealer Action Tab, August 30, 1974.

On the evening of Monday, September 16, I was at the Allen with Tom K who had just about finished cleaning up from the last show and was getting ready for the next one when a couple guys wandered in off the street, they turned out to be Ronnie King and Kim Berly of the Stampeders, who were scheduled to open for Mountain the following night. We chatted with them for a while in the lobby. I recall asking them how long they’d been out on tour, “since 1966” was the reply, “aren’t you the guys that do Sweet City Woman?” “We’re not doing that one anymore.” After talking for a bit one of them asked if either of us knew where they could find some marihuana. Of course neither of us did, but Tom thought if we looked in the pile of trash in front of the stage, maybe something would be there. So we all walk down there and start rifling through the debris field and after a minute or two a couple sticks were found. This seemed to make them happy, but they were hoping to obtain a larger amount, so we said we’ll ask around and see what we could come up with. We were able to hook them up with someone the next day.

Walking down Dodge Court the night of the show, I was chased by a crazed mob of gate crashers after someone noticed I was wearing a stage pass. It was one of the only times I ever had one, and some clown yells, “hey he has a pass!”, and the crowd chased me to the Allen stage door. I never made that mistake again.

So after the Stampeders did their set, I’m sitting in a dressing room talking with Kim and Ronnie (the other member of the group Rich Dodson was banging some broad in the next room). Being Canadian, Kim and Ronnie were somewhat paranoid about having a bag of marihuana and pulled out a bunch of paper towels from the towel dispenser and hid the marihuana in there, stuffing a bunch of towels back into the dispenser. So we’re talking and I hear something outside the window, I open it and chase away some gate crashers who were lurking on the other side. Now this window opens up into the Bulkley Building Garage, and had been bricked over on the garage side years earlier, but the crazed concert fans had pulled down most of the bricks over time. So we resume our discussion when suddenly a Cleveland Policeman bursts into the room, goes to the window and looks out. I’m telling the policeman that I had just chased away some people, Kim and Ronnie look totally freaked out. When the policeman stepped back from the window, his hands are all dirty from leaning out the window. So he goes over to the sink and starts washing his hands, Kim and Ronnie are really freaking out at this point with visions of arrest and deportation dancing in their heads, and are shoving hotel towels at the policeman. The policeman is saying “I don’t want to ruin your good towels” and starts pulling paper towels from the dispenser. He dries his hands and leaves. Either Kim or Ronnie, I forget which, looks back at the dispenser and finds the policeman had come to within two towels of the marihuana.  Crisis averted and the show goes on.
From The Plain Dealer Action Tab, August 30, 1974. Note the misspelling of Graham Central Station.

Snip from Belkin Production ad, The Plain Dealer Action Tab, October 11, 1974.

A number of other shows were at the Allen over the next month, Nektar, Jackson Browne (ugh),  Golden Earring, Graham Central Station, etc, all leading up to back-to-back sellout Lou Reed/Hall&Oates shows on Thursday-Friday, October 24-25. Hall & Oates had a new record out, War Babies, and there was a heavy promotion for it. The record company was passing out all sorts of promo material, and Hall & Oates - War Baby crap was all over the place. They did not go over well and were constantly heckled throughout their aborted performance. Allen Theatre audiences tended to be critical, and they were hyper-critical when it came to these guys. Shouts of “you suck, get off the stage,” along with chants of “we want Lou Reed,” filled the air in between songs. They were also being hit with popcorn boxes, Pepsi cups and miscellaneous other projectiles before they fled. I recall watching the first show with Chuck Sudetic up in the Allen booth, laughing as we watched the spectacle unfold. (Years later I found Hall & Oates were also heckled off the stage on the same tour in St. Louis and Philadelphia, which was also their hometown.)

Lou Reed wasn’t in the best of shape either, often forgetting lyrics to his songs, and knocking over the mic stand a number of times, but the crowd ate it up with a spoon. On one of the two nights I saw him up close, he was like a walking anti-drug poster, his arms were all scabbed up, really gross looking. A girl from the production company told me they had a baby sitter for him, otherwise he’d disappear and they’d have to go hunt him down, often finding him in a bad part of whatever town there were in, in the company of some rather unsavory individuals.

The production company had hired an off duty Cleveland policeman to guard the equipment overnight between shows. The police they had working security at these shows were always great guys, except for this one. This guy was obviously intoxicated, constantly waving his pistol around, saying he’d shoot any motherfucker who tried to get in. We were worried far more about him shooting one of us, than we were about anyone who might try and break-in and steal any equipment.
Smiling Dog ad ad, The Plain Dealer Action Tab, October 25, 1974.

Miles Davis, who had been booked into the Allen three times finally appeared on Friday, November 1. On the afternoon of the show, Miles was sitting in the balcony, house left side, playing some really crazy notes on his trumpet. A great sellout show that night, one of the best ones at the Allen that I’d seen.When he took those sunglasses off he looked like some crazy cat from another dimension. He must have had some wild music playing in his head. Donovan was there a week later, on Saturday, November 9. For some reason I didn’t go, always regretted it. Later that night people came over to the Palace and we’re gushing about how great that show was. Both of these shows were produced by Roger Bohn, who ran the Smiling Dog Saloon on the West Side. Roger did a few other shows at the Allen over the next year or so.

Things started to wind down at the Allen for awhile after Donovan, with only a couple of other shows before Linda Ronstadt in January 1975.
Palace Theatre auditorium, 1975, William Gesten/Foto Arts Inc. The Cinerama booth is visible under the balcony.
Cast of Alice! William Gesten/Foto Arts Inc.

Back at the Palace I moved down into the Cinerama booth sometime around late October/early November 1974. It was the only room in the Palace that had both hot and cold running water. Needless to say the stereo got hooked to to the old surround system rather quickly. For the rest of the Alice! run the dinner music originated from there, rather than the upstairs booth. At some point towards the latter part of the Alice! run there were a few special early matinees during the week for school kids. At one of them Ron Newell who was the White Rabbit was suffering from the flu, he was frantically banging on the door, asking to use the bathroom, I said sure, he quickly ran inside and was quite ill. After a few minutes, out on the stage, Alice-Yolande Bavan was calling out his cue, “Mister W…Mister W…” but Ron was unable to appear. After about the third attempt, she realized, he wasn’t coming back anytime soon, and the cast fudged their way through the next scene or two, before Ron recovered enough to return to the stage.
From The Plain Dealer Action Tab, October 4, 1974.

Sometime that October, the cast of Brel invited the cast of Godspell, who were at the Hanna for three weeks over, and we had a big party after the show at Loew's State. I don't recall any specifics, but it was something of a raucous affair.

The end of the year saw boffo biz for both Brel and Alice! with the New Years Eve performances becoming a boozy party for patrons and the staff alike. Alice! closed on New Years, and Brel went dark for 5-6 weeks afterwards. Winter was setting in, along with some cold days and nights in both the State and Palace.


AndreaM said...

Great stories.

Anthony Matlak said...

I really enjoyed this, Frank. Well told.