Friday, June 27, 2008

24 Dead In Nightclub Fire: 06/30/74 Creation @ Gulliver's, Port Chester, NY

06/30/74 Gulliver's Nightclub Fire @ Port Chester, NY
(Photo: 07/01/74 New York Times by Michael Evans)

Deadly Nightclub Fire Kills 24...
06/30/74 Creation
@ Gulliver's, Port Chester, NY

Excerpts from:
"Terror Stricken Throng Rushes for Narrow Stairway to Exit"
New York Times - 07/01/74"

Port Chester, NY - June 30
Suffocating smoke from a flash-fire trapped and killed 24 panic-stricken young patrons and employees of a singles bar astride the New York-Connecticut border early today. About 200 men and women in their late teens or early 20's were in the bar, part of a regular Saturday night migration from such Connecticut and Westchester towns as Greenwich, Westport, White Plains and Ardsley to the numerous night spots here.

The young people were dancing to the soul-rock music of [CREATION] at Gulliver's on the outskirts of this city when the leader stopped the music to announce that there was a small fire. Within minutes, the sunken dance floor, called 'The Pit,' was a turmoil of thick black smoke and screaming, terror-stricken people. The narrow stairway to the exit was suddenly packed with people clawing at one another for air.

Most of the 24 bodies were found piled up at the foot of the stairs leading from the dance floor to the exit. Others, charred, were scattered around the dance floor, among the twisted instruments of the rock band. In addition to those who were killed, there were 19 patrons and 13 firefighters injured.

'This is one of the worst tragedies in the history of this county,' said Alfred Del Bello, the Westchester County Executive.

Inside the bar and restaurant, in the few moments that saw a good-time crowd turned to people gagging and gasping for air through the smoke and flames, there was intense panic and touches of heroism.

'Everybody started rushing toward the stairs', said Judy Grella, an 18-year-old from Bridgeport. 'We couldn't see anything, we had to crawl up. I don't know how we got out alive.

'Gulliver's occupies most of the front of a low, one-story building 100 yards from the Boston Post Road. To the west of the building is the murky Bryam River, to the south, Hillside Avenue, to the east a large parking lot, and to the north, in back of the building, a vacant lot and woods. The enterance to the bar, under a sign reading 'Gulliver's Fine Food n' Drink', is from the parking lot. There are also two small shops - a barber shop and a discount clothing store - which extend part way into the building. The entire rear of the building is occupied by a bowling alley.

Estimates vary on how many patrons there were Saturday night, scattered through the bar, the lounge and the dance floor. The lawyer for the operators said it was about 200, other patrons said 300 or even more.

The band playing last night, [Creation], was formerly called Salt and Pepper because it has both black and white [members]. Patrons said it was a good-humored night, not quite as crowded as usual.

Joe Parsons Jr., a 20-year-old mason's helper who worked as a prt-time bouncer, remembered that the first hint of trouble came when the band stopped playing. It was shortly before 1:00am.

'We were told to give an announcement that there was a fire nearby and not to get excited,' said John Henderson, the band leader. 'We told them there was no danger and to leave clamly.' Mayor Joseph Dzaluk of Port Chester said later accounts indicated that when the first wisps of smoke appeared the band leader gave a warning that was not heeded because there was no apparent danger. 'Then the bandleader repeated his warning,' the Mayor said. 'Please leave, there's a fire.' About 15 seconds later, dense smoke enveloped the dance floor.

Authorities were not sure where the fire started, but said it appeared that the flash point was somewhere near the wall seperating the bar and the bowling alley, under the bandstand. It appeared that the air conditioner carried the first wisps of smoke [into the club.]

Two Greenwich policemen investigating a burglary at a store across the parking lot saw the smoke and called in an alarm. The Greenwich Fire Department received the alarm at 1:01am and after the first truck arrived, relayed it to the Port Chester Fire Department, which recieived an alarm at 1:15am. The enterance of Gulliver's is in Connecticut, but most of the building is in Westchester County.

Those inside recalled that patrons started moving calmly toward the exit leading to the parking lot, but progress was slow because at most they could go up only three abreast.

Judy Grella, 18, of Bridgeport, was near the stairs. 'All of a sudden the lights went out and everybody started caughing and going to the exit.' The lawyer for the [club] operators said that 'the electricity was in operation and stayed on after the fire started,' but several other patrons remembered a blackout.

'People were about halfway up the stairs when the lights went out, and there was lots of smoke,' said PAUL CARAVELLO, the drummer in the band. 'That's when the panic started.

'In the turmoil on the dance floor beyond the stairs, Damon [DeFreis], the organist for Creation, and George [Chase], the lead singer, were trying to quiet the crowd. They are still missing.

Chief Rathgeb said it had taken 90 minutes to get the fire under control. Then firemen went in through the smoking ruins and tangled joists to find the bodies. Most of them were in the service area near the stairs,' the Chief said. 'Then there were some on the dance floor.'

The line up of the band CREATION, on the night of the fire, consisted of:Paul Caravello (Drums)
Sarita Henderson (Vocals)
John Henderson (Vocals/Guitar)
George D. Chase (Vocals)
Damon DeFreis (Keyboards/Organs)
Bart ?? (Bass)

Creation drummer Paul Caravello grabbed the hand of vocalist Sarita Henderson, pulling her out the exit to safety. They were two of the last people to escape the building. Band members George D. Chase and Damon DeFreis, tragically, were killed in the fire. Later in the summer of 1974, the remaining band members decided to continue on, adding new members, and changing their name to 'Mother Nature/Father Time'. The band would gig around the NY area through the late 1970's.

The story of the fire was heavily covered in the press, including several stories in the New York Times on July 1, 2, and 3, 1974. On Television, on Monday, July 1, the CBS Morning News reported on the fire. Included in their report was a brief interview with fire-survivor, Creation drummer Paul Caravello. A grainy copy of this broadcast can be seen briefly on the VHS/DVD
'Inside the Tale of the Fox: The Eric Carr Story', the source being Eric's Mother and Father's home video recording of the original broadcast. The video is of high interest to KISS fans, as this is some of the earliest known footage of the drummer who would later, in the summer of 1980, become 'The Fox', assuming drum duties for Kiss after the departure of Peter Criss.

Excerpts from:
"Bar Where 24 Died Had No Fire Detection System"
New York Times - 07/02/74"Port Chester, NY - July 1

The lack of an emergency fire detection system and a physical layout that caused scores of patrons to flee a single exit were cited by investigators today as the major reasons why 24 people died and 32 were injured when a fire flashed through Gulliver's night club here early Sunday.

In nearby Valhalla, a team of five dentists and eight doctors worked through the day at Grasslands Hospital, trying to identify the bodies of the victims. By nightfall, the names of 15 persons killed in the fire had been released.

Investigators said the fire appeared to have started in or near a child care center in a basement adjascent to the popular discotheque. The makeshift nursery was used by mothers who left their children with a baby sitter while they bowled in an alley next to the night club.

As the beat of a rock band called [Creation] shook the room, and young people danced, smoke from the cellar fire began to rise through vacant areas in the walls into a false ceiling above the two-story high dance floor. Then it appears, investigators said, that air-conditioners began to send some of the smoke into the dancing area, called 'The Pit.'

Among the rubble of chairs and tables, bottles and broken glasses, were darkened brass cymbals and the empty steel rims of the rock band's drums.

Although the building met local fire code restrictions, it had no smoke or heat detection system, nor any water sprinkler system that might have been effective in dousing the fire in it's earliest stages.

The building's air conditioners were beleived to be a major factor in spreading the smoke from the fire, and probably hastened the incapacitation of some of the victims.

Robert Amico (19)
Alexander Blazinski (21)
Thomas Jr. Burke (N/A)
George D. Chase (??) (Vocals - Creation)
Damon DeFries (19) (Keyboards - Creation)
Denise DiMauro (21)
Linda Edwards (20)
Michael Gauruder (21)
Virginia Guannat (19)
Janet Haehl (20)
Jonetta Horsey (27)
Paul Kulikowski (24)
Michael McManus (22)
Phillip Memoli (34)
Eugene O'Connell (20)
Betty Ann Polver (19)
Timothy Scaia (19)
Robin Seeley (18)
Tracey Thomas (19)
Mark Thompson (21)
Dale Ward (26)
Lynn Wojciechowski (22)
Susan Zizzi (23)

Excerpts from:
"25 Tears Later, Disco Fire Haunts It's Survivors"
New York Times - 07/01/99

"The fire at Gulliver's was the deadliest dance club fire in the United States in more than a generation--the Coconut Grove fire in Boston in 1942 had killed 491, and the Happy Land fire in the Bronx in 1990 was to kill 87--and it called attention to the dangers of herding young people into windowless underground rooms without smoke alarms, sprinklers, fire resistant walls or limits on occupancy.

John Henderson [lead guitarist with Creation] said that Mr. Chase was so blase when he made his announcement that the band members trook the time to pack away their instruments. Mr. Henderson trook his prized Gibson SG guitar and headed off the stage with his girfriend. 'One minute it was nothing and the next minute it was smoke everywhere,' he said. 'When it got real crazy in there, I had to let the guitar go. You couldn't see anything. I tripped over somebody. The young lady I was with fell and she kind of pulled me down. When you hit the floor, you could breathe. I got up and followed the wall and I got to the cigarette machine and it was right near the door and I heard people saying 'This way out', which was really cool.'

In the parking lot outside, firefighters were arriving as survivors madly scanned the crowd and tried to make their way back inside to find freinds. Mr. Henderson looked around for his fellow musicians and found all but two. One was Mr. Chase, who had been his classmate at Benjamin Franklin High School in Manhattan and had lingered at the microphone to guide people to safety. The other was the keyboard player, Damon Defeis, 19, whom he had last seen covering up the organ he had been playing. 'We kind of knew,' said Mr. Henderson, who is still a musician. 'But you don't want to beleive. We just kept waiting and finally we went home.

'The authorities arrested a 22 year-old Greenwich laborer, Peter Leonard, and charged him with setting the fire to conceal his burglary of cigarette machines in the bowling alley behind Gulliver's. Two guilty verdicts for murder were overturned because Mr. Leonard's confession was first found to be coerced and then found to have been made without the presence of his lawyer. In 1986, though, he pleaded guilty to reckless manslaughter and was sentenced to the time he had already served--about 12 years.

24 dead.
32 injured.
Countless lives changed forever.
...For some spare change stolen from a few cigarette machines.

And so went the final evening of June, 1974 in Port Chester, NY.
A sad night of tragedy in the History of Rock and Roll.

Monday, June 23, 2008

R.I.P. - George Carlin

A moment of rememberance for a rock-star among comedians.
George Carlin passed yesterday at age 71.

Saturday, June 14, 2008

Lita Ford Returns to the Stage in NY in July

Reclusive former RUNAWAYS guitarist and 80's hard rock queen LITA FORD will do some warm up gigs around the NY area in late June and early July before her July 11th appearance at the 2nd annual ROCKLAHOMA festival in Pryor, OK.

The new lineup of Lita's band for these shows includes:
Lita Ford - Lead Guitar, Vocals
Teddy Cook - Bass
Stet Howland - Drums
Michael T. Ross - Keyboards
Tom Cavanagh - Guitars

Scheduled Gigs:
06/28/08 @ The Chance, Poughkeepsie, NY
07/06/08 @ The Crazy Donkey, Farmingdale, NY
07/07/08 @ B.B. King's, NYC, NY

Thursday, June 12, 2008

NYTimes.Com Goes No Wave Today (06/12/08)

Check out this great New York Times piece on the new book by Thurston Moore and Byron Coley, titled "No Wave: Post Punk. Underground. New York. 1976 - 1980"

"A Brief, Noisy Moment That Still Reverberates"

It Happened Today in Rock History

Rolling Stones (In their 4th ever U.S. Concert)
@ Big Reggie's Danceland at Excelsior Amusement Park
Minnetonka, MN

To read about this show, click HERE.

Wednesday, June 11, 2008

4th Annual Famous Dave's BBQ-Blues Fest Review

(Image via: NYCDreamin Archives)

Saturday 06/07/08
4th Annual Famous Dave's BBQ-Blues Fest
@ Peavy Plaza, Minneapolis, MN

Temperatures in the high 70's and sporadic cloud cover made for an excellent day out at the 4th annual Famous Dave's BBQ-Blues Festival in downtown Minneapolis. This is the third time in four years that I've been able to attend this popular-and-growing Twin Cities event. The perfect weather played a big part in the large attendance numbers this year, as did, no doubt, the ever increasing cost to travel out of town for the weekend. The ability to stay here in the metro area and have a FREE all-day outdoor music event in the heart of downtown is a big plus for the city of Minneapolis. Unlike another of the local summer festivals, "Ribfest", this one had no competition in the food department, just the festival sponsor, Famous Dave's, the local favorite and winner of over 200 national awards for BBQ excellence. The food was, as usual, top notch. There were also a few other food vendors selling Gyros, veggie wraps for those of the "non-bbq" persuasion, ice cream, and a few other items including the ever-present $5.00 beer. There was a festival merchandise booth as well, where the performing artists could be found signing autographs for fans throughout the entire day.

I arrived at Peavy Plaza around 11:00am to find a few hundred people already milling about and eating as the event-staff finished preparations to the two stages. Up and down Nicollet Avenue, as has become custom on warm summer days, sidewalk diners at the various restaraunts along the street were treated to some talented (and some no so talented) street musicians, all hoping to earn an extra buck or two from those who strolled past. Guitars, a flute, a saxophone, and some strange middle-eastern sounding instrument could be heard in just a few blocks' walking. Add in the fresh fruit and vegetables at the Asian-run farmers markets set up on the sidewalks and a big, loud Blues Festival at the end of the block and you had the makings of a nearly ideal day in the city.

A brief soundcheck was done starting around 11:30, and all seemed in order as the music began promptly at Noon on the main stage with local MOSES OAKLAND QUARTET with special guest vocalist BARBARA LESHOURE delivering a set of soul-inspired blues to kick the day off. Despite the short sound check, the sound on the plaza, even for the first act of the day, was loud, clear and well mixed.

The next act up, appearing on the smaller "Juke-Joint" stage was keyboardist TOM HUNTER and a guitarist friend, whose name I didn't catch. The sound mix from the 2nd stage sounded OK if you were directly in front of it or just off to the side, but disappeared completely if you went very far in either direction. This caused me to miss most of the 2nd stage acts due to my chosen viewing location. Also appearing on the "Juke-Joint" stage, in order of appearance were THE BRASS KINGS, PETER LANG, ELLEN MCILWAINE and local favorite and festival organizer PAUL METSA with SONNY EARL. As I said, I didn't get to hear much music from the 2nd stage and as such can offer no further insight as to the activities and music that took place there.

Hearing the artists on the main stage was no problem. In fact, they could be heard several blocks away in either direction from the plaza. I found the best spot on the grounds to be located directly behind the main stage, up on one of the concrete tiers that are part of the architecture of the plaza. This was an excellent place to view the action on stage, and was located just behind and directly above the backstage/hospitality area, where all day long the performers could be seen going back for 2nd's and 3rd's of the free BBQ provided for them and the event staff. It seemed to be a very friendly, almost family-like atmosphere backstage. Several of the players hung around for hours, greeting old firends with hand-shakes and hugs and jovial conversation. No roadies for most of these guys either, they could be seen carrying their own equipment to and from the backstage area as they came in, and as they were leaving.

Next up on the main stage was New Orleans R&B legend WILLIE WEST and his band. This was around the time I got up to have some food, so I didn't really get a feel for his material, although from what I could hear, he sounded pretty good. The 2nd stage act, THE BRASS KINGS played next, and then, back on the main stage, the emcee introduced a special guest, Mr. Famous Dave himself, dressed in his trademark (Hideous!) Hawaiian-print shirt. He thanked the crowd for coming and then spoke about the guitar that was being autographed by all the artists performing at the festival. The guitar was to be auctioned off for some charity or another. I saw most of the musicians add their autographs to it as it made it's way around the backstage area during the course of the afternoon.

"The King of the Honkers" - "BIG JAY" McNEELY with the SOLID SENDERS was the next act up, and in my opinion, the best act of the day so far. Featuring the sizzling sax leads of the legendary "Big Jay", they played a solid hour of blues and funk based early rock 'n' roll with some smooth soul thrown in for good measure. They had the dinner-time crowd dancing and singing along, hanging on every note. Most of the members of the SOLID SENDERS ate their meal before going on stage. Not "Big Jay". He attended to business pre-show, then got up and played his heart out, and THEN, immediately after finishing his set, he went straight off the stage and right to the BBQ in the hospitality area. He got about two or three bites down before he was surrounded by well wishes and fans who wanted photos with him and his band. Even though he was trying to eat, he obliged everyone who asked for his autograph and/or his time. Just as he was finishing hi meal a reporter and camera-man from KSTP-5 TV arrived to interview him for the 10:00pm news.

Around the time Dallas-based guitarist ANDREW "JR. BOY" JONES came out on stage was when I decided I needed to get out of the sun and off the concrete for a while. I headed a few blocks west and found a nice quiet place to sit and watch the squirrels play and fight in Loring Park. I was gone for just about 2 hours when I was feeling rested enough to return to the show. While I was at the park I missed RONN EASTON'S ALL STAR REVIEW and SMOKIN' JOE KUBEK with BNOIS KING on the main stage. I returned just as PAUL METSA and SONNY EARL were finishing up on the "Juke-Joint" stage. I returned to my prime viewing spot and settled in for the final performance of the evening.

At 9:00pm RON THOMPSON AND HIS RESISTORS walked out on stage and began what can only be described as a musical ass-whuppin! Having never heard of the guy I wasn't sure what to expect, but within 5 minutes I knew this was going to be a memorable headline performance. Ron and his band play an amazing brand of old-school blues, straight up rock 'n' roll and all-out psychobilly-stomp music. It's mostly fast (and faster!) and all loud. The crowd was jumping and dancing and yelling along through the entire set. I watched from my spot, a young 8-10 year-old boy, standing at the side of the stage, his mouth hanging open and worship clearly evident in his young eyes. I think Mr. Thompson made that little boy want to play the guitar. I'm sure he's had that effect on several young boys with dreams of rock and roll. Things slowed, just a little, when Thompson switched to keyboards for a few numbers, then right back to the 120MPH jam session he was conducting on his beat-up old guitar. The crowd, which had numbered around a few thousand since early in the afternoon were just totally rocking out. It was hard to stand still while watching this spectacle unfold. If you ever have a chance to see Ron Thompson and his Resistors in concert, do yourself a favor and make sure you attend. You'll never forget it.

Things were not quite over yet. After finishing his set, Thompson moved over on stage, to be joined by Paul Metsa, who announced an all-star jam in tribute to the late Bo Diddley. Several of the musicians who played throughout the day appeared on stage, including a local guy (again, I didn't catch his name) who was the last keyboard player to record with Bo. They jammed on a few Diddley classics, the crowd singing along, but starting just now to thin out a bit, as the evening drew to a close. All too soon the music came to an end, the artists left the stage, and the crowd began to disperse.

And so ended a beautiful day of food, music, and fun in the City of Lakes. When the word gets around how great this festival turned out, how solid the talent was and how much fun there is to be had, all for free, except, of course, the food, next year should see an even larger crowd turn out. This is just one more reason that Famous Dave's is the best BBQ in the country. They are dedicated to expanding the audience for authentic American Blues music and are to be commended for their efforts.

Look for select performance recordings from the festival later in the year (as in previous years) when Dave's releases the "BBQ-Blues Fest" compilation CD. It won't be quite the same, listening to it in your living room, but it'll give you a taste of what you missed if you didn't attend, and some damn fine musical memories if you did.

Tuesday, June 3, 2008

OMFUG'N God! It's the Magic Tramps!

Now let's take a trip back in time...
10/19/72 - Thursday - 9:30pm - New York City

In a grimy, dimly lit, recently opened bar called 'Hilly's On The Bowery', a group of strangely attired young men take the stage and begin to play the opening set of the evening. There are maybe 50 people in the room, which until recently, served as a watering hole for the NYC chapter of the Hells Angels, whose clubhouse was located just around the corner. It was also a popular establishment among the most destitute of New York's forgotten, the fabled 'Bowery Bums', who, when not passed out on the sidewalk out front, could be found staying upstairs in the luxurious Palace Hotel.

The band on stage brought along some friends, most of them regulars from another, more established club located on Park Avenue South, known as 'Max's Kansas City'. Upon entering this new club, they find themselves thinking 'Who let the dog crap on the floor?' and 'Why does it smell like someone just peed in a bucket of puke in here?'

Despite the naseua inducing atmosphere, this is a very special night. None of those present knows just exactly how special. To them it's just another evening at a new club. But this is a legendary evening. Legendary but nearly forgotten in the recorded history of the '70's New York rock scene. This is the night that really started it all down on The Bowery all those years ago. For this is the 'Grand Opening' of the Birthplace of Punk Rock. The owner of the joint, Hilly Kristal, would soon change the name of his little bar to 'C.B.G.B.' and a musical and cultural revolution would soon emerge from within it's very walls.

Leading the charge, the group currently on stage, 'Eric Emerson and the Magic Tramps'. The VERY FIRST band to play at Hilly's. According to an advertisement for the show, the Tramps were to be followed on stage by Miroslav Vitous and Ralph Towner. The evening's headliner was jazz flutist Jeremy Stieg. Other Music For Uplifting Gormandizers, indeed.

Others claim to have been the first. Television. Jayne (then still Wayne) County.

Jayne County
(Vocals - Queen Elizabeth/Backstreet Boys/Electric Chairs/Solo Artist/Actor-Actress/DJ)
Excerpted from:
"Hilly gave my band Queen Elizabeth one of our very first gigs. I played CB's when it was still named 'Hilly's'. Before Eric Emerson and the Magic Tramps and Television."

No doubt Wayne played here before Television. But the Tramps came first...

Peter Crowley (Booking Agent at Max's Kansas City)
Excerpted from:
"Eric Emerson talked Hilly into booking the first Rock and Roll band [at the club], [Eric's own band] the Magic Tramps. From the first band that played there to the last hardcore kids, thousands of musicians and fans owe [Hilly] a debt."

The members of the Magic Tramps even built the tiny stage upon which they were appearing. According to Tramps' drummer Sesu Coleman, "I was with Eric one afternoon and we decided to stop and ask Hilly if we could play there. He said 'This is a Hells Angels bar, no one wants to hear rock and roll here.' Eric was friendly with the Angels, they lived around the corner, we had just left there. So we said 'If we build a stage, can we play here?' He said 'You build a stage and you can play.' We hit the street and found some plywood and carpet and set it up in the back and we got the gig."

John Holmstrom (Co-Founder "Punk" Magazine)
Excerpted from:
"Someone recently sent me a flyer from the Grand Opening of Hilly's on the Bowery, which is what CBGB was called before the name change. I think it was the Palace Bar before that. They used that old Cooper black typeface for the club's logo, and the flyer was advertising jazz, rock, blues. I noticed Eric Emerson and the Magic Tramps, a punk rock band in the style of the New York Dolls, were on the bill. I mentioned this to Hilly the other night, but he refused to believe that any punk bands played CBGB before the Ramones."

And we'll let someone who was actually there that night conclude our little trip down memory lane...

Sesu Coleman
(Drummer - Magic Tramps)
Excerpted from:
"Playing at CBGB was unlike playing anywhere else on the planet. It brought together music and fans from all walks of life. An experience of 'oneness'...all there to find 'like kind'. I still have the original pre-name change flyer [from the] grand opening [of] Hilly's on the Bowery. I remember the night well. The Hells Angels, Hilly, dogs, fans, a few 'Bowery Boys' and us, The Magic Tramps, about to open a new chapter in the music history book."

A chapter that lasted from 1972 - 2006 and included a cast of hundreds of thousands if not millions. One of the most influential chapters in the history of rock and roll as well.

Hilly and his club may be gone but the legend and legacy live does that of Eric Emerson and the Magic Tramps.