Sunday, April 04, 2010
Teen clubs ruled music scene
By STEVE SEYMOUR
Largely forgotten today, teen clubs once commanded the attention of young people looking to hear the latest rock bands.
Teenagers gathered at hundreds of hang-outs as diverse at the The Scene in the small Upper Peninsula town of St. Ignace to The Cellar in suburban Chicago.
The Excels rock band from Marquette were popular in lower Michigan clubs while Iron Mountain’s Ravelles attracted teens to nightspots in Wisconsin and Illinois.
That St. Ignace, with a population of just 2500, could support a teen club shows how universal the phenomenon became in the mid to late 1960s.
Iron Mountain native Joe Giannunzio, working as disc jockey Joe Arthur (his middle name) at radio station WIDG, started the Straits-area club.
Operating from the spring through the fall of 1968, the Scene was located at a former nightclub just outside downtown St. Ignace which closed and gave-up its liquor license.
“I thought it would be fun to bring in new bands every Wednesday and Saturday. I contacted the owner and rented the place,” Giannunzio explained.
Giannunzio had some experience entertaining young people.
Besides working in radio, he fronted Joey Gee and the Blue Tones back in his home town, sang lead vocals with Joey Gee and the Come-Ons in Milwaukee while he was attending broadcasting school and performed the same duties in the St. Ignace area band Gross National Product.
The Scene was publicized with a poster, describing it as the “U. P.’s only young adult-teen club.” (By mid-1968, Escanaba’s Club A-Go-Go had already been out-of-business for two years.)
The poster contained space where the names of the bands appearing at the club were penned in and advised young people to “make the ‘Scene’ in St. Ignace.”
Open from 8:30 p. m. until 12:30 a. m., The Scene served “pretend alcohol drinks” at the bar to mimic a legal bar for adults.
Giannunzio and assistant Mike Wilkins of St. Ignace did the announcing work at the club. Other workers included Giannunzio’s new wife Kathy, who collected admission at the door, and her brother Richard Sweeney, who kept an eye on things and broke up the occasional shuffle. Giannunzio also hired a St. Ignace police officer for each performance.
Of course, teens flocked to The Scene’s dance floor, even performing a “forbidden” dance called “The Alligator,” Giannunzio remembered. The dance involved youngsters dropping to the floor, flopping around like an alligator and rising again, while the crowd encircled them.
For entertainment, Giannunzio brought in bands from the U. P., including his own Gross National Product, as well as groups from the northern lower peninsula.
The area below the Mackinac Bridge was also fertile ground for teen clubs, many of which booked the Excels, one of the most popular acts in the U. P.
Operated by Frank and Viola Patrick, Daniel’s Den was a former movie theater the Patricks turned into a teen club.
From 1964 through 1970, Daniel’s Den featured both local bands and nationally-known acts such as the Beach Boys, Sonny & Cher and the Yardbirds.
“I would sit outside the back door and listen to the music, the Bossmen, the Excels, all the bands,” Robert “Bo” White, who is writing a book on the Michigan rock scene, told the Saginaw News.
While Daniel’s Den was attracting hoards of teenage patrons, Patrick and fellow businessman Allan C. Schmid opened teen clubs in Alpena, Houghton Lake, Mount Pleasant, Lansing and Owosso.
The old theater building in Saginaw was demolished in 1988 and Frank Patrick died last year bringing a close to the story of Daniel’s Den.
Also appearing at the club were such Michigan stalwarts as Ted Nugent, The Frost, Brownsville Station and The Woolies.
Other rock bands performing at the Tanz Haus were Traverse City’s own Rainmakers and The Excels, who enjoyed a hit single in the local radio market with “Little Innocent Girl.”
The Excels “looked and sounded like the Beach Boys,” fan Sue Slivek told writer Rick Coates.
Making the tour of lower Michigan teenage haunts, the Excels also appeared at Club Pony Tail Club in Harbor Springs and The Teen Chalet in Gaylord as well as The Roostertail in Detroit and a former funeral home in Holland dubbed The Edgar Allan Poe Club.
Other noteworthy clubs in the region included The Platters in Cadillac, Paul’s Place in Manistee and Golden Glow Ballroom in Saginaw.
Teens in Flint were flocking to Sherwood Forest, Riviera Terrace and Mount Holly.
Their neighbors in Bay City patronized Roll-Air Rink and Band Canyon, while Detroit teens spent their spare time at The Hideout, operated by Ed “Punch” Andrews and Dave Leone.
Wisconsin clubs, meanwhile, offered opportunities to many up and coming rock bands, including the Ravelles, who resided just across the border in the U. P.
Featuring lead singer Carmella Altobelli, the Ravelles frequently appeared at a teen bar in DePere called Prom Ballroom.
The group played two shows at the nightspot on Dec. 1 and 2, 1967 drawing 2,400 enthusiastic young people.
During March, 1968 the Ravelles played both The Cove and College Inn, competing teen bars in Oshkosh.
On Oct. 12, 1968 the band played a gig at the venerable Pop House in Beloit, Wis. They were paid $300 for a dance scheduled from 8:30 to 12:30. About 250 kids arrived at the show after a football game, singer and guitarist John Richtig noted in a journal.
Joe J. Accardi has written a book about the famed Wisconsin music landmark, called simply “Beloit’s Club Pop House.”
Owned by George Stankewitz, the Pop House featured weekly entertainment from 1946 to 1973, including rockers like Del Shannon, Johnny Tillotson and Bobby Vinton.
A year after their Pop House engagement, the Ravelles, now armed with their “Psychedelic Movement” 45 rpm single, traveled to Illinois for a show at The Barn, a teen dance club run by Leo Johnson.
Farmer Johnson charged teens $1 to enjoy rock bands inside his remodeled red barn, located near Sterling, Ill.
After operating for years, the building burned down in the mid 1970s, the land now occupied by a golf course.
Located in a warehouse, The Cellar was home to the Shadows of Knight, who recorded their “Raw ‘n Alive at The Cellar” album there in December, 1966.
The album includes a six-minute workout of their biggest song, “Gloria,” composed by Van Morrison.
The club was owned by Paul Sampson, who used his experience at The Cellar to become a music promoter and manager.
The Who, Cream, Byrds, Buffalo Springfield and Spencer Davis Group are said to have played there.
While teen clubs were popular in rural and metropolitan areas alike, the fad passed after a few years.
Only memories, tattered posters and old snapshots remain.
Story posted with permission from Steve Seymour – www.RocknRollGraffiti.com