Monthly Archives: March 2012

Little Richard goes back to the Bible

Richard Penniman (AKA Little Richard) was 45 years old and in his second go-around with the ministry when he visited Youngstown for a pair of gospel music programs on October 8, 1978 at the Stambaugh Auditorium. Hit by ample doses of personal tragedy in the mid ’70s, Little Richard took a step back from rock ‘n’ roll music for the second time in his career (the first coming from 1957 to 1962). His primary function at this juncture in his career was using his celebrity to sell bibles for Memorial Bibles International.

From what I gather from looking through old concert lists and databases, this is the first appearance by Little Richard in Youngstown. Like many acts from his era, there is a strong possibility he could have played in the early ’50s at small clubs in the area. I have yet to locate any proof that he did, however.

Here’s a sample of what Little Richard sounded like in the late ’70s:

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Motown’s best at Stambaugh

Artists associated with Motown and its various labels produced 110 Top 10 hits from 1961 to 1971. On October 26, 1965 at Stambaugh Auditorium, Youngstown got a full helping of those hits as eventual Rock and Roll Hall of Famers The Temptations, Four Tops, Martha and the Vandellas and Stevie Wonder strutted into town around the peak of Motown’s hit-making powers.

The Four Tops entered the concert coming off the No. 5 Billboard hit “It’s the Same Old Song”. Earlier in the year, “I Can’t Help Myself (Sugar Pie Honey Bunch)” was a No. 1 hit. The Temptations hit No. 1 with “My Girl” at the end of 1964 and released a bevy of well-received R&B hit singles throughout the rest of 1965. Martha and the Vandellas were coming off the Top 10 hits “Dancing in the Street” and “Nowhere to Run”. Fifteen year-old Stevie Wonder, who had a No. 1 hit in 1963 with “Fignertips”, was coming into his own and would release the Top 10 hit “Uptight (Everything’s Alright)” in November of 1965.

Junior Walker and his All-Stars hit No. 4 on the Billboard charts with “Shotgun” earlier in 1965. Jimi Hendrix played guitar in live performances of the song early in 1965, but he was well on his way to solo stardom by the time October came around. The Marvelettes started off their career with the No. 1 smash “Please Mr. Postman” in 1961, but were in the midst of a bit of a chart slump by the time 1965 rolled around.


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Day after day, I get angry

Since I keep seeing these Hewlett Packard commercials featuring a mash-up of “Blister in the Sun”, I have to wonder if Violent Femmes’ founder Gordon Gano is having a bit of a rough go of it. I also can’t help but remember back on October 4, 1998 when the band played Beeghly Center. Kings of the “folk punk” or whatever you want to call it in the ’80s and early ’90s, the Femmes were in the beginning stages of a decade long dissolution process in 1998. Dropped from Interscope Records earlier in the year, the band was out on the road doing some fine tuning for a series of live recording dates in Wisconsin from October 25-31. Those recordings would become the Viva Wisconsin! album. Freak Magnet, the album the band recorded for Interscope before being dropped, would not see the light of day for another two years even though they were playing songs from that album on this tour. So miffed by the commercial failure of Freak Magnet, the band never wrote or recorded any original music again.

The then 34-year-old Gordon Gano who greeted patrons at the Beeghly Center was surly, dismissive and at times agitated. It’s not to say the performance wasn’t good. Bass player Brian Ritchie and drummer Guy Hoffman did their best to keep the energy positive. It’s likely that was something that became a pattern for those two as the band played sporadic gigs for the next decade before calling it a day in 2009. As for the cause of the break-up, it had a lot to do with the rampant licensing of songs for commercial use by Gano.

WHAT THE SHOW SOUNDED LIKE: I recorded some of it on a cheap tape recorder. Here is a link to an interesting exchange between Gano and the audience regarding the death of Gene Autry which happened a few days earlier. Of course, if you want a good sounding recording representative of what was played that night, pick up the Viva Wisconsin! album.

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Candlebox sets off a spark

In the mid-90s, the city was in a period where there wasn’t much going on in terms of national acts visiting the area. The Tomorrow Club/Youngstown Agora, which delivered the cream of the crop in the ’70s and ’80s, was boarded up and left to rot. The Beeghly Center had gotten away from showcasing rock acts and the Covelli Centre was a pipe dream in some crazy politician’s head. Sure, there were small clubs booking good shows. If you wanted to hear someone who had a few hits on the radio, though, you were out of luck.

Youngstown State University and WNCD 106.1 FM rolled the dice on May 20, 1996 when it brought Seattle’s Candlebox to town for a show at Stambaugh Auditorium. It might have been a few years removed from the band’s peak in 1993/94 (the debut album sold 4 million copies), but this was an honest attempt at putting on a show which appealed to teens and 20-somethings. Stambaugh was several decades removed from putting on rock shows catering to the young at this point, so this was a real departure from the normal non-threatening fare that performed there (and continues to do so this day).

Reviews and first-hand accounts of the show described it as wild and overly enthusiastic. Some in the crowd of 1,925 rushed to the front of the stage when the band went on. There were stage diving attempts and there were also pleas from the band not to trash the joint. The reaction might be described as something of a release because of years of neglect regarding hometown shows. It also might have just be the reaction of wide-eyed high-schoolers and college kids enjoying their first taste of live rock ‘n’ roll. You know, like they did in the same exact place in the 1950s and 60s.

The setlist featured the big hits – including the Top 20 smash “Far Behind” – from the first album and some off the second album Lucy. If memory serves me correctly, no other rock acts at or around their peak has performed at the venue since.

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The Spirit of ’77

By 1977, punk rock acts started to make a valiant attempt to go on the road to evangelize about their new way of thinking about rock music. On July 3, 1977, Youngstown got its first taste of a genuine punk show when the Dictators and Dead Boys teamed up for a gig at the Tomorrow Club. The ad in the Vindicator treats the event like some sort of sideshow (prizes for best costume and use of the dreaded ‘new wave’ tag are present). None of this was seen as legitimate yet or perhaps never would be by those invested in the traditional rock music which usually played Youngstown during that era.

New York City’s The Dictators were a natural choice for a headliner. Having released an incredible debut album in 1975, the Bronx band was well ahead of its Bowery peers in getting to the front of the line with its comedic and hard driven brand of rock ‘n’ roll. Despite having a decent NYC following, no one really got the joke and the first release was a commercial dud (that led them to being dropped from Epic Records). The band sort of went into outcast status in NYC in March of 1976 because of “Handsome” Dick Manitoba’s brawl with drag-queen rocker Wayne County. By 1977, the band was on the road supporting much inferior Manifest Destiny album.

Formed just a year prior, the Dead Boys – featuring Youngstown’s Stiv Bators on vocals, Cheetah Chrome on lead guitar, Jimmy Zero on the other guitar, Jeff Magnum on bass and Johnny Blitz on drums – were four months away from releasing the debut album Young, Loud and Snotty on Sire Records. The band was not exactly rookies on the scene however. Molded out of the ashes of Cleveland’s Rocket from the Tombs, most of the band’s members had significant experience gigging, writing songs and recording. Even Bators was up to his neck in punk rock mischief as early as 1970 when he famously handed Iggy Pop a tub of peanut butter at a Stooges show in Cincinnati.

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Uncle Alice hits the skids

Alice Cooper had been king of the shock rock world in the 1970s, but when the ’80s rolled around he was playing clubs and supporting albums that sold jack squat. It didn’t help matters that alcoholism had just about consumed him. Look at the above video taken from a 1981 TV performance for example. It’s a great performance, sure, but that’s not the portrait of a healthy human.

Cooper played the Youngstown Agora on October 1, 1981. He was six years into his career as a solo artist and was supporting the Special Forces album. Eight years removed from having a No. 1 album with Billion Dollar Babies, Special Forces peaked at 125 on the charts. The next album in 1982 (Zipper Catches Skin) did not chart and 1983’s DaDa was the last he recorded as a “functioning” alcoholic.

Nearly 10 years before this date, Cooper and his band played the Struthers Fieldhouse on May 1, 1971 along with a Lou Reed-less Velvet Underground, Brownsville Station and Biggy Rat. He would return to the area to play a show at the B&B Backstage in Poland in 2003 and on October 9, 2010 at the Covelli Centre supporting Rob Zombie.

WHAT THE SHOW LOOKED LIKE: A Facebook page dedicated to events held at the Youngstown Agora exists and a link for a gallery of photos from that show is here.

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Give us that funk

Most people think of Parliament-Funkadelic as a single entity in the annals of rock history (after all, they went into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame as one unit in 1997). In 1974, specifically Dec. 12 for their show at the Tomorrow Club, the band was actually two separate entities who were touring together. Parliament was the funk and R&B remnants of an old doo-wop/Motown style act developed by George Clinton in the 1960s. Funkadelic was the backing band which made music based on the psychedelic rock styles of the late 1960s. All of this began to fuse in the mid-70s and the band would enjoy huge success in the middle part of the decade.

I’m not sure what went on in 1974 in Youngstown. No one really cared to chronicle setlists or concert itineraries from that period from what I can tell. There is also no accurate bootleg record from that era either.

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Stars align in 1956

Rock ‘n’ roll fever was in full bloom in Youngstown on October 25, 1956 when a show full of superstars from the era arrived to play what was billed as “The Show of ’56” at the Stambaugh Auditorium. On the top of the bill was Bill Haley and and The Comets along with The Platters. Whoever was designing the advertisement at the time was not using the groups most well-known songs to promote the show. The Comets’ “Rock Around The Clock” was more than 2 years old at this time and more than a year removed from topping the Billboard pop charts. Instead it was “See You Later Alligator” featured in the 1956 film Rock Around The Clock which was used as a hook to draw teens in. The Platters’ hit “Only You” was more than a year old at this point. Here there’s a push for “Magic Touch and “My Prayer”.

Frankie Lymon and the Teenagers were pushing the Top 10 hit “Why Do Fools Fall In Love” released in April of ’56. Other doo-wop stars on the bill included Clyde McPhatter and The Clovers. Rocker Chuck Berry, back for yet another performance in Youngstown, was fairly low on the bill. His single “Roll Over Beethoven” peaked at No. 29 on the Billboard charts in June.

WHAT THE SHOW SOUNDED LIKE: Here’s The Comets on TV in 1956 performing their signature hit.


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A visit from the Boss

Bruce Sprinsteen’s visit to the Stambaugh Auditorium on January 12, 1996 was a pretty big deal not only locally, but nationally. Springsteen was supporting The Ghost of Tom Joad album released on November 21, 1995 on that subdued theater tour. The Stambaugh show was the centerpiece of the tour as he would perform “Youngstown” in front of the people who the song was about. From what I remember, there was plenty of media coverage to go around as critics and journalists from around the country descended on Youngstown to frame Springsteen’s appearance around the wreckage of the long closed steel mills. The above clip was shown on the CBS Evening News. Even to this day, I’m quite surprised that they showed the whole song.

During the visit, city leaders took 46-year-old Springsteen on the tour of the steel mill ruins (including “Jenny”) and he met with people who were a part of the book which inspired the song. Tickets, which were $30, sold out in minutes at the end of December. I don’t remember any advertising for the show, but the promoter didn’t really need any.

Setlist included: Ghost Of Tom Joad, Adam Raised A Cain, Straight Time, Highway 29, Darkness On The Edge Of Town, Murder Incorporated, Mansion On The Hill, Sell It And They Will Come, Brothers Under The Bridge, Born In The USA, Dry Lightning, Spare Parts, Youngstown, The Promised Land, Sinaloa Cowboys, The Line, Balboa Park, Across The Border, Does This Bus Stop At 82nd Street, This Hard Land, Streets Of Philadelphia, Galveston Bay, No Surrender, My Best Was never Good Enough.

WHAT THE SHOW SOUNDED LIKE: Here’s a link where you’ll able to download the whole concert (click the green button).

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The guy with the robots in his video

I know Herbie Hancock had very little to do with rock music in 1977, but the guy would become well-known the world over for his video for the hip-hop influenced “Rockit” in 1983. At his February 13, 1977 show at the Beeghly Center he would play with fellow jazz great George Benson.

Here’s what most of us remember him for though:

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