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Music Part II: Concerts (con't.)


By Marc Jennings


It was only natural that when an artist that we admired came to Dayton, we went to see them. Our first opportunity to do this was probably the strangest. In 1963, we saw an ad in the paper for an appearance of Jerry Lee Lewis. In the early 60’s many of the best rock and roll performers of the 50’s were no longer popular. This included Little Richard and Jerry Lee Lewis, “The Killer”. In addition to his music being out of style, Jerry Lee had married his 13 year old cousin in 1957, after which he was pretty much an outcast from the music business. But Mike, Dave and I loved his music and didn’t much care who he was married to.

Jerry Lee was performing on a Sunday afternoon, at what turned out to be a bar on West Third Street. I don’t remember how we got there, but we paid our money and walked into the place. The bar was OK as a bar, I guess, but a pretty strange place for a concert. Walking through the front door you saw a very long and narrow room. The bar was on the left and the room was no wider than fifteen feet. At the far end of the room, right next to the back door, was a tiny stage with just enough room on it for an upright piano and a chair.

Mike, Dave and I arrived early and we took seats right in front of the stage so we could get a good view of the performance. This was almost a mistake. It didn’t dawn on us at the time, since we had never seen a live performance of a music celebrity, but there was no band to back up Jerry Lee. However, they had managed to amplify this old piano somehow and the big speakers were just a few feet from our faces. The crowd was hard to identify. There were mostly people older than us, but it was a Sunday afternoon and there was no drinking so it was pretty subdued. When Jerry Lee Lewis made his appearance, he just walked in the front door and through the room like he was going back to get a coke. The crowd just watched him; no applause, shouting or anything. Either the crowd was very polite, or hung over from Saturday night.

Jerry Lee walked to the stage, stepped up and sat on the chair in front of the piano. He didn’t say a thing; no introduction, banter with the audience or anything. He just put his hands on the keyboard, and instantly, that weird Sunday afternoon in a bar on West Third Street became old-time rock and roll hell on wheels:

“You shake my nerves and you rattle my brain,
too much love drives a man insane.
You broke my will, but what a thrill,
Goodness gracious, Great Balls of Fire!”

Today, I suppose we expect music to be really loud, even in our cars. But in 1963 it was a shock when Jerry Lee started pounding those 88 keys like they were an ugly step-child. It was loud and it was rocking and we had never heard anything like it. There was not a vinyl record in the universe that could come anywhere close to duplicating the singing and music we were hearing and feeling. It hurt my ears at first, but soon, the only sensation was that pounding music. It was one hell of a show, and there weren’t any lights or fireworks or smoke or big screens or rain coming down on the stage or any other show business effects. It was just Jerry Lee Lewis, singing and playing his piano, one song after another. He did them all and when it was over he thanked the audience, got up and walked out. We were all stunned, like shell-shocked. He had left us floating down from rock and roll land and by the time we came to, he was gone. Never in my life, before or since, have I experienced a music event quite like that. We were so close we could have leaned over and taken Jerry Lee’s wallet from his pocket, yet we didn’t say a word to him, didn’t ask him for an autograph. By the time we thought of it, he was probably back in Ferriday, Louisiana


I don’t remember the crowd cheering and applauding but I’m sure we did. There was awe and respect for this performer that we had the chance to hear years after his career seemed to end. As far as we knew then, we might never hear his music again and I think most of the crowd felt as I did, glad that we came to that crummy little bar on that Sunday afternoon.

There was another performer that could always be counted on for a fantastic show, although the setting was quite different from the one at which we saw Jerry Lee. James Brown and his Famous Flames always appeared at Memorial Hall; and Mike, Dave and I never missed a performance. I guess we went to his shows three or four times. I especially remember the song, “Please, Please, Please!” One of the Famous Flames would come over and put the cape on James as he was in such pain, pleading with his lover, that he had to walk slowly away. Then he would throw it off and rush back to the microphone to plead once more. “Try Me” was a song that you could not hear without thinking of your special love and dancing close. Grinding on the dance floor was definitely permitted for this song. And speaking of dancing, James Brown could dance in a way that no one else could. Ed Stout says he tried to dance like James Brown, so did I, but with almost no success.

James Brown’s music was described as Rhythm and Blues. Whatever you called it, it was good and it got to you—Devil’s Music. But in addition to singing great music, James Brown was a tremendous entertainer. He took care in crafting a show that people enjoyed. He gave you a good reason to get out, come down and pay the money to see him perform.

In the early 60’s there were a lot of “Girl Groups”. The Shirelles, the Ronettes, the Chiffons, the Velvelettes, the Crystals, Martha Reeves & the Vandellas and on and on. It’s possible some of the really good girl groups came to Dayton and we missed them, but I don’t think so. The group that did appear at Memorial Hall, and that Mike, Dave and I went to see was the Orlons. The Orlons recorded “The Wah-Watusi”, “Don’t Hang Up” and “Shimmy Shimmy” among others. The show was OK, but didn’t give us much to talk about on the way home. I guess it beat hanging out at Parkmoor for a night.

Mike and I played the guitar so we were pretty excited to see Lonnie Mack at Forest Park. Lonnie Mack recorded an instrumental song called “Memphis”, and he played much faster than we could even think about. As it turned out, Mike and I played in a band together at the time and our band appeared with Lonnie Mack, but that’s another story.

We also saw the Byrds at Forest Park. Their big hit at the time was “Mr. Tambourine Man” written by Bob Dylan (Robert Zimmerman, Debbie Rutstein’s cousin from Minnesota). By the time we saw the Byrds, we knew things were changing, but we didn’t know what was coming, except that it would probably involve drugs.

In another story I mentioned the impact The Beatles had on all of us at Fairview when their music first began to be played in this country. One of the first people I knew that got a Beatles album was Mike Stein. Right after he got it I stayed over at his house on Siebenthaler on a school night and we listened to the album until his mother made us turn it off and go to bed.

The British Invasion was what it was called. There were all these bands from England with records out in the US. I liked the Animals and the Searchers, but number 2 behind the Beatles was eventually a band called the Rolling Stones. The Beatles didn’t come to Dayton but the Stones did, in 1965. Naturally, Mike Overly, Dave Todd and I had tickets to their appearance at Hara Arena. I know my ticket cost $2.50 because I still have the ticket stub. There was a huge sell-out crowd to see them, but as usual, we came early and got a good parking place and were in our seats well before the show started.

The concert was great. The Rolling Stones had several songs that we liked, including their then current “(I can’t get no) Satisfaction”, and they played with a real attitude, especially Mick Jagger, who strutted all over the stage. By the end of the concert we were in a great mood, agreeing the Stones were fantastic and that our money and time had been well spent. We got to Mike’s car in the Hara parking lot and pulled out onto Shiloh Springs Road, where traffic was moving pretty slow. People had parked along the road, at Wampler’s Barn and wherever they could find a space, so there were kids walking along the road on both sides. We hadn’t gone far when we saw a boy laying on the opposite edge of the road with a few people standing around. Mike pulled off the road; we got out and went over to see what had happened. I wished we hadn’t stopped because the boy, although not bleeding, was in pretty bad shape. There was a girl, a bit older than us, I think, who had hit him with her car as he walked along the side of the road. She was very upset, the ambulance was not there yet and there was just nothing we could do to help, however much we wanted to. We heard on the radio the next day that he died.

I don’t remember going to any more concerts in high school. I attended some later in college but the excitement of hearing a live performance of great music was not the same; that is, until 1985. That year, while attending a cable television convention in Atlantic City, NJ, I was invited to an HBO party at one of the casinos. The entertainment was a New York Doo Wop band called The Regents. The Regents wrote and recorded “Barbara Ann”, which was released in 1961. One member of the group also wrote “The Wanderer” recorded by Dion. Their performance of old rock and roll songs was just great. That night, for a little while, I remembered what it was like to be a student at Fairview, when music was such a big part of our lives. I even left a couple of scorch marks on the dance floor as I began practicing for the FHS 20-year reunion in 1986.

Post Script. Music experts, like me, pretty much agree that rock and roll music evolved as a combination of other forms of music. One contributor to what became rock and roll was Rhythm and Blues, which itself owed much to southern blues and gospel music. Another contributor was Country Music, which was blended with R&B to become what was called Rockabilly. The point I am trying to make is that rock and roll music came from the South. We southerners are real pleased that y’all like our music.

The one exception to what I have stated above is Doo Wop. Doo Wop music originated in ethnic neighborhoods of New York, Jersey and around Philly. But the black, Italian and Jewish boys who developed, wrote and sang Doo Wop only did so after being inspired by southern rock and roll.