South Jersey show promoter, coordinator of local music series, events and benefits, the son of the owner of the famed Tony Mart’s club is carrying the torch.
If you know local music, you know Carmen Marotta. Son of Anthony Marotta, who owned the legendary club Tony Mart’s in Somers Point — where Bob Dylan found his band the Hawks (later known as The Band), in August 1965 and where rock ‘n’ roll prevailed with the hottest bands around until the early 1980s when the club closed. It was at the end of the club’s colorful history when parts of the 1983 film Eddie and the Cruisers were filmed there. In recent years, Marotta, who’s in the law profession and was once a Somers Point city councilman, has been very busy carrying the torch from his Italian-born father into the 21st century. Putting on several area benefit concerts as well as Tony Mart’s Reunion events, and booking the amazing Somers Point beach concert series each summer, Marotta also started a Mardi Gras on the Boardwalk series in Atlantic City this past summer and tells Atlantic City Weekly he’d love to open another Tony Mart’s if the circumstances were right.
How long have you been a part of the local music scene?
As a young man growing up in Tony Mart’s my father employed many musicians. Many nights there were two and sometimes three or more bands at Tony Mart’s and the second or third line bands were often local or regional. My brother Tony and I actually began buying talent for Tony Mart’s in 1977 and did so until it closed in 1982. We used many local bands in those years. Since that time we have had Tony Mart reunion parties, [as well as] charity and civic events. As you know, I always try to include some live music, often local and regional musicians, in any event that we produce.
Who are some of the greatest talents you’ve worked with or heard that came out of this area?
Right now I am working directly with some of the greatest talent that I’ve ever seen in this area. Billy Walton is phenomenal. He has it all. He’s a great singer, performer and exceptional guitar player. He’s a great guy and he would certainly have been a consistent headliner at Tony Mart’s. There is a lot of great talent locally including Bobby Campanell who could have very well been a major international star if he had been more fortunate in his career. As you know, the live music business is very tricky and difficult and some of the great ones never do become famous. (And conversely, some of the famous ones are really not that great!) Campanell is a great pop singer. Danny Eyer is a great guitarist and so is Ernie Trionfo, who plays with Hawkins Road, one of my favorite local groups with one of the finest rhythm sections around — Rich Kurz on bass and Jimmy Glenn on drums. Certainly the Jeremiah Hunter Band is one of the finest groups you can see performing live in the area. They were incredible on July 4 on the Somers Point beach. Kenny Jeremiah is a consummate performer. Bobby Hunter is a wonderful mellifluous singer with a beautiful range. With an incredible guitarist like Kit, they are a true joy to see live. I could go on about more great bands. We are blessed with a lot of great local performers.
There are less and less places for local bands to play. Why can’t the area provide more places for local musicians to play in your estimation?
As I said, the live music business is very tricky and difficult. A lot of restaurant and bar operators simply don’t know the live music business. Providing decent compensation for the really good musicians is very difficult for these types of establishments. That is why it is so important that we need more public and private partnerships to create venues. The Somers Point Beach Concert Series model needs to be repeated in other areas. We were successful in doing that at Mardi Gras on the Boardwalk in Atlantic City this summer. The most optimistic news is coming out of Atlantic City where there is some money and cash flow for entertainment even though they’re still experiencing some difficulties. An Arts District centered on Mississippi Avenue is great for our future. Dante Hall is the kind of venue we need to use for all kinds of entertainment. I know there are models that would work. The Ocean City Music Pier has done an excellent job. That could be a viable venue for groups if the right kind of showcases can be promoted. Ultimately, I would like to become involved with another regular venue. I know there are business models that would work in a way that provide opportunities for local music. A new Tony Mart’s with the right kind of operation could be a great success and could provide the kind of venue that you’re contemplating with this question. Again, I think that Atlantic City would probably be the best place for this type of venue. The most important factor is to have a capable, experienced, well-financed operator with whom I could affiliate. I think we have proven that people will respond to great live entertainment. A lot of money can be made if it’s done right.
What’s one of the greatest local band success stories in recent years?
The Billy Walton Band is a great success story. I have worked with Billy Walton and William Paris, the excellent bass player and manager of that band, for about five years. It is gratifying to see Billy reach the level of success where he is regularly playing with Southside Johnny and on stage with Bon Jovi. I love Billy and I am very proud of our work together.
You’ve played a big a role in bringing gig opportunities to local acts; how can this catch on with other local booking agents?
We need to increase the free entertainment and low admission model wherever we can. I believe we are going to have significant success doing this in Atlantic City. Freeholder and entrepreneur, Frank Formica, is ready to work with us to do more. He is a musician and a true believer and we need more people like him to come forward and work together with people like us to put together these models where the public and private sector and business community generate great cultural events in the form of live music everyone can enjoy. I am ready to do more with the right set of circumstances and opportunities. I’ve learned the hard way that it isn’t worthwhile to pursue live music venues in areas where they are not welcome. It certainly is time, however, that live performances and cultural events are developed more aggressively in our area. I certainly believe that it would be good for everyone.
We are going to produce a benefit for the recently deceased Joyce Marotta in Somers Point at the large and comfortable Fire House No. 1 on Saturday, Nov. 6, 2010. Bobby Fingers will be featured and we’ll build more performers around him. Also, we need to do a benefit for Bob Campanell, whose recent health problems demand our support and efforts to help him.
We’re working on another Mardi Gras [event] at St. James in Ventnor for the benefit of Access One. This is tentatively scheduled to feature Jumpin‘ Johnny Sansone and [this writer] on Saturday, Feb. 26, 2011. Charity events and public private concert series are the types of events that we can immediately plan and produce. As you know, I am ready and willing to do more. I do think that we can create a lot more opportunities for local performers.
I don’t know that the old Margate or Somers Point strips will be revived in any way that even begins to approximate their former glory. However, I believe that there can be many opportunities in Atlantic City and also in other communities. Successful resorts like Ocean City and Wildwood can create opportunities for free performances as they have been doing. With respect to a group of businesses where live music is performed, I know there are some opportunities in other places such as the North Beach area in Ventnor as well as the Black Horse Pike in Egg Harbor Township and Hamilton Township. Downtown Hammonton has been doing some interesting things and I know there are some really good people in Hammonton who may be able to do more. There also should be something more done in the Galloway area if the community is receptive.
Levon and the Hawks were about to hit the stage when the band’s bass player, Rick Danko, seemed to be missing. When Frye discovered that Danko was in an Ocean City jail — busted for smoking marijuana — he had the sergeant of police in Somers Point, Lyn Bader, contact the Ocean City Police Department and persuade them to let Danko come to Tony Mart’s so the band could perform.
“The location was the key. A beautiful backdrop of the bay, with all types of boats cruising past, and the Ocean City skyline [across the bay].”
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