Something was happening here and Bob Dylan knew what it was
Somers Point '65
Something was happening here and Bob Dylan knew what it was
By Jeff Schwachter -->
[Editor's Note: This story was originally published in 2005. It was updated June 16, 2010 with new information]
In the 40 years since Bob Dylan "plugged in" for his notorious electric tour, it's become even more evident how that string of concerts affected the world of popular music.
As author Ron Bowman notes in the fantastic liner notes to the recently released boxed set, The Band: A Musical History (Capitol), Dylan's 1965-66 tour with the Hawks (later re-christened the Band) set the standard for future rock performances.
"Dylan and his fans had come out of the world of folk music where audiences remained seated, respectful, and paid rapt attention to what was being delivered from the stage," writes Bowman. "Dylan performed with those expectations in mind ... [and with] the Hawks effectively signaled the transformation of rock and roll to rock, the shift from the performer as pop idol to the performer as artist."
After debuting his live electric sound to a crowd of folkies (some booing) at the 1965 Newport Folk Festival, and releasing the groundbreaking, six-minute single, "Like A Rolling Stone," Dylan decided to take his new sound on the road. He also turned to one of the summer of '65's most popular Jersey Shore bar bands to back him.
Levon and the Hawks were playing a summer-long engagement at Tony Mart's on Bay Avenue in Somers Point, an immensely popular nightspot -- especially among Philadelphia-area college students -- for its seven bars, go-go girls, and constant supply of hip bands.
The five-piece Hawks were a hard-playing, rugged group of virtuosos whose original sound was an intense combination of R&B, rockabilly, soul, country, folk and rock music. Even a few years before they would release their highly influential Music From Big Pink album (as the Band), the group stood out from their contemporaries.
"It was incredible because so much of what was going on at Tony Mart's at that time was more like schtick and pop music," says Carmen Marotta, a Somers Point councilman whose father, Anthony Marotta, owned the club, which closed in 1982. "But this was a band that was incredible for their virtuosity and their intensity and their jamming."
Led by Arkansas native Levon Helm (drums, vocals) and Canadians Richard Manuel (piano, vocals), Rick Danko (bass, vocals) Robbie Robertson (guitar, vocals) and Garth Hudson (organ, saxophone), Levon and the Hawks played six nights a week at Tony Mart's. In return, they received a regular paycheck ($1,300 a week), plus room and board for the entire summer.
As Marotta remembers, although the band was still wearing suits and patent-leather shoes, they were so into their music that some nights they had to be pulled from the stage.
"One night, my father had to send guys to the stage three times to shake the group off because it was two o'clock and it was illegal to play music after [that time]," says Marotta.
Although he was only nine in 1965, Marotta remembers the Hawks' amazingly tight four- and five-piece vocal harmonies, which even back then, were one of their trademarks. People from all over, Marotta recalls, were coming to the Mart that summer to see "these white guys singing soul and blues and funk."
A front-page story published in the August 24, 1965 edition of The New York Times noted that Tony Mart's was "the wildest spot on the New Jersey shore and perhaps the entire eastern Seaboard."
A few weeks before the article came out, which included a photograph taken inside Tony Mart's showing the back view of a band playing, which could very well be the Hawks, Bob Dylan got word of this hot playing act. It's been rumored that Dylan sent down some folks from New York to catch the Hawks play at the Mart.
According to Marotta, some believe Dylan came down to check them out himself.
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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.
"We felt that divine intervention came in some place, to put this group together, because this is a group that didn’t know each other. We didn’t grow up together; we all grew up in different parts of the South, different states. And we all came to New York, around the same time, and moved into the same neighborhood, and we would go in the park everyday and play basketball and start singin’."
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