Hamburg, Germany April 13, 2012
Do you remember the last time you got the chills seeing a band?
You know... a magical night when the groove was perfect... and every member of the band was in sync, on the same musical wavelength... and the sound and spirit was so unified that it enveloped you... creating a feeling in your body and soul so much more emotional than listening to any record?
I remember Gravel at the Decade, around 1978. And The Sponges at some bar on the corner of Forbes and Shady in the late-1980s. And NRBQ on New Years Eve in Greenwich Village, NYC, in the early 1990s.
And The Undertakers, last Friday.
After a month of non-stop tax work, I finished early. So I decided to go to Hamburg, Germany for the Star Club's 50th Anniversary party. It was fabulous evening of rock & roll, hosted by Horsch Fascher. Horst managed the Star Club on opening night, April 13, 1962. Fifty years ago the featured act was an up and coming Liverpool group called The Beatles. The anniversary show last Friday featured numerous other Liverpool musicians, who, like The Beatles, spent their teens playing to wild audiences in Hamburg.
Now, it doesn't take too much math power to calculate that if these guys were in their late teens in 1962, then they're in their late 60s now. At this point many of them look like, and probably are, grandfathers. But these Liverpool bands can still rock! In fact, it's amazing how good they are.
Let's just take the bass and drums for example: Most rock & roll songs are in 4/4. If you're counting 1 - 2 - 3 - 4 the snare drum hits will be on the 2 and the 4 and the rest of the band will be playing along with that. (That's also where the audience should be clapping... unless you're at a country music concert, where they'll be clapping on 1 and 3.)
But there is a lot of flexibility with that 2 and 4. I'm only talking about milliseconds here, but the rhythm section can lay a little behind that beat, or they can push it a little and be on top of the beat.
"Soul Man" by Sam & Dave is a good example of laying behind the beat. And I'm a big Sam & Dave fan. But what I really enjoy is music played by guys who know how to push it enough to rock it.
(Hey, I like that! "Push it enough to rock it" ® 2012 CarlsGuitarCorner)
All of these grandfatherly guys from Liverpool instinctively know how to play on the front edge of the 2 and 4. They look like elderly white-haired guys, but they play like teenagers.
I don't really have an explanation for it. But something happened in Liverpool in the late-1950s/early-1960s. Perhaps it was growing up in a heavily bombed out town still recovering from World War II. Perhaps it was a generation of British post-war baby boomers, wondering what to make of their lives and future. But these young kids took American rock and roll, and ran with it. They played it with an extra spirit. And now, fifty years later, they still play it that way!
OK, now getting back to the chills... All of the "vintage" Liverpool bands I saw last weekend had great rhythm sections. But one of the headliners, The Undertakers, kicked it up yet another notch. Their bass player and drummer were pushing the beat just perfectly, as described above. Not rushing it, just finding the perfect rock & roll groove. And then the three front guys, Geoff Nugent, Brian Jones, and Jackie Lomax, took it over the edge and added the magic. Jackie Lomax played tasteful rhythm guitar and sang few songs, wearing his trademark hat. ("It's not a hat," he said, "It's a Stetson!") Brian Jones played amazing saxophone... at one point even jumping up and down while playing. And Geoff Nugent delivered powerful lead vocals and lead guitar.
It's hard to describe, but everything was right where it should be. They played great, and they sounded great. And even though I was shoulder to shoulder in a packed crowd in a hot bar, it gave me the chills! And it didn't hurt that they also looked fabulous, with matching long black coats (undertaker-style) and white shirts with black ties. (I'll always have a weakness for bands who go to the trouble to wear stage-clothes, rather than walking on stage in their street clothes.)
If I was a millionaire, I'd bring this band to Pittsburgh, gather up all of the young bands that I know, and say, "Watch this. This is how it's done."
Yep. It was a good time.
I hope all is well with you guys. It's a beautiful day here in Pittsburgh. We should all go out and enjoy it. And enjoy life. Someday we'll be old and celebrating our own 50th anniversaries (of something). We'll look back on these days as sweet ones. And I hope then we'll still be able to rock.... The way the Liverpudlians can!
See you soon,
PS: My theory about something happening in Liverpool in the late 1950s (the water, perhaps?) was backed up by one of the other acts at the show. A guy who had several big hits back in the 1960s appeared with a significantly younger rhythm section. (I believe it was his son on drums.) Although he was great, and very well received by the crowd, his rhythm section was missing something. The bass player and drummer were excellent musicians... so I can't really fault them. But they lacked the magic that the older guys had.
PPS: Me and Horst Fascher.
PPPS: You're probably thinking, "I know the Star Club was torn down decades ago. Where was this anniversary party?" The event was held across the street at the Kaiserkeller. Today there is a patio and a plaque at the site of the Star Club.
PPPPS: Me in front of 36 Grosse Freiheit. The Kaiserkeller is in the basement.
PPPPPS: Now you're probably thinking, "I know the Beatles played in Hamburg. But which club?" Perhaps I can answer that in less than a thousand words....
A (semi-) brief history of The Beatles in Hamburg:
- The Reeperbahn is a major thoroughfare in the St. Pauli district of Hamburg. It is also a long stretch of strip clubs and porn shops. Grosse Freiheit is a side street, also full of strip clubs.
- In 1960 Bruno Koschmider owned a basement club at 36 Grosse Freiheit, called The Kaiserkeller. And business was down. Several of his sailor customers (Hamburg is a port city) suggested that he add live music, and they told him about a club in London called the "Two I's" ("two eyes") with great bands.
- Bruno went to the Two I's, saw a band called Tony Sheridan and The Jets, and hired them. Business immediately turned around at the Kaiserkeller. Bruno hired a bouncer named Horsch Fascher.
- Another club owner, Peter Eckhorn, saw Bruno's success, and wanted to get in on the concept. Eckhorn refurbished his club, The Hippodrome, renamed it the Top Ten Club, and hired Tony Sheridan away. (The Top Ten was on the main drag, The Reeperbahn, and not in a basement on a side street. Sheridan was happy to make the switch.) Eckhorn also hired Horsch Fascher.
- Meanwhile, over in Liverpool, 29-year-old Alan Williams owned a small club called the Jacaranda Coffee Club. He was also a small time promoter. In July 1960 he set up a tour of Northern England with a band he managed called Derry And The Seniors. Unfortunately, just after all of the band members quit their day jobs, the tour was canceled. They were upset. Williams said he'd make it up to them, and he promised them a gig in London. He drove them to London, found the Two I's, and convinced the owner to let them play. By merest coincidence, Bruno Koschmider was in the audience that night looking for another band to take back to the Kaiserkeller in Germany. Bruno hired Derry And The Seniors on the spot.
- At the Kaiserkeller, Derry And The Seniors were a big hit, and Bruno was back in the money. So, he decided to put live music in another club he owned, The Indra. (One block down, away from the Reeperbahn, at 58 Grosse Freiheit.) Bruno called his new friend Alan Williams in Liverpool and asked for another band.
- The only other band Williams had available were some kids who hung around the Jacaranda, "The Silver Beetles" - John Lennon, George Harrison, Stu Sutcliffe & Paul McCartney. Williams told them they could go to Hamburg if they could find a regular drummer. They knew that Pete Best had a drum set, so he was hired.
- On August 17, 1960 The Silver Beetles started their gig at The Indra. Things went semi-well, but the neighbors complained about the noise. On October 3, 1960, after forty-eight nights of gigs, Bruno discontinued live music at The Indra, and moved The Silver Beatles (new spelling) to The Kaiserkeller. Bruno had just replaced Derry And The Seniors with another Liverpool band, Rory Storm And The Hurricanes, and for the next fifty-eight nights The Beatles and Rory Storm And The Hurricanes alternated sets.
- Interesting note: the drummer in Rory Storm And The Hurricanes was the fabulous Ringo Starr. As The Beatles watched the Hurricanes play for fifty-eight nights in a row, they no doubt noticed how much better Ringo was than Pete Best.
- The Beatles were supposed to play for Bruno Koschmider through the end of the year. But Bruno noticed them hanging around with, and occasionally jamming with Tony Sheridan at the rival Top Ten Club. Fearing they would abandon him the way Sheridan did, Bruno had them deported back to England on November 30, 1960. (It was an easy move since George Harrison was only 17 and too young to be working in the clubs.) Bass player Stu Sutcliffe quit the band to stay in Germany with his girlfriend, Astrid Kirchherr. Paul took over on bass.
- In April 1961, Peter Eckhorn cleared up any legal issues for the band, and hired The Beatles to play at his Top Ten Club. They played there for ninety-two nights, through July 1, 1961.
- By this time big money was being made with Liverpool bands in Hamburg. So, another local club owner decided to get in on the action. In early 1962 Manfred Weissleder decided to convert his porn movie theater into the area's biggest and best rock & roll club. Located across the street from The Kaiserkeller, the new venue, called The Star Club, opened its doors on April 13, 1962. Fifty years ago last weekend. Hired on as club manager was Horsch Fascher. And invited back as the club's opening act were The Beatles. The Beatles played forty-eight nights straight at The Star Club. They returned home on July 1, 1962.
- Later in the year, on November 1, 1962, The Beatles returned to The Star Club for fourteen nights. But big events had occurred between their April and November appearances. In August 1962 Pete Best was replaced by Ringo Starr. And in early October 1962, "Love Me Do" was released.
- In December 1962, despite the fact that "Love Me Do" was climbing the charts in England, The Beatles returned to the Star Club for a final two weeks. Although they were making more money at home, manager Brian Epstein insisted that they fulfill this previously-made commitment. December 18 through December 31, 1962 were The Beatles last performances in The Saint Pauli district in Hamburg. During the final week, musician Kingsize Taylor and Star Club soundman Adrian Barber recorded The Beatles. These tapes were later released as The Beatles, Live At The Star Club in Hamburg, Germany.
- The Kaiserkeller, The Top Ten and The Star Club thrived for years, featuring famous bands from all over the world. The Star Club closed at the end of 1969, suffered a fire in the mid-1980s and was eventually torn down. The Top Ten is now a Pizza Hut. And the Kaiserkeller is still in operation today.
Beatles German Summary:
Trip one, 1960, 48 nights at Indra; then 58 nights at The Kaiserkeller
Trip two, 1961, 92 nights at The Top Ten Club
Trip three, 1962, 48 nights at The Star Club
Trip four, 1962, 14 nights at The Star Club
Trip five, 1962, 14 nights at The Star Club
Write back with any questions