Before Fillmore East Came the Village Theater
‘Fillmore East: The Venue That Changed Rock Music Forever’ Book Excerpt
I interviewed more than 90 of Fillmore East’s musicians and crew members, including 19 Rock and Roll Hall of Fame inductees, to write Fillmore East: The Venue That Changed Rock Music Forever. In the coming months, I’ll release a few excerpts about the iconic New York concert hall and its promoter, Bill Graham.
In this excerpt, John (Beedo) Dzubak of Kingdom Come, Vince Martell of Vanilla Fudge and Charlie Ingui of the Soul Survivors talk about the Village Theater, the venue that staged rock concerts from 1965–1967 before Bill Graham bought the hall and renamed it Fillmore East.
Helen Hersh designed rock posters, handbills, and ads for the Village Theater, Anderson Theater, and Fillmore East that have become part of the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame’s permanent collection. Hersh was a pioneer, a female artist in New York City’s male-dominated field of rock art.
John (Beedo) Dzubak: I got an apartment at that time on Sixth Street and Second Avenue. When I was wandering around the streets, I just happened to go into the Village Theater and Jerry Novac was there. He was up on the stage and he was practicing on his organ. I said, “Hey man, you need a drummer. You’re all by yourself, you got no band. What’s happening?”
So I brought my drum kit over, I set it up, and we start goin’ at it for a couple of hours and he said, “You’re the guy that I need. You’re playin’ just like me, same kind of crazy stuff. Let’s hook it up.” So we hooked it up. We were the house band for the next ten months, all the time. Every act that came by, we were the opening act.
Vince Martell: The Village Theater was the biggest thing to play in New York. It was tremendous, both times that we played there. In fact, when we did the July gig with the Byrds and the Seeds, we were Vanilla Fudge but right before that, we had changed our name from the Pigeons. So if we hadn’t changed our name, it would have been the Pigeons, the Byrds, and the Seeds.
Charlie Ingui: Playing the Village Theater couldn’t have been more exciting. For my brother Richie and I, it was going back to play on the stage where we watched movies as kids. It gave an opportunity to the guys in the neighborhood to come and see us. We certainly would never play that close to home, so it was great. I don’t know how many guys from the neighborhood paid to get in because we certainly knew how to sneak into that theater.
I was really impressed to meet Rosko, who was the MC. I had listened to him on WOR. I didn’t realize that Moby Grape was supposed to be on that show. It was Richie Havens, Canned Heat, Cream, and us.
I remember certainly enjoying Cream’s show but after a couple of hours, we just wanted to get our stuff off the stage and leave. We couldn’t knock down the stuff and leave because if there was any activity behind the stage — you had to load out through an open door out Sixth Street — that would have disturbed the show.
We certainly enjoyed it but we really weren’t used to a band playing that long. Because all the shows we had been doing were, a band would go out and do maybe forty, forty-five minutes, but they played for hours. Or it certainly seemed like hours.
John (Beedo) Dzubak: When Cream were there, Ginger Baker, the drummer, was behind one of the backstage curtains and I was crossing over from one side to the other. I could barely see back there. I was about in the middle of the stage area and I tripped over something. I said, “What the fuck, what is this?” And it was a body! And then I looked down and somebody screamed up at me, “Hey, mate, you fuckin’ jumped over me, you goddamn . . .”
I said, “Holy shit. Look, it’s the drummer.” It was Ginger Baker. I tripped over him and was bouncin’ on his head. I got across the stage to the other side. We talked after their set was done. I said, “Hey man, I’m sorry, it’s dark back there. I didn’t see your body laying on the boards.”