Rock and Roll Memoir #14

"The Night Owl Cafe"

    We (The Rahgoos) first heard of the Night Owl when some of our local fans at Greenwood Lake, N.Y. were buzzing about a cool place in the Village where you could see this great band, John Sebastian and the Lovin' Spoonful. By the time we checked it out, the "Spoons" were gone, but the magic continued. It was a very unique room, a long and narrow storefront. The stage faced straight at a wall in the center with one church pew at the foot (the "crotch watchers bench"), an aisle, and then another pew against the wall. All the other seating was to the left and right of the stage, giving a side view. The PA was very trebly and faced to the sides. The music crashed into the wall. and died, leaving the vocals very bare to the bulk of the crowd to each side. You had better sing on key or else it was a disaster. Good harmony went a long way at the Night Owl!
    The cast of characters: "Jack the Rat" at the door, a frightening cat with teeth missing and dirty clothes; Joe Marra, the owner; Annie, head waitress (very bossy)....The waitresses all used four letter words that we had never heard from girls before........shocking to four straight, naive, suburban rockers! There was Pepe, the openly gay cook (we had never seen anyone "openly gay"); and of course, all of the great bands! An interesting and happy family indeed.
    We were a cover band and felt very intimidated by these cats that played mostly original material. We auditioned anyway, playing a couple of mediocre original tunes of mine and our most adventurous covers. For some odd reason, they loved us! It may have been our strange rendition of the Valadeers' "Greeting's, This is Uncle Sam", a revised doo-wop song that featured Paul Venturini, our organist at the time, as the Sergeant, and me as the lowly Private who got down on his knees and literally cried for mercy. We also did a rendition of "Shout" where Bob and I jumped over the "crotch-watchers bench" and landed in a split in the aisle. Joe Marra would blink the stage lights on and off, kind of a poor man's strobe light effect. Eventually, I tore a cartilage in my knee doing this routine, and the doctor gave the order to stay off my feet. I planned on working with crutches and a stool, but my mother got wind of it and became very upset. I promised to stay off the bad leg and invited her to come along if she didn't believe me. To my surprise, she took me up on it. My Mother at the Night Owl? Where girls say "Fuck"? Well, whatever makes her happy- and I did want her to see that we were doing well. Ma loved it and the gang at the Night Owl made her feel right at home.
    From the bands emerged many legends. James Taylor would go to England and record for Apple Records. He never stopped getting better. Out of the Magicians came Garry Bonner and Alan Gordon, two talented writers who went on to write many hits for the Turtles, Three Dog Night, Petula Clark, The Rightgeous Bros., etc. Also from the Magicians- Jake who teamed up with Bunky to make some great music in the 70's- and John Townley who founded Apostolic Studios in New York. The Fugitives gave us Phil Cody who wrote the Solitaire album with Neil Sedaka. From the Myddle Class, David Palmer and Charlie Larkey who went on to work and write with Carol King. David also sang lead on the first Steely Dan LP. And there was Jerry Jeff Walker, who emerged from The Lost Sea Dreamers. Occasionally, people like Tim Hardin and Richie Havens would stop in and do a couple of songs.  Waitress, Shelly Plimpton, appeared in the original cast of "Hair". Every Thanksgiving the Night Owl had a huge feast. Everyone was there past and present- even The Spoonful....... and The Mother's of Invention served the food! Yes, we "believed in magic"!
    It was a sad day when the Night Owl was converted into a poster and button shop. It was later the infamous Bleeker Bob's Records.

Peter Sando, 1997

Check out the Night Owl Cafe Tribute Page on Facebook to stay connected!

BANDS OF THE NIGHT OWL CAFE (not in any particular order)
Bob Gibson
Tim Hardin

Fred Neil
Felix Pappalardi
Buzzy Linhart
John Sebastian and The Lovin' Spoonful
The Magicians
The Marshmallows
MacKensy Spring
The Fugitives
The Strangers
The Myddle Class
James Taylor and the Flying Machine
The Gingermen
The Blues Magoos
The Other Half
Tim Buckley
Blues Project
Sonny Terry & Brownie McGee
The Lost Sea Dreamers
The Raggamuffins
Three of Us
The Modern Folk Quartet
Richie Havens
Cat Mother and the All Night Newsboys
The Rahgoos (Gandalf)
Lothar and the Hand People
New York Public Library
Jagged Edge
Jimi Hendrix
Steven Stills

Brooklyn Symphony Orchestra
Sopwith Camel
International Submarine Band (Gram Parsons)
Yellow Brick Road
The Little Flowers
The Novae Police
The Overland Express
The Mad Hatters
The Lotus Eaters
The Orphans

Additions, Corrections, or  the girl who shot photos from the "crotch-watchers bench" night after night;
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