Many Rock & Roll clubs and concert halls have quietly vanished from the face of the earth... why, it's almost as if they never existed... but the stories about them live on.
Located at 301 West 46th Street in New York City, The Scene, which opened its doors sometime in 1965, was indeed the most renowned rock Club in the USA for a short span during the mid-sixties. This joint was run by a fella by the name of Steve Paul, who had begun his career in the rock world working as a publicist for the famed Peppermint Lounge club in NYC. Paul, who had a talent for spotting the next big thing in rock music, made his mark on the music scene by being a savvy judge of musical talent. Paul was among the first clubs on the East Coast to book The Doors (who were booked for a three week run) early on in their career. The club also became a favorite hangout for Jimi Hendrix, who enjoyed stopping by frequently for late night jam sessions whenever he was in town. This led to other rock stars showing up to jam as well and soon everybody who was anybody was making the (heh,heh) scene.
Crowd dancing at Steve Paul's The Scene circa 1965
From a 2012 NY Times article: “The Scene attracted swarms of jet-setters, Broadway dancers, motorcycle riders and Manhattan’s moneyed elite through two incarnations in its six-year life…The Scene was as a refuge for performers, stagehands and artists, including stars like Sammy Davis Jr. and Liza Minnelli, who might burst into impromptu song. Richard Pryor might tell jokes. Tennessee Williams liked to stop by. Andy Warhol filmed an underground movie of Scene patrons watching an underground movie….But after a few years the scene at the Scene began to lose steam, and it went dark. Then the poet Allen Ginsberg and Peter Yarrow of Peter, Paul and Mary, among others, stepped in with financial assistance. Mr. Paul’s focus soon changed to rock music.”
The physical layout of the club, which most folks compared to an underground disco type club, was described in a Classic Albums documentary on the making of the Hendrix lp Electric Ladyland by Jim Marron (The Scene's maitre d') as follows: "It had three rooms that focused in, like, a cross on the stage, and as a subterranean basement, it had the sort of Paris-cave-disco style to it."
David Henderson's biography of Jimi Hendrix, 'Scuse Me While I Kiss The Sky (Doubleday, 1978) describes the vibe that was going down at The Scene: "Out front, a big lighted entrance; inside are narrow rectangular panels leading up to a dim box office. You sweep past into a zigzag-shaped mazelike room with tiny tables and tiny-backed chairs. But up on the tiny stage, two feet off the floor, the music happens...It was dark and intimate, almost labyrinthine, yet you could go there and party, or play and just sit alone and drink, and no one restrained you either way."
The secret behind Steve Paul's success at his club was due to his knack for booking acts right before they achieved mass popularity. Among the acts who graced the tiny stage at The Scene were such sixties luminaries as Tiny Tim, Van Morrison, The Rascals, The Doors, Jimi Hendrix, The Blues Project, Moby Grape, Led Zeppelin, Janis Joplin, Fleetwood Mac, Ten Years After, Pink Floyd, Steppenwolf, Traffic, The Seeds, The Velvet Underground, The Chambers Brothers, and Johnny Winter . The McCoys, a combo best remembered for their iconic pop hit Hang On Sloopy, were The Scene's reisdent house band. As a result of their work at The Scene, they would later end up getting a gig as Johnny Winter's backup band on his Johnny Winter And album which featured the hit single, Rock and Roll Hootchie Koo.
One of the things that added to The Scene's hip reputation was the spontaneous jams that took place on the club's stage from time to time. Jimi Hendrix, who was doing sessions at the nearby recording studio The Record Plant for his Electric Ladyland album, would show up and sit in with bands along with other club regulars such as Steve Stills, Mike Bloomfield, Buddy Miles and Johnny Winter. One of the most notorious jams featured a drunken Jim Morrison attempting to simulate the act of fellatio on a somewat bemused Jimi Hendrix while Morrison moaned into the microphone and rolled around the tiny stage.
At the peak of his success as a club owner, Steve Paul had a prime-time television show called (what else) Steve Paul’s The Scene, which featured artists like The Blues Project and Aretha Franklin. Initially the show was on local Channel 5 and soon it was syndicated nationally.
Here's some video clips from the show:
Night Out at Steve Paul's The Scene Club, 1970 New York
The Blues Project - Wake Me, Shake Me - Steve Paul's "The Scene" TV Show, Sept 4 1967
During the years that he owned The Scene, Steve Paul also worked as the personal manager of several artists who appeared at his club; working closely with Johnny Winter, Edgar WInter, Rick Derringer (who was leader of The McCoys) and David Johansen, In 1973, Paul started his own record label, Blue Sky Records, which released albums by the acts he managed.
The above advertisement ran in the August 16, 1969 issue of Billboard Magazine
Due to the changing trends in the mercurial rock scene and various internal problems (financial and otherwise), The Scene eventually had to shut its doors sometime in the late sixties. In Clinton Heylin's excellent book All Yesterday's Parties: The Velvet Underground In Print 1966 - 1971 (Da Capo Press, 2005), Sterling Morrison of The Velvet Underground, in a 1970 interview, comments about the last days atThe Scene:"The Mafia was beating people up. They were having these incredible fights...so Steve Paul just shut it down... The liquor laws work in such a way that if you have a trouble spot your liquor license can be revoked. So organized crime comes in and says, I want a piece of the action, and they say, no, you can't have it. So they just start these giant fights there. And the clubs lose their license. That's what happened at Arthur's. The Mafia people will even beat themselves up just so the police will come. That's what happened at The Scene."
The ghosts along West 46th Street still remember the good times. Amen.