Today is a very special anniversary for me. 55 years ago today I went to my first rock n roll concert. I thought instead of simply recollecting I’d give you the remembrance from my book:
Doin’ The Cruise: Memories from a Lifetime in Radio and Rock n Roll.
So here goes…
“Music on the radio was one thing, but think about that first concert you went to. The rock & roll Gods were smiling down on me because my first two concerts came in 1966 and both were extraordinary. Not counting some local bands, one in particular called The Blackwells that I’d see play at the American Legion Post, my first two concerts were the Rolling Stones at the Cleveland Arena in June of ’66 and then the Beatles at Cleveland Stadium about six weeks later.
I guess I set the bar kinda high, huh?
Funny thing is, there was no huge build up to the Stones show. I was home for the summer and I remember my buddies Craig and Larry just going out about a week or so before the show and buying tickets. There was no question, they just said we’re going so they bought tickets. I think we paid $3 each or something like that.
Cleveland Arena was on the east side of Cleveland, which wasn’t the greatest part of town but we thought we were bad asses. We used to hang out at this one biker bar with our fake ID’s and every other week someone got a beat down or stabbed or something. Not that anything ever happened to us but for whatever reason we thought we were tough shit. Chalk it up to dumb adolescence and teenage machismo. You know…bulletproof!
Anyhow, the day of the show I drove us there in my mom’s 1964 Mustang. Talk about a sweet car, this was it. Poppy red, black vinyl hardtop with 289 cubic inches under the hood; this car was made for rock & roll. It was the three of us with Danny Justina and to be honest, I don’t remember being totally freaked out about the show. I mean, we were looking forward to it but it was more just kind of what we were doing that day. There was never “Dude, we’re going to see The Stones!!!”
Getting there changed all that. As soon as we pulled up I was in awe of the size of…well…everything! The place held about six thousand people or so and I’m not sure if it was a sellout but it was nuts! The Stones had been second fiddle to the Beatles since they first came on the scene so I guess I never thought it could be all of this even though the summer of ’65 was defined by “Satisfaction.”
People actually took sides back then, like you couldn’t like them both. You were a Stones fan or a Beatles fan. Kind of like in Chicago where you’re either a Cubs fan or a Sox fan. I didn’t play into that shit, obviously. Still don’t.
We walked in the arena and the first view I had of the stage was from the doors into the balcony section. Chilling is the only word I can use to describe it. There it was, right there. Back then there was no elaborate curtain hiding the stage or anything like that so as we walked in, the first thing I saw were the instruments sitting there, shimmering in all their glory.
I drank it all in; the crowd, the buzz. Some DJ came on and introduced the openers. I don’t remember any of them being good or bad, but I do remember being excited when the last one finally walked off stage because you knew at that point we weren’t far away from what we came to see. Then it started…before they came out!
Not the Stones…the roar.
As soon as the lights went down, I heard it for the first time in my life and in the 50+ years since it’s never gotten lost on me. They say you never forget your first and that’s sure as hell true here. I literally felt the groundswell of elation surge from the back of the room and the depths of those rock and rollers souls. I felt it brush against my skin as it rose from the floor and then washed over me. It swallowed me up into one grand moment that was damn near orgasmic.
“Not Fade Away” was the opener. Amidst the deafening cheers I could tell something was different. “The Last Time” and “Paint It Black” followed and by the end of the fourth song “Under My Thumb” I could tell something was definitely not as I had expected. It wasn’t that they weren’t good, but something was different. They didn’t sound like the radio and that’s what I was expecting to hear.
Duh. Live performance versus studio sound. Knowing the difference between the two was a little above my pay grade at this point in my young, adventurous life. Keep in mind, this is my first concert so I have nothing to base things on and no real knowledge of rock n roll other than what I’ve heard on the radio. Not to mention the sound systems of 1966 weren’t exactly what they are today. It took a little time for me to adjust.
On top of the sound, you got the visual. Jagger prancing around in his striped coat and skin tight pants. Keith Richards playing. Brian Jones was still alive and always different and unique. I remember him so vividly. He was the pretty boy of the band with blonde hair but he was not a showman. Even in those days, Jagger was the show. He was all over the stage, a lot like he is today only fifty years younger.
When you look at it the show itself was short, only 45 minutes or so and early. I think the band went on at like 2p or 3p in the afternoon. There was no real stage design. No backdrop, needless to say no video screens or pyro. Back then the music was all we knew and that was the beauty of it. The ‘show’ was secondary, it was the performance of the music that drew you in. As bands grew and the 70’s moved in, the performances grew into stage designs, inflatables and backdrops but here in 1966 it was just guitars, drums, amps and that rock & roll sound.
Walking out I thought it was cool but definitely different. They were the same songs but they didn’t sound the same as they did on the radio. I was trying to figure out in my mind how the same song played by the same band could sound so different. I was enthralled with it yet at the same time, I wasn’t sure what it was. I think back on that now and have to laugh a little at myself. Too deep pal, it’s only rock & roll…but I liked it!
My buddies and I bantered back and forth on our walk back to the car but as we all piled into my mom’s Mustang we moved on to our next concerns…like where do we get some beer.
Days later it finally sank in. I don’t know why it took so long or what made it click but all of a sudden I got it. Maybe it was a sensory overload that night. Maybe it was something else but whatever it was I just wasn’t ready for it that night.
I have always loved what bands can do in the studio. After all, their studio records are why I fell in love with them in the first place. What I take from the live show is it’s a different experience. It’s much more free form and early on I had to educate myself of that.”
Review of the Rolling Stones in Cleveland June 25th 1966