Published: January 18, 2022
Connecticut is home to a number of landmark music venues that have featured local and national performers. While some of the locations have closed, they have certainly not been forgotten. The New Haven Coliseum, the Arena and the Bushnell Memorial were once the places to be for music lovers, while elsewhere places like the Cheri Shack and the Shaboo hosted local bands and national headliners. Other venues such as Foxwoods, Mohegan Sun, The Meadows and Toad’s Place have now taken center stage and continue to attract large crowds. With in-depth interviews with performers and many timeless photos, Tony Renzoni takes readers on a fun tour of the most beloved music sites in his newly published Historic Connecticut Music Venues: From the Coliseum to the Shaboo. We sat down with Renzoni to relive some nostalgia and find out where live music lives today in the Nutmeg state.
Was it Connecticut’s proximity to New York City that helped attract high-quality musical acts to its venues?
Not really. The attraction to Connecticut for well-known and famous artists and bands is the excellent reputation of many Connecticut music venues. Many artists have performed at various Connecticut music venues on numerous occasions. Take for instance Dave Matthews, who has performed at Xfinity Theatre (commonly referred to as Meadows Music Theatre and built by Live Nation’s Jim Koplik and Shelly Finkel) on 41 occasions. He is but one of many famous artists that keep coming back to various Connecticut music venues, sometimes on a regular basis. NRBQ (featuring Connecticut’s Al Anderson) performed at the Shaboo Inn on more than 25 occasions. Other famous acts performed repeatedly at famed Connecticut music venues such as the Oakdale Theatre, Toad’s Place, Hartford’s XL Center (Civic Center), New Haven Arena, New Haven Coliseum, Mohegan Sun, Foxwoods and many other venues.
The other attraction are the influential and well-known promoters that Connecticut is blessed with. For example, Jim Koplik, president of Live Nation, who was instrumental with building the beautiful, brand new Hartford Healthcare Amphitheatre in Bridgeport. This music venue is already drawing major acts such as Felix Cavaliere (who wrote the foreword to my book) along with acts like the Beach Boys, etc. This amphitheater already has established itself as a premier music venue and destined to be a regular draw for many famous artists and bands.
Some clubs were known to be quite rowdy. Any stories come to mind?
Hall of Famer and Connecticut resident Dennis Dunaway (co-founder of the Alice Cooper band and the Flying Tigers) tells this story in the book: One night, during a Flying Tigers show at Toad’s, I overenthusiastically grabbed the fire extinguisher off the wall and sprayed the crowd, who loved it! The venue said we would never play there again, even though the next day I took the fire extinguisher to the fire department for a fresh refill. And so, the Flying Tigers did lots of shows at a nearby venue called the Oxford Ale House.
Dennis also recalled another incident at a club in Norwalk, which he mentions in my book: The Night Owl in Norwalk was another favorite music venue of ours. It was a rowdy place. The popular drink was a Snake Bite, which was a shot of Yukon Jack and Lime Cordial. The Snake Bites flowed freely on stage.
What are some of the factors that bring about a venue’s demise?
Numerous factors (much like other businesses) including financial, change in trends, deterioration of location surrounding the music venue, and, of course, the Covid pandemic.
One of the most famous events in rock history occurred at the New Haven Arena on December 9, 1967. Can you tell us about it?
On that date, Jim Morrison was arrested on stage during a performance with the Doors. He was charged with obscenity and breach of peace but was released early the following day. It is believed to be the first time that a rock star was arrested on stage during a performance. The incident was immortalized in the 1970 song “Peace Frog” by the Doors, especially the line “Blood in the streets in the town of New Haven.” The opening act for the Doors on December 9, 1967, was the West Haven, Conn., group Tommy and the Rivieras, who were forced to play longer sets than scheduled because of this incident.
By the way, I have seen very popular posters of the Doors showing the date of the New Haven Arena concert as December 10, 1967. This is inaccurate. The Doors’ concert was actually December 9, 1967. As stated, Jim Morrison of the Doors was arrested on stage and brought to the New Haven Police Department. Morrison was at the police station overnight and released on December 10, 1967 – thus resulting in the confusion by some who did not properly investigate the actual date of the Doors concerts but rather used the December 10, 1967 date for their posters.
What was the final performance there before it was demolished in 1974?
Elton John gave the final performance at the New Haven Arena on September 29, 1972, during his Honky Chateau tour. At the end of the concert, Elton threw out thousands of candy bars to an appreciative audience.
You also write about the Shaboo in Mansfield, Conn., which hosted nearly 3,000 shows in its 11-year run before it closed down some 40 years ago. Who were some of the artists and bands that performed there?
Too numerous to mention all the well-known and famous artists and bands. Legendary artists and bands that performed at the Shaboo Inn include Muddy Waters, Bonnie Raitt, Felix Cavaliere, Joe Cocker, B.B. King, NRBQ, James Cotton, Taj Mahal, Richie Havens, the Talking Heads, Jimmy Buffett, Miles Davis, Buddy Rich, the Reducers, Rick Derringer, Johnny Winter, José Feliciano, Journey, Elvis Costello, Lou Reed, the Police, Edgar Winter and many more.
Even though the Shaboo Inn no longer exists, the “Shaboo Spirit” lives on. Thanks to the David “Lefty” Foster Family Foundation, a beautiful new stage was erected in Willimantic’s Jillson Square in 2018. The new stage was fittingly named in honor of the Shaboo Inn. The Shaboo Stage has been the site of a number of special concerts such as the August 3, 2018, inaugural Shaboo Stage concert with José Feliciano and a tribute to Woodstock’s 50th anniversary (featuring performances by Canned Heat, NRBQ and David “Lefty” Foster’s Shaboo All-Stars).
The celebration of the 50th anniversary of Shaboo Inn was held at the Shaboo Stage on August 28, 2021. The list of scheduled performers included Pure Prairie League, Tom Rush, NRBQ and David “Lefty” Foster’s Shaboo All Stars. More than 3,000 fans were in attendance.
What made you a rock ‘n’ roll enthusiast, and how big is your collection?
I credit my older brother Vince for introducing me to rock ‘n’ roll and for my appreciation of rock music. When I was little, I remember Vince bringing home these amazing 45 rpm records of Elvis, Jerry Lee Lewis (Vince’s favorite), Buddy Holly, etc. What Vince did, which I found remarkable, was to let me listen to Side A of the 45 record and then turn over the record to have me listen to Side B (in those days, the 45 rpm had two sides – sides A & B). For example, I would hear Jerry Lee’s hit song “Breathless” (Side A) and then his rocker “Down The Line” (Side B). By doing this I would know many of these great Side B recordings that kids in the school yard had never heard!
My personal record collection grew to more than 10,000 vinyl 45 rpm records and thousands of vinyl LP albums.
What do you consider as the most memorable live performance you’ve ever experienced?
While I was not there, my wife provided me a detailed account of the famous concert performed by Jimi Hendrix at Woolsey Hall (Yale) on November 17, 1968. She has a vivid recollection of Jimi’s outfit, including his feathered boots and buckskin jacket. Hendrix closed out his show by smashing his guitar on the historic stage floor and against his amplifiers. He topped it all off by lighting his guitar on fire and leaving the stage, much to the delight of the Woolsey Hall fans. She also recalls Hendrix’s bantering (sometimes incoherent) with some audience members. His closing song was “Purple Haze.” My friend and college school mate was Joe Sia, who became a much revered, world renowned rock photographer, passing away at an early age. When I asked Joe how he would describe Jimi Hendrix in concerts, Joe responded with one word – “spellbinding.” Sia was one of Hendrix’s favorite photographic subjects and, as a result, he became close to this iconic artist. Joe gave me two unbelievable photos of Hendrix at Woolsey Hall (this was pre-digital). Sia’s photos have been showcased in print media as well as cover art. His all-time favorite photo was a photograph Joe called “The Shadow,” which showed the shadow of Hendrix holding his guitar and wearing his fringe jacket set against a large amplifier, which is shown smashed up in several places. Joe told me that as he walked by Hendrix, Jimi would say, “Hey Joe, where you going with that camera in your hand.”
Sia never thought of himself as famous. I realized that when I would go over to his place to say hello and find all these amazing photos spread out on his floor. The photos were of every major recording artist at the time. I tried to convince him of his fame, but to no avail. Joe Sia was one of my influences in writing my rock ‘n’ roll books.
People tuning into the new Beatles documentary Get Back marvel at the seemingly spontaneously creation of that song. But a similar serendipitous creation of the 1960s mega-hit song “Na Na Hey Hey Kiss Him Goodbye” involved a Bridgeport trio. How did that come about?
I found the creation of this song very intriguing. The No. 1 smash hit “(Na Na Hey Hey) Kiss Him Goodbye” by a band known as Steam has a strange, legendary and almost mythical history to it.
At one point when I was in the middle of writing my book Connecticut Rock ‘n’ Roll: A History , I received a random call from Gary DeCarlo. I did not realize how ill Gary was at the time and as it turned out, I was the last person to interview Gary, as he passed away very soon afterward in Branford, Conn. Gary had heard that I was writing my Connecticut rock ‘n’ roll book. In his words, Gary told me that he wanted “the true story of the creation of ‘(Na Na Hey Hey) Kiss Him Goodbye’ to be ‘immortalized’ in the book.”
The song can be traced back to 1961, when three Bridgeport teenagers co-wrote a song they called “Kiss Him Goodbye.” The song was not recorded and never released. The three teens were Gary DeCarlo, Dale Frashuer and Paul Leka. After going their own way for eight years the three friends got together again in 1969 at Paul Leka’s recording studio in Bridgeport. At this time, Leka was producing records for DeCarlo, who used the stage name Garrett Scott. Against DeCarlo’s wishes, Leka wanted the song “Sweet Laura Lee” to be the A side of the recording they were working on. Needing a B side, DeCarlo suggested the song “Kiss Him Goodbye” that they wrote back in 1961. As DeCarlo stated: We used piano and organ overdubs as well as vibes – but no bass and no guitar. At one point, I noticed a piece of wood on the floor from one of the organ speakers in the studio, so I picked up a pair of drumsticks and began playing rhythm on this board. Paul said ‘Hey, let’s include this in the recording’. So, I put cloth around the tips of the drumsticks while Paul held the board up to the microphone, and that became the rhythm percussion that you hear on the song. I sang the lead on the song. Needing a chorus for the song, Paul began using “na na’s” instead of real words. I added the “hey” chants.
Garret Scott (DeCarlo) was told by Leka that he would be given song credit, since he sang lead on the recording. However, unexpectedly (at least on DeCarlo’s part), a fictitious group name was shown as the recording artist, instead of “Garrett Scott.”
Soon the song began to be played in one sports venue after another. The fans and the public embraced the song, especially the chanting chorus. “(Na Na Hey Hey) Kiss Him Goodbye” became a monster No. 1 hit, with estimated sales of well over seven million copies worldwide and counting. The song remained at No. 1 for two weeks, spending 16 weeks on Billboard’s Hot 100 singles chart in 1969. It was also an international smash hit.
So now the trio had a major hit record but no band to promote the hit song. For a group, six Connecticut musicians were chosen to tour as the band and were given the group name Steam. According to DeCarlo, “Steam got its name when Paul, Dale and I were returning from lunch one day and we noticed steam shooting up from a NYC manhole.”
The Steam tour band appeared on various TV shows, most notably Dick Clark’s American Bandstand . Clark displayed Steam’s gold record on his podium during the band’s performance. This was very upsetting to DeCarlo since the Steam band had nothing to do with this song. As the lead singer and co-writer of this hit song, DeCarlo believed he never received proper credit. This caused a permanent rift between DeCarlo and Leka.
One of the many interesting things in your book is the January 2021 interview of Keith Richards by Goldmine magazine’s Patrick Prince where Richards, a Connecticut resident, talks about his solo projects, such as studio and tour with the X-Pensive Winos. Has Richards performed in Connecticut?
Keith Richards most certainly performed in Connecticut – both with his band the Rolling Stones and as a solo artist. The Hall of Fame singer, songwriter and guitarist has lived in Connecticut for well over 25 years with his wife Patti Hansen.
Richards and his band the Rolling Stones performed in concert at a number of Connecticut music venues such as the Hartford Civic Center (on five occasions), Toad’s Place, East Hartford’s Rentschler Field, Dillon Stadium and the New Haven Arena.
Some of Richards’ performances were impromptu stage appearances. For example, Richards joined Willie Nelson on stage for several numbers at Westport’s Levitt Pavilion. Also, Richards joined a blues musician for an impromptu jam session at a club in Southington in 2004. In addition, Keith Richards and the Rolling Stones performed an impromptu concert at New Haven’s Toad’s Place on August 12, 198 9.
With the pandemic still raging on, what does the landscape look like now for live music in Connecticut?
Prior to the most recent Covid surge (which has affected most of the United States), Connecticut ranked as one of the best in the country in terms of low Covid positivity rates. Because of this, many concerts were scheduled and performances were held. Once the surge hit, a number of concerts were either postponed or cancelled. On the other hand, despite the surge, there have still been numerous concerts held, with necessary health restriction in places. It is hoped that this surge will subside and even more concerts will be held soon.
Why did you write this book?
During the course of writing my previous book Connecticut Rock ‘n’ Roll: A History , I planned to follow it up with a separate book to pay tribute to the historic Connecticut music venues and the great music artists who performed in them. This book has been a labor of love for me. I am very passionate about all my books. If I did not feel the passion, I would not write the book.
What do you most like about it?
I am honored that Felix Cavaliere wrote the foreword. Felix was one of my idols growing up – and still is. I have always loved his work with the Young Rascals, Rascals and his solo career.
I was fortunate to have received more than 150 amazing photos from professional photographers and fans. It is true that a picture is worth a thousand words.
I loved the quotes I received from artists, music venue owners and fans. I found these quotes fascinating and they tell quite a story. I made a point to receive quotes not only from artists and promoters – but also from fans. These, I believe are relatable to fans across the United States, who have their own favorite music venues.
It is my hope that all readers – both inside and outside Connecticut – can relate to much of what is in this book. While people from outside of Connecticut have had their own favorite music venues, the thrill and excitement of seeing their favorite artists perform live at these music venues is the same as what is felt by the fans (and artists) within our state.
What did you learn in writing this book?
The historic background and creation of many of these Connecticut music venues, including the New Haven Coliseum, the New Haven Arena, Toad’s Place, the Cheri Shack, the Shaboo, the Oakdale and local music venues
For example, Cheri Miller (Weymann) told me that her father (Bill Miller) owned and operated the Bill Miller’s Dance Village in Branford. Cheri was teaching ballet and modern dance and her father ran trampoline and gymnastic classes at this facility. Cheri pleaded with her father to open a club at the facility. Bill believed that it would never work. She said she finally wore him down and he agreed. Through her hard work and creative ideas, Cheri turned the Cheri Shack into a very successful and fun music venue. Cheri even took part as a go-go dancer at times at her club.
I am very proud of the very talented musicians associated with our state. Likewise, I am very proud of the awesome music venues – past and present – where artists were able to perform their music live.
[Editor’s note: Historic Connecticut Music Venues: From the Coliseum to the Shaboo and other books by Tony Renzoni can be purchased at Amazon and Barnes & Noble. Signed copies are available at RJ Julia Bookstore (Madison; 203-245-3959); Seaside Home & Gifts, (Stony Creek; 203-208-0521); Griswold Inn’s “Goods and Curiosities” store (Essex; 860-767-0210); Fairfield University Bookstore (Fairfield; 203-255-7756); and Waterbury Barnes & Noble (Waterbury; 203-759-712). Renzoni’s books are also available at numerous other bookstores and some Walgreens and CVS stores.]
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