Sunday, August 20, 2006

The Executive Playhouse: Revisited

So while I was doing research for my article about the 1977 battle between Kool Herc and Pete Jones, a piece by the way which was about the clash of two mighty titans in the dawn before rap records, no one remembered who owned the club.

I always assumed places like the Hevalo and the Executive Playhouse were formally “social clubs” that were owned by Italian and or Irish residents of those neighborhoods.

Before I go any further, you have to understand that way back in the day; neighborhoods that are now African American/Latino at one time had been strongholds of Italian-Americans or Irish Americans. They rented out little spots and put a jukebox in it, a refrigerator, some tables and chairs to play cards on and called it a social club. Except one thing smack dab on the door or in the window would read a sign: MEMBERS ONLY. Meaning if you weren’t white – you’d better get out of there.

As Blacks and Latinos moved into these neighborhoods ‘white flight’ was in effect. Meaning: Let the niggers have it.

So that’s what I thought those early clubs had been. How wrong I was.

After the article was published a gentleman named Dave contacted me, turns out he had been one of eight guys that owned the Executive Playhouse. Check this out.

So these Eight Executives who were in their mid’ 30’s at the time all worked at the GM plant in New Jersey, all went in on the club, they named after their organization or group and called it the Executive Playhouse.

According to Dave the house capacity was 600 people. They served food and drinks and had bands come out to play for entertainment. One of the bands that performed there was called the New York Players, who would later gain fame as
Cameo – yes, the group that would later do Shake Your Pants, Flirt, Alligator Woman, She’s Strange and the list goes on, yes, they played at the Executive Playhouse. But according to Dave “Running the business like this was costly and profit was at a minimum.”

That was until a gentleman named Kool Herc came by with his loyal following. But before Kool Herc, spun there a guy named the Amazing Dr. Burt was the house deejay. He spun disco and R&B and according to Dave had a system even Kool Herc envied. That must’ve been some sound system.

Anyway Kool Herc pops up and at first the older crowd loved him that was until more of Herc’s crowd started coming around. “Kool Herc rocked the older crowd and they loved him, but on the nights that Herc collected and ran the door the older crowd was not aware and didn't like hanging out with the younger folks. We eventually gave up on Live Entertainment and went completely Disco which the younger people loved, the older crowd loved it also, but when Kool Herc played the older folks were out numbered 5 to 1. That was not a pretty picture. The 25 and above crowd came dressed up and mostly couples, while the 20 and below came as packs of young men and young girls sometimes causing problems.”

Which means we couldn’t have shit back then either.

The biggest name on the deejay scene at that time was Pete DJ Jones; this guys name was on WBLS all the time, he spun at whatever events they had. For the 25 and over crowd Pete DJ Jones was El Negro.

Anyway back to the story…

“We didn't have a dress code at the Playhouse but our crowd for the most part wore Jackets and/or nice shirts from Mel Greens and shoes. No one ever came with their pants below their butts with underwear showing.”

That came later. Much later.

“Pete DJ Jones was well known in the mid town disco's and we always heard his name mentioned on WBLS. We knew it would be a sell out if we could hook these two DJ's up, we did. Kool Herc and Pete decided to split the money made from the door and we would again keep the Bar and Kitchen. Our club held Max Cap was 600; we broke the law that night. This was a night I will never forget.”


Voski said...

Man, I loving your style of writing. It needs to be more pieces on the past so that these youngsters can gain an understanding, that there is nothing new under the sun. It would be lovely if you did some time pieces on club spots in the Bay that sparks many musical careers. For instance, MC hammer performing at the Oak Tree. Everytime my older cousins tell stories from Late 60's 70's and early 80's Oakland, it better than any Wire show.

The All Mighty Mark Skillz said...

Yo thanks alot man, being from New York and the Bay Area, the older I get the more appreciation I have for the legacies of both places. The Oak Tree kind of rings a bell, but I remember Hammer from two places: Silks and the Palladium. At some point I'm going to write a piece about those clubs...