15 years after closing its doors, one regular patron remembers the legendary club
“Right this way, Mr. Bowie. Have a good evening.”
Entering The Bottom Line I was blocked, suddenly, left behind by my friends who were being told not to save seats, while I was stuck in David Bowie’s wake. It was a fleeting moment; what David Letterman would call a “Brush with Greatness.”
When I got to my group to tell them, they were nowhere to be seen. I don’t remember whom I was with and nor who played that night. But we were lined up waiting on Mercer Street, not West 4th like we did for most all other shows.
The Bottom Line opened on February 11, 1974. I was a Freshman at Syracuse. When home in New York, most days started with The Bottom Line’s WNEW FM’s concert schedule, to the tune of Todd Rundgren’s “Breathless” from Something/Anything? They listed upcoming bands in the weekly Village Voice and SoHo News. I wasn’t there for all of the very best shows. I missed Todd and Bruce, and, because one so-called friend wouldn’t front the money before Thanksgiving break, I didn’t see Hall and Oates. I did see Billy Joel. Memorably, he answered one audience member rhetorically, “Why do I wear a suit and tie when I play? Because I can afford to.” Once he started banging out Angry Young Man, though, I likened it to the crack of the bat, hitting a ball right on the screws straight to the wall. June 8, 1976. $4.50!
VIDEO: Tower of Power Live at The Bottom Line 1977
I spent more evenings with Tower of Power at the Bottom Line than with any other band. This was odd for two reasons. Most important, when Lenny Williams left, they could never be the same without his golden-throated voice. The horns remained “funkified” absent Williams, but couldn’t withstand the loss of “D.G.” David Garibaldi on drums, “C.T.” Mr. Chester Thompson on organ, and, “L.P.” Lenny Pickett. It was like the Yankees losing Bernie Williams, Paul O’Neil, Derek Jeter and Mariano Rivera in 1998. When Williams went solo, he scheduled a gig at The Bottom Line with legendary fusion guitarist Eric Gale opening. Williams had to cancel. “And now The Bottom Line is proud to present the Lenny Williams Band.” Oy! This was Christmas night 1977. A week later, Williams was promoting his solo album at a record store across the street from my office. I told him I was bummed that he wasn’t able to perform. He asked, “Why didn’t you come back the next night?” I’d already paid $5.00 not to see him. He wanted me to pay another $5.00. I asked him if he’d put me on the guest list next time if I bought his record. He said no.
The duo I saw as much as Tower of Power at The Bottom Line was Flo and Eddie. One show stands out. New Year’s Day 1982, $10.00. Karla DeVito opened. She was great. Mid set, she said, “And now a special guest, someone who I’ve always wanted to sing backup for. Mis-ter…Lou…Christie!” He ran on stage and she backed him on “Lightning Strikes.” We were all screaming, “…again and again and again and again.” Their act, as the girls on Jamaica Avenue said at that time, was “hellafide.” But Flo and Eddie topped them. They’d backed up Bruce Springsteen on “Hungry Heart” and, suddenly, we heard the downbeat and sax for the song. Immediately, the audience started singing “Got a wife and kids in Baltimore, Jack,” while Flo and Eddie stood there looking at each other, scratching their heads. When the second verse came around, they sang the background harmonies. They looked at the audience, shaking their heads, saying, “We don’t know the words. We don’t have the album. We’re just backup singers!”
Leader of the Pack, January 20, 1984, $11.00, featuring the 1960s hits of Ellie Greenwich and Jeff Barry was the most creative of the shows I went to. An all-star cast that included Karla DeVito, Ula Hedwig, Darlene Love, Paul Schaeffer and others singing the songs written by Greenwich and made popular by Leslie Gore and others. The Times gave it a great write-up, calling it the “Dream Girls of the 1960’s.”
Uncle Floyd’s Birthday Bash came on my 25th birthday. January 29, 1981, $7.50. Floyd’s brother, Jimmy, arranged all the music, just as he would for Leader of the Pack three years later. Floyd did every song he did on TV, along with most all of his routines, Senator Stunata, Looney Skip Rooney. “We don’t care about the Mets!” was sung early and often. The friend I too was reluctant, something to do before meeting others in Chinatown. When we got downtown, he sheepishly admitted enjoying it. Floyd was uncensored live. Someone baited him from the audience: “Suck my dick, asshole.” Vivino’s return didn’t miss a beat, “If only your mother hadn’t already bitten it off.” I doubt that it was David Bowie who’d heckled Vivino.
The chum who couldn’t shell out for Hall and Oates upfront got free tickets to see Ronnie Earl and The Broadcasters. He worked at WOR. He told me to meet his friend, political pundit, Jay Severin, and his friends outside the West 4th entrance. There was no line. People were entering in dribs and drabs. So I just waited for my friend and figured we’d find them. When my friend came, he asked if Severin got there yet. I didn’t know. As we walked in, Severin and friends were first people he saw. I said, “Oh, that’s what he looks like.” My chum forgot that he worked with Severin at WOR Radio. How could I know his face? As Severin uttered of Earl’s blues riffs, “Testify!”
The Bottom Line closed in 2004.
VIDEO: Todd Rundgren live at The Bottom Line 1978
VIDEO: Brand X live at The Bottom Line 1978
VIDEO: Santana live at The Bottom Line 1978
VIDEO: The Good Rats live at The Bottom Line 1978
VIDEO: The Police live at The Bottom Line 1979
VIDEO: Miles Davis live at The Bottom Line 1975
VIDEO: Hawkwind live at The Bottom Line 1978
VIDEO: Peter Gabriel live at The Bottom Line 1978