by Albee Tellone
I remember going to the Upstage Club when I was 18 years old in 1969. I got a job at the Danelectro Guitar factory in Neptune City, NJ. That's where I met Garry Tallent and "Southside" Johnny Lyon. There were some other musicians working there too. They all talked about the Upstage Club in Asbury Park which was close by. It was one of the few places around that catered to teens. All the other clubs served alcohol and the drinking age was 21.
The Upstage had 2 different time periods of operation. From 8pm until midnight, teens under 18 were allowed in. They closed from 12 - 1am to clear the place out. Then from 1am until 5am only people who were 18 and older could enter. The early show was usually when bands played the music you could dance to. The late show was when all of the jamming took place. A lot of musicians that played in bars would show up to jam after their gigs. The Upstage was actually 2 venues in one club. Located above the Thom McAn shoe store in Asbrury Park,NJ, the 2nd floor was a coffehouse called the "Green Mermaid" and the owner Tom Potter's office behind the stage. There was no cover charge to enter. On the 3rd floor was a very large dance hall where you had to pay a cover. Tom was a local artist and had a mannequin sculpture of a Green Mermaid hanging in a net over the middle of the coffeehouse.
In 1970, I was hired by Tom to play folk songs in the Green Mermaid. I found out after I played there a while that the Green Mermaid was an "after hours" hangout for his friends who would come in after the bars closed at 2am. They could get sandwiches and coffee there. Sometimes they would go in Tom's office for a beer "in secret". Sometimes, Tom would give me a beer when he was feeling good. He had a terrible temper and I was afraid of him until I got to know him better. He was very good to me and hired me on a regular basis.
At this time I was looking for someone to share my apartment after my roomate moved out. Southside Johnny moved in with me. He used to play Bass Guitar with me at the Green Mermaid a lot. Not long after that Steven Van Zandt moved in too. At the time, Steven played Bass Guitar with Steel Mill and was a regular at the Upstage. He sat in with me a lot and played electric guitar. We both were into Bob Dylan and played a lot of Dylan's folk-rock stuff together. A friend of Steve's named John Waasdorp arrived back from California and needed a place to live. He could play piano as well as guitar. After jamming with him numerous times, I told him that he could stay at my place for free if he would join my band. We called him "Hotkeys".
Tom Potter had sent me to play on Thursday nights at the Monmouth College coffeehouse (The Smokehouse) in Long Branch,NJ to promote the Upstage Club. I remember that he paid me $10 to play there. We passed around a tip basket to help pay the band. No one else had a gig that first night so all of my roomates backed me up (Steve,Johnny and Hotkeys). That's how Albee and the Hired Hands got started. We asked Bobby Williams to play drums. It was a mix of folk,rock and country material and Bobby was the only rock drummer around who liked county music. Bruce used to come and hangout with us. I think he sat in sometimes. At the time Steve was playing Bass with Steel Mill. Sometimes we would play as the opening act for Steel Mill and the BSB. The band members changed as time went on. Later on, Garry Tallent played Bass and sometimes even drums(!) with the Hired Hands. That's really all it was - me doing my thing with friends as "Hired Hands" John "Hotkeys" Waasdorp later switched over to lead guitar when Steven moved out. What a great guitar player he was! It's a shame he died so young.
Steven and Johnny started a blues band with Garry Tallent and Bobby Williams and played regularly at the Upstage. They called it "Funky Dusty and the Soul Broom". They got the idea for the name from their theme song "Dust My Broom" by Elmore James. I think they were the first white guys on the Jersey shore to play songs by black Chicago blues artists like Muddy Waters and Little Walter. They later changed the name to The Big Bad Bobby Williams Band and later the Sundance Blues Band with Vini Lopez on drums. At the time the movie "Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid" was our favorite flick. Hence the name. Steve and Johnny always hung out together like Butch and Sundance.
Tom Potter's wife, Margaret, played electric guitar and had a band called "Margaret and the Distractions". They played at the Upstage a lot of course. Tom basically built the place to give her band a home base to play at. She and Tom had a hair salon next door and lived in a large apartment on the third floor. My mom used to get her hair done by Margaret at her shop. Sometimes they would have all of us regular players over for supper and drinks. They were great people. She always tried to help out Bruce (and the rest of us) in the music biz. After the Upstage closed in 1972, Tom and Margaret went their separate ways. Tom left NJ for Florida but I read recently that he wound up in Waco Texas where he died several years ago. Margaret opened a hair salon on Main St. in Asbury Park,NJ after that. She was a smoker all her life and died of lung cancer in 1994. Tom's grand daughter Carrie Potter in Texas has discovered the old photographs that he has left her of the people who were at the Upstage Club. There is talk of starting a museum. There's an internet forum called Upstage Forums for discussion and reminiscing about the club and the people who hung out there. It can be found at:
The Upstage Club was the place where we went to try out our creative urges. I remember learning all the songs from the first Neil Young album and performing them at the Green Mermaid with Johnny and Steve. For awhile we played almost the whole "Blonde on Blonde" Bob Dylan album. But writing songs was what we all wanted to do well. It was hard for most of us except Bruce. As we know now, the man was born to write songs. Bruce's manager Tinker and I became friends and started playing duets of original songs (mostly his) at the club. Tinker had an acoustic guitar and a good sense of humor. He also had a biting political commentary in some of his songs.
There was a group of teenage girls we called the "Spoon Ladies" led by Anne Furlong. She was a lively person who enjoyed whacking the musicians with spoons as they passed her table. That's why we called her gang the "Spoon Ladies". Sadly, a few years later, she was murdered when she was only 18 years old.
Some of the people that worked there were Eddie Luraschi and his brother Little John, Jim Fainer, Big Danny Gallagher, Big Tiny, Donny the cook, Bruce Greenwood, Lee Blackwood, Kevin "The Bird" Connair, Jay Jubert, Jeff Tramitz. The musicians I remember were: Bruce Springsteen, Steve Van Zant, Southside Johnny, Joe Petillo, Sonny Kenn, Billy Chinnock, Rick De Sarno, David Sancious, John Luraschi, Kevin Kavanaugh, Garry Tallent, Vini Lopez, Bobby "Moose" Williams, Gerry Carboy, John DeBrogard, Jack Piano, Robbin Thompson, Lew Longo, John "Hotkeys" Waasdorp, Alan Subarsky and a folk singer named "Blue". Some are gone and some are still with us. Others have just disappeared. The Upstage had a profound effect on the hungry musicians of Asbury Park.
Copyright by Albee Tellone for www.castiles.net
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