Rock Geography: Steve Paul's The Scene (New York city)

 

Located at 301 West 46th Street in New York City, The Scene, which opened its doors sometime in 1965, was indeed the most renowned rock club in the USA for a short span during the mid-sixties. This joint was run by a fella by the name of Steve Paul, who had begun his career in the rock world working as a publicist for the famed Peppermint Lounge club in NYC. Paul, who had a talent for spotting the next big thing in rock music, made his mark on the music scene by being a savvy judge of musical talent. Paul was among the first clubs on the East Coast to book The Doors (who were booked for a three-week run) early on in their career. The club also became a favorite hangout for Jimi Hendrix, who enjoyed stopping by frequently for late night jam sessions whenever he was in town. This led to other rock stars showing up to jam as well and soon everybody who was anybody was making the (heh,heh) scene.

"Born in New York in 1941, Paul was the son of a high-school principal but never intended to follow a traditional career path. Fascinated by the nightclubs he saw on the silver screen, he dreamed of opening his own. 'I’d create me a world of reality within the world of reality. Make your dreams come true,' he wrote in Hullabaloo magazine in 1967. He started out doing public relations for a couple of New York restaurants and helped popularise the Peppermint Lounge, the Manhattan bar associated with the twist craze of the early Sixties. By 1965 he had enough money to turn a labyrinthine, cavernous, 5,000sq ft club, located on 46th Street near Times Square, into Steve Paul’s The Scene." (The Independent)

 

Crowd dancing at Steve Paul's The Scene circa 1965

From a 2012 NY Times article: “The Scene attracted swarms of jet-setters, Broadway dancers, motorcycle riders and Manhattan’s moneyed elite through two incarnations in its six-year life…The Scene was as a refuge for performers, stagehands and artists, including stars like Sammy Davis Jr. and Liza Minnelli, who might burst into impromptu song. Richard Pryor might tell jokes. Tennessee Williams liked to stop by. Andy Warhol filmed an underground movie of Scene patrons watching an underground movie.  After a few years the scene at the Scene began to lose steam, and it went dark. Then the poet Allen Ginsberg and Peter Yarrow of Peter, Paul and Mary, among others, stepped in with financial assistance. Mr. Paul’s focus soon changed to rock music.” 

The physical layout of the club, which most folks compared to an underground disco type club, was described in a Classic Albums documentary on the making of the Hendrix lp Electric Ladyland by Jim Marron (The Scene's maitre d') as follows: "It had three rooms that focused in, like, a cross on the stage, and as a subterranean basement, it had the sort of Paris-cave-disco style to it."

 

David Henderson's biography of Jimi Hendrix, 'Scuse Me While I Kiss The Sky (Doubleday, 1978) describes the vibe that was going down at The Scene: "Out front, a big lighted entrance; inside are narrow rectangular panels leading up to a dim box office. You sweep past into a zigzag-shaped maze-like room with tiny tables and tiny-backed chairs. But up on the tiny stage, two feet off the floor, the music happens...It was dark and intimate, almost labyrinthine, yet you could go there and party, or play and just sit alone and drink, and no one restrained you either way."

 

The Doors at Steve Paul's The Scene

"The Doors played their last set at The Scene on a Saturday night. At 3 AM, when all the paying customers had left, Steve Paul locked us all in and gave a party for the boys, who had been the biggest draw in the history of his club. And on his part, Steve had been a good and groovy employer; I remember John asking Jim why he (Jim) would get to The Scene so well in advance of the time they had to perform, and Jim's answering, 'Well, I like to hang around Steve Paul and listen to him rap. He's funny.' Anyhow, there was a case of champagne for the closing night party, and it didn't matter that it wasn't quite chilled because everyone was happy, sloppy and tired, and it was a beautiful party. Robbie did his imitation of a shrimp, and Jim found something lying on the floor which looked like a balloon but wasn't, so he blew it up and let it go, whereupon it landed in Ingrid Superstar's champagne glass, which made Jim laugh, and everyone loved each other without any uptightness. It would be good if everything the Doors ever have to do ends so nicely." (Hullabaloo magazine.)

This post on the Mild Equator site that features comments from photographer Colin Beard captures the vibes at club on a night The Doors appeared at Steve Paul's The Scene: ""Lilian Roxon wanted us to go to the 'The Scene' disco that was the all the rage in New York, particularly for those involved in the Pop scene. She also wanted me to meet a female 'Pop' photographer called Linda Eastman. Lilian thought that Linda and I, both being photographers, both involved in the Pop scene were bound to hit it off so she made a date for us to meet at the disco. On the way to 'The Scene' with Lily and Lilian, I learned that Linda Eastman was the daughter of George Eastman, the Eastman-Kodak magnate which for some reason made me feel anxious. Perhaps it wasn't so surprising - I was on my way to a blind date with a girl who was not only conspicuous as a photographer in the biggest arena of all, but she possessed a family name that was synonymous with photography. Lyn was already at the disco when we arrived, surrounded by friends or contacts, chattering breathlessly, hailing familiar people across the darkly lit floor. Lilian introduced me as 'Australia's leading Pop photographer - been in London for four months - photographed absolutely every body, darling - The Stones, The Who. Absolutely brilliant, darling - you two should have lots in common.'  It was noisy in the Disco, records playing full volume with boosted bass and people shouting ever louder to make themselves heard. It was not a good time to get to know a stranger. After the initial introduction, she barely looked at me again. I watched her eyes dart excitedly from person to person and her red painted lips like a caricatured puppet chatter silently and it all felt like an hallucination. I wandered off. I lost myself amid the bubbling disco lights and watched the people dancing. Suddenly, the music stopped and the babbling voices seemed to dissolve into an unnatural silence which I initially suspected was the effects of the cannabis smoke that hovered pungently around my nose. There was an announcement over the PA system, but it made little sense to me but I noticed that clusters of people were sidling across the dance floor and sitting cross-legged in front of the low stage. The lights went down until it was almost pitch black but I could make out dark shapes shuffle onto the stage. 'Ladies and gentlemen - The Scene presents - the latest New York sensation - The Doors!'. The shriek of the electric guitars pierced the darkness, bringing with it flashes of vibrant blue light. A lithe figure towered over me his snake-like hips strangely twisted and wrapped around the microphone stand.  (After the Doors set) Jim Morrison left the stage as mysteriously as he had appeared, leaping into the adjoining darkness in two spectacular bounds. The audience screamed and stamped their feet in unison.  'We want 'The Doors - we want Jim - more, more, more.' But they weren't getting more. Instead, a strange pale-faced man (Tiny Tim) trotted onto the vacated stage. His hair was long and hung carelessly about his face in ringlets, his nose long and beak-like and he carried a tiny ukulele under his arm. I watched as he leaned his long, awkward body towards the microphone, and plucked each string of his ukulele to check the tuning. The ukulele looked ridiculously toy-like within his large clumsy hands, but the cords rang out sonorously followed by a tuneless falsetto voice - 'Tiptoe, through the tulips, through the tulips - come walk with me.'  Was this man serious?  The audience were jeering at him, mocking him, laughing at him - he did have courage or else a very thick skin. I spent the rest of the evening at the disco dancing with the girl who had been set on fire. She was a strong looking girl, dark haired with the full lips and slightly lumpy cheek bones that suggested New York Jewish parentage. I didn't run into Lyn Eastman again that night."

 

 

Steve Paul's The Scene Newspaper Ad 1969

 

 

 

 

The secret behind Steve Paul's success at his club was due to his knack for booking acts right before they achieved mass popularity.  Among the acts who graced the tiny stage at The Scene were such sixties luminaries as Tiny Tim, Van Morrison, The Rascals, The Doors, Jimi Hendrix, The Blues Project, Moby Grape, Led Zeppelin, Janis Joplin, Fleetwood Mac, Ten Years After, Pink Floyd, Steppenwolf, Traffic, The Seeds, The Velvet Underground, The Chambers Brothers, and Johnny Winter.  The McCoys, a combo best remembered for their iconic pop hit Hang On Sloopy,  were The Scene's reisdent house band.  As a result of their work at The Scene, they would later end up getting a gig as Johnny Winter's backup band on his Johnny Winter And album which featured the hit single, Rock and Roll Hootchie Koo.  The McCoys bandleader, Rick Derringer, would go on to establish himself as a solo artists with the 1973 release of his debut album, All American Boy which was released by Steve Paul's Blue Sky label.

 

One of the things that added to The Scene's hip reputation was the spontaneous jams that took place on the club's stage from time to time.  Jimi Hendrix, who was doing sessions at the nearby recording studio The Record Plant for his Electric Ladyland album, would show up and sit in with bands along with other club regulars such as Steve Stills, Mike Bloomfield, Buddy Miles and Johnny Winter.  One of the most notorious jams featured a drunken Jim Morrison attempting to simulate the act of fellatio on a somewhat bemused Jimi Hendrix while Morrison moaned into the microphone and rolled around the tiny stage.  I guess you had to be there folks.

 

Cashbox February 1967 The Young Rascals @ The Scene

 

1968 Record World Magazine

 

Here's some actual footage from Steve Paul's The Scene circa 1970

 

At the peak of his success as a club owner, Steve Paul had a prime-time television show called Steve Paul’s The Scene, which featured artists like The Blues Project and Aretha Franklin. Initially the show was on local Channel 5 and soon it was syndicated nationally.  

 

Here’s 2 video clips from the show:

 

 

During the years that he owned The Scene, Steve Paul also worked as the personal manager of several artists who appeared at his club; working closely with Johnny Winter, Edgar WInter, Rick Derringer (who was leader of The McCoys) and David Johansen,  In 1973, Paul started his own record label, Blue Sky Records, which released albums by the acts he managed.

"From 1973, Paul also headed Blue Sky, a label bankrolled by Columbia, where Winter and his multi-instrumentalist brother Edgar continued their careers, though its biggest successes came from Winters collaborators and acolytes such as the guitarist Rick Derringer and the singer and songwriter Dan Hartman.  Blue Sky also issued four solo albums by the New York Dolls frontman David Johansen and introduced the bluesman Muddy Waters to a new generation of listeners with three Grammy-winning albums – Hard Again, I’m Ready and Muddy ‘Mississippi’ Waters – Live – produced by Johnny Winter in the late 1970s." (The Independent)

The above advertisement ran in the August 16, 1969 issue of Billboard Magazine 

Due to the changing trends in the mercurial rock scene and various internal problems (financial and otherwise), The Scene eventually had to shut its doors sometime in the late sixties.  In Clinton Heylin's excellent book All Yesterday's Parties: The Velvet Underground In Print 1966 - 1971 (Da Capo Press, 2005), Sterling Morrison of The Velvet Underground, in a 1970 interview, comments about the last days atThe Scene: "The Mafia was beating people up. They were having these incredible fights...so Steve Paul just shut it down... The liquor laws work in such a way that if you have a trouble spot your liquor license can be revoked. So organized crime comes in and says, I want a piece of the action, and they say, no, you can't have it. So they just start these giant fights there. And the clubs lose their license. That's what happened at Arthur's. The Mafia people will even beat themselves up just so the police will come. That's what happened at The Scene."

The photo above was posted in a Facebook Group called Steve Paul's The Scene.  It's a picture of the location where a club called Steve Paul’s The Scene once existed.  The ghosts along West 46th Street still remember the good times. Amen.

 

FURTHER INVESTIGATION

Farewell To Steve Paul's The Scene

Steve Paul's Obituary NY Times

Blue Sky Records Discography

NYCgo.com: Steve Paul's The Scene

Rock Tour Database: Concerts @ The Scene

 

 

 



 

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