WHAT IS SIXTIES GARAGE PUNK? Roughly, the term came to describe the flood of groups that formed in the wake of the Beatles first visit to the US in 1964 and 1965. Consisting of various styles and talents, these mostly teen groups became the first post-war generation to not just have their own style of music, but also have easy access to the ability to create it and even record it. And while that translated into sudden hits for some groups, for the most part the rest labored in obscurity, known only within their local neighborhood or city. All, however, did manage to do something that seemed to have been lost by the time 80s rock rolled around — That was to make music that was simple, honest and full of emotion. Hence the "punk" tag.
In the mid-eighties I frequented a club call The Dive which became ground zero for local New York City groups and fans devoted to this ethos. The proprietor of the club, Glenn Gazin, made an effort to showcase new bands that epitomized this do-it-yourself attitude. On the West Coast a similar movement had also sprung up and was dubbed The Paisley Underground by the music press. No doubt for the proliferation of this attire among enthusiasts. However, this being New York, the local bands here had a decidedly rougher, more urban edge. Yet, even within this small microcosm of a movement, there were even smaller factions. The Mods, the paisley crew, the punkers, the psych bands...all had their adherents. And they all congregated at The Dive.
Surprisingly, despite the different musical ideologies, most groups and fans did overlap. And while there was an aura of exclusivity amongst the various factions, for the most part the one thing everyone agreed upon was that it was "us" against "them" (meaning the general musical climate of the time.)
When the Dive finally shut its doors in 1986, what was once a handful of people had grown into a better-known, yet still intimate scene. Local bookers such as Endsville Enterprises (Deb Parker and Gare Balaban) took up the slack by booking bands in a dilapidated, hardcore rummy bar on W.14th Street in Manhattan called McCarthys. For one day, every other week, the dimly lit back area of the bar became "The Strip" and continued the tradition of booking garage bands. Endsville even expanded it by getting not just East coast groups to play but Midwest ones as well.
While The Strip was in full swing, a party was also occurring at a small jazz/blues bar called Tramps on E.15th street on the other side of the island. After management decided to open up their doors up to rock acts, promoters Ivy and Anne approached them with the idea of creating a monthly theme night. Focusing more on the psychedelic aspects of the genre (they even had light shows) but also booking straight ahead garage as well as mod acts.
Maxwells, in Hoboken was also a stopover for many bands. Booker and sixties garage punk enthusiast Todd Abrahmson always managed to include sixties-inspired garage bands in amongst the A-list alternative talent he was booking for the club. His support also played a key role in keeping the NY/NJ scene afloat.
By the time the early nineties rolled around things started changing in Manhattan. A new mayor strolled into town promising to clean-up the city. Under the banner of Quality of Life infractions, noise ordinances started being enforced, fines for trash, overcrowding and even minor things were being doled out. The overly aggressive character of the fining (a lot of it questionable) made owning a bar a pretty difficult thing. Even cabaret licenses (needed for performing spaces) became almost impossible to get. After the last traces of squatters were evicted, and the worst areas of the Lower East Side were "cleaned up", came the inevitable rent increases. Manhattan venues soon started disappearing at an alarming rate. While some hung on, they were forced to book acts that drew large numbers of people to cover their increased costs. It pretty much spelled the end of the line for the garage scene—in Manhattan.
Sure enough, nothing stays quiet in New York for long. Kids with little to no knowledge of those years, took up root in dilapidated areas of Brooklyn, starting their own groups, supporting their own venues, etc. Essentially restarting the whole cycle again. Although, with a different spin on it.
It is with great affection that I not only dedicate this site to fans of the "glory days" but also to the new generation who took it upon themselves to keep the fires burning. Here's hoping their memories are as good as mine!
New York City
January 15, 2015
In memory of Joey "Psycho" Decurzio, Ellen O'Neill, Bob Chich, Abby Lavine, Gordon Spaeth, Wendy Wild, Wendy Geffin, Fee Haag, Mark Smith, Linda Lutz and Scott "Rudie" Rosinski. All wonderful early supporters who left us too soon.