Out Now: ‘New York Groove: An Inside Look at the Stars, Shows & Songs That Make NYC Rock’ from Author/Rock Cellar Contributor Frank Mastropolo

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Rock Cellar Magazine

Where was rock and roll born? DJ Alan Freed coined the term in Cleveland, where the Rock and Roll Museum stands. Sun Records in Memphis, where Elvis Presley made his first records, claims rock originated there. Is it Chicago, where blues was electrified and rhythm and blues flourished? Or Liverpool, where the Beatles launched the British Invasion? Rock Cellar contributing writer Frank Mastropolo makes the case for New York City in his new book, New York Groove: An Inside Look at the Stars, Shows, and Songs That Make NYC Rock.

Published by Edgar Street Books Aug. 1, 2022, it’s a rollicking ride through the decades, packed with surprising tales from the artists, songwriters, DJs and producers who made rock history in the Big Apple. 

Mastropolo tells the stories of more than 200 stars, venues, concerts, recording studios and songs ranging from rock’s birth in the 1950s to today. The breezy history is illustrated by hundreds of performance photos, memorabilia, buttons and album covers. 

Here is an excerpt provided by Mastropolo, to preview the book.

New York has been the crucible of rock history since Frankie Lymon, Ben E. King, and the Ronettes harmonized on the street corners of Harlem. The city’s five boroughs are the birthplace of Simon & Garfunkel, Billy Joel, Lady Gaga, Harry Nilsson, and the Ramones. Rock’s biggest stars have come from across the country to launch their careers in New York.

Michigan’s Bill Haley was a western swing musician known as “The Rambling Yodeler” before he changed his tune to rock and roll. Haley recorded “Crazy, Man, Crazy” in 1953 at Coastal Studios in Midtown. “Crazy, Man, Crazy” was the first rock record to appear on the Billboard Top 20 chart. Haley moved uptown to Decca’s Pythian Temple Studios a year later to record “Rock Around the Clock,” the first rock tune to top the Billboard chart and become the world’s first rock anthem. 

In 1954 Elvis Presley was discovered in Memphis by Sam Phillips, head of Sun Records. The King’s first appearance on national TV was on January 28, 1956, on the Dorsey Bothers’ Stage Show at CBS Studio 50 in the Theater District. That year, Presley recorded “Hound Dog,” and “Don’t Be Cruel” at RCA’s Webster Hall studios in the East Village.

Bob Dylan traveled from Hibbing, Minnesota to the mecca of folk music, Greenwich Village, in January 1961. Dylan’s first major gig was at Gerdes Folk City on April 11, 1961. A glowing New York Times review of his performance led to Dylan signing a five-year contract with Columbia Records.

The Beatles formed in Liverpool and led the British Invasion that swept America. Their first US performance was on February 9, 1964, when an estimated 73 million people were introduced to the Beatles on the Ed Sullivan Show, broadcast live from the same theater Elvis made his television debut.  

The Beatles on the Ed Sullivan Show (Photo: Library of Congress)

The Beatles on the Ed Sullivan Show, CBS Studio 50, Feb. 9, 1964

By 1963, Ed Sullivan hosted the most popular variety show on television. Passing through London’s Heathrow Airport on October 31, Sullivan spotted a horde of enthusiastic Beatles fans awaiting the group’s return from Stockholm. “Who the hell are the Beatles?” Sullivan asked his entourage. Sullivan subsequently signed the group for three appearances on his show in February 1964. “I made up my mind that this was the same sort of mass hit hysteria that had characterized the Elvis Presley days,” Sullivan told the New York Times. 

“When we came over the first time, we were only coming over to buy LPs,” Lennon recalled in The Beatles Anthology. “I know our manager had plans for Ed Sullivan shows but we thought at least we could hear the sounds when we came over. It was just out of the dark. That’s the truth, it was so out of the dark, we were knocked out.”

With “I Want to Hold Your Hand” topping the charts, Sullivan introduced the Beatles from the stage of CBS Studio 50 as the show opened. The studio, at 1697 Broadway, was renamed the Ed Sullivan Theater in 1967. 

“Now, yesterday and today our theater’s been jammed with newspapermen and hundreds of photographers from all over the nation, and these veterans agreed with me that this city never has witnessed the excitement stirred by these youngsters from Liverpool who call themselves the Beatles. Now tonight, you’re gonna twice be entertained by them. Right now, and again in the second half of our show. Ladies and gentlemen, the Beatles. Let’s bring them on.”

The Beatles opened with “All My Loving” to the screams of the audience. The crowd quieted a bit as Paul McCartney followed with the ballad “Till There Was You.” Each of the Beatles had his name superimposed on-screen; Lennon’s title included “Sorry Girls, He’s Married” below his name. Pandemonium ensued as the first segment closed with “She Loves You.”

The Beatles returned in the second half of the show with “I Saw Her Standing There” and their number one hit, “I Want to Hold Your Hand.” Before leaving the stage, the band shook hands with Sullivan and waved to the audience.

“The single biggest moment that I can remember being galvanized into wanting to be a musician for life was seeing the Beatles on the Ed Sullivan Show,” recalled singer-songwriter Billy Joel on The Complete Hits Collection: 1973–1997. 

“Hollywood tried to take control of rock ‘n’ roll… they tried to pretty it up, they tried to sanitize it. So they come out with Frankie Avalon and Fabian and Bobby Rydell… and all of a sudden there’s this band with hair like girls… and they played their own instruments and they wrote their own songs. And they didn’t look like Fabian, they looked like these working-class kids like we all knew… and I said at that moment, I said, ‘That’s what I want to do. I want to do that. I want to be like those guys.'”

New York Groove: An Inside Look at the Stars, Shows, and Songs That Make NYC Rock is available on Amazon.

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