Artists, roadies and crew are invited to send anecdotes and reminiscences that you would like to share with our visitors. This space was originally intended to be a history of the Capitol Theatre, but that doesn’t seem to be possible. So here begins a collection of reminiscences by those of us who were the essence of that place. Reminiscences below include those of Al DeZon (Production Mgr.), Alfreda Baker (a treasured guest) and, most recently, Al Hayward—one of the Capitol’s founding fathers!
I can’t write the history of the Capitol.
Shanghai, China, November 4, 2006—Too many years have gone by; too many friends have disappeared or passed into oblivion. Too many substances altering our collective mind.
Too many artists on that tiny stage to even conceive of today; some now superstars, some completely forgotten, some still plugging away on the road.
My Capitol history starts with another historic moment; the closing of the Fillmore East where I got my first job backstage. A few months after the Fillmore’s demise, some of the old crew heard about this ‘new joint across the river’, in Passaic, a town usually associated with punchlines of lame Joisey jokes, and headed there looking for work. There was no epiphany, no moment of Zen, just another musty old theater taken over by another young promoter. A story being replicated in markets all over the world as the music scene boomed in the early 1970’s. We weren’t too particular about the work, either; my then room-mate and still-best friend, Rick Stuart and I actually flipped a coin over the two choice gigs, security crew chief and assistant stage manager. I won the toss, and headed backstage.
The stage crew was legendary, first in its own mind, then throughout the touring community as every act in the universe played the Capitol (we didn’t use the word ”venue” in those days). In no particular order, and certainly with memory lapses, Chris Gale, Mo Morrison, Frank Greene, Brian McAleer, Bert Holman, Jimbo and Greg Butterfield, Jerry Bakal, Wabo, Frank Stedtler, Tom Syme, Jim Delahanty, Rongo, Joe Volpe, Dave Capo, Frank Bochet, and Spacecheese (a one-time volunteer). And the artsy/tech/vidiots, who were obviously smarter than the stage slugs (later self-dubbed “technoids”) – Moyssi, Drewke, Harold Klein, Debbie Flynn, Bren Bowen, Goodfellow, Ira Bourstein, AJ, Len Dell’Amico, Veronica. People came and went during my tenure (1971-1984), but they always remained family. And just like all families, you didn’t have to stay in touch, and you didn’t even have like each other – you could never escape the association that was burned into your DNA.
There’s another book to be written about the other Passaic klavens, all of which owe a huge debt to Amy Polan for providing the glue, common sense, and the checks to keep this continual train wreck on the rails. First names to protect the rarely innocent: Dick, Alan, Rich, Shelly, Chris, Kenny, Jack, Rosie, Inez (x2), Cy, James, Randy, Debbie, Phil, Bruce, David, Michael, and many, many more, including that guy who stole my American Express card.
The “Capitol Crew” became a nom de guerre, branching out to other war zones, including Roosevelt Stadium, Englishtown, Rutgers, Asbury Park, The New York State Fair (a book in itself), The Meadowlands, Rochester/Syracuse and all of the sinkholes in upstate NY, freighters in NY harbor, Monback Park, a raft of bad clubs; all tolled, too many to mention or remember, but we were a comfort factor for the acts and crews who knew us from Passaic.
And of course, no memoir of the Capitol and its denizens would be complete without mention of the many uncontrolled substances involved. There, I mentioned it.
As to the talent? Again, way too complex for my aged brain. Every dissection of the Capitol’s history mentions special appearances by the day’s superstars; Springsteen, The Stones, The Who, The Dead, acts that were way too big to play there, but did anyway. My favorite memories are of the acts that belonged there, bands playing to their fans in a funky, intimate setting. My usual reference guide for the early roster is Moyssi’s anniversary poster, and at the best of times, I need a magnifying glass to read the hundreds of run-together entries. As I’m writing this from Shanghai, that reference resource is 6,500 miles away, so I won’t bother with the enormity of the list. Things I/we consider anecdotal today make the average person at cocktail parties drool; doing lines with Lowell George (who didn’t?), unknown Bruce Springsteen upstaging headliner John Sebastian at soundcheck, who told me to “have him close the show, I won’t follow that”, Rob Halford of Judas Priest starting his Harley at the top of the ramp to roll onstage for his big entry, Slade (with Noddy Holder), to this day the loudest band I’ve ever heard, Warren Zevon on fire, another unknown band, from Boston, given 18 inches of stage depth as the 4th act on the bill (yes, Aerosmith), watching Hot Tuna from the seats behind the fixed movie screen, blowing up Southside Johnny, Joey Ramone’s need for butter, Texans & Teabags, and the best seat in the house for everything (and I do mean everything), the Perch.
Special mention to that ill-fated project, Capitol Burlesque (1973-1974, RIP). It kept a few of us briefly but steadily employed, and I met my wife there. Since we’re still together after 33 years, I’ll count it as a success, though John still owes her her last paycheck, and with interest compounded since 1973 is actually our retirement fund……Passing mention to the weekday porn films which kept the theater running and the seats moist when concerts weren’t booked.
More than passing mention to the guy responsible for it all, John Scher. Funny how memory prioritizes things; without John, none of this would have shaped our lives, but it’s as if he was always in a director’s chair somewhere else instead of in the trenches with the rest of us. I know he had plenty of his own Capitol drama, some shared, some private, but he was never part of “the crew”. Actually my two favorite memories of him at the Capitol were pulling him off a Charlie Daniels’ Band truck driver who he decided to have a fist fight with because he was blocking John’s view of the stage, and John’s continual failed efforts to tap his foot in time to the music……any music.
There was another generation of Capitol Crew after this first generation. I ran into Rob Brenner in Beijing, and we could reminisce about the good times we never shared. In many ways, the Capitol was a Fillmore wannabe; I worked closely with the Bill Graham office in the past few years, and the same vibe is still evident. Great memories, great pride, great people. Maybe I’m just old and cynical (OK, I’ve always been cynical), but given the MO of the music business today, I’m pretty sure this kind of close-knit operation is gone forever. Pity. But I still have my memories, my friends and my wife.
Let someone else write the history. —Al DeZon
The Capitol Theatre: Irrepressible, irreplaceable, and gone with the wind
Asbury Park, NJ, March 12, 2007—I was THRILLED to stumble across the posts on cinematreasures.org regarding the Capitol Theatre and this website. I saw the programs, which I remember well. When I opened the 3 marquees pictures, I felt like Proust must have when he had the taste of the madelaine—so sweet the memories!
I lived 2 blocks from there on Quincy and Columbia and was just a little girl in the 70s. In fact I remember the night the Stones played. My dad took me to the circus in Little Falls and when we got home there was a limo parked in our driveway and my father cursing up a storm! Lol.
The Capitol was a ball of energy in the 70s and I just remember WISHING I was old enough to go there. When I finally WAS old enough to go there it was already on its last leg and what made me so sad was the “Farewell Concert" there. One last show. I remember thinking how crappy it was that the Capitol was being sentenced to death.
On the day when the wrecking balls came I went inside for one last goodbye. There were so many things I should have grabbed but I was pretty much standing there with my mouth agape. The stage was no longer illuminated with your lights. The stage was lit by the sun coming in through the roof. I felt like a person who had just witnessed a murder. Couldn’t tear myself away from watching but knew I had to get out of there because I just saw something very bad. I literally couldn't deal with the feelings. I took an EXIT sign and a brick and a red letter from the marquee and went home and cried.
The death of The Capitol symbolized the direction the world was heading in: mega burgers, mega SUVs, mega arena shows, fast fast fast, big big big—and no flavor.
That world growing up in the 70s was wonderful. Anyway, I am so happy that others remember this time with fondness and I am grateful for your dedication to recording this history. Gosh, those pictures of the marquee—whew—blew me away. It was always exciting to see who was playing next. The BIGGEST names. Nothing will ever come CLOSE. Then, with the Capitol not being bad enough of a loss, the Heidelberg! That was awful. What fun times there.
Anyway, thank you again for all that you are doing. You brought a ray of sunshine...
The Capitol Theatre: A Founding Father’s Reminiscence
Palm Beach Gardens, FL, July 29, 2007—First a little background on me and co/founder John Scher. I started producing concerts in 1968 with Blood, Sweat & Tears at Westchester County Center, White Plains, NY. I then continued with concerts at the South Mountain Arena in West Orange, NJ, in 1969 & 1970 with Iron Butterfly, Richie Havens, Chambers Brothers., Creedence Clearwater, Chuck Berry, Sly & Family Stone, Steppenwolf, Ten Years After and Livingston Taylor.
I met John Scher in 1970. He was producing small concerts at the Embassy Theatre in Orange, NJ. His full time job was as a booking agent for Monarch Entertainment Bureau in East Orange, NJ. They booked local talent for weddings, parties, schools & colleges, etc. When Otto Sternberg, the owner of Monarch, retired he was in his 70’s. John was working for him taking care of the younger acts and he bought half the company when Otto retired. I came in and bought the other half in 1971. I had met John when I produced Livingston Taylor at the South Mountain Arena in West Orange. Kate Taylor, Livingston (and James) Taylor’s younger sister was his opening act. Just for a goof I wanted to do something to liven up the show. I contacted Monarch and John Scher. He recommended “Mr Jigs, the Worlds Smartest Chimp”. The chimp was a big hit and John and I became friends.
At Monarch we booked college shows with the Byrds, Canned Heat, Mountain, Emerson-Lake-Palmer, Ike & Tina Turner, Allman Brothers, etc. We then did a Folk Festival & a Bill Cosby show in White Plains. Our biggest effort in 1971 was a very controversial show with the Jefferson Airplane at Wall Stadium in South Jersey. We sold a fair amount of tickets when the town decided to stop the show. We had spent much of the ticket money for advertising, etc. by then so we were in “deep shit” at the time. The show was set for August 15th and this order from the Township Committee was on July 28th. We hired a good Attorney from Asbury Park and went to court. On August 5th we won in the Monmouth County Court. The Asbury Park Press, the major newspaper in the area, ran a front page headline (in green ink) stating “The Airplane Will Fly”. We could not have bought better publicity and the show was a huge sell out. In fact it was like a minor Woodstock as the fences came down and most of the kids got in free due to the overwhelming crowd. We even had the Hells Angels show up at the front gate. About 30 of them demanded to be let in. I was in the press box above the stadium and the front ticket man called me and asked what he should do. I asked to speak to the “head Angel”. I told him to look up. At the time there were helicopters from the NJ State Police flying above and keeping an eye on things. I told him that if they forced their way in that was just “what the pigs wanted”. After a meeting with the other Angles they decided to ride off in the sunset. I did a deep sigh of relief since there may have been some big trouble with the Angels there. (See Altamont) This was the last show that they allowed in Wall stadium.
By then John and I were looking for something new. The Fillmore East had just closed and we both saw an opening for another theatre of this type in the New York-New Jersey area. Problem was that just about all the movie theatres had contracts with the movie distributors that required them to play the movies on weekends. And weekends were the best time to produce Fillmore type shows. One day my assistant Barry Katcher called me and asked me to meet him at the Capitol Theatre in Passaic. I was a little taken back when arriving since they were showing porno pictures. But when I walked in and saw 3140 seats all on one floor with a stadium type back that went up to a wall that was so small I knew the acoustics would be super. It had been an old vaudeville house complete with back stage dressing rooms and all. Not just a building that ran movies. I called John right away and we met with the manager of the porno movies. He explained that they rented the films on a flat fee and not a percentage of the gross as the “straight” movies worked. We just paid him $100 more a night that he would have made on the porno showings and we had a deal. This was a no brainier for the porno movie manager since most of his business was during the week and in the daytime. I guess this is when the men snuck away without their wives knowing it. Weekends were out of the question for most of their clientele.
So in 1971 we opened the Capitol Theatre. I think that the first show was Humble Pie & J. Geils Band. John handled performer contacts & the backstage scene. I took care of the public aspects from the stage out, like security & advertising. Our idea was to hire as many of the people that worked at the Fillmore in NY. This included the stage people, Pig Light Show and outside security guys. We thought- “why try and invent the wheel” since these people had already been trained by the best- Bill Graham. Head Ushers originally were Bob Pedone and Jim Tierney. Later A.J. Giegerich replaced Jim. Stage Security head was Lonnie Franks with Paul Zablow replacing him in 1972. Sound was Central Jersey with Phoenix Sound replacing them the next year. Stage Manager was Chris Gale, Backstage Hostess was Debbie Faulconbridge, House Photographer was Steve Toth, original outside security were headed up by Arthur Berman, Barry Kantor, Irving Weiner, Tom Sorg and Joe Golden. Pig Light Show was brought from the Fillmore. Our Legal Counsel was Stanley Snadowsky. He and partner Alan ran Folk City in the Village. Our Executive Secretary was Amy Polan, Lighting Directors were Harold Klein and Moyssi and my now wife Barbara was our Box office Assistant.
We produced two shows a night on Friday and Saturday nights. Therefore we were able to offer acts like the Grateful Dead over 6,000 seats and a small intimate acoustically perfect theatre. In 1972 we bought the Capitol from a Dr. Samuel Harris and took over the adjacent stores and movie theatre. We had to honor, until the end of the year, the lease the theater had with Passaic Cinema, Inc. for the showing of the X rated movies during the week. It was a strange combination. Porno films and Rock Concerts. Strangely enough, we were not the city father’s favorite business in the city of Passaic, NJ....
John and I also started producing large outdoor concerts in Roosevelt Stadium in Jersey City. We worked together until 1973 until we had one of those silly disagreements that we all look back on and say “what was that all about??” Somehow John got some season tickets to the NY Knick games at Madison Sq. Garden. I think he got only 2 but wanted to keep both for himself and girlfriend Sherri. I also was a big basketball fan and wanted the tickets- or a t least one of them- too. We decided to break up our partnership. Since John held 51% of the stock in Monarch Entertainment, I had to accept a buyout.
I then opened up the Twin City Ballroom in Elizabeth, NJ with NY promoter Howard Stein. It was an old skating rink with no seats. We had the usual half dozen arrests for possession of marijuana and the opening show did draw over 4,000 fans to see J. Geils Band & Black Oak Arkansas but the city of Elizabeth did not want us there. We did a few shows there but they didn’t catch on. My girlfriend Barbara and I were fed up with the NJ winters and moved to Florida. I did a few shows there but the West Palm Beach area did not support many of the acts that I promoted in the NY area. Plus the only theatre I could find was only 800 seats and in the town of Palm Beach. It too has been torn down and is now shops and offices.
—Al Hayward, Co-Founder