Built as a movie palace in 1927, the Academy of Music on East 14th Street, at Third Avenue, was a place where Lower East Siders would watch first-run features in grand style. Promoter Sid Bernstein, who brought the Beatles to America, understood the 3,000-seat hall’s potential: in the mid-1960s, he regularly booked British Invasion bands like the Rolling Stones, the Kinks and Herman’s Hermits there. Manfred Mann, on the charts with “Do Wah Diddy Diddy,” would share a bill with the Exciters, the American group that first recorded the tune to little notice.
Renamed the Palladium in 1976, the hall became a full-time rock venue where the career of classic rocker Gary U.S. Bonds was jump-started after Bruce Springsteen invited him to sit in during a show. By 1985, it was converted into a nightclub; it closed in 1997 and was demolished. Today the Palladium name remains on a New York University residence hall.
But 40 years ago, on New Year’s Eve 1973, the building rocked with a lineup that featured Blue Öyster Cult and Iggy and the Stooges. Glam rockers Teenage Lust were scheduled to open the show but instead had to follow a last-minute addition: Kiss. The band that would become famous for its face paint and pyrotechnics made its big-venue debut as fire-breathing bass guitarist Gene Simmons set his hair aflame.
Here are some remembrances of that show and others.
Harold C. Black, Teenage Lust
New Year’s Eve. Great show. We were there to open it, it was a big night. Didn’t expect anybody else to be on the bill. And then Kiss happened.
A giant sign hanging from the ceiling, light bulbs, flash pots, flames, all the gadgets, gizmos and everything that had nothing to do with music.
We had a small Teenage Lust light-up-with-Christmas-lights-kind of sign cut out of Styrofoam. They had the major, we’re talking Las Vegas-style light-bulb sign.
And then Kiss went on with the flames and the giant sign. It was like, if you pardon the expression, “Oh, fuck.” Not exactly what you wanted to go on after.
And then [Simmons’s] hair went on fire and I’m like, “Is that part of the act? How is it that they did that?
People in the front row said, “What the hell is this?” They’d never seen anything like it before. It was totally unique.
Harold C. Black founded Teenage Lust, rockers from the Lower East Side who would later back John Lennon at the One on One benefit concert.
Gary U.S. Bonds
We met at the Hangar [a bar in New Jersey] and he came in and sat in with me and we just had a great time there. I didn’t know who he was. Obviously, everybody in the club knew when I mentioned his name. “Here’s a guy who wants to come up and sing some songs with me – Bruce Springsteen.” And everybody went, “Wow!” I went, “Who the hell is this guy?”
And we sat down having a couple of beers afterwards and he says, “I gotta do a show at the Palladium. Would you want to come down and guest with me?” And I said, “OK.” And that’s what I did.
It was a magnetic crowd. Just a lot of people having a really, really good time with the music. They knew his music and I didn’t but I was learning it.
Gary U.S. Bonds recently released his autobiography, “By U.S. Bonds – That’s My Story,” which is available on his website.
Tom McGuinness, Manfred Mann
The Academy of Music was our very first gig in the USA.
The promoter thought it needed another act on. So he booked the Exciters for it, which seemed a strange choice to us, because we were both going to do “Do Wah Diddy Diddy.”
We felt like, even though we had waited for theirs to come out, not be a hit and then some months later we recorded it, we did have that slight residual white British middle-class guilt that we were ripping off the black artists. And we didn’t exactly say that to them but we sort of shuffled vaguely embarrassed when we were talking to them. And they were just knocked out to find out we’d even heard their record.
One of them shouted to the other, “Hey our record was out in England!”
Tom McGuinness was bassist for British Invasion group Manfred Mann. Today McGuinness performs with other former band members in the Manfreds.
George Frayne, Commander Cody and His Lost Planet Airmen
The Academy of Music was a lot looser than any kind of sit-down joint that you would imagine. I remember the people dancing in the aisles.
In its former glory it was a movie theater but it was definitely decaying a little bit. But it was perfect for a funky New York crowd to come in and rock.
It had everything perfect, there was plenty of backstage space, there was plenty of ability to get around. The people who worked there weren’t too uptight, the security was good but not nasty.
And plus it wasn’t too clean and it wasn’t dirty. You know what I mean? It wasn’t sleazy filthy and it wasn’t Carnegie Hall. It was just a nice thing where you could go in there and feel comfortable and it was loud. And it could be loud and people loved it loud. And you could go in there and rock out.
The one that is the most memorable of all is the Allman Brothers gig. They cleared the house; we did two complete shows. The first one, we came out, we were on fire. We were rockin’, that was 8 p.m. We did our 45 minutes, they came out at 9 p.m., they were out of there in 45 minutes, boom-boom, they were very sluggish, very slow, looked like they were all having a bad night. Second set, we weren’t quite as hot. They came on, and I remember it was like 5 a.m., people were ripping the seats out. It was one of the best things I’ve ever seen in my life. Oh my God, were they smokin’.
George “Commander Cody” Frayne is the founder of country rock band Commander Cody and His Lost Planet Airmen, who scored a Top 10 hit in 1972 with “Hot Rod Lincoln.”
Buck Dharma, Blue Öyster Cult
Obviously when you got to the point where you could play the Academy, that was cool. You had a certain draw power there. It was great.
It was a good sounding room from what I could glean. The music felt good coming off the stage. Most proscenium theaters sound decent but surprisingly some don’t. Some are just nightmares on stage. It sounded a little rackety and clattery but of course this was way before in-ear monitors and that kind of thing. Even before really good PA systems. But I recall music sounding very good in that place.
We did a multi-night stand there and the first night our equipment didn’t get there for some reason, I don’t know what the reason was, but our equipment truck didn’t make it. And we borrowed Thin Lizzy’s backline. They were very gracious and helpful to us.
I guess you can’t go back but it certainly was a great time to be doing what we were doing. I don’t think I would trade that time period for now.
Donald “Buck Dharma” Roeser is the lead singer of Blue Öyster Cult; their hits “(Don’t Fear) the Reaper” and “Burnin’ for You” have become staples of classic rock radio.
Tom Petersson, Cheap Trick
I specifically remember in ’78 in September because Epic at that point had done a big poster for us for that show: “Are you ready for Cheap Trick?” It was a big, green, really a cool looking poster and it was all over the city.
The Cars, they opened for us at that show. They had just started.
They came backstage and they said, “Oh, we’re from Boston,” and they’re fans of the band and all that, and “we’ve got a band called the Cars and we’ve got a record that’s going to come out.”
We said, “Oh, that’s nice.” We thought you’d never hear from these guys again. And the next thing you know we’re opening for them.
To play a venue that size in the city was just so great for us. We didn’t care what it was, we were used to playing places that were dilapidated. That was our strong suit, I’ll tell you that. No place that we played was nice up to that point.
But the Palladium, now that was a great venue. And then we played there again in ’79 and that’s the last I ever heard of it.
The acoustics were horrible. It was like a giant gymnasium. But it didn’t matter, you’re in New York City. So what? You knew that when you got done, nothing was closed.
Tom Petersson is bass guitarist of , the influential group that produced the rock anthem “I Want You to Want Me.”
When you played the Palladium, you felt like a rock star.
It was like playing Madison Square Garden for me back then. The Palladium was a big venue, man, everybody played the Palladium.
The stage, the layout, the class of people that were going there back then, they had really good bands coming through the Palladium back in the ’70s.
I do remember that show but remember, in those days it was bitches and blow, for Christ’s sake. I wasn’t exactly the Tom Petty of rock ‘n’ roll, I was a wild man.
I remember getting the encores, doing “Two Tickets,” “Baby Hold On”; we had “You’ve Really Got a Hold On Me” in the set back then; we did “Gamblin’ Man,” we did “Jealousys,” we did all the stuff off the first album — people were still asking for those songs.
Oh yeah, it was a great show, man. That Eddie Money band was just on fire, man. We were rockin’ and rollin’.
Rob Halford, Judas Priest
For most UK bands, playing New York City was just a massive thrill. A very important venue to play in rock and roll. I’ve got memories hanging out with Linda Blair in the dressing room. That was crazy. The Ramones always showed up, which was just really, really cool.
We used to do a song called “Genocide” and at the end of the show, for whatever reason, it was probably one of my wacky ideas, I said wouldn’t it be great if at the end of the breakdown, we kind of set off some explosions or whatever. And that idea manifested itself into me walking out on stage with a fully automatic Thompson submachine gun full of blanks.
I’m standing there looking all Rambo, holding this machine gun. And you can actually see the blanks, the blank cartridges flying all over the place.
I think one of the final shows that we played there was also memorable because our management at the time had arranged for limos to pick us up to take us to a sold-out Palladium show. And we waited and waited and waited in the lobby of the hotel by the UN building. It didn’t show up and we couldn’t get a cab because it was Friday night, it was insane so we actually took the bus. We got on this city bus together and the band is stuck in there, furious, rock stars taking the bus to a sold-out show at the Palladium.
Vocalist Rob Halford fronts heavy metal act Judas Priest, who have released a new DVD, “Epitaph.”
East Village resident Frank Mastropolo is a freelance journalist and former television network news producer. You can find his rock concert photography here.