NYC Roots

Manhattan in 1956 was rough and ready. I did fifth grade at PS 166, 87th and Amsterdam, a school that was renowned for its Glee Club which I quickly joined and became a soloist - I could really sing until my voice changed - but my real love was Doo Wop. Doo Wop ruled the streets, there were gangs of kids singing on street corners, in the subways, and best of all in the Washington Square Arch which had a great echo, arms around each others shoulders, just howling like banshees. I joined a street gang and we used to sing every day after school. When I wasn't singing I was listening, usually in the subway where there was a record store in the 57th Street station that sold nothing but 45's and played requests one after another, all day, The Orioles, The Ravens, The Bop Chords and the rest, and gangs would be in the corridors outside practicing the latest tune, fingers snapping, totally wired, black leather and PERFECT hair. The only thing that was more important than the music was getting your hair exactly right, priorities were never questioned. The gangs would resort to bicycle chains only after pitting their best singers against each other on the corner or in the playground. I was lousy with the chains and the zip guns (we used to make them in shop class), but when it came to high harmonies I was the best in the neighborhood. I was hooked. The music had me by the balls and would never let go.

My biggest thrill in that period was the first time I heard Twist and Shout, by the Isley Brothers. I had broken my leg and was in a cast from hip to toes, and I was sitting on the toilet with my transistor radio glued to my ear, as usual. By the time the song ended I was lying helpless on the bathroom floor, flapping around like an upside-down turtle and gasping for air like a fish. The table was set. When the Stones came on the scene a couple of years later I was ready.