It’s hard to believe that it’s a little known fact
that two of the biggest bands in rock history made thier American debut perfoming in a weird series of concerts at a NYC movie theatre for promoter Murry The K. This was during a transitional period in the career of popular disc jockey and radio personality Murray The K.
Murray departed from his solo act and vocal group presentation and made a valiant attempt to capitalize on the new sound and face of rock by booking self-contained electric bands. Nevertheless, the show billed as “Murray the K presents Music In The 5th Dimension” marked the end of an era.
The shows took place over 40 years ago in 1967 from Saturday March 25th to Sunday April 2nd at the RKO 58th Street Theatre in Manhattan. There were five shows a day starting at 10 in the morning and lasting till after midnight.
Mitch Ryder headlined.
Don Lehnoff: It actually wasn’t “Mitch Ryder and the Detroit Wheels.” At the insistence of his producer, Bob Crewe, Mitch was embarking on a solo career andweappeared as the Mitch Ryder Show. I was part of a 10 piece band hired to back Mitch up … 5 guys from Baltimore, 3 from the Chicago Loop who opened the Ryder shows, plus a trumpet from Florida andguitarfrom New York. The “Wheels” declined the opportunity to be augmented with horns, so they parted company.
Hedging on his bet, Murray booked two soul acts – Wilson Pickett and Smokey Robinson. Smokey, even though advertised, never appeared.
Don Lehnoff: Smokey Robinson was hired for the show as advertised, but at the first rehearsal I sat in the audience seats andwatchedRobinson, still wearing his trench coat, arguing on stage with Murray the K. At one point Smokey stormed off the stage andup the aisle to the exit, not to return. It was my understanding that he walked out on the show because Mitch Ryder was billed above him, but I can’t swear to that. In retrospect, that would be considered absurd billing … but this was the high point in Ryder’s career and he was being seriously hyped by the serious hype machine of Bob Crewe. We headlined everywhere we played, with the one exception of a concert in Chicago where another Creweproduct, The Four Seasons, was billed above Mitch.
Nobody cared that Smokey no-showed. The Blues Project with a very young Al Kooper and The Young Rascals appeared, and two very historical moments in rock went down when The Cream (yeah it was Cream, but they were billed as The Cream) andThe Who both made their American debut. Bothbandswere billed as “Direct from England.”
The Cream did two songs per show, “I Feel Free” and “I’m So Glad” or “Spoonful, then The Who destroyed their instruments at each performance.
Pete Townsend of The Who: “We were smashing our instruments up five times a day. We did two songs – the act was twelve minutes long and we used to play “Substitute” and “My Generation” with the gear – smashing it at the end, and then we’d spend the twenty minutes between shows trying to rebuild everything so we could smash it up again.”
Don Lehnoff: What Townsendsaidin that quote is totally true. Keith Moon’s kit was set up on a raised platform on wheels … just a big wooden dolly. At the end of “Generation” they would crash the gear and Moon always flipped over his tubs and cymbals. As soon as the front curtain closed, their roadie would rush in and pile everything up on the dolly andwheelit straight back into a small scenery room back stage where he had set up a little work shop. With drills, screws, clamps andthe like he would piece everything back together in time for the next show. The banddecided it wasn’t worththeexpense of shipping the abused gear back to England, so on the 28th andfinal performance they boosted the smoke pots into explosive bombs and almost literally blew up the amps. A stage hand with a fire extinguisher had to be summoned to put out the fires.
Pete Townsend: We didn’t really know what was going on and we didn’t take it very seriously. And when it got to the last day, we all put funny masks on and went in and sat and listened to (Murray The K) with these masks on. I remember he asked us to take them off, demanded we remove them.” They didn’t. Turns out a lot of acts that Murray claimed were his best friends really weren’t. In fact many didn’t even like him.
Ronnie Spector: “The Beatles were only putting up withhimbecause he was a big New York disc jockey, but they thought it sucked that he called himself the fifth Beatle and they couldn’t wait to get rid of him.”
Al Aronowitz: “Everybody hated Murray, hated him for his power and success, hated him because he screamed and hollered and wore tight pants, hated him because he forced his ego down your throat like a hard-sell used car dealer who makes it seem like you’re going to buy the car anyway, but you’ve also got to take him along as part of the deal.”
Murray’s young fans, the kids, dug him, but the young punks known as The Who thought he was a joke.
Pete Townsend: “(Murray) used to complain because he had what he called his personal microphones, which used to come in for a bit of bashin’. And so we used to actually get daily lectures from him about abusing his personal microphone, which we thought was pretty funny.”
Roger Daltrey broke a total of 18 microphones during the entire run. To the Who and some of the other new acts Murray was like the strict school principle and they were the punk kids. Backstage it was chaos; Ginger Baker was drunk from first show to last, there were LSD trips, flour fights and flooded dressing rooms. As great as the show was on stage, the show backstage was the real rock androll experience. The new wave of rock stars were driving Murray crazy.
This brings it all back to Wilson Pickett, The Wicked Pickett, who had seen it all and didn’t like what was going down.
Don Lehnoff: Wilson Pickett was more or less the model for the new Ryder band, withRyderbeing marketed as the “blue-eyed soul” version. We even covered some Pickett tunes in our show. They even took Mitch down to the Apollo one night to sit in with Pickett on a later show. Pickett’s drummer at that time was Buddy Miles.
Pete Townsend: “Wilson Pickett called a meeting because we were using smoke bombs as well, and he felt that we were very unprofessional, and that the smoke was affecting everybody else’s act.”
The thought of Wilson Pickett lecturing KeithMoon with Murray the K, Mitch Ryder, Eric Clapton, Al Kooper, andPaul Simon hanging aroundin the background is mind boggling, but it happened.
My buddy, a teenager at the time, only worked at those shows selling candy so he could see each and every performance. He told me that on the last night, after the final performance, Wilson Pickett gave Murray, all the acts, the stagehands, and yes, even the candy vendors, a bottle of Scotch, and the party began. The golden era of huge holiday rock shows that started with Alan Freed and continued with Murray the K ended . . . with The Wicked Pickett.
Pete Townsend quotes from Musician Magazine.
The late Al Aronowitz quote from his website, The Blacklisted Journalist
Ronnie Spector from the New York Daily News
Here I would like to share some memories from Walter Rossi, who at the time was a twenty year old guitarist in Wilson Pickett’s backing band.
What is not mentioned in this article is that Sonny & Cher were the opening act followed by a Canadian bandcalled “Mandela” withmy friend the late Domenic Troiano on guitar. We were doing 3 shows a day and a matinee on Sunday. One of the nicest people was Ginger Baker (Cream’s drummer).
Wilson Pickett was headlining and right before us the Who played and yes, Pickett did complain about the smoke and the mess the Who left behind but at the same time he was also very much entertained by their performance.
I’ve tried to find footage of that show many times with no success.
I got back with Pickett in 1989 andrecorded an album with him entitled “I Want You” at the Morein Heights Studios, was great to see him again after more than 20 years.
This was one of music’s most important shows and it is frustrating to know it didn’t get more coverage than that. Meanwhile I am left with such great memories
Walter Rossi http://www.walterrossi.net
Visiting my Aunt in the big city from our suburban home in Long Island, my mother, younger brother and sister and myself, a beginner 12 year old garage rocking obsessed rock fan were walking down a midtown city street when by chance we passed a rather large movie theatre with a sign advertising that Murray K show. I already had the Who’s Happy Jack album, (UK it was called A Quick One), andI also had Fresh Cream. When I saw the words “Direct From England, The Cream and The Who” I went into a classic Long Island teenage whining attack “We have to see this, you don’t know what this is! I’ve heard all about these guys, I have their records” My pleas were granted as we and my reluctant staid very Upper East Side Aunt entered the movie theatre for an afternoon matinee. Talk about being in the right place at the right time. Who would have thought that during a random weekday afternoon we would be witness to rock and roll history in the making.The theatre was maybe a quarter filled and there was lots of space between the groups of those music fans lucky enough to have checked out this little advertised concert series. The article says they showed footage of the bands in between acts, but I remember they also showed Kung Foo movies and other random film clips.
I head heard of those huge Murray The K Doo Wop and early rock androll reviews at the Fox theatre in Brooklyn with groups like the Ronetts and the Crystals. But that era had been over for a few years and Murray and his shows had disappeared into oblivion. The K man was trying to change withthe times but his new shows just didn’t catch on or draw much of an audience. Can you imagine seeing all those just amazing bands for five or six dollars. My sister even remembers when security had to pull a frenzied female fan off the stage, as she ran up to hug a very young cape wearing Roger Daltrey. Daltrey was spinning around with this cape while also twirling the microphone in a wide loop, a move he has been doing for years to come. Cream was amazing as well. A young Clapton playing his legendary psychelisized Fool SG is an impression burned into my brain. We saw Mtich Ryder, the Blues Project and many others, but unfortunately missed the great Wilson Pickett and the Young Rascals. My Aunt Sonny got tired of holding her hands over her ears as I practically had to be dragged out of the theatre.
I’m not sure if Simon & Garfunkel or Phil Ochs showed up, don’t remember Sonny & Cher. I think the Young Rascals played another night.Townsend says they did “Substitute” and “My Generation” but I distinctly remember them doing “Happy Jack”. It also says that on the poster. History in the making!