Tuesday, April 17, 2012

Legends of Long Island : The Action House

Since I moved to Long Island in 1976, I've always been aware of the rich musical history that's contained in these parts.  There's been a lot of great clubs over the years...and The Action House was one of the all-time great ones!

By the time I arrived here in the Long Island area of New York in 1977, The Action House (50 Austin Blvd Island Park, NY) was long gone. Over the years, I had always heard great stories about the place from folks who saw shows there. The Action House, which was Long Island's premier music venue from the mid-sixties to the early 70's, was indeed crucial to the development of the area's nascent local music scene in the sixties. It was perhaps the first true temple of "cool" here in suburban Long Island.

Lenny Kaye (rock & roll wordsmith & guitarist for the Patti Smith Band) wrote in his essay New York In The Sixties: "...the real home of the Long Island sound, as it came to be known, was a large club outside the city in Island Park called the Action House, where groups like the Vagrants (featuring Leslie West), the Rich Kids, the Hassles (with a young Billy Joe behind the Hammond) and the Vanilla Fudge indulged in all manner of barogue showmanship, complete with drummers twirling sticks, heavily-vibratoed voices, ornamental starts and melodramitic stops." Besides the pool of readily available local musical talent, the Action House also promoted shows featuring some of the era's biggest rock & roll acts. Concerts featuring bands like The Who, Mitch Ryder & The Detoit Wheels, Cream, Procol Harum, Moby Grape, Sly & The Family Stone and The Yardbirds garnered widespread attention for the club.

One event that has been well documented took place on June 16 and 17, 1967 when the Doors, who had been working at Steve Paul's The Scene for an extended period, played a gig at The Action House when Steve Paul closed his club for three days in order to attend the Monterey Pop Festival in California. According to several sources, before the first show, Jim Morrison has the bartender line up no less than 15 shots of Jack Daniels whiskey across the bar and then proceeded to down the shots one after another before taking the stage. Mid-set, Morrison stops the show and demands that the bartender set up 15 more shots of whiskey. Soon enough, the Lizard King is well out of it and at one point of the show, begins to shed his clothing. The band hastily ends the show. The next night brings forth the shortest Doors concert ever as an extremely hung over Morrison lurches around the stage, jamming the microphone inside of his mouth and emitting long moaning and groaning sounds for an extended period of time before the remaining band members, taking pity on the audience, grab Jim's arms and drag him off the stage.

In Beaches Bars & B-3's, Rich Arfin's excellent history of the Long Island rock & roll scene, Rich describes the scene at the Action House:  "Throughout the 60's, the party would hang a left up Long Beach Boulevard to The Action House, so aptly dubbed. Mike Ricciardella, drummer for The Illusion, described it, 'The Action House was a wild place back then. The bouncers were nuts and very wild... the parking lot was the place where the crowd hung out and got high. Inside was rock n' roll, outside was Fantasyland."

The club was owned by Phil Basile, who was described in a New York magazine article as "the all-time classic Island club owner." During this era, many bands and clubs were "handled" by folks who had (ahem) mob "affiliations" and it appears such was the case with Basile. After The Action House had run its course, Basile went on to open such Long Island music emporiums as Rockpile, Speaks, Channel 80 and Industry. He was also reputedly involved with managing some of the artists who appeared at The Action House, such as Vanilla Fudge.

While searching around the web for details about Basile, I came across a page on Topix which featured a former concert promoter speaking about his experiences with Phil Basile: "Phil owned the club. He was affiliated with some people from Brooklyn, Queens and LI who put together a consortium to buy the club. It was originally called the Shell House. It was a big catering hall. They converted it into a rock club and started having rock bands. Phil managed Vanilla Fudge and from there, he got contacts with other bands. He got a few dates with Cream and made about $20,000 in one weekend so he realized that besides managing, he should go into promotions. He trusted me since I was running all the bars and we formed Concerts East, which promoted all of the East Coast shows of Jimi Hendrix and Led Zeppelin."

Basile's backround gets even more interesting. An article on the Wikibin site reveals the following: "Phillip... was a Lucchese crime family controlled rock and roll music promotoer... who was an associate of the Lucchese crime family figures Paul Vario and Henry Hill. The brother of Senator Alphonse D'Amato was partners with Basile and Paul Vario. When Basile was arrested for getting Henry Hill a no-show job at his disco, Alphonse testified on Phillip's behalf. His wife donated enormous contributions to D'Amato during election year. Sounds like an episode right out of The Sopranos, don't it? Yes indeed, one of the least discussed topics in most rock & roll history books and documentaries is exactly how much involvement organized crime has had in the workings of the popular music business throughout the sixties and seventies.  One of the few rock memoirs I've read that touches on this subject is Tommy James' autobiography, Me, The Mob & The Music 

The Action House marked the beginning of a vibrant music scene here in these parts but by the mid-80's, due to the advent of dance clubs featuring DJ's, many venues had closed down, bringing an end to what is now considered to be the golden age of live rock venues in Long Island.

Legend has it that one certain summer nights...
with the wind coming off the ocean in a particular direction...
you can hear the strains of a Hammond B-3 organ
softly whistling in the darkness


1 comment:

  1. Thanks for the memories, Johnny. I was in the Ohio band, then using the name "The In Crowd" in August 1966 when Napolean the 14th appeared....between that and a similar gig also featuring the Turtles...pretty heady stuff for an 18 year old! But the BEST were the Vagrants - best band I'd ever heard...