The calendar read January 1, 1970, the start of a new decade. But it still seemed like The ‘60s. Nixon was still President. The U.S. was still hopelessly mired in Vietnam. And it still sounded like The ‘60s. The Beatles had the #1 album on the charts, Abbey Road. Led Zeppelin was at #2 with Led Zeppelin II, and The Rolling Stones were #3 with Let It Bleed.
I was still producing rock concerts in western Mass. But on New Year’s Eve 1969, we’d moved the shows from The Woodrose Ballroom, an old roadhouse in South Deerfield, to the classic art-deco Paramount Theatre in downtown Springfield. Blue-eyed R&B band Cold Blood headlined, with Woodrose regulars Bold and The Far Cry opening.
The next show we did at the Paramount was The Velvet Underground on January 9th. I’d already presented fifteen shows with the VU in the ‘60s, first at The Boston Tea Party and then at the Woodrose. Opening for them that night were local faves FAT and from Boston Barry T & The Studebakers, with Barry Tashian and Bill Briggs, formerly of The Remains. But there was an unexpected and unbilled pre-show performance.
Jonathan Richman was a huge Velvets fan, and an aspiring musician. He went to just about every show they played at the Tea Party, and became friends with the band, who respected his offbeat musical talent. Jonathan and I were friends from Cambridge, and I was surprised to see him at the Paramount that night. He got a ride out with Barry and Bill.
Shortly before showtime, I was up in the balcony with my girlfriend Jan and our dog B.B., where they were going to sit during the show. Jonathan came over to tell me that Sterling Morrison of the Velvets told him he could use his guitar and amp to play a few solo numbers. This was news to me, and I explained to him that no one was going on stage and playing anything without my say-so. But I quickly added, if it was OK with Sterl, it was OK with me.
So he set up in front of the closed curtain and played. The audience was puzzled by this guy with short hair in a white vinyl jacket. But Jonathan was never afraid to express himself musically, no matter how quirky he might seem to some people. He’d often busked in the entryway of the Harvard Coop, where there was a natural echo to amplify his acoustic sound. His appearance that night at the Paramount was his first-ever plugged-in performance at an indoor venue.
The Velvets returned to the Paramount on April 17th. They came up from New York directly from two days in the studio starting to record their fourth album, Loaded. But surprisingly there were only three of them, not their usual four-piece group. Their drummer Moe Tucker was too pregnant to do the recording session or go on the road. But if Lou Reed, Doug Yule and Sterling were ready to play for the first time as a trio, I was good with it, and I knew they needed the money from the gig. Moe’s pounding beat was so much a part of the VU sound that even in her absence they seemed to be playing along with her, the phantom of the Paramount. But in fact the four of them never would do another show together.
(Adapted from Steve Nelson’s memoir Gettin’ Home: An Odyssey Through The ‘60s)