Rock & Roll Repast: My First Show

Posted: August 29th, 2023 | Filed under: Music, Rock & Roll Rewind | 2 Comments »

I’m a rock & roll lifer. I’ve got stories, lots of stories. Here’s another.

In a sec, I’ll explain how I know for a fact the exact date and year of the first show I ever attended was the “Biggest Show of Stars” on July 29, 1961.

At Fairgrounds Coliseum, which has always been Freedom Hall to us locals.

The lineup was “headlined” by Dee Clark, whose hit, his only Top 10 tune at #2 on the charts, was “Raindrops.”

The lineup included Jimmy Reed, The Pips (before they were Gladys Knight and, singing among other songs their current hit “Every Beat of My Heart”), Phil Upchurch Combo (“You Can’t Sit Down”), Ben E. King (“Stand By Me”), Chuck Jackson (“I Don’t Wanna Cry”), The Miracles (before they were Smokey Robinson and) plus Shep and The Limelites (“Daddy’s Home”).

Such were the lineups of shows that came through in the early days of rock & roll. A headliner, usually someone with more gravity than Dee Clark to be honest, like Fats Domino or Jackie Wilson, then a bunch of new, up and coming acts.

I also have memories of Jimmy Reed, the long time bluesman whose radio hit was “Big Boss Man.” He seemed a lot older than his 36 years which he was at the time, and he sat on a folding chair during his entire set.

Other than that I do not remember much about the music — it happens — other than I was mesmerized and it was like being in wonderland.

I do recall a bunch of peripheral stuff. It was my first time, right?

Besides there’s an advertisement for the gig sitting in front of me as I write. It is on the back of that week’s WKLO Hit Paraders Tunedex, listing the station’s current Top 40 hits, plus eight tunes under the heading “New And Looking Good.”

The songs listed above by the performers on the show are the ones that appear in the ad for each artist.

I came into possession of this nugget of memorabilia when researching my first rock & roll story, a LEO cover piece about promoter Martin Cohn, who produced that concert.

Cohn, a teacher by trade, was a long time local concert promoter. He’d being doing shows for years, mostly jazz early on, including Duke Ellington, Sinatra, plenty of others.

His first rock & roll production in town was the continuation of the winter tour, after Buddy Holly, the Big Bopper, and Richie Valens went down in that Iowa cornfield plane crash.

He was responsible for many others, some of which I’ve previously mentioned along the way, the Stones in ’64, Dylan in ’66. He told me the story about Joan Baez, who came to town a few days early for her concert. Cohn would pick her up after his teaching duties were done, and they’d head to Churchill Downs.

Joanie liked to play the ponies, who knew?

Cohn was a collector. He had filing cabinets packed with all attendant paperwork from every show he ever did. Contracts, which he allowed me access to peruse, including one signed by Brian Epstein for the Beatles to appear at the Fairgrounds. It was never approved by the Fair Board. Attendance figures, weather on the day of the show, etc.

All sorts of stuff, trivial to most, but fascinating and a treasure trove for someone like me obsessed with rock & roll anecdotia.

He also had every artist he promoted autograph several 8×10 glossies.

One of those, a signed Sam Cooke, hangs on my wall.

Another reason why the show was memorable, as if it wouldn’t have been otherwise, my seats were front row center. Literally. Which I won in a jitterbug contest at the JCC with Perri Jo Kaplan (no relation).

As for the contents of the Tunedex that week, the chart topper was “It’ll Be Easy,” the first single by local favorites, The Sultans. The Top 5 included U.S. Bonds’ “Quarter to Three,” and “Yellow Bird” by Lawrence Welk. Eclectic times those.

One other memory of the evening. I’d gotten my Driver’s License a month or so before.

So, yeah, my date and me — Perri Jo was out of town — and no parents dropping off or picking up.

— c d kaplan

2 Comments on “Rock & Roll Repast: My First Show”

  1. 1 Michael Brown said at 2:59 pm on August 29th, 2023:

    I am a little younger than you. My first show was at the old Cardinal Stadium with the original Beach Boys with Brian Wilson. The show opened with the Kingsmen. I think it was’63 or ‘64. I can’t remember if it was before or after the Beatles hit America

  2. 2 Jay Goldstein said at 4:14 am on August 30th, 2023:

    Great read…

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