The Tragic Station Nightclub Fire, And Kurt Cobain Would Be 50: This Day In Classic Rock [Videos]

Author: Scott Vanderpool

The Beatles got a ridiculously early start today in 1963, driving the 3 1/2 hours from Liverpool to London in order to play two songs (Love Me Do and Please Please Me) lasting all of 4 minutes on the BBC’s lunchtime Parade of The Pops program. It wasn’t straight home after though, but another 3 hour drive to Doncaster for a show that night. Far from being the overnight success many Americans believe them to be, by the time they quit playing live in 1966 they’d done 1,280 shows.

Gary Lewis and the Playboys had their one hit today in 1965 when This Diamond Ring started a two-week run at #1 on the U.S. singles chart. Gary Lewis was the band’s drummer, but his name went out front as he was the son of actor/comedian Jerry Lewis. He’d gotten a set of drums as a gift when he was 14, and formed the band with friends at 18. While Dad wasn’t especially supportive, his mother was secretly buying the band equipment, and a neighbor, record producer Snuff Garrett thought he could capitalize on the Lewis name, taking the band into the studio, and at one point arranging for Gary to be tutored on drums by the great Buddy Rich.

Though he’d told the others he was leaving in September, John Lennon was still officially a Beatle today in 1970 when the Plastic Ono Band single Instant Karma! was released in the U.S., where it would compete in the charts top 5 with The Beatles Let It Be. Written, arranged, rehearsed, recorded (at Abbey Road with Phil Spector producing), pressed, and released within 10 days, it wasn’t the first solo effort from a member of the band, but it was the first to sell over a million copies. The musicians John assembled included George Harrison, the Beatles old Hamburg friend Klaus Voorman on bass, Billy Preston on keyboards, future Yes member Alan White on drums, and background vocals from all of them plus Yoko Ono, Beatles roadie Mal Evans, Beatles and Rolling Stones manager Allen Klein, and a bunch of drunk people Klein had brought with him from London’s Hatchett Club. The song’s line “We all shine on” would inspire author Stephen King to write The Shining.

Led Zeppelin played a show at the Kooyong Tennis Courts in Melbourne Australia tonight in 1972 on their only tour down under.

All four members of KISS planted their high-heeled boots in concrete in front of Grauman’s Chinese Theater in Hollywood today in 1976, an honor usually given to film stars exclusively, though KISS would do a made-for-TV movie for NBC two years later.

Prototype “shock-rocker” Screaming Lord Sutch played a show at the College of Art in High Wycombe England tonight in 1976, with a very different kind of “shock rockers” as opening act, The Sex Pistols.

L.A. buttrock band Great White played a show at a much smaller venue than they’d been used to in their 80’s heyday tonight in 2003 at The Station nightclub in suburban Rhode Island. Unfortunately the bands manager Daniel Biechelle felt the band still needed arena-sized pyrotechnics, and set off three “Gerbs” (spark-shooting cylinders) at the start of the show that quickly ignited acoustical foam on the low ceiling. At first many of the 462 people in attendance (the clubs listed capacity was 404) thought it was all part of the act, but as smoke and flames spread a panic ensued, and they streamed for an exit. One was through the kitchen, which most didn’t know about, one was in the bar area, another by the stage was being blocked by a bouncer who told people it was for the band only, so most of them headed for the front door. 100 people were killed, (Including the band’s lead guitarist Ty Longly and the show’s M.C. WHJY DJ Mike “The Doctor” Gonsalves), and about half the rest suffered from burns, smoke inhalation, or being trampled. Ironically the fire was caught on videotape by a cameraman from Providence station WPRI, gathering footage for a story on nightclub safety because of a nightclub stampede in Chicago that had killed 21 just three days earlier. Biechelle pleaded guilty to involuntary manslaughter and served 3 of his 15 year sentence before being paroled, as did the club’s owners, who had turned a former restaurant into a nightclub without installing a fire-sprinkler system and oversold the show. Great White paid a $1 million insurance settlement to a victims family fund and began touring again 5 months later, donating proceeds to the fund, saying a prayer for victims at the start of each show, and they have never played the first song during which the fire started, Desert Moon, again. The 4th deadliest nightclub fire in U.S. history sparked some $175 million in lawsuits involving everyone from beer distributors to speaker manufacturer JBL, and led to The City of Seattle’s requirements for sprinkler systems in nightclubs.

Rock and Roll Birthdays

J. Geils Band guitarist John W. Geils Jr. is 71.

Steely Dan guitarist, bass player, singer, and songwriter Walter Becker is 67.

Spirit guitarist Randy California (Born Randy Craig Wolfe) would be 66. He was working at Manny’s Music in Manhattan with Jeff “Skunk” Baxter (later of Steely Dan and the Doobie Brothers) when regular customer Jimi Hendrix recruited him for his band The Blue Flames and gave him his stage name “California” to distinguish him from the other Randy in the band, who Jimi named Randy Texas. When The Animals bass player Chas Chandler invited Jimi to England, Randy’s parents would not allow him to go along as he was only 15 at the time. Randy died at age 45 when he drowned while successfully trying to save his son off Molokai in Hawaii. Randy was always flattered that Jimmy Page had lifted part of an acoustic guitar riff from his song Taurus and incorporated it into Stairway To Heaven. Spirit and Led Zeppelin had shared stages many times when they toured together in 1969, including the Seattle Pop Festival, but nothing came of it until after Randy died, and his heirs filed a lawsuit against Page and Plant that they lost in 2016.

Nirvana guitarist and frontman Kurt Cobain would be 50 if he hadn’t joined what his Mom later called “that stupid club” of rock stars dead at 27.


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