Updated Nov. 9, 12:31 pm
For the second part in our series of music on the Vineyard, we’d like to talk about the Seventies, a time when musical tastes were changing from folk to blues and funk, and two Island institutions — the Hot Tin Roof and the Wintertide Coffeehouse — were born, and the Taylor family seemingly ruled the world.
When you think of the music of the Seventies on the Vineyard, one of the first things that comes to mind is the Taylor family — James, Livingston, Alex, Kate, and Hugh, who, along with Carly Simon, had summered here since they were kids and went on to be goodwill ambassadors for the Island. In 1971, Rolling Stone Magazine called them the First Family of Rock.
Last spring I spoke with Peter Asher, of the Sixties duo Peter and Gordon, who helped launch James’ career, and in so doing, he got to know the whole family and had this to say about them: “The Taylor family is a remarkable institution. They are a remarkable collection of people, incredibly brilliant, all very musical and extremely talented, and a little bit mad — and that makes for a fantastic combination.”
James and Carly rose to fame in the early Seventies, followed by record releases from Kate, Livingston, and brother Alex, who launched their careers shortly thereafter. “Even Hugh could sing,” Asher said, “but he managed to stay out of the limelight.”
Former MVY Radio DJ Barbara Dacey knows the family well, and in an email to me she wrote about the significance of the family’s connection to the Vineyard. “Island music has grown through and around the Taylors and Carly Simon for decades,” Dacey wrote. “Many saw them play as teenagers at the Chilmark Community Center and the Moon-Cusser in the Sixties. I saw James Taylor play at the Oak Bluffs School in the early Seventies. It was so intimate, and my memory is that we were sitting in the small chairs used by the kids.
“It seems to me that Islanders have always been laid-back about the family’s presence. People knew them as friends and fellow Islanders. Nevertheless, folks were thrilled for James, Alex, Liv, Hugh, Kate, and Carly as their musical careers blossomed, and loved that they lived here.
“The vibe and culture of the Vineyard is reflected deeply and beautifully in their music. When you were at friends’ for dinner, oftentimes James or Carly or Liv or Kate would be on the stereo. Every time I hear James’ and Carly’s ‘Terra Nova,’ with all the Island references, or really any song from the family, I feel pumped and connected … thinking, ‘I know that place, I know that feeling!’”
But here on the Island, the live music scene was actually quite diversified, and the focal point for that scene was a lounge in the basement of the Seaview Hotel in Oak Bluffs that Island musician Mike Benjamin described in a story he wrote for The MV Times called “Coming of age in the Seaview.”
“The dance floor had a soulful patina, stripped down to raw oak then stained by oceans of spilled drinks and a top coat of brow-dripped, danced-off, muggy summer sweat. It was polished and buffed by a packed crowd, shoes optional, dancing to live blues, rock-n-roll or Seventies funk in the dimly lit smoky room. The Seaview … part Southern style chitlin’ circuit roadhouse, part haunted New England Scooby-Doo hotel.”
There were of course a few other venues for live music back then, but the Seaview, owned by the formidable Loretta Balla, was the go-to spot for catching a live act. Other venues included the Boston House on Circuit Ave., later to become the Atlantic Connection; the Ocean View, also in Oak Bluffs, had some bands back then. The Wintertide Coffeehouse, which started in 1978, was a great place for local amateur musicians to play. The Art Workers Guild would sometimes feature live music, and occasionally even the Black Dog Tavern would feature after-hours music.
Going back in time, some of the popular bands were the Taylor Made Band (no relation to James, Kate et al.), Nick Branch and his Prime Rib Band, who, as Mike Benjamin recalls, “traveled around in a crazy bus, hippie commune–style,” and the band Chico and the Men. Chico and the Men consisted of Chico Huff, Nicky Huff, Zonder Kennedy, Tommy Myers, and Mark Grandfield.
Nicky Huff said that most bands played a lot of original material, and that Chico and the Men was a funk band and their spinoff group, Kinship, played jazz fusion.
One of the more popular bands at the time was Mr. TCD, an acronym for the band member’s first names, Timothy Maxwell, Charlie Esposito, and Duane Spencer. Esposito told me that TCD was a performance art band, known for its musicianship and for its funny and innovative performances. They would often give out comic books they created to people who attended their shows.
Mark Grandfield, also with Chico and the Men, said that some big bands came through the area at the time. The Velvet Underground played at what is now the Stop and Shop parking lot in Vineyard Haven and at Memorial Wharf in Edgartown, and the Commodores (take a minute to let this sink in) once played on the back of a flatbed truck at Viera Park in Oak Bluffs.
The Wintertide Coffeehouse
An important part of the Vineyard music scene in the late Seventies was the creation of the Wintertide Coffeehouse, begun by Project, headed by Sherm Goldstein, and an agency of M.V. Community Services. “At the time,” Goldstein said, “there were very few, if any, opportunities for post–high school age Vineyarders to gather, except for bars. The movie houses were all closed after Columbus Day, the bowling alley had shut down, and local theater companies had not yet formed.
“The concept behind Wintertide was to lessen the negative effects from this social isolation; alcohol and drug usage, depression, family abuse and attendant disorders, as well as to offer a place where the many local musicians, poets, and authors could offer their creations to a live audience.”
The Wintertide had more than a few locations over the years, and its brick-and-mortar beginnings are now a matter of varied memories. It was housed in the building now occupied by Waterside Market in Vineyard Haven, the basement of the Stone Church in Vineyard Haven, and there were gatherings weekends early on at the Youth Hostel.
The idea took hold though, and in the Eighties, under the leadership of Tony Lombardi, it eventually found a home at Five Corners in Vineyard Haven. In the Nineties, it hosted the annual Singer-Songwriters Retreat, created and produced by folk singer Christine Lavin. That retreat brought in nationally acclaimed folk artists such as Patty Larkin, Martin Sexton, and John Gorka to perform.
The Hot Tin Roof
Another seminal event in Martha’s Vineyard music history came in 1979 with the opening of the legendary Hot Tin Roof, out by the Martha’s Vineyard Airport.
The idea for the Roof came from George Brush, who told me that while spending some time in Nantucket, he went to the famous Chicken Box roadhouse and saw Muddy Waters play, and realized there was nothing really like that on the Vineyard — a place where you could dance and hang out and listen to A-list bands.
Brush teamed up with Herb Putnam, who ran the Quarterdeck Restaurant in Edgartown, and when he ran into Carly Simon at the No Nukes concert, he pitched the idea to her, and Brush said that she was unequivocally in. Brush got a liquor license, rented a building out by the airport, and converted it into a club, and in just 67 days, they were off and running.
The official opening night was June 27, 1979, and the first act was the 24th Street Band, who were the nucleus of David Letterman’s band for years.
“The match that lit the fuse was John Belushi,” Brush said. “We’d been open about a week, and he came and said, ‘George, I want to do a show.’ I asked him when, and he said, ‘Tonight.’
Belushi’s band was called the Stink Band, and consisted of John on drums, Dan Ackroyd’s brother Peter, and a couple of Island guys, Pucho Marrero and Mark Grandfield. “And they did the show for free,” Brush said.
Then the floodgates opened up, and along came Peter Tosh, Bonnie Raitt, the Average White Band, Delbert McClinton, and many others, including Carly Simon and Kate Taylor with her band Skin Tight which she started with her brothers Alex and Hugh, and featuring the occasional guest appearance by brother James.
“We also had a lot of Motown groups,” Brush said. “We had Sam and Dave, Junior Walker and the All Stars, and Martha and the Vandellas — it was wild!”
Brush admits that having the power of Carly Simon’s celebrity opened up a lot of doors for the club, and the Roof also became a magnet for celebrities, and you never knew when you might bump into Jackie Onassis, John Travolta, or Bill Murray.
The Roof would have its ups and downs, and continue on into the 2000s under new names like Outerland, Nectars, and Flatbread. But in 1979, in the words of George Brush, “It was a phenomenon.”
The No Nukes Concert
In May 1977, more than 2,000 Clamshell Alliance nonviolent protesters occupied the Seabrook Nuclear Power Plant construction site in Seabrook, N.H. Close to 1,500 of these activists were arrested, including several from the Vineyard.
The spirit of protest burned brightly on the Island, and one evening a group of young activists were gathered at Clarissa Allen’s farmhouse in Chilmark and the idea for holding a concert to raise money and awareness for the antinuclear cause was hatched. The primary organizer for the concert was John Abrams, CEO and co-owner of South Mountain Co.
The number of organizers would grow to include Jay Walsh, Steve Sinnett, Mitchell Posin, Steve Donavan, Carmel Gamble, and others. Clarissa Allen would donate her family’s farm in Chilmark to be the location of the festival.
Once again, Carly Simon was instrumental in attracting acts to appear at the festival. Along with Simon, John Hall, formerly of the band Orleans, the Pousette-Dart Band, and Kate and Alex Taylor were on the bill, along with local artists, Joel Zoss, Mark Carroll, the Condor Brothers, and Mr. TCD. The day also included speakers from the antinuclear movement such as Sara Nelson, Sam Lovejoy, and Helen Caldicott.
“Everything went as smoothly as it could,” co-organizer Jay Walsh said. “It was such a pleasurable union of friends and family, there were good spirits all around. It was a big neighborhood party. Everyone had a smile.”
In an email to me, Kate Taylor, who played a big part in the festivities, was able to put things in perspective. “Our culture and our perspectives have evolved over time,” she wrote, “sometimes for better and sometimes for worse, but on that hillside in Chilmark, we were sure, we were together, and we had hope. One of the beautiful things about Martha’s Vineyard is that we have all that still.”