Thursday, January 16, 2014

The End of the World – Live at the Apollo

The Tree of Hope
In New York this week, meetings, end of year wrap-ups, annual trip. While the days are filled with meetings and tastings, the evenings aren’t meant to be so serious. An diversion was planned to Harlem. First stop, the Apollo Theatre.

The Apollo means different things to different people. For me it recollects a moment in history that was probably one of the most intense periods in my life and, most likely in the life of the world.

As I stepped through the doors of the Apollo, the names of important musical souls, their names engraved on plaques and set into the walk, I saw the name of James Brown.


One of my most treasured of material objects is an original vinyl recording of James Brown Live at the Apollo. Arguably the most famous live recording, it sealed James Brown's life and career in the history books. It was a very busy night for the hardest working man in show business.

The night? October 24, 1962. For those of you who hadn’t been born, or for those of you who don’t remember, that was one scary night. Russian warships were heading towards Cuba with questionable cargo. America was on Defcon2 alert level, the highest we had ever gone (Defcon1 = nuclear war is imminent).

Meanwhile on the stage of the Apollo, James Brown was singing like it was his last night on earth, or so it seems now. Listen to it. Words he sang, “I wonder do you know what I’m talking about,” “I say it’s getting a little cold outside,” and “everybody needs somebody,” in the soulful way only James Brown could. But the most stirring moment for me was halfway through the 40 minutes recording when James Brown went into a long 9 second howl that recalled an air raid siren.

I wasn’t at the Apollo that night; I was 11 years old and living on the other side of the country in the desert. But I heard those howls that night. But they were the real air raid sirens. A military base nearby was at high alert, and war jets were swirling in the sky above us for days. Whenever one of the jets would break the sound barrier, a sound like an explosion would pierce our eardrums. More than once I thought we were goners; that the end of the world was upon us. Heavy stuff for an 11 year old kid, not to forget the rest of the world; we were on the ride of our life.

Did James Brown know? How could he not? But that night in the Apollo, all was still very much live and about the living. Thank you James Brown. Long live the music.

Billy Mitchell is a director at the Apollo; he’s been there for 50+ years. We spent an hour or so with Billy and he took us all over the place. To stand on the stage and imagine all the sweat, the soul, the heartache, the joy that this stage has seen. Sensitive types alert: when you step into the Apollo, hold on tight.

While in Harlem our colleagues arranged for dinner at Red Rooster. The dream of Chef Marcus Samuellson, Red Rooster was hopping on a cold and wet Tuesday night. We were led downstairs to a private club. I must say I would’ve liked to stay above ground, not easy words for an introvert to say, considering the crowds. “Look, over there, Farrakhan,” one colleague whispered. I headed down the stairs, glad it was 2014, not 1962.

Ginny’s Supper Club, it’s called, and it’s a large expansive room capable of putting on live shows and filling up two rooms (and the very long bar) with souls. At the bar of the once speakeasy, Italian wines were laid out, Brunello, Barolo, Gavi, Chianti Classico Riserva. How bad could this be? Soulful food and Italian wine. I could do this.

Fried oysters showed up with a bottle of Muller Thurgau/Traminer from Basilicata. Great match. Deviled eggs, platter of them arrived with bottled of La Scolca Gavi. Black label at the red rooster, things are looking up.

Yard bird and Chianti Classico Riserva. And Brunello Riserva. And Barolo. Ok, I’m settling in nicely. And while fried chicken and Barolo wouldn’t have been my first thought, we’re in Harlem, downstairs, in a jazz lounge. I’m not complaining. We made it through Defcon2. We’re still live. And loving it. One the wine trail in Italy Harlem.





wine blog +  Italian wine blog + Italy W

4 comments:

Do Bianchi said...

man, so envious of your night in Harlem! I haven't been up there since election night in 2008...

an so cool to see the marquee with Amiri's name on it. What a night to be in Harlem!

And wow, I wasn't born until 1967 but I remember so clearly being a kid growing up in San Diego and the bomb shelters and the drills and the nuclear subs parked just a few miles from where we lived... "and kiss your ass goodbye" was the joke, right?

heavy stuff for a kid!

great post!

Thomas said...

Alfonso,

Here's one for you: now you know someone who sang at the Apollo. Yep, yours truly.

It was the night that the Apollo introduced Stevie Wonder to the world. The group I was in was also on the bill as new amateurs.

We did not get the hook and we went onto a recording contract.

If you'd like, I can send you an MP3 of our 1962 recording.

Alfonso Cevola said...

Thomas -

very cool - send it along, would like to hear it! thanks!

Marco Maceo Parker said...

The maestro strikes chords once more. I remember distinctly walking around our yard one sunny day in October 1962 thinking "Is this it?"
JB and The Famous Flames were probably one of the tightest bands ever. BTW a copy of that record sold for $335 a while back. If a party starts to get old, JB will always bring it back to life. Thanks for a fine post.
Tommaso live at the Apollo! I love it.

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