Ed Ward (captward) Tue 2 Apr 13 12:33
Inkwell is proud to welcome Joel Selvin and John Johnson to talk about their wacky history of the Mob, the music business, and the place where an obscure black dance craze hit the pop mainstream for the first time. So get ready to do the pep-pep-pep-peppermint twist, ladies and gentlemen! San Francisco Chronicle pop music critic Joel Selvin started covering rock shows for the paper shortly after the end of the Civil War. His writing has appeared in a surprising number of other publications that you would think should have known better. People all over the world are still pissed off about pieces he wrote while he still had his job. Since leaving his staff post at The Chronicle in 2009, Selvin has sat still for as-told-to autobiographies by Sammy Hagar and tattoo artist Ed Hardy. His epic biography of songwriter Bert Berns, "Here Comes the Night" -- 16 years in the making -- will be published Spring 2014 by Counterpoint Press.
Ed Ward (captward) Wed 3 Apr 13 07:10
Hm. Looks like John's going to be a bit late to this, so let's start off now. Your book deals with the interface of organized crime and the music business. How long has the Mob been a factor in American popular music? I don't just mean people like Armstrong and Ellington playing clubs owned by mobsters, but actual involvement in the record industry and so on. I know that the jukebox business -- and pinball and the like -- has always been a good place to launder money because of all the cash involved, but what abut the records played on those jukeboxes?
Joel Selvin (joelselvin) Wed 3 Apr 13 09:27
Hi Ed. Good to be here. Longtime listener; first-time caller. I would think it would be impossible to trace back to the beginning the complicated relationship between the Mob and the music business. Certainly in NYC during the '40s and '50s, as the whole record business was getting going, people involved in vending machines (ie, jukeboxes) and one-stop record distrubutors that serviced jukebox accounts were largely Mob-controlled (the Mafia has always gravitated toward all-cash businesses). "Peppermit Twist" details one Genovese family capo, Johnny Biello, and his chance encounters with rock and roll history. The Bert Berns biography coming out next year goes into considerable detail about the activites of known Mobsters in the record business such as Tommy Vastola, Sonny Franceze and Tommy Eboli.
Ed Ward (captward) Wed 3 Apr 13 12:25
The whole Peppermint Lounge thing seems to have been a mobster's nightmare: a quiet little money laundry you've got going suddenly has the eyes of the world on it, which is the last thing they wanted. Or was it? Was it ever intended to bring in some coin?
Joel Selvin (joelselvin) Wed 3 Apr 13 12:33
It was a joint that Johnny had "on the arm," as they said, kept the cops away, ran numbers and other small time chisels out of the back room. They cared so little about it, they let the club book rock and roll bands and become, at the time, the only rock and roll club in Manhattan. That's where things went wrong.
Mark McDonough (mcdee) Wed 3 Apr 13 17:37
Hi guys. First, I hate to gush, but I will. I'm really picky about books, and this was one of the best history books I've read in the last several years. I might gush more later, but I'll leave it at that for now! Joel, why do you think the first half of the 1960s is now so little known and so poorly understood?
Joel Selvin (joelselvin) Thu 4 Apr 13 09:22
Hi Mark - That's an interesting question. I'm not sure I thought the first half of the 60s was under-represented in histories until you asked. I had a gas digging back into old magazines and newspapers from the early days of the Kennedy administration. The best-seller lists were amazing. The new movies were great. Broadway was at its peak. I'm also old enough to remember the excitement around the Twist, even going to a party where all us teens taight the dance to ourselves that night. But I'm not sure anybody will ever understand the 60s. Thanks for the good words on the book.
David Gans (tnf) Thu 4 Apr 13 10:01
Joel Selvin (joelselvin) Thu 4 Apr 13 10:39
Hi David. I see your footprints all over this place. You are a prince in this domain (see also: Jon Carroll).
Ned Wall (nedwall) Thu 4 Apr 13 10:39
I loved your description of the people on line waiting to get into the Peppermint Lounge and the traffic jam created by the sheer number of people going there. You quote Newsweek describing the Peppermint Lounge as "a melting pot for socialites, sailors, and salesmen" - is there a column/blog/TV spot now that could create the kind of interest that a mention of the twist in "Cholly Knickerbocker's" column did?
Joel Selvin (joelselvin) Thu 4 Apr 13 11:35
Thanks, Ned. Now that you mention it, I suppose the mob scene at the Peppermint Lounge was a kind of pre-Internet "flash mob."
Ed Ward (captward) Thu 4 Apr 13 12:02
I think one reason the early '60s aren't as well-known as they should be is that people associate it with terrible pop music, and that wasn't the case at all -- particularly if you were paying attention to black music back then, which wasn't too hard, because Top 40 radio mixed it up pretty good back then.
Mark McDonough (mcdee) Thu 4 Apr 13 13:45
Right, the old standard story was something like "Elvis went into the Army and everyone else died in that plane crash, and then things sucked until the Beatles showed up."
Joel Selvin (joelselvin) Thu 4 Apr 13 14:41
So right, Ed. Peppermint Twist was written and produced by Henry Glover, who as artist & repertoire for King Records cut all the Hank Ballard records, along with other great r&b records. The track cooks and the full-length version is one of the rockingest records of its day.
Mark McDonough (mcdee) Thu 4 Apr 13 15:00
What I think is hard for anyone to imagine if they weren't around at the time is how huge the twist was (I was a little kid, but I remember). It wasn't just a "dance craze," it was huge. I loved the story about Ahmet Ertegun briefly starting a twist label!
Peter Meuleners (pjm) Thu 4 Apr 13 15:09
It had better legs (arr) than most of the short lived memes we see today.
Joel Selvin (joelselvin) Thu 4 Apr 13 15:20
Ahmet LOVED the Peppermint Lounge. Everybody went a little soft in the head for the Twist, so he is forgiven, yet Twistime Records? Not high up on his resume.
Ned Wall (nedwall) Thu 4 Apr 13 15:32
There are party buses in Manhattan now, but I think they're mostly an excuse for people to get hammered. Ertegun packing friends on a bus, ferrying them around Manhattan to dinner and ending up at the Peppermint Lounge took it to a different level.
those Andropovian bongs (rik) Thu 4 Apr 13 15:50
Dylan gave us all permission to sing. The twist gave us all permission to dance.
Mark McDonough (mcdee) Thu 4 Apr 13 18:15
And I love the way it cut across all social lines. Greta Garbo came to the Peppermint Lounge!
X (joeyx) Fri 5 Apr 13 08:22
Just the other night I was watching my bootleg of Louis Prima's cash in on the Twist crazy movie, TWIST ALL NIGHT. Man, horrible film, but great footage.
Ed Ward (captward) Fri 5 Apr 13 09:54
There was also a film that was actually shot at the Peppermint Lounge, Twist All Night. Joel, did you see that? Did you catch Ronnie Spector (Veronica Bennett as she was at the time) in any of the scenes?
Mark McDonough (mcdee) Fri 5 Apr 13 10:22
A friend of mine took a date to the Peppermint Lounge and remembers seeing Ronnie Spector - but of course she wasn't then famous. One thing I enjoyed about the book was that it brought back the memory of how crazy and optimistic things were during those years. I was really young (my kindergarten teacher taught us all the Twist!), but for a few years there, it seemed like everything was just going to keep getting better forever and ever. All the adults were excited, including (and maybe even especially) the straight people.
David Wilson (dlwilson) Fri 5 Apr 13 10:26
My cousin got to play a gig at the Peppermint Lounge when we were 17. I was a little jealous, but he went up a few notches in my estimation. Joel, I haven't read the book but will get a copy. My question is that since the club was mobbed up to start with and the music was a surprise development, did Morris Levy show up in your story?
Mark McDonough (mcdee) Fri 5 Apr 13 11:04
And how in the world did you find Dick Cami (or how did he find you guys)?
Kevin Wheeler (krome) Fri 5 Apr 13 12:08
Was thinking I would like to read this and found that the USPS redirected my mail while I was in jail. Joining shortly.
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