Notebook Cover

  Showtime At The Apollo

By Mike Redmond & Marv Goldberg

© 2007 by Marv Goldberg

AUTHOR'S NOTE: Once again, we come to a piece that has my name on it, although I can't for the life of me imagine what I could have contributed to it. Mike was the one who had gone to the Apollo in 1954. He'd seen the Clovers (and even Clyde McPhatter & the Drifters). However, this time, his name is first, so I guess my contributions were limited to proofreading or some such. It's presented pretty much as written (although I confess I had to fix up the punctuation a bit). With the resources that are at my disposal today, I would say that Mike was creating an idealized show, since there is no known Apollo bill that had the Clovers, Bunny Briggs, Pigmeat Markham, and Illinois Jacquet. That really doesn't detract from what he's saying, however.

At the height of their popularity, the Clovers would headline the bill at Harlem's Apollo Theatre, an unmatched institution in the history of Rhythm & Blues. If a time machine ever becomes a reality, we'll be able to traverse the mists of time, back to September 1954.

It's 5:30 pm on Saturday at 125th Street and 8th Avenue in Harlem. Before we go over and wait on line for the Apollo, we can check out the Record Shack and Bobby's to see if we can pick up a 45 of "Skylark" in the 3 for a dollar bins. Oh yeah, I want to pick up a photo of Clyde and the Drifters at Bobby's, and see if he has one of the Castelles on Grand.

After buying our tickets, we slowly walk down the long hallway drinking in the photos of our favorite stars and the posters that tell of upcoming shows. If you want a "taste," we can go up to the "buzzards' roost" (second balcony), or, if a Dixie cup gets you on, we can sit in the orchestra.

First, we have to sit through a movie of interminable length. When it finally ends, there's a stir of excitement as the house lights are dimly lit. The movie screen is drawn up and some tentative warm-up sounds are heard from the band behind the curtain. After we endure several minutes of practice, the tension rises until an unknown voice finally welcomes the audience to the Apollo and introduces the band of Illinois Jacquet. The band comes on with the theme of the Apollo, "I May Be Wrong (But I Think You're Wonderful)," and then rips into a couple of driving tunes getting everyone up for the show.

The anticipation builds as we sit through Bunny Briggs' tap dancing, a girl singer whose name immediately fades into obscurity, and Pigmeat Markham in one of his great sketches.

Then, the big moment: the Clovers are introduced and they rush onto the stage. They begin the set with "Sweet Kentucky Babe," revealing at the outset that they're an act with class and style and not a one-hit phenomenon. But then, to appease their record-buying public, they sing a medley of their hits, effortlessly segueing from one to another. [I have a note in my copy of Record Exchanger that the entire list of songs that should have appeared here was omitted from the article by its editor so it could be squeezed into the space allotted to it. Unfortunately, I have long since misplaced the original, so I don't know what titles we had listed.] They dominate the entire scene with a strength and ability that clearly reveals why they were the most popular group of the decade. The set is closed out with their current hit, "I've Got My Eyes On You," and, as the curtain descends, we are transported again to the present. It's good to be back, but ah! the times we had!

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