Baby boomers growing up with the Long Island bar scene in the late 1970s had a front row seat for the rise of the cover band. Back then, seeing your favorite band in a bar was like listening to the radio. Depending on the band’s makeup, their sets were varied and filled with rock-and-roll.
Most had the basic rock band components—guitars, bass, drums and the occasional keyboard. Others added a lead singer with a tambourine, or a saxophone/horn player. They came on around 10 p.m. and played until 2 a.m. Many of us followed a favorite around the Island, venturing to different places each weekend.
Bands like Thrills, Stanton Anderson, Rat Race Choir, White Fire or The Good Rats dotted the landscape, duplicating the pounding heart of the rock music you loved, while sprinkling in original material. Bars used beer specials, signs announcing “Ladies drink free!” and, of course, the occasional “wet T-shirt contest” at Rum Bottoms, to lure potential customers. But it always came down to the music.
We spent our very limited money rocking out in small, local places, like Massapequa Park’s Solomon Grundy’s Frigate or big, cavernous halls, like Speaks in Island Park. There were places to the south, like The Oak Beach Inn, to the north, like My Father’s Place or out east, like the Bawdy Barn. If you wanted to hear live rock-n-roll music, there were plenty of options.
You met up with your friends after working at the mall, sneaked a few cold ones from your parent’s fridge, and headed out for the evening. Mostly, your destination was based on a specific band, where a certain group of girls was going or drink specials. You enjoyed the music, your friends and usually ended up at a diner or Jack-in-the-Box to watch the sunrise.
But just like that, the good times stopped rolling. We grew up, got married, had kids and stopped spending six hours in a bar to hear music.
Fret not, fellow baby boomers, it’s time to stop binge-watching Netflix and get back to the bars for some old-time rock-and-roll music. Our generation spends a lot of money eating out on the weekends and taverns realize if they book classic rock cover bands, we’ll stay a little longer. There are no more wet T-shirt contests and certainly no one is drinking for free anymore, but how can you leave a place when the band begins playing the bass line from “Radar Love?”
Of course, the music starts a little earlier (around 8 p.m.) and ends a lot sooner (by 10 p.m.), usually without a cover charge. Places like Lilly Flanagan’s in Babylon or Toomey’s in Amityville have live music almost every weekend, as does virtually every establishment down the Nautical Mile in Freeport. We’ve gone to places like the Off Key Tiki in Patchogue and the Sunset Grill in Massapequa to see live music. There are simple bands, like Bad Sandwich (Guitar, bass and drums) and more complicated bands, like Uppercut (full horn section). Bands like Off the Record, Victims of Rock and The Gypsy Felons are so good, it takes you right back to those rockin’ ’70s. Can it really be 40 years since we saw Twisted Sister at Hammerheads?
Although we no longer need to stand in the middle of the floor for five hours, or wait 20 minutes to use the bathroom, we still enjoy the music. Maybe today, we enjoy it more because we appreciate it more. Those performers on stage look just like us now, a little pudgy and balding, only they can still play music.
Rock cover bands never really went away. The groups we followed back in the day may have gone their separate ways, but the musicians masquerading as corporate bankers and real estate agents today never did. They may not play four nights a week anymore, but they still love to play, and they love to perform. We boomers have done our job, procreating and being productive members of society. Our children are grown, so it’s time to get back out there and enjoy the music again.
Turns out that Neil Young was right, rock and roll will never die.
Paul DiSclafani, a Massapequa resident, is a 2018 Press Club of Long Island award winning columnist and an Anton Media Group contributor since 2016.