The night Big Joe found the Holy Grail of music
I have been blessed to have had so much fun and enjoyment with friends, family and music. One of my favorite experiences is the night I held and looked at the “Holy Grail.”
No, not that Holy Grail, not the one from ancient times from Mesopotamia, no, it was a handwritten notebook of lyrics from Doc Pomus. Doc Pomus wrote some of the biggest hits in rock and roll history including; Save the Last Dance For Me, This Magic Moment, Elvis’ Viva Las Vegas, Surrender, Marie's the Name of His Latest Flame, Hushabye, Teenager in Love and so many more.
One of the things I liked to do was head into New York to see my friend and outstanding musician, Pat Guadagno, play at landmark places in the Village. We’d go in early, grab a great dinner and head on over to The Bitter End. Pat would set up and play then we’d wonder down the street to Kenny’s Castaways. There were days when Pat wasn’t playing but we’d go and check out the music.
On certain nights bands would be lined up like airplanes on a Friday night at Newark. The Bitter End was great, Pat and I were always greeted with a smile and a hug from Kenny Gorka, who was responsible for the talent and was a partner at the Bitter End. Kenny was also an original member of the band Critters. Kenny always loved to talk music and appreciated great talent.
Pat Kenny owned at one time both The Bitter End and Kenny’s Castaways, both on Bleeker Street just a couple of doors down from each other. He would eventually sell The Bitter End but kept Kenny’s Castaways. Pat Kenny was an Irish immigrant who loved music and built these two clubs that featured some up-and-coming talent.
Talent like Bob Dylan, Bruce Springsteen, Peter, Paul and Mary, Billy Crystal, David Brenner, Patti Smith, The New York Dolls, George Carlin, Lady Gaga and so many other legends were all part of the fabric of The Bitter End and Kenny’s Castaways.
So one night many moons ago, Pat Guadagno and I hit The Bitter End to talk to Kenny and listen to some great music. Pat says, let’s go down and see if anybody is around Kenny’s Castaways. So we walk down and look in, the place is closing, no one is there but the bartender who we can’t make out to well.
Well after looking further we see that it’s Tommy Kenny, Pat Kenny’s son, he sees us, recognizes Pat and opens the door and invites us in for a cocktail. So as we’re sitting at the bar Tommy asks if his dad ever showed us THE Doc Pomus book. We answer no and from behind the bar, like it was a book of cocktail recipes, Tommy pulls out this old black and white notebook and says, “it’s Doc Pomus’ notebook.”
It was the book of his handwritten lyrics, and notes to every one of his amazing hits along with crossed out words and cliff notes. I literally got goose bumps and felt a pit in my stomach, which is hard to do with me! Here it was, every word, in the handwriting of Doc Pomus.
I asked Tommy how his dad came across it, Tommy said that his dad and Doc Pomus were friends and Doc used to come in and write. He gave it to him before his death in 1991. To see the changes that Doc made to make the hits that we all know so well was surreal.
One of the songs that he wrote, Save the Last Dance for Me, in the notes he wrote I can’t dance but then crossed it out and the song took another angle. Doc Pomus had polio when he was a child so he was on crutches most of his life and later years in a wheelchair.
So when he wrote Save the Last Dance for Me he was stating “you can dance every dance with the guy who gives you the eye, let him hold you tight. You can smile every smile for the man who held your hand beneath the pale moon light. But don't forget who's taking you home and in whose arms you're gonna be. So darling, save the last dance for me."
Pat Guadagno and I sat there for a couple of hours looking and going over each page of that notebook. It was a night I’ll never forget. Thanks Tommy for sharing that book, thanks Pat for all the good times we shared and most importantly, thank you Doc Pomus.
The post above reflects the thoughts and observations of New Jersey 101.5 weekend host Big Joe Henry. Any opinions expressed are Big Joe’s own.