Landmarks on the rock ‘n’ roll highway
Bruce Springsteen never thought, “Wow. I’m playing on the same stage that Bad Sneakers did.” But the other way around? Sure. Here are some of the historic venues where the band appeared – and some that earned their own place in the Bad Sneakers story.
» Tony Mart’s, Somers Point, N.J.: “The rock ‘n’ roll epicenter of the Jersey Shore for many years,” writer Jeff Schwachter called it. Just outside dry Ocean City and a few miles from Atlantic City, Tony Mart’s closed in 1982 after nearly four decades. With seven bars and two stages, “Tony Mart’s has 36 bartenders and bouncers, called ‘crowd-control engineers,’ to keep things in hand,” Time magazine said in July 1966.
Canadian rockabilly band Levon and the Hawks were booked at Tony Mart’s through the summer of 1965, until Bob Dylan poached the band – later known as simply “The Band” – for his first electric tour. The sprawling club served as a set for the 1983 movie “Eddie and the Cruisers,” which spawned the hit song “On the Dark Side.”
Bad Sneakers played at Tony Mart’s in the club’s last years, at times sharing the bill with Doors tribute band Alien. “We’ve had the best bands in the world play here,” club founder Tony Marotta told writer William Kelly, Jr., in 1978. “And some of the worst, too.”
» Kenny’s Castaways, New York: “Since 1967, Kenny’s Castaways has been the house that rock built. Bruce Springsteen played his very first New York gig here. The New York Dolls, Patti Smith, Aerosmith, Rod Stewart and the Ramones are all part of Kenny’s history.”
Kenny’s Web site doesn’t specifically mention Bad Sneakers, but the band played this Greenwich Village landmark in the mid-’80s. “For some reason, New York liked us better than Philadelphia did,” Dale says.
» The Night Flight Cafe, Savannah, Ga.: On Savannah’s famed River Street, the Night Flight Cafe flourished in the ’70s and ’80s as a “listening venue” hosting the likes of 10,000 Maniacs, Roger McGuinn, Mick Taylor and John Hammond.
Musicians appreciated the warm reception, as well as the two-bedroom apartment on one of Savannah’s historic squares where bands stayed after the gig.
» The Stone Balloon, Newark, Del.: Rolling Stone magazine called it “the best-kept secret in rock ‘n’ roll.” Playboy named it one of the top 100 college bars in the United States.
“It just engulfed and took over the town. There were major lines, and every band wanted to play the Stone Balloon,” rhythm and blues singer Larry Tucker told writer Larry Procida in 2005. Tucker, one of the first acts to play the Balloon in the early ’70s, later hired Dale, Marc and Neal as backup musicians before the three joined Bad Sneakers in 1979. Watch
Over the decades, the Balloon hosted Bruce Springsteen, Ray Charles, Metallica, Cheap Trick, Hall and Oates, Todd Rundgren, Robert Palmer, Iggy Pop, Meatloaf, Pat Benatar, Jane’s Addiction, Eddie Murphy, Hootie and the Blowfish, Joe Walsh – and on quite a few evenings through the ’80s, Bad Sneakers.
The Balloon closed in December 2005 and was razed to make way for condos. Founder Bill Stevenson continued to pitch his memoir of the club’s early days. To accompany the book Stevenson sold chunks of stone, salvaged from the club’s facade and certified authentic.
» The Bottle and Cork, Dewey Beach, Del.: Opened in 1936 and still going strong, the Bottle and Cork styles itself “The Greatest Rock ‘n’ Roll Bar in the World.” Could be, too.
Soaked in sweat and beer, this stage saw Dave Matthews, Robert Palmer, Buddy Guy, Little Feat, Rusted Root, Greg Allman and a hard-working little band called Bad Sneakers. After hours, the party moved upstairs to a pine-paneled apartment that withstood a different touring band each week.
» The Tide, Beach Haven, N.J.: On Long Beach Island, the Tide was a bread-and-butter summer gig for Bad Sneakers. In later years the band stayed in a comfy apartment over the club, with easy after-gig access to the Tide marquee. In the early years, though, bands occupied a tottering beach house next to the Acme Bar. This sprawling hulk may have blown into the bay during a nor’easter.
» C-Town Saloon, Chestertown, Md.: “It’s a safe bet Bruce Springsteen never played here,” Dale says. “The C-Town was a hole-in-the-wall bar in a small college town. But it was our hole in the wall. Bad Sneakers played some of its first gigs here, and some of its last. In between, we kept going back because the people at C-Town knew how to treat a band.”