By Wayne Robbins
BRUCE SPRINGSTEEN and Patti Smith, Billy Joel and the Police, the Go-Gos and Eddie Murphy, Joan Jett and Pat Benatar, Blondie and Talking Heads. All of them were unknown, or at best, rummors when they first appeared at My Father's Place, the homely and homey music club at 19 Bryant Ave. in Roslyn. The days of such talent nurturing are over. Last Sunday night, the Blue Oyster Cult - a Long Island-based group that for 10 years has been one of America's most successful hard rock bands - gave what amounted to the last official performance at the club. (Concerts will continue on an irregular basis until next month.) My Father's Place, which for more than 11 years has had everything from hootenannies to Rastafarian reggae, from punk rock to folk music to Henny Youngman, will soon be part of history.
"I've been bummed out all week," My Father's Place's Michael "Eppy" Epstein said over dinner in a North Shore delicatessen before last Sunday's show. "I would've liked to have more time to plan a great month or two of closing. It's like we just laid this on people - like they come up and say, 'Oh, my God, I just heard you're closing. I had no idea'". The reason that Eppy, as he prefers to be called, is closing the club is the same reason he couldn't go out with more of a bang. "No one is touring - I closed at an inopportune time to create some magic at the end." He blames the evaporation of tour support money,. with which record companies would help under-write concerts by new or developing artists, for the dearth of acts available for his club.
My Father's Place opened Memorial Day weekend, 1971, with a concert by the popular folk singer Richie Havens. Havens and Epstein had met four years earlier. Epstein, who grew up in Rockville Centre, had gone to college in Boston and was operating a head shop in Cape Cod's Provincetown when Havens walked in the door. After Havens' performance at a local club that night, Epstein hosted an all-night party. Their friendship apparently was sealed that night as Havens, in a reaction to a challenge by Epstein, gave a six-hour, midnight-to dawn dissertation on the cosmic meaning of belly button.
In 1969, Epstein and his cousin, Richie Hersh, opened Neverwhen, the first of Roslyn's hip boutiques, where you could buy everything from mini- skirts to cigarette rolling paper to organic food. Two years later, Epstein and Hersh bought a 49 per cent interest in a run-down country-western bar on Bryant Avenue owned bv Jay Linehan and began booking folk, rock and blues acts in the building that had been, in previous incarnations, a funeral home. a courthouse, and a nine-lane bowling alley. "I pleaded with Richie [Havens] to help me with artists," Epstein said. "He helped me get the folkies. He got me Buzzy Linhart, Buzzy got me Carly Simon, and it started to develop. Biff Rose, James Cotton. Randy Burns and the Skydog Band - remember, they were a big attraction then - the Colwell- Winfield Blues Band."
Epstein, who at 16 was playing guitar with rock bands in the Borscht Belt. still had plenty to learn about the pop booking business. "I didn't know what I was doing - I didn't even know what Billboard [the trade magazine] was. I started calling people up. I called Lou Adler [a prominent record execu- tive and manager] up. and said I'd like to get Carole King here, I've got a club on Long Island. He said, 'How many do you seat?' And I said, 'Oh, 350 or so.' The next thing I hear is this [exaggerated fake laughter] 'hah-hah-hah.' as he slams the phone down."
There were also times when family connections and dumb luck helped put My Father's Place on the map. "Jay Linehan's third wife's son was married to this guy Mike Appel's sister, whose name was Con- nie," Epstein recalled. "Mike Appel was introduced to me, since he was a young entrepreneur and man- ager, and since I was in the family, I was asked to find a slot for his new act - Bruce Springsteen." Epstein put Springsteen on as an opening act for the Paul Winter Consort, an extremely mellow group that blended jazz with meditative eastern music. "It was the worst show I ever packaged," Epstein said. "I seem to remember the audience being in a catatonic state." Soon after the release of the first album, Springsteen returned to the club for a memorable four-night serie's as a headliner. Epstein re- calls that, thanks to the tradition of tour support, he got Springsteen and the entire E Street Band for the four-night, eight-shou- run for $400. Going through Epstein's scrapbook brought back a wide range of memories. Billy Joel played the club when his ill-fated debut solo album. "Cold Spring Harbor," was released, and later performed there when success was an unlikely prospect, Joan Jett performed at my Father's Place with the Runaways, an all girl hard rock band she began as a teenager, and the Blackhearts, her present band, just before reaching international acclaim.
Eddie Murphy, the comic and actor from Roosevelt who is now arguably the hottest performer in the entertainment world, play at the club as part of a trio called 'The Identical Triplets (with Bob Nelson and Jim Meyers), only the opening night of a comedy series called Long Island Ha-Ha. A who's who of contemporary comedians, including George Carlin, Robert Klein, Billy Crystal, Cheech and Chong, played at the club on their way up and kept returning long after each could count on bigger paychecks elsewhere.
At a farewell press conference a few weeks ago, Klein recalled a few of the highlights of his career at My Father's Place. He got his nose broken in a fight with some drunken hecklers - the only time, he said, that he E had ever engaged in a fistfight with members of his audience. He also learned to pay heed , to the rites of his religion. "I played there on Yom Kippur eight years ago, and got a puss wart," Klein said. He said he no longer performs on that Jewish holiday. Epstein was probably the only major club owner in America to regularly incorporate reggae into his bookings. Short of Boh Marley and the Wailers, every major reggae attraction , Burning Spear, Third World, the Mighty Diamonds, Big Youth, Peter Tosh, and Culture among many - has appeared at My Father's Place. The group Culture was a special favorite of Keith Richards and Ron Wood of the Rolling Stones, and the two often joined that Jamaican band for on-stage jamming and post-concert backstage celebrations, for which Epstein had to be sure to keep an extra stock of overproof rum on hand.
My Father's Place was also the first place on Long Island to book the punk rock and new wave bands that were gaining popularity in Manhattan. Because those bands were so little known at the time, Epstein took to booking them under the rubric "CBGB's Night," after the Bowery club that was home base to many of the groups. The Patti Smith Group, Blondie (as an opening act for John Cale), Talking Heads, and the Ramones all played at the club. The first time the Ramones played, in 1971, they drew fewer than 50 people; two years later, there wasn't a seat or standing room in the house.
The Police played one of their first North American concerts at My Father's Place. Little more than a year later, their popularity had exploded so that the Anglo-American trio ~ headlined at Nassau Coliseum. Onstage at the Coliseum that night, the band shared with the audience the hope that they could make the hockey arena feel as intimate as the tiny Roslyn club. That was the biggest compliment an artist could pay," Epstein said. '"that we were an environment that made the artists comfortable, where they could develop and grow." That will be no more. The building - if its new operators are granted the appropriate licenses - will undergo renovation and become a contemporary dance club with live performers and video. Epstein has joined forces with a pay-TV company. They'll program and operate scrambled-signal, wireless, pay-TV stations in Florida and New Mexico while looking for a centrally located site on Long Island for a new My Father's Place. with television studio facilities, to rise upon. Epstein has maintained rights to the name. Until then, he may also promote occasional concert in a club somewhere in western Suffolk o eastern Nassau.
"In closing, we'll build a bigger and better room," Epstein said. "We've gone as far as w can with this room, the way the music industry. A new My Father's Place may be bigger, brighter, more comfortable, more modern. But it will never be the same.