Saturday, September 27, 2008

Buzz Poets

buzz poets
from Buzz

In 1997, a flashy, trashy band of rockers hit the Pittsburgh scene with a high energy, alt-rock style that was a cross of ska, rap, pop, and punk rolled into one fireball.

Area fans looking for something different from the usual classic rock/R&B sound that the city thrived on embraced the group. They were the Buzz Poets.

Ron "Tripper" Garrison (guitar & vocals), a Texas transplant, hooked up with locals Phil MacDowell (guitar), Todd Demont (bass, guitar, keyboard) and Dave Robertson (drums) to form the band.

They thought their material was cutting edge enough to name themselves after the avant garde beatnik generation of the 1950's, although in truth their early tunes were more noted for scatology than lyric content and their live shows featured crotch rocking antics on stage, ala Mick Jagger.

The plural at the end of the name was intentional, because the band collaborated on their songs as a whole, not depending on a single writer as so many other groups did, although Garrison and MacDowell did the heavy lifting.

And oddly, to a man, the group cited the clean-cut Beatles as their musical muse.

In 1998, they made their move to break out when they won the Graffiti Rock Challenge, and were a mid-Atlantic semifinalist in the Discmakers Music World Series. The performances created a surging positive buzz for the band.

After selling 1,000 copies of their first self-released album, "Planet Buzz," they spent their prize money on a second pressing, changing one song, and recording some new material to jump start future projects at McKeesport's Soundscape Studio.

In January of 1999, they won the Ernie Ball Music Man Battle of the Bands. Some 5,000 groups competed in the guitar string maker's national bash, seeking their fame and fortune.

The contest finale was held at the Los Angeles Hard Rock Cafe during the music industry convention, and everybody who mattered was there. Ahmet and Dweezil Zappa were judges, along with a panel of music biz suits.

The shows put their act in front of dozens of A&R reps from indie & major labels and big-time booking agents, showcased them for management companies and gave them a face for the local and national media. Drinking tequila and horsing around backstage before the gig, the Poets put on the performance of their life in LA.

MacDowell recalled that "Everything went right. I think it was one of the best shows so far in our career." But like the tale of so many Pittsburgh acts, the sizzle never turned into steak, even as they opened for groups like Weird Al, 311 and Blink 182.

Gaber tried to both manage and play, and between what they were looking for in creative control and having no one to represent them full-time to the industry, it never happened. It didn't help that they drew from a number of musical genres, and never established a distinct pigeon hole that the suits look for in a band.

The Buzz Poets were a hard-working and popular road act, and often played 200 or more gigs a year. It's hard to fault Gaber when most of his time was spent just booking dates.

They instead took a stab at the underground route to success, pushing their music through college & FM radio, P2P and file downloads, plus word-of-mouth from their live shows. It got them a name, some play, and a reputation, but not a contract.

The Poets cut more LP's and EP's, adding "Alcohol Abuse Live," (1999) "Pretzel Sex," (2000) "Buzz Poets" (2001) and "Two Sides" (2003) to their discography.

Their last two efforts showed a more mature side of the band after releasing what was basically rowdy and sexually loaded frat house stuff in their earlier CD's. The Poets also released four music vids.

The band had remarkably few personnel changes over its eight year run as Pittsburgh's top alt-rock group.

Tripper was a spike-haired songwriter, a former violinist and son of born-again Christians whose stage persona was anything but righteous. If his mom ever caught his act, she would have surely taken some soap to his mouth to wash it clean, hehe.

MacDowell was his songwriting sidekick and came from a family with roots to composer Edward MacDowell, who wrote the Tin Pan Alley standard "To a Wild Rose," still popular fare for marching bands.

Tim Gaber, of Brownie Mary fame, was the Poet's manager until original bassist and founding father Demont left for personal reasons. Gaber ended up filling both roles.

Robertson was was replaced behind the kit by Ron Lavella, who played in PUSH and Too Tall Jones. The Robertson split was brought on by the dreaded "creative difference" syndrome.

He wanted the band to take a heavier metal direction, while the group was more comfortable in its alt-rock niche. The Poets said it was an amicable split, although there were rumors that it was causing some dissension in the ranks.

Justin Sarra, a DJ, joined the Buzz Poets and added his turntable, keyboard and special effects board to the group's repertoire.

The thrashy alt-rock band called it a day after a farewell show at Nick's Fat City on Friday, July 23, 2004. The ultimate blow was delivered when Garrison went back home to Texas to get married, where he now runs a video production company (and wears a tie and has a short haircut).

For nearly a decade, the Buzz Poets were Pittsburgh's top alt band, and a wildly successful live act. And they'll be forever remembered as another member of the long list of shoulda-been City hitmakers. It's a tough town to break out of in the music industry's eyes.

And guess what - they're back. Three original members (Phil MacDowell, Tim Gaber and Justin Sarra) plus guitarist-singer Zig (The Delaneys) and drummer Matt Gray (Dirty Black Horses) reformed the Buzz Poets in 2009. Missing are Tripper and Lavella, who now plays the kit for Vertical Horizon. So even if you missed the nineties, you'll still be able to catch their act once again.

"Lemonade" live at Club Laga (and if four letter words offend you, pass on this vid!)

Monday, September 22, 2008

Fatha Hines

Earl "Fatha" Hines from Riverwalk Jazz

Earl Kenneth "Fatha" Hines was born in Duquesne on December 28, 1903, a late Christmas gift that jazz and music fans would enjoy for the next eight decades.

His dad Joe, a foreman at the local coal dock, played the cornet and was the leader of the Eureka Brass Band, while his stepmom Mary, who raised him from the age of 3, was a church organist.

Hines started out emulating his father by playing cornet, but "blowing" gave him a headache, something the piano didn't. He took classical piano lessons and played organ for his Baptist church, and also developed an ear for show tunes. Hines was able to play the songs he heard from memory, though he learned early on how to read music.

He moved on to Pittsburgh to attend Schenley High School, staying with his aunt, Sadie Phillips, who sang professionally in light opera. Hines was exposed to jazz while a Spartan, and that was the end of the classical training of mom and aunt. He went full tilt boogie.

At the age of 15, he formed a trio with a violinist and a drummer. They played at school functions, nightclubs, and church socials. His schedule became so packed by the time he was 16 that his teachers advised him to drop out of school and pursue his musical star.

At 17, Hines left his nest to take a job playing with Lois Deppe & his Serenaders in the Liederhaus (Leader House), a local nightclub, for two meals a day and $15 a week.

Deppe was a well-known Wylie Avenue baritone who sang pop numbers. He used Hines as his accompanist when the band toured Ohio, West Virginia, and New York City. Hines' first recordings were made with him and the band, but just as a sideman, not a soloist.

In 1924, he left Deppe to form a band of his own, with Benny Carter on sax. A year later, he heeded the advice of Eubie Blake to leave Pittsburgh and showcase his talents to a bigger audience, where they'd be more widely appreciated.

So Hines moved to Chicago in its jazz heyday, home to players like King Oliver, Jelly Roll Morton, Benny Goodman, and Frank Teschemacher. He caught on as a pianist with Carroll Dickerson's band, and eventually met Louis Armstrong.

They became compadres and got gigs together with Dickerson's band at the Sunset Cafe. In 1927, Armstrong took over the band and put it under the musical direction of Hines. They also took a shot at running the club.

Under Armstrong's influence, he originated the “trumpet style” of piano playing, in which he produced hornlike solo lines on octaves with his right hand and the harmony with his left.

Hines told the Chicago Jazz Magazine "When I was in the band I thought of myself as another instrument similar to the horns. In other words I used to team up with the other horns with my right hand, see? That's the reason why they call my playing that, trumpet style."

"I was amazed to find a trumpet player like Louis who was playing the things that I wanted to play. We were actually playing the same things, the same style. Only he was playing it on trumpet, I was playing it on piano. We used to copy from each other. If he used to make a run I'd steal it and say 'thank you.' And I'd make one and he'd steal it and say 'thank you'."

Armstrong revamped his Okeh Records recording band, Louis Armstrong's Hot Five, by replacing his pianist wife, Lil Hardin Armstrong, with Hines.

Hines also recorded 14 solos that year, including a homage to his roots, "57 Varieties." After flopping as managers of the Sunset club, he and Armstrong went their separate ways. Armstrong returned to Dickerson, and Hines joined Jimmie Noone's band at the Apex Club.

In 1928, Hines recorded several songs with Noone, including "Apex Blues", and made a series of influential recordings with Armstrong, among them the seminal trumpet and piano duet "Weather Bird."

On his 25th birthday in 1928, Hines formed his own ensemble, the Earl Hines Orchestra. For 11 years they were the house band of The Grand Terrace Cafe.

The club was controlled by Al Capone, who called Hines his "Mr. Piano Man." Hines would refer to his band as "The Organization," maybe in recognition of Scarface, or maybe because it often featured two dozen or more members.

They cut wax for Victor in 1929, Brunswick from 1932–1934, Decca from 1934–1935, Vocalion from 1937–1938, and for Bluebird from 1939 until the recording blackout during the war years of 1942-1945.

From The Grand Terrace, Hines and his band played live in front of open radio mikes, sometimes seven nights a week, coast to coast, across America. The Earl Hines Orchestra became the most widely broadcast band in America. It's also where he got his nickname of "Fatha," from the show's radio announcer.

The story is that Hines offered the soused radioman some “fatherly” advice about drinking on the job. The announcer retaliated by introducing him as “Fatha” Hines, and the nickname stuck. For the record, he never did care for the moniker.

The Hines band did three shows a night, four shows every Saturday, and sometimes played on Sundays. Each summer, the whole band toured for three months, including the Chitlin' Circuit.

Sometimes Hines signed other pianists to play, allowing him to conduct the Organization without any distractions. Jess Stacy was one of his sit-ins, and Nat "King" Cole was another, but Cliff Smalls was his favorite.

Charlie Parker got his first professional job with Hines until he was fired for his "time-keeping." Parker was chronically late for the shows, even resorting to sleeping under The Grand Terrace stage in an effort to beat the clock, but with no luck. Hines gave Bird the boot.

It was during the 1940s that the Hines' band's late night jam sessions laid the seeds for the upcoming bebop revolution in jazz with players like Parker and Dizzy Gillespie. Hines led his big band until 1948, taking time out to front the Duke Ellington orchestra in 1944 while Duke was ill.

As a band leader, Hines was generous in dishing out solos and keeping his hands off his player's creativity. He was a gifted composer and arranger, but Hines gave his band's arrangers free rein to explore the idiom. He was the only constant.

Some think the lack of a signature style let the bands of Duke Ellington, Count Basie, Glenn Miller, and Benny Goodman leapfrog Hine's crew in popularity. And while he recorded some top hits - "Piano Man," "Boogie Woogie on the St. Louis Blues," "Jelly, Jelly," and "Stormy Monday Blues," stardom stayed an arm's length away.

Hines, still physically beat from an auto wreck in 1946, tired of the rat race of running a big band and the genre's general postwar decline, broke up the group and returned to to the 88's with an old friend.

He joined the Louis Armstrong All Stars in 1948, sitting in with trombonist Jack Teagarden, clarinetist Barney Bigard, bassist Arvell Shaw, and drummer Sid Catlett. In 1951, finally wearying of the same playlist show after show and chafing at being a sideman, the pianist left and formed his own group.

He hit the road with his combo until 1955. Hines then settled down at the Club Hangover in San Francisco for five years and bought a home in nearby Oakland.

In 1960, with enough socked away to retire and spend his time with his second love, bowling, Hines opened a tobacconist's shop, and covered his keyboards, performing only when the spirit moved him. The dapper, cigar-chomping musician was ready to enjoy some hard earned down time.

But in 1964, at the urging of Stanley Dance, his bud, de facto manager, and eventual biographer, Hines performed three recitals at The Little Theatre in New York.

They were the first piano solos Hines, who always thought of himself as a band pianist, had ever given. The one man shows caused a sensation in the Big Apple and across the country. "What is there left to hear after you've heard Earl Hines?" asked the New York Times. Fatha Hines was back in the limelight.

Hines won the 1966 "International Critics Poll" for Down Beat Magazine's "Hall of Fame," and was elected the world's "No 1 Jazz Pianist," by DBM, an honor he was to take five more times. He took Esquire's "Silver Award."

Jazz Journal awarded his LP's of the year first and second in their overall poll and first, second and third in their piano category. Jazz voted him "Jazzman of the Year" and selected his LP's as #1 and 2 in the piano recordings category. He also hit the small screen, landing on Johnny Carson's and Mike Douglas' TV shows.

Hines was inducted into the Jazz Hall of Fame in 1965.

From then until he died twenty years later, Hines recorded endlessly with jazz notables like Roy Eldridge, Duke Ellington, Ella Fitzgerald, Dizzy Gillespie, Lionel Hampton, Gene Krupa, Oscar Peterson, Pee Wee Russell, Maxine Sullivan, Jack Teagarden, Sarah Vaughan, Teddy Wilson, Jimmy Witherspoon, and Lester Young.

He also teamed with pop artists such as Teresa Brewer, The Inkspots, Peggy Lee, Charlie Mingus, Dinah Washington, and even Ry Cooder. But his most acclaimed recordings of this period were his solo performances. Just a band pianist, hmmph!

In 1968, Hines toured South America, Europe, and Asia, Australia, Japan and the Soviet Union. During his 6-week Soviet Union tour, the 10,000 seat Kiev Sports Palace was sold out, and the fans were wild. As a result, the Kremlin cancelled his Moscow and Leningrad concerts because they were "too culturally dangerous," hehe.

He played solo in The White House (twice) and for the Pope. We assume His Holiness and the Commander-in-Chief weren't corrupted by the cultural dangers of jazz.

Hines cut solo tributes to Louis Armstrong, Hoagy Carmichael, Duke Ellington, George Gershwin, and Cole Porter in the 1970s, often banging away on his 1904, 12-legged Steinway that was gifted to him in 1969 by Scott Newhall, the managing editor of the San Francisco Chronicle.

In 1974 alone, while in his seventies, Hines recorded sixteen LPs. Between his 1964 comeback until his death, he cut a total of 90 albums or so.

He was noted in the music industry for going into a studio and coming out an hour or two later with a finished recording. And that included his BS and coffee time, and ideally a snifter of brandy or two, just to keep the brain and his fingers nimble.

Retakes were almost unheard of during his sessions, except when Hines wanted to try a tune again, but turned around in some way from his first effort. It's great to know what you're doing, especially when you love what you're doing.

His music was indeed his first love, and it showed in his relationships. Hines was briefly married to singer Laura Badge in the early 1920’s and had a common-law wife, singer Kathryn Perry. In 1947 Hines married Janie Moses and had two daughters, Tosca and Janear. They divorced in 1980.

In the later years of his life, he suffered from heart problems and arthritis. He passed away a few days after his last show, on April 22, 1983 in Oakland from a heart attack.

On his tombstone is the simple inscription PIANO MAN. 'Nuff said.

"The One I Love Belongs To Someone Else" - Earl "Fatha" Hines

Sunday, September 14, 2008

Maxine Sullivan...Loch Lomond Via Homestead

Maxine Sullivan from the New York Times

Maxine Sullivan was born Marietta Williams in Homestead on May 13, 1911, the daughter of a barber. The records she grew up with were by Bessie Smith, Fletcher Henderson and her favorite, Ethel Waters. Even though she never had any true musical training, those were pretty good teachers.

Sullivan got her professional start with her Uncle Harry Williams, who let her sing with his four-piece combo, "The Red Hot Peppers."

She was 19, graduated from high school with a son and broken marriage. She worked as a domestic by day and gigged with Uncle Harry at night until 1936, when she struck out on her own.

Big-band pianist Gladys Mosier caught her act at the Benjamin Harrison Literary Club, a small Liberty Avenue speakeasy snuggled between Smithfield and Grant, and said to be run by the mob. She sang from table to table, backed by a piano, and pulled in $14 per week, plus tips.

Mosier liked what she heard and introduced her discovery to band leader Claude Thornhill. It was a life altering hook-up. Sullivan made her first records in the Big Apple in June, 1937, under the wing of Thornhill and accompanied by his all-star band.

She had to screw up all her courage to take on the City That Never Sleeps. In fact, she had a return ticket tucked in her purse for the ride back home. But Sullivan never got to use it, and she made New York City her new home.

The critics at Metronome gave the discs good reviews. The session produced a hit record, a swing version of the Scottish folk song "Loch Lomond." Sullivan made the cover of Life magazine, and was featured as a vocalist on the CBS radio program "Saturday Night Swing Club." The song would become her signature piece.

Interestingly, Thornhill's decision to record folk and old standards wasn't a retro movement on his part. Like many Depression Era artists that didn't write their own tunes, he selected songs already in the public domain so he could avoid paying royalties.

Besides saving a buck and christening Sullivan's career, the song also stereotyped her to the public as a rockin' folkie, even though she had a cool, sweet jazz voice. Future sessions found her singing vintage folk tunes such as "I Dream of Jeanie," "Drink to Me Only With Thine Eyes", "If I Had a Ribbon Bow," "Molly Malone," and "Who Is Sylvia?" She never shed the folk/pop label for many of her fans.

Around the same time, Sullivan worked 52nd Street's Onyx Club in New York. She met bassist John Kirby there, and they made more than sweet music together. They were soon wed.

Kirby had worked with Fletcher Henderson and Red Allen. The bass man had recorded with Teddy Wilson, Willie "The Lion" Smith, Frankie Newton, Midge Williams, Charlie Barnet, and Lionel Hampton, and his contacts helped launch Sullivan's career. But their wedded bliss didn't have much of a shelf life, and they divorced in 1941.

In 1940 Sullivan and Kirby were featured on the CBS radio program "Flow Gently Sweet Rhythm," becoming the first black jazz stars to have their own weekly radio series. The show ended along with their marriage in the fall of 1941, but was taped by World and Associated for posterity.

Sullivan gigged at popular New York clubs like Le Ruban Bleu and the Village Vanguard. She developed a large following singing pop standards such as “I’ve Got the World on a String,” “Come Rain or Come Shine,” and “Skylark,” along with show tunes by Gershwin, Porter, and Noel Coward.

In the mid 1940s she recorded on the Decca and RCA Victor labels with Teddy Wilson, Benny Carter, and Jimmie Lunceford, doing mainly ballads. She toured Great Britain in 1948 and again in 1954.

She also appeared in the movies "St. Louis Blues" (starring Dorothy Lamour) and "Going Places" (with Ronald Reagan, Dick Powell and Louis Armstrong). On stage, Sullivan appeared in "Swingin’ The Dream" in 1939, and "Take A Giant Step" in 1953.

But with all that, Sullivan had pretty much fallen off of the jazz map until 1955 and 1956, when she recorded with Earl "Fatha" Hines, Dick Hyman, Buster Bailey, Charlie Shavers, and Russell Procope. It was a brief return to fame.

In the late 50’s she studied to become a nurse and took up the valve trombone and flugelhorn, which she played at numerous concerts and festivals later in her career. From 1958 to 1966, she became a nurse. Odd switch, hey?

Not really. She took a hiatus from the music industry to join the mommy track so she could raise her daughter, then 12, and was a community activist in the Morrisania section of the Bronx. She was elected to the local school board, served as P.T.A. president under her birth name, Marietta Williams, and was even a teacher's aide at her girl's junior high school.

In 1966, she returned to the floodlights, playing with her new hubby, pianist Cliff Jackson. From then until 1986 she continued to appear at festivals, recorded several Concord sessions with Scott Hamilton, and sometimes joined Jackson's group, the World's Greatest Jazz Band. Sullivan often played the trombone and flugelhorn during her act.

When Jackson died in 1970, Sullivan decided to open a jazz community center and museum dedicated to him, which she called the House That Jazz Built. It opened on July 19, 1975, with a party featuring the World’s Greatest Jazz Band with Sullivan on vocals.

Her career was back on top of the world. She received a Tony Award nomination for her performance in “My Old Friends” on Broadway and three Grammy nominations. Sullivan toured France and Sweden several times. Her last recorded concert was at the Fujitsu-Concord Jazz festival held in Tokyo in September, 1986.

Her hometown fans hadn't forgotten her. On March 15, 1984, she performed a concert at Walt Harper's in One Oxford Centre. Earlier in the day, then-Mayor Richard Caliguiri proclaimed "Maxine Sullivan Day" in Pittsburgh and state Rep Mike Dawida of Homestead read a citation from the Pennsylvania House dedicated to her.

A collection of her memorabilia is on display at Homestead's Carnegie Library. It's fitting in more ways than one. Sullivan made her first public appearance in 1918 at the Library at the tender age of seven, way before gaining international stardom.

She was slated to be the guest of honor at the 1987 Mellon Jazz Festival, but the Lord had other plans.

Maxine Sullivan died of cancer on April 7, 1987, little more than one month short of her 76th birthday. The last song she performed at the Fujitsu–Concord Jazz Festival and her final recorded track was "Loch Lomond." May the circle be unbroken.

"You Turned the Tables on Me" from the Manassas Jazz Festival

Saturday, September 6, 2008

Pave Paradise...

The Syria Mosque from Pitt Digital Library

The Syria Mosque didn’t go down without a fight in 1991. Current state senator Jim Ferlo and the late Friendship gadfly John Murdoch tied themselves to the sphinxes outside the building in an effort to stay the bulldozers from a midnight leveling of the Mosque. The final chapter was written when Pittsburgh's finest carted them away. It was a fittingly dramatic farewell to the long-time home of the City’s most eclectic and eccentric gathering spot.

The Mosque was the clubhouse of Pittsburgh’s Syria Temple, a service group best known for its circuses and clowns tootling around on mini-cars while raising serious benjamins for children’s free health care in Shriner hospitals. After 40 years of existence, in 1916 the guys opened a meeting hall/entertainment venue in Oakland to further the cause.

The main entrance was on Bigelow Boulevard, with a side door on Lytton Avenue, across Fifth Avenue from Soldier and Sailor’s Memorial Hall. The building itself was a boxy terra cotta affair, designed by Huehl, Schmidt & Holmes of Chicago. It was hardly the stuff you’d think that historic preservation firefights are made of, but it did become one at the end.

It was tough to miss the doors – both were guarded by a pair of 2,500 pound bronze sphinxes, designed by Giuseppe Moretti, who also sculpted the panthers gracing the Panther Hollow Bridge by the Oakland Carnegie Library.

It had an Arabic motto above main gateway, which translated meant “Thou Hast Risen on the Horizon of the Kingdom Full of Mercy to Disperse What There Was of Dark Oppression and Justice.” It’s from an old poem (no, don’t know which one), and proved that the Shriners were righteous dudes, fez hats and all.

Two dozen stained glass windows adorned the 3,850 seat auditorium, along with a huge honkin’ chandelier. In a 1973 concert, the diva of kitsch, Bette Midler, told the crowd “I love the chandelier. They should sell it to Diana Ross for an earring.” She also asked her audience “What the blankety-blank is this, the Cairo Hilton?”

In fact, Mrs. Old Mon remembers that show well. She went during her Pitt years, and recalls that when Midler took her break, she introduced her arranger, who played a set while she changed wardrobes. It was the then-unknown Barry Manilow.

But the Mosque was built to attract a crowd and money for the Shriner’s kids, not stroke the Divine Miss M's sense of decor, and was an unqualified success. For many years, Pittsburgh’s Temple was the top fund raiser of all the Shriner chapters.

It would take on any event. Harry Truman, Dwight Eisenhower, Richard Nixon, and JFK had campaign bashes there, and it was the long time home for the local Democratic Party’s endorsement votes. Malcolm X had a rally at the Mosque. Old Mon remembers Pitt’s Greek Week festivities taking place downstairs, along with many other university sponsored shows and events. Roseanne Barr did her schtick on its stage. But its raison d’etre was music.

Long before the Cultural District was a gleam in the civic fathers’ eyes, it hosted long hairs like Enrico Caruso, Artur Rubenstein, Van Cliburn, Leopold Stokowski, Arturo Toscanini, Eugene Ormandy, Roberta Peters, Isaac Stern, Richard Tucker, Mario Lanza, Marian Anderson, Paul Robeson, Pittsburgh's own National Negro Opera Company, George Gershwin, Yul Brynner, Henry Fonda, Eleonora Duse (she died here a week later, and Pittsburgh was held at fault, even tho she was 64 and had lung disease. Then again, the Smoky City of that era was rough on anyone's lungs, so...) and Anna Moffo. The Pittsburgh Symphony moved up the street from the Carnegie Music Hall to the Mosque in 1926, and the Opera Company came aboard in 1942.

It served the hoi polloi as well. Early acts performing at the Mosque were Satchmo, Sammy Kaye, Guy Lombardo, Tommy Dorsey, Glenn Miller, Count Basie, Duke Ellington, Benny Goodman, Art Blakey, Dizzy Gillispie, Art Tatum, Sarah Vaughan, Bird Parker, Nat King Cole, Woody Herman, Liberace, Art Fiedler and the Boston Pops, Lawrence Welk, the Mills Brothers, the Ink Spots, Dinah Shore, and even Spike Jones and Victor Borge.

In January of 1949, Slim Bryant and the Wildcats appeared on the first broadcast of WDTV/KDKA. It was from the Syria Mosque, as was Pittsburgh's first national broadcast, a live take of Ed Sullivan's "Toast of the Town" show on June 3, 1951.

And when rock and R&B became the next big thing, the Syria Mosque opened its arms to welcome them, too. It hosted Chuck Berry, James Brown (he was blacklisted after a particularly, um, vigorous performance in 1963), Bo Diddley, Etta James, Big Joe Turner, LaVerne Baker, Clyde McPhatter, Frankie Lymon and the Teenagers, Danny and the Juniors, Screamin’ Jay Hawkins, Buddy Holly and the Crickets, Bill Haley and the Comets (he was banned after a wild 1956 show), Fabian, Bobby Rydell, Paul Anka, Pat Boone, Frankie Avalon, Miles Davis, Dave Bruback, the Drifters, the Coasters, the Platters, Sam Cooke, Fats Domino, Little Richard, Jackie Wilson, Harry Belafonte, Ray Charles, Carl Perkins, Jerry Lee Lewis, the Everly Brothers, Eddie Cochran, Duane Eddy, Marty Robbins, Hank Snow, Joan Baez, Bob Dylan, Peter, Paul and Mary, the Kingston Trio, S&G, the Allman Brothers (it was Duane Allman's last show - ever), the Kinks, the Yardbirds, the Who, the Band, Van Morrison (it was his only Pittsburgh appearance), and Pink Floyd.

In case you're wondering how Elvis missed that list of acts, the explanation is simple. His hot hip-swiveling, lip-sneering performance was banned in advance by the hall. The Shriners had a keen eye for community standards, and wouldn't touch the King with a ten foot pole, no matter how much loot his act would bring the box office.

On August 7th, 1946, it hosted a Pittsburgh Courier-sponsored “Night of Stars” featuring Maxine Sullivan, Earl Hines, Mary Lou Williams, Billy Eckstine, Errol Gardner, Lois Deppe, Ray Brown, Roy Eldrich and Buddy Bowser. No false advertising there.

The Skyliners grabbed the stage in 1959 as part of Dick Clark’s “Caravan of Stars.” Porky Chedwick held his “Groove Spectaculars” at the hall, as did KQV and its "Rock Festivals."

No self respecting Rock and Roll tour showcasing local and national acts would pass the Steel City without booking a night or three at the Mosque, even though it nearly scratched rock acts off the list when 700 seats were destroyed after a 1963 Chuck Berry show. Promoter Joe Rock eventually sweet talked the Shriner suits into another chance.

David Parr of the LaRells, who played the Civic Arena but never gigged at the Mosque, recalled the national R&B revues fondly, and got to meet groups like the Shirelles and Bobbettes backstage after the show. His first memory of the Mosque was from his younger days:

"When I was a child, I loved Frankie Lymon. I remember going to the Mosque to see him. Although he was headlined on the bill, he never appeared on stage. (Lymon was notorious for being a no-show during his tours.) At the end of the show, I went back to the box office and told them I only came to see Frankie Lymon. I got my money back."

Try that today and see where your money ends up.

In 1971, the Symphony and Opera took their show downtown to Heinz Hall. But far from folding its tent, the Mosque just went out and signed some more rock acts to fill the empty dates. After all, between Pitt and CMU, it had a huge captive audience of young fans to separate from their money.

Isaac Hayes, Earth, Wind and Fire, Public Enemy, Taj Mahal, David Bowie, ZZ Top, Mott the Hoople, Frank Zappa and the Mothers, Santana, AWB, the Bee Gees, the Doobie Brothers, the Beach Boys, Seals and Croft, the Eagles, Sha Na Na, the Four Seasons, BTO, Kris Kristopherson, Lou Rawls, the Pointer Sisters, Whitney Houston, Anita Baker, Gladys Knight, Yes, Kansas, Genesis, America, Janis Ian, Helen Reddy, the Carpenters, Billy Joel, Tom Jones and Englebert Humperdinck picked up the slack.

They were hit with another blow in 1977 when Dicesare-Englert, Danny Kresky, and the Electric Factory all took their acts downtown to the Stanley. That created a bit of a lull, but in 1984 the City snapped up that venue to build the Benedum, and they came back, heads tucked under their tails.

The name acts continued to grace the mosque auditorium. Dire Straits, Smokey Robinson, Emmylou Harris, Bonnie Raitt, New Edition, Alice Cooper, Ted Nugent, the Cynics, the Cure, the Ramones, James Taylor, Debbie Boone, Perry Como, the Cars, Johnny Winter, Stevie Ray Vaughan, and Bruce Springsteen all took to the stage, along with every edgy, indy, or punk act that could draw enough warm bodies to pay the rent.

The last spotlight, as best we can determine, shined on the Kentucky Headhunters on March 23, 1991.

The decades had taken its toll on the old Mosque. There was no AC, too few restrooms (if you’re a vintage lady fan, you’ll recall, not too fondly, that the women’s loo in the ballroom had urinals until 1982), no elevators, tiny dressing rooms, lousy acoustics, and the building was an ADA nightmare.

The Temple estimated it would cost $23M to bring the Mosque up to City Code standards, and that was in 1990 dollars, when a buck was still more or less a buck. To boot, they were losing $500K a year operating the dinosaur.

So they put it up for sale, and a real circus broke out. The Shriners were hit with eight different lawsuits regarding the move, Pitt got into a bidding war for the property against its alter ego, UPMC, City Council preened, and generally bedlam reigned supreme over the whole affair.

Pitt won the rights to buy the site in 1991 after some favorable judicial opinions and $10M to the Temple. What’d they get? They paved paradise and put up a parking lot, which in a bit of irony is now used by UPMC. And the City finally got a bona fide historic society, Preservation Pittsburgh, birthed from the experience.

But it wasn't the age or architecture of the Syria Mosque that made it historic. It was the ghosts of performances past that gave it a history, one many people thought should have been its salvation. Tradition is more than bricks, mortar, bronze sphinxes, and glitzy chandeliers.

A new Mosque went up in Harmar Township, but its days as a music Valhalla were over. A few reminders of the old hall - the sphinxes, stained glass windows, main chandelier, and a 1915 time capsule - were incorporated into the new Mosque. The rest of the building was sold piecemeal by the wreckers as souvenirs.

But the music can never be replaced. Forget Cleveland's Rock and Roll Hall of Fame; Pittsburgh had its own in the Syria Mosque. And just like the Steelers in football, our version was better.

"The Weight" live by the Band at the Mosque in 1970