At the end of the sixties the Upper West Side neighborhood was quite rough. At the start of the seventies the Lighthouse [1] (in the words of nycnotkansas [2] “a large, rundown cocktail lounge turned seedy boozer bar”) became one of the first gay bars in Manhattan, called the Westsider. In his very entertaining autobiography Stick It! Carmine Appice says, “Today the area is safe and moneyed, but back then it was a real shithole. The Lighthouse's clientele was a mix of hookers, junkies, drug dealers, and a smattering of genuine music aficionados.” According to Curtis Knight Miles Davis came to Jimi regularly at the Lighthouse, not impossible since Davis at the time owned a house at 312 West 77th Street. Other jazz musicians also saw Jimi at the Lighthouse, like baritone saxophonist Ronnie Cuber [3], who played with George Benson, organist Lonnie Smith, and drummer Marion Booker (who was playing with Curtis and Jimi in the next line-up of the Squires) [4].

Once in 1966 Jimi was on the same bill at the Lighthouse as a Appice’s group called Thursday's Children. Their lead singer was Dean Parrish, born Philip Joseph Anastasi in 1942 in Brooklyn, who got into singing doo-wop as a teenager. From singing in street corner groups he progressed to playing clubs and recording songs like "I'm On My Way" and "Tell Her", making a name for himself as a white soul singer. Parrish recalls, “Hendrix would be here with a three-piece band, playing behind his head, with his mouth and everything. He looked like Ike Turner at the time. He had the typical mohair suit, the white on white shirt, white tie, processed hair, and his name was Jimmy James, but no one even knew he was alive. As he was playing people would be talking, clinking glasses, but it was Jimmy Hendrix. He used to open for us, and we became very friendly. He was seeing one of the waitresses, and I was seeing one of the waitresses. One night we were playing Nina Simone’s “Work Song” about breaking rocks on the chain gang, and in the middle of the song the police come in the front door chasing somebody with a gun… and this guy was running out the back door. As we’re singing this song I’m thinking, ‘Oh God, I can’t believe this.’ At the same time the women’s bathroom door opens up, and there’s people in there having sex. It was completely insane, but it was great. This is where we got our roots from.”

In Stick It! Appice says, “We were booked to play opposite a black guitarist named Jimmy James. I had heard a little about this guy on the club circuit, the rumor being that he was an outrageous guitar player and even played with his teeth. The arrangement was that Jimmy and Thursday's Children would play alternating half-hour sets from 9 PM until 4 AM. When Jimmy played his first set, I realized all the hype was true. I was fucking blown away. Thursday's Children's guitarist, Ron Leejack, played the same kind of fuzz-tone-laden blues-rock guitar, but he didn't begin to have Jimmy's levels of charisma, showmanship, or genius. This was like nothing I had ever seen before. Halfway through the night, the two acts took a break to give the audience a chance to do some serious drinking, and one of the hookers offered to let us use her place to get high. We didn't know her, but Jimmy and I headed off with her to smoke pot and hang out. The building was a dump, and her apartment was a pigsty, but it was close by and had a cool view of Broadway. Jimmy and I sat and smoked a big joint together and watched the lowlife goings-on below us. We talked about our dreams of somehow making it in music so we could quit playing scuzzy clubs like the Lighthouse.

appice 1965
Carmine Appice in 1965 (when he still was an avid Young Rascals fan) Photo courtesy of C. Appice.

We must have looked quite the pair. I was in a three-piece pinstripe suit and polka-dot tie, with my short hair teased up with hairspray, while Jimmy was in flamboyant multicolored gear with wild scarves [5]. His hair was greased back; the Afro that was to become his trademark when he had a far more famous name was yet to come. The onstage wild man was shy, polite, and soft-spoken off it. In fact, he was almost too soft-spoken; I had to keep asking him to speak up and repeat himself. But Jimmy was fun to hang with, his whole face lit up when he smiled, and as we headed back to the Lighthouse, mildly stoned, I thought what a nice guy he was.”
Close to the Lighthouse lived Jimmi Mayes with whom Jimi played at the end of 1965 in Joey Dee’s Starliters.

651031 - kopie
Starlighters in November 1965 (Jimi H, Jimmi M, and Calvin Duke) Photo courtesy of J. Mayes.

In his fairly unknown
autobiography Mayes also says about the Upper West Side, ‘There were a lot of artists who lived in that area, but it was mainly players, pimps, hos, and hustlers. The landlords weren't around. They just came by once a month to collect the rent, so there wasn't anybody to tell you what you couldn't do. I lived at the front of the building, and King George Clemons, the singer, lived behind me. George sang background vocals on the Don Covay single ‘Have Mercy ‘ and ‘Get Your Lie Straight. ‘ He and Jimi were real good buddies. Jimi sometimes crashed at George's apartment. Jimi was good buddies with everybody he met, because he was a real likeable guy. Alan Robinson and his band from New Orleans lived next door to me. Still, as wild as that building was, I sometimes had to tell Jimi to tone it down. He always said, ‘Man, you just don't understand. I got to play it like this, so I can feel it! ‘ But, nobody ever complained about Jimi's music, even in good weather when the windows were open. That time in my apartment is when Jimi and I got to be the best of friends. […] Even when he wasn't trying, Jimi was a chick magnet! I always helped Jimi set up. My apartment came furnished with a coffee table, a little sofa, and two chairs. I kept my Silvertone record player on the coffee table. He would put his albums and stuff on one of the chairs, and then, he would sit on the sofa, and I would sit in the other chair. Sometimes, he would stand up and play. He wouldn't dance or anything, but he'd do tricky stuff like jerk his guitar around. If I wasn't paying attention, he would shove his guitar at me. He would practice for three or four hours at a time […] Jimi joined up with Curtis Knight and the Squires. Jimi was doing okay. He was a good guitar player, he had connections, and he had spending money from prostitutes. The Squires used to play the Lighthouse on Broadway, and I used to walk there on nights when I was in town. The minute I walked in, Curtis would call me out, ‘Joey Dee and the Starliters' drummer is in the house, ladies and gentlemen!' They let me sit in sometimes. Then Jimi would lean over and say, ‘Yeah! Give me that funk, little funk brother! ‘ Curtis and I went way back to when I first met my girlfriend, Cookie, at the Town Hill Supper Club in Brooklyn. He had this white-on-white Gretsch Falcon guitar that cost a thousand dollars. I was good friends with another cat in the band by the name of Lonnie Youngblood. Lonnie and Jimi got real tight, too. Sometimes, I saw Fayne [Pridgon] at the Lighthouse.

Fayne with Jimi (possibly at the Lighthouse)

[…] One particular night I went up to her and said, ‘Hey Miss Fayne, you looking good!' Then, I gave her a hug and a little peck on the cheek. Jimi was either just going up on the stage, or he was on the stairs, and he shot off towards us. He didn't know it was me. All he saw was some guy kissing his girl and that made him mad. Jimi tried to tap Fayne on the shoulder with his guitar to get her attention, but she turned around at the same time, and Jimi accidently hit her on the forehead. I told Jimi, ‘She wasn't doing anything, man! ‘ I tried to explain to him what had happened. Jimi kind of lunged at me, and said, ‘Do you want to make it light on her, man? ‘ […] Fayne got a little cut on her forehead and it bled for awhile, but she wasn't knocked out or anything like that.” [6]

Personal coda: How I wished I was a “fly on the wall” during those wild days at the Lighthouse. As a matter of fact nothing remains of the place. A few years ago the building was torn down, and a new ugly piece of yuppy
real estate has been built.

streetview 77th street
2180 Broadway today (from streetview Google Maps).

[1] Not to be confused with the Little Red Lighthouse, nor the famous jazz joint the Lighthouse Café in Hermosa Beach, CA.

[2] If you’re interested in the history of gay life in the USA after the 2nd World War this anonymous website is highly recommended.

[3] Personal info from a telephone conversation with Cuber’s wife and manager in 2001

[4] Check the wonderful Cookbook LP and the Knock Yourself Out/Hornest Nest 45 with Marion Booker, Hank Anderson, and Nate Edmonds (fortunately no Curtis Knight involvement!!)

[5] Carmine gets a little carried away here. No way Jimi’s wardrobe fitted this description in ‘66.

[6] Mayes has a lot more seedy stories to tell in The Amazing Jimmi Mayes: Sideman to the Stars. Another highly recommended read!

Even the
Manhattan Diner has moved on up a few streets on Broadway. If my planned trip to NYC after my longed for retirement materializes in a few years, I sure intend to eat a Burger there!

Kees de Lange.