I found an extremely evocative homage to some of the great gigs that have taken place at Stony Brook University down the years in the 9 May 1994 edition of the college magazine, "The Statesman" (vol 37 #58)...
It was written by SBU alumni Robby Barkan and Wendy C Bialek, and Robby has kindly given me permission to repost it here.
The Earth and Space Science Plaza at Stony Brook University is the site of more than geological history. Just to the side of the entrance doors closest to Harriman Hall in April of 1969, I shook the warm, soft hand of Chuck Berry and told him: "It's been a long time", to which he readily agreed with a slow twinkle in his eye.
The legendary rocker was making a comeback tour. I found him hanging loose on the sidelines of this outdoor concert, enjoying the opening blues act. Within seconds he'd slipped back into the lobby. Mr. Berry climaxed a rousing set on top of his Fender Twin amplifier, and anyone in the small crowd of about 100 could walk right up and touch him while he hopped and strutted. Several of us did. I still feel Chuck's warm handshake rocking me back.
Let's push further back in time and across the brick and glass canyons of the Brook. James College lounge, 1966. While a handful of us young student hippies-to-be waited cross-legged on the floor, John Hammond Jr. appeared at the open window facing the quad, made his entrance through it with acoustic guitar in hand, and strode brashly up to the microphone to announce himself as: "Batman". It didn't matter that the mike was still switched off. We all heard him and dug. John bent us with a solid set of the blues, including a bayou-dirty, mesmerizing "Who do you Love?", until the wee hours. He returned two years later with a full rocking band, part of Stony Brook's second 'Blues Bag' concert series headlined by a day-glo bodypainted Big Brother and the Holding Company chugging Southern Comfort straight out of the bottle as they warmed up the crowd for their leading lady. Later I will take you to a very famous site inside the old gymnasium, where Janis Joplin belted her pipes out in two shows that very cold night. But first, some more outdoor exploring and digging.
Wander one building over from James, to the center of G Quad facing the Irving College lobby entrance. If you had been standing at this location in July of 1969, the manic flute playing of Ian Anderson, backed by Jethro Tull, would have thrilled your not-yet-jaded ears. The Scottish laddies were on their first American tour, playing their hearts out to at most 50 summer students and local kids. Oh, the session was intimate and grand. And yes, you could step right up and touch them, although nobody did.
The playing field behind the gym? Perhaps relics are buried there too, reminding us of that huge Jefferson Airplane free concert held in the spring of 1970. Jorma's amp mike kept cutting off, but we filled in the gaps by whatever means available.
Time to wander back inside the old gym, whose scuffed walls have soaked up nearly four decades of groovy musical vibes. What secrets do these varnished floorboards hold? Pass that pickaxe.
First, before the main event, stroll over to the end of the gym closest to the new sports complex. In the late sixties the stage was always set up here for the big Dance Concerts, held without floor seating. In their leaner years, Jefferson Airplane gigged on the very spot a lot of freshman learn to serve a volleyball today. So did B.B. King, Albert King, a very-much-alive Muddy Waters, and the superb Chambers Brothers--to name a few. Two or three hundred of us students would filter in and out to dance or stroll up to the stage and watch the acts. The rock scene then was very much different from the security-tight shows of today.
In the summer of 1967, Country Joe and the Fish performed at the mother of all dance concerts, wiping us temporarily off the face of the earth. Their opening act was the Blues Image (remember "Ride Captain Ride"?), who rolled onto campus the day before the gig in two packed vans, with no place to crash. We hangers-on helped the band unload their equipment, then took them later that night to a Nissequogue beach for some serious skinny-dipping. That was their idea. Us uptight Easterners kept our clothes on.
An unknown band from Saint James known as the Soft White Underbelly used to practice regularly in Irving lounge during the fall of 1967. Their manager, Sandy Pearlman, a Stony Brook alumnus, made sure they opened for every major act that played at the Brook, so that when they became known as the Blue Oyster Cult, their talent was already well-established. They jammed with a local power trio from Port Jefferson named Alice, whose psychedelic musicianship was totally impressive. Alice, where are you now?
But this rock raptor regresses. Now hike over to the other end of the gym close to the old lobby, dodging flying basketballs. About twenty five feet from the wall, center yourself directly between the doors. Yes, good. The highlight of our expedition.
Doors? A black-leathered Jim Morrison took a stance right here in the fall of 1967, up on the stage erected around you. Most of the audience thought he and the band were weird, especially after just being softly lulled by the opening act, the late great folk singer Tim Buckley and his haunting, beautiful voice that was more apropos for the Stony Brook at that time. But boy, things were gonna change and did they ever after the Doors left their subliminal musical message. It was us that did the changing.
Did you hear that sharp, heart-rending crack? Bob Weir of the Grateful Dead had just leaned his prized Gibson SG against an amplifier at a 1968 concert and walked away, moments before show time. Gravity got the better of the axe, and it tipped over. The sound of the neck snapping was horribly amplified through the pickups. He turned back and sadly examined his loss. But Buck Dharma of -- you guessed it right -- the Soft White Underbelly -- was kind enough to lend Bob ~his~ prized SG for the evening.
The Student Activities Board booked Cream three times, and three times they cancelled. A popular Long Island band called the Vagrants (supposedly) opened for Clapton et al in the spring of 1968, featuring on lead a soon-to-be-famous, absolutely searing guitarist named Leslie West. After they ended their set with, of all songs, their unique version of "Exodus", out came Vanilla Fudge instead of Cream.
A year later and post-Woodstock, a deservedly haughty Ten Years After strolled out on stage sporting their girlfriends' pocketbooks. They enjoyed the mock, but we were there to see them kick Rock's ass. And indeed they kicked. Very hard and very fast, Alvin. Their opening act was--you guessed it -- the Soft White Underbelly -- followed by one of the most outrageous bands ever to set the Stony Brook Gym in flames -- turning T.Y.A.'s act far more sedate by comparison -- the scruffy, legendary MC-5, road-beat Marshalls and all, whose flamboyant lead singer, pre-dating Plant, Bowie, and certainly providing the raw material for Dr. Felix Frankenfurter, came tear-assing onstage in a black fishnet top and ruby red lipstick to bring the house down. Now this was a band, with their unique brand of dual-guitar-solo heavy-metal punk that has never been duplicated, whose reunion will signal the Armageddon.
That fall night in late 1968 froze my bones as I waited outside the gym. Yet once inside it was warm, then glowing hot as Janis Joplin, bursting out of a low cut red dress, greeted the crowd like a Delta goddess. Her gutsy voice, like raw sex, laid Texas blues thick upon us while the San Francisco hippies of Big Brother swilled and played like drunken madmen.
Don't move yet! In April of 1968, heralding the great knockout blast of all Stony Brook concerts, Jimi Hendrix swaggered up to the place you are now standing with cigarette dangling from lip and Stratocaster very firmly in hand. He then proceeded to lovingly blow everyone in the gym to little pieces, concluding his awesome set with a ten minute feedbacked introduction to a little ditty called "Foxey Lady". After the final monster chord, Jimi flung his guitar back over his head and through the air. Its trajectory barely missed drummer Mitch Mitchell, who ducked in surprise before the Fender smashed against the wall above his head and right in front of you. It was scooped up, unscathed, by the roadie crew after Hendrix fled through the lobby to a waiting limousine. Bassist Noel Redding did linger on to use the men's room, but you know? I really can't remember which urinal it was.
Addendum: Robby also mentioned the following, which I thought was interesting:
I hung out with Mossyi and George Geranios way back then. George recorded a session of my homemade guitar synthesizer at the Stony Brook University radio station in 1972.
If you're interested you can read about that, and hear me playing it here:
Click the above link and read the description for the full story...