IN 1970, local rock star and entrepreneur Joe Nardone opened a teenage dance hall on the Public Square of downtown Wilkes-Barre, Pennsylvania. Formerly the Stardust Ballroom, it was a second floor affair where couples had practiced ballroom dancing. It was just above the old Paramount Theater, then a first-run venue for new movies. Its transmogrification from old to new was perfect for the time.
It was one of two such theaters on the square—the other was the Comerford—until the Great Flood of ’72 rendered them useless. Under Nardone’s care, the Stardust Ballroom became the Naked Grape, where couples danced to the ‘new music’ doing everything from modified versions of the twist and the frug to totally uninhibited free-form dancing.
(You know, you put hands above head, close eyes, stay in one place and sway—your body going one way and your hands the other. Like at Woodstock, not a Dead concert.)
Since I am unlikely to ever find any poster or flyer for Free Will at the Naked Grape, I will make do with this flyer from November 1971, where Free Will announced that they were formerly Free Will and now Jukin’ Bone.
Joe went all out
Where Joe got the name for his club I have never known; he owned a small record store and fronted a local rock and roll band, so he was certainly familiar with Moby Grape. He might have been inspired by that group’s silly moniker to use it for his club.
He had already decided that “naked” was going to be part of the club’s name because of the connotations, which could be reasonably innocent or not. Naked Moby didn’t quite cut it, so Naked Grape it was!
The Grape was done up with all the current Sixties accoutrements to look hip mod and a-go-go, although it was not a psychedelic ballroom. Hell, it wasn’t even pseudo-psychedelic: no posters plastered everywhere and not a black-light in sight. Plus, it was far too clean-cut—in appearance, in ambience, in clientele (including me).
Joe did bring a guy in from New York on a weekly basis who set up scaffolding in the center of the ballroom with special lighting and weird equipment that would cast all kinds of ersatz psychedelic images on the walls. This was, of course, very hip to we squares there on the square.
We didn’t dance but sat on our butts
The room held approximately 500 people, although there were no seats. As we were groovy gal and guy wannabes, we didn’t dance to the groovy bands but sat our butts down on the hard wooden floor and ‘dug’ the music. One of the groups that made several appearances there that went on to a larger, national fame were the Elves featuring lead singer Ronnie Dio.
I remember the Grape looking pretty far-out to a naïve, insecure, sexually repressed 18-year old with no real experience and still reeling from the recent realization that girls found him “cute.” That was me, naturally. And my apologies—I digress into nostalgia and narcissism.
In his first year, Joe brought a band in from Syracuse, New York, called Free Will. No one that I knew had ever heard of them, but they were a hot item as a regional touring band, playing small to medium-sized venues up and down the East Coast.
(And for those of you who don’t know, the term “East Coast” refers to aspects of the cultures people’s foods tastes of parts of Maryland, Delaware, Pennsylvania, New Jersey, New York, Connecticut, Rhode Island, and Massachusetts—although the latter three states are also included with New Hampshire, Vermont, and Maine as “New England.”)
Now, 1970 was the year in which a host of bands across the country were enthralling their regional audiences by performing The Who’s TOMMY in its entirety. This was a clever device: few people were ever going to see The Who in concert. Fewer still would ever see them perform their rock opera in its entirety.
So, these essentially unknown—and mostly now long-forgotten—American bands performing one of the most famous albums in the world by a British group made perfect commercial and aesthetic sense at the time. In fact, a group today that did the same show would probably pack them in—the problem is that there are no longer enough small and medium-sized halls to pack.
After collecting a stack of Who 45s, I finally bought their second US long-player, which I found on sale for $1.99 in mid 1967. It was an instant party record for me, becoming one of the most played albums that I owned. By the end of the decade, it was also one of the most readily found album in cut-out bins around the country. A bloody marvelous album and one that you should own and play regularly!
In love with Who?
My problem was that I was more or less a ‘long-time’ Who fan—at least by American standards. A few years before, I had picked up some of their early singles from a small shop on Public Square that sold used jukebox 45s for a nickel apiece (six for a quarter). I picked up I Can’t Explain, Anyway Anyhow Anywhere, My Generation, and Substitute and was amazed that such great, electrifying records had not made the US charts!
I don’t recall having heard the first four singles above on the local radio, WARM (“the Mighty 590”). The Who were an important band with big hits in England—including seven Top 10 smashes before breaking the US Top 10 with I Can See For Miles in 1967. Unfortunately, they had little visibility in the US until TOMMY in 1969 (and much of that came a year later after there being making a BIG impression with movie-goers in the Woodstock movie). Those singles—used though they were—blew my young mind then and still blow my aging mind today.
My first Who albums were HAPPY JACK—released in the rest of the world as A QUICK ONE, the title that Pete Townsend had assigned it—and THE WHO SELL OUT. I picked up mono copies in a cut-out bin for 99¢ in 1968 and played them for years. The stereo version of HAPPY JACK issued by Decca in the US was fake stereo, so the mono was the preferable version.
I read either a review of the album or an interview with Townsend—I believe that it was Rolling Stone—in which it was noted that Jan and Dean and especially the Beach Boys had a big influence on the album. I certainly didn’t hear it on my copy.
Years later, a friend of mine, Todd van Sittert, took it upon himself to find every single track recorded for this album in real stereo. He found them all—the ten tracks from the UK version of the album, the singles, the five tracks from the READY STEADY WHO EP, and some outtakes—and burned a CD for me of the results. The stereo mixes were revelatory!
Beach Boys-like harmonies were all over the album, standing out in the stereo mix. In 1967, Decca had buried them in the mono mix! These harmonies added a whole new feel to the album making it for me an even better album than it always had been! So, enough with the Who digression and back to Free Will . . .
This is the original 1970 black & white publicity photo for Free Will that I cropped and used for the header of this page. Can you get any more ’70s? Mark Doyle is first from the left and Joe Whiting is third. Shortly after this was taken, the group signed with RCA as a boogie band and changed their name to Jukin’ Bone (a name change for which everyone involved should have been counseled first).
The loveliest girl in the Valley
Back to 1970 and the Naked Grape: I am sitting on the floor with my date, Elaine Havard, the loveliest girls in Wyoming Valley. (I had recently broken up with one of the Valley’s other beauty queens, Jaygee, but she and I had sort of grown up into young adulthood together and were both just discovering the ins-and-outs of dating unfamiliar and often more “experienced” people.)
So I’m wondering, Why is this devotchka who every guy lusts after here with me? I wanna know! Oh, right, I forgot—after years of being the local ugly duckling, now I’m “cute.” Whatever the reason she’s with me, I am smitten.
This is our first time seeing Free Will who, as noted above, we had never heard of before. Not that I was terribly concerned about the band; I just wanted to be near Elaine.
Of course, I was still a nerd, and I wore red plaid pants, which all but stupefied Elaine, who was relatively ‘hip,’ all things considered.
When I picked her up—in my parents’ car, natch—and she saw the pants for the first time, she said, “You’re straight, aren’t you?” And here straight meant I was not a dope-smoker; I had never been high, let alone stoned. So, being a truth-teller, I said, “Yep.”
(This was somewhat damaging, especially since her recently broken-up-with ex-boyfriend looked and acted like John Lennon—and Beatlejohn most certainly did not wear pants that looked like they belonged on a Scottish golf course.)
I have all ready blathered on about the fineness of this album in “now that you’ve found your shangri-la (the best british album of 1969)” so you will have to click on over to that article to read more.
Decline and fall of the British Empire
Free Will came on stage and immediately launched into Victoria, the opening track to the Kinks’ album ARTHUR, OR THE DECLINE AND FALL OF THE BRITISH EMPIRE. For me this was fabgear indeed, as that album was one of my favorite albums from the previous year, 1969. Despite a year that saw the release of such albums as:
Beatles’ ABBEY ROAD
Rolling Stones’ LET IT BLEED
Frank Zappa’s HOT RATS
LED ZEPPELIN II
Captain Beefheart’s TROUT MASK REPLICA
Youngbloods’ ELEPHANT MOUNTAIN
Jefferson Airplane’s VOLUNTEERS
Sly & The Family Stone’s STAND!
And so many, many other fine fine superfine albums, it was ARTHUR (and FROM ELVIS IN MEMPHIS) that resonated with me. Forty-odd years later and nothing has changed my mind or heart about that amazing Kinks album!
Publisher Jann Wenner was so impressed with the album that he had his staff write not one but two back-to-back reviews for Rolling Stone. Mike Daly’s glowing review included him claiming ARTHUR to be “the Kinks’ finest hour.” Greil Marcus’ review was even more positive: he named it the “best British album of 1969.”
While the album reached #50 on the all but forgotten Record World charts, it stalled out at an anemic #105 on Billboard’s LP chart. As sad as that sounds, that was the group’s highest position reached on that survey since 1965! Alas (and unbelievably), ARTHUR failed to even make the best-selling LP charts in Britain.
The first single from the album, Shangri-La, also failed to reach any chart in the US, despite its absolute magnificence. The second single, Victoria, petered out after reaching a lowly #62 on Billboard, although it did not even make the Cash Box Top 100 survey!
To illustrate the straits that the Kinks were in in 1969, at #62 Victoria was their highest placing of a single on the Billboard Hot 100 since Sunny Afternoon reached #14 in 1966! This mild impression caused Pye to release it as the third single from the album in the UK (Drivin’ and Shangri-La had preceded it) and it reached the Top 30, a big improvement over those prior singles.
Great Grommet! I have digressed again—back to Free Will and the Naked Grape and Elaine.
Jukin’ Bones’ first album, WHISKEY WOMAN (LSP-4621), was issued on RCA’s crappy ‘dynaflex’ vinyl, which was so flexible that you could roll them into a tube. That wasn’t why they were crappy: they were crappy because that’s the way so many of them played. I bought the first album with enthusiasm, as I was a fan of Free Will and was expecting more of same. I was disappointed. This is not a hard record to find: NM copies can be found in the $10-15 range.
Yes, sir! No, sir!
I was pleased as all get out that this band had opened with Victoria but Elaine was clueless. She enjoyed the performance—Free Will were an excellent band and accurately captured the sound and sheer joy of most of the music—but she didn’t know the song or its significance to Kinks fans like myself.
Then the lead singer announced that they would be performing the entirety of ARTHUR, their favorite album of last year! They rolled right into the careening drunkenness of Yes Sir No Sir and ended up playing all twelve of the album’s tracks. As these songs added up to almost fifty minutes worth of music, by extending the instrumental parts and repeating some choruses, Free Will was able to provide well over an hour’s worth of ARTHUR!
I am unaware of any other band of the time playing ARTHUR like so many played TOMMY—I may have witnessed something fairly unique. Certainly the Kinks weren’t playing their whole new album in their stage performances at the time.
A little known fact about that night with Free Will at the Naked Grape: I was the only person in the audience wearing an official “God Save the Kinks” button! I had received this button as part of a boxed set also titled “God Save the Kinks” and one of the Warner/Reprise Loss Leader specials.
I believe that I had to send all of $2 to Burbank, California, for the box with the button and an album, a bag of grass from the village green, a union jack, a postcard, and some other stuff. I wore the button with panache wherever I went!
Meeting Free Will
The next day, I was hanging out with my friend Jackie Freeman, who told me she had a BIG surprise for me. But first, she got me reeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeal stoned—something I actually never enjoyed. Oh, I loved getting high, but I hated getting stoned. I would meander away from consensual reality—which is good to do every now and then—I just didn’t go anywhere meaningful or enlightening.
I was just gone, y’know man!
(If you don’t know the difference between high and stoned, then you either have never been either or you are decades younger than me and have only had access to modern indica, which tends to blur the two. A good Mexican sativa in the early ’70s—which we called Acapulco Gold, even if it wasn’t from sunny funny Acapulco—allowed one to get genuinely high but still function socially.
“Acapulco Gold is a sativa-dominant indica/sativa hybrid of cannabis. Acapulco Gold has strong sativa cerebral effects, offering a long lasting high that balances upbeat effects with body-relaxing, stress reducing calmness.” (Wikipedia)
Hell, you could even visit your parents, remain high, have a wonderful time, and they wouldn’t even notice! Those were the days . . .)
So, I am stoned to the proverbial gills, lying around on the floor of Jackie’s house, looking at an art book, and the doorbell rings. Jackie looks over at me, gives me a smile with more than a twinkle in her eyes, and says, “This is the surprise.” She opened the door and in walked all five members of Free Will!
The guys were great and I recall having a pleasant afternoon talking music and records with them. Needless to say, we talked about ARTHUR. Now, I wish I could tell you more, but I really don’t remember much more than that. . .
Jukin’ Bones’ second album WAY DOWN EAST (LSP-4786) was also issued on ‘dynaflex’ vinyl. I did not buy the second album, although I heard it through friends who did. In hindsight, the music on both albums varied and I find some of it quite good forty years later; see the YouTube video for Mojo Conqueroo below). This is a bit harder to find than the first album: NM copies can be found in the $10-20 range.
Jukin’ Bone and whiskey women
In 1971, Free Will signed with RCA Victor, who immediately changed their admittedly less-than-inspired name of Free Will to the career-killing Jukin’ Bone. The excellent pop/rock group became a blues-based, hard-rock band. They recorded two albums of the less-than-stellar quality, WHISKEY WOMEN and WAY DOWN EAST, both released in 1972. Both had tacky, borderline tasteless cover art. Neither sold well and the group was dropped and that was the end of Jukin’ Bone and unfortunately, Free Will.
Despite dismal sales and a near record appearance in cut-out bins around the country, two small companies saw fit to reissue both LPs on compact disc: Flawed Gems got the rights to WHISKEY WOMEN (2010), while O-Music got WAY DOWN EAST (2011).
Since I want to be fair (and I understand that memory is not the best way to discuss a forty-year-old record) I checked YouTube to see if there was any Jukin’ Bone. I found a dozen tracks from the two LPs and listened to them. Hey—they’re not as bad as I remember! Definitely not my cup of tea, but I can see anyone into white, blues-based boogie bands digging these guys.
I selected a handful of tracks and linked them for your pleasure: Whiskey Woman from the first album and the excellent Mojo Conqueroo from the second with its vaguely Dylanish vocal. Interestingly, several of these album tracks have a T. Rex-like rhythmic sway to them that is not unappealing.
Give them a listen!
Ridgewood roots and things
For more background and history of Joe and Mark, refer to the History of Syracuse Music site for an article titled “Ridgewood Roots Of The Dean Brothers’ Joe Whiting, Mark Doyole, Free Will, and Jukin’ Bone” (March 26, 2012) by Ron Wray, John D’Angelo, and Pete Shedd.
Finally, to end this tale, I will take us back to that eventful night in 1970 with me and the beauteous Elaine. Aside from my bloody red pants—which I acknowledge were atrocious but in hindsight were probably an unconscious awareness of the Scotts blood in my veins, something unknown to the Umphreds at the time—I had even worse news for her: I was still a virgin! Fortunately, that state of being (being inexperienced with sex and drugs) would not last much longer
So, despite Free Will’s unparalleled reading of ARTHUR that night at the Naked Grape, the lovely Elaine remained only moderately impressed. She turned to me and said, “They should try TOMMY next time . . .”