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Hullabaloo and the Sunshine In

By Gary Wien

originally published: 01/26/2012

In the early 70s, Asbury Park was fortunate to have some of the biggest names in rock and roll come through town.  The bands that had already made it could be found playing Convention Hall or the Casino.   Those on the way up could be found playing the Sunshine In.  Bruce Springsteen played here often with bands like Steel Mill, Dr. Zoom and the Sonic Boom and the Bruce Springsteen Band.  But before it was the Sunshine In, it was one of several “Hullabaloo” clubs in the area.

“Originally if you look at old aerial maps of Asbury Park it was a bus garage,” said Sonny Kenn. “They used to park all of the local buses in there and repair them.  Then a television show called ‘TV’s Hullabaloo Scene’ came out and they made it a franchise where you could buy your own club.  So, all these clubs sprang up.  They would all have the same pictures and would be decorated with the same orange and black day-glo paint.

“The original club, I believe, was in Boston.  There was a house band in the Boston place called the Windjammers that would come down and open each new club.  They were a nice bunch of guys, crazy guys.  The Windjammers would play and they’d charge admission and the kids would show up.  They’d promote it in the press.  It was a big deal. We went there and we won the contest and became the houseband at the Asbury Hullabaloo Club.  We used to rehearse there and we played the club once a week.  Later they asked us to play some of their other clubs.  So, we got an old ‘54 pickup, loaded up all of our stuff and went up to New York, Boston and Pennsylvania.  We toured the Northeast Hulaballoo circuit at 16 years old!”

“The Beatles had just happened and kids were going out more,” said John Mulrenan who used to play there with a band called Rasputin and the Mad Monks.  “So there was no booze there.  They decorated the places real nice. There was definitely a lot of money behind them.  It’s funny because I don’t think they ever made a ton of money, but the opening night was always packed.  I don’t think it was a big moneymaker because it was like only a few years later that it became the Sunshine In.”

The Sunshine In was an old concrete block building with a high wooden, open rafter type ceiling. The outside was painted a rather unattractive orange-yellow color. It opened as the Sunshine In sometime in the summer of 1970. The Sunshine In was an old warehouse type building, about a half block wide and two thirds of a block long, which was located on Kingsley Street. Although it has been called “Sunshine Inn” on bootlegs around the world, it was actually named after the Aquarius age.

“That was a horrible, ugly place,” recalled John Mulrenan.  “I played there with a band called Godzilla.  There were cinderblocks on the floor that kids would sit on.  I remember broken cement on the floor and lots of garbage.”

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There was no bar inside but since there was plenty of bars on the same block you never had to worry about missing a drink.  Originally, it was standing room only for about 1,000 people or so, but in the later years (‘72-’73) they installed some bleachers in the very back.  The Student Prince was nearby so this part of town had great music each night.

“I lived at the Sunshine In for a while in ‘71,” said Tom Matthews.  “Everything was on one floor, there was no upstairs.  We pretty much lived in the office, sleeping on the couches and floors.  That is when we slept, which wasn’t too often. I once stayed awake for nine days while staying there. In the beginning there was only a tiny dressing room, more like a large closet, but later due to demands from the bands, I imagine, they built a larger dressing room/lounge off the right side of the stage.”

The Sunshine In was run by Bob Fischer.  According to Matthews, Fischer was almost a caricature of the stereotypical rock promoter.  “It was clear to everyone that he only was in it for the money. He was clueless when it came to rock and roll and the bands he was dealing with. Once, in a display of his great understanding of musical styles, he booked Kiss and Renaissance on the same bill. That made for quite a mixed audience. Probably my favorite show was one of the first I went to, Steel Mill, Black Sabbath, and the Chambers Brothers. It was typical of the somewhat eclectic mixes that Fischer in his ignorance was capable of putting together, but it was a great show nonetheless.”

Fischer’s tightness with money led to constant battles with the bands, according to people who worked there or knew him personally. He was always being chased up the street by somebody.  “He used to like to pay the bands at the end of the show with the receipts from the door but he developed such a reputation for short changing the acts that several bands refused to go onstage until they had been paid,” said Matthews.  “One night he came staggering into the office after the show, bleeding profusely from the nose, and told us that his partner had slugged him and made off with all of the money taken in that night.”

The legendary Jersey Shore rocker Lance Larson was a bartender at the Student Prince at the time.  He remembers how Bobby Fischer was always a little short of money.  “Bobby would always say Lance you got any money to invest?” said Larson.  “He’d say, ‘Put up $1300 and I’ll give you the bill of sale to my yellow Cadillac.’  So, I’d give him the money and he’d give me the bill of sale to his car.  He used to do this all of the time.” 

“One time he didn’t show up the next day with my pay back.  This guy comes into the Student Prince and he asks me if I’ve seen Bobby Fischer.  He’s like, ‘That guy owes me money.’  I said, ‘I ain’t seen him.’ Then he goes, ‘Well, I know he won’t beat me because I got this bill of sale.’ And I say, ‘I’ve got the same one!’” 

In 1973, Matthews worked at the Sunshine In as a stage electrician.  Basically, the job was to make sure that none of the wiring caught fire as it had during one of the Black Sabbath shows.  He was paid $35 per show along with all of the beer he could drink.

“I remember our reaction when Kiss played there for the first time and were explaining some of their pyrotechnics,” recalled Matthews. “We were horrified and thought that they would certainly burn the place down, the Sunshine In being a very old warehouse/garage with an old, dried out wooden ceiling. But they went ahead and all was fine and they played there several more times.”

Lee Mrowicki, the long-time disc jockey at the Stone Pony saw a lot of shows at the Sunshine In. “One show really sticks out in my mind. It took place when I was in college.  On the bill was a band from West Orange that had just gotten a contract, they were called the Truth and it was kind of like a jazz/progressive rock band. The headliner was Bachman Turner Overdrive.  Truth was the second act so they went on before Bachman Turner.  Nowadays, the opening act would be considered a shock, it was Bob Seger and the Silver Bullet Band.  They were the absolute opener to a local band from West Orange and BTO on a triple bill.”

Rich Robinson also remembers that show well.  “The reason I remember it so much is because ‘Taking Care Of Business’ was the #1 song in the country,” he said.  “So, the night before they played the Sunshine In in front of 2,000 people they were at the Spectrum in Philly and the night after they were playing Madison Square Garden.”

What makes that show even more amazing is that the band that played after Bob Seger was not even on the original bill.  There was supposed to be a band from England in that spot, but they never showed up.  So, Bobby Fischer was left scrambling at the last minute to find a replacement.  According to Lance Larson, he came over to the Student Prince and grabbed the Truth, who were playing there that night, and put them on the bill in between their sets at the Prince.

“I remember the people went crazy over the Truth and they were playing across the street at the Student Prince!” said Larson.

“That period of time was great,” added Matthews.  “But I don’t think we realized how unique it was for a small town like Asbury Park to have all of this going on.  It was only in retrospect that I truly appreciated it.”

From the book Beyond The Palace by Gary Wien

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