Lee Mrowicki was nicknamed "The Voice of the Stone Pony" by Rolling Stone Magazine and has been associated with the legendary Asbury Park club and the rock and roll city for decades. He currently can be heard each week spinning the best of New Jersey music with Radio Jersey.
Yes, I am guilty myself. I admit it. Just thinking about what we refer to as the Good Ol’ Days. When we would go out to a club to see a favorite band two, maybe three times a week and stay out till 2am. Then without blinking an eye, get up for work the next day… no problem...right, after the second cup of coffee we’re raring to go to work.
Now, if you’re over 50 like me, you remember those days as if they were yesterday. And you remember the bands you followed as well. We didn’t just like them, yes...we followed them. To places all around the Garden State. We knew them, we knew their songs, we knew all the others that were crazy about them too.
Well, I am here today to talk about those Good Ol’ Days...reminded by many of you readers who repeatedly bring it up on Facebook… I’m talking about the Good O’ Days at the Stone Pony.
People remind us that the days when you got in to see a cover band for $5 cover charge on a Sunday night were indeed those Good Ol’ Days. These days those cover bands would be called tribute bands.
And there were a few of those back in the day...tributes to the Doors, Springsteen, Stones.
These days though it seems like the bigger bands are the tribute bands. I lost count how many Springsteen tribute bands there are. And now you got tributes to a whole lot of bands you wouldn’t even think of in the past. Tributes to Talking Heads, AC/DC, G’n’R, Genesis… every day there is a new one. And a lot of them are pretty good too.
It’s just that nowadays you might go out once a week, twice a month… maybe, depends on cash flow.
Like I said, no one would think twice about going to see Cats on a Smooth Surface on a Sunday night at the Stone Pony… even in the dead of winter. Some went for the camaraderie of seeing friends you knew who’d be there, or seeing musicians you know who would have the night off, or seeing one of the most talented guys around in the band Cats, or of course, you were there because Bruce likes to hang out at the Pony and if he is there, chances are good he would play.
Working at the Pony as the house DJ, I tell people it was a job I never applied for, my college education didn’t get me there or prepared me for it, I just fell into it.
I knew the owners, Jack Roig and Butch Pielka for many years before the Good Ol’ Days began, from producing radio concerts at the Pony when I worked at WJLK, Asbury Park, the Radio Voice of the Asbury Park Press. The radio broadcast of Southside Johnny & the Asbury Jukes on Memorial Day 1976 was voted the number one event to gain Asbury Park its national (maybe international) notoriety.
Afterwards, I helped Jack and Butch doing some promotion work and merchandising with the famous Stone Pony t-shirts and black satin jackets, as well as providing recorded music for the tape deck that played during band’s breaks (after the old jukebox was carted away.)
So, in 1980, the beginning of the Good Ol’ Days, I was there 6 nights a week spinning records. I treated it like it was a radio station, like the ones we would pledge allegiance to like WNEW-FM in New York and WMMR in Philadelphia.
So...were you there? In the beginning of the Good Ol’ Days? Some people might argue that the Good Ol’ Days actually started earlier in 1975 or 1976 (the Pony opened in 1974) but I think those were only warm-up years or pre-war years, prior to 1980. Yes, the Jukes were the house band back in those days playing Tuesdays, Thursdays, and Sundays. And the Sundays were definitely the time then that were the precursor to all the craziness that went on in the 80’s. Yes, Bruce would play once in a while but he wasn’t yet the huge star he is today.
Ok, let’s talk about Bruce and his effect on people. The regulars who went to the Pony knew to give Bruce his space and allow him the freedom to enjoy himself seeing his friends play, just like anyone of you would. It was ok to go up to him, say hello, buy him a beer, how you doing…you let him be.
I was told by someone who only came to the club once in a while from northern NJ that it felt like when you walked into the club, you suddenly underwent a transformation to being “Cool”. You understood that Bruce could be there and you would be “Cool” about it.
A few people had to be taught to act properly… like the people who would come up to the DJ booth and ask, “Do you think Bruce is coming?” Like he would check in with me to let us know he was gonna come and hoped to have a good time with us. My reply would be to smile...not say anything.
I think they got the message and then they got the religion. They understood to be cool. They might not be cool once they left the club, even if they were disappointed that Bruce didn’t show up, they were still “Cool” because they were where Bruce would hang out….his place.
Well things changed after a while and Bruce started coming regularly, making that period the peak of the Good Ol’ Days.
And because he was there a lot, there was a lot of “Cool” going around. He was funny sometimes, climbing up the high step to get into the DJ Booth and shout out “I wanna hear the Wanderer!”
Sometimes, it was just quiet Bruce...who came up into the booth to look through my collection of 45’s and pick out a few for me to play. Sometimes, it was just to hang out with Patti and watch the band.
He was definitely an admirer of Cats on a Smooth Surface, a name that originated with the two founders of the band Joel Krauss and Harry Filkin, graduates of the “Holme” Academy of Performing Arts.
There were always the most talented guys in Cats. After Harry and Joel left to pursue their original music, they left the reigns to Bobby Bandiera, who brought in Glen Burtnick, Fran Smith Jr., Ray Andersen, Hans Peter Schulle, and Mike Bovenzi...later as members left they were replaced by equally talented personnel like Vinny Daniele, Mario Marsillo, Billy Drew and others. There was always quality on stage with Cats. Their reunions for the Light of Day Foundation are legendary. And they gave birth to other bands as well, specifically LaBamba & the Hubcaps.
Yes, my friend, those were the Good Ol’ Days. Not many people realized that for us who worked there, it was just that, work. But I have to admit, and many who worked would as well, it was a job like nothing else. And because of Jack Roig and his partner Butch Pielka, they created a family… of co-workers, of friends, of acquaintances that remain in touch today. All because of the Good Ol’ Days.