I seem to be becoming one of NYC’s great Langoliers, one of those mysterious yet relentless entities written of by Stephen King that arrive after each moment in time has passed, disposing of time and everything in it like garbage disposal units. Or rather, I happen upon things that the Langoliers have somehow missed after passing through.
I had just come out of an employment agency, still in a suit and tie –I’m old school — and was walking down West 48th Street when I found a “painted ad” high on a building I was approaching.
What used to be called the Powers Building, #723 7th Avenue, is on the northwest corner. It’s an ordinary medium-size building, nothing out of the ordinary, the kind of thing The Fountainhead‘s Peter Keating would design. There have apparently been several experiments in electrical engineering that went on early in the early 20th Century, and later the building was home to Associated Recording Studios beginning in 1961. Some of the biggest names in the biz, and stars from other fields giving music a whirl, have cut records there including [according to wikipedia]:
Al Caiola, Al Hirt, Al Martino, Albert Einstein, Andy Williams, Archie Bleyer, Art Garfunkel, Arthur Godfrey, Barbra Streisand, Barry Manilow, Barry Mann, Bette Midler, Beverly Ross, Bill Charlap, Blood Sweat & Tears, Bo Diddley, Bob Hilliard, Bobby “Boris” Pickett, Bobby Darin, Bobby Goldsboro,Brian Hyland, Bryan Adams, Burl Ives, Burt Bacharach, Buster Poindexter, Carole King, Cat Stevens, Charles Strouse, Charlie Tobias,Connie Francis, Cy Coleman, Danny Davis, Danny Kaye, Dave Blum Trio, Dee Dee Warwick, Dick Van Dyke, Dionne Warwick, Doc Pomus, Don Costa, Donnie Hathaway, Duo Tones, Eleanor Steber, Ellie Greenwich, Elvis Costello, Ethel Merman, Eydie Gorme, Fats Domino, Firefly (Brooklyn local folk-pop band), Frank Sinatra, Gene Autry, Gerry Mulligan, Ginger Rogers, Gwen Verdon, Hal David, Hank Williams Jr., Henry Mancini, Herb Alpert, Herbie Hancock, Hoagy Carmichael, Howard Greenfield, Ike & Tina Turner, Jack Keller, Jake LaMotta, Janis Ian, Jerry Herman, Jerry Keller, Jo Jo Starbuck, Joe Harnell, John Sebastian, John Wayne, Johnny Marks, Jonathan Winters, Jule Styne, Kay Starr, Kenny Karen, Kenny Rogers, King Curtis, Leiber & Stoller, Leslie Gore, Lewis & Clark, Liza Minnelli, Louis Jordan, Marlene VerPlanck, Mary Ford, Mary Martin, Melba Moore, Mickey & Sylvia, Miles Davis, Milton DeLugg, Mitch Miller, Moose Charlap, Mort Shuman, Napoleon XIV, Neil Diamond, Neil Sedaka, Norman Bergen, Noro Morales, Ornette Coleman, Oscar Brand, Oscar Peterson, Otis Blackwell, Pat Boone, Patti Duke, Patti Page, Paul Evans, Paul Robeson, Paul Simon, Peggy Fleming, Peggy Lee, Perry Como, Pete Fountain, Pete Seeger/The Weavers, Peter Criss, Peter Duchin, Peter Dunfield, Peter Nero, Peter, Paul and Mary, Petula Clark, Pierre Brunet, Pink Floyd, Polly Bergen, Prairie League, Ricky Dee, Roberta Flack, Rocky Graziano, Rod McKuen, Ron Dante, Sandy Stewart, Screamin’ Jay Hawkins, Sheb Wooley, Shel Silverstein, Sherman Edwards, Stan Lebowski, Steely Dan, Steve Allen, Steve Lawrence, Steve Neilson, Teresa Brewer, Terry Bradshaw, The Bell Notes, The Belmonts, The Chipmunks, The Delphonics, The Four Lads, The Four Seasons, The Kalin Twins, The Ronettes, The Shirelles, The Three Suns, Thelonious Monk, Tiny Tim, Tito Puente, Tom Glazer, Tommy Edwards, Vic Damone, Walter Carlos, Woody Guthrie.
Not being a musician myself, I was completely unaware that while meandering along West 48th, I had stumbled on one of NYC’s great Music Rows, with shops selling instruments and recording studios lined up, at one time, on both sides. Also occupying the block were the Cort Theater and a couple of parking garages.
Manny’s rang a bell. Hadn’t I read a story once that this was the place that Pete Townshend, Jimi Hendrix, Ritchie Blackmore had gotten hundreds of guitars while touring in the States? Townshend, in particular, along with The Who, was thousands in debt because of Pete’s habit of destroying his guitars at the end of most shows. He had to hastily repair them if they could be, or just seek out guitar shops and run up bills buying new ones.
My favorite Manny’s moment of all time came on one of those day I’d cut school in the middle of the week to go stare at my candy-colored electric holy grails. I walked in and, to my shocked disbelief, Pete Townshend was standing at the back counter talking to head salesman, the truly legendary Henry Goldrich. I should point out that Henry was practically a surrogate father to me. He was not happy to see me at 2:30pm on a Wednesday.
It was the first time I’d ever seen Pete anywhere other than onstage. It’s a dull-as-dirt cliche, but, I felt like I was in a dream as I floated up to Pete and Henry, just in time to hear, with my own ears, Pete ordering (and this is verbatim… my brain recorded it!)…
“Give me ten Telecasters, ten Stratocasters, five Jazzmasters, five of those Corals, three Gibson Stereo 355s…”
Henry, scribbling furiously, looked up and said, “You really ought to try the Gibson SG Special, Pete. It’s the best buy out there.” Pete chuckled ruefully…”Okay, Henry. Spend more of my money, three of them, too, then…” [Henry was right. The Gibson SG Special was the guitar Pete would use for the entire "Tommy" era...] Binky Phillips, Huff Post
Though Manny’s had been on West 48th Street since 1935, the owners sold the business to Sam Ash, which concentrated their music empire on both sides of West 48th Street, occupying space in several buildings, as seen in this Google Street View shot from May 2009. Sam Ash, in turn, moved to 333 West 34th Street early in 2013, leaving several empty storefronts, most of which remain empty in mid-2014. Ash’ departure once again revealed the Manny’s store signage that I discovered on West 48th…
… including the large vertical sign with the now-stopped clock.
Music isn’t dead on West 48th Street, though. Rudy’s Music Stop, which counts U2′s The Edge as a customer, is still there and has been since 1978. Next door is Alex Carozza’s Accordion Shop. Since my father was an accordionist, playing only the button concertina type, he must have been familiar with this place. My father would get custom-made instruments complete with his name emblazoned on a side panel.
I was unaware of this when I passed by, but Alex Carozza’s shop also contains an Accordion Museum. It’s free to the public, but an appointment must be made to see it.
You never know what small fiefdom, or remains of one, will be spotted by meandering around the streets of NYC.