RITZ THEATER, Port Richmond

by Kevin Walsh

One of the unwritten pop music stories in New York City is the role played by everyday, humdrum neighborhood theaters and venues as rock and roll hotbeds. Some of the biggest names in rock history — names inducted into the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame — have played some of New York City’s most provincial of neighborhoods.

In the early 1970s it was possible to stroll into a theater on a weekday afternoon in Borough Park, Brooklyn — a Hasidic Jewish enclave then as now — and hear the Grateful Dead play several hours-long concerts.

In the early 1970s it was also possible to buy a ticket and hear the Kinks or Jethro Tull when they roared into town, and not necessarily at Madison Square Garden or at Forest Hills. They played here, in humble Port Richmond, Staten Island, at the Ritz Theater at (Port) Richmond Avenue and Anderson Avenue.

The Ritz had an arrangement with Ungano’s on West 70th in Manhattan, which presented all the big names, and many of them came out to Staten Island when concerts were presented here from 1970 to 1972. In addition to the aforementioned, Vanilla Fudge, Captain Beefheart, Mountain, Black sabbath, Edgar Winter, the Allman Brothers, Humble Pie, King Crimson, Yes, the Byrds, Sweathog (the Shondells without Tommy James), J. Geils, Deep Purple, Alice Cooper, Badfinger, the post-Morrison Doors, Uriah Heep, the Chambers Brothers, Fleetwood Mac (before Buckingham and Nicks), Delaney and Bonnie, Grand Funk Railroad, Hot Tuna, the James Gang (with Joe Walsh), Frijid Pink, Procol Harum, Richie Havens, Three Dog Night and T. Rex all played at the Ritz during that two-year period.

Long before that, the Ritz was a vaudeville and movie theater from 1931-1968. The likes of Bob Hope, Bing Crosby, Mae West, Jack Benny all appeared here.

At the very least, the Ritz should have a memorial plaque affixed to its exterior. It should be a modern monument to concert entertainment.

Few realize it’s there, and fewer know its history.

Information from It’s All the Streets You Crossed Not So Long Ago

3/24/14

34 comments

Bill Tweeddale March 24, 2014 - 7:17 am

Kevin, your article is quite a revelation to me! I lived within a mile of the Lowe’s 46th Street, but never knew it to be anything but a movie theater. I also went to college on Staten Island, but never heard of the Ritz. I moved out of the city in 1968 for my first job and missed the “Great Band Era” by a few years. I wish I could say “I saw them back when….”.

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Vincent Eadicicco August 4, 2017 - 7:06 pm

What a great selection of awesome rock groups that came to Staten Island. Wish I was born in the 50s. Yes, Procol Harum, Jethro Tull, Sabbath etc. What a selection!!! Dam

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Lady Feliz March 24, 2014 - 1:47 pm

Funny how NYC seems to concentrate more on Manhattan (and Brooklyn) since the 1980s. You look through old newspaper ads in the 1930s-70s and many big names would perform at venues in the “outer” boroughs. Once the corporations took over venues and ticketing, almost nobody started performing outside of MSG and a few small gigs at Manhattan clubs. Too bad.

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Frank March 24, 2014 - 6:16 pm

Wow, Kevin, that was really interesting. I grew up on SI and was away in Oswego for college during that time. I had no idea that all those great groups performed on SI. I did go to the Paramount Theatre in Stapleton once when they were trying to make it into a rock style nightclub and I do remember seeing Brooklyn Bridge at The Stadium in Tottenville many years ago.

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genomon March 25, 2014 - 8:22 am

I remember seeing hard days night at the Ritz theater with my big bother all the girls in the theater were screaming could hear a thing

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Hoosac March 27, 2014 - 12:11 pm

I saw the Allman Brothers at the Ritz shortly after Duane Allman died in a motorcycle accident. Considering the large hole left by his absence, they sounded pretty good. Also considering the fact that it was freezing cold in the building that night. I’m surprised their fingers didn’t seize up. Not a bad old theater, and very convenient from Bay Ridge, where I used to live. As Kevin noted, there was a time when you could see major acts all over the city, and the tickets did not disappear three minutes after they went on sale. But don’t get me started….

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Roger_the_Shrubber March 29, 2014 - 1:53 am

Isn’t that the same Ritz Theater on the cover of Zep’s the Song Remains the Same?

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Renee Neumann March 29, 2014 - 11:44 am

More likely, it was the Ritz Theatre in London!

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Renee Neumann March 29, 2014 - 11:49 am

Yes, I also saw A Hard Day’s Night at the Ritz in 1964 with my 12-year-old (girl) friends and couldn’t hear much of the dialog due to the screaming of the hundreds of preadolescent kids in the audience! Had to wait till years later and seeing it on TV to appreciate the well written and very witty screenplay. Seeing “Help!” at the Ritz the following summer with my mother was much easier–there were more adults in attendance and very little screaming so we could enjoy the entire film. Also saw my very first rock concert there in 1970, the Chambers Brothers. The Ritz Theater was my neighborhood movie theater from the mid-1950s to 1968 and holds many pleasant memories for me.

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Patti Moran April 1, 2014 - 6:26 pm

I remember when the Ritz was a movie theater-spent many saturday matinees there; an old grumpy woman was the “matron” who got alot of popcorn and candy thrown at her. When I got older I saw lots of bands. My first “date” was seeing Vanilla Fudge and Rotary Connection with Minnie Ripperton. My dad dropped us off and picked us up. The place was thick with pot smoke-we were only 13 and didn’t partake but I’m sure we got a contact high. The best shows I saw there were by Chambers Bros., Humble Pie and Grand Funk Railroad. It was really a beautiful theater.

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april April 19, 2014 - 8:15 am

I can hear the voice of WNEW-FM’s deejay Dennis Elsas announcing concerts at the Ritz Theatre in the 1970s; it seemed everyone who was anyone played there. Thanks for featuring this grand ol’ establishment, Kevin. I wonder what’s to become of it.

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Joseph Ciolino May 10, 2014 - 1:14 pm

One of the many reasons people, in general, do not “celebrate,” for lack of a better word, the use of theaters as venues for rock is because their use as movie and vaudeville houses are so much richer and more interesting. Personally speaking, of course.

I grew up in what’s now known as the “East Village” of Manhattan where I attending movies as a boy at the venerable and quite beautiful Loew’s Commodore on 2nd Ave. and 6th Street. It was a movie palace built in 1926 and served the neighborhood as such for 40 years. Then, it became the Filmore East. I saw Cream there in 68 or 69 but always mourned the loss of this beautiful house as a movie theater. Nothing about the place complemented rock. You may as well have held these performances in a large box. Now, the building is long gone.

But my memory of that magnificent interior, a remnant of the “Golden Age” of movie palaces, remains clear and bright in my mind. It was the Filmore for only about 3 years.

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Bi January 24, 2019 - 7:45 am

The building that housed the Fillmore East is still there; it’s a bank now. At least where the lobby was.

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Bob Herman August 8, 2014 - 3:34 am

Nice read. It should be noted that many of those artists played the Ritz on more than one occasion, We had Yes as an opener to The Kinks for two shows in November of ’71 and they returned as a headliner on February 29 for instance. Deep Purple (two nights), Mountain (’70 and ’71), Procol Harum (’71 and ’72), King Crimson (’71 and’72),Savoy Brown (3/72 and 8/72) ,Quicksilver Messenger Service (’71 and ’72), Cactus (’71 and’72), Buddy Miles, Edgar Winter’s White Trash (’71 and ’72 ,Lee Michael’s ’71 and ’72(Lee released a live double album recorded at the Ritz) , Badfinger 3/72 and 5/72 ,The Chambers Brothers(four shows over two nights 4/71 and two shows on one night on an earlier date in ’70),The Vanilla Fudge (four shows over two nights 1/70) and the Byrds ’71 and ’72 all played the Ritz more than one night or show…On many of those nights we had an early and a late show….Remember late shows?

Other notable concerts at the Ritz included Iggy and the Stooges/MC5 10/31/70, B.B.King ’72, Dave Mason 6/72, The Velvet Underground with Lou Reed opening for Cactus in July of ’71, The Phlorescent Leech and Eddie (Flo and Eddie/TheTurtles) featuring the entire Frank Zappa’s Mothers circa 1971opening up for The Doors, Canned Heat, Savoy Brown playing in August of ’72 with the opening act Rory Gallagher (Melody Maker’s guitar player of the year) watching in the wings unable to perform due to problems getting his work visa.Joe Cocker coming out to check out his opening act Redbone who were opening for King Crimson. A teenage guitarist by the name of Gary Moore and his Irish band Skid Row opening for Buddy Miles in 1971. Legendary guitarist Albert Lee’s band Head,Hands and Feet opening up for Procol Harum second time at the Ritz in August of 1972 on the heels of their enormous album Live with the Edmonton Symphony Orchestra.

The Ritz actually stared doing concerts in January of 1970 with two night of the Vanilla Fudge.

That’s just a glimpse of what happened at the Ritz and I was fortunate enough to play a part in those concerts from The James Gang 9/70 thru The Doors 8/72.

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Bill Fitz June 9, 2017 - 9:33 am

Excellent post. BTW, there is a bootleg of Deep Purple’s second show on 3/29/71 called ‘2nd Night of Riz’. Yes, that is Ritz misspelled as Riz.

http://www.deeppurpleliveindex.com/290372.htm

https://www.worthpoint.com/worthopedia/deep-purple-second-night-riz-72-2cd-119541720

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Doug Hinman October 11, 2015 - 6:42 pm

Does anyone have any idea in what newspaper listings for shows in 1970 appeared? The Staten Island Advance, Staten Island Register, the Village Voice and the East Village Other had nothing for mid-1970. There is a rumor the Kinks appeared previously to their 1971 show with Yes. I’d guess this to be July 10, 1970 but I can find no mention of it anywhere. Anyone??

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Bill Fitz June 9, 2017 - 9:25 am

Doug;

According to setlist.fm, The Kinks did indeed play there on 7/10/1970.

http://www.setlist.fm/search?page=3&query=The+Ritz,+Staten+Island,+NY

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kevin November 20, 2017 - 4:01 pm

Iggy Pop and the Stooges also played here, 70 or 71 … it’s still a blurrrrr .. And the head shop across the street with the little man

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Bob December 6, 2017 - 2:57 am

Iggy and the Stooges and the MC5 played at the Ritz on Halloween night 1970.

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Kevin C December 31, 2018 - 4:09 pm

Remember his VW — the paint job was unbelivable

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kevin November 20, 2017 - 4:07 pm

also,about the same time , we had the Stadium in Tooterville that had a few shows, The Local stapel at that time was Mack Truck … Remember them ?

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J watts January 26, 2018 - 7:20 am

Bob Herman did you have a brother Bruce

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bob herman October 24, 2018 - 12:42 am

Yes

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Kevin C December 31, 2018 - 4:10 pm

I seen so many shows there — TON’s of GREAT memories..

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Bill Fitz January 24, 2019 - 8:07 am

If you can add to my list below, it would be much appreciated.

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Bill Fitz January 24, 2019 - 8:06 am

A listing of shows at the Ritz:

Date Featured Artist Other Comment
1/23/1970 Vanilla Fudge Crow Rotary Connection
1/24/1970 Vanilla Fudge Crow Rotary Connection
2/13/1970 Mountain
4/4/1970 Grand Funk Railroad
4/11/1970 Mountain Insect Trust Harvest
4/17/1970 Richie Havens James Cotton Blues Band
4/24/1970 Chambers Brothers
5/5/1970 Jefferson Airplane Hot Tuna
5/10/1970 The Hollies
5/23/1970 Canned Heat Pig Iron
7/10/1970 The Kinks
10/31/1970 MC5 Stooges
11/1/1970 Canned Heat
1/25/1971 Captain Beefheart & His Magic Band
5/21/1971 Chambers Brothers Plum Nelly
5/22/1971 Chambers Brothers Plum Nelly
5/28/1971 Eric Burdon & War
5/29/1971 Eric Burdon & War
7/3/1971 Mountain Mylon LaFevre
7/17/1971 Spencer Davis & Peter Jameson Tim Hardin
7/23/1971 Delaney and Bonnie and Friends John Hammond
7/31/1971 Cactus Factory
8/7/1971 Buddy Miles Southern Comfort
8/14/1971 Black Sabbath Sweathog Master of Reality tour
8/21/1971 Procol Harum
9/10/1971 Captain Beefheart & His Magic Band
9/25/1971 Bloodrock MC5 Mandrill
10/8/1971 Buddy Miles Captain Beefheart & His Magic Band Chicken Shack
10/16/1971 B. B. King
10/23/1971 Edgar Winter’s White Trash
11/6/1971 King Crimson
11/26/1971 Allman Brothers Originally scheduled for 10/23/71, 2 shows
11/27/1971 The Kinks Yes
12/6/1971 Humble Pie King Crimson
12/17/1971 Don McLean
12/29/1971 Alice Cooper J. Geils Band
1/1/1972 Edgar Winter’s White Trash Mitch Ryder and the Detroit Wheels
1/17/1972 Cactus Genya Ravan
2/4/1972 The Byrds
2/14/1972 King Crimson
2/29/1972 Yes Sweat Hog
3/1972 Cactus
3/1972 J. Geils Band
3/17/1972 Badfinger
3/28/1972 Deep Purple Buddy Miles
3/29/1972 Deep Purple Buddy Miles
4/1/1972 Savoy Brown Fleetwood Mac Long John Baldry
4/27/1972 Alice Cooper
5/11/1972 Lee Michaels Jo Jo Gunne
5/20/1972 Billy Preston Free Sir Lord Baltimore
5/26/1972 The Byrds Eric Andersen
6/9/1972 Dave Mason Jade Warrior
6/24/1972 Badfinger McKendee Spring Kindred
7/13/1972 Jeff Beck Blue Oyster Cult
7/16/1972 Procol Harum Head, Hands and Feet (Albert Lee’s band)
7/22/1972 Buddy Miles John Kay Curved Air
7/29/1972 Uriah Heep Cactus Blue Oyster Cult
8/3/1972 Savoy Brown Rory Gallagher Quicksiler
8/12/1972 Quicksilver Messenger Service Pure Food and Drug Act
8/15/1972 The Doors
8/23/1972 The Doors Flo and Eddie

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John Frank May 26, 2019 - 8:39 am

Hello Bill. My name is John (Zeke) frank and I was the lead singer of “Harvest”. We played at the Ritz with Mountain and Insect Trust on April 11th 1970 as you mentioned, but we also played the May 23rd 1970 show with Canned Heat and Pig Iron, Just thought you should know. We also played with Hot Tuna, but I don’t remember the date.

P.S.:I still have a photo of The Ritz marquee from the Canned Heat show! John.

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Walter K July 8, 2019 - 2:57 pm

Hey, I saw a bunch of those shows! Great time and greater shows, who needed the Fillmore. All the comments bring back so many memories like the head shop. Never seen a choice of papers as he had.

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Senator 62 July 14, 2019 - 8:20 pm

Hey,

Great stuff.

I went to see Three Dog Night, I believe in February of 1970 at the Ritz.
Am I right? Can anyone help me out?

Thanks!

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LB March 9, 2020 - 10:31 am

I saw them too. Unfortuately, I cannot remember the date. I loved Cory Wells!

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Bob Herman August 20, 2019 - 1:19 am

Yes Senator 62, you did see Three Dog Night at the Ritz, they played two shows on February the 27th and
Hoyt Axton who wrote “The Pusher” and “Snow Blind Friend” (Steppenwolf) and “Joy To The World”,
“Never Been To Spain” and also was an actor (Gremlins Etc.) opened up for them.

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Pencils November 10, 2019 - 9:25 pm

Damn, it’s mind blowing that THE STOOGES!, Black Sabbath, T Rex, Humble Pie and King Crimson all played Staten Island. So freaking cool! Can’t imagine what it must have been like to see the Stooges or Sabbath at this venue in their heyday. Wish there was available footage/photos floating around out there.

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Pencils November 10, 2019 - 9:30 pm

Almost lost it when I saw the Velvets on this list but Lou Reed was no longer in the band by 1971. This was basically the Doug Yule band.

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Rick April 17, 2020 - 10:51 am

Thank you to Bill Fitz for the listing of concerts and dates. A friend and I hoped over the Outerbridge and headed to the Ritz to see BB King. As I recall the theater exterior seemed a bit sad but the interior of the theater was very nice. The show was sparsely attended so much so that we moved down front. King was dressed impeccably and put on a fabulous show. After the concert the crowd dispersed quickly. We got up and approached the stage. We were both able to shake hands and exchange some words with BB. I will always remember his friendly smile as well as the large gold ring on his hand. A true gentleman. According to Bill Fitz that was 10/16/1971 – a month to the day before I entered the service. Thanks for the memory…

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