Monday, April 20, 2009
Photo: Jerry Cummings
In Memorial Days gone by....They shook the rafters and drank 10 cent beers.
"Places make us - first genes, then places - after that it's everyman for himself. God help us, and good luck to one and all." - William Saroyan "Places Where I've Done Time."
By William Kelly
The Sun (Atlantic City, N.J. May 22, 1981
Memorial Day weekend, the traditional beginning of summer, has arrived, and with it thousands of kids just out of school. Their cars stream around the Somers Point Circle, hell bent on hitting the beach, towards a summer that's finally here.
Across the Ocean City causeway, they pass the Bay Shores Cafe marquee - a dull burnt out green neon sign. For anyone who has spent a weekend at this part of the shore, that marquee stands as a relic, a memorial to an an era gone by.
For now there's only a dusty vacant lot along the bay. Since it's prime development property there's a blueprint lying in a drawer somewhere that illustrates what could be. But for many people that quadrant of the universe still rings with memories.
In the '30s, as the Bay Shores nickelodeon played songs for a buffalo head nickel, they'd dance the boogie-woogie and do the jitterbug. During World War II girls in gowns and soldiers in browns would say to the big band sounds of Tommy Dorsey and Glenn Miller, then break into the Lindy Hop, with hands and feet flying.
"We'd shake the rafters," one former patron remembered, "and we'd laugh and say how the place would fall into the bay one day."
Until the storm o f'46 took out the deck and the dance floor that extended out over the bay. Only the pilings are still in place today, and they only vibrate with the tides.
At the end of the war Tony Marotta opened Tony Marts across the street, but the competition only brought in more people, making Bay Avenue a popular entertainment strip, with such clubs as Steel's Ship Bar, the Gateway Casino/Under 21 Club and the Anchorage. But Bay Shores was always the flagship until Tony Marts came along.
Vince Rennich started working at Bay Shores in 1952, the years before they remodeled for the last time. The college pennants - West Chester State, Penn State, Villanova, Princeton - still lined the ceiling when the raised the building last year (1980).
Rennich, who worked at Bay Shores until 1957, and is now at Gregory's around the corner, remembers that "before '53 there was a partition across the bar, with music for older people on one side, and rock n' roll on the other side for the 'kids'." At the time, the "kids" were still 21 or older, then the drinking age.
It was the lowering of the drinking age to 18 tat killed the strip, bringing in a younger, sassier crowd that intimidated the older people and sent them across the circle to the Crab Trap and to Shore Road to Mac's.
"In those days," recalled Rennich, "yuou could come down here with $10, have a good time, and go home with $9. You made less, but had more. You could do anything you wanted because the price was right."
"It was 10 cents for a glass of Gretz beer, and later it was 50 cents a bottle and 60 cents a shot."
In the late '40s and early '50s, Mike Pedicin, Sr. would play sax in his band before he followed the exodus of older people to the Crab Trap, Mac's, DiOrio's and the Jolly Roger.
Pete Carrol played songs like "Sweet Georgia Brown," and Tedo Mombo, a hairy hippie before his time, made the scene at Bay Shores after getting fired by Tony Marotta.
In 1955 Bay Avenue helped conceive rock n' roll when Bill Haley and the Comets, with Dick Boccelli of Ocean City on drums, came in from Wildwood to play Tony Marts. Bay Shores followed suit with Billy Duke and the Dukes and there was a real battle of the bands.
While others sponsored the early rock n' roll that bordered on country and western, with Conway Twitty and Levon and the Hawks at Tony Marts, while Bay Shores brought in the South Philly sounds of Rocco and the Saints, featuring Bobby Rydell and Frankie Avalon.
The Bay Shores leased out their kitchen to "South Philly Bernie," who grilled the burgers and cheesesteaks, and with names like Frankie Day, Paul Anka, Dion and others, it was THE PLACE.
On weekends, the matinee shows, especially when it rained, became a popular post-beach party.
"You couldn't get in the door there were so many people," Rennich recalls. "We'd have to close the place at 7 for an hour to clean it up and get ready for the second shift, which lasted until 2am.
When the music stopped in Somers Point at 2am, they'd just be getting underway at the nearby Dunes on Longport Blvd. Both Bay Shores and the Dunes were owned by the same people, so you'd often see patrons on the beach or boardwalk sporting t-shirts that had "Bay Shores" on the front and "Dunes 'till Dawn" on the back.
In the '60s, Buddy Tawell worked the first, front bar of a half-dozen large rectangle bars. Buddy was a character out of the Endless Summer, taking off for Colorado for the winter and Ft. Lauderdale by Easter before returning to Bay Shores for the summer.
The most popular music of the late '60s was by Johnny Caswell and the Crystal Mansion. Caswell perfected the Joe Cocker like inflection and recorded a few songs, some of which can still be found on the juke boxes at the Anchorage and Maloney's in Margate.
Charlie Brown, who worked at Bay Shores for a year before moving down the street to the Anchorage (and later Mother's), last heard from Caswell a year ago (1979). "I got a prayer chain letter from him from California," Charlie says, "I threw it out and my luck's been bad ever since."
After Caswell, Malcolm and his band Hereafter came in from Lancaster, Pennsylvania, and got popular doing Rod Stewart numbers, like "Maggie May." The band across the street, led by Ruby Falls, gave some stiff competition, but Malcolm took care of that when he married her and faded away.
It's Memorial Day weekend and we're left with photos and prints of Bay Shores, the old boarded up rock house, sitting there like a derelict ghost ship that's slipping into the bay.
The bands and the buildings are all gone, and you can't tell if the pilings are shaking from the wind and the surf or some long forgotten jitterbug.
I heard about you when I did a Google search on Bayshores Somers Point. Came up with "The Night Beat". My name is Joe "Sonny" Romino. I played with The Bonnevilles, (formerly J.B. and the Bonnevilles when John Borrell was the front man) in 1964 as a drummer, and as a keyboard player, Hammond B3, from June 1968 to October 1969, including two summers at Bayshores and over the July 4th weekends at The Dunes.
We would play 102 straight nights and afternoons on Saturdays and Sundays. A couple of times each summer we would trailer up to Philadelphia to do the Jerry Blavitt Show. We were out of Morgantown, West Virginia and Malcolm Swisher, front man vocals and guitar, Dave Coombs bass player and band leader, drummer Jay Armentrout and myself attended WVU. Other members included Nick Nicholas, lead guitar from Ventnor, NJ and Joe Cerisano, (now a recording artist who sang with the Trans-Siberian Orchestra), guitar and vocals.
We'd come back for Easter weekends each year until the start of the summer contract around Memorial Day. The rest of the time we played around Morgantown and traveled into Pennsylvania, Ohio, New Jersey, Maryland, Delaware, and Kentucky. Dave Coombs became a motorcross enthusiast and sponsored motorcycle races up and down the East Coast and published a nationwide motorcross magazine. Two of his children became attorneys, and his son Davey Coombs is an ESPN anaylist for Motorcross. Dave passed away about 10 years ago.
Malcolm was a New York City Central Park mounted policeman last I heard, and Nick Nicholas was a US Postal Service mail carrier still in the Atlantic City/ Ventnor area. Jay Armentrout had a music store in Richmond Virginia.
When at Somers Point the summer of "69", I didn't have anything to do during the day so I took flying lessons at Southern Jersey Airways at the Ocean City airport. I was drafted in October 1969 and ended up at Fort Bragg, NC. Got out in September 1969. Became a pilot with the Allegheny Airlines Commuter and then an air traffic controller for 22 years. Retired and went back to flying for Atlantic Southeast Airlines, a Delta Connection carrier. I retired at age 60 and am now a test pilot for the same airline living in the Atlanta, Georgia area with my wife of 35 years. We have 4 daughters who live Waconia Minnesota, Jacksonville Florida, Las Vegas Nevada, and Atlanta Georgia. Those two summers at Bayshores were the best.
Between Tony Marts and Bayshores the view from the back stage was just a sea of heads from the front of the stage, across the bars through Bayshores, through the parking lot , and across the street to the front door of Tony Marts from the 4th of July until Labor Day. It was like one happy carnival.
We started playing the first set at 8pm. Forty five minutes on. Forty five minutes off. Then it was 30 on, 30 off, continuous music across the stages. Once the break song started the other band would pick it up, and the first band would stop. We would end at 1 am and Johnny Caswell and the Crystal Mansion at 1:30 am. Then we'd head to the Dunes to have a beer and relax. I always liked to listen to some of the other bands that were playing in the area-Motherloade from Canada at Tony Marts, People of the Night at Anastasia's in Atlantic City.
I rememder Norman the Bay Shores manager, Wayne the young man who was disabled and I believe now works at the Somers Point golf course as a cart man, and so many more. I remember the good times there. They were the best. The sights, the sounds, the smells (especially when the tide was out), the heat and the humidity from the back stage that hung out over the bay. These are memories I will never forget. I will cherish them forever.
An employee I work with, brought me the Sandpaper Nightbeat article about the original Bayshores. He knew it would be of interest to me because I had told him about my band playing there from 1962 to 1964 before I went into the Navy. Our four piece group was called the Searchers. We were all local kids that got a chance to play opposite groups like Mike Pedicin, Teto Mambo, Joey "D" and the Starlighters, and Bill Haley and the Comets. Easter weekend was the start of summer for us. We played well enough to hold the early afternoon crowds until the big named bands came on. We did well enough that the management kept us on through the summer as the alternate band. During breaks, we would run across the street to Tony Marts and enter the weekly talent contest until someone caught on.
My summer day job was just as exciting. I worked morning shift at the arcade next-door to Bayshores making breakfast/lunch for the band members like Dwayne Eddy etc. What a thrill!!! Our group also played dinner music at the Sandpiper restaurant next to the Dunes. from 5:00 to 8:00 PM. We would pack up our equipment and rush to Bayshores. Once 2:00 AM rolled around, we packed up again and headed for the Dunes (open 23 hours a day). They closed 1 hour to clean. All the groups would be there and we would jam together (no charge to the patrons) What a routine!
If I had the money, I would re-establish that great time again in the same location. Yes, the crowd would be older, but I bet we could still party like we did.
Michael W. De Wees
Lead Engineer IDS