Danceland and Early Rock n’ Roll (Part Three)
“Some towns you went to on that first tour, they’d look at you with a look that could kill. You could just tell they wanted to beat the #%&! out of you.” — Keith Richards
Unlike the Beatles’ massive, tsunami-like American visit, the Rolling Stones’ first tour hit the country more like a loose array of tiny pinpricks to a giant – no huge events like the Ed Sullivan Show. Their presence was scattered in a lot of out-of-the-way places. It was not the most organized assault, as Mick Jagger later admitted. On June 6th and 7th, they played their second and third live shows to crowds at the Texas State Fair, forced at one point to play on top of a water tank full of trained seals – to a lacklustre reception. On the 10th, they went up to Chicago, not to perform on stage, but to do more interviews and to visit what to the Stones was a holy shrine: Chess Recording Studios, where many of their musical heroes and mentors had recorded – artists like Chuck Berry, Muddy Waters, Howlin’ Wolf, Willie Dixon, and Bo Diddley. Now the Rolling Stones would be recording in these same studios! From June 10-11th, they wasted no time laying down tracks for future release, some of which were major recordings, like “It’s All Over Now,” “Around and Around,” “Empty Heart,” “What A Shame,” “Confessin’ the Blues,” “Down the Road Apiece,” and even a rough early demo version of “Time Is On My Side.” While at Chess they met two legends who wanted to check them out: Chuck Berry and Muddy Waters. Muddy’s song, “Rollin’ Stone” had been the inspiration for the naming of the group. Muddy, who had been in a similar situation as a strange-sounding foreigner when he first performed in England in 1958, quickly took to them, saying “They’re my boys. I like their version of ‘I Just Want to Make Love to You’.” Prior to departing the Windy City, the Stones got a warning from the Daley police force while holding a makeshift press conference on Michigan Avenue that got a crowd, telling them to “get out of here or we will lock up the whole bunch.” While travelling through airports and public spaces in the U.S., they were often taunted by snarling young and old people to “get a haircut” and were called “faggots” by others.
It was in this cheery atmosphere that the band rolled into Minneapolis on June 12th. In town, they were interviewed by each of the two AM radio giants, KDWB and WDGY. Afterwards they drove out to Lake Minnetonka, to Big Reggie’s Danceland at Excelsior for their fourth American public stage appearance, a one-night show where they alone would be on the bill (no trained seals this time).
Big Reggie was ready. He had thought things out carefully well in advance. There wasn’t going to be a lot of pre-publicity like he had prior to the Beach Boys booking. He remembered the fiasco of kids crawling all over his building, kids in huge potentially violent mobs outside, kids unable to get in because the show was sold out, and he especially remembered how close he came to losing his license after the cops and firemen showed up to put order back on the scene. Yes, that show last year had been financially successful. But this year he thought he could get the sell-out without having to try so hard, and better yet, he wouldn’t have to contend with a messy mob scene, just a nice, simple, sold-out show. There’d be almost no publicity. Information about this concert would spread by word-of-mouth… And one more thing – to keep the wild mobs down, tickets for this exclusive Rolling Stones concert would be jacked up to $6.00 – an unheard of sum at a time when his usual shows went for about $1.50 at most, many as low as 75 cents.
“Who do you guys think you ARE, the Beatles?” – Dave Yorks to Mick Jagger
Dave Yorks was a student at Minnetonka High School, just finished with his junior year that June. He was friends with Brian Mahin of the Yetti-Men. Both he and Brian played tennis for the school. They would go on to the state finals the following year. This June, Dave found himself with a lot of extra spending money, thanks to a lucrative side job teaching tennis to lakeside residents. Like most teenagers of that era, Yorks liked the music of the Beatles, as well as most of the stuff that KDWB featured, and he liked to occasionally go down to Big Reggie’s Danceland to see the shows.
On June 12th, Yorks decided to go down to Big Reggie’s and catch this new group, the Rolling Stones. He didn’t know anything about them, except that they were from England. “The cover charge was REALLY high for the time, that I remember,” he told me. Everyone who remembered the show coming to town was so emphatic about the price being exorbitant that I took a look at local prices for the period from the newspaper ads. A quick perusal seems to back up what they told me. That summer, porkloin roast sold for 35 cents a pound, chopped ham was 59 cents per pound, and gift lingerie was only $2.98!
“I had a pocket full of money at the time,” Yorks said, “all from tennis lessons, so I decided to go anyway.” He was one of only a handful of people who showed up when the doors first opened between 7:30 and 8 PM. “I walked in when the club opened, and there were only about ten-to-twenty people, at most, milling around inside,” he stated. The Rolling Stones took to the stage to perform for this tiny audience. Bill Wyman remembered the audience at Danceland at first reacted with a mixture of “curiosity and disbelief” when they played their first set, which probably included “Not Fade Away,” and “I Wanna Be Your Man.”
When they broke after the first set, Dave Yorks called out to Mick Jagger: “Who do you guys think you ARE, the Beatles?” Jagger shot back with: “Son (he is only a few years older than Yorks), we’re gonna make you guys forget all about the Beatles.” Yorks said that during the breaks, various members of the group would walk back through the audience to the concession tables to get a coke, chatting with the “crowd”as they did so. Mick Jagger was the chattiest, according to Yorks. He doesn’t remember much about the other members of the group, except that he told me Keith Richards looked completely “out of it” that night. They all had extremely long hair to him. Whatever they looked like on the outside however got somewhat diminished when they warmed up on stage. “They played a lot of Chuck Berry songs,” Dave remembered. Yorks says he can’t remember the exact tunes that were played, but when I mentioned some of the following titles, all songs either recorded at the time by the group or performed live on BBC or American broadcasts, he said they sounded familiar, especially all of the Chuck Berry covers. The list of candidate songs I read to him were: “Bye Bye Johnny,” “You Can’t Catch Me,” “Down the Road Apiece,” “Come On,” “Around and Around,” “Route 66,” “Carol,” “It’s All Over Now,” and “Tell Me.” Another thing he noticed that evening was that a few more people began to trickle into the hall as the night wore on. “They played all evening, with breaks in between, until almost midnight or pretty late,” he said. “By the end of the evening, there were a lot more people, and many of them were dancing on the floor,” he stated. Big Reggie kept to his policy of charging half price after 10 PM, and this was when the bulk of newcomers entered the hall. Yorks insisted that he doesn’t remember there being any violence toward the Stones or from the Stones to the audience, and that there was mostly polite applause, “but there were no screaming ovations, like when the Beach Boys were here.” And there were no encores at the end. “I was skeptical of them at the beginning, but for the music, I remember feeling that I had got my money’s worth,” he remembered.
Another person who saw the Rolling Stones (briefly) that evening was Casey McPherson, who was all of ten years old in 1964. He lived right next to the park and would often sneak out his bedroom window at night to see what was going on, sometimes going to the back of Danceland to try to sneak in. On June 12th, he says he went out and hung around the back door, finally getting inside to see the Rolling Stones play that night. “They were so different from any other group I had seen, and I got backstage many times to see lots of groups perform back then,” he told me. He remembered seeing a lot of people inside, and that there were girls standing around the stage, watching the Stones play. “I felt a vibe that evening,” he stressed, like things were changing and that this group was somehow “different.”
The talk around Lake Minnetonka after the Stones departed was a mixture of disbelief “can you believe those guys?” and curiosity, which built into a giant-sized legend many years later. Estimates vary on how many people were actually in attendance at Big Reggie’s that night, and final tallies come somewhere between 200-500 people, although for obvious reasons the number has been inflated to many times that over the years. What is certain is that not many people paid the opening fee of six dollars, most people entering after the price was slashed at 10 o’clock. What is absolutely certain is that Big Reggie lost money on the engagement. So much for “word-of-mouth” promotion…It must be stressed however that this was one of the group’s very first concerts in the United States, and at the time, NONE of their records was within earth orbit of the top forty charts.
Minneapolis was still tough territory for new British groups. Big Reggie even had his hand in the till where the Beatles were concerned. They came to Minneapolis on August 21, 1965. They were attacked by mobs before going to a press conference for WDGY and KDWB. Then they proceeded to Met Stadium to the only non-sell-out concert in North America that year – again due to under-promotion for fear of pandemonium. The Beatles would never play in Minneapolis again, and the Rolling Stones would not come back until the seventies.
On the night after the Stones departed, the Trashmen came back to Danceland and filled the place. Meanwhile, the Rolling Stones played in Omaha (!!) the next night to a small audience, and then went to play in Detroit, Pittsburgh, Cleveland, Harrisburg, and finally back to New York City, where they performed a final set of two shows at Carnegie Hall. Back in Minneapolis, the first Rolling Stones record to enter the Tiger Top Fifty at Wee-Gee and the Fabulous Forty at KDWB was “Tell Me,” which entered the charts in July and fizzled out after reaching #14. Later in the year, two more Rolling Stones songs entered the local charts. The next one was “It’s All Over Now,” which cracked the top ten, reaching #7 in early October on KDWB, and then “Time Is On My Side,” which shot all the way up to #17, where it sat for a few weeks in November, before disappearing the following month. It wasn’t until 1965 that the Rolling Stones would get… “Satisfaction,” which broke big and put the group on the map nationally. They would never be unknowns again. Recently, Mick Jagger was knighted by the Queen, and the Rolling Stones, who formed forty years ago, are still touring. Hard to believe…
“You can’t always get what you want.” – Jimmy Hutmacher to Mick Jagger, Bacon Drug, Excelsior, June 12, 1964
There is one other local legend related to the Rolling Stones and their first and only visit to Lake Minnetonka that cannot be ignored. The story goes that on the day when the Stones were in town, Mick Jagger ventured over to Bacon Drugstore, in Excelsior, and couldn’t find whatever he was looking for. He voiced his frustration and local resident Jimmy Hutmacher overheard Jagger, so he said to him, “You can’t always get what you want.” This line would later be immortalized in a Rolling Stones song by that title. Locals say that if you read the lyrics, Jimmy Hutmacher is mentioned very clearly in the song. Jimmy’s brother Ralph, who once played in Danceland’s house band, and who is still around today, swears that what Jimmy said is true. True or not, it’s one hell of a great legend.
Burning down the House
Danceland continued hosting live rock ‘n roll shows, but as the sixties wore on, things got rockier for the old hall. Rowdy fights continued to break out at various times, and in 1966, the huge gang clash got Big Reggie’s license suspended for a time, so there were no shows at all for a part of that year. By 1968, Colihan, facing what he described as “increased competition for the rock ‘n roll dollar,” decided to shut the place down for good.
Big old Danceland was turned into a boat-storage facility, and it continued to house boats until 1973. On the night of July 8, 1973, Danceland went up in a burst of incendiary madness, burned to the ground by an unknown arson, probably a disgruntled kid according to some people.
Excelsior lost the amusement park in September of that same year. Today the crowds that come out to shop or to celebrate special events like September’s Apple Days are tamer, quieter, not likely to start fights in parking lots or get rowdy. It’s more settled now, and people probably like it better that way. But I’ll bet there are still many people who to this day can close their eyes and hear the shrieks of the crowds and the feet stomping on Danceland’s old dance floor.
I want to thank everyone who helped me make this article a reality: to Daniel Gabriel, who has written so much about life along the Lake and what it was like growing up here and who has freely given up much of his time and writings so that I could pilfer through both his written and spoken words; to Dave Yorks, who patiently answered my many detailed questions; to Chris Osgood for helping me out; to Casey McPherson for giving up some of his time and answering my questions, to the Minnesota Historical Society for various archival photo images, and to the Skipper, who steers this web site. He also allowed me time to answer questions, and spent many hours putting my photos and text online. Lake Minnetonka Online is fortunate to be under his command.
Visit The Beachcomber’s virtual hut at: www.SnyderConcepts.com.
LakeMinnetonka.com extends it’s gratitude to the Beachcomber for his excellent articles dealing with the history of the Lake Minnetonka area.