Monday, October 19, 2009

Remembering the Limelight

Since my last tale was about the Continental, I thought I would describe my very first forays into the world of live music in Buffalo – the Limelight coffee house – located only a few blocks from the Continental but worlds away in both time and just about every other criterion one could imagine.

The autumn of 1964 found me in my first semester at Buff State (I might mention that it was frowned upon in those days to call the school “Buff State.”).  I was 18 years old, very young and naïve (compared to girls that age nowadays). One evening, a group of us girls from the Cassity Hall decided to go to the Limelight, that “beatnik coffeehouse” over on Edward Street.  We were very excited with the adventure of it all – “going out – to a coffeehouse – in the big city” (we were all small town and country gals).

We called an extra large VanDyke taxi that would fit the seven of us and all piled in for the short ride from Elmwood Avenue over to Edward Street.  When the taxi pulled up in front of the Limelight we peered into the dimly lit establishment – it looked so dark in there – we could see a person with a guitar on the tiny stage, and people seated at small tables - pretty scary for our first time out!

The taxi driver sensed our fear and hesitation and gallantly offered to escort us in the door, or at least wait for us for a few minutes to make sure we were OK.  His obvious concern only served to escalate our fears and we chickened out and had him drive us back to campus.

Later on, accompanied by a proper date, I did brave the environs of the Limelight and found it to be a wonderful place indeed – real folksingers on stage and hot chocolate with real whipped cream!  Yum!  I spent hours dreamily listening to the buttery voice of Jerry Raven.

In communicating with old friends who shared the Limelight experience, I asked each of them, “What were your favorite songs that Jerry used to sing?” No two people have mentioned the same song!  We each had our own list: mine included “Spanish is Loving Tongue,” “Hava Nagila,” and Tom Lehrer’s “Pollution.”

Jerry was the perfect host for the Limelight –he booked a great variety of both local and regional acts into his warm, intimate little club, he played guitar (de rigueur for guys back then!), and he was a walking encyclopedia of music from the Child ballads to English Music Hall silliness and of course the creations of contemporary singer-songwriters.  He had a wicked sense of humor – and all the girls were mesmerized by his twinkling eyes and dark curly hair - and – oh! That voice!

One of the Limelight’s most memorable solo performers was Terry Knight, from Flint, Michigan, who later went on to some fame with his group Terry Knight and the Pack which later morphed into Grand Funk Railroad.  Terry was our own version of Mick Jagger, complete with a mod wardrobe and a Prince Valiant haircut, and he sang soulful and brooding ballads such as his signature cover of “I, Who Have Nothing.”

The group I loved the best, however, was a local band called QSL (Steve Wagner and Larry Bradley) who eventually ended up recording a brief (but in my humble opinion perfect) concert at my house in the early seventies.  These guys were multi-talented, clever and zany and always fun to listen to or just be around.

Jerry Raven, nevertheless, remains perched at the top of my Limelight list and I am so very pleased to hear that he has finally been inducted, in 2009, into the Buffalo Music Hall of Fame.  It’s about time - congratulations Jerry!

Original chair from the Limelight