Mar 26 2012

Revisting the Warehouse

By: Emily Hingle

78-07-30pcBob Marley

 In my teen years, I started developing a taste for rock and roll. My father Thomas aided in teaching me about the music of his youth, and explained that he saw the best concerts at a venue called The Warehouse. I was amazed when he claimed to have seen Black Sabbath and no one knew who they were. I wanted to know more about this mythic place that was gone before I was born. I learned that it was just a large, open warehouse located at 1820 Tchoupitoulas St. that after 12 years of business, created a lasting impression on this city.
Currently involved with the newly-reopened Joy Theater, Bill Johnston founded The Warehouse. He conceived of the idea from a Chicago concert he attended at the legendary Filmore East in New York City. “They opened for Buddy Miles, and when I was at that show, I went absolutely crazy because I’ve never seen anything like it in my life,” said Johnston. “Growing up here, I realized, ‘Man, we have nothing like this in New Orleans.’” Johnston began Beaver Productions with Don Fox, Brian Glynn and John Simmons and opened the doors on January 30th, 1970, with Fleetwood Mac and the Grateful Dead, who were infamously arrested later that night on Bourbon Street. “We had no business plan,” he said. “We had no idea what we were doing. We knew what we wanted to do and after a while were able to do it.” 


Patrons packed the venue that had a capacity for thousands. Stan Massey was a loyal customer, hanging out on most nights. “I saw Grand Funk Railroad, The Who, and they had a really spooky one once with Iggy Pop &The Stooges, Alice Cooper, and MC5 on one billing,” Massey said. As many people describe, drugs were a part of the experience. “There were a lot of psychedelic drugs like LSD and mescaline going around everywhere,” Johnston said. “If you didn’t have any, it was very easy to get some. Everybody was extremely spaced out. It was kind of weird. We went into this old warehouse; it was hot as hell. Take drugs, listen to the music.” The haze of drugs couldn’t cloud his recollections. “The group that I remember playing the most was the original Allman Brothers Band. They would play all night long.” 


The Allman Brothers were considered the house band. They opened for the headliners on many weekends, and then play again after the concert ended until the early morning hours. Numerous now famous bands rocked The Warehouse before anyone knew their name. Pink Floyd performed on May 15 and 16, 1970, and the Eagles headlined a show with The Charlie Daniels Band on June 2, 1973. The amazing collection of musicians doesn’t seem to cease: Cat Stevens, KISS, Rod Stewart, Blue Oyster Cult, and Thin Lizzy. Massey recalls The Chambers Brothers guitar playing: “They didn’t use picks, they didn’t use slides. They all picked the guitars with their long fingernails. They were fantastic.” One of the most notorious shows occurred on December 12, 1970; The Doors performed what would be their final concert with Jim Morrison who, Johnston claims, put a hole through the stage floor with the mic stand. Former employee George Friedman has the audio of that performance. It’s currently locked away, and George is keeping it safe until it can be given justice. “Rather than compromise the validity of the last performance of Morrison, it should be in the right place.” If you can’t wait for that, you can experience one of ZZ Top’s shows; they recorded part of the1975 album Fandango there. The Talking Heads performed the last show The Warehouse would see on December 10, 1982.


Patron Bobby Wahl put his memories to work and compiled a list of all the shows. With the help of webmaster John Dubois, his short list on a Facebook page transformed into a long inventory on www.blackstrat.net. Several of the shows listed have links to pictures of ticket stubs, posters and ads, and performances. “I thought there might be 200 shows, but now we have over 350 shows listed, and I’m always getting people sending photos.” He was able to find most of the information at Tulane’s Library in the magazines in the Louisiana collections, particularly the underground magazine NOLA Express which had ads for the shows. “I wound up going three different times. There was just so much information.” Bobby began the project as a hobby during his retirement and didn’t realize how involved it would become. “It was just out of curiosity,” he said.” “I did a little research and one thing led to the next. It’s an ongoing thing. We have just accumulated so many photographs.” 


Photos, worn tickets and band flyers aren’t enough for some. “I want to take the magic of The Warehouse,” says Joey Richards who wants to use the feeling he got while attending concerts at The Warehouse and transform it into a center for children to learn rock and blues music and have a venue for them to perform. He’s currently locating a building for The Old Warehouse where he will hold classes for children interested in rock. “We would dedicate Friday night to kids,” he said. “Have concerts for kids, to kids, by kids.” After the students meet the program criteria, like a certain amount of practicing time, have written a number of songs, and performed for an audience, they will receive an instrument for their hard work, and, hopefully, venture into the musical economy of the city. 


Like me, people who could never go there have sought out information about it, trying hard to understand what it must have been like. Jessy Williamson was too young to go, but has developed a documentary about it over the past few years. “Growing up I overheard numerous stories from my parents and their friends about all the great bands that played at The Warehouse,” he said. The documentary named  A Warehouse on Tchoupitoulas began as simple submission to WYES, but progressed into an all-encompassing film. Williamson describes the motivation to expand it: “Once I started this project I started putting people back in touch with each other, many who haven’t seen each other or even spoken in 30 or 40 years, and the way their eyes light up when talking about [it] or how thankful they are for letting them relive their youth just let me know that I had stumbled on a really great project.” You may be seeing the documentary soon. Williamson is currently editing the film and hopes to have it released in three months. “We will be submitting the film to the New Orleans Film Festival and all the surrounding film festivals. We are going to have the premier at the Joy Theater on Canal Street. Bill Johnston has been a tremendous help to us along the way.” 


Johnston is also producing his own show called “The Warehouse New Orleans….Revisited!” at the Joy Theater, possibly in conjunction with the release of the documentary. He first did the concert at Harrah’s Casino on the fortieth anniversary of the venue’s opening. Due to popular demand, he will revive the live music experience that takes audiences back to the 70s with the songs that were once performed at The Warehouse, as well as release an album of the music.


The Warehouse was a binding experience for New Orleans’ youth, and it still brings them joy. Wahl states, “I’ve gotten many emails from people thanking us for bringing their memories back alive. I never thought it would go this far, and it has. I’m glad it did because it was an important part of New Orleans, just like the Filmore East was to New York, and I thought it would be a shame to let it fade from memory.” And even though Williamson didn’t know it personally, he claims, “The beautiful thing about The Warehouse was that it wasn’t just a music venue, it was the center of New Orleans subculture. The first time The Warehouse was going to close, September 1973, Foghat was going to close the place down. But they loved [it], they loved New Orleans and after putting on a mind blowing show, they gave all the money back and told the partners to ‘Keep the doors open, we love this place.’” The building is now gone from the site, but lives in veneration as the symbol of a generation.

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