The following photos are of locations in the City of Brotherly Love, where at some point in the last hundred years; legendary musicians have lived, studios where legendary music was made, studios where iconic television shows were produced, venues where the most famous artists ever have played, and much much more. Stay tuned. Updated regularly.
RITTENHOUSE SQUARE [pictured above]. Arlo Guthrie based his “Ring Around the Rosie Rag” on an incident here in which police arrested the singer and some hippies for playing the children’s game Ring Around the Rosie. The square was a gathering place and performance space for many artists. Bob Dylan’s first appearance in Philadelphia was at the Ethical Society, which is on the southwest corner of the Square.
This sign marks the location of the house of legendary Jazz Musician John Coltrane. On the fringe of a now, rough neighborhood of North Philadelphia’s Strawberry Mansion section, Coltrane spent about a decade at this location. Despite the sometimes chaotic streets, there is a great view of Fairmount Park directly across from the house.
Philadelphia International Records current offices, shoppes and studios are located here at 309 South Broad Street, the Avenue of the Arts in Center City [pictured below]. The second floor studios were damaged several years ago in an arson fire, however, most of the original gear and awards were not damaged. This is currently the business home of Kenny Gamble and Leon Huff, the two principals in PIR formed in the early 70’s to make music here in town. With hundreds of gold and platinum recordings, the duo working with arranger Thom Bell, and studio engineering wizard Joe Tarsia, and the musical team of MFSB, Gamble & Huff created some of the most dynamic, forthright and memorable music in American history. The original studio was Cameo/Parkway over on Locust Street, and when this creative team began they were working with Joe Tarsia in what became his legendary Sigma Sound Studios on North 12th Street.
One of the labels distributed by Cameo/Parkway was Swan Records, at the corner of 17th and Jackson in South Philadelphia. Swan began in 1957 as a record label with artists including Freddy Cannon, who had a big hit with “Palisades Park” in 1962. The real breakthrough for the company came in March of 1964 when “She Loves You” by The Beatles went to #1 on the Billboard charts. This was the Beatles first US hit, and it was the only record they released with Swan Records before moving to EMI and Capitol for the US.
9th & South Street – The subject of the #1 Gold single by the ORLONS, “South Street”. The song was originally titled ‘Sansom’ Street, which is really the street where all the hippies were meeting. The writers changed the word to ‘south’ street because it fit better rhythmically, and more people knew that South Street was a shopping mecca at one time, especially for the clothing industry.
This is actually where the hippies were meeting, as well as artists of all kinds, new radicals, old Philadelphia money and young Penn and Temple students who were settling into the city. This is Rittenhouse Square from 19th Street. Also well known as a favorite spot for Joni Mitchell and Tom Rush at one time, and Warren Zevon several decades later. The studios of WMMR overlooked the Square for many years from the third floor of the Wellington Building.
For all the years the WMMR studios were on Rittenhouse Square we took hundreds upon hundreds of artists to visit with the staff and appear live on their airwaves. Before Cyndi Lauper had such huge success on the Pop charts, we developed her in Philly with the help of stations like WMMR, who were early supporters.
Here’s Cyndi meeting the staff, including from left a younger me, John DeBella, PD George Harris, Michael Tearson, MD Erin Riley, Steve Sutton and Jack Quigley.
Also located on Rittenhouse Square is the Ethical Society, where Bob Dylan first appeared in Philadelphia for a show for Gene Shay. Gene is the nationally renowned Folk music champion and expert. Gene is co-founder of the Philadelphia Folk Festival, now in its 52nd year. He has hosted every year since the first. Gene also has the longest running folk music program on the radio, at WXPN 88.5FM here in town.
Philadelphia is a city of murals, home to the most outdoor street art in the world. Here’s another mural found in South Philly, and is in the center of the neighborhood where each of these personalities were born and raised, and in some cases still own homes here. Pictured below are Fabian, Frankie Avalon, Chubby Checker, Bobby Rydell, Jerry Blavat, Al Martino and Eddie Fisher. This mural is on a wall down the street from Pat’s and Geno’s Steaks.
Also located on the Avenue of the Arts, South Broad Street, is the Philadelphia Music Alliance Walk of Fame. Formed in 1986 after the music industry decided that Cleveland would be the home of the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame, the PMA was created by the most influential business leaders in town dedicated to preserving and promoting the region’s rich musical heritage and encouraging the next generation of artists here. There are 116 artists honored with bronze plaques set in the sidewalk on the Avenue, including Marion Anderson, Joan Jett, Dizzy Gillespie, Linda Creed, the Hooters, Billie Holiday, Hall & Oates and many more.
Also located around the corner from South Broad St was the Showboat, which later became the Bijou Cafe, the hippest and best venue for many artists to make their first appearance in downtown Philadelphia. The Bijou was the launching pad for so many bands and artists, and comedians in the city. Gil Scott Heron, Billy Crystal, Bette Midler, Barry Manilow, U2 and hundreds more. One of the very first bands I promoted at CBS/Epic Records when I joined in 1976 was Boston, which I think stands as the second biggest debut album of all time. It was ridiculous. “So this is what it’s like at a major label?” Boston played at the Bijou for a private client party for the sales department at WMMR for their advertisers. They were completely out of their element. After the gig, the band went to WYSP, the competitor rock station in town at the time, to do their first interview outside the city of Boston with legendary DJ Denny Somach.
Boston’s first appearance in Philadelphia for ticket buyers was at The Spectrum the following April. No clubs, no colleges, no support slots, no small halls. The Spectum. Sold out 19,000 seats immediately. We had some kind of banner contest where winners could create Boston art on a sheet and hang it over the railing of the arena. Someone from the radio station would walk through the building and judge the best, and award them upgraded tickets to the front rows. Great way to meet chicks as it turns out.
Pictured below the original Boston’s first appearance in Philly, including the sadly departed Brad Delp, still one of the very best male voices in rock & roll. I remember him practicing to hit those ridiculous notes in “Foreplay/Long Time” in the visitors hockey locker room before this show. I also think this was shortly after the word had come down from Black Rock that all the posters that had been put into all the record shops had to be taken down and destroyed. Epic made a poster with the tag line “better music through science” as a nod to Mr Sholtz’s research background, and without his knowledge. When the band saw these out on the street they insisted they be removed. Probably my first lesson in how to go from a genius to a disaster while selling one million records a month.
Pictured with the band, on the far right, is Alex DeMers, who was at that time the Program Director of WIOQ, the most adventurous of the FM rock stations in town.