Buzz Knight 00:00:01
Taking a walk with Buzz Knight. Well, hi, it’s Buzz Knight, the host of the Taking a Walk podcast series, the special New York edition, the Greenwich Village edition. And we are in the Village and with a dear friend of mine, Steve Leeds. Steve, great to be with you.
Steve Leeds 00:00:20
Thank you. Just to be very specific, we’re on the Lower East Side, okay? So it’s on the outskirts of the Village and we’re on an avenue called Houston Street. Now, people from out of town looking and go, oh, Houston. No, Houston. And we’re on the corner of Houston, Houston and Essex at number 217 Houston Street, which is the site of a very interesting historical rock showcase club called the Mercury Lounge. Do tell a lot of fans when they first come to New York since there’s no CBGBs Not that this is a punk environment, but a lot of the fans in club acts will come here and for their first exposure, saying I played New York and there’d be a swarm of record company weasels coming down just to check out the action and see what all the noise and commotion was about. I guess you could make or break a career here.
Buzz Knight 00:01:26
Do you remember any particular shows you saw here?
Steve Leeds 00:01:31
I was trying to think about that. No, not really. Maybe the Meat Puppets played here, but I wouldn’t swear. I’m sure somebody listening to more savvy than they can go on Google and look up the Mercury Lounge and see who first did their chops here.
Buzz Knight 00:01:53
I’ll bet you’re right. I’m just going to put my money on you.
Steve Leeds 00:01:57
Don’t do that.
Buzz Knight 00:01:58
I think I’m going to. All right, well, let’s go back up this way. We just had a delightful dinner.
Steve Leeds 00:02:06
Delightful fattening, yes.
Buzz Knight 00:02:11
Salt, yes, but delightful.
Steve Leeds 00:02:16
But if you’re in the Lower East Side and you want to go to a historical food place on Houston Street, it’s called Katz’s. It’s been there since the early 1900 and everyone’s been there. Presidents have been there. The famous film When Harry Met Sally built that scene where she’s faking an orgasm in the middle of a restaurant. And it’s one of the tables there. In fact, it’s marked with a mobile hanging from the ceiling saying, this is where it happened. Classic seat. So you’re the Lower East Side now. There’s all sorts of characters and different people here to help me. What’s strange is the gentrification that’s going on here. The corner is a gelato place. Now we’re walking past Marshalls. Marshalls right next to Katz’s
Buzz Knight 00:03:23
I know, that’s so weird.
Steve Leeds 00:03:25
And then the next stop is this CVS. Things have changed and they continue to change
Buzz Knight 00:03:40
I mean, it’s happening everywhere.
Steve Leeds 00:03:41
I think the city has gotten extraordinary expensive. Whether it’s an Uber or a taxi or a hot dog. It’s more than it was before the Pandemic.
Buzz Knight 00:03:54
So did you come around the Village a lot with a lot of your acts from your label business that were being showcased. I got to think you made a ton of appearances yourself here.
Steve Leeds 00:04:06
Well, no, I used to come down here as a college kid. That was fun.
Buzz Knight 00:04:13
Where did you go to college?
Steve Leeds 00:04:14
Well, I went to school back then. I was going to school in Washington, DC. But I love hanging out. Let’s say Mark’s place on McDougal Street. I love going to the button store because that was the thing. Protest button. My favorite was flush twice. It’s a long way to Washington. I love that. And you get all these obnoxious buttons, political statements, if you will. The button store It’s only sold buttons. Now, here we are in front of Russ and Daughters. Now, this is a hoity toity you might call it a deli, but it’s a lot more than that. This specialty is smoked fish. So you come here for salmon, a white fish salad. Not cheap by any stretch of the imagination, but top of the line. And around the corner, I believe they opened the little restaurant.
Buzz Knight 00:05:08
Oh, really? I have a question for you.
Steve Leeds 00:05:11
What is a cup chumkas? Where do you see that?
Buzz Knight 00:05:16
See that on the genuine Nova Scotia?
Steve Leeds 00:05:19
I’m going to say that’s something Polish. That I have no idea.
Buzz Knight 00:05:22
Oh, and I’m the Polish guy here.
Steve Leeds 00:05:24
Is that true?
Buzz Knight 00:05:24
Yeah, I should know.
Steve Leeds 00:05:26
Well, they got sturgeon greegales, Russian caviar. Oops. I don’t think pickles Haliva.
Buzz Knight 00:05:36
They ship nationwide.
Steve Leeds 00:05:37
Oh, yeah, money changes everything. Look at that. Homemade pickled loxs. I have no idea what that is.
Buzz Knight 00:05:45
It looks like going back in time.
Steve Leeds 00:05:46
Yeah, I mean, look at the floor, the tile floor. Yeah, but I mean, enough of the.
Buzz Knight 00:05:52
Village still, don’t you think? Looks like it’s back in time.
Steve Leeds 00:05:57
A lot of it still army and Navy store that just sells army bags. Okay, then you have 50 pizza bags. Yeah, that’s that deal.
Buzz Knight 00:06:15
That’s quite a margin business, right? How about the Bottom Line and the shows that used to be there?
Steve Leeds 00:06:24
So the Bottom Line Washington Square on Fourth and Mercer. What a horrible end at NYU. Had to take it over, but who knows if they would have survived? The business has changed so much. Two shows a night. I don’t know how many fans would continue doing that. I was there for one of the opening shows. Let’s see, is Dr. John and the opening act was a blues act. Gary Farr and the T bones. If I’m not mistaken, they were British.
Buzz Knight 00:07:02
Anyway, it was a small place, right? Wasn’t it like 400, 500, yeah, 400 people.
Steve Leeds 00:07:09
Yeah, but amazing things. Billy Joel played there. Springsteen played there. The annual Flo and Eddiw Christmas show. Yeah.
Buzz Knight 00:07:18
I mean, it was really like WNEW’s like kind of like broadcast place of record.
Steve Leeds 00:07:23
Buzz Knight 00:07:33
Danny Fields was saying this. Wasn’t it really a place that if you were in the label business and there was a showcase going on.
Steve Leeds 00:07:44
You’ve got to be there.
Buzz Knight 00:07:45
You got to be there. Yeah, right. And the labels paid for everything, right?
Steve Leeds 00:07:49
Oh, yeah. And it was hard to get service. Waiters, waitress, waitresses. Excuse me, I need something to drink. But the best was the brownies. The brownies with whipped cream. I always thought those were great there. And Alan and Stanley ran it like a family operation. Jack was at the front door and there was a bar on the left.
Buzz Knight 00:08:20
But you really think these places probably could not I mean, they didn’t survive, but there was no way in today’s world that they could have survived.
Steve Leeds 00:08:29
I think it’d be a challenge. The Fillmore East I’m sure you walked by there.
Buzz Knight 00:08:36
Steve Leeds 00:08:38
Buzz Knight 00:08:39
Steve Leeds 00:08:40
I mean, you walk around the side is the brick wall where the Allman Brothers shot the album cover.
Buzz Knight 00:08:44
I hear some controversy that that’s not where they shot it.
Steve Leeds 00:08:48
Buzz Knight 00:08:49
I don’t know. We got to get to the bottom of that one.
Steve Leeds 00:08:56
Across the street was the Village Theater, which had a lot of strange things, including a Timothy Leary be in I went to that. And I think one of the talents was this acoustic guitar player. Peter Walker played the ancient protest strings of life. Anyway, I got Timothy Leary to autograph an autograph sheet. I always thought. Wow. Timothy Leary. Autograph.
Buzz Knight 00:09:39
That’s pretty cool.
Steve Leeds 00:09:40
I thought so. And then on McDougall Street, that’s where I got these streets. Right. Players Theater, small theater, couple hundred, if that. And that’s where the Fugs play.
Buzz Knight 00:09:57
Ed Sanders. Right.
Steve Leeds 00:09:59
Tuli Kupferberg All those great songs, Kill for Peace, Morning, Richie Havens recorded, which is beautiful. My favorite song was Squack Man meets the Lunatic Vagina. So here I am. I guess I was 16 years old and I convinced my father to drive me and a couple of our friends into the Village of the Night to go see the Fugs.
Buzz Knight 00:10:34
Steve Leeds 00:10:36
I don’t know. I guess they might have done two shows and sold out. And my father was trying to convince us we should go around the corner because there was something else playing there at the Village gate. The Mothers of Invention.. We got to see the Fugs. Oh, God. Because I was a hardcore Fugs fan. I mean, that’s one of my favorite little tortures is I go into Spotify and see if I can something find songs or artists they don’t have.
Buzz Knight 00:11:09
Steve Leeds 00:11:10
They won’t have any of the Fugs. Boy, they sure did. They had the whole Fugs catalog on that little independent label they were on ESP Records. Oh, wow. So, anyway, I still like and of course, my brother and I love singing the Fug song. Nothing. It’s called nothing. How does it go? Monday nothing. Tuesday nothing. Think Wednesday a lot more nothing. Thursday, nothing. Friday nothing. Saturday, Sunday morning nothing. And then the verses go, Nothing, nothing. And during the pandemic, what a great song. Nothing.
Buzz Knight 00:11:57
Steve, that is worth the price of admission right there. You’re singing that song.
Steve Leeds 00:12:03
Beautiful. That’s terrible.
Buzz Knight 00:12:05
That was wonderful.
Steve Leeds 00:12:06
I mean, it’s almost as bad as my tuba playing.
Buzz Knight 00:12:09
Steve Leeds 00:12:10
Well I played Tuba and then in marching day I played the Souza ball.
Buzz Knight 00:12:16
So you really are a student of music.
Steve Leeds 00:12:18
Well, I tried, but when did you.
Buzz Knight 00:12:21
Realize that somehow being affiliated around a business, around music that you were going to be in that business? When was the moment that he knew?
Steve Leeds 00:12:35
I’m a freshman at American University in Washington DC. In the dorm, three guys to a room, the double decker bed and a single bed. And the guy in a single bed was from Pittsburgh. John and his girlfriend would come and spend the weekend. Where the hell am I going to do Friday night? I wander over to the campus radio station and lo and behold, they need a news person to read the news. Go over in the corner, some old teletype. They drift the teletype off, clean up the story to be semi relevant to the student body because campus radio station guest closed current. So I got the radio bug and I called my way up through the ranks. Came program director, eventually senior station manager, a great little radio station. It was during the time the FCC was censoring music. All the songs that were censored, I put them on our playlist, Brewer and Shipley….
Buzz Knight 00:14:12
Steve Leeds 00:14:13
So how about David Peel? Well, David Peel was on Apple Records and for some reason Capital Records didn’t really believe back then in college radio, so it’s very difficult to get anything on Capital. And Dave Peel was on Apple until it was part of Capital. So anyway, so I’m working at the campus radio station and down the hall is the university FM station, but in the hallway is the voltage board. So one day I’m walking by the Baltimore board. Production assistance needed. Acid rockers need not apply. Contact. Murray The K and a phone number. So I did one of the bad things I did in my life. I took the card off, put in my pocket and I called, I got the interview, got the job, and I’m working for Murray the K as his gopher, schlep, eventually as his producer, his weed gatherer, you name it, I did it. He was living in Washington, DC and working on weekend at WNBC in New York. So I would go off on the weekend. He was doing a thing called NBC Monitor So we did that for a while. And then he was working at this radio station, WWDC A M In Washington. And he was doing the afternoon drive. I guess he got tired of doing it and he cut a deal with a little suburban Maryland radio station where he bought the afternoon time slot outright and sold advertising for the record companies and took me with him. So my roommate became the board op I programmed all the music, and Murray voiced it, and he would leave early on Fridays. He couldn’t do a show. So this is the early days of voice tracking. He recorded all the voice tracks, and my roommate and I would throw the music in, and people didn’t know. Then he got involved with a woman down there, and she did the morning show. So eventually they gave me overnights. So my nom de plume her name. Okay, I’m listening. Herschel Chickowitz. Steve Lee. Sounds like a big Top 40. So I was on, like from, I guess from midnight to say it again, Herschel Chickowitz.
Buzz Knight 00:17:12
I’m still stunned.
Steve Leeds 00:17:15
Well, my current employer actually had me doing overnights in one of the channels and allowed me to use that name. Really? Yeah.
Buzz Knight 00:17:24
Wow. Well, you’re a rare individual, and that, you know, all of my various incarnation names and all of that stuff. You’re keenly familiar with that.
Steve Leeds 00:17:38
So while I was working in New York for Murray. Oh. So I’m working overnight, and I make $60 a week, and I get up and I go back to my renting a house with a bunch of guys, and they give me a joint and say, Shut up. Go to sleep. And I’d wake up, I’d be hungry. I’d go to Roy Rogers and have a trigger burger. And I was ruining my health, and I was like, this sucks for 60 some odd dollars a week. So I go to my I’ve graduated. I go to my faculty advisor. I go, what am I going to do? This blows. So he says, Go to grad school. Are you out of your mind? I barely got out of this place. He goes, no, this is a three semester deal. It’s really a good school. It’s probably too late, but maybe you get on the waiting list or whatever. So I find the waiting list to Syracuse Newhouse. Lo and behold, I get on the waiting list because then I got a notice they accepted me. So I have to go to the general manager of the radio station and go, listen, I’m giving you two months notice. I’m going to go to grad school. Syracuse no, no, no. You just stay here. We’re going to make you a star. I go, with all due respect, I’m going to do this. You go there, and you go look and find it, but you’ll see, you’ll want to come out. So I found an apartment and moved to Syracuse and got a job as a campus rep for United Artists Records. And then I worked at a retail record store called Discount Records. Then I did Sunday night sign off at WOUR in Utica, and I was Sunday morning transmitter engineer at WOLFthe Top 40 station, until I realized I wasn’t getting paid enough to make it worth my while. So I took two other jobs. One was a lunchroom monitor in the school system. Make sure the kids didn’t kill themselves after lunch. And then I was a bag boy at the supermarket. And that job was great. The checkout counter. The old lady said, no, my car is there. Yeah, carry the bag, the groceries, the car. And I get a quarter or fifty cents. You know. I did that and I graduated. And I went back to work with Murray at WNBC. Remember getting him since I was working at UA, I turned him on to the Electric Light Orchestra to roll over Beethoven., NBC was playing. He played on his show. Anyway, I heard through the grapevine I met the Atlantic kid. and it was kind of lame. He’s a local Atlantic guy. Anyway, I heard through the grapevine it was probably going to be let go when they were looking for somebody. So I put on my suit and tie and I go to the Foreigner Communications building. I’m going to go get a job in cable TV, degree in TV. Radio. Get in the elevator. And there’s this at the time I thought, elderly gentleman. And he looks at me and he starts laughing. He goes, what the hell are you doing wearing a suit and tie? Last time he saw me, he brought cactus to my college radio station and I’m wearing tie, dying, and I have my fro, I look like so I said, Well, I’m going to get an interview with Warner Cable. No, get off with me. Get off at the second floor. Atlantic Records introduces me to some key executives there. They throw me in a room with a bunch of these guys and they go, Kid, where do you live? New Jersey. You have a car? Yeah. What’d you do? Went to school. So you live at home? Yeah. You know anybody at WNEW? I go, well, in college I used to speak with the music director about imports. Got Dennis. Dennis. Elsas. Let me ask him, kid, do you think you can help us get our records played there? I go, well, I did this college thing for the United Artist. I would assume so. All right, listen. I want you to go out to Carlstad, to our regional branch and meet with the sales manager there. I drive out there a couple of days later, they could give a flying half about me. I could tell. They were just like so, Columbus Day, I call Atlantic Records and I get the head vice president of radio promotion, Dick Klein gets on the phone. Dick? Steve? Yeah. So listen, can’t spread this Zeppelin record. I just can’t seem to spread it up in Boston. Jerry’s not coming to the party. I don’t know. Having a little rough time with this song Dyer Maker. I don’t know. And I stopped. I go Dick. I go, Steve. It’s Steve. Leeds goes. Oh, I thought you’re Steve Wise, zeppelin’s lawyer, manager. Listen, , you got the job, 250 a week and you start next Monday. Well, I told my mother, she’s flipping out. She’s like, 250 a week plus expenses is the worst thing that ever happened to you. You’re going to be so spoiled and rocking. I go, yeah, all right, I guess. So what did I gave me Barnaby Bye they gave me Abandoned lunch, by Hall and Oates and a couple of disco. No, there wasn’t disco yet. There’s some urban records and one of my first days on the job, Vince Scelsi is doing mornings, so I used to listen to him on his college station, so I was a huge fan. I called him up, I said, I’m the Atlantic Records guy, can I meet you after the show for breakfast? He goes, yeah, sure, my brother, I’m paying for breakfast. I get to hang out with a guy who I used to listen on the radio and I’m getting paid. This is a job. Wow, this is pretty cool. And the rest is history. Some would say that.
Buzz Knight 00:24:24
I would say so.
Steve Leeds 00:24:26
That was almost 50 years ago.
Buzz Knight 00:24:33
So, in closing, music is important to us, it’s important to you, it’s important to me, to our audience. It’s something that is hard to describe, really, what it does to us. Can you articulate why music?
Steve Leeds 00:24:48
Karl Marx used the expression for religion, but I’ll rephrase it and put it in the context of music. It’s the opiate of the masses. Whereas Brian Ferry said, love is the drug I need to score. And maybe music is in there too, somewhere. So I think it’s important. A common denominator that everyone in the world knows in some form or another. From an aborigine drum in Australia to the Beat of Sowito to it’s just everywhere we go there’s some representation of music and we are just in a highly evolved, or so we think, society. And we’ve taken it to this level where it’s not just a cultural thing, but it’s a business and a big business. It makes a lot of money, it makes some people rich and some people frustrated.
Buzz Knight 00:25:52
It brings a lot of people joy, too.
Steve Leeds 00:25:56
Yes. I mean, it’s a release if you don’t have music.
Buzz Knight 00:26:01
Yeah, I can’t imagine.
Steve Leeds 00:26:05
Without music, I don’t know, difficult.
Buzz Knight 00:26:10
Stephen, it’s great to take a walk with you in Greenwich Village or excuse me, the outskirts.
Steve Leeds 00:26:17
The outskirts. We’re in the Lower East.
Buzz Knight 00:26:19
The Lower East side?
Steve Leeds 00:26:20
We’re on Houston Street.
Buzz Knight 00:26:21
We’re close to the Village, but very much close enough.
Steve Leeds 00:26:24
But thanks for sharing stories, thanks for the opportunity. And to those of you listening in the car, thanks for the ride.
Buzz Knight 00:26:33
Taking a Walk with Buzz Knight is available on Spotify, Apple podcast or wherever you get your podcast.