Ken Newton FB image

John Philip Sousa performed under this roof, as did Sergei Rachmaninoff. Rudolf Nureyev danced here once, and Elvis Presley hip-shook the place into a frenzy.

At Ellis Auditorium, I walked in mid-set for a Dutch band named Golden Earring.

That seemed like a 1970s thing to do.

My misspent teen years would have such episodes, and I can’t imagine why my parents allowed me so often to make the 140-mile drive to Memphis to see rock bands whose names and music must have baffled them.

True, my brother lived there at the time – actually in a Mississippi suburb just south of Graceland – so I had a place to stay and a person to call if I got into trouble.

Still, my level of irresponsibility should have eclipsed any measure of trust established. At that point, I had worked as a porter at a Holiday Inn, 85 cents an hour plus tips, and perhaps my mom and dad thought I could pay my own bail.

On this night, in May 1974, I had gone to see Poco, a band riding a wave of country-rock enthusiasm just then. Their pairing with a European band of a heavier vibe made little sense, but those things happened.

Opening acts got chosen, especially back then, because of availability, record label affiliation, promoters’ budgets and a dozen other reasons not related to normal thought.

Remember that Jimi Hendrix, in the 1960s, got early exposure in the United States as a warm-up act for The Monkees.

Poco put on a good show, but I remember Golden Earring’s drummer wrapping up a solo by leaping over the drum kit, as if spring-loaded. This band had one hit in its set, and I thought about this the other day when I heard “Radar Love” on a Kansas City classic rock station.

I probably age myself with the mention of radio, so much of our musical influences these days coming from streaming and satellite options. Acts can grow now without airplay, instead capturing YouTube lightning in a bottle.

In my youth, though, we listened to Top 40 stations, reveling in those nights that we could get a clear signal from WLS in Chicago. We had no FM station in my small town, but one in the college community 30 miles away would play album cuts from bands that eschewed singles. That felt like a revolution in our rural worldview.

A classmate talked of gate-crashing at a Pink Floyd show at Kiel Auditorium in St. Louis. Another bragged of prescience being in a scant crowd at a small gym for an unknown band called Styx.

Friends cast themselves into camps, one a glam fan with David Bowie hair, some metalheads committed to Led Zeppelin, others given to the softer stuff, Cat Stevens, and the mainstream, Steppenwolf.

At high school proms, dates abandoned their seats en masse when the Chicago ballad “Color My World” began, its slow-dance bona-fides unquestioned.

My ventures to Memphis put me in crowds, mostly at Mid-South Coliseum, with The Who, Alice Cooper, Elton John, Ten Years After, T. Rex, Humble Pie, The Edgar Winter Group. For a kid from a burg, it felt worldly.

Concerts have mostly gone away in these socially distanced times, a year, maybe two, claimed by the pandemic. Young people will still find their heroes because every generation does.

The hippest of those I admired might have artificial hips these days. Ellis Auditorium has long been demolished. Time has its way because no choice presents itself. But I still have some vinyl to prove it all happened.

Ken Newton can be reached at ken.newton@newspressnow.com. Follow him on Twitter: @SJNPNewton.​