Working the door at the New Penelope with Allan Youster
LR: So what about the musicians? Did they have a basement, back room or backstage?
AY: No. When you came in, there was a vestibule, there was a ticket booth, some other room and then there was a large, one-room dressing room, and that was it. So, they could have smoked in there, but if you were outside, there was a parking lot behind the place. So if you were there, you can walk out the back door or go to the bathroom and smoke but, people in there had to go outside and walk around. Pot wasn’t as it is now. It was so new, I mean it was pretty loose, but back then it was weird!
LR: So, you didn’t worry that the cops would put you in jail for life?
AY: When you walked through the McGill ghetto, or you walked through that whole area, it was more student oriented than it is now. I mean, it was just open door parties. Nobody locked their doors. When I grew up and went to high school, I never had a key to the house, we just didn’t lock the doors. We lived in St-Laurent until I left, in ’75, and we didn’t lock the doors. It was quite open, but Gary wouldn’t allow pot inside the Penelope, which was gonna draw heat. I’m sure they tried to get a liquor license, but were just told “NO”.
LR: Do you remember many francophones going to shows or playing at the New Penelope?
AY: Robert Charlebois played at the New Penelope [with backing band LE QUATUOR JAZZ LIBRE DU QUEBEC], they played two Sundays in a row. Bands would play Tuesday to Saturday, we had a local band on Sunday and Monday we were closed. That would be the schedule. Sunday was a slow night, only two sets. Sonny Greenwich played there a couple of Sundays, but anyways, back to Louise Forestier & Robert Charlebois.
LR: Were they the only French act to play at the New Penelope?
LR: Did people show up for Charlebois?
AY: Oh yeah! But put it this way, it wasn’t the regulars – they brought in their own crowd. I saw them and I couldn’t believe it! They were amazing! Then I saw them the next Sunday and then I got it – the chansonnier thing – everything was the same, every hand gesture, every emotion, every facial gesture was the same! I didn’t really realize that before. One of the things about the Penelope was you could see a band play there for a week straight… Muddy Waters’ band, they never played the same song twice… they played the same song, but the guitar solos were different….
LR: So when he played five nights in a row, three sets in a night….
AY: He would do Tuesday-Wednesday-Thursday two sets, Friday-Saturday three sets, play a lot of the same songs, but the guitar solos weren’t the same. That was the beauty of the stuff. With the chansonniers, every hand gesture was repeated. There were bands that were “acts,” like the Times Square Two, they were a folk act and had a shtick, skits, but it was exactly the same and you would know what was coming.
LR: Did you go to the Esquire Show Bar for shows?
AY: I went more when Gary went there. It was a little weird at the end. It was a place where you had to buy a drink for each set, it was a little high-end… it was more expensive and not as relaxed, but the Penelope was something special, definitely a coffeehouse.
LR: It’s hard to image today that there was just one club like that…
AY: If the Penelope had had a liquor license it might still be around today. It’s one of the reasons I personally hang out at the Barfly, it’s not for the beer, it’s for the music and the people… it’s above and beyond the place itself!
LR: Going back to the old days, where did you go in St-Laurent to buy a record then?
AY: Jay Boivin was in the Sinners, and his parents had a record store on Decarie near du College, right across from the Boucher de France and next to Beaudet park, called Boivin’s that sold musical instruments and records.
LR: There was a music store nearby there where I used to go buy guitar strings …
AY: B-Sharp. They sold instruments and later became a rental place, and bands would come in and rent equipment. Bob Panetta worked there, I think he was in The Oven (St-Laurent rock band). He has a Zappa story—He actually lent Zappa his amplifier, because Zappa went down to B-Sharp to rent and there was nothing there—everything was out.
At first it was on Decarie and then it moved around the corner onto MacDonald Street, where it had a basement and was a much bigger store. That’s actually where I met my wife Gail—Bob Panetta introduced me. I went over to B-Sharp one day to see Bob and he went out on break time, and said let me introduce you …
LR: Did you know the owner, Jack Tepley?
AY: Sure! Here [Goes to the other room to show promotional poster for the album Abbey Road], this is from Tepley. When it came out, it was in his store for years. When we were getting married, he went: “I’ll give you a gift. What would you like? Don’t ask for too much!” and I went: “How about that poster? When you’re done with it” and he said: “Sure, sure, a wedding gift!” Later he dropped all the music stuff and just went into renting equipment. Do you know how it worked in there? When you went, he took your picture. He had pictures of everybody who rented his equipment. Bands would come in to rent a piece of equipment… “I never rented it!” and he would say: “You’re standing with it and I took a picture.” Because he had gotten ripped-off so many times. He got out of all that, and just went into renting. He rented sound systems, stages—he was big—for a while.
LR: We haven’t talked about Expo… I heard that Expo 67 almost killed downtown because everybody split to go there…
AY: Oh yeah! The New Penelope didn’t open until Expo closed. If you had your passport, you got in free at Expo 67 everyday, but if there was a show, you had to pay. There were a lot of bands playing at Expo all the time, local bands… friends of ours from St-Laurent… Sheffield Steel played at Expo, they hired all kinds of bands.
At the New Penelope The Sidetrack were the house band all summer. They were doing strict blues with extended solos and they would have the piano… they had great soloists and that was the thing back then, [like Paul Butterfield’s Blues Band LP] East-West. That was happening live everywhere, bands just got into a groove and jammed. Later on Sidetrack went to New York and they made them the most god-awful album.
Anyway, back to the old Penelope: I was just going there and hanging around so much that I knew everybody, so when the New Penelope opened and I was willing to work for $6 a week… as much as I loved Gary, he was never known for being a philanthropist.
LR: So he was a co-owner?
AY: He was the name. There were three: Nat Katz, Bob McKenzie & Gary Eisenkraft, but Gary was the manager, he was the name and he was the connection, he knew Albert Grossman in New York and that’s how he got Butterfield, the Fugs… I think Nat was an engineer and had a job but I didn’t see him very much, he didn’t involve himself much with the place, he’d come once in a while. Gary was the front man, but Bob was there too and would introduce acts when Gary wasn’t around, and he was there quite a bit. He lived near the place.
LR: From what we’ve heard, it seams that Gary did just about everything: book the place, pick the bands, write the contracts and I’m assuming he had to buy the material, hire & fire personnel…
AY: There were waitresses there, always two or three. On the busy nights there was three. You’re only making money selling coffee and hot chocolate, lemonade and orange juice and you have 200-300 people in there and they’re thirsty, that’s where you’re making your money. The tickets are going to pay the band—you gotta pay the rent and pay yourself!
LR: But I’m sure he was able to take a cut, like I see The Fugs, two shows a night, five nights in a row, $2.50. Let’s say that there’s 200 at each show…
AY: Oh! I would say more than 200 per show.
LR: Well, that’s over a grand a night! I don’t think the Fugs were pocketing a grand a night. I’m sure they were happy with $500-600 a show.
AY: They were like The Beastie Boys—they didn’t play—there was a band behind them. They were out in front, doing their schtick, they were the singers. They had a bass-guitar-drum, a great rock band—we’re talking New York fuckin’ musicians! This was after Virgin Fugs [LP], Tenderness Junction was the album at the time, so it was that band [playing].
LR: Somebody told us that they actually remember how one of the shows started—I think it was Ed Sanders who came out and started “What to do in case of an atomic bomb,” which was one of their set-pieces… it ends with “put your head between your legs and kiss your ass goodbye!”
AY: I have a prop from back then. It just says: “Ho Chi Min Trail” with an arrow. When they left, I came in—and I guess no one cleaned up and it was laying there on the floor and they were gone. I picked it up and took it home. It doesn’t say Fugs on it or anything, just a homemade Ho Chi Min Trail with an arrow. They played there twice, each time was for one week.
LR: You must have not missed many shows at the Penelope.
AY: Every night the place was open I would work the door. My routine was that I would be downtown, trying to find a way to get high. There was beer drinking, you could smoke pot.
LR: I heard that Satan’s Choice had most of the pot.
AY: No, Satan’s Choice around then was about 3 or 4 guys max, and for a while they only had one motorcycle between them. There’s a very nice house there that’s turned into a condo, they built behind it, but that was their clubhouse for about 18 months with the one motorcycle in front.
LR: So did you go to Dominion Square or something? How would you get a dimebag in those days?
AY: Well, back in [Ville] St-Laurent, where we all had friends. I never did the walk-around looking for pot. I always had a friend who had pot. Downtown was kinda weird for that, even though it was pretty open, but remember I was young then, and from [Ville] St-Laurent and this was new to me down here. I had my thing happening in [Ville] St-Laurent. It’s funny, I was doing drugs downtown, then went back to [Ville] St-Laurent and then found out, oh you were doing that [scoring] here too. Actually—just thinking about it—I probably didn’t buy a lot. There was a guy who wrote a book… Denis Vanier? He had a big afro, and if I had $5, I would go to him and ask him: “I want a nickel bag” and he would say: “How many people are smoking?” and that would be the size of the bag he would give me!
LR: That’s a ‘60s reply. It must have been an exciting gig to be able to go and work the door. Was it like today where they [ink] stamp your hand?
AY: No. We didn’t stamp people’s hand. You kept your ticket stub. Stamping the hand would have saved so much trouble. Gary had an old movie tin from the theatre. You tore the ticket in half and the other half went in there. It was an interesting time. I love music and I guess I’m stupidly honest, which has always been… ‘cause I didn’t let anybody sneak in, and I never fell for like “here, I’ll give you this if you let me in”… I just wasn’t doing that.
LR: Were you ever too honest, in the sense of saying like: “This band sucks, man”?
AY: I’ve been brutally honest at times and probably I should have kept my mouth shut, but you know, sometimes arrogance needs to be kicked in the balls! (laughs)