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Rock of aged: Bay Ridge bands never die — and they don’t fade away either

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Neil Young said that it’s better to burn out than it is to rust. Obviously, he’s never rocked in Bay Ridge.

The Brooklyn music world might be dominated by young hipsters in Williamsburg, but an older crowd of Bay Ridge cover artists are proving that age — like a venue’s listed maximum capacity — is nothing but a number.

Vocalist and guitarist Frankie Marra has seen bands and venues come and go during his 30 years on the bar circuit. And he’s seen music go from rock to disco to punk to New Wave and back again.

But the only difference between the 20-something rocker of the 1980s and today’s 53-year-old frontman of Frankie Marra and his Band are the expectations.

“When we were younger, we thought we would be the next signed artists on Columbia, but at our age, we do it just because we still get a kick out of it,” said Marra, whose rock and roll dream got him no further than a gig working as a body guard for Bruce Springsteen.

For Marra — and the other golden oldies who know they’ll never put out a golden record — only the thrill of performing keeps them proving it all night.

“We’re proud that people aren’t looking at us and thinking, ‘These guys should have just stayed home,’” said Mike Riddle, a 55-year-old neighborhood legend — known for his 1970s band, Rhodes, and his 1980s New Wave act, City Kids.

He’s still rocking hard, now with his new band, Prodigal Child.

The rush of being on stage keeps Marra and his gang banging out classics from the British invasion, standards like “Hotel California,” and, when the crowd seems younger, (slightly more) contemporary tracks like Radiohead’s 1992 smash “Creep.”

Then again, the crowd is rarely younger. In fact, the Narrows-side neighborhood is what is known as a “Naturally Occurring Retirement Community” — one where folks over 60-years-old occupy more than 40 percent of homes.

Yet those graying residents are the key to old rockers’ revival.

“My audience is 40- to 60-year-olds, predominately — and they want to hear the songs from their youth,” said Marra, who is at his best belting out hits by Van Morrison and John “Cougar” Mellencamp. “People in Bay Ridge want covers, that’s why we gravitate here.”

Venue owners like Bobby Daquara — whose Greenhouse Café on Third Avenue is the de facto center of the Gray Rock scene — say they book old rockers because of the kinds of crowds they draw.

“A lot of bars in Bay Ridge don’t want to deal with kids. You want to get a mature crowd — otherwise you risk losing your liquor license,” he said.

As the bands have grown older, the challenges of being in a band have changed, but they haven’t gone away. While younger crooners must overcome a wild life on the road typified by drug use, STDs, and the pleasant distraction of groupies, older rockers face a unique set of problems — like Riddle’s arthritis.

“Performing is way more taxing,” said Riddle, who has only about 80 percent mobility in his left hand, but still offers up a set list filled with guitar gods like Eric Clapton and Stevie Ray Vaughn. “When we played our first gig with two long sets, we were kind of shocked — it felt like we were up there for an eternity.”

Most of Bay Ridge’s older rockers say they are happy to have settled down with wives, children, and careers — but that doesn’t mean they don’t miss the days of being wild.

“Having jobs and careers and families makes it harder. Life gets in the way now,” said Tony Ieva, 51, a bus driver and drummer who covers Bob Dylan, the Beatles and the Byrds in his band Our Back Pages. Ieva cut his teeth as a teenager in the legendary 1970s band Flashback.

“Back then, with no kids, and no job, you could be out there playing rock and roll until 3 am — it’s not like that anymore,” Ieva said.

Prodigal Child at Kettle Black [8622 Third Ave., between 86th and 87th streets, (718) 680-7862], Jan. 24, 5 pm; Frankie Marra and his Band at Greenhouse Cafe [7717 Third Ave., between 77th and 78th streets, (718) 833-8200], Jan. 24, 10 pm; Our Back Pages at Bally Bunion [9510 Third Ave., between 95th and 96th streets, (718) 833-2801], Jan. 30, 10 pm.

Updated 5:10 pm, July 9, 2018
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Reasonable discourse

Mike Mysteriouso from Bay Ridge says:
I've been following the scene since the early 70s. Can't say I ever heard of Flashback. I see Frankie Marra around these days and he does a great job at his gigs and he's a community supporter with his 4th of July annual picnic and such. Truth is that back in the 70s there were many bands. The ones that stood out were Rhodes with there superb musicianship. Jack Whitman was the solo guy in the area that could pack the house with just him and his acoustic guitar. Glen Miller was also a popular 70s soloist and he fronted several excellent bands filled with good players. Starting in 1979, running into the mid 80s the band that dominated the scene was the City Kids. The original members as I recall were Jack Whitman, Mike Riddle, Annie B. Mike Colangelo and Mark Jones. Jack left the band after a year or so and the band continued to flourish. Jack continued to be a huge draw as a solo act. Bobby Maloney locally known as Bobby Tambo, was a guy that played for years with Jack as a sideman supplying a solid back beat with his tambourine. The City Kids were the house band at a large venue called The Cove. After they broke up, Head Over Heels was the band that filled the void. Like City Kids, they were quite popular around Bay Ridge. They get together around here and play gigs every so often under the name Head Over The Hill. I'm probably leaving a few good bands out, but that's what I remember about the scene
Jan. 28, 2009, 12:34 pm
Meat Man from Bay Ridge says:
Nice article, however there is much music happening in Bay Ridge than the type of acts listed in the article.

Also, there are many hardcore music fans in the ridge that enjoy something more that a night of hearing the oldies!!

That said, these bands do a good job and entertain the crowd.
Jan. 29, 2009, 5:34 pm
Mysterioso eh? LOl from The hood says:
Well, Flashback was much like Eddie & The Crusiers, they came, they played, and dissapeared into the moonlight! Actually, it was a mis print by the writer who mixed up two very different acts! A band called Flashback, that lasted all of 3 weeks, which was the first band I put togetehr, NOT PICTURED IN THE ARTICLE!! and one super legend of a man and musician, Jack Whittman who was shown pictured with Bobby Tambo's late brother Jimmy, and myself, Tony Ieva, playing with both Jack and Jimmy at one of Tambo's famous back yard parties! So, I hope the confusion and mystery is now cleared up as to who is, was, FLASHBACK??
March 14, 2009, 11:42 am
paul from bay ridge says:
keep rockin
March 30, 2009, 11:06 am
BobbyK from Bayridge says:
Like so many folks I've moved away from the area, First staten Island and then NJ...
I am gonna have a little shin dig in the summer and I was looking to possibly hire Jack to play. Ive been doing searches and cant seem to track him down. If any one knows how to make contact I'd appreciate a call back.If I can make it happen i'll post the date of the party and all will be welcome. any help would be appreciated.
Bob
TheCostelloConection@gmail.com
May 3, 2009, 1:16 pm
57 YEAR OLD GUITAR PLAYER from BAY RIDGE says:
ONE THING NOT MENTIONED IS HOW 1 BIG "CLICK" SEEMS TO RUN THE WHOLE SHOW IN BAY RIDGE.4 OR 5 BANDS UNDER 15 NAMES ACCOUSTIC DUOS I HAVE A BAND THAT COVERS LETS SAY MID 60s THRU 70s VERY WELLI DON'T BELIEVE THE AGE GROUP GOING TO BARS IN THE RIDGE IS LIKE 67 (WE CAN ALSO COVER 80s 90s & BEYOND IF NEED BE AND CAN'T SEEM TO GET A GIG.NOT TO MENTION MY COPD ARTHRITIS DIABETES AND HEART PROBLEMS DON'T HAVE ME MAKING ANY EXCUSES.AS FAR AS NOT HAVING ANY KIND OF DREAM WHEN YOU REACH A CERTAIN AGE SPEAK FOR YOURSELF.SOME OF US WERE OUT WORKING IN TH 70s AND OUR CHILDREN ARE GROWN UP SO GIGS ARE NO PROBLEM FOR ME.
Sept. 4, 2011, 1:48 am
Brincrap from Sheapshead Bay says:
So,What's with the "BALD PEOPLE" in that "GREENHOUSE CAFE"
Feb. 25, 2012, 11:28 pm
zigzag from Bay Ridge says:
I remeber Midnite Trix as one of the later bands of that era. UNderground railroad and the COncepts. All class acts
April 16, 2013, 2:33 pm
mike from staten isl says:
jack whitman performed at my bar in ststen isl for years. was the best act ever. always had the best crowd. would love to know where he is
June 24, 2014, 10:39 pm
winterjazz from Bay Ridge says:
I never knew Jack performed in Staten Island. Which bar was it? I hear he's going to be playing next Sat. night at PC's Pub in Brooklyn.
Sept. 19, 2016, 9:45 pm
frank rizzo from staten island says:
Jack Whitman performed at the KING'S ROW TAVERN, INC. located at 2267 Hylan Blvd. on accross the streetfrom and near the 122nd precint. He was known for "the city of new orleans" He was fantastic. Is he still playing?
Oct. 11, 2016, 2:15 am

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