50 years ago, the Stones rolled into Philly

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Backstage photo shows, from left, WIBG deejay Alan Dean (green jacket), Hy Lit, Keith Richards and Mick Jagger chatting at the 1965 concert at Philadelphia Convention Hall. (Credit: Broadcast Pioneers of Philadelphia)

It was 50 years ago that Jeane Feldman Coren sat in the very front row of Philadelphia's old Convention Hall, barely able to believe what was happening.

The British Invasion was in a full advance across America on May 1, 1965, and now here was one of the field generals - Mick Jagger of the Rolling Stones, so close that he made eye contact with the 18-year-old high school senior and sometime dancer on "American Bandstand."

Now, Jagger walked toward Coren, took off his plush, plum-colored sports jacket, balled it up, and appeared just about to hand it to the Oxford Circle teen.

What Coren didn't know at the time was how close her memory, worthy of the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, came to never happening. Moments earlier, a very different kind of future legend, Philadelphia lawman Frank Rizzo, almost had not only Jagger, Keith Richards - then known as Keith Richard - and the rest of the Stones but also Peter Noone and his Herman's Hermits thrown into jail, after a fight broke out between the two British bands over who would close the show.

Rizzo "immediately placed managers of both groups under arrest on a disorderly charge for attempting to incite a riot, and after assuring them they would all be spending the next few days in Philadelphia, the feud between the two groups was quickly settled," according to an article on a website celebrating the late DJ Hy Lit, the concert's MC.

And so the show went on - the first of what would be many Rolling Stones gigs in Philadelphia over the next five decades. And although it doesn't come with the same amplified hype as last year's Beatles golden jubilee, the 50th anniversary of the Stones in Philly is a window into a different era of bouffant hair and scratchy AM radio, when the decade of the 1960s was still more "Pepsi Generation" than "Woodstock Generation."

It's not that the seeds of rebellion weren't being planted on May 1, 1965. In fact, just hours before the Stones and the Hermits took the stage at the old arena at 34th and Spruce, scores of civil-rights activists began their months-long, often-heated campaign to integrate Girard College in Fairmount. That spring also saw the first campus teach-ins against the escalation of U.S. troops in Vietnam.

For most baby boomers in 1965, however, music was in the air, not protest. That morning's Daily News had ads for upcoming shows with Little Stevie Wonder, Gladys Knight and the Pips, and a club gig for "The Tender, Moving" Aretha Franklin, still two years away from "R-E-S-P-E-C-T."

But the big sound was the British Invasion, and in Philadelphia much of it came from "Wibbage" - WIBG, 990 on the AM dial, the "Good Guys" who'd introduced rock 'n' roll to the city's teens beginning in the late 1950s.

It was the Wibbage jocks - Lit, Joe Niagara, Bill Wright - who worked with promoter Don Battles to bring the Stones and Herman's Hermits to Convention Hall for a charity concert for the March of Dimes. Also on the bill for "Hy Lit's Stars of 1965" was Little Anthony and the Imperials, and tickets were $4.75 - a fraction of the $597 top ticket price that the Stones would charge at the Wells Fargo Center in 2013.

 

Mick recalled tiff

And at first, it was sweetness backstage. Wright - the last survivor of the three Wibbage MCs that night - recalls the Stones signing autographs for his 9-year-old daughter, but then tensions emerged over who would headline the concert. In 1965, it wasn't yet clear whether the sugary sound of Noone's Hermits, of "Henry VIII" fame, or the seductive snarl of the Stones would reign supreme.

Jagger still remembered the fight 30 years later.

"I remember one time playing in Philadelphia, and Herman's Hermits were top of the bill, and we were second, and there was some argument about the dressing rooms," he told Rolling Stone magazine's Jann Wenner in 1995. Peter Noone "was complaining because he was top of the bill and his dressing room wasn't good enough." But Jagger said it bothered him more when Americans would mistakenly ask band members if they were Herman's Hermits.

"It would kill you," Jagger recalled. "So you go, 'F--- you. Herman's Hermits is s---.' "

Noone recalled that losing a coin flip - under that arrest threat from Rizzo, not yet police commissioner - turned out to be a last laugh for the Hermits, because closing the show meant that many teens would have to leave because of the city's infamous teen curfew. "I stood at the side of the stage with [Stones manager] Andrew Loog Oldham to watch Mick's face as the crowd left during their fifth song," Noone remembered in an interview.

Speaking to a reporter from the Bulletin that night, Hermits manager Harvey Lisberg incorrectly predicted there'd be a riot when his group sang its hit "Mrs. Brown, You've Got a Lovely Daughter" and said dismissively of the rival band: "[A]ll the kids who hate their parents love the Stones."

"There was a forest of Union Jacks in the hall, and the girls threw belts, combs, ballpoint pens, empty cartons and purses," the Bulletin reported. "One adorer hurled a high-heeled shoe, then regretted it. She asked a policeman to give it back."

"But even the Stones didn't manage a riot," the paper said, adding that a cop who watched Jagger strut energetically as the crowd of 13,000 surged toward barricades "grabbed him by the arm and told him not to overdo it."

 

'We were right there!'

And what of the young Jeane Feldman Coren, in the front row? Coren, now 68 and still living in Northeast Philly, recalled that just as it seemed Jagger would hand her the sports jacket, the memento of a lifetime, he took the balled-up coat and instead tossed it back toward the band. He only left her a memory.

"I remember seeing so many acts," said Coren, who was back at the arena a few weeks later for the Dave Clark Five. "It was the British Invasion, and we were right there!"

Meanwhile, there's kind of a footnote with an odd Philadelphia connection. Just nine days later, the Stones arrived in South Florida to play a concert at Clearwater's Jack Russell Stadium, the old, longtime spring-training home of the Phillies.

At what was then called the Jack Tar Harrison Hotel, Keith Richards woke up from a dream and started playing a killer guitar riff, hitting the button on his tape recorder. Maybe he still had visions of Frank Rizzo and Peter Noone in his head, or maybe it was the riot that did erupt in Clearwater, cutting short their set there after just four songs.

But something caused Richards to start singing these words on that night, May 9, 1965:

"I can't get no satisfaction . . . "


On Twitter: @Will_Bunch

Blog: ph.ly/Attytood.com