Happy Birthday Don Hill & Nicki Camp

Ancient rockers Don Hill and Nicki Camp will celebrate their birthdays at a “gala event” at — you guessed it — Don Hill’s. They’re saying it’s a gala event because gala is only two syllables and four letters and they’re getting very old. They’re not Steve Lewis old, but very old indeed. Don has been around since before The Beatles (not the band, the species). As owner of Don Hill’s, he’s involved with booking the bands, hiring staff, community relations and PR, lighting, sound, and hell, at the end of the night he sweeps out the joint. I spent a year there last night talking to Don, Nicki, and my pal Mark Lewis. We talked about olden days and old friends alive and dead while I waited on a death metal band called Humanity Falls that I had promised to check out.

Nicki and I talked about our old pal Neville Wells who killed a nice woman some years back while driving drunk and with a revoked license. He’s doing upwards of 20 years in a not so nice place. It’s a terrible, nobody-wins tale. All feel sorry for Neville, but everyone feels he got what he deserved. Drinking and driving, my friends, is an inevitable tragedy. Nicki told Don and the crew how I took over the Limelight back in 1989, and he was booking the brilliant Sunday night rocker night and Neville was doing the alternative rock Tuesday. They were told I was likely to come in and wipe all programming, starting with them. Nicki knew me for awhile and took a wait-and-see approach amongst the chicken littles. He told how I started the meeting by saying, “I’m changing everything except for Tuesdays and Sundays; those nights are amazing.” Michael Alig had “Disco 2000,” which we added to, and Thursdays, Fridays, and Saturdays were revamped with a hip and beautiful crowd. In a short span, Limelight went from nowhere to brilliant. Of course, things did go quite badly later on, but in my mind, Limelight from 1990-1992 was as good as any club ever … save for a few. We remembered the time when a bored Tom Jones turned to his manager son and asked him to find an “alternative” venue to perform in. Apparently Tom didn’t want to perform in the usual Westbury Music Hall type joints and was seeking a different type of venue. His son took the word “alternative” wrong and asked Neville to book him into his “Alternative Rock” night. Tom Jones at the Limelight was not only sold out immediately but was one of the funnest nights ever.

I walked around his joint with Don Hill. The Sailor Jerry tattoo-motif wall coverings done by departed LA pal Michael Schmidt have gotten better with age. I asked Don if he would ever retire. “I wouldn’t know what to do,” he said. Don Hill’s has been a staple of New York’s rock culture for 18 years. Michael T. still does his “Glamdamnit” parties on the first Saturday of the month, and I still pop in to see a band once in awhile. As Humanity Falls sound checked, I chatted up Nicki and promised to come to his birthday. A blond gal with a silver skull-print black t-shirt asked me where she was. I told her “Don Hill’s”. She got all excited, “Dunhills, I used to smoke that shit when I was young.” I sometimes forget why I love rock ‘n’ roll.

I am now officially a huge fan of death metal. I do realize that this signals yet another mid-life crisis, which is kind of refreshing if I do the math. But Humanity Falls are great — I just loved the set. Nicki Camp, Mark Lewis, and I listened from the side, and Nicki said something like, “I can’t understand a word they’re saying,” and Mark added something like, “It all sounds the same to me.” I reminded them that they sounded like my mother when I was playing The Stones on my stereo eons ago. She said those very words. We all acknowledged that it could be “our problem” and not the music. We listened hard and all agreed the musicians were tight. Instead of the straight ahead hard-driving, non-stop blasts of sound we were expecting, they went into jazz-like psychedelic explorations, impressing the critics. “But the vocals, I don’t get a word.” We talked about how Eston, the lead singer was bringing the vocals down to a simplified, stripped-down, emotional offering like what The Ramones had done, knocking everything down to three chords a generation ago. Wearing a shirt that read “pestilence,” Eston told me later that I got it. I chatted up drummer Migs, bassist Dorian, and guitarist Ammo while post-goth gals and ancient rockers mulled around outside with the Soho types walking their pedigrees. The hood has changed so much over 18 years, but Don Hill’s ,,, not so much.

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