12 February, 1974
Club co-owner Alan Pepper grinned as Charles Mingus swept past him. He recalled how far he had come in his ambition to forward the cause of great jazz in New York. It wasn’t all that long ago that his mother had informed him that a certain Mr. Rahsaan had phoned him, leaving him ecstatic with the realisation that it was the god-like multi-instrumentalist Rahsaan Roland Kirk who had actually called him at home. And now, in partnership with his lifelong friend Stanley Snadowsky, he was opening his own club in Greenwich Village, a venue that would be hailed as “one of New York’s great living rooms.”
It was on February 12, 1974 that The Bottom Line first opened its doors to the public. There’d been a pre-opening night party the previous day, when Labelle had provided the onstage entertainment. This, however, was the full deal, and a worthy sample of the music industry’s aristocracy - Mick Jagger, Carly Simon, Stevie Wonder, Johnny and Edgar Winter and Don Kirshner – was there to see it. The music for evening was in excellent hands - those of the redoubtable Dr John, who jammed with Johnny Winter and Stevie Wonder.
Pepper and Snadowsky had grown up together in Brooklyn. “Stanley and I were friends since we were about ten or eleven years old,” Pepper remembers. “We were two sides of a coin. He was very rational, very calculating, and had an amazing sense of business - one of the smartest people I ever met. I was the one who flew by the seat of my pants.“ Music-wise they also differed. Pepper was the jazz enthusiast, while Snadowsky favoured folk. While still at law school, the duo began promoting concerts at such venues as the Village Gate and Gerde’s Folk City.
“Springsteen would query ‘Are you talkin’ to me?’ in honour of Robert De Niro.”
When The Red Garter, a Dixieland jazz venue, came up for offer, Pepper and Snadowsky made their move, and the 15 West 4th Street venue was duly relaunched as The Bottom Line. ”It’s the one expression you hear more than any other,” Pepper once explained.
Opening for Dr John on that first night was Gary Farr, son of British heavyweight champ Tommy Farr, and former leader of Crawdaddy R&B heroes The T-Bones. Introducing Farr, a glowing Snadowsky commented “New York needed a room like this for a long time.” But to some Farr was not the act to ensure the event was memorable: Village Voice critic Dan Nooger claimed that the Brit’s appearance was “mercifully short.” Reporting that Farr had performed songs from his Arif Mardin-produced Atlantic album Addressed To The Censors Of Love, Nooger sniffed, “though his guitarist John-John played well on Slim Harpo’s I’m A King Bee, it was the only bright spot in a thoroughly unredeemable half-hour.” The Village Voice did conclude however that “Dr John, in contrast, cut loose with one of the best performances in years.”
Its launch was declared a resounding success, the club settled down to create a considerable CV. Pepper recalls that, “The place was really credited with pushing Bruce Springsteen into the limelight in 1975. Out of that he got the cover of Time and Newsweek simultaneously.” One of Pepper’s favourite stories is that Springsteen would often peer into the crowd and query ‘Are you talkin’ to me?’ in honour of sometime Bottom Line visitor Robert De Niro. “He lifted that for Taxi Driver,” says Pepper.
After Lou Reed recorded his Live - Take No Prisoners at the venue in 1978, the Bottom Line became a place at which record companies showcased acts, with corporate credit cards keeping the bankers happy as high-flyers occupied the reserved tables and fans headed down front close to the performers. Over the years a range of acts would add The Bottom Line to their tour itinerary, Dolly Parton, Joan Baez, Dizzy Gillespie, Prince, The Ramones, The Police, Joan Armatrading, Meatloaf, Little Feat, Santana among them. But it couldn’t last, and the Bottom Line closed on January 26, 2004, two weeks short of its thirtieth birthday. The New York Times reported that the club owed hefty back rent, and that then-owners New York University also wanted $1.5 million for renovations and a 250 per cent increase in rent.
Stanley Snadowsky died from diabetes in 2013 but Allan Pepper continues to fly the flag for the Bottom Line. He holds recordings of more than 1,000 shows and is gradually releasing them on his own Bottom Line label. When recently asked about the most memorable shows at the club, his first nomination was that opening date with Dr John.