There are so many places to start when discussing Philadelphia’s David Carroll that the mind sputters and the voice cracks.
The late, great nightlife impresario who died on May 26 at age 81 was the subject of a tribute from friends and family on July 13 at the Ethical Center in Rittenhouse Square, an area he turned on its head with his antics and his notable adventurous ways.
The roots of any conversation that encompasses David Carroll are the clubs, bars and restaurants he opened, always in a void, where nothing else like it existed. Along with pre-1970s spots Peanuts and Carroll’s on Lombard, there was Artemis, a glittering, antique-filled uptown bar, opened in 1970, where Philly’s moneyed hoi-polloi, fashion-forward/beat-down loft artists, mobsters and top cops hung out.
And then there was the Starlite Ballroom, Carroll’s live venue experiment in East Kensington. He opened it in the 1980s at a time when the neighborhood nestled under the EL was untouchably dangerous. There was the Hot Club, one of American punk rock’s earliest live venues/bars outside of New York City (only Boston’s The Rat preceded it), where UK and US avatars-to-be such as Elvis Costello, DEVO, Dead Boys, Gang of 4 and Bloodless Pharaohs played their earliest gigs.
In a show of brave booking, so too did original, local punks play the Hot Club (which opened in 1977) as headliners. If all that didn’t make him the king of the underground, Carroll came out of semi-retirement in the late 1990s to revitalize the DOA bar and nightlife scene in Rittenhouse with the literally below-ground basement joint, Bar Noir.
This would find Carroll starting the process all over again with the same madness, genius, conviviality, congeniality, laissez-faire and gambling sensibilities that made him an exquisite social curator at his start.
“Passing away in his sleep, knowing that all this was true — especially for his grandson — David couldn’t have hoped for a better way to go out,” said Bobby Startup, the DJ, photographer, musician and co-booker to many Carroll enterprises since 1970. As the Sundance Kid to Carroll’s Butch Cassidy, the two built and carried Philadelphia’s punk and new wave scenes on their backs.
When the Hot Club stopped, they picked up and did it all over again, occasionally apart (Carroll had Starlite Ballroom and booked Old City’s Filly’s Saloon while Startup did the same for midtown’s Love Club and East Side Club), but ultimately came together again as one unit at Bar Noir.
Carroll was a father-confessor, a drug-and-drink buddy, a gambler, a schemer, a hustler, a pimp, a Svengali, a Warhol and a PT Barnum rolled into one little dude. Though he had an eye, ear and instinct for talents and trends long before their big score, Carroll’s talent was gathering diverse people around him and pushing them to fly their freak flags freely. Long before inclusion became a hashtag, Carroll invited all to partake in the wildest parties in town without judgment or prejudice.
Young. Old. Lawyers. Bums. Doctors. Drag queens. Sports heroes. Heroin addicts. Politicians. Dealers. Actors. Mafiosi. Activists. Black. White. Latin. LGBTQ.
He made the introductions and watched the collaborative sparks fly, always with the deepest, most underground soundtrack behind him.
Me? I knew David first because as a kid at the Hot Club — be it Iggy Pop’s show where Iggy kicked the shit out of hecklers in the front row or the night where Madness packed the room so tight, our feet were bloody from skanking — he treated me as a son. Literally.
If the cops came to check for the underaged, he’d tell them I was his child, and for me to go do my homework. Which is why I was at the Hot Club in the first place.
In remembrance of the man, I hit up those who interacted with Carroll the most for a picture of an enterprising, artful and personable nightlife entrepreneur and a scene that, without him, would not have unfolded.
Jilan Carroll Glorfield (Carroll’s daughter/Artemis Boutique Booking Agency CEO):
I used to sleep on the banquettes at Artemis when I was 4 years old. All three of his children got to sleep at his clubs, and Artemis was my time.
I was working for Larry Magid at Electric Factory when I met David [in] 1967. He still had Kaleidoscope out in Roxborough. Cool club. They had sofas, a good attraction, especially in the drug days. He was also doing real estate, and I was friendly enough with him so that when I had to move, I rented from him, as he had created a new little development, Adler’s Square on 11th between Pine and Lombard. I used to go to Artemis as a customer until he made me the maitre’d, but not really. There was a velvet rope, so that we could pick and choose who went in the back, the better part of Artemis. Money guys like Harry Jay Katz and Stanley Green were there. Philly International guys Teddy Pendergrass and Billy Paul too. So was every Philly Mafioso and their heirlooms, the people in the clothing business like Bobby Bucksbaum and me, all the fashion whores. And other Center City types — musicians like Stewkey from The Nazz and his wife, the guys from Cheap Trick. David always got the right people to work for him. Even if it was a mundane job, he got the coolest, most creative person he could so that they could contribute, add stuff to the place, be it ideas, actions or personality. He did that with the Hot Club and Bar Noir, too.
Peter DelloBuono (friend/pharmacy owner):
I met David in the Artemis days. I was still too young to get into a nightclub, so my friends and I would hang outside the club. Funny enough, there was just as much of a scene on Sansom Street as there was in Artemis. David came up to us and said, ‘You guys are cool. Come on in.’ David seemed to thrive among young people. He realized the old heads were not what was happening.
Jay Schwartz (publicist/Secret Cinema screener):
I didn’t meet David until I’d been attending the Hot Club for a year. I was there for the very first show as a member of the press for my college newspaper, a local entertainment paper, Happy Times, and as Philadelphia correspondent for the New York Rocker. To get on the guest list, I initially dealt with David’s booking agents, Steve Apple and Bob Chipetz. But after a fire closed the Hot Club for most of 1978, and Apple and Chipetz moved on to Stars and the Walnut Street Theatre, David was left to plan for the reopening of his club on his own. He did this by first booking bands himself into another club he owned, a formerly trendy hotspot by then, Artemis. Mostly local bands played on Artemis’ tiny ground-floor disco dance floor, while David had the upstairs reworked into a mini-concert venue, hosting The Cramps, The B-52’s, Teenage Jesus and the Jerks, and such. I met David there and suggested that when he reopened the Hot Club, he should hire just-turned-21-year-old, Temple student me as a publicist, despite my never having done that. Oddly enough, he agreed.
When Sansom Street and Artemis faded out, he created the Hot Club. I was still in pharmacy school at the time. But as school goes, you have a lot of off-time — all of it spent at the Hot Club. This was a new and unique scene. You had Bobby co-booking and spinning, Jere at the coat check. Rasta Timi Tanzania doing his thing. Again, no issues with age. 16, 17, 21 or 31. The music was great and forward thinking, but it was the people there, dressed in punk’s finery or whatever you want to call it, that made the scene. And David created that scene, poured all of the ingredients into one bowl.
I was hanging at Le Hot Club one Friday — David opened it as a jazz bar — when I told him I had a great idea. I’d been buying all the first import UK punk singles at 3rd Street Jazz. Since Hot Club was closed Mondays and Tuesdays, why not do punk? The British press was all over it. Legs McNeil in NYC just put out his magazine, so I coaxed him into seeing the Dead Boys with me at CBGBs, and he flipped out. Immediately, he wanted to start doing that. He had Apple and Chippitz at first getting the bands from abroad, but he did all the talking to the bands, figuring out who they were, who he had to call. To the point where after the Hot Club fire in ‘78, David knew what to do and booked them himself. It would be me and David upstairs. I made all the posters with the Letraset. David was the business man. We’d talk about what band was worth what money.
Michael J. Ferguson, aka Mick Cancer (The Sic Kidz):
Our first encounter was when I was a writer for the Philadelphia Drummer. I was doing a piece on his new venue, the Hot Club. After numerous ‘business’ delays, our interview began with David introducing himself as ‘Felonious Assault,’ and we were off and running…. David was the man who opened the door to punk rock in this city. Not only did he run an establishment legendary for its array of musical line-ups — The Cramps, Iggy, Suicide, The Runaways, the list goes on — he created and permitted an environment that was part ‘La Dolce Vita,’ part John Waters. In doing so, he offered refuge to all us misfits, outsiders, mavericks and derelicts, musical and otherwise. And, of course, he embraced the unique and the weird and the unexpected, such as pairing The Sic Kidz with Jefferson Airplane guitarist Jorma Kaukonen and making it seem a natural, plausible event. It’s essential to say that he championed local punks, giving us a platform and also the opportunity to play with major acts. Full of life and wild-eyed enthusiasm, he was a throwback to another era, a bebop Runyan-esque character, brimming with charm, wit, intelligence and wicked humor and yes, a touch of sheer fuckin’ crazy mad genius, a hustler with a keen eye and ear, a guy willing to bet on his instincts who was proved right as often as not.
Jere Edmunds (Hot Club, Starlite Ballroom coat check/filmmaker):
David was there for me. I was different and my looks helped me get through, as well as my open, naive personable personality. I wasn’t a threat…and I somehow knew or met a lot of people from different backgrounds in various arts, cultural and musical interests. David liked people with such interests working for him. He thought it expanded his mind and the environment we were building together. Besides, the city was in short shirtsleeves then. 5 O-Clock, everything closed. Anyway, I started the coat check there…then expanded to selling punk jewelry…mine, Tom Potts’ silk screened designed T-shirts. From there, I met so many people who I still have family-like friendships with. That’s how that environment was. David fueled that.
Jilan Carroll Glorfield:
Maybe his creativity had to do with how he came into this world — hard, having to struggle and hustle — but it all made him brilliant.
I worked a few days a week in David’s apartment above the Hot Club. Brought my own portable typewriter. My starting pay was $35 a week. I wrote press releases, got them printed, folded them and stuffed envelopes, and licked a lot of stamps. I also hand delivered these to rock critic Matt Damsker at the Bulletin and ad copy to the Drummer newspaper. David wanted press releases sent weekly, rather than monthly calendars that many clubs used. This was handy because our bookings were often last minute and definitely subject to change. I think some of the bookings I reported as fact might have just been ideas, or hunches of what might happen. Still, they usually did happen. I do see periodic notices that our phone number changed and changed back again, because the huge phone bill had not been paid, so we had to switch to his home number temporarily. Also subject to change was my employment status. While I worked there for most of 1979 and 1980, there would be periods of stoppage, usually when I didn’t get paid. One night, I think the bands that played did not get paid fully, and I didn’t get paid at all, with David locking himself upstairs and gone to bed. I didn’t talk to him for a spell after that. But I came back.
Stephen Starr (club owner/restaurateur):
I met David like ’77, the beginning of 1978. He came to Starz [Starr’s live club at the time], just to check it out. He knew he wanted to book bands there. I went to the Hot Club too. What made him unique… you know, I don’t know why he was ahead of the curve. Looking at him, he wasn’t a hip or trendy dresser. But he was always ahead of what would become big. He had a gift. I don’t know if he loved the music or loved what was going to be loved ahead of schedule. He was the ultimate A&R guy in that way. He set the trends, or told us what they were going to be.
Rich Cohen (The Sic Kidz):
He was truly supportive to us and the other local bands. He gave us the opportunity to play with our heroes and influences and was always diplomatic in dealing with the craziness. I was there from the night they opened, met many of my friends there, and the scene wouldn’t have been the same without David’s vision. I always felt as if the Hot Club was my home. None of the clubs that came after had the same feeling for me.
There were never any fights at David’s places. A punk club with no fights, right? Occasionally, there was some asshole trying to cause trouble, but with David, it was quickly and calmly defused.
For such high-energy music, the Hot Club had the most laid back vibe… often to a fault, as when the police raided the club because of the lax policy of enforcing the minimum drinking age. Some bartenders spent the night in jail, but the cops still missed most of the underage attendees present who were quickly hidden in the basement. I also remember one rowdy non-regular became a bit too aggressive and was pushing people around on the dance floor. David, short in stature, calmly danced over in front of this meathead and cooled him down by discreetly throwing his drink over his shoulder into the guy’s face while rocking to the beat the whole time, never looking back. The guy didn’t know what hit him and left.
I don’t know for sure what he had to do with this gig, but I was doing comedy at Starz — guys like Jerry Seinfeld early in their careers — when I booked The Cramps. I had no idea who they were. Anyway, they trashed the stage and I wouldn’t let them go back on for an encore. Naturally, they went back anyway and lead the audience in a chant of ‘Stephen Starr sucks.’ I turned to David and told him that I’d never book another punk act again. To this day, I’m haunted by that memory. Also, I remember David hiring a stripper to jump on stage with DEVO at the Hot Club. That stayed legendary for a while.
The stripper at DEVO was pretty funny, yeah.
Jilan Carroll Glorfield:
Not a thing about him was contrived. He used to tell me, ‘There were no rules; only referees.’ There was form, values and lessons, but he was free, the most non-traditional father and person.
For a little while, David tried various reincarnations of what he’d done in the past, like re-doing Artemis during the time after the Hot Club’s fire or going up to Kensington for the Starlite Ballroom, but they lacked the hip factor of his original concepts. The Starlite felt grimy.
Because I owned a car, I was tasked with picking up liquor for the bar from the state store but also got to go with David and his entourage to the newly-opened mega-nightclub Emerald City in Cherry Hill. As they were competing for the same acts as the Hot Club, this led to David opening a larger hall called the Starlite Ballroom…in a Kensington that was several decades away from becoming anything close to hip.
I didn’t care for Starlite Ballroom. Didn’t think it was a good idea. Remember the ‘no fights’ thing at David’s clubs? Guys in Kensington didn’t like the punks, especially not the hardcore ones. Shows with Black Flag and the Dead Kennedys turned into real cluster fucks [writer’s note: Black Flag’s July 1981 gig was chronicled in Steve Walls’ ‘Spray Paint the Walls: The Story of Black Flag, and the Kennedys’ brawl was covered in George Hurchalla’s ‘Going Underground: American Punk 1979-1989’].
I always enjoyed my relationship with David. When I had Ripley’s (Music Hall on South Street), he could be pushy, unnerving, as he wouldn’t stop until you booked his acts. Still, I found him charming and admired his relentlessness. I respected him for how much he believed something was good, and I never once heard him say an unkind thing.
Jilan Carroll Glorfield:
Even later in life, my father would turn me on to things — bands, art, ideas — that I had never heard of yet, like YouTube and texting. He taught me how to text. And since he had that math mind, he loved to gamble, sometimes not the best hobby. I do have sweet memories of being with him at the blackjack tables in Atlantic City.
Fast forward to the end of the ‘90s. Rittenhouse was OK for dining but definitely not what you would call happening in terms of nightlife. Bar Noir appears, a tiny, downstairs spot that drew everyone. Know how David would solve problems with trouble makers? He would have them sit at our table near Bobby’s and buy them a drink. Cooled people right out. There were very few ugly scenes at Bar Noir due to David‘s managing style. The dude was a scene maker, a promoter of all things young and hip. Mostly, though, he was a connector, loving nothing more than to introduce people — with Bobby’s music and his atmosphere as its background — and watch the sparks fly.
I always liked working with David because he was down to earth, real, which you don’t really find in that business. He wasn’t a bossy boss. As long as you did the right thing, he was cool with you. Never gave you a problem. Just don’t fuck around, and don’t be a mooch — that was his word. Yet he always liked to have a mooch around, just to mooch him. He had his gophers. He was into interesting things, culture and sports, which was rare too. I was never a jock, but always played. He liked to do drugs, I liked to do drugs, so, what the fuck?
Jilan Carroll Glorfield:
He brought to Philly what never was — an edge, something raw and real. At his three primary places, he allowed people to be themselves in a way they couldn’t anywhere else, and with that, a sense of community and connection beyond music, but certainly bound by it. Plus, no matter how ruthless he could be and how much of a gambler he was, he was the most generous man who’d give you the shirt off his back. Anyone who knows his relationship with Will — a homeless guy in Rittenhouse Square — knows this. He saved Will’s life by having him as his buddy, his runner, a companion, getting him food stamps and a medical card. My father never cared about someone’s finance or status and would treat the Queen of England as he would Will — no pretense.
Allan Lane (Hard Knocks Motorcycle Entertainment CEO/Dosage Magazine publisher):
David was both father figure and crazy uncle that basked in the insanity of the never-ending celebration that was Bar Noir. First meeting? I made the mistake of sitting at his table directly in front of Bobby Startup’s DJ booth, near the back bar. He leaned over the table and said firmly, ‘Move.’ I thought to myself, ‘Who the fuck is this asshole?’ I moved, finished my drink and left but returned a week later after finding out who he was. That’s when David asked if I wanted to work there. I embarked on a journey of stardom during the Golden Age of Rittenhouse nightlife, as a promoter, doorman, bouncer, whatever was needed. I was known for dancing on top of tables, waving a white towel and banging on the air duct, revving the partygoers into a frenzy. There were many times that he should have fired my ass and banned me from the bar. But David invested in me, allowed me to become myself in a world where I didn’t belong. Bar Noir was my home because David made it so. One evening of too many Jameson’s, David noticed me drowning in a cesspool of self-pity. The bar was packed, the party in full swing. Tears were cascading down my face as I sat crying in the window area. David sat next to me for a moment. Said nothing. Just sat. I was on the verge of making a drastic decision. I was looking for an exit, and David knew it. After a moment, David placed his hand on my shoulder. With a gentle yet firm fatherly squeeze, he said, ‘You have to hold on.’ He pulled me in for a side hug and then he bounced off back to the party. He and I never said anything about that night to each other, but he knew on which path I was headed. Had he not intervened, I might not have seen the next sunrise. David saved my life to change my life.
Jilan Carroll Glorfield:
My father was close to both my boys, Benjamin and Jacks. Both tenacious kids. My younger son reminded my father of my brother who passed away, and my father felt fondly about that — their quick math minds, their gambling minds, their love for sports. The night he passed, he had my son Benjamin post bets for him on the computer. Ben became his bookie. My oldest son, Jacks, however, is the musician — London Jackson — and they shared an innate sense of being outliers without ever thinking of it. Born beating their own drums, living their true lives.
You know what kept him going? He was never out to make a million dollars doing those clubs. He wanted to see and hear the music and the musicians he knew succeed. He wanted to throw a good time. He liked money, but he always thought that his real buck — his claim to fame — would come by discovering someone. Now, two weeks before he dies, I’m on the phone with him, and said, ‘Isn’t it ironic? You were searching for that rock n’ roll star your whole life, and it was right there in your own family.’ That’s nice. He got what he wanted, and then he passed in his sleep. It couldn’t have been a better ending for him.