The Legacy of Tony Mart
Why the Summer of ‘65 was so important in the Musical History of Tony Mart’s …Somers Point … The World!
Return to Memory lane

Bill Kelly was a good friend and media supporter of Tony Mart. We gratefully acknowledge his interesting and enjoyable journalistic series of stories about the summer of ‘65 in Somers Point.

In the golden age of Tony Mart’s, from the late 50’s until the end of the ‘64 season, the club was dominated by a truly great, Louis Prima and Ray Stevens inspired lounge act named “The Fall Guys” who were absolutely one of the finest, most entertaining group of musicians from Pennsylvania to Florida, Vegas and the Jersey Shore from ‘59 through ‘64 at Tony Marts. They were one of the greatest ever!

As “House Band” at Tony Mart’s, they supported some of the most famous musical stars of that time including Bill Haley and his Comets, Duane Eddy, Joey Dee and The StarLighters, Del Shannon & Conway Twitty.

There were many famous Canadian groups that played at Tony Mart’s during this era and several of them were represented by a Toronto based talent agent named Harold Kudlets. There was a connection that reached all the way to Levon Helm’s Arkansas with Conway Twitty, from Toronto with Ronnie Hawkins, to New York and the Jersey shore, where Tony Mart’s was the enigmatically famous summer college nightclub in Somers Point.

This was a major factor in the arrival of “Levon and The Hawks” after they left the Canadian rockabilly star with whom they were known as “Ronnie Hawkins and the Hawks”. In Arkansas in the winter of 64/65, they were encouraged by Conway Twitty to get to the Jersey Shore and play in the summer at Tony Marts.

At that time the groups wore suits and patent leather shoes; and The Hawks did too.

It was then, the summer of ‘65, when a musical evolution proceeded with the influences of the rockabilly and Seminal American/Canadian Roots melding with the Jersey Shore and New York City rock n’ roll sounds derived from Late Swing, evolving R&B, and “Race Music” from Memphis and New Orleans made famous by emerging stars like Gary US Bonds, Ray Charles, and Sam Cooke.

Ronnie Hawkins molded them into the incredibly tight musical unit that an Albert Grossman’s associate knew from those late nights jamming in Toronto bars. When they left that task master they were looking for a place for The Hawks to roost in what we now call a “residency”. Tony Mart gave them that: they became “house band” for the season- almost!

When they arrived after Colonel Harold Kudlets convinced Tony Mart to give them “a shot” in May 1965, they told Tony that they really didn’t have a leader; and in his gruff Sicilian American accent he told them “You bums…. have **to have a leader”!!

Tony Mart loved Levon so he became the business leader who got paid at the end of the week. It’s ironic that three of the greatest lead vocalists in the history of rock n’ roll, Richard Manuel, Rick Danko and Levon Helm were never really the “front man” of the band. The “front man” was heartthrob, the good looking lead guitarist, Robbie Robertson, that was smack in the middle up front.

Tony Mart’s teenage daughter, Catena Marotta, had a crush on Robbie Robertson. When asked about that, Catena said, “There were a thousand girls with a crush on Robbie Roberson! They all had a crush on Robbie Robertson!”.

That was central to Levon & The Hawk’s greatness: their eccentricity beyond categorization. There was no mold. They were inimitable in their superlative musical and vocal excellence that ultimately became known to the world.

Listen to the music on an old album called “Moondog Matinee” and you’ll hear the songs played on those throbbing sweaty nights at Tony Mart’s when “Levon and The Hawks” became entranced with their wildly dancing, enraptured audience during nightly climatic performances of their Rockabilly anthem, “Little Liza Jane” that brought the feel of the Mississippi River to the bay in Somers Point.

Tony Mart’s was an incubator for rockabilly and rock n’ roll sounds which became the now legendary Americana roots rock & jam rock music worshiped by millions of jam bands fans, “Deadheads” & roots rock devotees.

Whether it was Robbie Robertson or Levon himself who answered the phone when Bob Dylan called the old phone booth in the back of Tony Marts, that moment was the culmination of this historic musical synergy of the Toronto, New York, Arkansas, and Jersey shore connection that created the epiphany when Bob Dylan and the Albert Grossman organization knew it was time to take them from Tony Mart and bring them to their musical synergy.

When they left at the end of August ‘65, 58 years ago, Tony Mart was left to urgently replace them with “Mitch Ryder and the Detroit Wheels” to entertain his frolicking end of summer revelers at the Jersey Shore on Labor Day weekend.

The music scene was never the same at Tony Marts or anywhere else, after that critical epic event. In the following season of ‘66, “The Magic Mushrooms” brought iron surfer crosses and psychedelia with the music of The Stones, The Kinks, Van Morrison and the hard rock edge of the British Invasion.

The huge crowds responded in throngs as Tony Mart continued to be on the cutting edge of popular musical culture in the summer at the Jersey Shore and in the rest of the world.

His scrapbook, his legacy, the living legacy of Tony Mart Presents live musical concerts (over 40 of them this year) and the entire story known as “The Legend of Tony Mart” (being written now) will be unveiled and recreated at the Jersey shore and everywhere as we let the good times roll with the music that was born in the city of New Orleans and went up the river to Arkansas and ultimately the rest of the world.

It is a legacy that lives on in the world’s best rock n’ roll, Americana roots music, R&B and funk.

Thank you and God bless you Robbie, Levon, “Beak” (Richard), Ricky and Garth.

Thank you Tony Mart.

This is an excerpt from the book “THE LEGEND OF TONY MART” written by Carmen Marotta.

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Somers Point Beach Concerts

June 14th - September 6th
Fridays, 7pm - 10pm

Unique, Magical, World Class Concerts
on Small Town Beach.

Morrow Beach, 800 Bay Ave

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June 26th - September 4th
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R&B, Funk, Roots & Classic Rock

Atlantic City at Kennedy Plaza

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June 27th - August 29th
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Jersey Gumbo Festival
July 8th 3-11pm

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