You had to be there.
Amidst the mad scramble and #AlmostFamous testosterone and leather and lace and beer and sex, drugs and rock and roll lore – and the allure, quite frankly – of Hammerjacks Inner Harbor Concert Hall in the late 1980s, I had a unicorn unique gig as the music critic at The Evening Sun.
I had a one-of-a-kind, universal all access backstage pass. (I never told anyone that they spelled my name wrong on it! Nestor with O, not Nester with an E…)
I showed up at the back door in the alley behind the club whenever I wanted, hit a little red button and smiled up at the camera – and they waved me in. Conservatively guessing, this happened 500 times over six years.
I was born on October 14, 1968. I started reviewing concerts there as often as three times a week in March 1986.
You do the monthly math.
Usually, Mickey Cucchiella and Jill Deville and Ann Marie were my backstage conversation foils while I took in the night of music and mayhem as an underage reporter watching beer and bands and bar backs and girls and groupies and guitar techs and band managers all zoom in various directions of fame, fortune – or misfortune. Or as the song coyly says, “Miss WhateverHerNameWas”…
My dude Bud Becker, who promoted and retained all of the bands in the heyday, says I never had a drink inside Hammerjacks as a kid and he is not lying. It wasn’t that I was square – far from it – but I certainly didn’t want to get fired at the newspaper because I clearly had one of the greatest gigs on earth.
Sobriety was an easy ask and the only ask. At least that held until the Bad English show happened on October 14, 1989. Then I got $1 beers and life somehow got even better…
There were always incredible national bands like Poison or KISS or Ozzy Osbourne on stage and an endless stream of celebrities or wrestlers or athletes rolling through Hammerjacks’ halls and walls. But it was the local rotation of hair metal and great touring rock bands that ruled my memories of the incredible nights under the freeway and the glowing blood orange neon light that entranced and called every child of rock music in the region to “Hammers.”
If anyone asks me the best show I ever saw, I usually tell them The Alarm at Hammerjacks. (Their 1986 album “Strength” deserved to make my list. Perhaps this means you’ll be subjected to even more #MusicalNes in the future?)
And if anyone asks me about the best times I ever had at Hammers, it had nothing to do with the sex or the drugs but it was all about the rock and roll for me and the many times that Tommy Conwell and The Young Rumblers destroyed the place.
Conwell had some Elvis, some real showman in him and was such a “kid sensation” in his youth with Rocket 88. Everyone in Ocean City and the Jersey Shore knew about him.
There was no hype, no big record company shit with Tommy Conwell. He was managed and borne of the same Cornerstone folks in Philadelphia who made The Hooters dance and zombie their way into MTV fame as Cyndi Lauper’s band.
I literally have no recollection of the first time I saw Tommy Conwell and The Young Rumblers or how I even wound up at the show – but I couldn’t stop seeing them.
I still can’t!
They were the best band that ever regularly played at Hammerjacks. And if you ever saw them there, you remember it.
There were several nights when Conwell jumped on my shoulders and rolled around clubs in several states – and states of sobriety – over the years. Michael Beatty and Batman and boats at the beach. Booze cruises. And Network and A.L. Gators and The Stone Balloon and the 8X10 Club and all of his incarnations of blues and funk and rock and, well more blues. The Little Kings were cool, too!
Every night with Tommy Conwell and The Young Rumblers was a party. And as much as I would recommend his previous EP, “Walkin’ On The Water” and a great song called “Do You Still Believe In Me?” from that Philly street release, this 1988 album “Rumble” is the best rock album you’ve never heard.
“Everything They Say Is True” and “Love’s On Fire” are just great songs.
Later on, veteran local rocker Billy Kemp joined his band and then it just all ended kind of quickly when Conwell didn’t sell enough records after his second album. I saw him open for Thorogood one night at the Patriot Center in Fairfax and he blew Lonesome George and Delaware Destroyers off the stage.
I’m sorry he never became rich and famous but I am grateful for every workout!
Tommy Conwell is still kinda a big deal around Philly – and a school teacher last I heard and he shows up on the radio spinning new music and bands. He was always a swell up-and-comer rock star that I cheered for and promoted. His brother played football for the Philadelphia Eagles. So that was another sports connection.
I knew Tommy well and always tried to write about him and his travels. And I never missed a Conwell show in Baltimore.
I have seen Tommy Conwell and The Young Rumblers in tact just three times this century – and all of the reunions are truly a joy for me in Philadelphia whenever I can make it up there. These are the kinds of shows I miss with the Covid lockdown great club shows and bar bands. And it makes me appreciate just more than the Rolling Stones or Rush or Springsteen or Pearl Jam in my life.
I am so happy to have had this music and this energy and joy in my life back in those days.
And just like Tommy told it:
“There ain’t no tomorrow baby, there’s just right now…”
Can I get a “Hell yeah!”?