Many of the names and some of the descriptions in this blog have been changed to protect the guilty.

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

When the Springfield Civic Center Rocked, Part 2

Black Sabbath's Ronnie James Dio

Now, where was I? Oh yeah. Well, in case you missed “When the Springfield Civic Center Rocked, Part 1,” or if you it read a long time ago (I’m sorry, a lot of time has passed, hasn’t it?) and you don’t feel like reading it again, here’s the situation:

It was August 27, 1981, on the floor in front of the stage in the Springfield Civic Center. ZZ Top was about to perform, but I was about to get pummeled by Ron Donnelly, because he thought I was crowding him.

Never mind that the contact was unintentional—I kept getting pushed into the goon. The crowd repeatedly surged forward, propelling me into Donnelly. But he was in no mood to hear excuses.

“Ron!” I yelled. “I can’t help it! I keep getting pushed from behind!”

Donnelly looked at me quizzically—because I had mentioned his name. He tilted his head to the side, like a confused dog trying to make sense of something. Did you ever see a puppy looking at a fellow dog on the TV screen—gazing with a cocked head and wrinkled brow—ready to pounce, but not knowing exactly what he’s viewing? That’s what Donnelly looked like a big, dumb, puzzled Rottweiler. He was trying to figure out whether or not he knew me.

He didn’t. Not really. I had partied with Donnelly before at a few keggers, but there wasn’t a hint of recognition in his bewildered expression.

What I had going for me, however, was the fact that I knew his name. I wasn’t sure that fact alone would spare me, although it stalled him for a few seconds. Then his friend John Sewell, a guy who used to play on a Sixteen Acres little league baseball team with my brother, evidently recognized Dan. Sewell whispered something Donnelly’s ear. I tried to read his lips, and he appeared to say, “I know his brother Dan. He’s cool.” Thank Christ. Five words that prevented a brawl between our groups.


The lights dimmed and the crowd surged forward again as ZZ Top started playing. The band launched into “Groovy Little Hippie Pad,” but it wasn’t too long before Donnelly, Sewell et al turned their attention to the rowdy group of Hillbillies to their left. The close quarters on the floor had breathed new life into these two groups’ animosity for one another, and I think that the hicks were expecting things to go no further than some posturing and maybe a little pushing. But I knew Donnelly and his crew better than that—they didn’t fuck around. And sure enough, by the second tune, “Waitin’ for the Bus,” the Cathedral guys were swinging on the Hillbillies, who were thoroughly surprised that the confrontation escalated so quickly.

Then, just as the crowd parted to get out of the way of the donnybrook, my brother and Rick Riccardi took advantage of the rare and ample space caused by the brawl and bolted between all the combatants to get closer to the stage. Jesus, I thought, those weasels ran right through the fight! How the hell did they do that? Well, by time I realized what happened, it was too late to join Dan and Rick: there was no way Stan Janek and I were going to try to get by that maelstrom.

So we watched the fight. So did ZZ Top guitarist Billy Gibbons, who nudged bassist Dusty Hill and then pointed to the bedlam in front of them, not wanting his bandmate to miss any of this raucous action.

It turned out to be not much of a fight. The poor Hillbilly slobs covered up, and one or two of them tried to fight back, but it was no use—they were caught in a tornado of fists. A handful of beefy security guards in front of the stage climbed the barrier, but by the time they made their way into the crowd, the hicks were long gone, and there was no way they were going to do anything to Donnelly and the boys, who had settled down and wisely opted not to mix it up with security.

Thankfully, I was then able to enjoy the show. Hey, I went to a fight, and a concert broke out. I wonder what ever happened to Ron Donnelly. He seemed destined to die young, but sometimes these guys have a way of defying the odds and straightening their lives out. His buddy John Sewell, for example, became a Springfield cop. Maybe Donnelly did the same thing. Then again, maybe one night he got drunk and stoned enough to eat a light bulb and ended up in the morgue. Who the hell knows?


It’s funny: when I look my concert stubs from the Springfield Civic Center and recall the shows, what usually comes to mind is not the music—which was in-fucking-credible, by the way—but instead the mayhem. For example, at the 1980 Black Sabbath show, I remember checking out the guy standing on the roof of his car in the Classical High School parking lot after the show, his pinky and index finger extended in a satanic sign, the other hand holding a bottle of Jack Daniels, and his shirt ripped and bloody from a butt-kicking—undoubtedly security guards—as he screamed with a horse voice, “Sab-bath! Sab-bath!”

That scene took place at about 1:00 a.m. as I tried to sober up for the drive down State Street and Wilbraham Road back to the Acres. Christ, I had to go to school the next day, but the rock marathon of three bands (Riot, Black Sabbath, and Blue Oyster Cult) sure was worth it. I’d say that of all those acts I saw at the Civic Center during that period, the Sabbath show was by far the best. From the monster-distorted opening power chords of “War Pigs” to the angst-drenched encore “Children of the Grave,” Ronnie James Dio pulled no vocal punches as he belted out “Neon Knights.” (Here’s a link to a live version of the song—no, it’s not at the Civic Center). Thousands celebrated the song “Sweet Leaf” the only way they knew how, flicking the Bics in unison, their lighters igniting a constellation of blazing joints in a burnt out universe. Words cannot do justice in describing the way the Civic Center rocked. It was pure evil fun at deafening decibels.

I’m not sure which image is burned brighter in my mind: Dio’s dramatic, wizard-like posturing, Geezer Butler's hair flying rhythmically as he hammered his bass, or the robed and hooded woman cradling a candle and walking countless oval laps around the arena like a zombie throughout the entire concert.


Here's a little poem I wrote about the Sweet Leaf heyday in the Springfield rock universe: Whether you smoked in the Civic Center or not, you always came home smelling like pot.

What caused the decline and then the dearth of concerts at the Springfield Civic Center? In part, you can blame a snowstorm. Seriously.

When snow buildup caused the Hartford Civic Center’s roof to collapse in 1978, management saw the situation as an opportunity to add thousands of seats, and the reopened arena in Hartford dwarfed the Springfield Civic Center. Hartford started getting the premier concerts: bands would rather play two dates there than pack up all their equipment after a show and truck it up I-91 to Springfield. When the Worcester Centrum opened in 1982 with 12,000 seats (expanded to 14,800 in 1989) compared to Springfield’s 7,000, promoters opted to book bands in that city and in Hartford, betting that music lovers in Springfield would make the long drives to see the shows—and they were right.

And with the opening of the behemoth outdoor amphitheaters, such as Great Woods in Mansfield, and Meadows in Hartford, the Springfield Civic Center missed out on the summer tours.

Moreover, by 1981, rock acts were drawing far fewer concert patrons than they were five years earlier. You can pretty much see what happened to arena rock in general by looking at the double-bills at the Civic Center in the early 1980s: Black Sabbath and Blue Oyster Cult (the “Black and Blue” tour), the Outlaws and Foghat, Blue Oyster Cult and Foghat (the “Blue Fog’ tour). Indeed, the bands that used to sell out the place individually began to combine to fill the seats with fans.

It didn’t help that the music industry was changing rapidly in the early 1980s. The heavy, heavy bands that were the mainstay of teenage wasteland in the 1970s started sinking under their own weight.

But we didn’t give up on them. Even when Black Sabbath enlisted Ian Gillan (formerly of Deep Purple) as the lead singer for its 1983-84 tour, we were ecstatic when we heard that the band was coming to the Springfield Civic Center on March 4, 1984.

So we headed down Wilbraham Road and State Street to see Sabbath and the Civic Center. Just like old times, right? I put in a tape of the band’s new album, “Born Again,” on my cassette deck. Ian Gillan was no Ronnie James Dio or Ozzy Osbourne, but the album still kicked ass, although the cover art, a sketch of a baby with devil’s horns and fangs, looked like an amateurish attempt at comic book art, a Satan-worshipping high school student’s dopey art project. The song “Trashed” was a beauty, though. An instant metal classic, even though the video is idiotic. The lyrics are tremendous: “It really was a meeting — the bottle took a beating.” It’s a song about, well, getting trashed. Trashin’ your car. I can dig it. Caaaan yooouuu diiiiig iiiiit?

Notice the similarity to the 1981 Depeche Mode "Shout" single:

Both covers are based on the newborn in this 1968 magazine (below).

I wonder what this lad is doing now. Does he know what his devilish face inspired? Was he, in fact, Rosemary’s baby? Anyway, feel free to read the story behind the cover at the end of this blog entry. It turns out that the artist turned in the worst image possible in the hope of getting a rejection fee, but Black Sabbath’s Geezer Butler (pictured below) liked it. “It’s shit,” he said, “but it’s fucking great!”

Whoops, where was I? Oh yes. We were driving through Winchester Square on our way to the concert.

We parked at the Classical High School parking lot, and after a bit of tailgaiting, we walked into the Civic Center, which was about half empty. Or half full. Depends on how you look at it, especially for an Ian Gillan-led Black Sabbath. I mean, where was everybody? Watching Frankie Goes to Hollywood and Flock of Seagulls on MTV? Jesus! Come on! Sabbath was in town!

The lights dimmed. We opened our bottles of various spirits. Gillan’s voice sounded pretty good on the album, but it was just too damn raspy live. It’s obvious the seventies weren’t too kind to him. “I think this tour might have been a mistake,” I thought. “Oh well, I’ll just take another swig of Captain Morgan and make the best of it.”

But when Sabbath awkwardly lurched into a new song called “Stonehenge,” we couldn’t believe what we were seeing. A giant picture of Stonehenge filled the backdrop screen. Holy fuck. Pitiful. The concert reached an even lower low when Gillan, oblivious to his embarrassing vocal strain, starts croaking out “Smoke on the Water” as a cloud of dry ice enveloped the stage. It would have been a great Spinal Tap-like moment if Gillan had gotten lost in the fog, had fallen off the stage, and cracked his head open.

Well, they slogged through “Smoke on the Water.” Christ. The brontosaurus of heavy metal songs, the living fossil that didn’t know it was dead, lumbered around the arena, stumbling and bumbling toward the La Brea tar pits, dragging Black Sabbath nation into the bubbling black goo. Half the fans were on their feet — the true faithful — cheering deliriously until they were as hoarse as Gillan. The other half didn’t care. They were either puking or pissing in the bathroom, passed out in their seats (like the guy in front of me), at the concession stands satisfying their munchie cravings, or just sitting there and fiddling with their drugs and drug paraphernalia.


A few months later, my brother and I watched the movie "This is Spinal Tap" at the Allen and Cooley Cinema, and we laughed ourselves senseless, especially at the Stonehenge scene, which reminded us of the Black Sabbath show. In this parody of a heavy metal band, Spinal Tap had ordered a life-sized Styrofoam Stonehenge to be built for their act, but someone screws up the dimensions, and the stage version of the ancient monument is only three feet high. So, in a concert, to make the mini-Stonehenge look larger, they get midgets in hooded robes to dance around prop while a Jethro Tull-like flute solo is played.

Truth be told, Black Sabbath initially had a 3-D Stonehenge set in the 1983-84 tour, but they often had to settle for the back-lit backdrop that we saw in Springfield because they couldn’t fit the fake stone slabs through the doors most of the arenas. That must have been some scene, the fucking tour manager crying in an English accent: "They don’t bloody fit, what the fuck are we going to do? Saw ’em in half and put ’em back together?"

Also missing from Springfield was the midget—yes, just like in Spinal Tap—who played the horned and fanged Satanic baby on the “Born Again” cover. He was a casualty of an accident earlier in the tour, when he plummeted from the top of Stonehenge and missed a pile of mattresses that was supposed to cushion his fall. Hear Gillan describe this incident, as well as the dry ice fog preventing him from reading the lyrics in front of him.


No, I don’t have the ticket stub to that Black Sabbath show at the Civic Center, but I have others—from 1979 to 1981—as well as from 1982 and onward, which I have posted below. As you can see, my attendance at concerts there waned in the mid-1980s. I can chalk it up to a few factors: I was away at college nine months of the year, and when I was in Springfield I went to shows at other venues, because let’s face it, arena rock in Springfield went up in smoke. When the dry ice cloud cleared after “Smoke on the Water” at Black Sabbath in 1984, there was little left to cheer about regarding the rock scene at the Springfield Civic Center in the 1980s—and it hasn’t recovered.

I did come back to the Civic Center after an 11-year hiatus for a Kiss concert in 1997—but does that really count? I guess so. My parents had forbidden be to see Kiss there in the 1970s, so I guess that was my last concert in the building, unless you count Sesame Street Live with my wife and son this year.

The Story Behind the “Born Again” Cover

Yes, I would wear this shirt with pride—to Sunday Mass!

Steve Joule, who designed the Born Again cover, had mentioned the similarity of the cover art to Dephe Mode's "New Life" LP in an email to somone who designed a site on this information. Here's what Steve had to say:

“OK, let's put this baby to rest once and for all. The Black Sabbath "Born Again" album sleeve was designed under extraordinary circumstances; basically what had happened was that Sharon and Ozzy had split very acrimoniously from her father's (Don Arden) management and record label. He subsequently decided that he would wreak his revenge by making Black Sabbath (whom he managed) the best heavy metal band in the world, which, of course, they are, but back then in the early '80's they weren't quite the International megastars that they had been in the '70's. His plans included recruiting Deep Purple vocalist Ian Gillan, getting Bill Ward back in on drums and stealing as many of Sharon and Ozzy's team as possible, and as I was designing Ozzy's sleeves at the time, I of course got asked to submit some rough designs. As I didn't want to lose my gig with the Osbourne's, I thought the best thing to do would be to put some ridiculous and obvious designs down on paper, submit them, and then get the beers in with the rejection fee, but oh no, life ain't that easy.

“In all I think there were four rough ideas that were given to the management and band to peruse (unfortunately I no longer have the roughs as I would love to see just how bad the other three were as sadly my booze and drug addled brain no longer remembers that far back). Anyway, one of the ideas was of course the baby and the first image of a baby that I found was from the front cover of a 1968 magazine called "Mind Alive" that my parents had bought me as a child, in order to further my education. So, in reality, I say blame my parents for the whole sorry mess. I then took some black and white photocopies of the image (the picture is credited to 'Rizzoli Press') that I overexposed, stuck the horns, nails, fangs into the equation, used the most outrageous colour combination that acid could buy, bastardised a bit of the Olde English typeface and sat back, shook my head and chuckled.

“The story goes that at the meeting Tony Iommi and Geezer Butler were present, but no Ian Gillan or Bill Ward. Tony loved it, and Geezer, so I'm reliably informed, looked at it and in his best Brummie accent said, "It's shit. but it's fucking great!" Don not only loved it but had already decided that a Born Again baby costume was to be made for a suitable midget who was going to wear it and be part of the now infamous "Born Again Tour". So suddenly I find myself having to do the bloody thing. I was also offered a ridiculous amount of money (about twice as much as I was being paid for an Ozzy sleeve design) if I could deliver finished artwork for front, back and inner sleeve by a certain date. As the dreaded day drew nearer and nearer, I kept putting off doing it again and again, until finally the day before I sprang into action with the help of a neighbour, (Steve 'Fingers' Barrett), a bottle of Jack Daniels and the filthiest speed that money could buy on the streets of South East London, and we bashed the whole thing out in a night, including hand lettering all the lyrics, delivered it the next day where upon I received my financial reward. But that wasn't the end of it, oh no.... when Gillan finally got to see a finished sleeve, he hated it with a vengeance, and hence the now famous quote "I looked at the cover and puked!" Gillan might have hated it, but Max Cavelera (Sepultura, Soulfly) and Glen Benton (Deicide) have both gone on record saying that it is their favourite album sleeve.

“Another story that was spread was about the sleeve, and this most likely is just evil, malicious gossip, but as soon as the first set of printers proofs were delivered to the Jet offices, one was put on a bike and sent to Sharon to piss her off as she was in hospital having her and Ozzys first born Aimee, and ever since the baby on the cover has been known as Aimee ... fact or lie? You decide. And there you have it.”

And that is the story of the Black Sabbath 'Born Again' sleeve as told by Steve 'Krusher' Joule. And, on a final note, Steve says he never saw the Depeche Mode cover till two years after Born Again was released.


Anonymous said...


hells acres said...

Thanks for reading. Whoops, I'm listening to "Don't Fear the Reaper" right now. And I've got a hankering for...MORE COWBELL!!

Anonymous said...

I loved going to the concerts @ the Civic Center...Someday, I'll find my old ticket stubs...
My 1st concert experience there was around 1974 -75
The Dobbie Bros..promoting their new album release.
ZZ Top concert with Bob Seger as the opening act was totally awesome! We went there to see ZZ Top, but never heard of this unknown guy to our parts at the time name Bob Seger...LOL

It was the 1st time I heard Turn the Page...
An awesome performance..for an opening act..
After ZZ Top played, I was deaf for about a week...They had those amps cranked WAAY Up that night !!!


Anonymous said...

The ones that gave us a problem on the floor were the tough gangs from Hartford...they were the biggest bunch of assholes I ever met in my life..but we weren't scared of them... because we were total nuts back then... LOL

Hell's Acres said...

Thanks for the comments, rockers.

I forgot to mention the alley between the now-demolished bank and the Civic Center, where a smorgasbord of drugs were sold. You had to run the gauntlet of dealers crying out, "Hash, acid, etc." I might have stopped once or twice...to tie my shoe.

Once you saw a concert on the floor, it was difficult to go back to the regular upper seats for subsequent concerts, knowing how great it was to get close to the stage, despite all the hassles.

I believe the Civic Center brass did away with general admission for a while after 11 fans were killed in a stampede at The Who concert in Cincinnati in 1979, but not for long.

Anonymous said...

My first concert was at the Springfield Civic Center.Black Sabbath in 1975,I think the Leslie West Band opened!
I snuck over there from The Boy's and Girls Club in West Springfield.I was 13 and for the life of me,I can't remember who went with me!Moved to Cleveland,Ohio in 76 and my rock and roll experience went crazy!I'm only envious of your Firm show,I'm a huge Jimmy Page/LZ fan
Came across your blog via a West Springfield facebook post...Very nice work!
Chuck A.

Anonymous said...

Thanks so much for the memories, I feel that I practically lived at the SCC during my teenage years. We were somewhat spoiled with some of the great bands that we saw in Springfield and to this day I won't bother seeing a concert in a stadium for we had it all here in our own back yard. Nothing will ever compare.

Bad Andy said...

Nice blog. Good times for sure. Great shows. Wish i still has MY ticket stubs. Bad Andy/Cathedral High Class of 1977

Hell's Acres said...

Hey Bad Andy,

You're old enough to have gone to the Civic Center during its rock heyday. What bands do you recall seeing?

Bob B said...

awesome stories brought back memories of all the shows i saw there. Nugent,AC/DC, Outlaws - Foghat -Rossington Collins, Anthrax (exhibition hall), Zappa (i think), Ozzy, Sabbath, too many too remember if it was Htfd, Spfld, Worcester, New Haven. even went to providence for the black and blue tour when hagar warmed up. being from east hartford ct we were in the middle of the shows, kind of. my 1st show was new haven, ted nugent with frank marino and mahogany rush, never saw anybody play like marino since. pretty much saw most of the bands we wanted to see, yngwie, quiet riot, krokus. twisted sister, kiss, pink floyd, helloween, slayer, megadeth, metallica. granted many i was near black out (scorpions refernece lol). anyway was fun reading about another persons escapades at the shows of that era. my craziest was riding on the hood of my friends '73 impala leaving a nugent show in spfld going back to east htfd down 91, my buddy decided to stop before we got into CT, he was afraid of getting a ticket. neither of us thought about me rolling down the road, then again pretty sure we weren't thinking. have fun. nice that you went to a show with your kid, trying to get my ex to agree with me about taking our son to either slipknot or sabbath this summer, at the very least disturbed would be good.