The Key to Philly's Musical Past? It's In George Manney's Basement

By Michael Alan Goldberg 

Add Comment Add Comment | Comments: 25 | Posted May. 25, 2011

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Things could have been better for George Manney as the spring of 1992 approached. Just shy of 41, he had already spent more than half his life eking out a living as a drummer for dozens of bands in the Philadelphia rock scene. But the number of gigs was dwindling; so was his dream of ever achieving stardom beyond city limits.


Still, it wasn’t all bad. For nearly six years, Manney had been ringleader of the Last Minute Jam, a popular Tuesday night session at J.C. Dobbs on South Street that often attracted big-name surprise guests: Johnny Thunders, Spencer Davis, Ace Frehley and members of Bon Jovi and the Psychedelic Furs among them. And 
Manney had managed to snag a job as head buyer at Tower Records in the Northeast, not far from where he’d grown up, to help make ends meet. Things could have been worse.


And then one March evening—Friday the 13th—things got worse. 


Manney was walking across Roosevelt Boulevard to make a bank deposit for Tower when a car hurtled into him. The entire left side of his body was shattered. His leg was wrenched from the socket, his ribs were crushed and a brain hemorrhage swelled his head to twice its size. Manney spent a month in the hospital in critical condition, and another seven months confined to a hospital bed set up in the dining room of his two-story row house in Tacony. A nurse told him that he might have permanent memory problems. 


“I was totally freaked out,” Manney says. “I couldn’t walk, my brain was fucked up, I didn’t think I’d ever be able to play drums again. I didn’t know what was gonna happen to me.”


Aside from the care of friends and family, what saved him, says Manney, was his music collection. Not just a batch of albums that lifted his spirits. An entire house overflowing with photos, posters, concert videos and audio tapes, handbills, instruments, buttons, fliers, newspapers, LPs, magazines, books, amplifiers, autographs, ticket stubs and tons more, lovingly and obsessively hoarded over decades. Boxes, bins and shelves filled with Manney’s own musical past and Philadelphia’s, too, helped him keep his memories and identity intact. “It kept me sane,” says Manney.


The next six years were a blur of rehab and recovery. Manney eventually made it back to his job at Tower—part-time, anyway, and with the help of a cane. He even started playing drums again once in a while, physically painful though it was. Things were slowly improving. 


And then, in June of 1998, another 
cruel blow: Manney’s 72-year old mother Madeline was struck by a hit-and-run 
driver outside her house in the Northeast. Manney rushed to the hospital to see her, then immediately went out and bought a cheap video camera “because I wanted to get her on film in some sort of way. I was asking her how she was doing, about 
memories.” His mother died five days later.


“I was pretty messed up,” says Manney. “Sitting around, you think bad things about yourself. About your limitations. About your mother dying—you got hit and you’re still alive and she’s not and why did that happen? There was a lot of guilt. I needed something to do to keep myself from going crazy.”


Once again, Manney turned to his passion for music, and his deep love for Philadelphia and its rich, multifaceted music scene. He hatched a plan: To go around with his video camera and talk to as many Philly music figures as he could find. Musicians, producers, engineers and songwriters, from the legendary to the forgotten. Radio DJs, bouncers, bartenders, others involved in the scene, past and present. Anyone who’d tell him their stories before they, too, were gone. And then he’d combine that footage with his vast collection to create an epic film—the ultimate documentary about Philadelphia’s music history. It became his new obsession. “I had to talk to all the people that made Philadelphia a great music town and find out the truth directly from the ones that were there, instead of what’s in the books and the articles,” Manney says.


Thirteen years later, his 60th birthday looming, Manney is still working on his documentary. Now, he only wants two things in life: To finish the film, and to find a permanent home for his collection—a place where he can help maintain it until he’s gone—so it doesn’t all end up in a landfill. Problems stand in his way, and at the moment, both dreams seem nearly impossible. But Manney’s intent on seeing them through, because his mission to preserve Philadelphia’s musical legacy is also a deeply personal quest to find peace in a world of hurt.


“George has the world-class collection of Philadelphia music, every aspect of it, and he’s got so much passion for it,” says Michael Tearson, the longtime Philadelphia radio DJ who’s known Manney since the late ’60s. “Nobody else has what George has. Outside of what he’s got, a lot of it may not even exist anymore.”


“The stuff George has is ridiculous,” agrees Peter Humphreys, the one-time Sigma house engineer who assisted on 
David Bowie’s 1974 Young Americans 
sessions. He’s been a friend of Manney’s since childhood. “It’s as extensive a 
collection as you’re gonna see.”


Manney’s standing in his low-ceilinged basement—“The Bunker,” as Su, his wife of eight years, calls it. His reddish-blonde hair is thinning on top, but it’s defiantly styled in a ’60s Mod ’do. A small diamond earring in his left lobe sparkles. So do his pale blue eyes.


The basement is part studio and part storeroom, divided into three sections and lit primarily by a collection of lava lamps. A Yorkshire terrier scurries into the tiny antechamber, where there’s a mixing board, a computer workstation and an old reel-to-reel machine. “It’s OK, Ringo, it’s OK,” Manney says to the dog as he begins to bark.


Ringo scampers ahead. Manney moves a bit more slowly, one of the lingering effects of his accident. In the next room, posters and autographed photos of rock and R&B stars line one wall. Under dangling guitar-shaped string lights, old VHS and Betamax tapes sit on a shelf: Kenn Kweder at Ripley’s, 1982. Peter Gabriel at the Spectrum, 1987. Some have red stickers on them: “Master—Do Not Erase.” There’s audiocassettes and reels, too: The Who at the Spectrum, 1973. Elvis Costello at the Hot Club, 1977. 


In the middle of the room there’s a waist-high mound of boxes and crates crammed with more tapes, plus amps, a couple guitars and pieces of damp cardboard. Manney apologizes for the mess as he points to a large gash in the plaster on the wall, near the tiny third room that houses his old drum kit. A pipe in the kitchen ruptured recently, flooding the basement. “A bunch of things got ruined, photos and negatives and things like that,” he laments. “But there’s a lot more upstairs.”


On the dining room table sits a bulky Putney VCS-3 analog synthesizer rescued from Philly’s legendary Sigma Sound Studios just before the new owners gutted the place. Manney heard it may have originally belonged to Pink Floyd. And there’s boxes and plastic bins everywhere.


He reaches into a box, pulls out a scrapbook and starts flipping through pages of photos he’s snapped over the years. A smiling John Lennon outside WFIL on City Avenue in 1975. The Who on the low stage of the old Electric Factory in 1969—the gig looks like a high school talent show. A bewildered Pete Townshend backstage at JFK Stadium a year earlier. “Townshend and Roger Daltrey were fistfighting and me and my friend were standing there flipping out,” Manney recalls. “Next thing you know, Keith Moon walks in with a girl and throws her to the ground and starts trying to get her clothes off, and then this big, burly, baldheaded guy with a thick British accent is throwing us out. But I got a picture.” 


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COMMENTS

Comments 1 - 25 of 25
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1. Jeffrey Slotnikoff said... on May 25, 2011 at 08:08AM

“I congratulate and wish for the best Mr. Manning and his life-long goal. I, too, have a relationship with music which resonates from within the very essence of my being. As a child I went to bed (figuratively!) with Hy Lit and the rest of the WIBG gang. After school ended for the day, there could have been no way to divert me rushing home and watching American Bandstand. And when The Beatles came along... well, I still have the knick-knacks from the scrapbook that I started back in 1967. If Mr. Manning is in any need of labor of love in the future, I'll gladly offer whatever blood, sweat and tears that I can.”

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2. Charlie Gracie, JR. said... on May 25, 2011 at 08:47AM

“I wish some of the so-called 'movers and shakers' in Philadelphia would get behind what George has done and take all of projects to a higher level. He has painstakingly taken the time to document and catalogue so much of this region's rich musical heritage. What gives people? In an age where our city is known more for brutal crime rates and shady abortion doctors....its time to celebrate more of the positives! LETS ROLL! Chas., JR.”

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3. Michael Fraticelli said... on May 25, 2011 at 09:21AM

“As a fellow producer, musician, filmmaker and good friend, I've known George for many years. He's one of those rare local producers dedicated to capturing the essence of one's heart and soul. He's a multi-skilled musician, writer, composer, recording engineer, and filmmaker 'all wrapped in one'. There are few of us left George. Thank you for your total dedication in telling so many interesting rich stories about Philadelphia's musical history. But most of all, thank you for your inspiration, and valuable input regarding my documentary. Sincerely; Mike”

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4. David Simpson said... on May 25, 2011 at 10:10AM

“First of all , Bravo ! I think George should be commended for sharing some of his private life with all of us. This alone is a difficult accomplishment which stirs still waters within. More importantly, is the enormous body of work he has painstakingly cataloged not only for all of the creative people in the music and arts community but especially for the benefit of all of us here in Philadelphia. It is a journey through the portal lens of a time past that leads directly to the present. Any person who is interested in the progression of ideas through music and the performing arts (not only in Philly) should support and take advantage of the world premier of George's film "Meet me on South Street" being shown at the Franklin Institute at 7PM
on June 23rd. Tickets are available starting May 26th. For a taste of George's work go to http://www.geosound.org/video.htm....”

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5. Jack Marino said... on May 25, 2011 at 10:38AM

“George, you won the race a long time ago. Your friends are your best work.”

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6. Gene Arnold said... on May 25, 2011 at 11:04AM

“George is a treasure. He has put together concerts to bring Philly groups back to the forefront like the Brotherly Love" show at the TLA which I was proud to co-emcee, the Hereo Scholarship Thrill Show, (which we were also a part of), and his "keeper of the Flame: collections. I always say "George knows and has more about me than I remember about myself."
Terry and I care for Su and George very much, and are pleased to be part of his immense "Philly Pop Music" film. Contributors towards it's completion will be greatly appreciated. Giant Gene and Terry”

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7. Anonymous said... on May 25, 2011 at 12:57PM

“Congrats to Philly Weekly on a beautifully written piece.

George Manney is a Philadelphia music treasure. All the thousands of hours he has put into documenting this city's rich musical history should indeed be packaged and made available to the world. Public broadcasting should embrace him and we ought to start a Philadelphia Music Museum.

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8. David A. Ickes said... on May 25, 2011 at 07:20PM

“I have read the other comments and couldn't agree more about George. Having known George for over 30 years, I am proud to call him my friend.
His commitment to the music scene in Philadelphia and it's documentation
is unequaled. No one can come close. He needs all of our support and encouragement to bring this documentary to a final product and what a product it will be. June 23rd will be quite a day in Phil. music history.”

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9. Pete Fama said... on May 25, 2011 at 10:29PM

“"I have worked many projects with George Manney.
He is the consummate professional who truly embodies
the compassion, spirit and soul of the music community
in Philadelphia. I am honored to be his friend !"

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10. Mary Frances Connelly said... on May 26, 2011 at 12:47AM

“This is just a perfect article. My first concert was Hendrix at the Spectrum. Keith Moon kissed me at The Electric Factory. Saw The Cure at The Hot Club, and the Bloodless Pharoahs Brian Setzer's first band (with his brother Gary). Saw U2 at Ripley. Alanis Morissette at the new Factory. I performed in the Wild Women of Wongo along w/ The Vels and No Milk. (I was the Bird Queen Goddess.) On and on. Philly rocks. And George has all our memories for us! Thanks George.”

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11. Susan Roth said... on May 26, 2011 at 09:47AM

“Thank you George, for all you have done to preserve the era of music that reflects my own life. From everything I have read above, I am sure I have met you or have seen you play. You have been handed some rough crap in life, but do not let it ever make you think that you have not done enough. Maybe I will be lucky enough to catch you at one of your rare gigs one of this days.
Peace Brother!

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12. mutual friend said... on May 26, 2011 at 03:27PM

“Never ending job.... but we've got the BEST man for it.
Great stuff George!!”

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13. Nik Everett said... on May 26, 2011 at 05:55PM

“With you and stand by you all the way George!

Best, Nik”

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14. Ed said... on May 26, 2011 at 07:19PM

“How can I contact George? I have some items he may be interested in.

Ed”

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15. jj said... on May 26, 2011 at 08:38PM

“i would love to see his collection where did he ever get a syd barret autograph”

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16. John Travis said... on May 29, 2011 at 07:41PM

“George
If not for your effortsthe story of Dobbs would never have been told. Take you, from the bottom of my heart. JT.”

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17. Robin Corsino said... on May 30, 2011 at 10:31PM

“George, this is a wonderful article. Just want to say that some of my favorite memories is being in the basement of your mothers house. I loved watching your mother when she performed and I loved being a little kid upstairs hearing your band play.

You deserve the better best.
Robin Corsino”

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18. Ace Filipini said... on May 31, 2011 at 10:33AM

“Pretty clear to me that this guy has been a success for years. One need simply listen to the story itself, filled with his love for music and the love of friends.”

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19. Anonymous said... on May 31, 2011 at 01:02PM

“In addition to his other contributions to the Philly music scene, George is also a first-class audio engineer. He recorded a CD for a band I was in about ten years ago and made us sound much better than we deserved to!”

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20. Anonymous said... on Jun 7, 2011 at 04:48PM

“Maybe it's all the years, maybe just the friendship, but I find George's story uplifting. After all, he gave me the chance to record with his mom. I was hard wire retro'd back to the '50's, the golden age of the electric guitar. It wasn't George's basement anymore, it was Les Paul's. The tubes on his new Ampex 4 Track were glowing. You could smell the heat. There I sat, Howard Herbert's eager apprentice, and there before me, guitar in hand...one of the best. Thanks George...Thanks Madeline.”

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21. samthomas said... on Nov 15, 2011 at 04:54PM

“i took drum lessons at tolen and welch i wonder if you remember a drum teacher there i think last name patterson”

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22. Henry (Hank) Brann said... on Dec 30, 2011 at 03:15PM

“I interviewed 30 Philadelphia bands in '69 for an article to have been published in the Freep before I was kidnapped to the West Coast along with 'Meatball Fulton'. Happy to contribute anything that may be of interest.”

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23. jOHNNY HAYS said... on Jan 7, 2012 at 04:24PM

“George, thank you for all the great musical times. You were even cool enough to play on our demos back in the day. All the health & happiness to you and Su............. johnny hays st. pete fl”

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24. jOHNNY HAYS said... on Jan 7, 2012 at 04:29PM

“George, thank you for all the the great musical times! You were even cool enough to play on our demos back in the day. All the health & happiness to you and Su.. johnny hays St. Pete Fl”

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25. Rich Gorczyca said... on Jan 28, 2014 at 05:05PM

“Those of us who in anyway participated in the music scene in Philly experienced only a fragment of what was happening there. Thanks to George Manney for providing us with the big picture.”

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