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

By Michael Alan Goldberg 

Add Comment Add Comment | Comments: 26 | Posted May. 25, 2011

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Manney’s eyes dance as his hands fish out treasure after treasure. Rare 45s of “Goodbye Baby” by the Temptones (Daryl Hall’s first band), recorded in 1965, and The Beatles’ “She Loves You”/“I’ll Get You,” issued by the tiny Philadelphia label Swan Records in 1963, back when the Fab Four was still struggling to get a U.S. distribution deal. Decades-old show schedules from J.C. Dobbs, Grendel’s Lair, and the Khyber Pass, faded and frayed. The Super-8 camera he used as a teenager to film the Kinks and Pink Floyd when they came to town, and 
the free summer concerts at the Belmont Plateau in Fairmount Park. A Cameo-Parkway studio track sheet for the 1967 “Ain’t Nothin’ But A Houseparty” sessions by the short-lived Germantown soul quartet the Show Stoppers. 


With nearly every artifact there’s a story. For the next couple hours, names and places and facts and anecdotes tumble out of Manney’s mouth, each remembered detail dislodging another memory, sending him deeper into his boxes and bins. He’s in the zone, like a musician onstage shutting out everything but the groove. It’s fascinating, if slightly exhausting.


Finally, with a flourish he dumps a plastic bag full of matchbooks onto the dining room table. The names on the covers form a nostalgic pile of bygone Philly hotspots: Dobbs, The Kennel Club, The Hot Club, Ripley’s, Revival …


Manney picks up one of the matchbooks, slowly runs his fingers over the raised type, and takes a deep breath, as if the last chord of his performance has been struck. Then he smiles.


“There’s way more stuff on the second floor.” Manney laughs. “Oh wait, one more thing—check this out.”


He darts into the living room and comes back holding a copy of My Soul’s Been Psychedelicized, the new book by venerable Philly concert promoter Larry Magid that celebrates 40 years of Electric Factory concerts. Manney has known Magid for all of those 40 years, and admits he’s a little disappointed that Magid didn’t include some of his photos in the book. “Maybe they aren’t professional enough,” he says. But Manney’s not bitter, especially in light of the inscription on the first page: “To George, Keeper of the Flame.” 


“That’s pretty cool, right? Keeper of the flame? Larry’s a really important guy, so for him to write that …” says Manney, his voice trailing off. “I dunno. It’s probably not that big of a deal. A lot of people collect stuff, right?”


George Manney got his love for music, his passion for collecting and his stubborn determination mainly from his mother. Growing up in Juniata Park, Madeline decided as a teen that she wanted to play guitar—practically unheard of for a woman in the 1930s. Manney remembers her telling him about the time she was outside strumming and her father grabbed the instrument out of her hands and smashed it over her head. “Apparently it was an embarrassment having a woman play the guitar in front of the neighbors,” says Manney. 


Undaunted, Madeline honed her skills, began playing theaters and nightclubs in Philly and New Jersey, and eventually developed a following. Rock ’n’ roll pioneer Bill Haley became a family friend, and Manney recalls one night after a gig at the 500 Club in Atlantic City (George was 4 at the time) when Dean Martin and Jerry Lewis dropped by to listen to his mother play guitar. His mom also began keeping all of her press clippings, along with a growing collection of vinyl.


Manney’s father, Art, was a drummer, though he worked by day as an inspector for the Department of Licenses & Inspections. Most weekends, the couple hosted raucous, drunken jam sessions with musician friends in their basement in the wee hours of the morning, after Madeline got home from a gig. Sometimes, Manney would watch in amazement, and after briefly taking accordion lessons, young George gravitated toward the drums and soon started taking part in the jams. He was also a Beatles nut, and started collecting any piece of Beatles vinyl or memorabilia he could get his hands on, or could convince his parents to get for him.


By the time he arrived at Lincoln High, Manney had become such a good drummer that he was the envy of his musician pals in the Northeast, including future Nazz singer Robert “Stewkey” Antoni, Nicky Indelicato (who became the singer for Philly’s American Dream) and Frank Stallone (younger brother of Sylvester). “He was on the leading edge of professionalism for us teenagers,” Humphreys recalls. “Everyone felt he was going places.”


Manney started a garage-rock duo called the Outcasts, which eventually morphed into Stone Dawn—a psychedelic quartet styled after Pink Floyd. They quickly moved up the Philly rock ladder, playing shows at Magid’s just-opened Electric Factory at 22nd and Arch streets. “We’d wrap ourselves in brown paper bags that we broke out of onstage,” says Manney. “We’d come out on pogo sticks and tricycles. We even had our own newspaper, The Tuesday News .” Manney kept everything—every Stone Dawn press clipping, show flier and set list. And the connections he was making allowed him better access to shoot photos, tape shows and to get his hands on some primo gear and music memorabilia for his own growing collection.


Hearing from a British pen pal that the Beatles were looking for fresh talent to sign to their Apple Records label, Manney sent a letter to Paul McCartney in January 1969. Eleven days later, he got a reply from Beatles assistant Peter Brown (Manney, of course, has the letter and envelope prominently displayed in one of his scrapbooks) requesting he send a Stone Dawn demo to Apple. Manney was so excited that he called the phone number on the letterhead, and found himself on the line with McCartney. “He was really nice but told me he ‘didn’t really have much to do with this kind of thing,’” Manney laughs. Stone Dawn cut a demo and sent it to Apple, but nothing came of it and the band called it quits in 1970. 


It was the first in a string of personal disappointments and career near-misses for Manney. In 1973, he married his former Stone Dawn bandmate, singer-guitarist Penny Stubbs, but the turbulent union—which produced a daughter—lasted only 11 months. The following year, Manney heard that a promising new singer from New 
Jersey named Bruce Springsteen had just fired his drummer and was looking for a replacement. The 23-year-old Manney—by then a well-regarded area drummer—secured an audition, but canceled at the last minute because he was going through a tough time with his divorce and new fatherhood. “I’m not saying I would’ve gotten the gig, but you never know,” says Manney.


Throughout the ’70s and into the ’80s, Manney played drums with literally dozens of local acts, including Kenn Kweder, Beru Revue and the Alan Mann Band, though none of them really made a splash outside the Philly area. He embedded himself in the local scene, and he kept collecting, collecting, collecting—not only his own clippings, but anything and everything relating to Philadelphia music that piqued his curiosity.


In 1986, Manney founded the Last Minute Jam, and it was a hit. Everybody in town knew Manney, and some knew about his collection. He began evolving from collector to curator as people started handing him rarities to “look after” and enjoy—master tapes (video and audio) of professionally recorded concerts from both local and national/international acts, plus photos, negatives, and other one-of-a-kind items. When a guy who went by the name of Tiki—who regularly shot concerts at Dobbs throughout the ’80s—passed away, someone got ahold of Tiki’s videos and gave them to Manney (years later, going through one of the boxes, Manney discovered the original VHS master of Nirvana’s storied 1989 performance at the club). 


“Everybody always trusted George,” says David Ickes, who spent 17 years behind the bar at Dobbs. “I’m so glad he’s the one that has the Tiki tapes.”


“People felt totally comfortable giving him things like that because they knew George would never try to sell or bootleg that stuff,” says Humphreys. Manney is one of only a precious few people who’ve been entrusted with a copy of Humphrey’s near-mythic Young Americans rehearsal/outtakes tapes. “They’ve never gotten out,” says Humphreys. “Not even Bowie has it. But George does.”


By the early ’90s, Manney’s collection was massive and impressive. And then, the accident. His mother’s death. And the genesis of Manney’s magnum opus.


Down in the Bunker, Manney’s playing some of his interview footage on his computer. There’s Philly soul singer Len Barry talking about how he got paid in booze and sex instead of royalties when he was a hit-making teenager singing with the Dovells. There’s late West Philly singer and Motown A&R man Weldon McDougal—who’s credited with discovering the Jackson 5 and others—ranting about how Cameo-Parkway Records blatantly ripped off the Motown sound. 


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COMMENTS

Comments 1 - 26 of 26
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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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26. Lydia Collazo said... on Aug 18, 2014 at 05:11PM

“Hi my name is Lydia is important that u get in contact with me for Mary blank your godmother email me please ASAP.thank you”

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