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.