Jerry Brandt, Whose Music Clubs Captured a Moment, Dies at 82
Jerry Brandt, a promoter and entrepreneur who owned two nightclubs, Electric Circus and the Ritz, which were attention-grabbing parts of the New York music scene in their day, died on January 16 in Miami Beach. He was 82 years old.
His family said in a statement that the cause was Covid-19.
Mr Brandt made a career trying to catch the wave that was rising in the pop culture scene. With the Electric Circus, which he opened in 1967 on St. Marks Place in the East Village, it was psychedelia. With the Ritz opening a few blocks away in 1980, it was the exploding music scene of the MTV decade that saw the shows he staged there – Parliament-Funkadelic, U2, Tina Turner, Ozzy Osbourne, Frank Zappa, and countless others – that reflected the exploratory energy of time.
Not all of his big bets have paid off. Perhaps his best-known debacle was Jobriath, a gay performer whom Mr. Brandt supported with an extensive advertising campaign in 1973 and 1974 in the hope of creating an American version of David Bowie’s androgynous Ziggy Stardust personality. The concert and record-buying audience resolutely declined any attempt to make a star, and Jobriath, real name Bruce Campbell, quickly faded.
But Mr. Brandt’s successes, especially with the Ritz, captured their cultural moment and drove it forward. At the Ritz, he not only booked a wide range of bands; He also brought new technology into the mix.
“The Ritz opened on May 14, 1980 with a video screen the size of the proscenium bow it hung on,” WFUV disc jockey Delphine Blue, who DJed the Ritz for five years, said via email. “Cartoons, movies, and psychedelic montages were projected onto it while the DJs played records and jockeyed back and forth with the VJ playing music videos. That was over a year before MTV debuted in August 1981. “
There was, she said, a tightrope walker who was lowered from the ceiling. A cameraman dragged a huge video camera across the dance floor, held the dancers and projected the images onto the big screen. The club was often full and the chaos was almost impossible to control. Sometimes it wasn’t controlled at all.
“A full house at the Ritz started throwing bottles on the club’s video screen two weeks ago when British band Public Image Ltd. appeared behind the screen, refused to come out from behind and mocked the audience,” reported the New York Times in the spring of 1981. “Then several fans stormed the stage, tore down the screen and destroyed the equipment. There was a moment of panic on the crowded dance floor, although no one appeared to be injured. “
Mr. Brandt was the center of everything.
“Jerry,” Ms. Blue said simply, “was the PT Barnum of night clubs.”
Jerome Jack Mair was born on January 29, 1938 in Bensonhurst, Brooklyn, to Jack and Anna (Cohen) Mair. His father, Mr. Brandt, wrote in his memoir, “It’s a Short Walk from Brooklyn If You Run” (2014) when he was 5 years old. When his mother later married Harold Brandt, Jerry took his stepfather’s name.
After graduating from Lafayette High School in Brooklyn, he served in the Army from 1956 to 1958. Back in New York, he finally got a job as a waiter at Town Hill, a club in Brooklyn that featured top Black performers like Sam Cooke and Dinah in Washington.
“It was a dream come true,” he wrote in his memoir. “I could see great artists and make money at the same time. I realized that I wanted to be in the music business. “
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In 1961 he worked in the mail room of the William Morris talent agency. He didn’t impress his bosses at first, especially when he was hired as a courier to deliver an important assignment to an office on Fifth Avenue.
“Instead, I went to Central Park, smoked a joint and was two hours late,” he wrote.
He was fired, but after spending a year with another agency, the General Artists Corporation, he returned to William Morris, this time as a talent agent. He represented the Rolling Stones when they made their first tours of the United States in the mid-1960s.
Mr. Brandt opened the Electric Circus on June 27, 1967. It was a riot of music and psychedelic lights, and within a few months he had also opened a boutique on the second floor, where customers could buy stick-on beauty marks or made overalls made from strips of colored crepe paper. The Times described the opening of the boutique as follows:
“With her arms strapped to a tightrope, a model in a purple and silver polka dot overalls sailed through the air Monday night in the Electric Circus disco and landed in the arms of a man dressed as a gorilla. Then, as the walls crawled with protoplasmic blobs of colored light that pounded to the beat, the model and the gorilla began to question. “
There was a wide range of entertainment in the club. The Velvet Underground, managed by Andy Warhol, was a regular attraction. The Grateful Dead, then an up-and-coming band, played there in May 1968. A few weeks later, John Cage and the writer John Kobler played a game of chess there on an electronic chessboard, their movements producing music from a sort. (“It was dark, it was hot, and to tell the truth, it was lousy chess and lousy music,” wrote Harold C. Schonberg in The Times.)
They never knew who might show up, as Linda Raiterie, a puppeteer who was part of a politicized puppet show at the club, found out. One night Mr. Brandt brought in some young men as the puppeteers were preparing.
He said, ‘Puppeteers, Rolling Stones. Rolling Stones, puppeteer, said it to The Commercial Appeal of Memphis in 2004. “Then they were gone in no time.”
In March 1970, a small bomb exploded on the dance floor of Electric Circus, one of the bombings in New York of the period. The club never quite got over the bad publicity and closed in 1971.
Until then, Mr. Brandt wore different hats. He directed the Voices of East Harlem, a vocal ensemble that he made famous nationwide, and produced the group’s first album, Right On Be Free, in 1970. He was also involved in the production of Carly Simon’s debut album, which was released in 1971.
The ill-advised advertising campaign he ran for Jobriath included a giant billboard in Midtown’s Duffy Square that stunnedly exposed the potential star on its side as a decaying statue. The failure of this campaign didn’t stop Mr. Brandt from thinking big. In 1979 he tried to produce on Broadway and brought a gaudy musical called “Got Tu Go Disco” to the Minskoff Theater. He thought he would benefit from the disco craze.
“You don’t have to be a genius to know this is coming,” he told the Times before the show opened. “And do you know what excites me most about it? So much is going to happen that the audience never knows what’s next. “
Apparently the audience didn’t care what came next. Richard Eder, who reviewed the show on The Times, called it “as uninteresting to watch as a bunch of barflies getting silly drinking”. It closed after eight performances, one of the most expensive flops of the time.
When the downtown Ritz closed in 1989, Mr. Brandt switched to the restaurant business and opened Jerry’s Bar and Mesquite Grill on West 23rd Street, which he soon renamed Spo-Dee-O-Dee’s. He began dividing his time between New York and the Miami area in the mid-1990s, eventually settling in North Miami Beach.
His first marriage to Margie Wexler ended in divorce. In 1968 he married the actress Janet Margolin; They divorced in 1971. He married Agnetha Gavelius in 1994 and they divorced in 2000. His children Juliana and Alexander survive him.