The Greyhound Bus Depot was built in about 1936 at 29 North 7th Street in downtown Minneapolis.
The old station stood empty for several years, owned by Ted Mann who considered turning it into a theater. In 1970 it was purchased by Danny Stevens, singer and front man of one of the top rock groups of the era, Danny’s Reasons (pictured below left). Stevens had a liquor license from the Hotel Hastings and contributed the initial capital. His first partner was Elizabeth Heffelfinger, who had to drop out because of illness. Allan Fingerhut then stepped in with the financing, and the two were joined by Abby Rosenthal, who became the manager and had been the manager of George’s in the Park.
An article in the February 22, 1970, Minneapolis Tribune hinted at some very ambitious plans:
- Two clothing stores: I, Ross and East-West Ltd.
- A Record shop
- A Novelty shop
- Three bars (there were eventually at least five). One of the bars, The Second Floor of the World, “will have low-priced drinks and is expected to attract some of the 5 o’clock trade of young working people who now frequent such places as Buster’s and Duff’s.”
The Interior was designed by John Neil, with many of the interior walls decorated with huge pop murals done by West Bank painters.
The Trib article noted that the venue would be opened by Joe Cocker on April 3 and 4 (which it was), but also listed other bookings of the Vanilla Fudge for April 10 and 11 and Janis Joplin for April 18 and 19 – neither shows eventually panned out
An article in the February 24, 1970, Minneapolis Star quoted Fingerhut as saying the acoustics were perfect – “despite the memories of some past bus riders of unintelligible public address calls there.” The new corporation was called The Committee, with Fingerhut acting as chairman of the board and Stevens as president.
Tony Swan, in an article in The Twin Citian, described the place:
The curved wall which used to embrace the gates to departing buses is now the backdrop for a large, purple plush-covered stage. On the wall above the stage, Cinemascope style, there is a large screen. While the performers are wailing, batteries of projectors – in all eight carousel slide projectors, four opaque projectors and a 16-milimeter movie camera – shoot images onto the screen from either end of the horseshoe shaped balcony which surrounds the main floor. There are also colored spotlights and strobe lights – all the usual implements of psychedelia. There are five bars, three on the main floor and two on the balcony. There is a large, prime table area right in front of the stage: on opening night the tables went for 10 bucks a head, which could get to be a drag on the Depot’s income potential in the future.
An article in the Minneapolis Tribune by Allan Holbert dated April 11, 1971, noted that April 1970 was not a great time to launch a new night spot. “The economy had started turning sour. People were being laid off. The ones who still had jobs were forced to cut back on their entertainment spending.”
JOE COCKER OPENS THE DEPOT
The Depot opened on April 3 and 4, 1970, and an estimated 2,300 people came to the club over the two days to see the Mad Dogs and Englishman tour featuring Joe Cocker. (First choice Santana didn’t work out.) Leon Russell was the musical director of this American tour, which descended on 48 cities over 60 days. The movie Woodstock, which introduced Cocker to many Americans for the first time, had just hit theaters a week earlier, so the timing was excellent. With over 20 musicians, another 20 Englishmen on stage just for fun, two kids (allegedly on acid), a dog, and characters like the Lunar Teacake Snake Man, the Ruby-Lipped Essence of Lubbock, Texas, and the Mad Professor, it was an experience for everyone involved.
On opening night it cost only $4 to get in, but there was a $10 charge to sit down, with much poaching of seats going on. Johnny Canton was the emcee, and appeared in the “Mad Dogs and Englishmen” film that was made of the event.
REVIEWS OF OPENING NIGHT
Marshall Fine had few good things to say about opening night in his review in the Minneapolis Star, and said that Cocker’s first set was only 20 minutes long. Fine was a student and complained that the under-21 crowd couldn’t get in.
The Tribune’s review was more concentrated on the sheer numbers of people who showed up, saying that people were lined up four-deep around the block. Allan Fingerhut said that they ran out of booze by 8:00 and had to send out for more.
Swan’s account in the Twin Citian said that the “beautiful people,” many wearing “Cocker Power” buttons, numbered 2,000, which was 600 over capacity. He said that the first show was a dud, with too much noise and confusion and older people holding their ears and beautiful people “with resplendent sun tans and $250 hippie outfits” more interested in checking each other out than listening to the music. But between sets “the ingredients underwent an important purge. A lot of the older people, having seen enough, went out the door shaking their heads in disbelief, their ears ringing. The beautiful people made a determined and lengthy run on the bar, lowering their inhibitions in direct proportion. And the hard core rock freaks moved in on the privileged table area, surrounding it, engulfing it.” During the second set, “Everyone – everyone – began swaying in time to the music, which became so loud that it was beyond the audible – it was simply deafening. People began throwing flowers onto the stage and the musicians began throwing them back, strengthening the two-way process. … And Cocker kept pouring more and more of himself through those big banks of amps… until he was finished and just stood there, smiling amid all the flowers.”
A reviewer named Greg in the underground magazine The Minneapolis Flag noted that what seemed like the entire Tactical Division of the Minneapolis Police Force (off duty) had been hired as floorwalkers and bouncers.
According to Allan Holbert in the April 4, 1970, edition of the Minneapolis Tribune, “not since the truck drivers’ strike of 1934 is it likely that there has been such excitement, such chaos, such congestion, such noise just off Hennepin Av. as there was Friday night.”
Holbert’s account, which later calls the space the Fillmore Upper Midwest, says that carpeting and other interior decorations weren’t yet installed, but the old bus station was packed by the time Cocker hit the stage just after 8 p.m. Cocker worked hard on a stage filled with 40 people, “singing like a black man, which he isn’t and doing his dancing stuff like a spastic, which he isn’t either.”
Will Jones of the Minneapolis Tribune tried to cover the opening, but opening act Bear, Beaver, Peacock was just too loud and he left.
Connie Hechter also remarked about how incredibly loud the opening band was, but said that they probably didn’t realize that the size of the room didn’t require turning up the amps to full blast..
The Del Counts performed between sets on April 3. After that came classical music accompanying Roadrunner cartoons. On April 4 the supporting acts were Kaleidoscope and the Paisleys. Booker Marsh Edelstein was upset that publicity about the concert did not include the local bands. [Another account says that Pride and Joy performed, and a band called Cricket was scheduled but was bumped for time.]
Photos above and below courtesy Darrell Brand
The StarTribune, December 22, 2014, reported:
Cocker returned to the club one more time when it was called First Avenue in 1994, the same year he played the 25th anniversary Woodstock festival. However, he could not remember the 1970 gig nor the venue when Jon Bream interviewed him in 2009 before what would be his last Twin Cities area performance, at Mystic Lake Casino. He said, “The Depot? I’ll have to run it by Chris Stainton [his longtime keyboardist]. It doesn’t ring a bell at all to me.”
John Robert Cocker, known to family, friends, his community and fans around the world as Joe Cocker, passed away on December 22, 2014, after a hard fought battle with small cell lung cancer. He was 70 years old.
In late 1970 the Insider reported that Allen Fingerhut brought in his brother-in-law, Ted Deikel, to help manage the club’s finances. Rosenthal was listed as the “former manager,” and Skip Goucher was the “former talent booker” for the Depot. An article in the St. Louis Park Sun (September 21, 1983) reported that Stevens tried to get a liquor license and buy Bunny’s, but was denied citing “press clippings from the early ’70s in which Minneapolis city attorneys and municipal court judges complained about the large number of arrests and disturbances at the Depot overloading the court system.” Stevens claims that he threatened to sue the city for the denial, but after two to three months of discussions, the two sides came to an amicable agreement. Soon after, Bunny’s was taken by the city for the development of Excelsior and Grand.
One successful promotion was Beer and Wine Mondays. In 1971 men paid $2.50 and women $1.50 for a plastic cup and all the beer or Bali Hai or Reva wine they could drink. Even after the Depot morphed into Uncle Sam’s, the promotion was continued for a cover charge of $5 or $6. Danny Stevens noted that the night was especially popular with professors from the U of M.
On April 11, 1971, Allan Holbert of the Minneapolis Tribune checked in at the Depot after a year of operation. He attributed the success of the club to the hard work of Allan Fingerhut, who worked seven days a week at the club. In hindsight, Fingerhut said that booking “loud, heavy groups” like Joe Cocker was a mistake, and “if I were to do it over I would start by booking top-40 bands.”
Crowd control was a lesson learned as well, as customers found ways to get into the club’s seven entrances and even in the windows without paying.
No-alcohol Sundays turned out to be the most popular nights, especially since the Labor Temple closed. Mondays were beer and wine nights, and Tuesdays and Wednesdays were 39-69 nights: pop was 39 cents, and alcoholic drinks were 69 cents. On Fridays and Saturdays the cover charge was only $1 and the house band was Copperhead.
NATIONAL ACTS AT THE DEPOT: 1970 – 1971
April 3-4, 1970: Joe Cocker (see above)
April 11, 1970: The Butterfield Blues Band (relatively small crowd)
April 17-18, 1970: Poco (former members of Buffalo Springfield). Opened by Big Island and the Hot Half Dozen.
April 25, 1970 (approximate date): Bangor Flying Circus, opened by Zephr
May 8-9, 1970: The Ramsey Lewis Trio. Danny’s Reasons opened on May 8. The reviewer for the Insider said that the band that opened the second night was so bad he was glad he forgot its name.
May 17, 1970: Mitch Ryder and Mojo Buford
May 31, 1970: Jethro Tull, opened by Clouds, a Scottish band touring with Jethro Tull. It was the first show open to kids under 21, and an estimated 3,0000 showed up. Hundred Flowers reported a block-long line eight people wide stretching along 7th street, overflowing into the streets, waiting for the first show to end.
June 6, 1970. Sha Na Na made a special guest appearance (they were scheduled for the next night) and Hundred Flowers reported that the 21 and over crowd was not especially impressed.
June 7, 1970: Sna Na Na did its regularly scheduled show on teen night, and Hundred Flowers said the younger crowed “showed the Depot what audiencing was all about.”
June 14, 1970: Rotary Connection with Minnie Ripperton. Opened by Thundertree
June 21, 1970: Alice Cooper
June 18, 1970: BB King and Mojo Buford.
Memories from Robb Henry:
I was playing guitar with Mojo Buford in 1970 and we were fortunate enough to be the opening act on this show at the Depot. We got to meet B.B. King and hang out a bit in the upstairs dressing room. I was 17 at the time and really impressed by how nice and friendly he was. He was one of the few guitar players that ever sent a shiver down my spine with one note, that vibrato.
When we were hanging out at the Depot, there was a woman in the dressing room and B.B. couldn’t recall her name so he discreetly told his valet to introduce himself to her so he could hear her name again. Dick Garrison and I got a big kick out of that slick little scenario. Etiquette lesson from the King.
I still remember that evening at the Depot when, half way through his show, [King] took an intermission in the second floor dressing room. There as a knock on the door and a man came in with a suitcase. He opened it and it was full of cash-payment for the evening’s work and insurance that B.B. would finish the second half of his performance!
July 19, 1970: Bloodwyn Pig, a British group
July 26, 1970: Pacific Gas & Electric
August 2, 1970: Benefit for the Minnesota Eight and North Country Freedom Camp, as described in the August 8, 1970, issue of Hundred Flowers. Bands include:
- Hundred Flowers Surfjazz Band Orchestra
- Jave, with Greg Gilmer and Rocky Melina
- Betty Boop
- Spider John Koerner
- Bamboo (Dave Ray, Donicht, Animal, and Animal’s little brother)
- Jam by Bamboo and Friends: Maurice, Tommy Ray, John Beach
September 27, 1970: The Illusion
October 4, 1970: Mason Proffit – “Back Because the Multitudes Requested Them”
October 25, 1970: Frank Zappa and the Mothers of Invention and the Flying Burrito Brothers. What a scene! Hundred Flowers reported the following participants:
- Frank Zappa
- The Mothers of Invention
- The Turtles (Flo and Eddie), aka Howard Kaylan. Kaylan is the fat one, often mistaken for Larry Mondello, the fat kid on “Leave it to Beaver,” and he joined the movement to petition KSTP to put “Beaver” back on TV.
- Dr. John the Night Tripper
- The Flying Burrito Brothers, minus Gram Parsons but with pedal steel guitarist Sneaky Pete and former Byrd Chris Hillman
November 1, 1970: Don Ellis
November 8, 1970: Small Faces, featuring Rod Stewart. Opened by Downchild. Pat Marciniak of Hundred Flowers reported that the show “started late became Ian McLagon’s piano was nowhere on stage.” Because of the late start, the first set only lasted 45 minutes. HF again:
To prove how popular the group really is in the Twin Cities, all anyone wouldn’t had to do was to see the long lines of people standing out in the pouring rain waiting to get into the second show. Only a few had umbrellas, but those who didn’t, didn’t want to move, afraid they might lose their place to see the show.
Here’s a story about that concert from Mike Guion:
The Faces were the headliners, and did two shows that night. The second show was to start at 10, but didn’t until after midnight, and despite the late start, the opener did play. By far the most loud show I’ve ever attended, with “Around The Plynth” the highlight, with Woody’s slide shaking the walls. Hard to believe now, but that show did not end until 3 or so. We stood outside in a downpour waiting for the first show to end. Rod had yet to use any hair dye, and the band had to walk from the upstairs dressing room through the crowd to the main floor. Rod’s first solo album was still fresh, and the Faces were touring off their new release called “First Step.” I remember all this so well because I had to be back in downtown at 6 am for my first Army physical. I never got undressed after driving my friends home. Just laid on my bed waiting to take that drive back, wondering if I got drafted where I’d go and what would happen to me. I failed the test. Said I had high blood pressure. I believe the Faces saved my life.
November 15, 1970: Country Joe McDonald (without the Fish). Opened by Wire. Paul Engel of Hundred Flowers reported that Country Joe “performed admirably, what with the unresponsive audience and the plasticity of the Depot on all sides … It was more like playing in a freakily painted bus station for the cost of a bus ride from Mpls. to St. Cloud.”
November 22, 1970: Sweetwater. The group’s signature tune, “Motherless Child,” was sung by Nansi Nevins, but she was not at this performance. On December 8, 1969, she was severely injured in a car accident, causing brain damage and permanent damage to one of her vocal cords.
November 29, 1970: Wayne Cochran and the CC Ryders. Apparently Cochran’s schtick was to be as racist, sexist, and generally insulting to our fair city.
December 6, 1970: James Gang, opened by Depot house band Ned. Shows were scheduled for 8:00 and 10:00, but the second show was cut short by a family emergency. Might be the show that was so loud that people left. An interview with the band published in the December 11, 1970, issue of Hundred Flowers was prefaced with this paragraph:
The James Gang played two shows at the Depot last Sunday night. About 3,000 kids paid $3.50 each to hear them. Another 1,000 or so were turned away. The Depot is probably the worst place in town for a concert. Those who could ingnore the hot, very crowded conditions probably enjoyed the James Gang who were at their best during the second set, even though they were too loud for the Depot. They played a lot of their familiar favorites along with a lot of new stuff. On the bill with them was Ned, a very good group playing nightly at the Depot.
Probably because of this and other highly critical reviews of the Depot, the Depot apparently took away Hundred Flowers’ press pass. This ensued:
December 13, 1970: Savoy Brown
February 19, 1971: Sly and the Family Stone booked but didn’t show
February 21, 1971: Ritchie Havens, with Otis Plum
March 7, 1971: Crow, opened by Pepper Fog
March 21, 1971: Ike and Tina Turner. Ike and Tina were scheduled for two shows at 7:30 and 10:00. They got there so late that the people who came for the second show were left waiting in the cold and rain for up to 4 1/2 hours and the police had to block off traffic. Owner Allan Fingerhut was furious at their manager. He called in comedian Ron Douglas to keep the crowd entertained until they got there, and had to do over an hour. Ike and Tina finally arrived and said they would only do one show, but Fingerhut kept them to their contract and the second show didn’t go on until midnight.
March 28, 1971: BB King
April 11, 1971, James Gang
April 18, 1971: Canned Heat and John Lee Hooker
April 25, 1971: Procol Harum (approximate date). Robert M reports, “The Procol Harum (4 piece) show was poorly attended due to really bad weather. Everyone at first set was invited to stay for second set, which included a slightly different set list. Robin Trower played bass on a couple of numbers. There was no opening act.”
May 9, 1971: Little Richard originally scheduled – replaced by Iggy and the Stooges. Jeff G says Iggy “had a hundred foot cord on his mic and things got kinda scary when he ventured out into the crowd and got right into our faces before climbing up the wall onto the second floor.”
May 23, 1971: Johnny Winter. May be the show Mike Haselman remembers “with Rick Derringer there. Opening act, some unknown band from Boston called The J. Geils Blues Band.” Opened by Zephr
June 6, 1971: Edgar Winter. Robert M reports that this show (no Rick Derringer or Johnny Winter) “was also really, really poorly attended – like 25 people at most. They were asked to stay for second set which was exactly same as first. Also no opening act.”
On June 12, 1971, the Minneapolis Star announced that Monday night would be the last night at the Depot: “The rock and pop music house will close its doors, and operations will be suspended indefinitely for financial reasons.” Employees had been “donating” their services for the last week. Allen Fingerhut cited the lag in the economy and curtailed spending for entertainment. The article said that Wayne Cochrane had been scheduled to perform at the club on June 15 and 16.
June 13, 1971: Allman Brothers were scheduled, but Chris Riemenschneider says the show was cancelled: “The band got wind the club was in financial trouble and demanded full advance payment.”
June 14, 1971: Last day at the Depot, with music by house band Big Island. Hundred Flowers described the end this way:
For a year and a half the Depot crowd, a curious collection of “now” people, freaks, and in-betweeners, never really got together on anything. But, on closing night, June 14th, all the madness of rock-inspired frenzy broke out. On that night over a thousand people crammed into the place for the last wine and beer night.
The Depot management had not bothered to turn on the air conditioning or provide bar girls, so what developed was a chaotic human furnace. Add to this situation the tight, low-down, weasel-ripping music of Big Island and you have something quite close to heaven.
The band slammed into two of their own tunes “Four Days Screamin'” and “Let’s Get Reamed” and when the band stopped the people kept the beat going by clapping and shouting “more!” And that’s just what they got. Everyone moving and sweating as one body to “Jailhouse Rock” or another Big Island song “Mosquito Guts Against the Wall.” About this time the house lights were turned up and everyone was asked to leave (the cops were supposedly coming), but, of course no one left. Everyone was really ripped and all that was important was more raw face-kicking rock. “So the joint ke’p rockin’ .. all night long.”
The June 26 – July 11, 1971 issue of the Insider announced the closing of the Depot. The photo below was described as “a potential patron avoiding the ‘capitalist ripoff’ $3.50 admission plummeted 2 1/2 stories from the roof.”
THE DEPOT CLOSES
Following two years of steady business, the Depot found itself under financial pressure from the bands and criticism from the press. Although $4.50 doesn’t seem like much to see a name band today, especially in a relatively intimate venue like the Depot, audiences were chafing about the prices and developing a mindset that concerts should somehow be free, leading to problems with gatecrashers at later outdoor events. It probably didn’t help that the owners of the Depot were perceived to be wealthy individuals at the outset.
Hundred Flowers was an early critic of high ticket prices. As early as June 16, 1970, it published financial information on the first concerts, as provided by the Depot. Excerpts:
Like a lot of people, we suspected the Depot to be making a killing off our music and our people. We asked to see their books, and here they are. At this point, they seem to be more like benevolent patrons of the culture than vultures….
(Expenses and income for six acts, and three upcoming shows)
So that’s why the tickets are priced so high. Having the Minneapolis Fire Marshall limit the crowds to 900 doesn’t help either. Still, while many of you may be ending your personal boycott, many of us still can’t afford the tickets. When we talked to Fingerhut, the head honcho down there, he said he wan’t i nit for the money but then he said he’d like to stop losing money.
The article continued with some suggestions, all of which included the word “free.”
On the Depot’s side, it was a large venue to maintain, and bills had to be paid. One particular problem in cash flow was that national bands demanded huge deposits to hold the dates. If the band had to cancel, which often happened, the band would return the deposit, but in the meantime the cash was unavailable for expenses.
After being closed for over a year, the club opened again on July 1, 1972, when it was franchised out to the American Events Company (AEC) from Cincinnati, which opened another of its Uncle Sam’s chain of discos. The Insider reported that Danny Stevens and Allen Fingerhut were staying on as managers for the Ohio backers. The enormous facility featured “famous movies and slides” for people to watch when the dancing got too dull. It had to be big to accommodate the newly-enfranchised 18-year old drinkers and the advent of Disco in 1976. An article from November 1977 said that it was leased by the American Scene, a corporation that owns discos across the country. In 1979 AEC returned the club to Fingerhut and Stevens. In April 1980 Sundays at Uncle Sam’s were opened to teens. See a video of the band Mind and Matter made at Uncle Sam’s Here.
Firecrackers were the signature drink at Uncle Sam’s – I was too busy dancing to drink one. The ones above are what I remember – the ones below with the redesigned “A” must have come later.
SEVENTH STREET ENTRY
On March 21, 1979, club manager Steve McClellan started booking live acts in a smaller part of the building that used to be the bus station’s restaurant and Uncle Sam’s coat-check room – this was known as Seventh Street Entry. The first act in the room was Curtiss A and Wilma and the Wilburs. Stevens remembers that they started to consider using the name First Avenue around this time.
By May 1980 American Events was out of the picture, and Stevens and Fingerhut rebranded the venue again to just Sam’s – that continued until New Year’s Eve of 1981. It was at this point that the neon dance floor was removed and the entire place – inside and out – was painted black. Prince made his first appearance here on March 9, 1981.
SAM’S, A DANCETERIA
By September 1981 the ads read Sam’s, A Danceteria.
Finally disco died, the live music moved to the big hall, and on New Year’s Eve 1981 the club became First Avenue. The venue became nationally famous as the central setting for Prince’s 1984 film Purple Rain, which was filmed between November 26 and December 20, 1983. The song “Purple Rain” itself was recorded at First Avenue on August 3, 1983, during a benefit concert for the Minnesota Dance Theater, which had been providing dance lessons to the cast. The film opened on July 27, 1984.
There’s a list of First Avenue’s live performers Here.
THE DEPOT TAVERN
In June 2010 the historic downtown Minneapolis nightclub opened the Depot Tavern, a new bar and restaurant next door to the 7th Street Entry. The walls are covered with photos of concerts spanning the club’s 40 year history, and multiple widescreen TVs feature live video feeds from both the Mainroom and the Entry.