To be published next month Peppermint Twist: The Mob, the Music, and the Most Famous Dance Club of the '60s, which links the mob to the famous sixties New York nightclub the Peppermint Lounge and the national dance craze that it fueled, is billed as "A bold new book that takes readers behind the scenes at the world's most famous rock and roll club in the Swingin' 60's" and "Tells the story of the gangster who secretly owned the club, Johnny Biello" back in a time period "when mobsters still ruled New York."
The book, which is co-written by Joel Selvin and John Johnson Jr. who got the inside story from Biello's son-in-law Dick Cami, covers a lot of history (and near history) such as "the night the Boston Mob almost put a hit on Ringo the night the Beatles came to the Peppermint Lounge." Almost? So what exactly happened? Rather than wait for when the book is published by Thomas Dunne Books on November 13th this week I reached out to co-author Joel Selvin (who was the chief pop music writer at the San Francisco Chronicle for many years) to ask him about this and other new facts unveiled in this new book.
Joey Dee & The Starliters "Peppermint Twist"
Amoeblog: How exactly did the idea for this book first come about and what do you hope its publication will achieve?
Joel Selvin: Dick Cami has been shopping for authors for his story for many years. Dave Marsh sent him my way. He's got a great story that the book will finally bring to light. I brought my college roommate into the project, John Johnson Jr., who is a far more accomplished reporter than I am after 22 years on the front pages of the Los Angeles Times.
Amoeblog: How much input did Johnny Biello's son-in-law Dick Cami have in the story and how reliable are his accounts of the facts?
Joel Selvin: We checked out everything we could. Dick is a reliable observer of these events. His input is a part of every page.
Amoeblog: Where exactly was the Peppermint Lounge in NYC and did you spend a lot of time researching the club?
Joel Selvin: The club was on West 45th Street off Broadway and Times Square. There was a latter-era new wave version in the same location that moved further downtown for a couple of years. We talked to dancers, musicians, clientele and read much of the extensive contemporary coverage.
Sam Cooke "Twistin' The Night Away"
Amoeblog: The 60's was a time when mobsters still ruled - not just New York but Vegas and other places too. Can you give some examples, based on your research for this book, on some of the incidents that the Mob got away it during this time?
Joel Selvin: The Mob ruled NYC nightlife in those days. Johnny Biello sold out to Matty "The Horse" Ianiello, who eventually ran something like 80 clubs in Manhattan. The notorious Morris Levy, front man for the syndicate in the music business, was partners with Biello in the Miami Beach Peppermint Lounge.
Amoeblog: How would you describe the phenomenon that was the Twist and Peppermint Twist dance craze to someone today who has no knowledge of it?
Joel Selvin: The Twist was the first burst of sexual liberation to hit the pop culture in the '60s and the rapid spread of the phenomenon shows how seriously repressed the culture was at the time. Hard to believe today that the Twist caused such an uproar, but it signaled much broader changes coming soon.
Amoeblog: I have compilations of various Twist songs from the sixties. How many Twist records approximately came out in that decade and would you care to give me your personal Top Five Twist Records?
Joel Selvin: There's a lot of good rock and roll disguised as Twist records. Sam Cooke cut a whole great album of Twist tunes, including the title track, "Twistin' the Night Away." I love Gary US Bonds' "Dear Lady Twist" and mambo man Perez Prado cut a fabulous album called "The Twist Goes Latin." For camp value, it's hard to beat Frank Sinatra's "Everybody's Twistin'." There's a Selvin On the City podcast that tells the whole story of the dance craze and plays all these records (and more -- including the rare early versions of the song that started it all, "The Twist") at JoelSelvin.com at this Podcast.
Perez Prado "The Twist Goes Latin"
Amoeblog: The details revealed by Cami as described as "sometimes hilarious, sometimes frightening." Can you give me one example of each of these?
Joel Selvin: Hilarious, try the night the guys drafted some visiting mobsters to act as security for the Beatles when they visited the Miami club. Harrowing? How about Cami trying to get a mobster to back his concert business after Johnny was killed.
Amoeblog: You have a quote from Ronnie Spector in the promo for the book. Did you interview her too for the book and, if so, what memories did she have?
Joel Selvin: Ronnie well remembers the first night she and the other Ronettes went to the Peppermint. They were 17 years old and club management hired them out of the crowd to work as dancers. That was the beginning of her career in show business. There's a beautiful photo of young Ronnie dancing at the club in the book.
The Beatles "Twist and Shout"
Amoeblog: The one thing that jumped out at me in the promo video for the book was the bit about the night Ringo almost took a hit from the mob. How "almost' was that hit and why Ringo, not Paul or the other two Beatles?
Joel Selvin: That story is worth the price of admission alone. Check it out when the book hits the stands.
Amoeblog: Last question - why do people need to read this book?
Joel Selvin: This is a fun, sweet read about a gentleman mobster and his inadvertent role in the history of rock and roll. It's a trip back to a time when life was more innocent and rock and roll was fresh and new. It was only fifty years ago, but it already seems like a million years away.