For over a decade I searched for a photo of the Turk’s Head building every time I went back to Urbana to no avail, but finally, some have arrived, thanks to the founder, Steven Simon and Bugsy. Turk’s Head was the center of gravity for the counterculture in central Illinois— until they demolished it around 1968. We assumed it was torn down just to destroy what had become central station for the emerging hippie culture. And the day after it was bulldozed, I went through the rubble in great sadness and found a silver ring with some Native-American-like etchings on it. That ring became my most powerful and longest-lasting magical possession. When I finally proposed at age 50, I passed it over as my engagement ring. That’s how much it meant to me. Here’s a shot of the interior of Turk’s Head (below).
It was an old 3-story hotel, one built far from the railroad tracks and downtown areas so certain people could keep a low-profile. Al Capone’s gang supposedly stayed there, for example, when they came down-state. There were two major gangs in Chicago back then, and once they crossed paths in a cornfield near Urbana while bird-hunting and turned the shotguns on each other. I don’t remember if there were any fatalities. My family was well-versed with the mob since my mom’s uncle ran the numbers racket in Gary, Indiana, and even paid skim to Capone, far as I know. Uncle Freddy paid his way out of the game and went straight after the Untouchables came to town.
The Turk’s Head had a wide set of stairs leading a deck. The staircase and deck became the hangout (along with the two balconies above it), and since it fronted Green Street, the main drag through campus, just sitting on the steps was like being on display for all the passing traffic, and when you had a big group of hippies, there was a lot of rubber-necking going on. There was an advertising placard on the deck like the type used to update daily menus, only it said: “If I owned Champaign and hell, I’d rent out Champaign and live in hell.”
On the left side was Turk’s Head, a bohemian-style, beatnik coffee-shop that served food at people’s prices and often had free movies, like “The Wild Ones” with Marlon Brando, or a similar counterculture classic—with free popcorn. They also had a wide selection of exotic beers available. On the right was Mary Shirley’s business venture, In Stitches, and also Bob Nutt’s business venture, Blytham Ltd. (a name suggested by Jim Cole, for it’s British flavor). Downstairs was The Leather Shop, created by a jazz drummer who would briefly join the Finchleys. His name was Glenn Conkright (spelling?).
Bob Nutt had a business partner named Irv Azoff. Originally from Danville, IL, Azof was a fraternity brother of Nutt, and they decided to hook their wagons to the garage-rock movement to see if it would take them to the stars. Only one would make it. Blytham had the bands completely under their thumb because they invested thousands in equipment and paid the band members nominal allowances until the cost of the equipment was paid off. In Stitches was probably the most fashionable rock’n’roll boutique in the world at the time. Mary’s designs were always daring and spectacular. She was so far ahead of her time. The bands were all outfitted in her clothes (if they could afford it, that is).
Nutt would be yelling to someone on the phone, threatening to never let some venue book the Finchley’s again unless they took all of Nutt’s other bands, like the Seeds of Doubt, or the Knight Riders, and they also had to promise not to book any band not affiliated with Blytham—since they had cleverly signed every competent high school and college band around. Blytham was establishing a virtual monopoly on live rock music in the area. Irv seemed like a nice guy. I bought some buttons from him and he was fun to talk to. Blytham had a huge collection of anti-establishment buttons for sale. Buttons were really big back then, as this was before t-shirts carried any messages.
Guy Maynard of the Seeds of Doubt was blossoming into a real revolutionary and had a big confrontation with Azof at the House of Chin. Guy evolved into a world-class novelist and will probably release the story himself some day, but the upshot was that the money from the rock entertainment business belonged to the people, not the rock stars and their managers. Irv really exploded when he heard that line. (I guess you know Azoff turned into the most powerful person in the music industry?) Here’s a picture of Nutt (below, wearing hat) and Azof in 1969, after they grew their hair.
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