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Coptright 1978
All Rights Reserved
3rd Anniversary Issue

History of Chicago Rock

Paul Sampson Builds a Cellar and
blows the lid off Arlington Heights

by Jeff Lind
- - For the first hundred years of its existence, Arlington Heights was basically an ordinary, peaceful, suburban town where people lived there ordinary, peaceful, suburban lives. Boredom was an oft-used word in the vocabulary of its teenagers. Then, in 1964, a soft spoken man named Paul
Sampson turned Arlington Heights upside-down with the joy of live rock music; he continued to do so until 1970, and in the process, he worried the Powers That Be to the point of distraction.

- - He played a major role in launching the career of one of the area's most popular bands, The Shadows of Knight. During the middle 1960's, this unassuming man was the most influential promoter in the Chicago suburban area. To put it in perspective, he was the Bill Graham of the Midwest, and
the Cellar was his Fillmore. Some of the greatest bands the world has ever seen or heard played at that dimly-lit warehouse on Davis street. For awhile, it was a dream come true for Sampson, but all too soon it became a nightmare. The decline and eventual closing of the Cellar a story that takes
on all aspects of a good tragi-comedy. Nonetheless, it is a story well worth telling.

- - The year 1963 was the beginning of the story for Sampson. At that time, he was part owner and operator of Arlington Records, actively promoting local record sales. During his many hours behind the cash register, he got tired of hearing teenage customers say that they were bored and that there was nothing to do, so he decided to hold a 'bash,' as he called it back then. Sampson recalls, "My original investment in the forerunner of the Cellar was $12.50. My partner and myself rented the Mt. Prospect Country Club on a Saturday evening for $100.00, but we only had to put $25.00 down. The next problem was finding a band to play at the bash. I remembered seeing a group a couple of weeks earlier at the VFW Hall. The kids in attendance that night seemed really excited about them, so I figured they had something going. I got in touch with their leader, Jim Sohns, and was able to secure the services of The Shadows of Knight for a mere $85.00!"

- - But Sampson admits that he and his partner were literally risking the cloths on their backs with the $185 outlay. Paul himself handled the publicity, which consisted mainly of some crudely drawn posters advertising the event. Admission of $1.00 per person was charged, and, to Sampson's surprise, 600 to 700 kids showed up, making the evening a resounding
financial success. "I saw a real market in these bashes," Paul remembers, "especially since we now had over $500 in working capital . It was a real break for the Shadows, too, since people came from all over the suburbs to see them. I began to search for a new place to hold another bash."

- - What he found was a spot on Dunton St. near where Evergreen Plaza now stands. Many improvements had to be made. A stage was built and more posters drawn. Headlining the event were none other than the Shadows of Knight! A thousand people made it to the show, making it another spectacular success. "The only thing that worried me was all those bodies pressed together in such a small place." Sampson continues, "You could actually see steam bellowing out of the building. I was afraid the fire truck would come by and think the building was on fire!"

- - Eventually , Sampson began to seek out a permanent place to hold his bashes. He finally discovered the cellar of the old St. Peters Church activities building on Eastman St. Charlie Klemm (of Klemm's Nursery fame) owned the building, and H. Miles Gordon managed Mr. Klemm's affairs. Sampson contacted Gordon concerning the possibility of renting the building, showing him the attendance figures of the first two bashes. Gordon, an astute businessman with an uncanny sense for profitable ventures, thought that the idea might "just be crazy enough to work." After agreeing to meet certain restrictions, Sampson got the okay from Gordon to begin remodeling.
- - Members of the Shadows were among the people who undertook the mammoth rebuilding project. Cement walls were knocked down and cleared away; heat and plumbing systems were added; everything in sight was painted, and the lighting was modified. Paul himself built the stage and made sure it was equipped with a high quality P. A. system (Altech Lansing Speakers), which he believed was the most crucial element in determining the future success of the Cellar. Sampson's philosophy was simple; as he tells it, "The time was right. I felt that the kids were human beings just like the rest of us and deserved a place for their own kind of entertainment. The Village of Arlington Heights was somewhat less enthusiastic about the project; they did not think it would work. I wanted cooperation from the Police, and you'd better believe I was ready to come down hard on suspicious looking kids, I wanted a clean, fun-filled place."

- - The Cellar opened officially on a summer night in 1964, and over 1,000 people passed through the turnstyles to see the Shadows, who by now were becoming local heroes. A thousand more attended the following night. So it continued during the summer nights of 1964 and on through to 1965. By the spring of that year, the Shadows were on their way to a recording contract, and Sampson was raking in the profits. He talks of those days, "It was a lot of fun in the beginning. I remember this shy, long-haired kid who kept bugging me to let his band play at the Cellar. It really amazes me when I think of what a monster guitarist Ted Nugent is today. He used to try to play faster than his fingers would allow him, but eventually his fingers caught up with his mind. Another kid who used to badger me a lot was Davie Grundhoefer. He wanted me to let his band, the Huns, play on a weekend. He even smeared shoe polish on the walls one night to call attention to the group. During the course of six years, I must have auditioned 1,200 bands on Sunday nights , but only about 10 of them ever played a weekend gig at the club. The Amboy Dukes and the Huns were among them. I guess that tells you something about the caliber of the talent available back then."

- - In early 1966, the Shadows cut "Gloria," and a phone-in was organized from the Cellar. WLS's switchboard was flooded with requests for that song, and it soon became a national hit on the strength of the airplay it received locally. The Shadows were, of course, the 'de facto' house band at the Old Cellar, but Sampson (who was now the bands manager) had anticipated that they soon would be going on a national tour, so he had to groom another band - Saturday's Children - to play the house base role. "Geoff (Bryan) and Ron (Holder) were extremely talented singers, writers and musicians," says Sampson, "and I'll never understand why they didn't make it. Touring with the Shadows, on the other hand, was wild. One night, one group member threw a piano bench out of the window and through a skylight at the Copacabana in New York! The two dominant personalities in the group were Sohns and Joe Kelley. Jimy was a good kid, quiet when he was around me, but not with the girls. Even after their hit making days were over, he milked the name and image of the Shadows of Knight for all it was worth. Kelley used to live with us in our basement and baby-sit for us. He'd be downstairs playing his guitar till four in the morning sometimes. After he left the Shadows, he formed one of the best blues bands I've ever heard. He was an excellent guitarist, and the music his band played was years ahead of its time. When he was cooking, he was the best. If only he had not been such an insecure person, he would have made it big. He needed direction." . . .
. . . continued at the 'Cellar Article Page 2' Link below . . .

Copyright 1978 Illinois Entertainer - All Rights Reserved

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