In the life of every musician, there are places that you never leave. While your body hasn’t visited them in years, if they are still standing, they will always be alive in your heart. For me, Washington DC’s Cellar Door holds that place. It had everything a young hippie musician could ask for. Great audiences, good sound, beautiful waitresses, close friends, and after-hours parties where our comings and goings will be left to your imagination.
The Cellar Door was in a world all its own. It resided in Georgetown directly across from the Key Bridge. Anyone who knows Georgetown knows that it is probably the most upscale part of Washington. It was only a couple of blocks from the home JFK lived in before moving to the White House. On any given night our audience might contain the sons and daughters of Senators and Congressmen as well as major news anchors and other politicos. There was no telling who might be there or whose daughter you might be flirting with.
After hours at the Cellar Door was a place when I could get into as much trouble as I dared. When the last customer had left and the tables had been cleared, the party would start. As I recall, margaritas were a specialty, at least when we played. I remember one night, when it looked like we might be going to Europe, our road manager who was not yet 21, said something about how much fun that tour would be. Michael and I told him he wasn’t old enough and we were going to have to age him a year…that night. I have no idea how many margaritas we poured down him but if he wasn’t 21 by the time he hit the floor he should have been. That was after hours at the Cellar Door.
For being such a famous venue and right in the heart of Georgetown, 34th and M street as I remember, it was a very small room. It had a wrap-around balcony which was actually on street level and the stage and the other tables were where the basement should be. Thus the name of the club. I doubt that it held much more than 100 people meaning that weekends required artists to do three shows.
Our first shows there began with the release of our “Weeds” album. At that point, we had become one of the “alternative” bands of the day and had started to gain a good-sized audience. Still, it was a very famous club so our role began as an opening act. We opened for a lot of the people we had known in LA who were now on their way. The Nitty Gritty Dirt Band and my favorite Linda Ronstadt. In those days we opened for Linda a lot, at other clubs and concerts as well as the Cellar Door. After our last engagement opening for Linda, Jack the owner said we had enough fans at his club that from then on we would be the headliner and he would find us an opening act.
When the time rolled around for us to return for our first headline engagement, Jack sheepishly asked us if we would do a double bill this time and headline the next. It would be a double bill with James Taylor and we would both get headline billing and pay. Michael and I had been fans since his first album and loved the idea. And our second album “Tarkio” had just been released and ‘One Toke Over The Line” was headed up the charts along with Jame’s “Fire And Rain” from his “Sweet Baby James” album. We were ecstatic.
The week couldn’t have gone better. We sold out in less than three weeks and Jack asked us if we would add extra shows. Three instead of two during the week and four on the weekend. He said we could shorten them but he had a lot of people still wanting tickets. He said he would increase our compensation accordingly and, being guys that like to play any way we said “sure.” So it was a week to remember. Michael and I doing our acoustic duo performance and James doing his. Just James and his guitar sitting on a stool. I believe that is the only time I ever watch every show of the act we were billed with.
The week was over and Jack had one more request before we left DC for New York’s Bitter End. He wanted the three of us to join him at his place on Chesapeake Bay for a crab boil. It was the first time I had ever had crabs from Chesapeake Bay and it was exactly what Jack was hoping for. A perfect conclusion to a perfect week at the Cellar Door.
We continued to play the Cellar Door for a few more years. Eventually after Jan and I had become a couple she was still finishing up at Mizzou, and I would talk her into playing hooky and come with me on our Bitter End, Cellar Door tour. She would always say she couldn’t because of school, and I would always tell her there would be a ticket waiting for her at Lambert airport should she change her mind, which she always did. Two weeks of too much fun and several after-hour parties at the coolest club in the country. Thanks so much, Jack. I eventually married the girl.