The Summer of the Old Salt

Written By: Barney Griffin

On the day my brother Jimmy graduated from Villanova University one of the friends he made while in college, John Kosinski asked me if I could bring my band to the bar/restaurant he was opening on Long Island. He was graduating too and was ready to immediately jump into business. I said “Uh…..yeah !”

“Way out on the end of Long Island, Barney. Do you think you guys could come out there and play ? How much would you want to get paid ?” he said.

He pronounced the “r” in my name with the clarity we only heard from people outside the New York metro area. His “a”s were long “a”s where we put the short “a” sound.

All you had to do was say “where is the hammer?” and we’d know whether or not you were from “Noo Yawk”

A New Yorker:  “Weahz da hammah? ”

Someone from outside the metro area:  “Wayer is the Heamerrr ?”

It was 1972, I was 17 and was just asked to sing and play guitar in one of the most organized and best sounding bands in the Town of Hempstead area of Long Island. We played the Beach Boys, the Beatles, the Rolling Stones, and the Allman Brothers among others.

John’s friend Joe gave us directions but we were already guessing we’d take Sunrise Highway all the way out there. An hour and 1/2 later we reached the superhighway part of “Sunrise”. There were short pine trees everywhere.

Alan had just gotten a speeding ticket on Peninsula Blvd. back in Hempstead 2 days earlier, so we had to sit there in his huge grey ’63 Buick LeSabre goin’ 50 mph on a road that Mitch & I thought we could easily go much faster.

The Pine Barrens continued trying to convince us we were heading into a different section of the world. By then the Shinnecock Canal appeared to the left and right of us and a few seconds later disappeared into the background. Alan drove even slower, turned down the Janis Joplin 8 track tape and Mitch said “ I can’t believe this is still Long Island.”

None of us had ever been out to the East End and Montauk was a legendary, mystical, straight out of a Herman Melville novel subdued and picturesque lighthouse on a cliff we’d seen in paintings, on plates and on tea cups. The overall serenity and lack of bawdy commercialism beginning where rte. 27 turns into a local main drag going all the way through to the the Napeague Strip and finally into the loose pebble parking lot of “The Old Salt” put us in touch with the satisfied state of mind we felt the people out there must have possessed.

But we were a teenage rock band. Most of what we were playing needed to be played loudly to sound right. Kosinski hired us to play music that would get people dancing and make the Old Salt into a hot night spot. He was coming right out of the college gate and onto the track at a full gallop. To get an offer to play a steady gig Friday and Saturday nights at our age was an exciting stroke of luck.

The thing took off. By the 2nd night there was a line of cars flowing out of the parking lot onto the strip for more than a quarter mile. Kosinski the young hotshot, had guessed correctly; that opening a rock club / bar & grille in a quiet, beautiful location would attract a pretty decent number of people looking for a more raucous good time.

The change in the atmosphere however, was about to be quite a bit noticed by the neighbors.

Instead of continuing with sleeping bags on the restaurant floor, we decided to see if one of the motels could help us get a good night’s sleep. The manager said he could put us up cheaply in a spare room he didn’t sell to the public. In the middle of some small talk we told him we were “August”, the band that was playing across the way. He expressed his displeasure with  “ those guys taking off down the strip in their jet propelled shit boxes”. The general euphoria we felt from being in our situation caused us to not take that comment seriously. We didn’t realize he was very unhappy with the noise but something told us to not take him up on his offer.

On the fourth Saturday afternoon we decided to rehearse a few new tunes at the club.  We were practicing for 15 minutes when Orlando the maintenance man hung up the phone and told us the same motel just called and said we were playing too loud. We turned down the volume and continued practicing “Walk Away” by the James Gang. A minute later the bartender walked in the front door and said someone from the resort diagonally across told him the band’s too loud & that they should stop playing. We turned down even more. 10 minutes after that a third business phoned and complained.

Early that evening a policeman showed up and told John if there were any more complaints about the volume levels he’d receive a summons.

“….listen , can you guys play even softer than you’re playin’ now ?  I can’t believe these guys – how can they even hear us ? They’re about 1/2 a mile away from here. This cop’s gonna’ give me a summons ? What the hell !  Can you guys see if you can bring down the volume even more…I mean – I hate to ask you to do this …..”

That night at about  9:30 we’d come back from a break for our 2nd set. Our first tune was “Vehicle” by the Ides of March. We played it so softly that anyone standing right outside the door would be hard pressed to claim they heard anything.

“WHAT THE  #@*$@$%   IS THAT !   YOU GOTTA’ BE KIDDIN’ ME !”  John, standing right in front of us yelled. Then he sang back what he heard us sing at a high pitched soft whine: “I’m your vehicle baby – I’ll take you anywhere you wanna go … man, forget it ! We can’t have you guys sounding like that !”

Twenty minutes later John angrily walked back in the front door from being outside. He’d been given a summons. We stopped playing. The crowd wondered what was happening.

John walked across to the motel causing the most trouble.  It was closed and the lights were off. I saw him punch the screen door of the office and yell  “Open up !”, calling the guy a name he very much seemed to deserve …. then he walked back across the strip and sat down on the steps of the Old Salt.  His hand looked pretty badly injured.

A young lawyer John knew tried to get John and Mitch our drummer,  to “make a statement”. I think Mitch did make a statement and John eventually did after a long period of calming down. But that was the end of the run. Without loud, live music the Old Salt’s reputation disappeared faster than it developed.

The motel & resort people were unfair to us. The first one called the others and got them to join in with his complaints. We were given no chance to compromise. They were hell bent on getting us out of there and they succeeded.

A long time went by before I came to realize and accept that although a few locals were abrupt and lacking tact in their angry expulsion of some young guys honestly trying to make good, they were not so wrong in their intentions.

The East End, within a few short years after the summer of the Old Salt rapidly became one of the most famous resort areas in the world. But we had spent some time out there already, came to know some of the people and gotten ourselves more in touch with how it felt to be there. We knew something the others hadn’t thought about yet; it was a tranquil place with farms, handsome towns, wonderful beaches and a unique kind of intelligent but down home population who loved where they lived and didn’t want to see it being ruined.

Now it’s 44 years later. John Kosinski, a native of Bridgehampton is still a great friend of my brother, successfully running a Financial Planning firm in Riverhead and East Hampton, and a well thought of guy who has has always been “no slouch”.

Maybe it was just a matter of growing up, but he seems to be the poster boy for that unique population. And maybe it’s just a matter of experience and sound thinking, but while in the midst of an ongoing influx of people, the East End has managed to place the often lovable cacaphony of loud music in much more tolerable locations …… and maybe that’s an accomplishment we all should consider for a moment.