Books

When the mob learned to love rock and roll

peppermint-twist-cover.jpgLos Angeles journalist John Johnson and his co-author, Joel Selvin, have finished their book on the New York and Miami nightclubs where the mob discovered there was money in rock and roll music. "Peppermint Twist" tells the story of the Peppermint Lounge and what happened after "The Twist" became a hit song and dance craze, The time: 1961. From the authors' post at the Huffington Post:

In the Twist, it is possible to see the beginnings of everything that was the '60s -- sexual liberation, civil rights, draft protests. The young Kennedys were barely settled in the White House and the Soviets were massing troops on their side of the East German border, but all anybody could talk about that October was this crazy new dance.


With powerful forces inside the Five Families trying to kill Biello, he decided to double-down on his unexpected good fortune. He and his young son-in-law, Cami, quickly opened a second Peppermint Lounge in Miami Beach, which was instantly greeted as the nation's top rock and roll club during the golden age of the music.

It was a place where mobsters danced enthusiastically with the kids, where Nat King Cole jammed with the house band to get a feel for rock and roll, and where a young heavyweight named Cassius Clay hung around before the Liston fight with "Mashed Potatoes" singer Dee Dee Sharp. The girls who would become the Ronettes started out at the Peppermint as rail dancers, forerunners to the caged and coiffed Go-Go dancers of later vintage.

Perhaps the high point of the Mob's brush with rock and roll occurred when the Beatles came to see Hank Ballard, who wrote the song that got everyone dancing in the first place. A paid killer's threat of violence -- his girlfriend was infatuated with Ringo -- was averted when Cami assigned him to guard the band. Afterward, mobsters lined up to buy the chairs the Beatles sat in for their kids.

Supported by hundreds of pages of FBI documents, the tale follows the strangest crew of thugs and hustlers to ever run a rock and roll club...

Ronnie Spector, who was still known as Veronica Bennett when she hung out at the Peppermint Lounge, blurbs the book as "The Sopranos meets American Bandstand." Johnson and Selvin launch in Los Angeles on Nov. 20 at Book Soup in West Hollywood.


Some cool video: Joey Dee and the Starliters from 1962:

Bonus 1: The Beatles at New York's Peppermint Lounge in 1964.

Bonus 2: Movie and TV scenes of the Twist, featuring among others Mad Men's Peggy Olson, Beaver Cleaver and of course Mia Wallace and Vincent Vega.

Bonus 3: A French variation from Sylvie Vartan:


More by Kevin Roderick:
LA Observed Notes: 60 Minutes, selling the Coliseum and more
Gil Cedillo, Nick Melvoin win LA runoffs*
LA Observed Notes: Baca goes down, LAX shuffle, media moves
LA Observed Notes: Big TV news, media moves, obits and more
LA Observed Notes: Writers on the verge, Fox, the riots and more
Recent Books stories on LA Observed:
Press freedom under Trump and the Festival of Books
Amy Dawes, 56, journalist and author
Richard Schickel, 84, film critic, director and author
The Lost Journalism of Ring Lardner: An Interview with Ron Rapoport
Kevin Starr, 76, the historian of California
The Rams were the original 'Hollywood's Team'
'History of the Central Library'
Friends with books: Two men of Mars


 

LA Observed on Twitter