Gus “Mr. Silk” Lacey, was the unofficial mayor of 52nd Street, aka “the Strip.” He and his wife, Virginia, owned Mr. Silk’s 3rd Base. Heavyweight champion Joe Frazier, and music legends Cab Calloway, Teddy Pendergrass and Stevie Wonder were among the celebrities who frequented Silk’s.
Jazz vocalist Jimmy Scott performed here. In his biography, Faith in Time: The Life of Jimmy Scott, he recounted the neon sign outside read: “Always Touch Third Base Before You Go Home.”
Silk’s 3rd Base was featured in the 1972 blaxploitation film Trick Baby.
Film critic Dan Buskirk wrote:
Between “White Folks” and Blue, we see both sides of the city: from a posh dinner party where “White Folks” meets well-heeled businessmen whose greed makes them potential marks as well as the raucous scene at “Mr. Silk’s Third Base” a West Philly nightclub that functions as Blue’s unofficial office. We see a lot of the warm glowing interior of Mr. Silk’s. The club was a real place, a center of African American nightlife at 52nd and Spruce (their slogan was “You have to touch 3rd Base before you go home”). Owner Gus Lacy was “Mr. Silk,” by all accounts a bon vivant who received his smooth moniker by selling ladies’ undergarments along his postal route. He was also known as “The Mayor of 52nd Street” and before it closed in 1985 politicians, pimps and regular folks rubbed shoulders with stars like Stevie Wonder, Muhammad Ali and James Earl Jones. It’s a blessing that this little corner of the world was captured on film.
A blessing indeed.
The Woodbine Club was located on the corner of 12th and Master Streets. According to Johnny Coles, it was “a minute” from John Coltrane’s apartment.
Regular bars were open from 9pm to 2am. Jazz musicians would hang out at the Woodbine from 3am to 7am. Musicians would have jam sessions where they would hone their craft, and network to get gigs.
Saxophonist Odean Pope recalled:
I think the first time I heard Trane was around 1954. There was a place on 12th Street called the Woodbine Club. During that period people like Jimmy Oliver, Jimmy Heath, Red Garland, Shuggie Rose, Philly Joe Jones, those were the pioneer musicians during that period. And it was a place, an after hours place where they had entertainment, say from say twelve o’clock until around five in the morning. That was like Friday, Saturday, and Sunday. It was a sort of collaboration place where all of the musicians would come and exchange ideas and jobs. So this particular night it was Hassan Ibn Ali, Donald Bailey – some very fine percussion. They had sort of invited me along to go with them. And Trane, Jimmy Oliver, Jimmy Heath, Wilbur Cameron, Bill Barron, all of the musicians came there after they got off work and that was the most enlightened experience in my whole life, I think, of seeing so many wonderful musicians come together collectively and exchange ideas as well as perform.
The Charlie Parker Quintet with Little Benny Harris (trumpet), Charlie Parker (alto sax), Walter Bishop Jr. (piano), Teddy Kotick (bass) and Roy Haynes (drums) performed here in June 1951.
In John Coltrane: His Life and Music, Lewis Porter writes:
The Club 421 on Wyalusing Avenue also became one of the leading venues for jazz. Rice recalls: “I was the first band in [421 Club]. That was right around the corner from me. That place used to be a restaurant at first. We used to hang around there—it was called the Coffee Pot. Then a guy bought it and made a nightclub there—a gentleman named Mr. Roach. So they decided to have music, and I had the first band in there with [saxophonist] Vance Wilson, [William] “Reds” [later known as “Red”] Garland [on piano; 1923-84], [bassist] Bob Bushnell, and a good trumpet player, Johnny Hughes, who passed on some time ago.”
Rice is legendary drummer Charlie Rice who led the first house band at Club 421.
Charlie Rice passed away on April 22, 2018, two years shy of his 100th birthday.