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    Steve Paul; founded club that helped shape ’60s music

    Steve Paul’s discotheque was located on West 46th Street.
    Allyn Baum/New York Times/file 1965
    Steve Paul’s discotheque was located on West 46th Street.

    NEW YORK — You first encountered Teddy, the sharkskin-suited maitre d’, on the sidewalk. If you got past him, Steve Paul was at the door to insult you.

    The insult, usually devilishly clever, was the cover charge to one of New York City’s hottest, most intriguing clubs in the 1960s. It was called the Scene, and it was the brainchild of the dashing, idiosyncratic Mr. Paul, who was 23 when he opened it in 1964. It became famous for brilliant moments in the history of rock music, as the place where Jimi Hendrix and the Doors shaped the music of the ’60s in inspired jam sessions.

    Mr. Paul, 71, who went on to manage Johnny Winter and other rock stars and record them for his own label, died Sunday at a hospital in Queens. The cause was not yet known.


    The Scene attracted jet-setters, Broadway dancers, motorcyclists, and Manhattan’s moneyed elite through two incarnations in its six-year life.

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    The first was as a refuge for performers, stagehands, and artists, including stars like Sammy Davis Jr. and Liza Minnelli, who might burst into impromptu song. Richard Pryor might tell jokes. Tennessee Williams liked to stop by. Andy Warhol filmed an underground movie of Scene patrons watching an underground movie.

    But after a few years the Scene began to lose steam, and it went dark. Then poet Allen Ginsberg and Peter Yarrow of Peter, Paul, and Mary, among others, stepped in with financial assistance. Mr. Paul’s focus soon changed to rock music. He invited Hendrix to play his first major New York engagement at the Scene in June 1967.

    Hendrix liked the place, at 46th Street and Eighth Avenue, as much as the fans liked him. He played long into the night, after most customers had been ushered out and Mr. Paul had locked the doors. ‘‘At the Scene, Jimi would completely let himself go — playing all he knew and didn’t know, going beyond sharing — playing all,’’ David Henderson wrote in his Hendrix biography, ‘‘ ’Scuse Me While I Kiss the Sky.’’ “Trying to get it all out.’’

    Before long, acts like Pink Floyd, Jeff Beck, Traffic, Fleetwood Mac, the Chambers Brothers, and Winter were playing the small club. Tiny Tim, with his ukulele, often opened.


    Mr. Paul’s ideas could be unconventional. On Thanksgiving 1968, he put Hendrix on a double bill with the classical harpsichordist Fernando Valenti. At other times he mixed Indian classical music with rock, prompting a few adventurous souls to dance to the sitar.

    More than anything else, the Scene was Mr. Paul’s personal vision, ‘‘a childhood dream come untrue’’ in his typically odd phrase. Newsweek described him as a ‘‘combination of sincerity, egotism, coffeehouse literacy, and a pseudo-poetic, stream-of-consciousness speech.’’ It provided a sample sentence to illustrate: ‘‘I’m searching, always searching,’’ he said, ‘‘for self-actualization through personal reality within a larger world reality.’’

    Jim Morrison of the Doors put it more succinctly. ‘‘I like to hang around Steve Paul and listen to him rap,’’ he said. ‘‘He’s funny.’’

    Stephen Neal Paul was born in the Bronx. The son of a high school principal, he graduated from Dobbs Ferry High School in Westchester County at 16. Within a year he was doing public relations for a New York restaurant, even though he was too young to have a drink there. He soon added another restaurant as a client and then the Peppermint Lounge, where the twist craze took off.

    By 1964, he had acquired a five-bedroom town house and found a home for his club on what was then a quite seedy Eighth Avenue. He modeled its labyrinthlike layout on cave-style Parisian discos, and said he saw its 5,000 square feet as his ‘‘canvas.’’


    At 25, Mr. Paul had a top-rated prime-time television show, ‘‘Steve Paul’s The Scene,’’ which featured artists like Aretha Franklin. It began as a local show on Channel 5 and then was syndicated nationally. He later managed stars like Winter and the McCoys and started Blue Sky Records, a label that was distributed by CBS Records, and recorded hit albums by Winter, his brother Edgar Winter and others. He produced musical revues for the stage and nightclubs.

    Mr. Paul’s longtime partner, Robert Kitchen, died 3½ years ago. No immediate family members survive. The Scene closed in 1970.