David Carroll, 81, a longtime Philadelphia nightlife impresario, died of heart failure on Sunday, May 26, in California, friends and family said.
Known for spots like Artemis, the Hot Club, and Starlite Ballroom, Mr. Carroll is credited with helping establish Philadelphia’s new wave and punk scene in the late 1970s.
Mr. Carroll, a Philadelphia native who grew up in Strawberry Mansion and Clifton Heights, was also a prolific entrepreneur in the bar and restaurant industry; he opened notable establishments including Carroll’s Lombard, Magazine, and Bar Noir.
Mr. Carroll lived and worked in the city until last January, when poor health sent him to live with his daughter, Jilan Carroll Glorfield, and her three children in Nevada City, Calif.
“He was a creative genius,” Glorfield said. To honor her father’s influence on the city, Glorfield said, she hopes to hold a celebration of Mr. Carroll’s life in Philadelphia this summer.
Much of that influence dates from the opening of Artemis, at 2015 Sansom St., in 1970, which longtime business associate (and former Artemis maitre 'd) Bobby Startup called “the hippest and best club during the disco days.” The space, which remained open until the late 1970s, became a hangout of well-known Philadelphians including Harry Jay Katz and Teddy Pendergrass, as well as a few “big time” mafiosi.
“It was like a gossip columnist’s delight,” Startup says.
At Artemis, Carroll hired several members of the rock band Cheap Trick, including Rick Nielsen, Bun E. Carlos, and Tom Petersson, before they found stardom. A fellow business associate of Mr. Carroll’s, Jay Schwartz, who runs the traveling film series Secret Cinema, said Artemis was also one of the first places in Philadelphia to “serve hamburgers in baskets” — a presentation copied by now-defunct restaurant chain H.A. Winston & Co.
“He was on trend really quickly,” Schwartz said of Mr. Carroll.
Glorfield, who is also a music booker, memorialized the long-gone club in the name of her own business, Artemis Boutique Booking Agency. She called the club “the landscape of my childhood,” and said she regularly goes to see the building during trips to Philadelphia.
By 1977, Mr. Carroll’s focus shifted to the Hot Club, 21st and South Streets, where his role as progenitor of Philadelphia’s alternative music scene started.
Initially opened as a jazz venue, the space became Philly’s first New Wave and punk concert hall, and served as the location for early local performances for acts like Elvis Costello, Iggy Pop, and Devo, among many others. Schwartz promoted shows there, for which he said he was paid $35 a week, while Startup designed fliers.
Mr. Carroll "was the one who gave alternative music a life in Philly,” Startup said. “There was nowhere else to go. That was the only place for a long time.”
Early alternative music bookings took place on Mondays and Tuesdays, the club’s off days, but after New Wave and punk became more popular, those styles became the bulk of the Hot Club’s shows. In 1978, a fire sidelined the club for much of the year, but after its return, punk and New Wave were “exploding in popularity” in the city, Schwartz said. By then, the venue also served as a home for the Bloodless Pharaohs, an art-punk band featuring rockabilly guitarist Brian Setzer, whom Mr. Carroll managed early on.
The venue had a particularly strong effect on WXPN on-air host Robert Drake, who said he saw his first solo show — Robert Hazard — there as a 16-year-old in 1979.
“What he wound up doing with Hot Club was not only giving stage for musicians to come to Philly, but more importantly he created a community center for all these misfits, myself included, who didn’t have a place to hang,” Drake said. “You’re talking about Philly in the late ’70s — you booked arena rock or you had disco, that’s about it.”
In 1980, Mr. Carroll came under scrutiny for improper permitting. "That was the end of the club,” Schwartz said, and Mr. Carroll “moved on to other places.”
One was the Starlite Ballroom in Kensington. Designed to compete with Cherry Hill’s Emerald City, a New Wave and punk concert hall, Starlite, which operated between 1980 and 1982, was “way too ahead of its time” in location and style, Schwartz said. While short-lived, it did host the first Philadelphia show from English punk act Siouxsie and the Banshees, and was the site of infamous performances from hardcore punks Black Flag and the Dead Kennedys.
Black Flag’s July 1981 show at the Starlite has become the stuff of punk legend, thanks to its violent aftermath. Following the performance, Philadelphia punks and ones from Washington who had come to see the show, and neighborhood toughs who disliked being invaded by “all these weirdos,” as Schwartz described the scene, fought outside the venue. The brawl was chronicled in Spray Paint the Walls: The Story of Black Flag by Stevie Walls, which details the band’s long and often riotous history.
The following year, “the same thing happened, only worse,” Schwartz said, at a Dead Kennedys show. Another group of Kensington residents accosted show-goers, this time with an improvised explosive consisting of dynamite, ball bearings, and BBs stuffed into a mason jar, as George Hurchalla wrote in Going Underground: American Punk 1979-1989. The bombing injured several in a crowd waiting to enter to the venue, but failed to cause the show’s cancellation. Mr. Carroll even introduced the band, saying it was a “special night, maybe we’ll do it again sometime.”
After his run at the Starlite, Mr. Carroll was hired as a booker at Filly’s Saloon, which was themed after the film Urban Cowboy, and opened several bars and restaurants before he “dropped out of the limelight for a while,” as Startup said. He later returned with Bar Noir in the late 1990s, which became a hangout for notables like baseball player Pat Burrell and former Police Commissioner John Timoney, as well as visiting celebrities like Mel Gibson and Dean Cain. It closed in 2006.
His granddaughter Abella hopes to be a music industry studies major in college, and is considering attending Drexel or Temple Universities, the latter of which her grandfather attended for several years.
“He was a steadfast grandfatherly influence for sure,” Glorfield said. “The apple didn’t fall too far from the tree.”
Mr. Carroll had two marriages, to Phyllis Duerr and Michelle Carroll.
In addition to his daughter and grandchildren, Mr. Carroll is survived by his longtime partner, Jan Wilson; daughter Llana; two brothers; and a sister. His children Lindsay and John David died earlier.