Manny Roth, founder of Café Wha?, dead at 94

Published on NewsOK Modified: August 2, 2014 at 1:43 am •  Published: August 2, 2014
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Manny Roth, a colorful club owner in Greenwich Village whose Cafe Wha? and its basement level stage was a rite of passage in the 1960s for Bob Dylan, Jimi Hendrix, Bruce Springsteen and many others, has died. He was 94.

Roth, the uncle of Van Halen singer David Lee Roth, died July 25. His daughter, Jodi Roth, said Friday that he died of natural causes at his home in Ojai, California.

As boisterous as his loud-mouthed nephew, Roth was a good man to know during a special place and time — when Greenwich Village was a mecca for upcoming artists and bohemians, where on a given night, you might see Woody Allen doing standup, or take in performances by Peter, Paul and Mary and such future rock 'n' rollers as Dylan and David Crosby.

Founded in the late 1950s, The Cafe Wha? was a former stable that Roth personally helped renovate, laying down the new floor and bringing in some friends to help decorate. The look was such a mish-mash that Roth named the club Cafe Wha?

It was a true starter club, with low pay, no liquor and little space. But Roth's stage was an essential first stop for young performers looking for a chance, or even a place to stay. Dylan showed up in early 1961, not yet 20 years old and fresh from his native Minnesota.

"He was just a kid," Roth later recalled, noting how he announced from the stage that Dylan needed a room for the night. "The first time I heard Dylan get up on an open mic, I'm thinking to myself, 'This kid doesn't have a prayer. He can't sing, can't play and certainly doesn't have any stage presence.'"

In his memoir "Chronicles: Volume One," Dylan remembered Cafe Wha? as "a subterranean cavern, liquorless, ill lit, low ceiling, like a wide dining room with chairs and tables." Dylan was especially fond of the afternoon hootenannies, calling the potpourri of performers an "extravaganza of patchwork."

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