Top of the Bottom Line

Allan Pepper, former owner of The Bottom Line, is releasing "The Bottom Line Archives Series,” a collection of recordings from the historic club's heyday.

Photo courtesy of Bottom Line Archive

Every day, Allan Pepper feels nostalgic for the Bottom Line, the Greenwich Village rock club he co-founded in 1974.

“It’s been closed 10 years now, but I think about it all the time. I spent 30 years of my life there,” he says on the phone from his home in Tenafly. “All you have to do is look around social media and you see how meaningful the place was to people. There are so many memories out there.”

Springsteen played musical landscape-altering showcase gigs at the Bottom Line in the 70s. Lou Reed recorded his live album “Live: Take No Prisoners” there in 1978. In 1981, months before he died, Harry Chapin put on his 2000th show at the Bottom Line.

And the 400-seat club hosted scores of other performances that ought to live on in the collective mind of rock fans, says Pepper, now 72.

Which is why, in an effort to keep the music from fading, he and a fellow Jerseyan, Gregg Bendian, of Teaneck, are getting it circulating again. In March they introduced “The Bottom Line Archives Series,” a collection of recordings from the club’s heyday.

The first batch came out March 24 and consists of “Kenny Rankin Plays The Beatles & More,” a 1990 show that captures Rankin tearing into songs Sir Paul McCartney himself had a hand in suggesting; the only official live release of a show by the jazz-rock fusion outfit the Brecker Brothers Band, from 1976; and an album that combines two shows, one from 1980 and the other from 2000, by Willie Nile, still a cult favorite on the New York rock scene.

Those three albums kicked off the archives albums because Pepper and Bendian, who use to perform at the Bottom Line with his band the Mahavishnu Project, thought they were particularly strong. Also for a more practical reason: they were relatively easy to produce. Titles to come, especially early 70s concerts, will need significant restoration and remastering, Pepper says.

Still, the pair are planning a quarterly rollout of more than 24 albums over the next two years, including live sets by John Hiatt, Chapin, Emmylou Harris, Janis Ian, Ralph Stanley and Jorma Kaukonen.

Pepper, who has lived in Tenafly since 1978, says the records are time capsules; a way to relive formative, generation-defining musical experiences. There’s also a warm and fuzzy element: “You had the sense you were right in your own living room when you saw live music there,” he says. “People loved that.”

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