September 14, 1981 12:00 PM

Rockers are not exactly famous for their sense of place; their professional lives are for the most part itinerant, a disorienting odyssey of one-night stands. Still, even the most gonzo among them occasionally know where they are—and all have developed passionate preferences for certain people and places. To find out which towns rock best in their expert opinions, PEOPLE polled a cross section of well-traveled artists—50 of the veteran acts in pop, country and rock. All were invited to list which five cities they prefer to appear in as well as their favorite small towns and foreign ports.

While votes came in for such unlikely crossroads as Lake Charles, La. (Natalie Cole) and Great Falls, Mont. (Hank Williams Jr.), the consensus choice, by a wide margin, was New York City. Such varied artists as the funky Chic, the scatting Cleo Laine and the boogeying Marshall Tucker Band ranked the Big Apple first. New York Mayor Ed Koch is not surprised. Says he: “Now York is a place where there are always a million people who like anything.” The rest of the Top 10 cities were as follows:

2. Los Angeles

3. Chicago

4. Atlanta

5. Philadelphia

6. Houston

7. San Francisco

8. Detroit

9. Dallas

10. Nashville

The three top foreign cities were London, Paris and Tokyo.

Less consensus was apparent in the favorite smaller towns. Though Raleigh, N.C. got three votes (from Cleo Laine, the Manhattans and the Brothers Johnson), the others were spread from Itta Bena, Miss. (Chaka Khan) to Modesto, Calif. (Alabama).

Also asked to cite most disastrous musical stops, the performers pulled out some hairy memories. Carlos Santana, for example, named Milan, Italy because during a concert there in 1977 political protesters hurled Molotov cocktails at the group, setting the stage on fire. Country singer T.G. Sheppard chose Salina, Kans. because his 1980 concert there was interrupted by a tornado. The woolly Outlaws band recalls Louisville, Ky. because of a concert held up until their road crew, jailed for disorderly conduct, could be sprung. Melissa Manchester’s vote went to the Mississippi River near New Orleans, where she had to stop a concert in mid-phrase as the barge she was singing on began to sink.

Happier memories were responsible for the favorite-city choices of the respondents (among them Paul Anka, the Bellamy Brothers, Change, Lacy J. Dalton, Heart, Phyllis Hyman, Journey, Kool and the Gang, Kenny Loggins, Loverboy, Delbert McLinton, Randy Meisner, the Oak Ridge Boys, Teddy Pendergrass, Leo Sayer, REO Speed-wagon, the Spinners, .38 Special and Dionne Warwick). And to give the Top 10 cities their due, PEOPLE asked performers associated with them to write a brief essay on his or her city. (Christopher Cross, in a Texas-size stroke, covers Dallas and Houston.) Their idiosyncratic appraisals:

New York: Still the biggest apple


Some New Guinea tribal songs, which are used for spiritual and medical purposes, consist of a seemingly meaningless chain of names of local trees, rocks and geographical locations. Likewise, the environment of New York seems to have strong, if invisible, effects on musicians who work here.

It has been said that New York is not part of the United States. The successive waves of immigration have left a special blend of European and Third World influences—including musical cultures. Musicians come here to work and find things out, not to take it easy.

I came to New York in the summer of 1974 from Rhode Island because it was a mecca for art and other things. Instead of going to school, I went to galleries and parties. I got to see a lot of famous people behave foolishly and that shook me. I thought, “Maybe they’re no different than I am.”

Before we formed Talking Heads, I worked on written art with questionnaires to see if I could twist people’s perceptions. I asked which state had the best name, which produced the stupidest people, which was most behind the times. New York was hardly mentioned. I think it is too big and omnipresent to be any one thing. A lot of people don’t like it, but it’s there.

I now live in a loft in the SoHo district of the city, but it is still a terrifying experience for me to perform here. I won’t say that the audiences are more sophisticated. But it’s like playing for your village; these audiences are the people I see on the streets.

Los Angeles: It’s not all moonlight and roses


Being a native of Los Angeles, I’m prejudiced. I love the L.A. concert and club scene. But it’s not all moonlight and roses. Let’s face it, L.A. audiences know they are part of the entertainment capital of the world. They’ve seen virtually every act in the business.

As a fan I remember being thrilled by great concerts in L.A. like the Stones, Smokey Robinson, and Crosby, Stills, Nash and Young. My favorite, though, was Joe Cocker.

I made my performing debut in a little bar called the Frigate in Manhattan Beach. This joint was definitely my baptism of fire as a performer. Every night I’d climb on top of a grand piano into a rowboat that was perched on top of it and sit on this tiny wooden stool in the boat and sing into a very tinny-sounding gooseneck mike. I had to do five 45-minute sets a night, and as the audience got drunker and drunker, they would heave pitchers of beer into the boat. When the beer got ankle-deep, I knew it was time for a quick exit. You’ve got to start somewhere, right?

When an L.A. audience is with you, they rock and roll better than anywhere else. But when they ain’t, they’re cold. I’ve been lucky. Since the Frigate, anyway, L.A. audiences have been great to me. I always finish tours there because I save the best for last.

Nashville: Even the country music stars are just folks


Although I was not born or raised in Nashville, the people here have made me feel at home. Since many performers come here to rest and resume family life after a hard stint on tour, the fans are not really surprised by our presence. I find that I’m really not treated like a celebrity; I’m treated like an everyday citizen. That’s not to say there aren’t plenty of warm smiles.

Because of my hectic schedule, I can’t perform here as much as I’d like. But when I have, the fans show a kind of easy pride—as if I ran into them at the corner deli. To most people outside Nashville, the town represents the notion of country music. Here that notion is part of people’s everyday lives. The fans, the entertainers, all kinds of folks make up the community. I’m happy to be among them.

Detroit: High-octane rock fuels the Motor City


What it all boils down to is levels of intensity. From 1960, when I started playing around my hometown of Detroit, the original rock ‘n’ roll songs of Chuck Berry, Lonnie Mack and others combined with the R&B of Marvin Gaye, James Brown and others caused an out-and-out panic. The songs motivated the kids, who inspired the bands, who excited the kids and the whole thing has snowballed out of control.

Rock ‘n’ roll around the world elicits uninhibited responses, but you ain’t seen nothing till you’ve seen the Motor City. The screams are louder, the sweat is wetter, the muscles are tenser and the spirit is awesome. Detroit has taught more bands about what makes rock ‘n’ roll kick than any other place in the world. It’s a Motor City madhouse, and we like it.

Texas: J.R., oil, cows and friendly people


I used to think Texas was a nice place to live before I had the chance to travel around a lot. After seeing many other places, I decided that Texas is actually a great place to live. It’s a big, well-managed state, and its main asset is its people. Texans are warm, friendly folk.

I am originally from San Antonio, a city full of history and great Latin music, which I think was probably a big influence on me. Now I live in Austin, which is a younger city with lots of lakes, trees and, of course, the University of Texas. I also lived in Houston for three years and have spent quite a lot of time in Dallas. These two cities, despite being bustling business centers, have managed to retain that same Texas kind of natural quality that many big cities elsewhere lose with growth.

Texas’ main asset, aside from oil, cows, J.R. and all kinds of good music, is the friendly people. I started my career in 1963 playing small clubs and honky-tonks and got a lot of support from people around Texas who seemed to have an unusual interest in supporting local music, which is the key for any new, struggling artist. Texas just became the third most populous state, and people are calling it “the third coast.” I’m not at all surprised, I knew it all along. People make a place, and Texans make Texas for me.

San Francisco: Leave your heart on a surrealistic pillow


PEOPLE Magazine asks the world the earthshaking question: “What are the San Francisco music fans like?” The Oxford Dictionary answers: “A fanatic person is a visionary, an unreasoning enthusiast. The word is often applied to nonconformists as a hostile epithet.” Okay, Oxford. What we have here is a description of basically everybody, onstage or off, inside the Fillmore West at any concert between 1965 and 1969. But that is a description of the past.

Some people enjoy having a mental stranglehold on old lovers, but refusing to acknowledge change is both stupid and boring. The fans are a continuing reflection of local and universal context; a fluctuation effectively recorded only by constant observation.

By choice and by occupation, I am not in any one place long enough to pin it down, but San Franciscans do not remain static in their reactions. They’re today something they won’t be in 1982.

Sometimes people are fascinated by the audience phenomenon, and some merely notice a shifting presence. Critics enjoy feigning a superior agony over having to sit through what they have decided is in or out. What it amounts to is this: If you play well, they will like you better than if you don’t, in Bangkok or in San Francisco.

Chicago: In terms of fans, It’s no Second City


When PEOPLE Magazine first asked me to write a short piece about Chicago fans, I queried, “Why me?” What do I know of fans made in my hometown? But upon investigation I found that the small, dependable electric fan I bought some six years ago was, in fact, manufactured right here in the City of the Big Shoulders.

Now you may ask, What about the fans of Moline, Barstow and Hackensack? And moreover, what about the Chinese, who for many centuries have made fans part of their culture? The truth is, I know nothing of Moline, Barstow and Hackensack, but the Chinese…Ha!

Who are they trying to kid? Have you ever seen one of those Chinese fans? First of all, they’re not even electric; they are just hand painted on rice paper or silk. The idea is for you to keep waving them frantically in front of your face, creating a small breeze—if not a stroke.

Can you imagine your 250-pound Aunt Bertha on a hot August afternoon getting relief from one of these things? I think not.

So it is with near total conviction that I say to the world that Chicago fans are the best (with the possible exception of Moline, Barstow and Hackensack).

Philadelphia: ‘Bandstand’ left, but the beat goes on


Philadelphia stands high on the list of cities that have contributed to American popular music over the years. Let’s consider the last 30 years, with a look at some of the talent from the Philadelphia area: Mario Lanza, Eddie Fisher, Bill Haley, Frankie Avalon, Fabian, Bobby Rydell, Chubby Checker, Dee Dee Sharp, Patti LaBelle, the Blue Notes, Teddy Pendergrass, MFSB, Stanley Clarke, Hall and Oates. That’s hardly mentioning jazz and classical music.

American Bandstand will be having its 30th anniversary special on ABC soon. Bandstand started in Philadelphia in 1952. Undoubtedly, it was helpful in Philadelphia’s growth in pop music. We were often accused of favoring Philadelphia artists in those early days. The truth was we were booking 15 recording acts a week when the show was on daily. Out-of-town artists weren’t always available. We could always rely on neighborhood talent. In 1964 Bandstand moved to California. Then along came Kenny Gamble, Leon Huff and Thorn Bell, who created a whole new Philadelphia sound. They were all graduates of the old days and have made it one of the most prolific current music centers.

Despite its magnificent historical and cultural background, Philadelphia, in the past, had to fight the stigma of being the place where they roll up the sidewalks at night. But these days, W.C. Fields’ line, “On the whole, I’d rather be in Philadelphia,” loses its punch.

Atlanta: Upscale and down-home


The Atlanta audience is a paradox. It has the sophistication of an audience in an international city, but at the same time, it has that how-de-do attitude that makes it a joy for performers.

It’s very diverse. Fans turn out enthusiastically to hear artists of rock, R&B, jazz or classical music at the Omni, the Civic Center, the Fox theater, or on the grass at Piedmont Park for an outdoor concert.

Atlanta fans 8 to 80 regard a concert as a happening and like to feel they’re part of the act. They’ve been known to dance in the aisles. They really get into it, and sometimes they get carried away.

Performers like to play Atlanta. I started playing here in 1970, and each time I played to a packed house. I moved here in 1978, so I get a good chance to hear a lot of entertainers in this town. People from all over the country visit, enjoy themselves and the next thing you know, they’re moving here.

The Southern hospitality and the down-home response make Atlanta a unique region. But one thing is sure, if they don’t like it, they will let you know.

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