From The Who to The Shadows of Knight, The Cellar was Arlington Heights' 'cultural zenith'

Fifty-five years ago to the date Wednesday night, Paul Sampson took the stage of his Arlington Heights teen music club - its decor of black lights and black netting hanging from the ceiling - and introduced a group that was to perform "White Room."

"Ladies and gentlemen, Mr. Jack Bruce, Mr. Ginger Baker, Mr. Eric Clapton. I give you, the Cream."

It's a moment Sampson says he'll never forget.

"We had probably close to 1,800 people jamming the floors. I couldn't get off the stage after I introduced them, so I stood about that far from Eric Clapton for about an hour."

That April 26, 1968, show at The Cellar was the most Sampson ever charged to get in: all of $4.

Cream - then at the height of their popularity, and only to disband months later - happened to be in the suburbs after a Winnetka man flew them over from England to play a show for his daughter's birthday.

But most of the other performers who came to The Cellar in the late 1960s were only in the infancy of their careers. Among them: The Who (on the second stop of their first U.S. tour), Three Dog Night, Steve Miller Band, Bob Seger and Steppenwolf.

Not to mention the club nurtured the local garage bands of the era: the Buckinghams, Ides of March, Cryan' Shames, New Colony Six, Amboy Dukes (with Ted Nugent) and Sampson's house band, the Shadows of Knight.

How was it that all of that talent came through quiet little Arlington Heights?

It's a question that will be explored in a tribute show Tuesday and Wednesday night at what has become the next popular music space in downtown Arlington Heights: Hey Nonny. Owner Chip Brooks has been researching and documenting the story of The Cellar for the last few years as part of an ongoing series of shows that combine music and local history.

He calls The Cellar, which was around from 1965 to 1970, Arlington Heights' "cultural zenith." Indeed, such a declaration is in the title of the sold-out shows Brooks will emcee this week. Tickets are still available for a third show on June 14.

Sampson, now 87 and living in Pingree Grove, also will be there Tuesday night, just days after he and Brooks went back to what was the first of The Cellar's two primary locations near the village's downtown.

As they walked through the basement of the vacant three-story office building at 116 W. Eastman St. - set to meet the wrecking ball soon for a seven-story apartment building with ground-floor commercial space - Sampson recalled scouting out the location in the mid-1960s.

It was the time in pop music when everything British was the craze, and local teens were looking for something to do. Sampson would know, as owner of the popular Arlington Record shop at 11 E. Miner St.

After first hearing Jimy Sohns and the Shadows perform at the local VFW, Sampson organized his first concerts by renting out space at the Mount Prospect Country Club, and then he built out a stage at an old Jewel grocery store on Dunton Street. Initially, he called his shows "The Blast."

"The kids loved it. They were just going nuts," he said. "Eventually walking down the street out there, I thought to myself, you know, The Beatles, talking about The Cavern Club or a cellar or something. Boy, that looks like it could - and that's kinda how The Cellar came to my head."

Sampson was able to get a lease for what had been the old activities building of St. Peter Lutheran Church and enlisted the Shadows - who attended nearby Prospect High School - to help knock down walls in the basement and build out the room, which had a capacity of about 500. After quickly outgrowing that space, The Cellar moved across the railroad tracks in 1966 to a warehouse at Salem Avenue and Davis Street.

As Sampson stood in the empty basement with developer Joe Taylor of Compasspoint Development, Brooks got out his phone and played tracks from two live albums the Shadows recorded at both locations. That included their version of "Gloria" that got major airplay on WLS and WCFL, and became a national hit.

"The sound ... you're hearing the sound," Sampson said. "You're hearing the treble. You're hearing the bass. That was huge, in both facilities. That was, as far as I'm concerned, one of its successes."

Eventually, other music clubs began to pop up, audiences began to dwindle and the lease was about to end - plus there were some run-ins with village officials over the years.

After a fight in 1966, the village shut the club down, only to allow it to reopen with the caveat that Sampson require identification cards so that only local high school students - and not city kids - could get in.

"The village would look down upon me at times," Sampson said.

At the same time, "like anything else," he said, "the era comes, the era stays, the era goes."

Now Brooks is leading efforts to recognize The Cellar's place in local history. He got Mayor Tom Hayes and the village board to issue a proclamation recognizing Sampson's efforts in starting The Cellar. Brooks is trying to get the library and Historical Museum to collect and curate the many handbills and memorabilia people have from the club.

And he wants to create some kind of permanent sculpture or public art piece that would memorialize The Cellar in the area. Students at Prospect, Arlington and Forest View high schools were trying to create a similar tribute in 1966, but it never happened.

"So many people are interested in this and have stories to tell," Brooks said.

Teens dance to the music of the Beau Brummels at The Cellar in Arlington Heights in 1965. The club, which was around from about 1965 to 1970, drew up-and-coming acts to the suburbs, including The Who and Buffalo Springfield. Daily Herald File Photo, 1965
  The Cellar's founder, Paul Sampson, walks through 116 W. Eastman St. in Arlington Heights, one of two locations where the club operated. If you were a teen growing up in the late 1960s, The Cellar was the place to hear up-and-coming bands. Brian Hill/
  Paul Sampson, who founded The Cellar, stands where the stage was at 116 W. Eastman St. in Arlington Heights. The Cellar brought up-and-coming bands like The Who, Buffalo Springfield and Three Dog Night to the suburbs from 1965 to 1970. Brian Hill/
  The Cellar founder Paul Sampson shows where the entrance to the club at 116 W. Eastman St. in Arlington Heights once stood. More than 50 years after The Cellar closed, Hey Nonny in downtown Arlington Heights is paying tribute to the club. Brian Hill/
For young people growing up in the Northwest suburbs in the mid-1960s, The Cellar in Arlington Heights was the place to be. Daily Herald File Photo, 1965
The Cellar in Arlington Heights drew a mix of up-and-coming bands like The Who and Cream, as well as local favorites like the Buckinghams and Ides of March. Daily Herald File Photo, 1965
From 1965 to 1970, The Cellar in Arlington Heights was the place to be for young music fans. Daily Herald File Photo, 1965
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