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Rock Hall Connection: Manny Roth and Café Wha?

Café Wha?, the colorful club with the basement level stage that has become a rite of passage for many legends, has recently lost their founder.

Manny Roth, who established the Greenwich Village club in 1959, passed away at the age of 94 from natural causes at his home in Ojai, California, according to his daughter. Upon creating the Café Wha?, Roth renovated the space from a stable, by laying down new floor and bringing friends to help decorate. It soon became a starter club, that had low pay, no liquor and little space. Yet, it was an essential first stop for up and coming performers.

That fact would notably ring true for two 1960s musicians, who would go on to become one of the biggest rock legends of all time; Bob Dylan and Jimi Hendrix. According to his memoir Chronicles: Volume One, Dylan described Café Wha? as “subterranean “, and described the performers as “an extravaganza of patchwork”. Another notable story involved Hendrix, who was discovered by future manager Chas Chandler, who would later take him to England and make him the most talked about guitarist in rock. Other performers include Peter, Paul & Mary, Kool and the Gang, and even comedians such as Joan Rivers, George Carlin, Bill Cosby and Richard Pryor.

Roth, who a native of New Castle, Indiana, ran the Café Wha? until the early 1970s amid financial problems, and worked in various businesses including opening a restaurant in Woodstock. The café was back in the headlines two years earlier when Van Halen chose the site for an upcoming tour. The band’s frontman David Lee Roth is the nephew of the Café Wha? founder.

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