Manny Roth, a former Greenwich Village club owner whose Cafe Wha? was ground zero for a music scene that showcased newcomers like 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 of natural causes at his home in Ojai, his daughter Jodi Roth told the Associated Press.
A boisterous man sometimes called "The Duke of MacDougal Street," Roth attracted young artists and bohemians, giving comedians such as Woody Allen and folkies such as Peter, Paul and Mary a chance to test their wings.
Founded in the late 1950s, the Cafe Wha? was a true starter club, with low pay, no liquor and little space. But Roth's basement stage was an essential first stop for young performers looking for a chance, or even a place to stay.
"The first time I heard Dylan get up on an open mic, I'm thinking to myself, 'This kid doesn't have a prayer,' " Roth later recalled. " '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, who had just hitchhiked to New York from his hometown in Minnesota, was especially fond of the afternoon hootenannies.
Roth also was a major booster of yet-to-be-famous comedians, including Bill Cosby, George Carlin and a young troublemaker named Richard Pryor, whom Roth briefly managed.
Born in New Castle, Ind., on Nov. 25, 1919, Manuel Lee Roth attended the University of Miami and served with the Army Air Corps during World War II.
In the 1970s, he left Cafe Wha? amid financial problems. He touched down in various businesses, selling real estate, investing in a watering hole near Columbia University and opening a restaurant in Woodstock, N.Y.
In 2012, a reunited Van Halen chose Café Wha? to launch an upcoming tour. Manny Roth was among the guests as David Lee Roth paid tribute to the club he visited as a boy.
"It took us 50 years to get this gig," David Lee Roth said from the stage. "This is a temple."
In addition to his daughter, Roth's survivors include his wife Marlyse, son Brandon, sister Jami and brother David.