Buffalo in the ’70s: The first ‘World’s Largest Disco’

By Steve Cichon
steve@buffalostories.com
@stevebuffalo

In the run-up to what was being billed as “The World’s Largest Disco — 64,000 square feet,” one organizer promised the dance party in Buffalo’s new convention center would be remembered as “the Woodstock of disco.”

Mayor James D. Griffin helps promote the 1979 quest for a world record at the Buffalo Convention Center in 1979. Record Theatre owner Lenny Silver is among the lookers on. Buffalo Stories archives
Mayor James D. Griffin helps promote the 1979 quest for a world record at the Buffalo Convention Center in 1979. Record Theatre owner Lenny Silver is among the lookers on. (Buffalo Stories archives)

Downtown boomed with a 100-speaker, 30,000-watt sound system in “holophonic three-dimensional sound,” and a $25,000 light show designed and installed by Litelab — the Angola company famous for creating the bar scene lighting in disco-era classic film “Saturday Night Fever” starring John Travolta.

As “Captain Disco,” longtime Buffalo nightclub DJ Charles Anzalone was one of the people keeping the dance floor moving. His memories of the night were stark more than a decade later and included “huge dancing disco trains 1,000 people long, snaking through the crowd … confetti cannons going off, and people’s drinks getting covered with confetti … glittery platforms and tacky suits from Man Two or Pantastik.”

Aside from balloons dropping from the rafters and cannons firing blizzards of confetti, that 1979 show also included a performance from Queen of Disco Gloria Gaynor — who was celebrating her birthday that night.

In keeping with the “world’s largest” theme, the “I Will Survive” singer was presented with a huge birthday cake decorated with water fountains, fresh flowers and sparklers, created by Raymond Tutton of Richard Rays Restaurant on Washington Street.

The crowd was into the music at the Worlds Largest Disco at the Buffalo Convention Center in 1979.
The crowd was into the music at the Worlds Largest Disco at the Buffalo Convention Center in 1979.

The cake and flowers were wheeled out on stage by a group of producers and Convention Center employees that included Mark J.F. Schroeder — the current comptroller of the City of Buffalo.

In 1994, disco returned to the Convention Center when a new promoter decided to celebrate the 15th anniversary of the original event. Airline seats from Club 747, signs from the Playboy Club and Mulligan’s Cafe, and the infamous “Freddy’s Special” wheel from Cassidy’s bar all added to the nostalgic look back at Buffalo’s late ’70s dance club scene.

Over the last two decades, “The World’s Largest Disco” has become one of Buffalo’s biggest parties of the year, with tickets for the week-of-Thanksgiving event going on sale in August. While the costumes and the scene at this week’s “disco” would almost certainly be foreign and confusing to someone transported in from that first event, the one thing that remains the same is the music, and at least a few people getting on the dance floor to “turn the beat around.”

Buffalo in the ’70s: Dancing at Club 747

By Steve Cichon
steve@buffalostories.com
@stevebuffalo

“It’s Saturday night in Buffalo, and that ‘fever’ sends the disco crowd scurrying toward what looks like an airplane. Not just any plane, but a Boeing 747 jetliner placed strategically across the street from the Greater Buffalo International Airport.”

Buffalo News archives

By the time that was written in “Billboard” magazine in 1978, Buffalo’s Club 747 — opened in March 1975 — had already become the inspiration for a string of other discotheques.

As many as 5,000 people a week were hustling their way through the airplane-themed club on Genesee Street. Three years in, and the place had already seen a $100,000 renovation, carried out by the same lighting crew that was responsible for “Saturday Night Fever.”

Buffalo News archives

During the late ’70s heyday, a “boarding pass” to get into the club was $1, $2 on Saturday nights. Dancers were expected to be dressed appropriately — no sneakers, sweatshirts and “non-dress jeans” (remember, this was the ’70s) were allowed.

You can see the back of an airline seat in the foreground here. (Buffalo News archives)

Aside from those who enjoyed the live dancing and music played by disc jockeys like Shane Brother Shane, Super Shannon and Dr. John Bisci, the cache and place in the memories of Western New York jumped a few notches when “Disco Step-by-Step,” recorded at 747, became one of Buffalo’s favorite television shows.

Buffalo News archives

Marty Angelo hosted the dance show on cable, and Kevin O’Connell joined him when the show moved to Channel 4.

Club 747 was a part of the Executive Inn complex, which also included the Playboy Club. The place was Kixx Nightclub through the 1990s and was torn down to make way for Courtyard by Mariott hotel in the mid-2000s.

For more about Buffalo’s other early discos — such as Mulligan’s, He & She’s, Big Bertha’s and more — check out 1975: The beginnings of disco in Buffalo.

Buffalo in the 70’s: The early days of disco in WNY

By Steve Cichon
steve@buffalostories.com
@stevebuffalo

Far from the cultural touchstone it is today, 40 years ago in the News’ entertainment section, disco was only mentioned twice — but those mentions were big ones.

In 1975, New York City’s Studio 54 was still two years away, but Buffalo’s Club 747 was touting itself as “America’s only superjet disco.” WKBW Radio disc jockey “Super Shannon” was “in the cockpit” playing records and bringing plenty of energy to the microphone and atmosphere.

Hertel Avenue’s hotspot of the 1970s was Mulligan’s. Ads from this week in 1975 offer exquisite detail about one of the city’s hottest clubs, which was only weeks away from opening.

The coming of the disco era saw an overall landmark shift in the increasing popularity of dancing to recorded music in nightclubs.  Live bands were more and more often giving way to record-playing personalities in DJ booths.

Big Bertha’s opened this week in 1975, and while promising live bands like Talas, Weekend and the Road seven nights a week, it’s clear they were also seeing the growing influence of disco, encouraging potential patrons to “Experience (their) electric dance floor!”

Other clubs Buffalonians visited for a good time this week 40 years ago include He & She’s, Gran Zepplin and Steak & Brew.