Influential drummer, filmmaker George Manney leaves trove of Philly rock archives

 George Manney (Photo by Howard Pitkow)

George Manney (Photo by Howard Pitkow)

A longtime member of Philadelphia rock music scene has died. But he leaves an impressive legacy.

George Manney, a drummer-turned-documentarian of Philadelphia music, had amassed the largest Philly rock and roll collection.

Manney was a guy who was always there. He started drumming around town as a teenager in the 1960s with the band Stone Dawn, and was later part of the brilliant but tragically short career of Alan Mann. He would later play behind Robert Hazard, Kenn Kweder, and rockabilly legend Charlie Gracie.

“There are few people you encounter — if you’re lucky in the lifetime — that virtually nobody dislikes. George Manney was one of those people,” said veteran DJ Michael Tearson, formerly with WMMR and SiriusFM, who knew Manney for 40 years.

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In 1992 Manney was hit by a car on Roosevelt Boulevard, which nearly killed him. Rehabilitation took years. That’s when he got serious about preserving Philadelphia’s rock and roll history.

“It’s one of the things that pushed him to be that much more aggressive in becoming the defacto archivist of Philadelphia music,” said Tearson.

Manney made a documentary film “Meet Me on South Street: The Story of J.C. Dobbs” about the club that closed in 1996. It later reopened as Legendary Dobbs, which then closed in October.

He also began gathering hundreds of hours of material for a feature documentary tentatively titled “Philly Pop Music.” Manney asked Tearson to do voice-over work, and he became a co-producer. Tearson said he will finish the film.

Manney collected local rock and roll recordings, ephemera, and mementos his entire life. His three-story row home in the Tacony neighborhood is filled with thousands of objects, considered the largest collection of Philadelphia rock and roll.

“I’ve saved things over the years — I don’t know why — but I always did, going back to the ’50s,” said Manney in a 2013 interview, recorded for a forthcoming documentary, “No Deal No Sleep: The Life and Times of Alan Mann.”

“In fact, I gave some of the archives to the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame,” he said during that interview.

According to a 2011 Philadelphia Weekly story, “The Bunker” (or, as Tearson calls it, “The Mountain”) contains VHS tapes of Elvis Costello playing the Hot Club in 1977, Peter Gabriel at the Spectrum in 1987, and Nirvana at J.C. Dobbs. There are photographs of Pete Townsend and Roger Daltry getting into a fistfight backstage at the old JFK Stadium, and an analog synthesizer rescued from Sigma Sounds Studio.

Only Manney knew the mysteries of his Bunker. The collection has captured the interest of the Philadelphia History Museum at Atwater Kent, which is talking with Tearson about possibly adopting it.

“We actually don’t know what the collection contains. But it’s intriguing. It needs to be catalogued,” said Charles Croce, executive director of the Philadelphia History Museum. “It makes sense for us to look at it and see exactly what’s there.”

Croce admitted the museum’s holdings are weak in music, especially rock, but could partner with another organization to better steward the Manney collection.

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