Tuesday, December 22, 2009

MERRY CHRISTMAS! It's been a while since my last post for a variety of reasons. First off, I finally succumbed to a bit of Big Star fatigue. After two and a half years focusing on one band and three albums, I just kind of got worn out a bit. I've been listening to two types of music that are anything but power pop. The first is a CD called The Legendary Cantors. It's a compilation of renowned Jewish cantors from the early to mid part of the last century. I got hip to them reading an interview with Ornette Coleman and it fell right in with an increasing interest in the Old Testament (there's far more of an emphasis on the New Testament in your typical mainline Protestant church such as the one I attend) and my wife's family's Jewish roots. The music has something so timeless, universal, soulful and even eerie about it - like listening to an old Charley Patton record. The Jews Blues. And then get this. Despite making a snide comment about them in the promo copy for the book ("Released at a time when ELP and Elton John were plodding from one packed stadium to the next"), I;'ve been listening to ELP (along with early Moody Blues, Yes, and King Crimson) for the first time ever (other than what you'd hear in your college dorm or in passing on the radio). So it's been Tarkus and Lark's Tongue In Aspic around here! Can't say that it will be a permanent habit but it's good to walk outside your little listening box (actually mine is pretty darn big) and visit some other places for a while. So I get in the car and crank up Knife Edge. Sort of clears the mind and ears a bit...

Monday, December 7, 2009


Just got invited to join this fan new page on Facebook. There's a link posted to an interview Alex did with The Idler in England in 1996. If you haven't read it, it's definitely worth checking out.

If you're on Facebook, you should check out http://www.facebook.com/brokedoc?v=info&ref=nf. Broke is a documentary about the rapidly changing music industry and explores the question of just how an artist can break out today. A good friend has been working on it (T-Bone Burnett is involved) from inception and from all reports it sounds like it's going to be a really top-notch effort.

Saturday, December 5, 2009

Here's a rarity for you...a photo of the first "new wave" band in Buffalo, The Blue Reimondos. On the right is Pete LaBonne. He had a lead role in the book as you might remember. I'm in the middle and our bass player John B. King is on the left. And no, blue Lacoste shirts and khakis were not our uniform although that's approximately what we always wore and never changed into rock and roll /punk attire for performances. In the background you can see the every expanding audience of empty Stroh's bottles that we performed for several nights a week in Pete's basement. We were diligent about practicing but couldn't get many gigs because we had graduated from covers to nearly all original (Pete's material). This was '75-'77. By the time new wave / punk started to get accepted we were done - only to get back together (with the wonderful Deb Parker on bass) in '79 and back up Alex for that one monumental gig.
Just received the January issue of Down Beat magazine and there's a full page review of the Big Star box set - notable right off the bat because it's a jazz magazine that only occasionally touches on rock when it's deemed to be of ultra-importance or interest. The review is interesting because while the reader is obviously knowledgeable, he's not pre-determined to slobber over the project without reservations. He makes several points that I think are well considered: the three official studio albums should have lead off each respective disc and then followed with the outtakes and rarities at the end of each disc. Also, the sequencing of Third is random and distracting (he opts for the 1978 PVC sequence which I agree is by far the best). None of this is earthshaking but the review reminds me that critics tend to be predisposed to what they're writing about and skew it all accordingly. There is indeed such a thing as constructive criticism (the box set gets 4 out of 5 stars). The Chris Bell reissue gets 3 stars and includes this interesting line "melodically, his posthumous 1992 solo album always delivers...but Bell's singing and lyrics often go down easier with Chilton as his creative foil."

Friday, December 4, 2009


Sorry for being AWOL for a bit. Was under the weather for a while and then had the Thanksgiving rush with house guests. As a result (and for some other reasons), I skipped the Box Tops show at the local casino last Friday. The reports were that the band played a fairly long time for a casino gig (can't gamble if you're rocking out) and Alex was in fine voice. He later went with some local fans and friends (John Lombardo - co-founder of 10,000 Maniacs) to a local music tavern and played some more tunes for the faithful. That's about what I know.

If you haven't read the above linked article about Alex's career from '75-81, you've got to check it out. Great interviews and commentary from people like Jim Dickinson, Jim Duckworth and Richard Rosebrough. Reallyy well done.

Have been listening to Fleetwood Mac's Future Games and Bare Trees recently. You don't hear or read about that Mac phase much but those albums have some really great material. Love the sound and the vibe...

More soon. I promise.

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

Hey fans. Back from a ramble around New York state to watch my son's high school cross country team run in the state championships. An 800 mile round-trip drive for less than 18 minutes of running. Great to see all the various and varied regions of New York even at a frenetic pace. Frequent poster Larry was kind enough to send me some Chris Bell discs and they were a fine soundtrack for the ride. Thanks, Larry!

Hope everyone down in NYC is gearing up for tomorrow night's Big Star show. Please file reports! We fans on the other end of the state (memo to those who think New York state is a big city with some suburbs: go look at a map...it's actually mostly mountains and rural areas and Buffalo is over 400 miles away from the Big Apple) are wondering if Alex Chilton's Box Tops will perform Eddie Floyd's Stax chestnut Big Bird at their local appearance next week in a nod to Thanksgiving.

No need to hold off on your holiday shopping...the Big Star box set is now only $41.99 at Amazon. Just click on the link to the right and fill those stockings!

The above article addresses how bad most recordings sound today i.e. "the loudness wars." It's a short article and obviously the author can't touch on every great sounding record ever made (i.e. Radio City) but it makes a good point. Recordings used to be easier to listen to beyond the music. They certainly were more pleasing to the ears. I'm not sure I'd feel the same way about Radio City if it had been recorded using today's standards. Everything sounds loud, harsh, and brittle. No breathing room. Makes it hard to make it through half a disc. How would you discover September Gurls if your ears screamed "no mas!" before you could get that far into the disc?

Wednesday, November 4, 2009


Hot off the presses. Here's a link to a Big Star feature in Artvoice, Buffalo's arts weekly, written by Donny Kutzbach, local promoter and music fan extraordinaire. A huge Big Star fan. We have sometimes fantasized about a double bill of, say, Cheap Trick and Big Star. Something that would equal the 1974 Boston double bill of Big Star and Badfinger.

Been a big behind on the blog here due to some magazine assignments but today I received a CD dub of a cassette tape that Jim Dickinson put together in the mid-80s of a Chris Bell "album" (comprised of material that ended up on the Ryko release). Will delve more into this and report back. Not sure about whether he mixed or just sequenced so some of you might be able to weigh in on this. But I'll report back with the track list. Not sure how much Jim was involved in this or whether he was just passing along something that was passed along to him.

Got my tickets to see Alex Chilton's Box Tops on November 27th. You Keep Tightening Up On Me probably isn't on the set list but that track (the band's last single) was one of their best. Check it out.

Tuesday, October 27, 2009

Thanks for the comments everyone. Yep, the DC5 was my first concert. The performed at Kleinhans Music Hall in Buffalo on a Sunday afternoon in December 1964. Opening act was Shirley Ellis who performed The Name Game for a very long time. Good to have your one hit be something you can really stretch out on. The DC5 ran through a half hour set. The weird thing was that the stage lighting was so low that their white cuffs and collars were about all you could see. Evidently the promoter didn't read the one page rider calling for a couple of spot lights. A few months later I returned to see The Beach Boys with some unknown guy named Glen Campbell on bass. After the show there was some harmless shouting and jostling in the lobby (teens being teens) and rock concerts were banned from the hall for the next 4 1/2 years (3,000 seat home of the Buffalo Philharmonic). They changed the policy in time for The Who to perform Tommy and a double bill of Led Zeppelin and The James Gang in September 1969. Chris Bell and Andy Hummel would have dug that Zep show for sure (they were both Zep fans and their band also covered some James Gang tunes).

Ardent related tidbit...I've been exploring the early recordings of Tony Joe White album, especially his first album (Tony Joe White) for Warner Reprise in 1971. I once had a vinyl copy but hadn't heard the recording it in decades. Turns out that it was produced by Peter Asher and was recorded in part at Ardent (would have been the National location). This is a really great album and not usually mentioned when people are going through the list of things done at Ardent (the first I'd heard it). The song Copper Kettle was recorded by Bob Dylan for the Self-Portrait album. Tony Joe is sort of like Elvis's younger brother immersed in a backwoods bayou groove (Elvis of course recorded and performed his tune Polk Salad Annie). Peter Asher returned to Ardent to add the Memphis Horns to James Taylor's post-cover of Time magazine Mudslide Slim album. But that Tony Joe album is better...

Have been getting a lot of feedback on the Chris Bell set and the general feeling is that if you have the money it's a nice thing to have but not essential by any stretch. It would be nice if it were someday available for download so those of use who already gave at this particular office could cherry-pick some additional tracks. Given that the original I Am The Cosmos cd wasn't an album but rather a collection of the best available tracks, it would logically follow that barring any new discoveries in the archives that the new tracks would be interesting but not essential.

Alex Chilton's Box Tops are playing a casino in Niagara Falls at the end of November. A lot of people are asking me what to expect and I don't really know what to say. Any one care to weigh in? If you've seen the Box Tops recently, tell us what you think.

Artvoice (Buffalo arts weekly) is slated to run a feature on the book this week. Will post a link when it runs.

http://www.stevehoffman.tv/forums/showthread.php?t=170503 If you aren't familiar yet with the Steve Hoffman music forum, you've got to check it out. Intelligent people discussing good music in a civilized manner. This is the thread for the Big Star box set. There's also a thread for my book:

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

Hey everyone...Happy Rocktober (a cheesy phrase for sure but one I love nonetheless...) Frequent commenter Larry and a few other people have asked me what I think of the new Chris Bell deluxe reissue. My response is "I don't know." Or to be more specific: I'm not really sure if it's worth the money. Some time this decade I hit a wall as to how far I'm willing to go to buy reissues and concert tickets. A four CD box set of one of my favorite bands ever for $52? I'm in. 13 new / alternate tracks added on to an album, monumental high points aside, that I don't go back to anywhere near as much as any of the three Big Star albums, for $40 plus shipping? Naaaaah. Or at least I'll have to hear it all first to get over my resistance to reissues. I recognize that this is a different case than that of a hit album being reissued for the fourth time but overall I have this feeling that record companies are playing us for suckers as a way to cover up their own increasing ineptitude. Can't develop any new bands? Let's find a way to repackage someone's past success yet again!...Enough! But if you have the Bell reissue, please weigh in and tell us what your take is.

Same goes for concert tickets. Since my first concert (the Dave Clark Five in December 1964) until maybe five or six years ago, I never thought twice about going to a concert if I wanted to see a band and when I made that decision, I always bought the best seats. Now I pass on a lot of shows and have gravitated towards cherry-picking the best of the cheap seats (seats just behind the stage sold as obstructed view actually give you the feeling of being on stage with the band). Could I afford the top price seats? Probably. But next month I'll be sitting in the cheap seats for the last show of Springsteen's current tour (an arc that began for me when I booked him for two grand at my college in '73 and has put me in the front rows for many a show). $29 a seat feels about right in this economy. And given that last night there were entire empty sections at his show last night in Philly (home turf), I'm not the only one thinking this way. And recently I've passed on seeing some old favorites in a local club (Todd Rundgren, Robin Trower, Hot Tuna) not because of the ticket price (around $30 - reasonable for a small venue) but because the service fees jacked up the price to $40. Sorry Todd and Jorma....it wasn't your fault. But why should it take $10 just to sell me a ticket (and I love that they actually charge you more for printing at home even though you're using your paper and ink and saving them printing, labor and postage costs)??

Friday, October 9, 2009

The November issue of MOJO not only has a review of the book but a feature story on Big Star. I used to subscribe and would sometimes get my copy a week or two before it hit the newsstand and sometimes would never get it at all and would have to go through the aggravation of getting a replacement copy. So now I just wait for it to arrive at the local store (and they don't really give you much of a break on the money when you subscribe). Sometime over the next few days I'll be able to put my hands on one and report back.
Hi Folks -

The free book offer is over thanks to the folks at the FTC. They just put in a rule that if if anyone endorses / reviews a product in any public forum (on tv, in a blog, at amazon etc.) and received "consideration" in any form, it has to be revealed. A sample of the product is considered to be consideration. So, if I sent a copy of a book to a music blog for review, they have to reveal that I sent them a book. Or if you posted a review at amazon, you would have to reveal that I had sent you a book. Do they really expect magazines and newspapers to put in a disclaimer at the end of every review "Hey, we got a free copy so take all this with a grain of salt"? Do they really think that viewers watching some movie star shill for a product on Oprah can't figure out that there's probably something going on? Or who is sincere? You can read more about this in today's WSJ. It's just another example of government overreaching. Mighty considerate of them to announce that they expect prosecution to be rare...

Thursday, October 8, 2009

MOJO!! Just got the word that the book is reviewed in the November issue of MOJO (Kraftwerk on the cover although not sure if they'll change it for the US market as they sometimes do. Really good review (just read to me over the phone). Details to follow.

Tuesday, October 6, 2009


Just received a note from Hans Flagon aka James Enck about the book. He has a highly entertaining blog with some really interesting firsthand tales of his time in Memphis in the 70s and 80s with Tav Falco, The Panther Burns (touring member), Alex Chilton, and a cast of many Memphis luminaries and legends. I hereby nominate Hans to write the 33 1/3 book about Behind the Magnolia Curtain! Hans put in request for some Blue Reimondos recordings. I'll admit to being a bit behind the curve on that front but will do my homework on how to post some mp3s for your listening pleasure...

Saturday, October 3, 2009


Nice article about the 33 1/3 series at this very nicely done English / Australian alternative music site. This is conclusion of the part about Radio City: "It’s about as an authorative and informative an exposition as you could hope for." Thanks, mates!

The book is back in the Top 20 again. I'll have a full-length update over the weekend, including some new info about the alternate version of O My Soul on the box set. But right now, it's a beautiful autumn morning and it's time to go watch some of the top high school cross-country runners in North America.

Tuesday, September 29, 2009

Here's what Ric Menck, drummer extraordinaire for Matthew Sweet, Velvet Crush, Liz Phair, Marianne Faithfull etc., had to say about the book on Facebook. (Thank you, Ric. And EVR for the heads up.) The book had its best week yet last week due to comments like this one. If you see a review in print or online, please let me know....

"Bruce Eaton's 33 1/3 book about Radio City by Big Star is an astonishing read. Along with being the most insightful portrayal of Alex Chilton and the Big Star phenomenon I've ever read, it also explains quite clearly why one should never approach music or musical artists with preconceived notions or expectations. A must read for anyone who considers them self a fan of Big Star or music in general. Thank you Bruce."

Saturday, September 19, 2009


Quite a week, huh? Maybe the best week for the collective Big Star community ever. It's been great participating in various forums and just reading what everyone thinks and feels about the band the box set. I'll say this: it's one of the very few boxes that exceeds expectations and is "all thriller, no filler." I've made a habit over the years of borrowing box sets from friends in the business or getting them from the county library and then reducing them from four or five discs to maybe two. No way with this one. Four essential discs.

Nice review linked above. I remember buying Trade Mark of Quality bootlegs by mail from some guy in North Carolina in the mid-70s. He had a small ad in the back of Rolling Stone. Still have some of those records. And thanks to all for your kind words about the book this past week. The book zoomed back into the Top 20 Rock Books at Amazon. (And it was an honor for the book to be noted by Bob Mehr in the liner notes for the box set.)

A lot of discussion about the sequencing of Third / Sister Lovers / Alex Chilton. I have to say that the original PVC vinyl sequencing really works for me. It's not the first configuration I heard it in (I had a lo-fi cassette of the test pressing) so it's not a case of what I heard first and just got used to. It just flows really well in my ears. One of these days I'll try to find out who sequenced that version. They nailed it...

Thursday, September 17, 2009

Maybe you once had this feeling as a kid. You really want a special toy for Christmas. You wait a long time for it. Finally the big day arrives and there it is...you're ecstatic. And then a few hours later you accidentally break it and it can't be fixed. Remember being that bummed out? The crushing, almost irrational disappointment??

This morning I slipped discs 3 and 4 from the box set into paper sleeves so I could listen to them in the car while I went to an appointment. Picked up a book, some papers, and the disc from my desk and headed out. Got in the car...no disc 3. "Must have left in on the desk," I'm thinking.

Arrive home two hours later. There's disc 3 in my driveway, run over by my Volvo wagon, and COMPLETELY RUINED. Arrgggggggggghhhhhhh!!! (Even more irrational...even though I can probably get a burned CD-R copy from a friend, it won't be the same as having an intact set...)

I'll have to calm down a bit before I wax poetic / coherent about those Alex solo demos at the end of Disc Two. Magnificent for sure...

Wednesday, September 16, 2009

Got it...finally. Love the "tapebox " packaging. The photos are great. Lots of shots I've never seen before (nore has probably anyone else but a few). The essays don't break any new ground but are an excellent summation on all three fronts. Nice message from J. Fry (although he told he didn't care much about the photo they used of him at the board...so I dropped it from the book). Just getting into the discs but I would say that some of the alternate mixes are really revelatory, some are just interesting, and some were passed over for obvious reasons. At some point over the next few days I'm going to make a disc that matches them with the originals for an easier A/B comparison. But there are so many cool things that any concern I had about the original albums not being presented as released kind of went right out the window...Too bad the back picture of Radio City didn't show Alex in his tennis shorts...we could have blamed the album's failure on that.

Good morning all...listening for the sound of the UPS truck delivering the box set (unfortunately, there's not a decent record store in the Buffalo area). Here's the first of two links I'm going to post from the Memphis Flyer about the box set - this one being an interview with Adam Hill, Ardent engineer and archivist. Adam was of immeasurable help when I was writing the book. One of the most memorable moments over the 18 months was sitting with him in Studio C listening to some of the tracks channel by channel. Breaking down September Gurls and hearing what went into the track – especially Alex's guitars – was a real thrill. At any rate, Adam is a great guy, a huge Big Star fan, and it's nice to see him in the spotlight...

Tuesday, September 15, 2009

Big Star Live Part II. Frank from Memphis recently sent me a scan of a review of Big Star playing at the famous Rock Writers Convention from Phonograph Record magazine (thanks, Frank). I tried to track down any reviews of the gig while writing the book and came up short (this wasn't in the Ardent archives nor available through Rock's Back Pages). It's a long (and glowing) piece by Mike Saunders. Here's the partial set list based on Mike's account:

Feel (opener)
In The Street
My Life Is Right
Don't Lie To Me
When My Baby's Beside Me
[after "six or seven songs" Alex switched to acoustic]
Ballad of El Goodo
[after four acoustic songs Alex back to the Stratocaster]
rest of set included:
My Life Is Right (again)
Come On Now (Kinks)
Around and Around (Chuck Berry)
The Letter [Alex introduced as "This is a song you may remember..."]

What was that English band that released a bunch of stuff last week??

Well, today's the day for the children by the millions (okay, thousands) have been waiting for.

Regarding the live disc, I've read some comments elsewhere by a few who are disappointed that the entire recordings weren't presented in their original order. What I can tell you is that a total of 36 songs were recorded. Four songs were performed three times each. Eight songs were performed twice. Eight songs were performed once. So with the twenty songs on the disc, you're getting the best take of the twelve songs performed more than once and not missing out on any one song. The running order seems to have remained fairly close to the order in which they were originally performed, accounting for the combined performances of course.

Having heard the unedited tapes while doing research for the book, I can tell you that there is a lot of dead space between some songs – often longer than a minute – while the band tunes up, changes instruments etc.. I'm sure you've heard or read by various people associated with Big Star over the years that they didn't have any following to speak of in Memphis. Here you can actually hear it. They finish a song and there's almost NO reaction. Maybe one person randomly applauding. Mostly just conversation and the clinking of glasses and ice. Chilling. Wouldn't we have all loved to have been there and made things different?

I'll be back as soon as my copy arrives – might even be today...

Thursday, September 10, 2009

Hi Everyone...the countdown begins to release date. I'll have the box-set on the 17th (ordered through Amazon Prime) but if anyone has it already or gets it the day of release, weigh in by all means. I briefly (three seconds) entertained the notion of trying to get a promo copy (after all, I've been out doing advance work for months) after the scribe for the local arts weekly let us knew on Facebook about already having his copy (jealous...who me?) but my bottom-line motto has always been "the most radical form of supporting the arts is to actually buy a darn ticket (or record)". (In fairness to the local scribe, his review will sell some copies.) Everything costs a lot these days and money is getting tighter. But if you're a Big Star fan, this is a way to vote with your wallet and get some mighty fine payback to boot. If all of us who have derived so much pure pleasure from second-hand and cut-out copies of the original LPs over the past 35 years ponied up this time, the band might actually see some significant revenue from sales.

Friday, September 4, 2009

HWS Concerts Winter / Spring 1974. Going to wrap up the stroll down memory lane so I can keep an eye on the sky...the Big Star box set just around the corner.

Earl Scruggs Revue / Country Cooking. This was the Winter Weekend concert. You don't see Earl's name much these days (and the Revue's recordings are out-of-print and not available digitally) which is puzzling given that he is one of the true innovators and pioneers of country music and still living (maybe that's why – he needs to announce that he only has so many years to live and put out a box set and hire Rick Rubin to record him). The Revue was exploring the boundaries between country and rock at a time when most of the acceptance of that was stemming from the rock side (The Byrds, Grateful Dead, Dylan etc.) and the country establishment still looked at the long hairs with disdain (not knowing that a few decades later that "country music" would basically sound like Foghat with some lyrics about pick-up trucks laid and the secret that grandma told to grandpa and kissing your high school girlfriend tacked onto it). Country Cooking was a bluegrass group out of Ithaca with Pete Wernick, Tony Trischka, and Russ Barenberg. These guys have all gone onto to big things in the bluegrass world and Country Cooking is revered as sort of a supergroup in reverse.

We actually did some promo on the local country music station and brought in some of the "townies" from the surrounding farm towns for this one. I don't remember much about the concert itself except that Earl was great guy, the band was really good, and a fine time was had pretty much all – the townies and the freaks got on well. The only bad note was that Country Cooking insisted on performing Anne Murray's Snowbird. They did it in soundcheck, I told them it would not go over well, and they shunned the advice. When they played it for the audience, a lot of people made bird noises in protest.

Chick Corea and Return To Forever. I'll let you decide the cause and effect and just tell you how I see it: Chick Corea's work before Scientology is infinitely better than what came after. This version of RTF (the quartet with Bill Connors > pre-Al DiMiola) came after and pretty much defined pretentious, self-indulgent fusion. Rebuffed by the concert committee, a student on campus who was Chick's #1 Fan went to the student government and got the extra $2000 for the show. My one memory of the show was Chick twiddling the knob on his synth and making all these exaggerated faces like he was about to give birth to a cinder block. Those first two RTF albums (with Airto and Joe Farrell) are really nice though...

Stanley Turrentine. This was the feature show for Third World Weekend...back when campuses actually had separate living facilities for minorities (at their demand), which always struck me as odd coming right after the civil rights battle to do away with those sorts of things. I was way into my Pharoah Sanders period (never left it actually) so I didn't give Stanley his due. I later came to really appreciate his work on Blue Note and his much-maligned at the time work on CTI (which were urban hits and thus this booking). I've got Don't Mess With Mr. T on my iTunes right now...

Frank Zappa and the Mothers of Invention / Dion. Spring Weekend. May 3, 1974. When the opportunity to book Zappa for $7500 crossed my radar during the winter, the notion of the traditional student poll went right out the window. Zappa for this price was too good to pass up. Zappa's manager (Herb Cohen) dictated that we book Dion (who also recorded for WB at the time) as an opening act. He was in his post-rehab solo folkie phase. One of these days I've promised myself that I'm going to delve into Dion's long and multi-faceted career.

We were well aware of Zappa's finicky and somewhat demanding reputation so Peter Kapp and I thought it would be a good idea to go see the band two nights before our show at the Broome County Arena in Binghamton. We asked the crew what the band really wanted backstage in terms of food and drink and learned that they were all really big on organic / health food type stuff as well as good beer. We came back, cancelled our catering plans, and went to the local health food restaurant (run by Robert Ward's wife as I recall) planned out a huge dinner. A really fantastic spread complete with gallons of fresh-squeezed juices. I think the total came to around $200 which seemed astronomical at the time but we knew it would be worth the investment. Then we went to the local beer distributorship and stocked up on brew like Bass Ale – imports that weren't all that common. $4 for a six-pack! The food paid off as the band was knocked out, the roadies got over their hangs up about the gig (they thought the venue was too small for a band of their stature), and I knew that all was well when Frank stopped me in the hall and said "You guys are doing a good job." Only the road manager (who else?) was less than completely satisfied, asking "Got any guac?" (a phrase I still use today to express faux-dissatisfaction). This was my last college show but when I started producing world-class jazz artists in the early 90s the lesson stayed with me. I always make sure that the musicians are well fed before the show, going beyond what it says on the rider and getting the preferences from the artists or managers. It's the best investment a promoter can make (besides great sound). A well-fed musician is a happy musician and a happy musician hits the stage ready to deliver.

Frank had a great band with George Duke, Chester Thompson, Ruth Underwood, and Don Preston to name a few. You can hear the group doing the same set on Live At The Roxy and Elsewhere (some of the album was recorded within days of our date) and if you look at the photos on the original album cover you'll see the trademark heating radiators on the back wall of the Geneva Theater stage in a few of the live shots.

Unless Zack Chaikin comes up with a show that I forgot about, that's then end of my run as concert chairman. Springsteen played the theater twice more – in December '74 with a woman violinist in the band and then July 1975 (promoted by Springsteen's manager with help from Peter Kapp). It was a really wild experience pulling into the parking lot. School was long out of session but kids had driven from all over the region to be at the show (on a weeknight), the second night of the Born To Run tour. Springsteen hit the stage like a running back at the five yard line about to explode into the end zone. I'm surprised the theater was still standing by the time he finished the encore.

All of these successful rock shows planted the seed that the Geneva Theater – a run-down movie theater that was eventually sold for back taxes – could be a regional performing arts center. The name has reverted to its original moniker – The Smith Opera House – and there's been a lot of renovations but the theater still feels (and smells) the same as it did back when these monumental shows took place. A few years ago my son and I attended a sold-out performance by the Derek Trucks Band and absent the mushroom cloud of smoke, it felt just like 1973. Looking down from either side of the stage were the backlit statues of Mozart? Bach? Beethoven? The ghosts of performances past hovered in the air. The sound was crystal clear and there still wasn't a bad seat in the house. After two sets and an encore, we walked to our car (past 410 and 385 Main Street, where I'd spent much time) and headed home. Over thirty years had passed and it felt like maybe...three?

Okay...holiday weekend and then back to Big Star...

Thursday, September 3, 2009

HWS Concerts December 1973. Livingston Taylor / Billy Joel. We had booked Livingston Taylor to do two shows in the on-campus auditorium (the fee was somewhere in the $2-2500 range). You don't hear Liv's name much these days but his first two albums (debut on Atco and then Liv on Capricorn – both produced in Macon by Jon Landau – partially making up for the abysmal jobs he did with the first Boz Scaggs LP and MC5's Back The USA) but those records were great in their own right. In retrospect, he would have been better off not being James's brother. We were happy about the booking.

About ten days before the show I woke up one morning (a Sunday) feeling like someone had kicked me really hard in the lower abdomen. Went to the college infirmary. They sent me to the emergency room at Geneva General. They looked me over, gave me some antibiotics and some pain pills. I went back to my dorm room and rolled around in agony while trying to watch a Buffalo Bills game (this was the year that OJ broker the rushing record). Within a few hours I'd gone through what was supposed to be a few days supply of pain pills. Back to the hospital and this time I was admitted where I would spend the next few weeks before finally having surgery.

After I'd been there for a few days I got a call from the agent I worked with, wanting to know if I'd booked an opening act for Taylor. I hadn't planned on one but he proposed Billy Joel - a guy with a debut coming out on Columbia shortly who was looking for work at any price. I had actually heard Billy's Cold Spring Harbor album and immediately thought that he was worth $500 for two shows but that decision might have been made easier by the fact that I was bored and medicated.

I didn't get out of the hospital in time to see the show...just heard a few minutes of it over a pay phone. But Billy came, saw, and conquered, previewing most of Piano Man and proving to be quite the entertainer with his between song raps. For the second time in a few weeks, musical lightening had hit HWS. Everyone went home for Christmas break and came back with copies of The E Street Shuffle and/or Piano Man. A few weeks later I was sitting in my surgeon's waiting room and the radio station was playing Piano Man...a huge hit.

I've been producing jazz concerts in the Buffalo area for the past 19 years and for me, nothing is better than booking an unknown new artist long before they go on to big things. The trick is knowing who is going somewhere and who isn't. Any one can write a big check to Chick Corea or Sonny Rollins. I'd much rather be the first person to book The Bad Plus outside of New York City. Or book Joshua Redman and Christian McBride almost a year before their first album is out. I'm still carrying on the HWS tradition, just in another arena. (By the way, my current favorite new band is Most Other People Do The Killing – coming in early 2010).

I've said this before, but one of the reasons that popular music isn't as good as it used to be is that colleges no longer provide a strong touring circuit for new acts to get exposure. Springsteen lived off of colleges before he hit it big. And here was Billy Joel, going from school to school for motel and gas money. Tickets were cheap, it was a receptive environment and people responded immediately by buying records and spreading the word. It worked for everyone.

What do you want to bet that this tape spend some time lodged in the dash of a Camaro? I love how 8-tracks destroyed the sequencing of an album (the second side of this 57th Street > Rosalita > New York City Serenade is still Springsteen's peak in my book) and broke songs in two. Kind of like Robert F. Moses ramming an expressway through an urban neighborhood.

Sunday, August 30, 2009

HWS CONCERTS Fall 1973. I don't have the exact dates for these shows (except Springsteen) but Zack Chaikin is working through the Heralds so hopefully I'll be able to add them later.

LEO KOTTKE (September) You know that dopey gimmick politicians have been using lately about "hitting the reset button"? Well, this was sort of my concert reset button. Learning from the previous year's Preston / Kottke mismatch and determined not to open the year with yet another singer songwriter getting publicly plastered to the gills I decided to spend a bit more money and book Leo to play the on-campus auditorium. We booked two shows, they both sold out, and the small venue proved ideal for both musician and audience alike. Leo had moved up from Takoma to Capitol and his Mudlark and Greenhouse albums which he drew from for these shows remain among his very best in my book.

BRUCE SPRINGSTEEN / JAMES MONTGOMERY BAND. 10/26/73. Well, to the degree that I'm remembered by my fellow classmates, it's largely in connection to this show and the one that followed. This was the obligatory Fall Weekend concert at the Geneva Theater, our concert home in exile off-campus. After James Montgomery had cancelled for the Steve Miller concert, re-booking him seemed like a no-brainer. The buzz was still building and their first Capricorn album was on its way. Looking for a crowd-pleasing headliner who wouldn't break the bank, I had settled on John Sebastian. Hard to believe that things were moving so quickly back then but only a few years after his incredible run with the Spoonful, Woodstock, and that great first solo album he was seen as already fading (this was pre-Welcome Back Kotter). But like Steve Miller, he had a body of work that still holds up to this day and the price was right. (As I recall, another option was the English jazz-rock band Mark-Almond – same fee so I went with John.)

A few weeks before the concert Sebastian cancelled for reasons I don't recall (tie-dye jacket lost at the dry cleaners?) and so the scramble began. We had to do a show and most acts who had tour plans were most definitely booked for a weekend night. I called up the agency we worked through and started to put together a list of possibilities. One name I remember was Tom Rush. I was (and remain) a huge fan of The Circle Game and his first Columbia album but I knew a folkie wouldn't cut it for that show, especially after James Montgomery. Then the agent Ed Micone said, "And there's also this guy Bruce Springsteen whose got an album on Columbia." "How is he live?" I asked. Ed asked another agent (Wayne Forte – who went on to be a huge player in the industry) in the office to pick up the phone. "Tell Bruce what you think of Bruce Springsteen." Forte: "Best act I've ever seen". Me: "Seriously...how good is he?" Forte: "Best act I've ever seen. Book him and if you don't think so I'll personally give you your money back."

You get used to hearing hype in the music biz but there was something about the way Forte spoke that made me believe him. (For years afterward, I would tell people to buy tickets to see Springsteen and if he wasn't the best live act they'd ever seen, I'd pay for the ticket. Made the offer dozens of times...never lost a cent.) Peter Kapp (by then my trusted cohort) and I listened to Greetings From Asbury Park in his dorm room. It wasn't a great representation of Springsteen but we got the strong feeling that it was the right thing to do – it all just felt right – and so for the grand sum of $2000, the deal was done.

We advertised the show as "new artists in concert" and between the low ticket price ($2 for students) and the fact that it was Fall i.e. Party Weekend we had a good-sized crowd. The James Montgomery Band (by this time they had dropped "blues" from their name) got the crowd warmed up but even at the time seemed to lack the certain something that would take them to the next level (when I went back to Hull, Massachusetts this past May to clean out my late mother-in-law's house, James was playing at the main bar in town with J.Geils sitting in on guitar). But the band was rocking and the crowd was in the mood so things were good except for one detail...even after James Montgomery was finished with his set, the E Street Band was nowhere in sight. The roadies for the band had driven up separately with the equipment and were getting noticeably worried. One told me "Those guys drive like maniacs...they're probably dead in a ditch somewhere." They were seriously concerned, especially after the stage was completely ready to go and there was still no sign of the band.

Suddenly, an old black station wagon roared down the alley of the theater to the loading door and out poured the entire E Street Band (intact). Huge sighs of relief all around and they hustled in to get ready to hit the stage as the crowd was already getting a bit restless. In the middle of this all, Clarence Clemons pulled me aside and asked if there was a place he could go to enjoy a little "refreshment" before the show (evidently Bruce didn't approve of these things). So I lead Clarence out into the dark alley and stood there acting as a lookout for him while he got ready for the show. We had this brief conversation:

Me: "Too bad you missed the James Montgomery Band. They were really good."

Clarence: " Yeah?"

Me: "Yeah, they were good..."

Clarence (exhaling while looking down on me): "Well you ain't seen nothin' yet kid...you ain't seen nothin' yet."

I was like a scene right out of one of Bruce's concert raps. Me and the Big Man. In the dark alley. The whole game about to go down, And The Big Man guaranteeing the final score...

The band came out, Bruce sat down at the piano, and they proceeded to start New York City Serenade off the yet to be released second album. Not a rocking start to the set – there was even some nervous shifting around in the seats – but Bruce poured himself into it. I was ten feet behind him in the wings by myself (we had really tightened security by then – no one got backstage except a useful few) feeling it all unfold. He finished to some decent applause for an unknown guy playing a never before heard song. Next up was Spirit In The Night, Bruce still at the piano as I recall. Things starting to rev up. He switched to guitar. Played a few songs from the first album...probably Does This Bus Stop at 82nd Street? and Blinded By the Light. A choice r&b cover (634-5789 was one for sure). And all of a sudden, the entire place is going bonkers. Standing on the seats, going crazy. I'm standing a few feet away wondering "why isn't this guy the biggest thing in the world?" By the time Bruce wrapped up the encores with Twist And Shout, everyone had a new religion.

If you're lucky, maybe you get one experience like this in your life. To stumble on an artist without any preconceived notion about what you're going to hear and then having your head and heart turned inside out. Everything totally unexpected. (Big Star content: this is how I felt the first night I heard Radio City.) We all felt really lucky. And, unbelievably, many of us would get the same experience a few weeks later...

Saturday, August 29, 2009


Amazon has just dropped the price of the box set to $53.99. For those of you (like me) who don't live within convenient driving distance of a record store that will likely stock it, a good alternative. Between Big Star and Prefab Sprout, the third week of September is looking good for sure. Also, it was just announced that The Box Tops are slated to play the local Niagara Falls a casino the day after Thanksgiving. It's a weird venue – like a lecture hall for a medical school. Will be interesting to see how Alex reacts to the scene. Well, it is definitely a smoking friendly environment so he'll like that...

Friday, August 28, 2009

(Big Star fans refer to posts in early August for why the minimal Big Star content this month...will be back on point after Labor Day leading up to the box set. But note that the Steve Miller show was a Reimondo Production...a nod to the past and future Blue Reimondos through which I eventually connected up with Alex Chilton as all of you faithful readers of the book already know.)

Steve Miller Band 5/4/73. The year before we had tried out the idea of conducting a student poll to decide who we would book for the big Spring Weekend concert. There was some friendly ballot stuffing for Poco but ultimately we settled on The Byrds. This year we did the same thing for some inexplicable reason (and for the last time) and we offered up a number of bands in the $7500 range – the top price for all bands back in that day except those that could pack a large arena (see: Tull, Zeppelin, The Who, Elton John etc.). As I recall, the list included Hot Tuna and Seals and Crofts. Seals and Crofts took a lead in the poll but fortunately jacked up their price to $10,000 so we were never placed in the uncomfortable position of having to overturn the will of the people, if you know what I'm saying. One of my classmates, now the mayor of his city, came up to me to lobby for the chance to hear the jasmine blowing through his mind and when I acted less than enthused he replied. "C'mon Bruce, a little wine, a little reefer, a little Seals and Crofts on the Quad..." [the Quad was the main campus open space hangout - would have made it difficult to sell tickets for starters...] I still use that phrase to this day to apply to a situation that is just a little too groovy for my chi...

There was pretty strong backing on the committee for Steve Miller (always one of my favorites) and so the deal was made. Steve's first five albums for Capitol were all great but since Number Five he had put out two now-forgotten clunkers (Rock Love and Recall the Beginning...A Journey From Eden) that even those of us who were in his corner had trouble saying much good about. They were (and remain) pretty lame...the work of an artist treading water with inspiration drifting away. So Steve was in a career lull (thus we could afford him) for sure. And back then, two years was an eternity if that's when your last good LP was released. Little did we know that there was an album called The Joker already in the can...

The show was sold out in advance (despite some protests over the $2.50 ticket prices for students...usually from kids who actually had a lot of money) so everything was looking good until early afternoon the day of the show. The James Montgomery Band was canceling – lead singer James had a bad throat. The band was getting a buzz as Boston's answer to the Allman Brothers (they were even signed to Capricorn but hadn't put out an album yet) so we were disappointed. I made a few calls, was offered a few unappealing solo acts (Chi "Thunder and Lightening" Coltrane was one - now Alice C. would have been a different story) and decided to just go with Steve Miller.

My first interaction with Steve Miller was when I walked into his dressing room with his road manager Lester (a Vietnam vet who was way cool in a Shaft kind of way) to explain the situation. Lester said, "James had to cancel" and without a pause Steve replied, "Okay, we'll do two sets." Just like that. Steve wasn't a rock star with a show to put on. He was (and remains) a working musician – someone who even back then put on an album cover "The Steve Miller Band tours annually..." followed by two blocks of many months. We may have seen his career as being in a lull but he had been around pros his entire life (Les Paul and Mary Ford spent their wedding night at his parents' house, T-Bone Walker and other blues greats were frequent visitors). Even then he had the long view (a few years later he recorded the basic tracks for Fly Like An Eagle and Book of Dreams at the same time – stockpiling two albums worth of material in advance). A few minutes later when I brought in the bottle of Jack Daniel's that had been requested (a pint, having learned a bit from Buddy and Jr.), Lester intercepted it and said "That doesn't come out until after the show."

Steve may have been absent from the charts in recent months but he still had a great band, with bass player Gerald Johnson a particular standout. They did two sets and previewed most of The Joker (although not the title track). There was two disc live set from this period released on the King Biscuit Flower Hour label a few years ago and if you like Steve, I can't recommend it enough. If it had been released at the time, it would have been a real campus favorite. Also on the setlist were a number of classics like My Dark Hour, Space Cowboy, Seasons, Living In The USA and even a preview of Fly Like An Eagle (a song he worked on live for quite a while before recording). It was a smooth show from start to finish and most everyone went home happy. Lester came back to Jackson Hall and held court. The year finished on a definite high note, a precursor to even better things to come...

I saw the Steve Miller Band last week and the concert brought back a lot of good memories. Steve and Company played 2 1/2 hours. A lot of hits. A lot of blues and r&b. He looked great and sounded even better (superb six-part harmonies). The "working musician" model has served him well. No embarrassing rock star moves to recreate. Just a bunch of good-natured middle-aged guys laying it down with a clear aura of genuine enjoyment and grace. Superb musicianship and songs you can remember. Always works for me.

Wednesday, August 26, 2009

Oct. 11 High Country. Another cheap-o show in the on-campus auditorium / lecture hall. High Country were a California bluegrass band signed to Racoon Records (the Youngbloods vanity label through WB/Reprise. Founded in 1968, the are still active today and considered to be the West Coast's premier traditional bluegrass band. Not much to recall expect they definitely provided 100% of your personal minimum yearly requirement for bluegrass.

Oct. 19 Chuck Mangione. Not a concert committee production. Chuck was just starting to get a name beyond the his native Rochester and New York jazz community (The Mangione Brothers had an album out on some division of Prestige - Jazzland maybe?). Chuck would soon have huge success but his appeal escapes me to this day (on the other hand, I always dug what Buffalonian and mainstream jazz hitmaker Grover Washington Jr. was doing even if when critics couldn't allow themselves to). Like dozens of Mangione shows in my neighborhood since then, I skipped this one.

Nov. 3 Buddy Guy and Junior Wells, The Fabulous Rhinestones. Here we were trying to get back on track after the Preston / Kottke debacle – with only moderate success. The Rhinestones were a band of veterans lead by Harvey Brooks (Dylan, Super Session etc.) along with Kal David (Illinois Speed Press with Paul Cotton of Poco) and Marty Grebb (played with Bonnie Raitt for a long time). The had an album out on the Gulf and Western label and a minor FM hit with What A Wonderful Thing we have (a great song if I recall but is long out of print in every format so I can't check that out). I was really focused on running a tight show – we used stage passes for the first time to keep the backstage area clear – and generally making sure we took care of business. The phrase I use to day is "crisp presentation".

It was at this show that something clicked in my head in terms of dealing with "famous" people (or at least people you admire). They are at the venue to do a job. You are there to help them. If you confine your interaction to that sphere you are basically on the same plane, working together towards the same goal. You are equals. There's not need to get nervous or fret about what you're going to say to them. You don't have to lurk around waiting to ask them a question about something they did in the past that will make them immediately realize that you alone among all their fans are really, really special. So even though Harvey Brooks had played on Highway 61 Revisited, I just talked to him about whatever we needed to figure out to get the show right. That's been my modus operandi ever since – and the reason why I never asked Alex Chilton about Big Star until I sat down to write the book. Over the years I've dealt with a lot of different people who might inspire a bit of awe – from Frank Zappa to Keith Jarrett, Pharoah Sanders, and Sonny Rollins. I've found that if you keep things on a professional level, it all works fine (and you never have those "I can't believe I said that..." moments.

Buddy Guy and Junior Wells had recently put out an album on Atco, recorded a few years earlier in Miami with Eric Clapton on rhythm guitar (it's still one of their best albums). They had a reputation for being a great live act – that was their thing – but I made another rookie mistake (or at least facilitated it). Before the show I went down to their dressing room to say hello and asked them if wanted anything to drink. One of them asked for Seagram's VO and the other asked for Chivas Regal. Eager to prove that I wasn't one of those (white) promoters who might have ripped them off in the past, I peeled off some bills and sent someone down to the local liquor store with the instructions to buy a fifth for each. (I stuck to beer so had no idea how much potential damage an entire bottle could do but would soon find out.)

The Rhinestones finished up their set – a good opening act – and their roadies cleared the stage. Buddy and Junior didn't have much equipment (it all fit in the trunk of their large Caddy) but no one was making a move to set up so I went down to their dressing room to find out what the deal was. Buddy and Junior were kind of weird – like they expected us, the college kids, to know how to set up their amps and drums. Then I looked over and saw the two liquor bottles, both drained to within an inch of the bottom. What the crowd got was the equivalent of a boozy late-night club set transferred to the stage of a theater. Some people left, some people stayed and cheered them on from the front of the stage pit. I remember being pretty depressed afterwards.

Dec.8 The Ohio Express. Another "Rage" in Gulick Hall – many kegs of beer and general mayhem. The Ohio Express had an interesting story. They were actually a real rock and roll band who had been appropriated as a front for the Kasenetz-Katz studio operation (also responsible for the 1910 Fruitgum Company). They didn't play on the records, they just went out and performed them. It was a way to make a living. They were relieved when they arrived that they weren't expected to wear the stage uniforms their agent usually made them wear. They just got up in their street clothes and played. Towards the end of the night they knocked out some of the bubblegum hits (Yummy Yummy Yummy) and everyone went a bit nuts. Rock and roll was getting very serious at the time and it would be a few years before the Ramones and the Dictators reminded us that it was really supposed to be fun.


Jan 12 Dizzy Gillespie. Jazz was really in a slump at the time. Thus one of the true jazz legends was playing with a quintet for $2000 a concert (and probably around the same amount for an entire week at a club). This wasn't exactly cutting edge jazz (post Coltrane or about to emerge fusion), "just" be-bop played by one the co-inventors. Dizzy was always a great entertainer and it was tough not to like the performance but the reviewer in the college paper wrote that someone should "drop an amplifier on Bruce Eaton's head" for booking "the Stone Age Herb Alpert". That writer, Bob Meserve, ended up living across the hall from me next year and we became good friends. His record collection was stacked with orange and black-spined Impulse! albums and I learned a lot from him. We always laughed about the review.

The contract called for Dizzy to be paid $1000 in cash after the show (I have the contract on the wall of my office today). That was a lot of money to be carrying around in my wallet I thought so I put it in an envelope and slipped it into my sneaker. The dressing room was a science lab near the auditorium and I went in, untied my shoe, and pulled out the envelope. Dizzy was watching me and started laughing and soon the entire band was gathered around. I handed over the money and Dizzy mugged on and on – holding the money at arm's length and acting as if it smelled like a long-dead fish while everyone cracked up. A good memory for sure. One thing became obvious when I started producing jazz concerts in 1991: Dizzy was revered by his fellow jazz musicians across generations.

Jan 27 Rick Roberts. The former Burrito Brother (post-Gram) and future voice of Firefall in another of our $500 concerts. He had just released his first solo album Windmills on A&M. It was a pretty good as I recall and Rick would be cheap entertainment for a cold night in Geneva. He was pretty impressed with himself...more than we were.

Feb 9 (Winter Weekend) Flash Cadillac and the Continental Kids. Desperate times call for desperate measures. After not hitting our revenue projections for Billy Preston and Buddy Guy, we didn't have much money left for Winter Weekend if we wanted to have enough to book a big act for Spring Weekend. So for $2000 (including sound) we brought in the future stars of American Graffiti. Looking to hype the show up, I had copies of their publicity photo printed and advertised a door prize to the first 200 people to show up in 50s / greaser attire. It worked. We had a good crowd in the Geneva Theater in an appropriately celebratory mood. Not everyone on campus was as intense about music as many of us were and, truth be told, they would much prefer a concert like this over someone like the Feat or Boz. Flash tore it up to the point of several members of the band collapsing from exhaustion after the show. I don't remember much of the end – the late P.J. Miller had a big chain as part of his outfit, started swinging it around during the encores and clobbered me in the back of the head. When I came to the band was crammed into Scratch McCloskey's room next to mine in Jackson Hall. Still have some photos. I think Porter Brooks was there too...

Coming up: The Steve Miller Band...1973 and 2009...

Tuesday, August 25, 2009


Will be back with more HWS concerts tomorrow and then we'll gear up for the box set. But in the meantime, I read the new Mojo magazine (or at least new for the US) last night and buried amongst the feature articles on current bands that should be soon (and deservedly) forgotten was a bit about Prefab Sprout releasing their first album in 8 years (and demos from '92 at that). I happen to be of firm belief that Paddy McAloon is the greatest song-writer of the past quarter-century and that the neglect of Prefab Sprout (especially in America – their last two albums weren't even released here) is on a criminal level equal to that of the neglect of Big Star in the 70s. They're that good. I'll let the writer in the Times make the case but if you haven't delved into the catalog yet, the comparisons to Burt and Sir Paul are well-deserved. The production sometimes is "of its era" (it's 80s-90s keyboard-based power pop – Thomas Dolby for some LPs) but it's not overwhelming. But the songs are. I obtained a bootleg recording of the band doing some live shows a few years back with just a simple guitar / keys / bass / drums band and you just listen to it and shake your head...Beautiful writing on every level.

Friday, August 21, 2009

HWS Concerts Fall 1971 Part I.

Sept. 15 Spider John Koerner. This was the first concert I booked as chairman. Basically the idea was to do an inexpensive ($500), easy (PA and a couple of mics), and low-risk (held in on-campus auditorium – at most the show would end up costing us a few hundred dollars). John showed up in a big pre-historic SUV that he'd borrowed from Bonnie Raitt (pre-environmental awareness) and did a Jerry Jeff – getting progressively hosed while rambling through a really long set. John was an early influence on Bob Dylan when Bob first left Hibbing and arrived in Minneapolis to (nominally) attend college. I wasn't aware of this at the time so Koerner was spared any line of questioning I might have had on that front. (At the time Dylan was almost in semi-retirement and I was trying to learn all I could about him.) Rookie mistake: I accidentally deposited John's check with the gate receipts so he didn't get paid that night. Didn't seem to bother him. We mailed it on Monday...

Oct. 6 ( Fall Weekend) Billy Preston, Leo Kottke. This somewhat odd double bill (in hindsight) has been on the end of quite a few "who thought that was a good idea" comments – even on blogs 37 years later. So listen up – I'm the guy who thought it was a good (not great...that idea didn't work out) idea. And here's how it all went down...

My original target for this show was Loggins and Messina. They'd just released their first album and were starting to catch on. They were touring like crazy and their fee was $4000. I also really wanted to bring in Leo Kottke, whose Takoma album was a campus favorite. Pairing the two seemed like a great double bill. I put in offers for both – this would have been in July when the booking for the Fall was really heating up. Kottke confirmed immediately and the agent I was booking through, who was doing a lot of L&M dates for colleges, thought that they would confirm fairly quickly also. But they didn't. They were getting hotter by the week, getting flooded with offers (some more lucrative), and adjusting their routing by the day. I've since learned through experience over the past few decades that the longer a date takes to be confirmed, the less likely it will happen. That's what happened here. What seemed like a sure thing fell apart when they decided to hit the West Coast. So now faced with a booked theater and and opening act I went looking for a headliner in my price range. In the HWS tradition I was wanted someone on the way up like Loggins and Messina. Two names came to the forefront: JoJo Gunne (with some ex-Spirit members – 12 Dreams of Dr. Sardonicus had also been a campus favorite) and Billy Preston. Preston had the Beatles connection, had torn it up in the Bangladesh concert movie (like my favorite Leon Russell) and had a summer hit record (Outta Space). Given that he had worked with musicians across the spectrum, from Ray Charles to the Fab Four, in my mind I was picturing a rock'n'soul gospel show like Leon (this was before YouTube, when you could check these things out if the artist hadn't been to your town yet). What we got was something a bit off that mark.

The show did not run smoothly. It was the first date of Billy's tour and the band's equipment didn't arrive from LA. They rented equipment out of Albany and it arrived late. Billy's road manager said he wouldn't play unless the piano was tuned just before the show (it had been tuned that afternoon – today I'd play the piano myself and then tell the manager to stick it if I thought it was in tune – but one learns these things over time). I ended up having to pay a tuner (the only one available on short notice on a Friday) from Rochester $75 (big amount for back then) to come down and basically fake tune just to appease him. The show was considerably less than sold out and the audience was more polarized than you'd normally get back then. There were people there to see Preston and people there to see Kottke. Period.

This became a show that you just wanted to get through. Kottke did okay for his fans but both Leo and the listeners had to work really hard to connect. There didn't seem to be a lot of energy in the hall. Billy Preston came out with the attitude (and the volume – really cranked up) that he was already a rock star (talk about a wig!) The set went by in a blur (that happens when you're watching a concert that isn't working out the way you had hoped) but my overall impression was that he wasn't really interested in working the crowd on an organic level – just blast them into submission. He was disappointed that the hall wasn't packed with adoring fans ready to rubber stamp his certain superstardom – which is probably one reason why despite a few more hits it never really came (the following year some guy named Bruce took a crowd the same size and sent them into orbit). The band was just there to back him up – any chemistry they shared had occured backstage. A few years later I saw Billy playing keyboards for the Stones when he literally jump-started a crowd that was enduring a lethargic Stones set (they have to be the most overrated live band of all-time) with a couple of numbers that brought the crowd to their feet mid-set and forced Mick and Keith to try to match him. (But then Mick and Keith fired him after he started showing up with his own soundman just for the keyboards.) At the end of the evening I found out that I'd underestimated how much business we were going to do at the door – in order to pay the security etc. I literally had to use the very last quarter we had taken in (tickets were probably in the range of $2.50 or something on that order) to send everyone home paid in full.

The bad vibes lingered. Early the next morning I was awakened out my slumber by a call from my faculty advisor Al Beretta who wanted to know "what the hell had happened." As it was being reported in that morning's Geneva paper, Billy had been arrested after kicking his door down at the local Chanticleer Motel. Turns out that he'd gone to the Twin Oaks (local bar), downed many shots of tequila, became progressively bummed out that there were no groupies in sight, and then took it out on the door (with his six-inch platforms no doubt).

This is the origin of why when I book an artist today the second question I ask (after the fee) is "How are they to work with?" Life is too short...

Coming up: Buddy, Junior, and bad bad whiskey...

Tuesday, August 18, 2009

HWS Concerts 1972 part one:

Jan. 22 Happy and Artie Traum Warm up- Cassie Culver, warm down- The Elves. Even though double and triple bills were wildly eclectic back then (check the line-ups for the Fillmores East and West), this was an odd one. It would have been even odder if we'd included the "rap session" led by Father Malcom Boyd that the school administration was pressuring us to include (he'd been booked to appear elsewhere on campus and they were concerned that no one would show up). But this one was weird enough.

Ronnie James Dio must older than Santa Claus. My older brother's freshman mixer at St. Lawrence in 1965 featured none other than Ronnie Dio and the Prophets. Somewhere along the way they mutated into the Electric Elves. And then The Elves. And then Elf. After touring as an opening act for Deep Purple, Ritchie Blackmore recruited Dio as lead singer for Blackmore's Rainbow. Nobody stays with Blackmore long and eventually Dio found himself the lead singer of Black Sabbath (touring in recent years as Heaven and Hell). You stick with something long enough and you get to be your own boss...thus we eventually got Dio. The biggest impact the Elves had in this appearance was that their roadie dragged a speaker cabinet and left a long gouge in the gym floor, making our already iffy relationship with the Athletic Director tenuous indeed. That would begin the chain of events that lead to the historic preservation of what's known today as the Smith Opera House in Geneva.

Feb. 19 Little Feat. Remember that Little Feat album I bought for a quarter (see earlier post)? Peter Labonne (without whom I never would have met Alex Chilton let alone write the book - a brief commercial message - buy it and read the improbable story) and I wore it out during the summer of 1971. When I got back to school and the concert committee started meeting I played it for Tim Yolen (not the other way around as reported in The Pulteney Street Survey) and started lobbying to book the Feat. Tim dug the record (who wouldn't) and eventually he just said, "They're your band...it's your show. Book them." So for the princely sum of $750 I booked Little Feat – the original quartet – for Winter Weekend. We somehow decided to skip the opening act and have them do two sets so the fee was renegotiated to $1250. The rider for the band was only one page long and included such precise and demanding details as "a professional sound system" (the jazz groups I book today sometimes have entire pages on their monitor requirements), twelve microphones including stands (wouldn't want to forget them), and a piano (no specification) tuned to A440. That was about it. For one of the greatest bands ever.

We hyped the show on campus the best we could for a band with one album (Sailin' Shoes wouldn't be released for a month or two) and given that it was Winter Weekend, winter in Geneva, and nothing else to do but go to the Twin Oaks (local bar), ticket sales were good. But there was one problem. The afternoon of the show a major blizzard hit and although the Feat somehow made it into town (they had played at Amherst College the night before), getting the equipment into town and backing the trucks down the slippery hill to the gym loading dock was a nightmare. Trucks got stuck. The lights never made it. The starting time was delayed and delayed again. Finally around 11 p.m. (for an 8 p.m. show) the Feat took the stage under the glare of the gym lights before an audience that had understandably dwindled (ahhhh, the lure of the frat party). Eager to jump-start the proceedings the band started off at a really intense level. I was so exhausted that after a few songs I just sort of went numb. (Feel free to weigh in with your recollections.) The one thing I do remember clearly is hanging out with the band in the women's swimming locker room (which doubled as the band dressing room). I told Lowell that my friend Peter had had a dream in which Lowell and Fred MacMurray were serial killers. Lowell said "A lot of people have that dream." That version of the Feat was so good yet their success was minimal (Amherst by the way was a real stronghold for them – like Hobart would be for Springsteen). Roy Estrada would soon leave to join Captain Beefheart and three more would join. The band's fitful climb up (they never really made a great record after Dixie Chicken) discouraged Lowell to the point that when they finally got some serious recognition he had willed (and drugged) himself into being a secondary player in his own band. I often wonder what might have been had that original four-piece line-up had more success.

Feb. 26 Holy Modal Rounders. The annual appearance of the Rounders was a campus institution. For this show they played in a room above the cafeteria that held a few hundred people at most. By the end of the evening there were at least 15 empty kegs, countless tiles separated from the floor (a combination of spilled beer, people gatoring, and who knows else why). Totally wild. If you look up the phrase "you had to be there", this would be Exhibit A.

May 4. Ry Cooder. Cancelled. Ry was going to tour with the band that was on his just released Into The Purple Valley (including Jim Dickinson RIP - see? another Big Star connection...) But he cancelled the tour much to our disappointment.

May 5 (Spring Weekend) The Byrds. Remember that big scratch that Dio's roadie made on the gym floor? Well after a few cigarette burns were left in the floor after the Little Feat concert the A.D. gave us the boot. The problem was that we'd already booked The Byrds and there was no venue on campus that was suitable for the show. But when life gives you lemons, sometimes you can even make Vueve Clicquot. Somewhat desperate, we checked out the aging movie theater in downtown Geneva – The Geneva Theater as it was known then. What we found was a 1500 seat hall that had originally built for live performance. It was funky but you still see it's former grandeur. (Visit the website to get a sense of how cool the place was and is http://www.thesmith.org/NewFiles/main.html) Even though some students bitched about either paying the princely sum of $2.50 for a ticket or walking a mile or so off-campus, the show sold out. We had way more people than we could have ever fit in the gym.

The Byrds hit the stage with Lover of The Bayou and the crowd just locked in to what they were putting out. At the time they were near the end of a several year resurgence. There was some internal feuding going on and some members were getting restless. But that night, they were the best band in the world. The sound was fantastic thanks to the legendary Dinky Dawson, an Englishman who had established himself with Fleetwood Mac (well, at least we got someone associated with them) as one of the pre-eminent sound system pioneers in rock and was doing sound for The Byrds. His stereo WEM system sounded perfect in the hall and between the sound and the crowd, The Byrds gave one of their last / best performances ever. They even ran out of songs to play and repeated Mr. Tambourine Man as an encore. Afterwards Clarence White gave Karen Inman (WS '75) and me a demonstration of his string-bender Telecaster, an invention of his that made it possible for him to mimic a steel guitar (and now used a lot by Nashville players). Clarence was run down by a drunk driver a year later and is often overlooked as an important player in the development of the electric guitar. But just ask Jimmy Page...one of Clarence's many devotees. How great was it that within a few months we got to see Lowell and Clarence??

By the end of the year Tim had decided that I would follow him as concert chairman (even though I would only be a junior). Even though I did a double major with degrees in Pol. Sci. and Econ., my real major was concert promotion. Next post: 1972-73.

Hobart / William Smith (hereafter referred to as Hobart or HWS) concerts – Fall of 1971. (Many thanks to Zack Chaikin for the exact dates.)

Sept. 27 Jerry Jeff Walker. I think we paid Jerry Jeff $500 for a solo show in Albright Auditorium (a lecture hall). He played for a long time, getting progressively inebriated to the point of incoherence. Those who were on his plane stayed for the evening. Everyone else eventually left. I inadvertently continued the tradition of starting the year with a drunk folksinger the following year (stay tuned).

Oct. 25 Edgar Winter’s White Trash and Grin with Nils Lofgren. The first concert decided on by the entire committee. Edgar's band included Rick Derringer and the late Jerry LaCroix - basically the same band on the Road Work album. They were rough and tumble guys. When Tim Yolen (concert chair) asked Rick how long he'd been on the road, Derringer replied "My entire life." They got paid somewhere in the neighborhood of $2500 and put on a rousing performance. Nils and Grin had gotten a big boost from Nils being on After the Gold Rush. But in concert, as on their records, there was something missing that kept them from going over the top. In 1976 I saw Nils (with some of the same bandmates) in a bar on Lake Erie south of Buffalo. They were on tour in support of Nils's first two albums on A&M (the first is a classic if you've never heard it). A Tuesday night – probably a fill-in date for gas money. They just set up on the floor in the corner and then leveled the place. I was with Kathy Burton (WS '77) and she prevailed upon the committee to bring in Nils a few months later to Bristol Gym (opening act....38 Special). But whatever magic they had night apparently couldn't be duplicated again. Reminds me of something Jerry Garcia once said – that on any given night, any given band could be the best band in the world. Doing it more than once, let alone with any regularity, is the trick...

Oct. 30 Peter Yarrow. I skipped this...probably was off seeing Jethro Tull somewhere. People forget that in the early 70s they were on a level of popularity with Zeppelin and The Who. A band that could be the best band in the world night after night. A tangential story: After I graduated from college in '74 I went to NYC to try to land an entry level job in the music biz. One possibility floated my way was being road manager for Mary Travers. PPand M weren't my cup of tea but they had been a major act and I wondered why such a position might be entrusted to a novice like me. It turned out that no one else would take the gig. Among your supposed duties was to carry a supply of her preferred toilet paper, anticipate whatever facility she might be compelled to use and then rush in and swap out the inferior brand for the good stuff. I passed.

Nov 5 Planned concert with Fleetwood Mac cancelled. This would have been the Bare Trees / Kiln House band. Booking English bands was always more challenging given the tour logistics. I tried to book them a few years later (along with the King Crimson Lark's Tongue In Aspic group) and came up short.

Nov. 5 ( Fall Weekend) Boz Scaggs. For $2750 (or something close to that), we booked Boz as a replacement for the Mac. He was touring in support of the Boz Scaggs and Band album (Boz's first three Columbia albums remain hard to find on CD but are all excellent). He had the full band with horns and they were just great. The only problem was the audience was largely apathetic to the point that even after doing Somebody Loan Me A Dime (how can you not respond to that song???) they didn't get an encore (pencilled in as Dime A Dance Romance from Steve Miller's Sailor album). Afterwards the band was disappointed and to this day that performance had the biggest disconnect between quality (high) and audience reaction (low) that I've witnessed. I recently got a soundboard recording of the band done within a few months of this show and it backs up my memory of how good they were...

Dec. 5 The Kinks and Snake Drive. Chairman Tim was determined to land the Kinks, even if it meant a 4 p.m. Sunday show right before the start of exam week. Which it did. It was a strange atmosphere – people definitely weren't in a party mood with exams looming the next day. But with English bands, you had to fit their schedule and they were playing LeMoyne college in Syracuse the night before. They were touring in support of Muswell Hillbillies and did the exact same (short) set, except we got an encore of one their early hits due to a small group of diehards who wouldn't quit cheering and somehow touched the heart of the otherwise grumpy Ray Davies. It was the last day of their tour and they were probably back in England by the time we started sweating through our first exams...(I have no idea who Snake Drive were - probably a local band - but R.L. Burnside had a song of the same name and there's a killer version of it on the first Panther Burns album with Alex Chilton - there's your Big Star connection for this post, however tentative)