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.


Bill said...

I love the book, and these posts are likewise terrific. A lot of these acts also came through my college a few years later. Nils and the Kinks were particular standouts.

It seems to me that colleges don't book concerts at all the way they used to, and we are all the poorer for it. From time to time Buff State or UB will get an interesting act, but these shows are not at all like the student oriented performances we used to see in some hockey rink. Part of it is ticket cost. Kids aren't getting the break they used to, so a show at UB's Center for the Arts might as well be at Shea's.

Bruce Eaton said...

Thanks Bill...in my upcoming posts I'm going to be going into the decline of the college concert circuit and its effect on the music business (and the scarcity of good bands that have developed since the early 80s). College still have the money and the facilities to do a lot of interesting things but the student dynamics have changed. And then you wonder if the colleges really want student shows that could potentially compete with their arts complexes.

sam said...

Really great memories, especially of Little Feat. That first album will always be my favorite of theirs, although the first 3 albums are all great. And of course Waiting For Columbus. Man I would've loved to have seen them back then.