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...

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