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.

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