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: " 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 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'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 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 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)

Monday, August 17, 2009

The deluxe Rhino Handmade 2-CD version of Chris Bell's I Am The Cosmos is now available. If you've heard it, please post a review. Or at least let us know if it's essential, interesting, or for completists only.
Hobart and William Smith concerts 1970-71 (Big Star fans see August 5 post for explanation of this detour). Like a lot of kids back then, the most important part of what I took to school for my freshman year was my box of LPs. To this day whenever I hear After The Gold Rush, John Barleycorn Must Die, or Alone Together, I'm instantly transported back to my little single room in Hale Hall. Colleges and universities today tend to spend their budget for concerts on one or two big shows, usually overpaying through the nose (agents commit the equivalent of robbery when dealing with colleges) for a handful of big name acts. But beginning at the tail end of the 60s and going into the early 1980s, colleges were a key touring circuit for artists. Colleges were a vital source of gigs that unfortunately has largely dried up. They presented lots of concerts throughout the year – big name artists (if you could afford them), up and comers, older legends – all kinds of music . A concert committee was expected to present shows throughout a semester and, as a result, the students were savvy bookers. They knew enough not to blow their entire budget on Akon (or the equivalent). Just from my limited experience I can name quite a few college promoters from back then who went on to become prominent in the industry. The kids who were into music lobbied to get on the concert committee. It was the hottest position in student government.

By the time I arrived, Hobart had already begun to establish a reputation as a school that was a step ahead in concert promotion. My freshman year role was confined to being an eager member of the audience. Concerts were held in the small gym on a foot-high stage. Fall Weekend featured Leon Russell, just starting out as a solo artist after his stint with Joe Cocker and Delaney and Bonnie. He started his concert with a mesmerizing solo version of Wild Horses (RIP Jim Dickinson) and then went from there, adding the Shelter People (Leon's second album was mixed by John Fry at Ardent). It was a fantastic performance and made me eager to see him again when he performed at a converted bowling alley in Buffalo the following August (with opener Freddie King). On that blistering hot summer night, just a few days after the Concert For Bangladesh, Leon gave one of the most astounding performances I've witnessed (still one of my top five all-time). I went to see him a bunch of times after that hoping for a repeat of the deep soul he showed at Hobart or the intensity in the bowling alley but Leon never came close.

Music snobs like to brag that they saw a band before they got big, begrudge them when they have great success, and let everyone know that "they were really much better way back..." It's really obnoxious. But, the arc of Leon from Hobart to the bowling alley made me realize that there is really something magical about experiencing artists when they're still on their way up. There's the aura of mystery and discovery that vanishes once an artist becomes established. There's a feeling that the artist and the audience are in some sort of experiment together. There's an unspoken invitation: "I'll keep driving up this road trying to find out who I am as an artist and you come along for the ride if you like what you hear." For the best artists the ride up can be long and dazzling (Beatles, Dylan, even Springsteen). Others hit the plateau pretty quickly. But cherishing that climb up is not just about rock snobbery – it's really an unforgettable experience.

The key of course is latching onto artists who are going somewhere. That's a tricky business that seems to elude most of the record companies today. But for quite a few years, the people who booked concerts at Hobart had the knack. We couldn't afford Elton John but if you wanted to see some news band from Boston whose first album was coming out on Atlantic in a month or so (The J. Geils Band), the Hobart gym was where you wanted to be. To experience a band that good without ever previously having heard a note of theirs, let alone have any preconceptions of what they did was truly mind-bending.

Near the end of spring semester two pivotal events took place. I was recruited to be on the Concert Commitee (thanks to a strong plug by the late George Callahan to chairman Tim Yolen) and I bought a pile of Warner / Reprise promo albums that the college radio station had received multiple copies of. Back then, the Warner / Reprise label was almost a guarantee of quality so for 25 cents apiece a pile of records by artists like Norman Greenbaum, Turley Richards, John Simon, and some band named Little Feat seemed worth the gamble.

Wednesday, August 5, 2009

AUGUST...I'm going to take a bit of detour for the upcoming month.  As I've alluded to elsewhere, I produced concerts at Hobart and William  Smith College in Geneva NY in the early 1970s.  We were a small school, unable to write out big checks for artists like Jethro Tull, the Grateful Dead, or Elton John as nearby schools like Syracuse and Cornell were able to.  But we had a student population that was intensely interested in music and supported whatever the concert committee presented.  As a result, we were able to focus on relatively unknown or upcoming artists as well as veterans who didn't necessarily have a hit record at the time.  Some of the concerts at the school during this period have become legendary and whenever I go back to school for a reunion, that's all people want to talk to me about.  To the extent that I am remembered, I'm introduced to spouses as "the guy who was responsible for all those concerts I've told you about"...and then the spouse duly rolls his or her eyes, having heard the stories umpteen times.  I wasn't the first nor last in a string of student promoters who put together the series of shows (three of us actually went on to be in the concert business at one time or another) so I can only tell my part of the tale.  Last year the alumnae magazine did a cover story on the concerts of yore.  As cool as it was, it was riddled with factual error.  So for the next few weeks I'm going to travel chronologically through the shows.  For those of you who weren't there, I'm going to try to put the events in the broader context of what was going on in the music business back then and how it differs (monumentally) from today.  As far as any connection to Big Star, there isn't one.  Except that it will become readily apparent that if I'd heard a Big Star record when they were first released, I would have booked them at Hobart at the first chance.  There would have most certainly been a date in Geneva during the Radio City tour plugged right in between Boston, Syracuse and Niagara Falls.