A midnight Rambler


I really was not into Rock and Roll until my 40’s.  I was re-inspired tonight by a documentary on the Stones (Crossfire Hurricane) on HBO …..it will continue to be shown at various times.

It was produced by the Stones…and I think it showed some footage from Robert Frank’s 1972 documentary “c*** s*****  blues” which is owned by the Stones and they never permitted a public showing (although I was fortunate enough to see it in 1974 when Frank brought his copy to UC Berkeley.  We sold advance tickets through BASS Tickets with CS blues as the title).  There were some very depressing scenes in it from open sex on the plane to Keith shooting himself up back stage…..They did have some flashes of the plane footage.

I can’t tell you how many times I have seen the Stones, certainly after 1974 whenever they were in the Bay Area.  I think they still are the best-performing band.  The Who was more musically constructed, Springsteen more powerful, but nobody is as much fun as Mick and the gang.

It is so hard to try to tell anyone who has only listened to recordings the effect that live music has on a listener…..it can transform you.  For some reason some artists seem to have a shield between them and the audience; in my experience Merle Haggard, Bob Seger, Whitney Houston, and Diana Ross fall into that category; you like their music, you want to see them, and somehow they don’t move you.

The Stones can move the Walking Dead.  You know all of their songs, Mick’s moves, Keith and Ron’s riffs and Charlie’s indifference, but you just don’t want them to stop.  When I first saw Ron Wood he was with Faces, the band that played with Rod Stewart; he belongs in the Stones; some how those craggy faces seem to fit each other.

Photo by Rubenjob from stock.xchng.com.

They spent quite a bit of time in the documentary at the Altamount concert.  Bill Graham refused to front their free concert; he felt there was no way it could be secure, and it certainly wasn’t.  Watch it and see just how terrifying it was.  No real security, not the best idea to get the Hells Angels to do it for beer.  and I think I saw Deakon out front.

The best was when Bill convinced the group to do some dates at Winterland along with the big outdoor stadium shows.  To hear any of these groups in this intimate surrounding was a great experience.  At that hallowed 4400 seat venue I also saw The Last Waltz withThe Band and Dylan,  Blue Oyster Cult, Montrose (with Sammy Hagar), the Pretenders, the Sex Pistols, and on and on.  And I had the thrill of hearing the one band I managed (in my spare time !), the Russian Rockers Sasha and Yuri open for Blue Oyster Cult at Winterland.

I truly feel sorry for those today who don’t have exposure to these great musicians, with ticket prices at $10 and service charge of $2.50 (with $1 going to Bill Graham).  Brown Paper Tickets could make everyone honest and draw more people if everyone used them.

I would say to you all, if you get one more chance to see these almost 70-year old rockers – and it is the only live concert you go to that year – do so…….It is one of these things that will always stay with you.  and please complain about the service fees.  Tickets for the December show at Barclay Center in Brooklyn are on sale:  $454 plus $46.50 service fee…….the service fee alone is over 3 times what the tickets cost for the Stones when we sold them……sorry about that.

A Sonoma Valley Vignette


Photo by Nathan Sudds from stock.xchng.com.

My friend Luis is a most unusual guy…..he grew up in Argentina and had to serve in the army during the bad times, but he had an uncle connected with one of the cruise lines who was able to get him a job as a hair stylist (!) on a ship.  Well, he became a good stylist and emigrated to the US where he finally landed in Boyes Hot Springs (part of our community;  I actually live there).  Unlike many stylists, he is a great carpenter, has reworked his house, rode a hog with bikers, and is an all-around good badass.  And he gives good haircut, styling, and bikini waxing (not for me).

About 2 decades ago he got married and they had two great children, a boy and a girl.  Unfortunately, his wife became an addict and she took the kids and lived with her family in one of the scary counties in northern California.  Luis tried to get the kids back but to no avail, as the family were also the sheriff and officials of that location.  Eventually, the two young children watched their mother die from a too potent injection.

Luis took every dime he had and fought to get the kids over the next several years.  Although it broke him financially, he was finally able to get a judge to give him custody and he brought them to Sonoma.

A wonderful woman resident of our community who has worked with children’s  problems for years started an organization here called the Willmar Center for bereaved children:  those eligible to come have had a terrible loss of a close relative or friend.  They work with the children, do fun things, and try to get them to open up.  What a wonderful and difficult program.  It did wonders for Luis’ kids.

About this time, Judi Flowers had been contacted by In Wine Country, a show by NBC locally that follows wineries, restaurants and other wonders of our wonderful area.  It has been shown around the country and you may have seen it.  Judi is shown making slippers, and she and her associates drive from Novato to Sonoma (about 20 miles) to visit the kids at Willmar.  At the time, I was involved with Willmar and helped them put together their first fund-raising dinner event.  Judi gave slippers to the kids on camera for their parents or themselves, talked to them (she has been a hospice volunteer for 25 years), and ironically, two of the children who talked on camera were Luis’s, which we didn’t know at the time.

Several months later we met Luis and the kids at a local restaurant and started talking to them, and I ended up getting my haircuts from him (razor cuts!).  Two days ago I got my monthly shearing and Luis was bubbling over;  his son had moved to the City (SF of course) and was working and living with two friends.  His daughter had graduated from high school with honors, had been accepted  at San Francisco State with full scholarship and was able to get into a dorm and there was a caring woman in the City (Elsa Nelson) who was mentoring her and giving her the love she had missed.

So yesterday, I took a vhs of my film “Derby” (played in 6 Festivals, given 4 stars by Roger Ebert and called one of the 10 best films of the year by the New York Times, Washington Post, and other critics) to the local UPS store.  It is a cinema verite, and the protagonist is a young-tire builder from Dayton who wants to become a Roller Derby star.  His name, Mike Snell.  Well it just so happens one of my facebook friends is named Mike Snell (not the same), so I sent him the tape.  The lady behind the counter was very helpful…..Just then, Nina Gorbach came walking by;  Nina had founded Willmar, left it several years ago in good hands, and I hadn’t seen her.  We hugged, and I told her about seeing Luis and how he was so excited about his daughter and suddenly the girl behind the counter looked up and smiled and Nina smiled and I realized she was Luis’s daughter!

Small world…..don’t you love happy endings?

Willie and Waylon and the Hells Angels and me


It was impossible to live in the Bay Area in the 70’s and 80’s and not be aware of the Hells Angels.

A number of them were fans and showed up at the Roller Derby games and never caused any problems.  Once when Charlie O’Connell promoted on our telecasts that he now had a bar in the East Bay Area a bunch of Angels showed up at his bar to drink and show support.  Charlie told them he really appreciated it, but it would scare away his neighborhood customers.   They understood, rode away and suddenly came back; “Charlie, would you like us to wreck the other bars around here?”  Charlie thanked them and said no.

After the Derby closed we were operating BASS tickets, a computerized ticketing service.  I was out making calls and forgot that I had made an appointment with Mr Griffin and Mr. Proudfoot that afternoon until I got an anxious call from my assistant that the two men were waiting patiently in my office in Oakland.  I told her to tell them I was sorry and would be there as soon as I could.

When I walked into my office there were two fearsome looking men, members of the Oakland Hells Angels.  Oh my God, was I going to get shaken down?  They politely introduced themselves as “Fu” Griffin (because of his drooping mustache and slight beard) and Deakon Proudfoot, a mountain of a man with beard and hair in all directions.  Thus began a strange relationship that went on for several years.

They explained that Deakon was doing security for Willie and at a recent concert at the Oakland Auditorium the stagehands had shut down the lights and sound at midnight while Willie was still playing.  Deakon was offended and asked Willie what could be done.  There hadn’t been a large crowd there that night and Willie suggested that Charllie Magoo productions, a name that the Angels has created to honor a fallen brother, take over the bay area appearances.  So they had gone to their friend Freddie Herrara who operated the Keystone Berkeley rock club and he suggested that they ask me to work with them.

Our biggest client was Bill Graham Presents, and I knew Bill was not the biggest fan of the Angels, especially after Altamount,  but BASS had made a policy of helping promoters and I offered them my services for 5% of the profit to BASS,  plus the service charge on all tickets.

Having been a promoter, I immediately starting contacting all the radio stations to find out who would be the best to work with and not just on the basis of a station buy (similar to the way we worked with TV stations for Roller Derby).  We bought little flights of time on each country station and through our computer ticket sales saw who had the best results.  We had scheduled another concert at the Oakland Auditorium.  It turned out that KNEW radio was far and away above everyone else, so I made a deal with the station manager:  if he turned over all open time on the station, we would guarantee a certain amount of dollars as a buy and they would do all the interviews, the introductions at the concert (Willie did not like that) and use their personalities however they wanted.

KNEW blasted away and before we knew it the Auditorium was virtually sold out.  I contacted Willie’s manager Mark Rothbaum (you will see him in almost every Triatholon event) and he was thrilled at my suggestion to move it to the Oakland Coliseum Arena which held 14,000 (now Oracle Arena).   The show sold out in advance and I told Deak and Fu that it would be best if all the Angels and their friends stayed in the backstage area.   They agreed and it was a double celebration as Sonny Barger had just been released from prison and there was a big party backstage.  I had arranged for a Marin company that had a hot tub on a truck to be there that night and it was widely used…….wherever I went knives were offered to me with some powder on the blade…..I politely declined.

We were able to duplicate our success with a sold out Waylon Jennings concert at the Arena and another sold out concert with Willie at the Cow Palace.  Then we put them together, added other acts and sold out Spartan Stadium (30,000 tickets) in San Jose at the then unheard of price of $25 per ticket.  Mark and Waylon’s manager and everyone was thrilled.

We produced one more concert for Charlie Magoo that was the best.  Mark called me and said they had an open date but were playing in Tahoe immediately afterwards and couldn’t play in a facility larger than 3000 seats.  I was trying to figure out how anyone could make money with Willie in a facility that small, when suddenly I remembered an old friend, Claude Jarman.   Claude had been the head of the San Francisco Film Festival when my film “Derby” was entered and considered the best film in the Festival.   He now was in charge of San Francisco’s beautiful and ornate Opera House, the home of the Ballet and Opera.

I applied for the date, and Claude carried the day through his board.  I really wanted it to be a special event and managed to get the San Francisco Symphony’s string quartet to play in the lobby.  Also, we held out the box seats by the Grand Tier for the Angels and their friends.  It was a secure area, usually the location of the blue bloods of the Opera association.  I requested of Deakon and Fu that all the Angels and their friends dress in formalwear.  Fu loved it, Deakon hated it.  On the night of the event, Deakon showed up in his coveralls and a tux tee shirt.

The string quartet (two men and two women) were in western shirts and jeans, and were the hit of the crowd.   They were mobbed as they played Vivaldi, Hayden and Mozart, reaching an audience that probably had not heard this music before.  Just as the lobby lights were flashing, a roughly dressed bearded man came running across the area towards the seats, but suddenly stopped as if struck in front of the quartet.  He listened until they ended their performance and reached across and dropped a hundred dollar bill on the group.  “We have never had a tip before”.

The concert was amazing;  I can hear to this day how Willie sounded that night in the acoustically perfect Opera House.  One of the aged ushers who had been fearful of this crowd told me “this was the most respectful audience I have ever seen.  They spilled nothing and were very polite, not like the snobs we usually get.”

Mark Rothbaum, Willie’s manager, told me Willie’s career really took off again after our promotions in the Bay Area, and they were kind enough to send me a platinum record of “Stardust” for my wall when the record had such great success.

I saw Willie again at the BR Cohn benefit concert two years ago a few miles up the road from where I live.  The Angels who were doing security were happy to see me and quite friendly……Willie did not recognize me.  I know they told him who I was later.  My God, we smoked in his bus in Seaside!

I personally promoted Willie again in Oregon (for a benefit for Seltzer Park in Seaside) and Willie, Waylon, Kris and Johnny at the Paramount Theatre in Oakland in 1991 for a benefit for the BASS Ticket Foundation, an organization we created to give away over $1 million in tickets to the underserved in the Bay Area.  Deakon attended and obviously had some heart problems.  Fu had been killed some years before in an auto accident.

Epilogue:  I recently found out that on July 4th 2009 Deakon was attending the fireworks in Jack London Square in Oakland when he suddenly died…..he was 79.  He had been told 20 years before he had a very bad heart and required surgery.  He didn’t do it and to my knowledge never did.  His funeral procession of Harley after Harley was one of the largest in the Bay Area, you can see it on You Tube.  One of my memories was the night he invited me to dinner at his house which was in an African American neighborhood  in Oakland.

His neighbors were delighted to have him and the Hells Angel clubhouse (yes I had a drink there) in the area because they knew no one would cause problems with the Angels around.  The house was solid stone and two things I noticed when I went inside:  the huge portrait of Adolf Hitler on the wall with Nazi flags crossed over it and the most beautiful silver dog I had ever seen.  I asked Deakon what kind of dog and he just said “Wolf”.  We had a great dinner and I asked him about the color photo of him on the wall in which he was walking down the street.  He told me the Feds had given it to him.

Deakon is not the kind of person you will ever forget.  My life was made a lot more interesting by knowing him.

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