Thunder Road, Etta James, Judi and me

Thunder Road is a teenage drug and alcohol center in Oakland that is so much more.  It includes family counseling activities and training for life.

My friend, Joel Selvin, rock critic for the San Francisco Chronicle went to the center to help establish a music department and ended up being a huge supporter.  He put together an annual “Roast and Jam” at San Francisco’s oldest nightclub and invited local celebrities to be “roasted” and local musicians, who probably had similar problems as the kids, to perform.  He was able to have Van Morrison, Sammy Hagar, Huey Lewis, the Doobies, and on and on show up.  And Herbie Herbert, manager of Journey, became a mainstay of the roasters.

Bill Graham, Joel, Sammy Hagar and others were roasted, and I think Joel ran out of victims and asked me to be skewered.  I was an easy target because my computerized ticketing company, BASS, was constantly assaulted for its service charges.

So Judi Flowers and I went to work on fundraising and getting roasters.  We put together a great silent auction that I believed raised about $30,000.  Included was an amazing donation from Pixar’s John Lasseter who gave a private tour and lunch of their wonderful facility in Emeryville .  I think someone paid about $6,000 for that prize.  We had great rock and roll items, band jackets, photos, and it was terrific.

Frank Deford, America’s best writer and commentator on sports and other subjects, flew out and thoroughly laid me out.  He of course knew me from my Roller Derby days, and mentioned that I went from “Tickets” in Roller Derby (see my post on Tickets) to Tickets for admission.  Roger Ebert sent a video in which he mentioned my film “Derby”  for which he gave 4 stars,  and said he was angry because I had gone from producing movies to just producing tickets;  and Willie Nelson’s video, which brought the house down, accused me of getting him in trouble with the IRS because of my “scalping”  (not true!) of his tickets.

Then came the music,  The house band was Booker T and the MGs, then Joel’s wife Keta Bill (what a blues belter!) performed with Sam from Sam and Dave, then Bonnie Raitt (what a woman, not only did she not get paid, but she and her husband made a great cash contribution), then for the final performance, the unbelievable Etta James.

Even then Etta was not feeling well, but her voice, song selection and total command contributed to a performance that could never be captured on discs  But her best performance was earlier in the day.

At each of these benefits it was arranged that about 15 of the Thunder Road teens who had done well at the facility were brought to the club to see the sound checks of the various performers. Although I was not on hand, Judi was when they came to hear Etta.  She had them sit in front of her and spun a tale of her own transgressions with substance abuse that were so personal and terrifying that it obviously had an impact on all who were there.  She told them whatever they had done, she had done worse to herself and only through the grace of God was she still here.

I know the kids all got the message.  And that is the best memory that Judi and I have of the incomparable Etta James.

about 2011

Not a great year for me.  Financial turmoil as much as most others.

Photo by marcos_bh from

Great friends have helped me, and there are wonderful opportunities for 2012.  Judi and I and others have formed, which is not quite ready for prime time…..of course I will let you know.

And somehow I am involved in great new uses for smart phones, and I am not even that smart about them.

What is really amazing to me is the access I have to literally tens of thousands of friends and associates through the social media.  I am stuck on 5000 friends on my facebook site, yet have the ability to reach another 60,000 through additional pages.  And here I am blogging and also I twitter, and they keep hitting at me with linked-in, group on, glue, google and more which I can’t handle.

If these tools had been available when I was promoting Roller Derby, I feel I could have ruled the world.  We did our own social networking through announcements in our telecasts promoting people to get a free copy of the rules  or getting on our mailing list by writing to box 1827, Oakland, CA 94604.  We would gauge whether or not a city was ready for a visit by both the TV ratings and how much mail we received.    Today it would be a breeze.

The fact that Roller Derby is back after a hiatus of about 30 years is astonishing…..probably unprecedented in the world of sports.  I am obviously impatient to see it grow even more because at my age I know I will not be present when it reaches its peak.  That is just fine, though, as I can see the rapid development.  And I am able to be a part of it, even if I am on the sideline.

I am thankful for the ever-beautiful Judi, my three wonderful children, my three granddaughters, my brother-in-law Ken and all my cousins, nephews, nieces, grand and great grand members of the Gurian and Weinstein relatives.  And of course Loretta, Frankie, Hal, Bert, Jon,Tina, Marsha, Val, Lori,  and on and on.

I was born before Roller Derby existed and today there are so many of you involved as an integral part of your life.  So officially, as The Commissioner, I command you to have a healthy, happy and productive New Year.

don’t you love happy endings?

My son Richard lived with me in Oakland when he was going to junior high (or middle school as some call it). When it became time to go to high school he went to live with his mother so he could attend Alameda High School.

Many of the other kids had been together through school before, so he didn’t have a lot of friends. And I didn’t help matters any because being in the ticketing business, in my forties and loving rock and roll, he and I went to see the Who, one of my all time favorite bands. Some of his schoolmates saw him there and made fun of him for having to take his father with him to go to a concert at the Oakland Arena.

He had two friends that I knew he did things with: Harry, a brilliant young man who I was sure would solve all the world’s problems and Chris. Chris lived at home in his mother’s basement, but was very artistic and he and Rick would do things together that I didn’t think my son would like.

Chris was overweight, I don’t think had many other friends, told Judi and me when we had him over for Rick’s birthday things about himself that we really liked.

After graduation Richard went on to Cal Berkeley, eventually got married and went to work for Wells Fargo dealing with many of their large customer’s accounting people by phone.

I think he lost touch with Chris, whom as far as we knew, was still living in his mother’s basement. I guess he suddenly made the decision it was time to do something he wanted, left the basement, took BART to San Francisco across the Bay. He became a wardrobe assistant at Beach Blanket Babylon, the longest running and constantly changing silly show in the City. He started designing the huge hats that Beach Blanket was known for, and we lost track again.

A few years ago when Runway became popular with Heidi Klum, we saw Chris as a budding designer. He didn’t win, but he certainly out-charismed everyone else.

So last night while channel surfing I came across “Mad Fashion” on Bravo, and there is Chris, the head of his own studio (Chris March Designs) in a wonderful old building in New York on a half hour show with he and his staff designing a knock out dress for a fashion model to wear to the Met Ball with her boyfriend John Legend. And after much travail and changes it worked out great.

And he mentioned that in high school he didn’t go to the prom because the school wouldn’t play disco because it was gay. He obviously has gotten beyond that; he is dressing women for Mardi Gras, for all the awards shows, and for the greatest proms in the world.

Update:  Chris is on facebook and I sent him a message and he responded quickly and friended me…..luckily (?) I lost another soul today so he is on my list.  He was very happy to hear from me and Judi, and hoped that Richard, whom he had lost track, will get back in touch with him soon.

It was just an idea

June 2010 I saw something about WordPress where you could blog for free, so I went to, didn’t read the instructions and just started in (which is why I learn a little more about my Droid every day, because I hate reading instructions).

Well, today is a milestone: I have written 150 posts, just passed 100,000 views, and have 317 subscribers (it’s free, try it).

I don’t think I have said everything yet. When I start thinking about how much still has not been related, I am not certain when I will stop; You sure will know.

Readers’ feedback has helped me focus, taught me a lot. And I have been amazed how many people tell me they follow the posts.

So what do I want to focus on as I start on the path to 200,000: one of the most amazing organisms of the past 10 years.

When Roller Derby was reborn in January 2002, it was by a bunch of women in Austin (now the TXRD) for a one-time fun event. Since one woman had just come out of a bad relationship and had taken up boxing, she wrote down some rules and called it a “bout”. And at these games (they did more than one), they would stop and two women would fight each other. And then came the eventual split, the Texas Rollergirls were born, and out of that manger came the 1105 leagues in the 38 countries today.

So let’s just assume that since there was no controlling body in charge at the time they became like much of man(woman)kind, selfish, self-serving spoiled athletes.

Well, not exactly.

Having just returned from the Championships and being in daily contact with so many of my friends, I am not certain if it is the chicken or the egg that came first. Okay, it is wrong to generalize, but were virtually all of these people willing to put others needs high on their lists, even if they did not have a lot themselves.

They created a sisterhood that goes well beyond their friends, their teams and their leagues. The way they welcome each other whether from London or Des Moines (and they took in, fed, and helped London when the volcano did not let them make their flight across the pond), but the committed service to the community is universal and unusual.

And now that the ugliness of domestic violence was really brought to our attention by Lori Milkeris. and you all have shown so much love and support.  She attributes so much of her continuing recovery to the literally tens of thousands who have been in contact with her and have contributed money and love.

And Rhea and others have expanded on that start and their own previous troubles by creating sites so that all in Derby and elsewhere can tell their stories and get help.

My father always taught me that if you have a dollar, you share it with someone who needs it; Judi, who has been involved with hospice for over 25 years, taught me it is even more important to give of yourself.

With Roller Derby we always worked with our communities: the March of Dimes and many other charities. With BASS Tickets and Ticketmaster we were some of the first companies to join and support AIDS walks and community projects. And we founded the BASS Ticket Foundation which donated a million dollars worth of tickets to the underserved in the Bay Area.

I really believe this is why we are put on Earth, to befriend, support and love each other. This goes well beyond the dicta of religions or philosophies.

And Roller Derby today, for all the greatness I saw in skating in Denver,  what you are as people is what I am most proud.

Leo blesses you all.