Just some stories.

Photo by bertvthul from stock.xchng

During the Roller Derby road trips in Fall and Winter we required the skaters who wanted to use their cars to take two other people with them.  Charlie O’Connell was not happy about doing it but in addition to someone he knew, a rookie who he barely knew was assigned to his vehicle.  Somewhere in Ohio there was a stop for gas, etc and Charlie proceeded to the next date (I think it was Pittsburgh).  When he arrived and dressed for the game he realized he only had 7 players instead of the 8 on his team.  We found the rookie stranded in Ohio and we sent him a bus ticket…..luckily Charlie remembered him the rest of the road trip

Probably our best referee was Bill Morrisey.  He was quite serious, not a lot of histrionics, but called penalties equally on all skaters.  One night at a Cow Palace game Charlie was in the infield when an opposing skater came flying into his back and Charlie rolled into Morrisey and knocked him down.  Bill’s glasses came flying off, and when he got up he turned around to O’Connell and threw him out of the game.  The crowd went crazy, their superstar not able to skate the rest of the night.  Charlie came off the track and found me…..”Did you see the crowd reaction, we can pack the house for the next Cow Palace game if I skate a match race with Morrisey”  “Are you nuts, he can’t skate” ” Don’t worry about it.”

Well our referees didn’t skate, there were two (three for playoffs) who walked backwards in the infield in a figure eight with each one designated to watch either the pack or the jammers.  I told Charlie we would start promoting it for the next game at the Cow Palace.

Match races were extra events sometimes held at half time, generally featuring top skaters from opposing teams.  This race was to be 4 laps around the track, legal blocking.

The night came, the Cow Palace was sold out, and fans could barely contain themselves.  I was amazed that Bill stepped up to the starting line.  The other referee blew the whistle to signal the start of the race.  Charlie immediately turned and blocked Morrisey to the infield.  He lay there stunned as Charlie sprinted around the track.  Just before Charlie got back to the starting point Bill got on his feet and back on the track:  “Boom”, Charlie laid him out again…this happened each lap until Charlie won.  Bill had never gotten off the starting line.  Afterwards, I asked Charlie how Bill  had gotten on the skates OK.  “Easy, he locked the wheels so they wouldn’t turn”

One of the first events we handled for the student activities director at UC Berkeley was a film that has never been released.  Mick Jagger authorized and paid for the production which followed the Stones through an US tour in the early 70’s.  I saw it and it had some very great moments in it:  the Stones stopping at a roadhouse in the South that featured all blues and the world-famous band standing in awe of what the locals were doing.  And there were some great Rolling Stones concert footage.  The problem was that the film maker shot a completely honest film:  Mick and Bianca talking appeared just vacuous; the roadies having sex with groupies on the plane; much use of coke, etc and Keith Richards backstage looking out of it with white powder by his nose and shooting heroin.  The film was to celebrate how the group had ended their relationship with one label while going to another.  The label told them they were owed one more album, so the Stones recorded a obscene group of songs and the album was called the c**ks****r blues, which was the name of the film.

The problem at BASS was, what did we put on the tickets.  We were told that we had to put the name of the film on them which really presented a dilemma, since our department store (Mont’y Ward) at that time, refused to sell the two performances, so we used just our record stores and our phone sales.  The film maker had been told by Mick to destroy the film and never show it;  of course it was his work of art and he was determined to have it seen.  Our phone room and staff referred to it as cs blues, and both showings at Zellerbach Auditorium sold out immediately.   Maybe that would not be such a problem in today’s society, but it sure was in the 70’s.  The director Robert Frank was vindicated in later years when the film was shown in 1998 in the San Francisco Film Festival and called “one of the best rock and roll films ever”.  You thought ticket selling was easy.

Shortly after I moved to Sonoma in 1993 the Rolling Stones were performing at the Oakland Coliseum along with Pearl Jam.  Since we still had the BASS box in the Stadium, Judi and I decided that we would take a bus load of friends to the show.  Among those I invited from Sonoma were Richard Cuneo, chairman of Sebastiani who had never been to a concert and brought his two young sons, Tommy Smothers and his wife Marcia, John Lasseter (“Toy Story”) and Nancy, and a prominent orthopedic surgeon and a leading restaurateur, as well as a good friend I will call Dave.  Judi had invited Susie Tompkins, the co-founder of Esprit, Tom Hulce (“Amadeus”) and a group of other people, including one I have to keep nameless.  Judi and Susie had exotic food; Richard Cuneo brought a case of wonderful Sebastiani wine.

We left from Sonoma in a blinding rainstorm and picked up Judi and some of her friends in Marin County and then headed towards Berkeley, where we picked up the others.  Judi was passing out the food. and the wine was being poured when one person, who had just separated from her spouse, grabbed a bottle and was drinking from it.  I said to Richard, ‘what a great promotion for your wine, take a picture of her drinking from the bottle and you can use it as an ad, as everybody knows who she is”.  He looked at me as though I was crazy…..he didn’t know me that well yet.

When we got to the Stadium the rain had pretty well stopped, and we missed Pearl Jam, but nobody was feeling any pain.  When we got to the box, Dave pulled out a very welcome bag of marijuana which he happily donated to the party.The young Cuneos headed down to the infield to get close to the stage and the projected runway.  Tommy, who was definitely feeling no pain confessed although he and his brother Dick had had many of the famous rock and roller on their TV program, this was the first concert he had actually attended.  Suddenly he disappeared and seemed to be gone for a long time.  Marcia was getting concerned.  When he finally showed up, he said that he couldn’t remember the box number (all were private sky boxes with doors to enter) so he kept going from box to box stating that this was Jerry Seltzer’s box and he was supposed to be there…..apparently he was thrown out a number of times, but finally ended up with us.

I can’t tell you too much about the concert…..I have seen the Stones at least a dozen times and really enjoy them.  However, our magic bus was the story that night, and it got even crazier on the way home.  Most people wanted to sleep (I put a Vivaldi album on the sound system), but Tommy and the surgeon kept walking up and down the aisle demanding that everyone stay awake until their respective wives pulled them into the seats.

I considered it an A plus evening.

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Annie, Charlie, Joanie and me

It’s time to regress.

I haven’t spoken much about the skaters in my time.  They are probably still very well known today because of you tube and the wonderful book “Roller Derby to Rollerjam” by Keith Coppage with photos by Rock and Roll legend photographer Baron Wolman (www.rollerderbycommish.com)

I am constantly asked why the 1973 season is the only one available and on you tube.  In the late sixties and early seventies there was virtually no home use of video tape and no cable to speak of.  So we made an arrangement with our videotape distributor (we were serving 120 stations by shipping videotapes to them every week) Technicolor TAV  that they owned the videotapes and we owned the program.  So at the end of each year, the tapes were erased (Ugh) and used for the next season.

Therefore Hal Silen and I were able to keep only the final 1973 season but unfortunately we were scammed out of them and couldn’t use them ourselves (that is another story).

But because of this programming America and Canada followed the Bay Bombers and the other teams in our league.  And the stars shown.  There was “Bomber Great” Charlie O’connell, Joan “Golden Girl” Weston, Ann Calvello (too many nicknames, none flattering) and “Peanuts” Meyer, Tony Roman, Ken Monte, Margie Lazslo,Bert Wall and Bobbie Mateer, Mike and Judy Gammon, Frankie Macedo, Lydia Clay, Ronnie Robinson, Sandy Dunn, Bob Woodberry,  Carolyn Moreland, Lou Donovan, Cathy Read, Bob Hein, Delores Tucker, Nick Scopas, Cliff Butler Avery, Bill Groll and on and on and I don’t want to offend anyone, but there is just not enough room to mention all who made Roller Derby great.  Road Manager Hal Janowitz; announcers Don Drewry and Ken Kunzelman,   Referees:  Bill Morrissey, Gene Moyer (also our advance man), Jimmy Pierce (also our truck driver) and our great management staff.

Charlie had been the bad boy of Roller Derby.  He came in very young and cocky, was immediately grabbed by Calvello (bet you didn’t know that!  I think Derby invented cougars) and bounced around and was finally put on the Bombers, which was kind of a catch-all team as there wasn’t that much skating on a consistent basis in the Bay area.  That certainly changed in the late fifties when I took over.

I can’t remember why Joanie had been on the Bombers as she certainly was a star.  The Bombers were coached and captained by Russ Baker and Annis “Big Red” Jensen, two talented skaters whose daughter Barbara skated on the team in later years.  After Russ left to start a business in Santa Rosa, Bill Laurino became coach.  Bill had two fingers he had lost in a construction accident but was quite a skater.  When he disputed a call on a jam and thought there should have been 4 points instead of two, he held up his hand and Charlie yelled “Bill, we should have gotten more than two points”.Figure it out.

Charlie and Joan were athletes.  Charlie had played football, Joan was a softball star at her women’s college in Southern California.  Eventually Charlie became coach and the team and eventually the whole league took on his style of skating which was wide open, full-blast effort.  It really made for exciting games.  Not much finesse, but when you saw skaters flying around the banked track at breakneck speed doing amazing athletic moves it more than satisfied the audience, both on hand and on television.  And Joan, to see this beautiful tall blonde (although in today’s Roller Derby her 5 foot 9 inch height would be dwarfed by a number of skaters) was not only a great blocker, but also could jam.  Remember in that game a player could switch positions between jams.

We built a tremendous audience around the country who could watch a game every week and then once or twice a year could see the stars in person.  If you can imagine going into an arena, setting up the track, skating the game, tearing it down and then moving on to the next city. Hopefully it was not too far, but it still was a very tiring life, skating 4 games a week in different cities.  Also, sometimes it seemed to make no sense:  skate one night in Milwaukee (which is 90 miles from Chicago), the next game in St. Louis, and then come back to Chicago.  The reason? available dates in the arenas.

Joanie was a mother hen, worried about her girls, making sure all problems were taken care of, in addition to her responsibilities as woman captain.  Plus she was always requested for television interviews and this took more of her personal time.  If she complained, you know she would come through as she was definitely a trooper.  One night after we had a game in Richmond, Virginia, Ken Campbell, our southern promoter from Richmond, VA (he also was the Nascar promoter), had arranged an interview in Greenville, North Carolina, and since he was a pilot he flew us in his plane to Greenville.  Joanie hated the flight, but both she and Ronnie Robinson (Sugar Ray’s son) did the newspaper and TV interviews.  As we passed through the airport I said loudly to Joan and Ronnie “I think this will be a great place for you lovebirds to get married.”  (Greenville, North Carolina 1969 not the best place for mixed marriage).  They both would have killed me if I didn’t sign their paychecks.

Charlie was surly and wanted to be left alone.  He rarely would do interviews (unless on our telecasts, you can watch one or two on youtube) and that only added to his persona.  Autographs? almost never.  Scowling constantly, but what a great skater.  There is no doubt he and Joanie and Ann (more on her later) were the reason for our great rise in popularity and why we were able to sell out arenas and stadiums across America.

Those were the days, my friend, we thought they’d never end…..

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 Charlie 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 did more Waylon, Willie, Merle concerts over the next few years throughout the Bay Area, and Fresno.

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 formal wear.  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.

I personally promoted Willie again in Oregon (for a benefit for Seltzer Park in Seaside) and Willie, Waylon, Kris and Johnny (The Highwaymen) 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 70.  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. ( subscribe free to my blogs…..enter your email in the subscription box upper right and you will get ’em when I write ’em)

By the way, check out the comments on this page….you will find them very interesting as well as a video from a television interview of the past with Fu, Deak, and also me.