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.