From Derby to Dylan, Part 1


When the Roller Derby was shut down I knew I had to find something else to make a living. Coincidentally I was approached by someone working for Ticketron who was leaving and starting a computerized ticketing system on a stand alone HP derivative computer, and would I be interested in the San Francisco Bay Area.  What went on after that was a whole unbelievable story (Harold Silen and I putting up our houses, having to go to Denver first and ending up with software we found out had been shall we say used without the legal owner’s permission.)  Somehow we overcame the problems and were up and operating by Fall 1974.

Our main client, Bill Graham, was to give us all his rock and roll business, but ended up holding back and having us share with Ticketron until he was confident that our system could operate.  The first big show we handled alone was “SNACK”, a concert at Kezar Stadium that Bill had put together with many of the top rock acts and MC’d by Marlon Brando and others to raise money for the arts in schools that even in 1974 were being cut back.  There was only one tiny drawback to handling this massive (50,000 plus ticket) event;  Bill wanted us to agree to donate our service charge (75 cents) to the cause.  We did and then had to go to our stores that sold tickets to get them to go along with it.  Many had to pay extra employees for ticket selling and bring in security, so they were not thrilled.

Hal and I found out that our cost estimates were low, our revenue estimates high, and it took 7 years for us to break even in spite of having virtually all the sports, music, theatre and other entertainment tickets in the San Francisco Bay Area.

One day I received a call from Barry Imhoff.  Barry had worked for Bill Graham for years and took care of the major acts (Stones, Led Zeppelin, etc) when they were in the area.  It turned out he had a super-secret tour coming up, and since I was the best ticket man he knew (probably the only one, and I had not been doing it long),  he wanted me to come to New York, meet with him, and help set up the tour.  I thought this would be a great way to really understand the rock and roll business which would become our major staple over the next 25 years.  We were in the midst of a number of problems at BASS tickets, and Hal was not pleased when I said I probably would be gone for six weeks or so, but he said OK.

Ticket stub from Rolling Thunder Revue, University of Southern Mississippi. This was the last concert on this tour. Image: Wikimedia Commons, Author:Dcurbow

When I met with Barry he swore me to secrecy and said this was going to be a Bob Dylan and Joan Baez tour, with other leading musicians (T-Bone Burnett, Roger McGuinn. Jack Elliott) with them, and others would join later for 1 or more nights (Joni Mitchell. Arlo Guthrie and many more.)  Dylan was the promoter and Barry was working for him.  Barry told me that Bob was fed up with the huge arenas tours and the difficulties that fans had in getting tickets.  Therefore, there would be no computerized ticketing (!) on this tour, and when I was shown the schedule I ordered pre-printed tickets from a bonded printer I knew with only the heading: Rolling Thunder Revue.  No artists were listed.  And there was to be no pre-publicity.  I was given a mobile home, two assistants and told to go to the various cities one day ahead and hand out handbills announcing the tour.

Well even in the 70’s this was an impossible way of promoting the tour, but I did as I was told.  First we all were booked in a resort in Falmouth, Mass,  in the Cape Cod area.  Since this was November, no one else was there.  Rehearsals were held in a conference center at the hotel and the musicians, technicians, personnel and those who traveled with them started to show up.  Now with Roller Derby, we traveled with 28 skaters, a physical therapist, two referees (one drove the truck with the track in it), and a manager.  The skaters and the  referees set up and tore down the track, programs and novelties were in the truck, one skater made extra money by sewing and repairing uniforms, and skaters drove from place to place in cars, 3 to a car and they were paid mileage.

This certainly was not rock and roll travel.  At least 100 people showed up including wives, girlfriends, hangers on, etc and they all had to be housed and fed.  The possible cost was overwhelming to me.  Security traveled with them also.  I made a number of friends including Tom Mooney whose wife Ann worked at Ticketmaster when I did in later years.  Also Mike Evans handled security and other jobs and today he works as a leading figure in the company out of Philadelphia that owns or manages major arenas, theatres, and sports teams throughout the world.

Rehearsals stared, and Alan Ginsburg also joined the tour.  He played the triangle.  The  music I heard was great.  I did not have much interplay with Dylan as he was either putting the show together or with his inner circle.  Everyone seemed to get along fine.  The local papers were getting curious about what was going on at the Hotel, and Barry and I were outside one night when a reporter approached and asked if he could go in.  Barry told him no and he left.  The next day in the local paper was a very dark photo of us with the caption “two hefty security guards keeping people from observing what is going on at the Falmouth Inn”…..I was upset, Barry was large but I certainly wasn’t hefty at the time.

One day during rehearsals all the equipment had to be moved out of the hall as the hotel had pre-booked a canasta tournament.  At a break in the action, the hotel manager came in and told the ladies they were in for a special treat:  he had booked two folk singers for them, Bob Zimmeran and Al Ginsburg.  Dylan came out played the piano and sang, Ginsburg played the triangle.  I don’t think the ladies ever knew who they were.

I will add part 2 to this blog tomorrow.

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.

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Me


I decided to blog just to see if I am interesting enough to attract any readers.

I am in the older generation category but have managed to stay on the edge of the wave of life because of my entrepreneurial nature.

To start with, my father invented Roller Derby, and without my realizing it, it set the course for my life. I never intended to get involved in it but of course I did. After my childhood and schooling and Stanford and Northwestern (when I run out of things to write about I will of course give some facts about those days as well as my army life), I got married, was selling wholesale sporting goods, and suddenly I was the owner, promoter of the defunct sport of professional Roller Derby.

My father Leo Seltzer, perhaps the greatest promoter you never heard of, decided that Roller Derby had become too much of an exhibition and not the sport he always wanted it to be (he had visions of it in the Olympics – more on that later because it still might), and virtually closed it in 1958.

I had been doing some trackside announcing to pick up extra money for my growing family ($25 per game for 5 games a week doubled my income) when he told me he was shutting it down. In the world of coincidences two moons came in confluence at the same time: KTVU Channel 2 in Oakland California had come on the air and was looking for programming and a young man at Ampex in Redwood City developed video tape which made all programs look live on replay as opposed to the old kinescoping film technique (I won’t explain how and why).

So Bay Bombers Roller Derby appeared on channel 2 and I with a borrowed $500 put up bleachers in an unused auto repair garage on East 14th street in Oakland and created a studio for Roller Derby. I was 26 and didn’t know the odds against success.

In future blogs I will get beyond Roller Derby to the world of ticketing, Rock and Roll, the Hells Angels and me, my touring with Dylan, Bill Graham (the rock and roll one), film, my views on the world and much more. let me hear from you.

You can subscribe free to the blog by entering your email in the subscribe box in the upper right hand corner of the page.  And if I get enough of the blog written and appreciated, I’ll add some other chapeters and  put it together as an e-book.