Woz, Roller Derby, the US Festival and the Steve Jobs movie

I met Steve Wozniak at the US Festival, perhaps the greatest collection of contemporary bands in 1982 and 1983. I believe almost 60 of the best bands and performers from the Clash to the Grateful Dead to Van Halen to Willie Nelson to the Pretenders and the Police and on and on appeared in the two year run over a total of 7 days near San Bernardino, California. Look it up.

Because David Zimmerman from BASS Tickets had heard how unhappy Woz had been with the way Ticketron had handled the sales in 1982, I was able to sign up the Festival for the fledging Ticketmaster entrance into Southern California in 1983. The impetus that the million dollars in advertising generated (always mentioning Ticketmaster as the phone and outlet source) really made us known in that area.

So I went both years, all days, but I must confess I didn’t listen to all 12 hours or more every day. And that is when I met Woz who solely created, financed, and presented the events.

This amazing man created the products that became Apple. Apparently, Steve Jobs liked the attention (I am seeing the movie this weekend), but really had nothing to do with creating the Apple 1, 2, etc. And Woz eventually left the company but today represents them with visits all around the globe.

What I found out in talking to him that he (of course) had watched Roller Derby on TV in the Bay Area where he grew up (and lives today), and he was quite a fan. I understand that he has shown up at various Derby events, and even skated on the banked track. Of course I got him a copy of “Roller Derby to Rollerjam”.

In the limited interplay that I have with him, I have found him to be a warm, accessible human being. He is a friend on facebook (and 32 of my friends are also mutual friends…..Misty (Pia Mess) Greer, why am I not surprised that you are one also). I also follow him on twitter where he seems to be traveling the world incessantly (all departure and arrival cities are listed), and he drives his Tesla to Morgan Hill to recharge and enjoy the delightful cuisine of this quaint village (really, Morgan Hill?).

So when you purchase an ipad or iphone, realize that at the start of the largest company in the world, there was this delightful man, a Roller Derby fan.

Jerry Seltzer bio “Seltzer is the head of the third wave of American sports promoters this century” Frank Deford

Jerry was born June 3,1932 in Portland, Oregon.  His father Leo operated 3 movie theaters in Portland but had become intrigued with Walkathons, a marathon-type event that he then produced until 1935 when he had the idea of putting the participants on roller skates on a banked track.  Thus Roller Derby was born.

Jerry attended Stanford and Northwestern Universities, then entered the US Army where he served in the Counter Intelligence corps in Austria.  A few years after his return to the US he took over the operation of the International Roller Derby League and ran it from 1959  to 1973 when it ceased operations.  Roller Derby became so popular in the Bay Area, that it outdrew all professional sports teams except for the Giants.  He produced a one hour tape series weekly which was also distributed to over 110 stations  in the US and Canada.  He did color commentary on many of the telecasts and announced on a few.

Live games were scheduled in major arenas and stadia across the country, and some of the attendance records set were 19,500 at Madison Square Garden; 14,727 at Oracle Arena, Oakland; 27,000 at Shea Stadium New York; 34,544 at The Oakland Stadium; and 50,114 at White Sox Park in Chicago.

He was contacted by Lamar Hunt and a group of AFL football owners to head up a consortium to buy the Oakland Seals of the NHL.  Although his group had the endorsement of the Oakland Coliseum Arena and local media, the NHL chose Charlie Finley who had to suspend operations within two years.

His PR firm (Gerald E. Seltzer and Associates) consulted for the Oakland Clippers of the NASL Soccer league, and headed the campaign to keep trucks off of interstate 580 through the center of Oakland (still in effect today!)

Photo by kaeska from stock.xchng.com

Photo by kaeska from stock.xchng.com

While with BASS he produced  concerts for Willie Nelson, Waylon Jennings, and Merle Haggard for a client. Mark Rothbaum, Willie’s manager, presented him with a Platinum record of Willie’s for helping to boost his career.  Also co-produced two Russian River Music Festivals in Guerneville, Ca.

He also presented the Highwaymen (Willie, Waylon, Johnny Cash, Kris Kristofferson) in two concerts for the BASS Ticket Foundation, which provided tickets for the underserved in the community.  BASS was also the exclusive ticketing agency used by Bill Graham presents, the Oakland Coliseum Complex, Shorenstein Nederlander theatres, The SF Giants, The Oakland Raiders, The 49ers, the Oakland As, Shoreline Arena, HP Pavilion, Arco Arena and dozens more.

He was also selected to handle the ticketing (and tour with) Bob Dylan and the Rolling Thunder Revue.

In 1970 he produced “Derby”, a documentary about the players in the game, which was judged the best film at the San Francisco Film Festival , and which received excellent reviews from the New York Times, Saturday Review, and most of the critics of the day.  Roger Ebert gave it 4 stars….He also produced “First Position”, a cinema verite film centered on the American Ballet School in New York City, with appearances by many of the leading dancers in the world.

In 1974 he and partner Hal Silen started BASS tickets in the Bay Area, the first wholly owned independent computerized service.  It provided many producer and customer services that Ticketron hadn’t, and became the dominant ticket service in the SF Bay Area.  BASS systems were sold to Vancouver,  Houston, and Melbourne (Australia).  On November 18, 1985, San Francisco Mayor Frank Jordan declared it as “Jerry Seltzer Day” in acknowledgment of his involvement with Thunder Road, a teenage drug and rehab center.

Hal and Jerry also created the BASS Tickets Foundation, which provided over $ 1 million in tickets annually to over 200 underserved non profits in the Bay Area so their clients could see various entertainments, and they worked with the San Francisco Ballet to have special presentations with children from urban areas to meet the dancers and understand and appreciate areas they might never know.

In 1983 Seltzer joined Ticketmaster as executive Vice President, Marketing and Sales, and created the same kind of services that BASS provided and within 5 years the company had virtually eliminated Ticketron from the marketplace.  He also provided management help for various local offices including New York, Chicago, Denver, Orlando and Miami.

After leaving Ticketmaster in 1993 he moved from Santa Monica to Sonoma, California, sitting on a number of non-profit boards including the Bay Area American Red Cross.  He was asked by Reverend Cecil Williams of Glide Church to help to secure a venue and help with the marketing and fund raising for  the 30th aniversary celebration of the church with Robin Williams, Bobby McFerrin, Maya Angelo and others that raised over $300,000.  He was also an initial consultant for Stub Hub.

In 1997 he co-founded the Sonoma Film Festival which today is considered one of the leading independent festivals. Proceeds from the Festival were used to restore the classic Sebastiani theatre. The following year funds were raised for lights for events at the Sebastiani.  He helped present “Derby Baby” at the festival in 2012.

He and his sister Gloria Gurian donated land in Seaside Oregon to create Seltzer Park near Leo’s home, and presented concerts with Willie Nelson and the Smothers Brothers to raise funds. He had served on the Bay Area Board of the American Red Cross and in the past three years was involved with the Red Cross and Brown Paper Tickets in co-ordinating blood drives in Northern California, New England, Chicago, Florida, Pennsylvania, and  New York….over the last several years over 3300 lives were saved from the blood donated.

He also serves as “The Commissioner” of modern day Roller Derby.  there are now 1967 amateur  leagues in 65 countries encompassing over 100,000 participants (www.derbylisting.com).  He has no official capacity other than advisor to the various leagues on a non-compensated basis.  The Seltzer Cup, named for his father, is presented by at the annual USARS national championship.  And Texas Roller Derby, the first modern Roller Derby banked track league, features the Ann Calvello Cup, which is presented annually to its championship team.

He joined Brown Paper Tickets in sales outreach in 2013 and recently resigned to concentrate on consulting.

He has a blog:  www.rollerderbyjesus.com.  Featured in “Five Strides on the Banked Track”, Frank Deford, Little Brown;  “A very simple game” Herb Michelson; “From Roller Derby to Rollerjam” Keith Coppage;  “Ticket Masters” by Dean Burdick; “Bay Area Roller Derby” by Keith Coppage and Jerry Seltzer.  and of course a wikipedia page. he twitters @jeryseltzer, and has over 8000 friends and followers on facebook…, and his blog has had almost 400,000 viewings.  He was featured in a recent BBC presentation on Roller Derby, in a segment of “Strange Inheritances” on Fox Business Channel and in the Mark Greczmiel documentary on the late, lamented, Oakland Seals Hockey team of the NHL.  And he was featured in the CBS television program “Decades” on 8/13/2018.

Recently he was the subject of the April 2017 issue of Valley of the Moon Magazine and a feature in the San Francisco Chronicle relating to the 20th anniversary of the Sonoma Film Festival.  He also co-presented on behalf of Brown Paper Tickets the World Roller Derby Week in Chicago August 13 to 19 2017..the event on August 13 took place on the original site of the Chicago Coliseum, where his father and he presented Roller Derby.

The American Red Cross Northwest selected him as a 2018 Red Cross Hero for the blood drives, and he was honored at a function in Santa Rosa, Ca.








The Day the Earth Stood Still (finally)

A big scare in the Bay Area the other day. Just a few days after the 20th anniversary of the terrible Loma Prieta quake that was the biggest since 1906, there were a series of jigglers, the largest a 4.0. (we are so used to quakes that we throw away ones that size)

But it did upset a lot of people. I didn’t feel it at all (nor the aftershocks). I was in Sonoma and then in Palo Alto and it was centered southeast of Berkeley.

Image by Sigurd Decroos from stock.xchng.com.

But it did take me back to those terrible days 23 years ago. I was mainly in Los Angeles at that time working at Ticketmaster but had come back up to the Bay Area to visit Judi and for the World Series between the A’s and the Giants. Although we had suites at both the Giants and A’s ballparks, I wasn’t going to the first game. At 5 o’clock I was standing by my office talking and getting ready to leave when the Bermuda building suddenly starting lurching back and forth. BASS Tickets Headquarters were on the 9th (top) floor. I was almost knocked to the ground, and held onto to the doorway. Everything was crashing around me and our people were screaming.

I immediately yelled “Everyone out of here now!” and we all headed to the stairway in a very orderly fashion and hurdled down the 9 floors.

Most left their purses, belongings, etc. and we stood in the middle of Franklin street to get out of the way of falling bricks and debris. We knew it was bad; we had no idea how bad and that we would never get back in the building again.

Ironically, our computers kept running, churning out the ticket transactions. Inland areas such as Sacramento and Stockton were not affected and the outlets continued selling tickets. We gathered in the delicatessen across the street, which would become our unofficial home for the next several months.

Our GM had rushed to the subway (BART) station to get to his family, but soon came back as obviously it was not running. BART shut down until all the tracks could be surveyed to determine the damage. The freeway several blocks away had crumbled in places; the Bay Bridge had one portion of the upper deck fall on the lower.

I was staying in Sausalito, but the authorities had closed all the bridges across the Bay and I remember driving completely around it (check out a map) and somehow ended up there.

It was a really traumatic time for all of us, and that is a subject for another post. Our friends at Ticketmaster in Los Angeles responded immediately, working on diverting the phone lines from our offices to theirs. We put about a dozen of our best phone operators on a plane to Los Angeles where there was a special setup in the TM phone room for them.

Our computers kept functioning (miraculously) in spite of no operators or updates or maintenance. Finally Denise, our operations manager, was able to remotely shut it down (not that easy 20 years ago) and Ticketmaster had transferred the data to one of their computers. Luckily, every night we had saved a data “tape” of all transactions and our GM had taken it out as he did, and we sent that to LA. The fire department permitted two of our people to go into the building for 1 hour a week or so later to grab what was necessary, and that was it. The building was condemned; Ironically, the new owner had purchased it just weeks before and did not have adequate insurance yet.

Eventually we opened new offices in Concord several months later. We kept whomever we could on limited pay (Hal Silen and I always prided ourselves on how we regarded our employees, at least 4 of whom were carryovers from our Roller Derby days.)

Although we were virtually out of money, we continued. We actually gave $10,000 to the Great American Music Hall, one of our first clients, in order for them to stay in business. We never asked for repayment.

And we later that year booked a weekend for all of our employees who had been with us that day at a resort in Napa County and brought in a psychologist so everyone could work it out the best that they could.

So those Mayan calender watchers who keeps predicting the end of the world this December don’t bother me. I have been there.

Can’t we all just get along?

I can’t believe that it was almost 20 years ago.

Image by georgie_c from stock.xchng.com

Rodney King was one of the first times that someone caught an act of police brutality on a video camera.  What was released on one of the television stations in Los Angeles was the beating of a man who was not fighting back by the L. A. police.  And it was brutal to watch.  I was living in Santa Monica and like most citizens was appalled.

The police officers were identified and were indicted, and because of the overwhelming publicity, their attorneys were able to get the trial moved to Simi Valley, a predominately white enclave near LA where so many police officers lived.  At the trial, the culprits were virtually set free and everyone waited for the reaction of the black community.  We didn’t have to wait long.

Ticketmaster’s offices were in Ahmanson Center on Wilshire, just off of Western Avenue and not too far from Vermont.  We  were all there the next day and Fred was out of town.  Looking out of our windows on the upper floors, we could see fire breaking out on Vermont, and out on Wilshire I saw a driver pulled out of his car and beaten.  On Western, which in our area was Koreatown, people were running in the streets and fires were everywhere.  I saw a number of the store owners on the roofs of their buildings with rifles, waiting to shoot looters.

I called our staff in and told them we were shutting down…Send everyone home.  Tom was very concerned about the shows that night and I believe since he was in charge of operations, he stayed.  My son Richard worked in the phone center,  and I told him to get to his wife and daughter in West L A.  I didn’t know until later that he ignored me.

I headed over to 6th Street and headed west.  I knew that if I tried to take any of the streets that cut over to the 15 freeway I would be in the middle of the riots.  The radio kept  talking about how bad it all was, and LA was burning and for once it wasn’t exaggerated.  I saw shopping centers (strip malls) either in flames or being looted.  I called my sister who lived on 6th Street by Las Cienega in West LA and the sporting goods store behind where they lived was being looted and guns being taken.  I picked her up and we drove to Santa Monica….it took several hours on what was ordinarily a 40 minute drive.  Ken was going to come out also and spend the night in my apartment.

Richard did a crazy but noble thing.  Because his wife’s mother lived pretty much in the heart of East LA and had emphysema, they were very concerned about her.  So he drove through the terrible areas where they were pulling people out of trucks and cars, got to her place, picked her up and got back home safely.

This was the worst racial situation I have ever experienced.  A good friend of ours who is a masseuse and acupuncturist had her boyfriend visiting.  He was working at Edwards Air Force base and was African-American.  She needed something from the market and because of the situation, she did not want him to go.  Some months earlier as a lark I had bought her an LAPD cap.  He put it on and went to the market and the hundreds of people there were so glad to see him and commended him on the work the police were doing!  Perception is everything.

It took a while for things to get back to normal, and Rodney King said the famous “Why can’t we all just get along”.  I had the people at BASS Tickets order Tee shirts with that slogan on it and they all thought I was crazy.