Stories told in July, 2012

Miss Chicago

This story takes place in 1966. It was told on July 30th, 2012 by Frank.  Be the first to comment

A local beauty queen, either Miss Illinois or Miss Chicago, cornered me in my office a few days before the Beatles’ Comiskey Park show in 1966. She said she could barely tell me how thrilled she was to meet me, because it was her ambition to “be with” all the Beatles.
I tried not to look as embarrassed as I felt. The big promoter is supposed to be used to this kind of thing, but I had always managed to avoid it. I was in the promotion business, not the procurement business. This time, I decided it was not for me to be so judgmental. lf that’s what tums you on, then God bless you. I agreed to introduce her to the tour manager, who promised to introduce her to the four kids. I never found out if she accomplished her mission.
That was fine with me. In a strange sense, it was the beginning of my decades of grappling with male chauvinism. It was the first time I had been confronted with a woman doing what so many men dreamed of doing.
Of course, this was all a bit delicate compared to what became routine in the business a few years later. By the end of the 1960s the more successful rock bands had developed a neat four-part job description for the promoter: get us the limo, get us laid, get us stoned, get us out of trouble. All the Beatles wanted to get, in those innocent early days, was out of the concert hall in one piece.
To the guardians of public propriety, the idea that young girls could be expressing such unprecedented and open sexual interest in males, even these androgynous, unprepossessing boys, was quite confusing. Suddenly women were acting out their fantasies just like men had always tried to, and with somewhat more success, in many cases. It was a harbinger of the kind of independence that was beginning to pop up all over the culture, in the most unexpected places, and it would be years before the establishment figured out how to meet it on its own ground, get friendly with it, and remove its teeth.

My brief TV career (2)

This story takes place in 1959. It was told on July 24th, 2012 by Frank.  Be the first to comment

Jim McGuinn stayed up all night and edited the tape of our TV variety show pilot. The next morning he showed it to ABC and got a pretty fair response. Then that afternoon he showed it to CBS. Mike Dann, the programming chief, loved it. He said, “If you guys can come up with half the sponsor, I’Il put it on.”
Jack Sobol at Screen Gems gave us some sage advice, which we ignored. He said, “lt’s not selling season, and there isn’t any money left. This money only remembers what you did for me today. If you show this thing now and don’t get any sales, lt’s gonna be yesterday’s news next selling season.“ But we had been told by Mike Dann that we had a great show, and we were not about to wait around.
Sobol also told us we had to get an agent. Get an agent? We couldn’t get an agent to return our phone calls. Those who heard about it thought it was a big joke. Then I remembered that I knew Abner Greschler, the hotshot agent on the West Coast who had been the Gateway Singers’ first manager. When I took over the Gateway Singers I had paid him the money they allegedly owed him, so he would at least take my calls. I called Abner and started telling him the story.
Abby often talked on two phones. He always called you collect, unless you put a stop to it by refusing the call. He was a very smart, fast man, the prototype of a Hollywood agent. So he was listening to me and doing two or three other things, until I said, “and Mike Dann likes this.”
He interrupted me: “Did Mike Dann see it?” I told him what McGuinn had told me. Abner immediately called Dann, with me still on the phone. Suddenly a change came over him. He had confirmed that CBS was interested.
Abner thought he was going to sell this show as country-western. All he knew was that CBS was interested and that this could be a hot property. So he said, “Send me a telegram giving me 90 days on it.” Jim sent him the wire, because nobody else was talking to us, and we both went home to Chicago to wait for Abner to produce a miracle. I‘m not sure Abner ever saw the show.

Tickets by mail

This story takes place in 1961. It was told on July 18th, 2012 by Frank.  Be the first to comment

The ticketing process was a terrible bother. In 1960 this was still a handicraft business — no Ticketron or Ticketmaster to take care of it for you. People would send in a check for their season tickets, and we would laboriously record their names and addresses by hand for our mailing list. I had lifted the method from Harry Zelzer, the classical impresario, whose business depended almost entirely on his mailing list. It worked, but it was not the most efficient way to run a business.
Usually we sent the tickets out before the checks cleared. Those records are all lost now, but I think our bad checks amounted to half of one percent of the total, if that. When someone sent you a check, the check was presumed to be good, and you sent out the product by return mail.
I was interested to note that most of the bad checks we did get came from what I thought of as the newly-rich areas of town — not the establishment or middle-class neighborhoods, and not from where the poor lived, but from the new suburban developments that were springing up all over. That‘s where they tried the hardest to beat you. As time went on this began to get out of hand, and in the end, when Ticketron came along, I got out of the ticket business altogether with a sigh of relief.

Orchestra Hall

This story takes place in 1961. It was told on July 14th, 2012 by Frank.  Be the first to comment

Orchestra Hall, the home of the Chicago Symphony, was one of the three major concert venues in Chicago, along with the Opera House and the Ampitheatre.
It was a rather austere-looking room, but its acoustics made it one of the finer symphony halls in the country. The Symphony played there Thursday nights, Friday afternoons (for the dowagers and the retired gentlemen), and Saturday evenings. Occasionally, when the Symphony was out on tour, there would be a Saturday open, but the only thing you could program very far in advance was acts that drew on Friday nights. That was perfect for folk music.
I built my first folk concert series around the availability of those Friday nights at Orchestra Hall. I had no cash to operate on, but I knew a few of the artists I wanted to book. You couldn‘t work that way forever, of course. I knew I had to find a way to get more tickets sold in advance, so I could build up some cash up front. But that would have to wait. For now, the performers and I were both winging it. They needed the exposure I could give them as much as I needed them.
By the middle of 1961, the Mitchell Trio and Miriam Makeba had agreed to come and play Orchestra Hall in the fall and winter. Harold Leventhal, who I knew from the Pete Seeger concerts, sent along Ewan MacColl and Peggy Seeger. We were off.
I designed the series to look just like the classical series that were all the rage. As far as I knew, I was the first promoter outside the long-hair world to launch a subscription series like this, and that quickly gave me a degree of respectability that often eluded the lowly pop promoter. Many of the artists, not incidentally, liked the way some of that cachet rubbed off on them.

Herb Cohen

This story takes place in Uncategorized. It was told on July 10th, 2012 by Frank.  Be the first to comment

By 1961 people were coming out in pretty fair numbers for folk acts, and whatever the case had been a few years before, it was no longer politics that was selling the tickets. What the audiences wanted to listen to was happy, engaging, relatively depoliticized music, and in most cases I had what they wanted.
Of all the pop-folk acts I booked, the Chad Mitchell Trio was perhaps the most political, and even their sharpest stuff was really light social satire, chosen more for its attention-getting features than anything else. Folk artists were there to entertain, and there was nothing wrong with that. (Of course, some purists on the left looked down on it. There was always some theorist willing to try to rein in this irrelevant, sectarian pursuit with some line or other.)
Herb Cohen, who had been active in the LA folk scene before he moved on to manage rock acts like Zappa and the like, talked with Ted a few years ago to help jog my memory. Here’s some of what he said about this.

After the Kingston Trio came out with its hit records, there were folk groups coming out of everywhere. Everywhere. See, after a certain point the whole thing was media-made. The Beat Generation was finished when you could go to I. Magnin’s and buy your weekend Beat clothes. As soon as anything becomes accepted and commercialized, it’s over. The same thing happened to folk music.
There was never really any big authentic folk music craze. It was just a musical form that was used and exploited. It had nothing to do with folk music in the sense of political and social music. It was really very hard for a group to be political living in Southern California, you know, in those days. I mean, what are they going to protest against, the weather? It started out as a political thing, but all of a sudden the record companies and the concert companies saw how much money you could make.
And then it was all over.
From there to rock and roll was just half a step, and then you’ve come to Jim Morrison, whose father was an admiral in the fucking Navy. So you’re talking about a generation so far removed from working-class attitudes and comprehension and background that their protest, you know, has absolutely nothing to do with the body politic as the generation before them knew it. If you asked them a political question they couldn’t give you a comprehensible answer. They wouldn’t know what you were talking about.

The British Invasion

This story takes place in 1964. It was told on July 4th, 2012 by Frank.  Be the first to comment

The truth was that the English invasion was much more in character with the coming times than we thought. A lot of their material was taken from the blues, for example, and they had a healthy respect for American black music. They even helped bring it over into the commercial mainstream.
Peter, Paul and Mary and the Chad Mitchell Trio took their role in musical and political history much more seriously, but they had nothing like the permanent impact on American culture that the Beatles did. They were on and off the main stage quickly.
That first night at the Ampitheatre, the Beatles couldn’t get off the stage fast enough. It was a more decorous age, but that night those girls looked like they could tear a Beatle’s hair out in moments. Doris Fine, a friend who was helping me with ticket sales, had given her niece a pair of tickets for that night’s show at the Ampitheater. Later, Doris told me, she asked her niece, “WeIl, did you enjoy yourself?”
“Oh yes,” sighed the girl.
“Did you hear anything?” Doris asked.
“No, not a note,” her niece said. “But just being there was enough.”