Chapter 4 of “All Excess”

Chapter 4: Go West, Young Man

Getting a Job isn’t easy in this Business

Coming of age in the 1960s, I could only dream of being part of the big music scenes that were happening in places like New York City and especially San Francisco. It was a new era of music, with brand-new acts all around, blowing people’s minds.

I’d watched the Beatles and other groups play on the Ed Sullivan Show. In addition to listening to the radio all day, every day, my brother and I would read all the music magazines, like Circus, 16 Magazine, and later, Creem, Crawdaddy, TeenSet, Melody Maker from England, and Rolling Stone. The music and cultural revolution in San Francisco and London made its way to us out in the Midwest by way of magazines like these, and we read them whenever we could get our hands on them.

The newest albums and concerts only became more important to me as I got older and they started consuming more and more of my life. The Chicago concert scene really bit into me during my high school years. I made friends with a guy named Greg Nelson who worked at the Flip Side, the local record store on Foster Avenue. Greg liked me and would help get me the good concert tickets we all needed so badly, starting with an English band we both loved called King Crimson. Their album art was almost as good as their record!

By the time I graduated from Maine East High School in 1972, I was ready to kiss Chicago good-bye and make the big move to the Bay Area. The Grateful Dead, Jefferson Airplane, Quicksilver Messenger Service, Big Brother, Santana—these artists had energized music and influenced attitudes, and the world was changing around them. I needed to go there, even if I was a little late. In retrospect, they were really just starting out!

These artists captivated me with their music, but I was also intrigued by the people behind the scenes. One name in particular kept coming up: Bill Graham. You’d read about this impresario again and again in magazine articles and hear about him on the radio. Before I was able to get to San Francisco, he had opened and closed the Fillmore East and the Fillmore West, two famous concert halls that had entertained music lovers from New York City and San Francisco, respectively, from 1968 to 1971. Those venues were as instrumental in breaking new bands as was the Ed Sullivan Show or any radio station. He became the best-known music promoter ever, a living legend. Even though he didn’t sing or play guitar, he was connected to everything in the music world. He was—the music man.

I had to get in with him—get to know him, work with him.

This was a man who was in on the ground floor, who would break new bands onto the national stage simply by inviting them to play at his venues. If San Francisco was the music city, Bill Graham was its spiritual mayor. Every trail led back to him and his hand- picked staff of music freaks, who enabled him to be free to do what he did as he could not have done it without them. They are the heroes who made it all possible with Bill’s direction and power: Mick Brigden, Dave Furano, Arnie Pustilnik, Danny Scher, Jerry Pompili, Rita Gentry, Annuska Nemeth, Bonnie Simmons, Peter Barsotti, Gregg Perloff, Sherry Wasserman, Kevin Chisholm, Willie John Cashman, Geof Wills, Brian Auger and Michael Bailey were-and still are-wonderful to me, Bob Barsotti was always my main guy, and I have enjoyed a lifelong professional and personal friendship with him and his wife, Suzy.

Jimmy did a bike trip to California with some buddies in ’69, right at the time when Easy Rider came out. Little did I know, I would become best friends with Dennis Hopper some years later, the director, star and inspiration for the 60s counter culture, as Billy, in the iconic movie. When they got back from their trip, they were different. I had to go to the City by the Bay. It was calling. And I really hated Chicago’s brutal winters.

My parents thought my plan to move to the Bay Area was a pipe dream, but I was out to prove them wrong. This was where I wanted to be—needed to be—and nothing was going to keep me from doing it. Sure, I’d been talking about the move for years, but they didn’t think I’d follow through. But I did.

I moved to Berkeley in 1972 with my friends Alan Lake and Jeff “Moge” Cohn, right out of high school at the age of seventeen. Alan and I are still best friends to this day, bound by our love for food, music, and girls—not necessarily in that order. Sadly, Moge moved on to the other side. I know he is there, patiently waiting! My new high school friends that I met in 1968 like Larry Kopald, Stephen Sayadian, Michael Kretske, the Cohn brothers (Otis and Moge), Elliott Marx, and Pat Leonard shared their affection for the best things in life, including the great hot dog from Paul’s Umbrella at Touhy and California, famous for a chunk of provolone added to the presentation with relish, mustard, onions and celery salt on a steamed bun, chased with a Kayo chocolate drink. They have long ago now closed, sadly, along with Henry’s the competition for many years when McDonald’s first came around. Then there was Al’s Italian Beef and Superdawg, don’t get me started. For dessert a White Castle! To this day, I don’t feel like I have visited Chicago properly if I leave one of these big three off of my route. Not for the faint of heart or stomach, but I love them all.

I started going to shows as soon as I got to Berkeley, in July of 1972. I found that Bill Graham had his hand in everything all across the Bay Area, and in all kinds of venues, including the Berkeley Community Theater (BCT), which I could walk to from the place on Dwight Way I shared with Moge. My parents hadn’t hooked me up with money or a car, which meant lots of walking and going to shows at the BCT, courtesy of a guy in my apartment building, Jerry Cummings, who worked there as an usher.

The first show I saw there was the Allman Brothers who were playing the day after I arrived. This wasn’t long after Duane Allman had died, and emotions were running high. It was a Bill Graham show, of course, and I was hoping to somehow get to see him and maybe hustle up a job for myself. Doing what, I didn’t know. And what was I going to say? I had no idea how to break into this business, but I wasn’t to be denied, so I just showed up and tried to meet people.

One of the people I met at that Allman Brothers gig was Twiggs Lyndon, who turned out to be the Brothers’ road manager. I found him sitting by the sound desk in the middle of the house, so I sat my seventeen-year-old ass behind him, and we became friends within less than a minute. I didn’t know it at the time, but Twiggs was a truly hard-core dude—he’d spent some time in jail for killing a guy who wouldn’t pay his band one night after a show.

Twiggs didn’t suffer fools easily, but as I soon learned, he was a pussycat. He took to me right away. He introduced me to the band before the show, and I managed not to blow it; I was designated their new brother and friend for the evening.

Twiggs gave me some great career advice that night: Show up when the trucks pull up in the morning to unload the band’s gear for a show and start helping out. “Act like you belong,” he said, “like you should be there, man!”

Good thing I took his advice, or I might never have broken into this business at all.

Twiggs was truly a piece of work. We first met in 1972, but I didn’t see him again till ’77, when I was booking a club called Dooley’s in Tempe, Arizona. Twiggs was travelling with a great new band called the Dixie Dregs, who were on their What If tour. I greeted Twiggs and reminded him who I was—that kid in Berkeley. And now here I was, about five years later, promoting a band he was working for! He was excited to see that he’d made such an impact on me, and we had a great night. You can see his picture on the back of a Dixie Dregs album, looking at his watch while the band jumps out of a plane. Sadly, he would later pass away skydiving—his parachute didn’t open.

The day following the incredible evening with the Allman Brothers and Twiggs, Bill Graham Presents (BGP) put on another show at the theater, this time with Yes, one of my all-time favorite English bands. The Edgar Winter Group was opening for them, and they’d just dropped their album They Only Come Out at Night, which contained the instrumental hit “Frankenstein.” This was a huge track at the time, and the show was a great bill. My plan was to show up early and start working, just as Twiggs had suggested. I got there early, and as soon as the truck pulled up to the theater, I hopped on the back and started humping gear with everyone else. I made like I was just another roadie or tech and moved that stuff as fast as I could. I even faked an English accent. And you know what? No one questioned my presence. The Yes people thought I was with Bill Graham, and Bill’s people thought I was with the band. It was perfect.

It was a busy day, moving all that heavy stuff and acting like I knew what I was doing, and, of course, I was too broke to eat. This was when I discovered “show catering”—the three full meals they serve to a bunch of hungry roadies over the course of a long day.

Bill Graham showed up for dinner just as I was sitting down to eat. He did his rounds, said his hellos, shook hands, and all that. He was a friendly guy. But when he came around to me, he didn’t shake my hand or pat me on the back. He just grabbed me by the scruff of the neck.

“Who’s this fucking kid?”

“That’s Cisco,” said Bob Barsotti, the high school rep for BCT.

“He’s with Yes.” (“Cisco” was an old nickname I sometimes used.) “No, he’s not,” said one of the guys with Yes. “We thought he was with you.”

Well, I’d been caught. It was time to see if Twiggs’s advice was worth a damn or not.

Bill looked at me.

“Kid, you’ve got a lot of chutzpah to be sitting here. Did you really do that?”

“Yeah,” I said.

“Well, you put in a good day’s work and you didn’t get in anybody’s way, and that’s half the battle. So go on and eat your food. Mazel tov.”

I was in, sort of. I was hanging in the same room with Bill, of course, and Yes, and Edgar Winter and his guys. Edgar’s older brother Johnny, a huge star in his own right, was rumored to be coming to the show—fresh out of rehab. When Johnny arrived out back in a station wagon during Edgar’s set, Bill brought me out to the alley to meet him. I grabbed his Gibson Flying V for him and we walked inside.

The show was amazing. The Edgar Winter Group took the stage and killed it. Johnny joined them for their encore, his first live appearance in a long time. They tore the roof off that place.

Then Yes took the stage with their new drummer, Alan White (who had replaced the original drummer, Bill Bruford—another of my drum idols—who had left to join King Crimson). Alan White is still with the band today, and it still feels like I was part of history, getting to hear him play one of his first shows with the legendary Yes. This kind of stuff was why I’d moved out there.

After the concert I wrote a letter to Bill Graham, trying to get myself a job. He wrote back, saying they didn’t have any positions open but that I should keep in touch. Although it wasn’t what I wanted to hear, I was happy to get an answer at all.

Still, I was running out of money quickly. I kept going to shows and getting nowhere. Before long, I was totally broke and couldn’t even get a job washing dishes at IHOP for $1.15 an hour.

I moved back to Chicago over Labor Day weekend, happy to have had the experience. Upon my return, my dad got me a job at a neighbor’s undercoating garage, driving new cars back and forth to the dealers for the service, which was spraying the undercarriage of the car with a sealant. Temporary but educational, it was my first job after high school. The Kramer brothers, Chuck and Lou, who owned and operated the Jefferson Park Garage, were total characters, right out of a movie. Because of my long hair, they liked to call me “Susie.” They taught me how to take some abuse! But I was getting restless.

Just a few months later, in the winter of ’73, I announced I was going to move to Phoenix and go to community college—but in reality, I was going to try my luck in the music business there. I hated the winters in Chicago. As much as I liked driving new cars in a mechanic’s outfit, this was beginning to look like a preview of the rest of my life which was not for me.

I had visited Phoenix for the first time in April of ’72, during my spring break from high school. I had never been on a plane before. The only place doing shows in Phoenix was the Celebrity Theatre, a 2,650-seat venue with a stage that rotated. On that trip I met the guy who promoted these shows, Doug Clark, and found him very unimpressive. Looking back, he did a good job—on paper, anyway. Chicago was a tough place to get a break. This area felt better, not to mention Camelback Mountain!

Chapter 4 Photo Gallery

Bill Graham, 1980s famous image of him

Bob Barsotti on holiday underneath the Golden Gate Bridge 2016

The Bulls!  Back row (left to right): Steven Sayadian, Michael Kretske, Pat Leonard, and Alan Lake.  Front row (left to right): Jeff Cohn, me, and Otis Cohn.

 

Twiggs Lyndon, Legendary road manager for the Allman Bros. and the Dixie Dregs

Johnny and Edgar Winter 1970s.

Chapter 3 of “All Excess”

Chapter 3: Ernie Banks
“One Last Autograph”

My brother Jimmy and I met Ernie Banks the same way I met Brian Piccolo. He would park his car across from Wrigley in the lot across
from the fire station on Waveland Avenue.

Ernie was an especially nice person and super friendly to kids. He was always cheerful, and he would remember our names. We felt like we were friends with him from day one. By the time we got there, Ernie had already been MVP twice for the Cubs. He was a superstar in Chicago, and everybody loved him.

One reason Ernie was so well loved in Chicago was his upbeat personality. He had a famous catchphrase that summed up his love for baseball: “It’s a beautiful day for a ballgame. Let’s play two!” You never ever heard anybody talk bad about Ernie Banks, despite all the racial tensions of the time. That was significant too, because he was the first black player for the Cubs. Ernie was one of those guys who naturally bridged the racial gap without talking about it. He had that unforgettable batting stance, his delicate long fingers wrapped around the bat, always moving, kind of like Carrie Underwood does with a mic. (I bet she never heard that one before!)

I had no idea of the significance he would later have in my life, or that we would stay friends for the long haul. We saw him regularly at Wrigley Field. Sometimes we’d have phone calls with him, and he would ask if we were keeping up with our studies, being respectful to our parents and siblings, and playing ball. We could not have had a better friend or role model. In 1968, when Martin Luther King was murdered, it was Ernie who went on TV and asked the people of Chicago to remain calm.

Ernie was also one of the first celebrity-endorsement guys. He and Cubs catcher Randy Hundley used to do commercials for a bank in Chicago, Uptown Federal Savings. They were classic commercials, and the two of them couldn’t have been more different: Randy was a Southern white guy, a shitkicker who spoke with a slow drawl, and Ernie’s voice was pleasant, cheerful, and soulful in contrast. They loved doing those ads.
By the time Ernie retired in 1971, Jimmy was working on becoming a writer. When Ernie got out of baseball, he was making the most you could make at the time, something like $100,000 a year. It took a little effort for him to find his feet after retiring; players in those days weren’t set for the rest of their lives the way they are now.

Ernie and my brother started working together. Jimmy was going to help Ernie find his voice and his way as he ventured out of the only business he’d ever really known. With his great and immediately recognizable voice (at one point he had been a broadcaster on WGN), he did a rap song about the Cubs. Jimmy started writing press releases for Ernie, acting as his press agent during the ’70s.

We stayed friends with Ernie throughout all these years. Ernie would come to Mesa for spring training, and I got to see him at the ballpark every now and then.

* * *

In 1981, my brother got really sick.

Jimmy and Ernie worked together right up till Jimmy died in April of 1981, right at the beginning of baseball season. He was thirty years old. When I was summoned back to Chicago to see Jimmy one last time, Ernie was one of the first people I called. He immediately came over to the hospital and visited with us, and Jimmy died the next day.

It was an awful time for all of us. Ernie came to the wake, and when he saw me there, he came over to me, shaking his head.
He said, “Hey, man, all these people want me to sign autographs. What should I do? What should I tell them? I hate to turn them down, but we’re at a wake; it’s your brother.”

“Look in his casket,” I said. Inside it, next to my brother, was a picture of Jimmy and Ernie.
I said, “Why don’t you do what you’d normally do?”

“Really?”

I turned around and said, “Folks, if you want an autograph, line up. You can have one of Jimmy’s funeral cards to get signed if you don’t have anything else for Ernie to sign.”

A line formed in front of my brother’s casket for Ernie to sign autographs. There were five people being viewed that day, and damned if everybody from every one of those viewing rooms didn’t come over and get one. I stood by Ernie the whole time.

Mom was just shaking her head and saying, “This is so unbelievable.”

I said, “Well, think about how many hours, and how many times Jimmy stood by Ernie waiting for him to be done so they could go do whatever they were going to do.”

That’s how it was every time. Anytime Ernie went anywhere in Chicago, he got stopped for autographs, and he would sign every one until everybody was happy. He never stopped. It was completely fitting that this would happen. I know Jimmy was very proud when he made his way through the Pearly Gates.

In the early ’80s, after Jimmy passed, Ernie came out to help out at a baseball camp that Randy had started here in Scottsdale. This was a new thing at that time. Guys over thirty would pay a lot of money to spend a week with some Cubs legends, and Ernie came out as a celebrity instructor. For a few hundred bucks you would get instruction from big-league ballplayers and actually play in a game with them at the end of the week. They do these all the time now, and the same thing is done with rock bands—you can get lessons from rock-and-roll musicians and play gigs with them. You get to live out your fantasy playing with the pros.

Ernie asked me to pick him up and take him to the field, where all this would take place. It was a fun day, and all these over-thirty guys were thrilled to be around the likes of Ernie, Billy Williams, Ron Santo, and Fergie Jenkins—all Cubs legends. Afterward, I drove Ernie back to his hotel and we went to his room together. He took off his uniform and handed it to me.

He said, “You’re going to be Ernie tomorrow.”

“What are you talking about?”

“I got to go. I can’t do this.”

“What do you mean you got to go? Where?? Aren’t you going to tell Randy?”

He said, “You tell Randy tomorrow. You show up dressed in my uniform. These guys don’t need Ernie Banks’s help. They need a lot more help than that. Tell them I’ll be back for the game at the end of the week, but I’m going to LA.”

Ernie then gave me his uniform, which was really big on me, and I went home, not feeling so good about this.

The next day, I had to tell Randy Hundley that Ernie wasn’t going to show up. He couldn’t believe it. In that drawl of his, he said, “He sent you to tell me that, and you’re wearing his uniform. Isn’t that incredible? You aren’t even thirty years old, not to mention nobody paid to be with you; no offense, but they came to be with Ernie.”

Randy was disappointed, but there was nothing I could do. He graciously allowed me to stay and help in a limited capacity.
I imagine they had words on the phone about it, but when Ernie came back to participate in the ballgame with these guys, everything seemed to be fine. I guess I’ll never know what actually took place there. Bottom line, I think Ernie was kind of embarrassed that he was asked to do this thing for Randy—after all, he was Ernie Banks, one of baseball’s best. I was happy to help, and to do this for a friend. I still have the uniform to this day, of course. That wasn’t going back.

Over all of these years, Ernie and I have had lots of phone calls, and great visits. He’d call me up at unpredictable moments, and he’d always have something on his mind. One time he wanted me to book Lady Gaga for him because Wrigley Field was going to give him the park for free to do a show. I called up her rep, Gerry Barad, but unfortunately, she wasn’t available.

Ernie loved music. Besides Lady Gaga, he loved Alicia Keys and Stevie Wonder. He’d call me up just to talk about whom I was booking, how these people were, and how my business was. He was always very inquisitive. One day my friend and partner, Arny Granat from the local legendary Jam Productions, and I were at a game and there was a rain delay, which isn’t unusual at Wrigley. I asked Arny to call a Cubs office guy to see if Ernie was in the house, and as luck would have it, he was. We met in an office on the Addison side of the park, and while waiting for Ernie, I was looking at all of these incredible, vintage photos on the wall, of the old Cubs and Wrigley Field. I asked Ernie about them when he came in, and he said they were from the Dave Phillips collection. Dave and I soon met and became fast friends. He is one of the most eloquent gentlemen I have ever met. He has millions of pictures of the Cubs and everything thing else Chicago from back in the day, all the way back to the Chicago fire of 1871. Today, as Dave approaches age ninety, our relationship continues, made possible by a rain delay … and Ernie Banks.

Ernie ended up doing well over the years. He worked a lot of the collector shows, where they would pay him to sign autographs and take pictures with people. Ernie was worth every penny. As the ’80s and ’90s went on, Ernie was always hustling and doing something with someone somewhere. He remained close to the Cubs all the way through, showing up in Arizona for spring training every year. We used to play golf every now and then, and yes, his golf swing was every bit as sweet as his baseball swing.

He and his wife Liz invited me to take part in his statue unveiling at Wrigley on opening day, 2008. White Sox legend Minnie Minoso was there, and so was Hank Aaron, and many of the old Cubs players I had grown up watching. Ernie, Hank, and I sat in the new private box in center field and had a great afternoon. There were dinners and all kinds of other fun I was able to take part in over a couple days of celebrations for Ernie. It was nice to see Ernie get this ultimate honor while he could enjoy it, and he was very proud of this recognition.

The last time I spoke with Ernie was after he had appeared on stage with Pearl Jam at their Wrigley Field concert. I wasn’t able to accept his invitation to join him for that event, and I regret it. He was very happy to be asked to participate in it. I asked him to come see Roger Waters there in 2012, but unfortunately, he couldn’t. I would have loved to see Ernie on the stage of the legendary Wall concert. He died a couple years later, and I never got to say a proper good-bye. Hardly anyone meant as much to me as Ernie. He always understood me, and we really loved each other. I feel blessed to be able to say that Ernie was one of my “besties.” (His word—he was very hip in his eighties!)

I was very happy when President Obama gave Ernie the Presidential Medal of Freedom, which is the highest honor given to civilians in the United States, established in 1963 by President John F. Kennedy. It is presented to those who have made “an especially meritorious contribution to the security or national interests of the United States, world peace, cultural, or other significant public or private endeavors.” He was so proud of this honor.

There will never be another like him. Let’s play 2!

Chapter 2 of “All Excess”

Chapter 2
Brian Piccolo
“You’re Definitely Buying Today”

It’s a mystery to most people how concert artists get paid, or how any performer gets paid. I found out younger than most, but not through the music business. For me, it all started with collecting autographs as a kid in Chicago.
Back then you could buy a mimeographed lists of baseball players’ private addresses so you could write to them. You could buy them from ads in sports magazines for $3.99. We would use these lists to write letters to Hall-of-Famers and old players who had quit years and years before, asking for pictures and autographs on cards we had collected.
Insert picture of cards here and Ray Schalk letter
When it came to current players, we could send stuff to ballparks. They always got their mail, and they still do. If you ever wanted to reach anybody who was playing any sport, you could write care of their club or stadium and they’d end up getting it. Back then, getting ahold of these guys was a passion for my brother and me. I wrote to several major-league players, including the great Yogi Berra—and he wrote me back! The letter from Yogi was written in response to my letter to him on the day after my 9th birthday. I am pretty sure that was the first type or response I got back from someone as cool as Yogi, rather than the usual autographed picture we would request with our letters to the stars.

My brother Jimmy and I made a few other collector friends that were the regulars that hung out around the ballparks starting with the 1964 baseball and football seasons at Wrigley Field in Chicago. Jimmy was three years older than me, and he was what’s known as a blue baby. He’d had open heart surgery when he was two years old. The way they put it to me was that half of his cylinders worked, and the other half didn’t. It wasn’t good for him to overexert himself; he couldn’t run very far without getting totally gassed. His lips would turn purple and his skin would turn blue.

The Zelisko kids, in front Jeff and Barb, in back Jimmy holding Johnny. Bob and me.
From the time I was a little kid, Mom and Dad told me in as gentle a way as they could that we never knew what was going to happen with Jimmy’s health, so I should be good to him. I really didn’t know what that meant until I got older, but he pretty much had a normal life. He did everything that a kid does, and even played baseball. But he couldn’t play football, ever. He tried to play hockey, but he couldn’t really skate all that well, so he played goalie. He could stand in the way of a puck and get hit like anybody else—that’s really all you had to do.
Jimmy was the one who took me to those games early on, since I couldn’t go on my own. We’d hop on a bus at Milwaukee Avenue and go down to Addison, and for a nickel transfer, we could be at Wrigley Field. It was 17 cents each way. We would have to find 34 cents between us to get to there, and 34 cents to get back.
Little by little we learned the tricks to meeting the players: We’d find out when they got to the ballpark so we could get autographs from them then. Then we’d find out when the players’ buses were going to arrive on the opposite side of the field, because they had to walk through a side entrance on Addison. There we would wait, with baseball cards and pictures and everything else in hand, as we had them all to ourselves for maybe thirty yards. Very few people were hip to all of this back then.
It wasn’t just staking out the stadiums. We found out where those players stayed, too, and as we got older (as budding teenagers) and more sophisticated, we started going to their hotels. They’d be wandering around the lobby waiting for the bus to go to the game, and we’d stalk them for autographs. We weren’t the only ones doing this of course, but it turned out to be a better way of doing it because there were fewer people at the hotels than there were at the ballpark. Mickey Mantle would recognize fans who asked for autographs too often. I heard him say (to me) a couple times, “I signed for you yesterday.” How did he know? By looking at their shoes! Getting more autographs was simple: don’t wear the same shoes two days in a row! He literally ran me over a couple times when I tried to get in his way for another signature.
This was taking place when the Bears and the Cubs shared Wrigley Field, before the Bears moved to Soldier Field in the ’70s, along with going to the south side for the White Sox at Comiskey Park. Seeing the Bears play in Wrigley Field was like seeing the Beatles in a nightclub, as only about 40,000 people could get into Wrigley.
Every game was sold out, so it was next to impossible to get a ticket for any Bears game. Season tickets were so precious that you could only get one if somebody treated you, or died, because they were handed down through generations. Ticket scalpers were not as prevalent as they are now, either. And yet I never paid for a Bears ticket in the ’60s. Why? I’ll get to that shortly.
I had heard of a college player named Brian Piccolo, a running back for Wake Forest University. Incredibly, nobody picked him in the draft. This was a guy who ran for more yards than anyone else in college football in 1964, yet was passed over because the experts said he was too small. Never mind that he’d been going up against the biggest, best stars of college football and making them look bad. He signed with the Bears as a free agent, and he was designated to the taxi squad, which was the pool they would draw players from in the event of an injury. Sport magazine ran a picture of Brian Piccolo nuzzling his wife clutching a contract, when he was finally signed as a free agent. I loved these people before I met them.

I didn’t meet him until his first practice session at Wrigley Field, at the beginning of the season in ’65. We’d go to the park on Saturdays for practice, to see the players when they came in. They were much more relaxed at practice than on game days, and they’d always spend time with us on the way in, signing whatever we had and chatting us up. After we got to know them, they would walk us into the games on Sundays, past the ushers at the gate, saying, “This is my brother,” or “I’m just walking him in.” The ushers would nod and let us in. Still, we’d get some funny looks when one of the black players walked their “little brother” in. After that, we could find a place to sit during the game in one of the rare no-show seats.
This particular day, Brian Piccolo showed up at the exact same time as Gale Sayers and Dick Butkus. Piccolo saw the kids clamoring around them and parked across the street instead of in the regular players lot. I ran over to him instead of Sayers or Butkus because I figured I could see them later—and besides, I wasn’t a huge fan of theirs. By now I’d studied up on Brian, and he was a big deal to me.
So I went over to him. He said, “What’s wrong with you, kid? That’s Dick Butkus and Gale Sayers over there. They’re the new stars of this team. I’m a nobody.”
I rattled off all his figures, all these plays he’d pulled out. He thought I was nuts, but he was impressed, and we got to be friends. He became one of my first real buddies on the Bears.

Every now and then he’d drive me home after practice, to Niles, a Chicago suburb, even though he lived way south and I lived northwest. He would go fifty miles out of his way. This was during the winter, and he did it a number of times, especially when the weather got bad.
Finally my dad asked, “Who’s driving that black Chevy?”
I told him, “That’s my friend from the Bears, Brian Piccolo. He’s gonna be a big star for the Bears.”
He thought I was making it up, but Brian finally came in and had coffee one day. He wisely said, “I figured since I’m a grown man dropping your kid off, maybe I ought to come in and introduce myself. You got a good kid here. I didn’t want him to have to take the bus when it was so cold and wet out.”
Between getting to know Brian and our consistent appearances outside the park, Jimmy and I came to be familiar faces to a lot of baseball and football players. It got around to the people in my Little League, and eventually even some local retail stores found out that I had access to these players. We talked, and I started getting the players to come by these businesses and sign a few autographs. Remember, this was before people had agents, so getting out there and getting face time and writing letters was the only way to make connections. I would also look on the back of baseball cards and see that someone lived in Chicago where they listed home town, look them up in the phone book and give them a ring. My first player was a pitcher named Johnny Klippstein, who had played for the Cubs, but was now on the Twins. I hooked him up with my little league commissioner and they arranged for Johnny to come talk at the annual father and sons get together in the off season. Johnny was my first booking.

I got referrals for guys like Joe Fortunato and Richie Petitbon, and even the famous Gale Sayers. All I was doing was passing on a name and a number and telling the players to give them a call. In those days, football players only made $10,000 a year if they were lucky. Now, of course, they’re making millions of dollars in a season, but back then they had to get other jobs in the off-season to supplement their income.
In the beginning of 1967, Walt Buesse from the Niles Little League called me up and said, “Hey Danny, can you get somebody to come and speak at the father-son gathering we have at the beginning of the season?”
I said, “I bet Brian Piccolo would be open to do it.”
He said, “Oh, he’d be great. Offer him $200 to come talk to all of us, sign some autographs, and snap a few pictures with everybody.”

I called Brian up and made the offer.
Brian said, “He came out with $200 for me to come do this, huh?”
“Yeah.”
“Make it $300, and a steak dinner for you and me. I’ll come over and pick you up. Tell me the date and time.”
We all agreed to the terms. The dinner was at this place called the Lone Tree Inn, which was at Milwaukee and Howard Street on the border of where Niles and Chicago meet. During Prohibition it had been a mob hangout and an Al Capone favorite. They used to go over there to eat because Niles is just across the town’s border, which meant they could be away from the eyes of the police.
When we got to the place there were eight or ten Little League people at the table. Brian and I were introduced to everybody, and they said, “We got two seats for you and Danny here.”
Brian said, “I’ll tell you what, we’re going to take that table over in the corner so we can have some time, but we’ll come over and join you for dessert.”
They were a little surprised. “No offense,” Brian said. “I just want to hang out with my man here for a little bit.”
So we had a nice dinner. I was about twelve at the time, so this was a great moment for me. After dinner he gave me a wink and told me to come into the bathroom with him. I told him I didn’t need to go, and he replied, “yes, you do.”
We went into the bathroom, and he held out thirty bucks in cash. “Here,” he said.
“What’s that for?”
“What do you mean, ‘What’s that for?’ It’s your commission. You get a commission when you book things. You booked me to do a speech, and I’m getting paid. So you’re getting a steak dinner, just like me, and you get 10% for making it happen. Don’t be a schmuck. Didn’t you ever get paid from those other guys for helping them arrange appearances?”
I hadn’t. That was the first time I’d ever made a commission for booking somebody. I had no idea. This was also the first time I’d heard the word schmuck.
Sometime later, after the season opened after practice, Brian took me into the clubhouse and said the old man wanted to see me. That meant George Halas, one of the co-founders of the NFL, and the coach and owner of the Bears, Papa George.

He brought me into his office and said, “I understand you’ve been booking my players.”
I thought I was in some serious trouble. I thought this legend was going to yell at me. But instead he came around the desk and shook my hand.
“These guys are always trying to get more money out of me,” he said. “I’m glad somebody else is helping out. They need to get work in the off-season, so it’s really good that you’re around. I’ve seen you around here before, of course, and I’m happy to know that you’re not just one of those goofy autograph kids with nothing going on upstairs.”
He went out into the clubhouse and called a quick team meeting. He took his hat off; nobody had ever seen that bald head of his, since he never went anywhere without his hat. The next thing I knew, there was almost $300 in the hat for me from George Halas and the players, and George was encouraging the team to get my phone number so we could reach one another and all make money. I went across the street with Brian for a footlong at Franksville, our favorite hot dog place. He said, “You’re definitely buying today!”

That was how I learned that by networking with these contacts and using a bit of charm, I could make mutually beneficial connections between us. This was all years before I started going to concerts and realized that there was somebody who actually arranged those, that there was a promoter.
Gale Sayers got injured in 1968. I was at that game: they were playing the 49ers, and Kermit Alexander clipped Gale’s knee, knocking him out for the rest of the season. Brian had to step in and replace him, and he became a hero in Chicago by stepping in for the great Sayers. After helping Gale rehab while doing his job for him on the field, Brian became starting fullback in 1969. They were a dream team in the Bears backfield, Sayers and Piccolo.

Later in the season, Brian developed an awful cough that turned out to be lung cancer. Less than a year later, he was dead at 26 years old. It was a huge blow to me. I was mature, but not mature enough to take that kind of a hit.
Dad and I went to the funeral, and I was a hot mess. After that, I turned my back on football altogether; it was too painful. I stopped going to Bears games. It just wasn’t any fun anymore. They moved to Soldier Field, and a couple years later I would be on the move, too. Only recently have I been to Soldiers Field for some tailgating with my buddy and new concert promoting partner, Scott Gelman. The Bears team and fans seem to have a new lease on life, I wish them well.
The movie Brian’s Song came out in 1971, about the life and great story of Brian Piccolo. It was the first experience I can recall about cancer, and how it could destroy people. Some years later I wrote a letter to Brian’s widow, Joy. She wrote me back saying how much Brian liked me, and how he always looked forward to coming to the park, knowing I’d be waiting for him. He was always worried when he didn’t see me there. I used to wait with her for the team to come out after the games, with the rest of the players’ families and wives. She was really a sweet and wonderful woman. It was a glorious but sad period in my life, yet all part of growing up.

I miss Pic to this day. His impact on my life was a great one, that I cherish every day. Pictures of him are around me, everywhere I go.

 

Danny’s New Book “All Excess” Chapter 1

I have been writing a book for the last few years. I think it’s a good time to put it out there now, a chapter at a time – till this thing keeping us home goes away. WE STILL NEED TO BE ENTERTAINED RIGHT?

HERE is the first chapter of the book. Feel free to SHARE. I hope you like it. New Chapter every Monday.

-CHAPTER 1-
Please Please Me

The Beatles and Ed Sullivan
My brothers and I had started paying attention to songs that were played on the radio, in Chicago in the early 1960s. All there was for us kids to listen to was AM radio. There were two stations: WLS and WCFL. There were 45 RPM records and 33 RPM long-play records in stores, but we weren’t buying those quite yet. The first record I ever bought was “Puff the Magic Dragon,” by Peter, Paul and Mary.
We would go to bed at night, each of us with a transistor under our pillow, and try to be the first to guess what song was playing and yell out the name of the song. WLS had a weekly list called the Silver Dollar Survey. This was when I first heard the phrase “Top 40.” The Silver Dollar Survey was a thin piece of paper, maybe three-by-eight, that would show the top 40 songs each week, and it was available at record stores all over the place. New songs would appear at the bottom of the survey every week, and some other songs would end up being taken out because they ran out of room for them. This was my introduction to the music business.
One Friday afternoon after school, I went over to the record store to pick up my new Silver Dollar Survey, and this song appeared on the list called “Please Please Me,” by a group called the Beatles, whom I’d never heard of. Of course, me being a spelling-champ type of guy, I noticed that “Beatles” was spelled differently from beetle. In fact, they spelled it The Beattles on the survey!
As soon as I heard the song in the record store, I absolutely loved it. It was magic—an arm-hair raising experience. It lasted only one week on the survey!
A lot of great American vocal harmony acts came out during those days—the Beach Boys; Dion; Peter, Paul and Mary; and the Four Seasons, just to name a few—but the Beatles did it with a certain tongue-in-cheek coolness. The Beatles didn’t look like Elvis. They didn’t look like roughnecks. They seemed very approachable. They were the perfect package. They masterfully combined electric guitar music with catchy hooks and great vocals, and it was unlike anything I’d ever heard before. To this day, nobody has ever done it like the Beatles, and nobody ever will.
“Please Please Me” is not the Beatles’ best song, but it was the first one that I liked, and it remains one of my favorites. It displayed their ability to combine very simple words with music that appealed to you, that you could dance to. I bought the single, and I was probably the only kid in the neighborhood who had a copy of it. I played that song for my family, my friends, and everybody I knew.
This went on for most of 1963—and then the Beatles exploded. As the famous story goes, TV talent host Ed Sullivan was at Heathrow Airport in London, and the place was jam-packed with thousands and thousands of kids waiting to get a glimpse of the Beatles when they flew in. The Beatles were already huge in the UK and Germany, and it seemed the entire city of London had turned up to see them. Sullivan asked what all the commotion was about. When he was told that it was for the Beatles, he said anybody who was making this much noise among the kids had to be on his TV show. He immediately booked them to perform, and the rest, as they say, is history.
The fact that they were English also piqued the public’s interest. Think about it: try to name one English singer or band before the Beatles. I can’t. They put England on the map, and their music opened up the world for a whole new generation. Now, probably for the first time, people really wanted to go to England.
There was no way for that 45 record groove to capture the excitement the Beatles were generating all over Europe—it was their live performances that were so stunning. The four great personalities that made up that group were an incredible experience live, as everybody finally saw, in 1964, on The Ed Sullivan Show.
This was how I started to learn what it takes to break a band and make them big. You have to do more than just get discovered. The one thing every band has in common is that they were a baby band, first. They were somebody that nobody cared about. If they were lucky, they got a manager who knew the ropes and might be able to help get them a record deal.
Promoting a band’s career means getting involved with them when they’re brand new, recognizing if there’s an audience for them, and helping them to find it. If it works, you’re in like Flynn, for the time being anyway, and hopefully you’re with that band as long as they keep making music.
Almost ten years later, when I was starting out in the live music promoting business, I called up Frank Barsalona’s Premier Talent Agency, and asked about my favorite bands—acts that were just coming out in the early ’70s, like Robin Trower and Yes. They’d tell me, “We don’t know you. You could be the greatest promoter in the world, but you haven’t proven yourself yet. You’ve got to do some of the smaller groups and show that you can do whatever it takes to help them grow. Keep in touch.”
That was probably the same thing they said to the lots of other people who somehow found their phone numbers, and most would never call back.
Lots of people fantasize about booking bands, but very few people actually follow through because it’s a lot of work. It’s a lot of tedious steps, and it often involves losing money on your first few shows, as I did, in order to show that you can take a hit and carry on; pick yourself off the floor when you lose, and continue to do it.
The booking agents don’t want to be in business with people who aren’t going to be able to pay the act the night of the show because they screwed up and didn’t charge enough, or who get taken by surprise because they didn’t know how many people were going to show up. Doing it right is about being in the right hall on the right date, charging the right price for tickets, getting the word out, and so many other things. All those factors are key to being a successful promoter.
But in 1963–1964, I wasn’t thinking about any of that stuff. It was a rush just to have heard about a band like the Beatles, and to know after they hit it big, that I was right to have liked them from the start. It didn’t occur to me then that this business was something I ought to do, or that I had a good ear for this stuff. I didn’t know shit. But I did like the mop-tops!
If you would’ve told me then I would be having anything to do with The Beatles later on in life, I would’ve not believed it – then, anyway.

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