Chapter 18: In a Jam

Chapter 18: In a Jam

My brother Jimmy got a job in the late ’70s writing for a Chicago weekly magazine called Illinois Entertainer, which is still in business today.  He got an interview set up with Fred Ordower, who worked at Jam Productions, the big local promoter in Chicago.  Jam Productions was started by two college buddies, Arny Granat and Jerry Mickelson.  I really wasn’t all that familiar with them because I’d left Chicago for Berkeley in 1972 and then moved to Arizona, so I was pretty much gone from Chicago altogether by 1973.  But these Jam guys came along and dominated the market.  Jimmy was going to follow Fred around all day at a Santana concert that Jam was putting on, just to see what he did on a show day to make it happen.

Fred said, “Tell you what, Jimmy: you can follow me around, but don’t mention my name in the article because Arny and Jerry, my bosses, do the press for the company.  I don’t do that.  I’m just a working guy, so don’t put my name in the article.”

When the article came out, Fred’s name was all over it.  He blew up at Jimmy, who was very remorseful about it.  After that, they ended up becoming really good friends.  Somewhere along the way, Jimmy told Fred that he had a brother out in Arizona who was putting on concerts.

He said, “Oh really? You should have him call us.”

So that’s what I did.  I went to Chicago, met all the Jam guys, and ended up booking my first show with them.  It was Gino Vannelli in December of 1977 and let me just say, I loved Gino Vannelli.  We put on a great show but unfortunately it didn’t do really well.  Arny came out to cover the show and was perplexed when he saw that I had pulled tickets to watch Gino.  I told him, “This is why I do this, man, for the music!” He laughed.  I am happy to say I still sit and watch almost every show I put on!

In 1978, I was still booking shows at Dooley’s and found myself on the short end of the money tree.  I thought I’d ask the guys at Jam if they’d like to work out some sort of deal in which I could become affiliated with them.  Plus, I needed $7,500.  So they wrote me a check for the money, along with a letter saying that I would pay them back within six months.  During that six months’ time, I was going to give them 50 percent of my action on any shows that I booked.  Basically, they bought half of my business for six months for $7,500 and I had to pay them back.

One thing led to another, and by virtue of our arrangement, we got friendly and comfortable enough to just keep on doing shows.  We went into 1979 without stopping to notice that the six months was up; we just kept doing it.  We arranged another meeting in Chicago and decided we’d start doing stuff together long term.  I now had them for financial backing.  They’d have to cover any up-front, out-of-pocket expenses on shows that I booked and I would pay them back after each show, plus any profits.

Basically, through them, I learned the art of doing the business that it takes to put on concerts: contracts, insurance, banking, and accounting—all those things that you don’t learn until you have to do them yourself.  They were instrumental in helping me master all those areas, and it didn’t take me long to learn, but it had to be done.  Fred was my instructor throughout most of it.  Arny also played a mentoring role, but Fred was really the hands-on teacher.  He was the guy I worked with every day, the one who painstakingly went over the ticketing and advertising with me.  He had it down.  He had various “formulas” for different kinds of groups and different kinds of buildings.  It was good for me as a young promoter to have a big outfit like Jam in my corner.

By 1980, I was starting to get some shows outside of Dooley’s.  I was becoming the regular go-to promoter in Phoenix and Tucson.  I had started to expand, doing some shows in New Mexico with a friend of mine, Chuck Deleonardis. Our first show was Taj Mahal, this time in Taos.

We had a sit-down in Chicago to decide how it was all going to shake out.  I had expenses; there’s a lot that goes into running a business like this, more than it might seem.  You’ve got office rent, hired help, your own salary, and so forth.  So we decided that I would take the first $10,000 off the top of the profits each month and cover my overhead.  From there, we would split the take fifty-fifty.  This went on all the way into the 1990s.

When you become a go-to guy for the booking agents, they call you for everything.  They knew that when you had a tour coming to Phoenix or Tucson, you called Danny.  It’s not like I was beating everybody out of shows or undercutting people or anything shady like that.  I was just in the right place at the right time and did the right things.  I did good business and paid people when I was supposed to.  That gave me credibility, not to mention, none of the other major promoters from outside the state ever opened an office in Arizona, which was a good thing for me.

Evening Star eventually went up to doing over four hundred shows a year.  We were getting everything that came to Phoenix and Tucson, and eventually, Albuquerque and Vegas too.

By the mid 1980s, Evening Star was one of the biggest promoters in the country.  I kept my head down and just booked, booked, booked.  Becoming somebody was no longer an issue.  The ESP staff was running on all cylinders.

I added employees as I went along and the demand for help was there, one by one till we had a great staff of people who had by and large never done this before.  I was very proud of what we did, and most of these same people are in great jobs in the business today.  The ones who decided to leave the business were trained to do just about anything, in any walk of life.

I was fortunate enough to have these people who got the most important jobs of their lives, who ran all facets of Evening Star and I’m very proud of what the core unit have done with their lives/careers.  It’s a shame that we still can’t work together every day, as they were a terrific group of people that learned how to do business the way I wanted it done and no one was better.  Though there were many other employees, my main core was comprised of Terry Burke, one of my very first hires, who now runs the Live Nation office in Phoenix.  Then there was my incredible assistants Mary Passarella, Danielle Tobin, Krystal Muller, Nigel Buchan, Mick Treadwell, Mike Mueller, Tim Mohn, Mariam Neyens and I became a family in this incredible business together for a great many years.  We really had a great thing going.  Mazeltov to them and the others who worked at ESP over the years!

Had I known that Bob Sillerman, whose company SFX bought Evening Star in 2001 was planning on bundling ESP with 12 other promoter purchases around the country to sell it to Clear Channel, I would have never sold my beloved company.  I miss those people a lot.  More on that later.

 

A close up of text on a white background Description automatically generatedThis is the letter that started my business relationship with Jam. This arrangement went on for over 20 years, and we did great by each other.

The Jam boys – Jerry Mickelson, Scotty Gelman, who I am doing shows with now and Arny Granat, best man at 2 of my weddings, my daughter’s godfather and great partner for many years.

Backstage at A Star is Born concert in 1976 with my future New Mexico promoting partner Chuck Deleonardis, a couple years before we started doing shows there.  Note the cool tie dye Frampton shirt.  Rock t-shirts have saved me the misery of shopping for a long time!  I consider this formal wear, or smart work attire.

Gino Vannelli performing at Symphony Hall in Phoenix, December 1977.  This was my first show with Jam plus a long settlement with Arny and the building after the show. 

A ticket from that first show with Gino and Jam.

A very groovy business card designed by long time art collaborator, Jaci Scully.

A later version of our pass, with a  super groovy new logo, by Gary Fife, late 70s.

Chapter 17: The Birth of Evening Star

Chapter 17: The Birth of Evening Star

How it Got Started 

I continued booking Dooley’s for the rest of 1976.  By December, I had already started booking shows for the next year.  The thing was, sometimes Don Reno didn’t like the shows I suggested.  The first one he turned down was Taj Mahal; he wasn’t really familiar with him.  I booked him anyway.

I said, “Would you mind if I did it?”

“You go right ahead, but we will have no risk in the show.” 

When they wouldn’t do Taj Mahal, I had to form a company.  Needing a name, I looked through my record collection.  Robert Fripp, who was the founder of King Crimson, along with Brian Eno from Roxy Music, had an album out called Evening Star.  It was an atmospheric kind of record.  I loved the album and the picture on it,  as well as the name, so that’s what I decided to call my company.  I incorporated Evening Star that year.  Some years later, when I mentioned to Fripp how I’d come up with the name of my company, he asked for a royalty.  Funny guy.

I booked Taj Mahal for the very first Evening Star show in January of 1977, and we almost sold out the two shows.  I made a lot that night—about $3,000, which was more than I’d ever made on a concert up to that point in my life (or on anything else, for that matter).

Don never liked the uncertainty and risk of booking concerts.  Although we did really great during our first full year together (1977) he called me into his office later one day and said, “Listen, D-boy,” (his name for me) “I just want to collect the bar.  I can’t stand being involved with these concerts.  They’re up; they’re down.  I’ll provide you with the club, the people to help you with the tech stuff and the security.  You just buy the advertising, pay for the groups and I’ll take care of the rest.  You bankroll your own shows from now on because I don’t want to do this anymore.  I’ll even stake you.”

At the time, we used to have to pay 50 percent deposits on whatever the artist’s guarantee was.  He said he would put that money up, so I jumped on it.

The first act I did on my own was the great saxophonist Grover Washington Jr. from Philadelphia, in the beginning of 1978.  The two shows completely sold out and I did great.  The only bad news was that Grover left his saxophone on the stage when he finished his show and somebody stole it.  He had people to watch out for his gear and it shouldn’t have been left up there.  I felt bad about that.  Talk about a buzzkill.  This was the beginning of my new life.  It was one of the key moments in my promoting career, a chance to do this on my own instead of just booking shows as a salaried employee, I welcomed the gamble.  Plus, I didn’t need permission anymore; no one was telling me whom I could or couldn’t book, because it was my risk.

The feeling of freedom was just fantastic, because I was already good at this.  I had a great feel for what the market wanted to hear and I had this great show place, Dooley’s, that wasn’t terribly expensive to run.  There were so many great bands coming along then too.  Some of the groups I was booking were becoming very big very quickly, because in those days, radio stations played new music by new bands, which doesn’t happen too much anymore.

Now it was “Evening Star Presents” on all the shows at Dooley’s.  I would welcome the audience to the auditorium from the stage at the beginning of the show, as I still do.  It’s one of my favorite parts of the night, when I go out onto the stage and talk to the crowd about other shows that are coming up.  What better place to promote the next shows?

That was truly my entrance into the business, and a really important part of how I grew my company.  We were booking one or two, sometimes three shows a week at Dooley’s.  We did well over a hundred shows a year there.

Some of these acts went on to become legitimate superstars.  It was like a rite of passage, a coming-of-age thing.  Playing Dooley’s was a very, very important thing for up-and-coming bands all the way into the ’90s.  Over the years, we booked the Police, Cheap Trick, Pat Benatar, Talking Heads, KISS, Bon Jovi, and Nirvana, among many others, until the place finally closed in the mid-1990s.

A second Arizona Dooley’s opened in Tucson in the late 70’s, but it was only in business for a few years.  Dooley’s in Tempe went through a couple of changes too.  The original owners sold it to a group out of Colorado and it was renamed After The Gold Rush.  The next and final owners, Jim Torgeson and his wild partner renamed it the Electric Ballroom.  They painted all the wood in the place black, which was nasty, but it stayed open till 1995.  We still had a lot of great bands playing in there.  By now we were getting groups like the Black Crowes and No Doubt, both of which were new bands at the time.  Everybody played this club.

When the owners ran out of money and the club closed for a while, I tried to buy it along with another couple of guys: Charlie Levy, who used to book shows for me—and who became a really good promoter/club operator in his own right—and his partner, Tucker Woodbury, who owned the Rockin’ Horse in Scottsdale, where we did some shows.  Unfortunately, somebody arrived at the last minute and offered even more money to close the deal, right there on the spot, without giving me a chance to make a counteroffer.  Another close one!  The new owners turned it into a charter school, so that historic location will never again be a concert hall.  So many things would be different in this town had we been able to buy that place.  Charlie and Tucker later opened the Crescent Ballroom and the Van Buren in Downtown Phoenix and I am able to book a show there every now and then.  To their credit, they have done a great job in helping to attract music fans to the Downtown area, as well as in turning people on to new music.

A very early pass for guests, 1977.

Chapter 16: Muddy Waters – Hard Again!

Chapter 16: Muddy Waters – Hard Again!

I started booking Muddy Waters in the ’70s through the Paragon Agency out of Georgia.  He got $3,500 to do two shows a night.

When it comes to legends, there aren’t many bigger than Muddy Waters.  This guy has been responsible/credited for much of the sound of great modern blues rock that we hear today.  He made a huge impact on the entire music world.  The Rolling Stones even named themselves after his song “Rollin’ Stone.”

The Rolling Stones loved Muddy Waters and all those classic blues musicians, going all the way back to Robert Johnson, B.B. King, Freddie King, John Lee Hooker and Albert King.  These great American blues players along with others, had a huge impact on the music that came out of England.  Guys like Jimmy Page, Eric Clapton and Jeff Beck were all fans of these bluesmen, and if you listen to their records, it becomes pretty obvious.  Just think about it, all these British kids listening to this stuff coming from America and then crossing the pond, playing what they’d learned from the original styles, sparking a music revolution.

But this was a tricky time.  It was before people started to properly revere Muddy Waters the way they should have all along.  Honestly, he has never gotten nearly enough credit.  People today don’t realize how much of what he’s recorded matters.  Many people know nothing about how music came to be or how rock and roll emerged from the blues and R&B back in the day.  It wasn’t until these English bands gained popularity, covering old blues songs while name-dropping the original artists in interviews and even bringing them on tours.  It is when these blues greats started getting the recognition (and some cash) they deserved and should have received from the very beginning.

Bill Graham was big on that.  Putting eclectic and influential artists and their younger rock descendants on the same tour.  I have a poster on my wall advertising a show in which Miles Davis, of all people, opened for the Grateful Dead.  The Dead revered Miles Davis.  At that time, it seemed unusual.  Why would this bunch of hippies, this acid-rock band, have Miles Davis opening for them?  When it came to experimentation and musical exploration, Miles was even more out there than the Dead.  He was a genius and a lot of that jam-band sound came from musicians like him.  I mean, who was doing the jamming originally?  The jazz artists, that’s who.  That’s another way Bill really had an impact, by bringing these different acts together.  He really changed the game, and other promoters all over the country started doing the same.

I admired Muddy Waters, and we got along really well.  He wasn’t even that old then; in fact, he was younger than I am right now.

One day I was just sitting in my office on another call, during a meeting with my feet up on the desk.  I was working out of my home in Scottsdale at that point.  This was when there was an intercom function on phones so your assistant could let you know, over the speaker, that you had another call.  The intercom came on and someone said, “Danny, Muddy Waters is on line one.”

I fell off the chair. Muddy Waters was calling me on the phone!  Before I got carried away, I thought to myself, I hope this isn’t some wise guy trying to pull a prank call.  Muddy did have a show coming up with me in a week or two so maybe it was possible.  I was currently on the phone and in a meeting and the person sitting across from me was very impressed, so I picked up the call.

“Muddy?” I asked. “Is that you?”

There was that deep, powerful but happy voice: “Well, I’m coming to see you.  Can’t wait!  Looking forward to another show with you.  This time I’m bringing the new Mrs. Waters with me.”

“Really?”

“Yes, I am.  I wonder if I could ask you a personal favor?” 

“Well, what would that be?”

“I was wondering if you couldn’t get me a little bit of the hoochie cooch?”

“The what now?”

“Hoochie cooch, Mary Jane, marijuana.  You know what I’m talking about.” he answered.

“Absolutely.” I assured him.

“Oh, Mrs. Waters, she loves the hoochie cooch.  You know why my new album is called Hard Again? Because Mrs. Waters, she likes the hoochie cooch and then she goes crazy on ol’ Muddy.  If I can get crazy, you know I’m gonna appreciate it, being as old as I am and everything.  She does shit I can’t tell you about, but if you could just get that for me, I’d consider it a personal favor.”

So naturally, I got it for him.  There’s another level of friendship you can develop with somebody over something like that and when you get right down to it, it’s more or less innocent.  It’s medicinal and spiritual all at the same time!

Another time, in 1981, Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers came to play for me at the University Activity Center at Arizona State University.  I was the main promoter for the venue throughout the ’80s.  We’d do about six to ten shows a year there.  We’d get acts like Neil Diamond, Bruce Springsteen and Billy Joel.  This was when these acts were fairly new, not the established veterans as they are now.  It was very exciting to be a part of their careers as they were unfolding, not knowing what came next for them.

Tom and I got to be friends too and it all came together when he came to town the night of the big Sugar Ray Leonard fight against Thomas “The Hit Man” Hearns.  My partner at the time, Bill Niblick, rented one of those big-screen TVs and we all stayed at this upscale hotel called the Pointe Resort located in Phoenix.  We had a great night watching the fight with the whole band.  Magic.

The next night, Muddy Waters and his band were playing at Dooley’s and Tom Petty and the ‘original’ Heartbreakers were all coming to the show.  At the show we had these great seats right below the sound mixer and afterwards, I brought Tom and the whole band backstage so they could meet Muddy.

“Well, young man,” Muddy said, “how was that one?”

“It was great!” I replied then added, “Actually, I got this guy here who wants to meet you.  He’s a rock singer.”

Now, Muddy would never tell you if he knew who someone was.  Usually he didn’t know or really care. He didn’t pay too much attention to contemporary pop or rock music.  He was too busy thinking about his own band, working and staying on the road, just keeping his life going—and at $3,500 a night, he wasn’t making all that much.

Tom was telling him how great he was and absolutely gushing, but Muddy wasn’t acting all that impressed.

So, Tom said, “Muddy, it would mean the world to us if you would play some more.”

Muddy answered, “You want me to go out on that stage again and play some more?  Fuck you.  I’m too old!  Tell you what,” he winks at me, “you guys come out and play with us, we’ll play some more music.”

At this point, the staff was cleaning up the venue, moving tables, stacking chairs and all of that.  The crowd had mostly cleared out except for the ones still at the bar, so we’re talking about a hundred people.  I got onstage and told the people still in the club to come back down to the stage.

“Hey, everyone,” I announced, “we’ve got something cool for you.” Everyone came out on stage: Muddy, Tom, and both bands for a total of sixteen people!  It was just unbelievable.  Muddy let Tom do most of the singing, but he was right there with him as both bands played (the Heartbreakers and the Muddy Waters Blues Band).  That was an awesome night!

The last fight I got into at a show was when Tom Rush opened for Muddy Waters at Dooley’s.  Tom is a legendary folkie from the Northeast.  Muddy wanted to open the second show rather than close because he didn’t want to have to tear all the equipment down and then set up again.

So, Muddy opened the second show.  Then Tom Rush came on to perform and a gang of bikers showed up looking to see the headliner.  People were screaming because Muddy had already played.  A lot of times, people will show up late for a show when they know there’s an opener and all they want to see is the main act.

A fight started by the sound booth.  One biker was beating up the soundman.  I jumped off the stairway that was right by the booth and landed on the biker’s back.  This guy was so big that he flung  me off of him, I heard him say, “A mosquito hit me.”  I went flying and that ladies and gentlemen, was the last time I ever joined in a bar fight.

Muddy always seemed casual, happy and relatively carefree, but there was a darkness in him as well.  He’d get bitter sometimes and rightfully so.   I’d think about how he never got the credit or the money the bands that came after him got.  After all, he was a pioneer in electric-guitar music and he basically gave birth to the blues sound of guys like Stevie Ray Vaughan, Jimmy Hendrix, and Eric Clapton.  He influenced all these great musicians, but he never had the success they had.

Needless to say, Muddy Waters made a huge impact on my life.  Even though he lived to be seventy, he died young for a guy who seemed like he was going to go on forever.  There will never be another like him.

Chapter 16 Photo Gallery