Updated: July 13, 2020

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.