THE ORIGINAL JERSEY BOY FRANKIE VALLI ANNOUNCES THE LAST ENCORES TOUR
October 4, 2023
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.
This 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.