May 20, 2020
The Sun Comes up on Sundown Productions
After the Led Zeppelin show was over, I found myself boarding an airmail flight with a few guys from Bill Graham Presents. Back then, you could get $10 tickets between LA and San Francisco by riding with the air-mail on the midnight flight. I got into a great conversation Arnie Pustilnik, one of Bill’s right-hand men. By this time I was still learning how important it was to make connections.
Arnie took me behind the curtain on that flight. He could name the people booking every major act, right off the top of his head, every agent and every manager. He had a lesson for me, and it was to learn names. Know who to contact, and get to know the network so that you can join it.
Arnie gave me the names of people from half a dozen major agencies, and as soon as I got home, I called every one of them and let them know I was promoting concerts in Arizona. I didn’t have any money to promote concerts, but they didn’t need to know that. There was no other way. I needed chops and street cred to get money to begin promoting, and the only way to build that kind of reputation was to actually get out and do it!.
I went back to Chicago again in the fall and took a job in shipping and receiving at Univac, a large computer company in the suburbs.
But this time I raised $11,000 from my Dad, along with my high-school friend Larry Kopald and his Dad, Buddy. When Larry and I approached Buddy about investing in my new concert promoting venture, he asked me a few important questions: “What makes you think you can do this? Have you ever put on a show before? How much money are you putting up?” He went on to explain that he made it a point never to invest in anything if the other partner didn’t have money of his own involved.
Leslie with Buddy and Rurh Kopald at the opening of Glendale Arena 2002. Very proud moment as Buddy and my Dad staked me to be a promoter almost 30 years earlier.
This is where I learned the expression “You need to have some skin in the game.” I convinced my dad to put in $5,000 and Buddy put in $6,000. Together, we formed my first concert company, Sundown Productions. We were going to focus on doing shows in Arizona, specifically Phoenix, where the market was smaller and the competition less fierce than in Chicago. I headed out there, got set up, and continued reaching out to booking agents.
Things were coming together. I had raised some capital, and I was trying to book shows. It was slow going, but I had made a start, and for the first time I was getting closer to the kind of work I’d been dreaming of for years.
Around the same time, spring 1974, I got a call from Bill Graham offering me a promoting job in Denver. The guy he worked with up there was a big promoter in his own right—but he’d developed personal problems that had just become too much to deal with.
I was only nineteen years old and hadn’t booked a show of my own yet, but Bill was impressed with how I’d handled myself around him, and he remembered I needed a gig. What I lacked in experience, I made up for with my enthusiasm.
A month earlier, I would have lunged at the offer. Now I was standing there with $11,000 and a dream burning a hole in my pocket.
“What’s the pay?” I asked him.
“Wow—$400 a week? Really?”
“Four hundred a month? How the hell am I going to live on that?” I said. I mean, even in 1974 that was barely any money. You couldn’t live on $400 a month—you’d starve. And I was tired of starving.
I passed on the offer with as much respect as I could muster. I didn’t need a poverty-wage job, not even from Bill Graham. I was on the verge of putting together my own concerts now. It was really flattering to get that call, to have him even think of me. I was honored, even if I had to turn him down.
I stayed in Phoenix and struck out on my own with Sundown Productions. I was pumped, I was motivated, and I was ready to get shit done.
I was also green as hell and had a lot to learn.