He’s been in the concert promotion business for forty-six years. Along the way he’s promoted some of the biggest names in the music business. We’re talking Bruce Springsteen, U2, Billy Joel, Bob Seger, Genesis, Bon Jovi, Jeff Beck. The list of names is so extensive. All totaled he’s presented 12,000 concerts in nearly every state in the United States. And now he’s written his life story, or autobiography if you will, in a new titled All Excess: Occupation Concert Promoter. The gentleman we speak of is Mr. Danny Zelisko, and Danny talked with us about the time he grew up in and the people he encountered along the way.

Q – Danny, what you did parallels what I did when I was growing up. You were watching the Rock groups on Ed Sullivan. You were listening to Top 40 radio. You were reading the Rock magazines. You almost have to be a fan first to do what we’re doing. Would you agree?

A – No question. I think it really matters and it really counts if you’re passionate about whatever it is you’re doing. When it comes to music, how can you not be passionate about it? Everybody has either songs, or artists, or times of music in generations or in centuries that they like. The last fifty years that we’ve had has probably been the biggest eye openers in music forever. Think of the advancements and strides in equipment, sounds, theories that people put down with electronics. It’s just excited and energized everybody who would ever listen to a record.

Q – You were fortunate in that you came up at the right time with the right stuff. That’s a big part of your success.

A – Absolutely. It’s like anything you’re a fan of, anything you really like that’s more than just a passing interest, when you get into it with these bands. Say a song strikes you and you listen to it and more of your friends catch onto it, you find them listening to it without you even playing it. It comes on in the car and they know it. Or they just like the song and they ask if you know it. Then you know something is really happening. Then you start finding out a little more about the group itself. Where did they come from? Whether you like it or not, you start finding these things out. The next thing you know you like this group and you’re talking to people like you’re almost a qualified expert about this group. Another thing is the Beatles cards they had back then and The Beatles cartoon show and The Beatles movies and all those interviews they did. It’s like they exposed themselves as being interesting or humans are funnier comedians, almost like Bob Hope or Bing Crosby. They had this charm that you learned about and by the time they got back up onstage and played their music, you loved them even more. Then they come off and do another interview and they say something else that’s Mop Top funny. You just fall in love with ’em. From that point on you’re looking forward to their next release or their next tour. They really started that whole promotional machine in popular music because it didn’t quite exist the same way prior to them.

Q – Talking about what a lot or Rock groups have in common, you write on page 2 of your book, “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.” Well, Brian Epstein got The Beatles a record deal. I’m not exactly sure he knew all the ropes. That being said, I have the utmost respect for what Brian Epstein went through in managing The Beatles.

A – The thing about being a manager doesn’t mean you’re a manager like Brian Epstein in 1967. With a new group you’re Brian Epstein in 1962 and you’re a record shop owner. So he knew about the business, right? He wasn’t a complete virgin to the music business. If you’ve got somebody on your side saying, “Look we gotta dress up a little bit better. You can’t go with the leather, scruffy look. That’s not what’s happening. Let’s put on some collarless jackets. Let’s do this song or let’s to that song. I’ll bring the recordings to the record label,” even though he got turned down at first or many times, but it wasn’t them going to the record label. He was doing it on their behalf. So, as blind as he might have been with experience, which he didn’t have much of, he at least knew the ropes. That’s what my point was there. Anybody who does that kind of stuff, sending out tapes; I’ve gotten tapes. I got one from Motley Crue a year and a halv before their first record came out. It sounded like hell. As they’re sending those things out, they’re attracting interest in people and other people jump in and go, “Hey, if you did this it would be better.” One thing leads to another and these groups come up with stuff that’s beyond presentable. It’s engaging and you’ve got to find out more about ’em. That’s the fun of listening to our music, to the Rock music, the popular music that we’ve been listening to our whole lives. It became really cool to know more about these acts than just what was playing on the radio in that two and a half minutes.

Q – And this is what separates Brian Epstein from every other personal manager, he took a personal interest in how they presented themselves onstage.

A – Yes.

Q – He didn’t interfere with their music.

A – Except, here I’m going to give you George Martin too.

Q – Right. And when George Martin said to The Beatles, “Is there anything you don’t like?” George Harrison said, “For starters, we don’t like your tie.”

A – (laughs) It’s so funny and even to another English person, the Liverpool attitude that these guys had and the cheekiness, you can say things like that and the way you say it.

Q – Your father, your high school friend, and his dad backed you to the tune of $11,000 to get your first concert promotion company going. What if the money hadn’t been there? What would that have meant for you?

A – Just to be clear, six grand was from my friend and his dad and five grand was from my father. I didn’t know how we came to that number. I don’t remember. You can ask that question just about anything. What would have happened? Well, we’re never going to know because probably what would’ve happened is I would have continued to search for money to finance these things or get something going. Even though it was only eleven grand, it was something. It wasn’t nothing. It enabled me to put a deposit down on the first couple of shows and to buy some advertising. Hopefully what’s going to happen is you’re going to parlay that. You’re gonna do the show, you’re going to get all that money you invested back, plus some profit. Well, that didn’t happen. So, I lost money. So I basically had to go out and do what I had already done with them. What I ended up doing is with that experience of having booked a few shows with that eleven grand, I was able to at least do shows where I was able to get know a few of the booking agents, which was very important. There’s this new kid out in Arizona promoting and they all talk. One thing led to another and I started booking a nightclub called Dooky’s, which I still might have gotten that. Who knows? But that would have been a couple of years down the line. I don’t know. I would have known the people I knew at that point. Meeting one person just changes the whole trajectory of your life possibly.

Q – You were dealing with Premier Talent. Were you talking with Frank Barsalona or Barabara Skydel?

A – At the time, as a new promoter, they put you on with their newest agents. It’s like any other big office. The bigger the agent, the bigger the clients they’re talking to. So, Barbara Skydel and Frank were the people who really signed the groups and ran the agency. There was a number of other agents there that I worked with. Tim McGrath, I worked with for years, and Barry Bell and Jane Gerity. But I mainly worked with Tim. He was assigned to my territory. These guys were known as territorial agents. So, Tim would take care of Southern California, Arizona, New Mexico and Vegas. He’d be in that part of the country. So he’d book all Premier Talent’s roster there and I was one of those guys. Frank and Barbara I didn’t meet until later. I started in the ’70s and I didn’t meet up with them until the ’90s. They knew who I was. I booked a lot of stuff with their agency, but we didn’t book directly ’cause I wasn’t doing the arena acts until well into the ’80s and then I would deal with my territorial agent. But I did end up becoming great friends with both of them. Both truly Hall Of Fame people in our business, who ran the biggest, independent agency in history. I mean, that lineup was phenomenal that they had.

Q – He started Premier Talent because he didn’t like the way Rock ‘n’ Roll people were treated by bigger booking agencies. And how ironic that Premier was sold to one of those big agencies.

A – Well, you know those things change unfortunately, as much as we’d all like to stay at our most powerful, highest in business when we’re around thirty-five, forty years old. But it doesn’t happen and that’s part of life. It doesn’t seem so fair. The whole power structure of the booking agencies back in the day made and broke promoters and groups alike. There’s another big agency called A.T.I. that a guy named Jeff Franklin owned.

Q – A great agency!

A – Right. They were a little bit of the darker side of the shows. I remember they had a package of KISS and Earth, Wind And Fire, which I always wanted to book, but I didn’t have the money back then. What a weird show! What a perfect show! Two show bands.

Q – I actually saw Uriah Heep as the headliner with Earth, Wind And Fire as the opening act, and ZZ Top stuck in the middle.

A – That was an A.T.I. show.

Q – A.T.I. booked KISS, Earth, Wind And Fire…

A – Bob Seger.

Q – Rod Stewart.

A – Blue Oyster Cult. Rory Gallagher. He was one of my favorites. (laughs) I love those groups. Manfred Mann. I heard Manfred Mann is going to tour again without Manfred Mann, which who would know Manfred Mann at this point anyway? I’d love to hear that music live again, wouldn’t you?

Q – Sure I would.

A – Anybody who can write “Doo Wah Diddy”, one of the greatest songs of all time… a genius.

Q – To be quite honest with you Danny, before your book, I had never heard of you before. When it comes to promoters I’ve heard of Sid Bernstein and Bill Graham, guys like that. Were you publicity shy? You didn’t put your name or face out front.

A – Well no, nothing like that, but by choice I’m living in Arizona witch as you know is the 48th state on the mainland. We were the last state admitted to the Union. When I moved here in the ’70s it was only a sixty year old state and it showed. It was very green and naive in so many ways. And I loved coming here. I’m from Chicago, but I have no show business background. I’ve got nothing to latch onto to be famous for. It helps if you’re famous if you’re a promoter, but it isn’t essential. In my my case I was the Cinderella kid that came out of nowhere and I started doing shows in the ’70s. The ’80s and ’90s became quite a big deal out here because I expanded into Las Vegas, which had never had a regular promoter before. It was always just the showrooms booking each individual list of talent. So we started booking shows there in the ’80s and now Vegas is one of the biggest. It probably would’ve happened anyway. But again, we happened to be the guys who were doing it. Nobody else was bringing Rock shows to Vegas in the ’80s and ’90s until the 2000s when the consolidation took place. Then it was time for them to scoop in and see the rewards of a place that had been getting work for twenty years. It’s an interesting dichotomy, believe me.

Q – When Jerry Weintraub and Concerts West came along and cut out the independent promoters and agents in each city and dealt directly with the venues, what did that do to promoters like yourself?

A – Well, the Sid Bernsteins and the Weintrabubs and even Bill Graham; Bernstein was gone by the time I started promoting. Bill Graham of course was still very active. Those guys were kind of the generation before me. So, if Bernstein got a lot of press it was because he was doing The Beatles. That was a very, very big deal. Bill Graham had the Fillmore on the East and West Coast. So in my particular nook of the country, this little quadrant of down here, there’s been a lot of press and a lot of things that have generated how to promote the shows here, but it doesn’t necessarily transcend into a national type of thing unfortunately. But I’m most concerned about my area. My name is on the ticket just because I’m presenting the show and I want people to know that, because I think we put a certain quality show on, unlike other people’s. We’re just about details, good vibes and good energy. A lot of other people just put shows on I think because that’s what they do, they put on shows. I’m very into the nooks and crannies of it and the fact that Bill and Sid; and when Jerry did that promoters claimed that he would take The Moody Blues or Frank Sinatra out there by himself with no co-promoters. His answer was, “You guys never helped us break those people before. Now you want to book ’em. Screw you!” (laughs) So that’s kind of what happened there. You know where that really hurts us as a promoter? Years ago there was a semi-famous incident with Yanni where we had booked him for three different tours and lost money the first couple of times and then we started making money and it turned into a good act after everybody worked together to break him. As soon as he got broken he announces he’s doing a tour by himself. He’s just cutting out the promoter and the agent altogether that were both there to help him move his career along. We were all upset about it. I wrote this letter that ended up in The Washington Times and The New York Times and Pollstar and Performance, whatever was around at the time. And they reprinted it and talked about it because I complained as part of the food chain. You get a group with an idea, musical talent and somebody sees ’em and they promote ’em and you get to play in bigger and bigger places and make more and more money and become more and more popular and famous, and you all live happily ever after. Well, he didn’t follow that motif and I was rather upset about it. I’ve never done another date with him since then. It’s funny, when things are going great in show business and Rock ‘n’ Roll touring, you really don’t need a promoter. All you’ve got to do is whisper the name of the group and people are going to buy the tickets and go. But that’s one out of a hundred groups you can do that with. Most every group needs that village. They need that support system from the very beginning and it’s not a good idea to ever upset that apple cart as far as I’m concerned. I’m only part of that apple cart. The record company, your producers, your managers, your lawyers, your advisors, everybody, all those people it takes. And think about it. It deserves it. How great is it to have an industry just because somebody wrote “She Loves You”. It’s pretty amazing when you think about it.

Q – It would seem rather impossible for a group of four or five guys to take on the job of promoting themselves and all that that entails. They have to concentrate on the music. They need a Jerry Weintraub, a Sid Bernstein and a Danny Zelisko to promote them.

A – It’s a funny thing. You think of going to work as different from setting up details about a concert, but that’s what people do. It’s just a different way to spend your time. It’s everybody’s choice as to how they spend their time, right? There’s a lot of people who think about other things that make you do it better and all I say is go ahead and try. Anything that you select to do in the world is going to be difficult if you don’t know what you’re doing. But there are a lot of things on public display like concerts where there’s a lot of room to make suggestions or talk to your friends while you’re sitting there and think out loud about what you’d do different or how you would make the experience better. When people are really interested in things like that, they ought to go after it. They ought to make those suggestions. I love it when someone comes to me. They think I’m going to be mad or something or insulted. It’s like, “You know what I would have done different from this?” I’m going, “What?” I always want to know. It’s always nice if you approach the situation a little delicately, remembering you could say something just so wrong that you take away the good intention and say something obnoxious that you don’t want to hear at the moment. (laughs)

Q – In 1982 I was having a conversation with (promoter) Cedric Kushner. He told me when he started promoting, he started with $500. At that time in 1982, you would need $250,000 and be prepared to lose $100,000 before everything turned around. Does that sound right to you?

A – No. I think that’s someone who’s planning on losing money. I never went into this planning on losing anything. The way I did that was by not jumping ahead of where I belonged in the food chain. Again, where you’re a new promoter you have to know your place, especially when you don’t have unlimited funds. Even if you have unlimited funds you still have to be smart about it. You don’t want to just go out there and buy things for the sake of buying them to be known. You have to take some calculated risks. And you have to have a certain modicum of patience. If you don’t, you will lose that money just like he talked about. I don’t agree that you needed that $250,000 in 1982. I don’t agree that you need that kind of money now. It all depends on what speed you’re going to go at. You can go out and buy a band and arrange a deal in a club right now for less than $500. You can promote a show right now. You can find a local band, and it’s funny, local bands who play around and don’t play anyplace else like as of right now, they’ll play for a couple, three hundred bucks. You get a club. You put on the show and you promote it and you get people to come and see ’em and make a big deal out of ’em and the next thing you know you’re promoting that band. It’s not that hard. It just requires the patience and the effort and the blood, sweat and tears that it takes to be relentless until you’ve sold every ticket. That’s what it’s all about. When you’re thinking promoter, you’re not thinking a crummy, little nightclub. Well, that’s another story. You’re thinking of going to your favorite auditorium or favorite arena, you better come with a lot more than a quarter of a million bucks. But the chances are of you getting a show with one of your favorite stars, having never done a show before, even it you get the money, are slim to none because there are promoters out there who did this every day of their lives in pretty much all of the markets in the country. But the silver lining to this whole part of our conversation is that if you really wanted to promote a show, you go find a secondary or tertiary market that doesn’t have a full-time promoter living there. Maybe they have a nightclub and they don’t book national groups, you get in there and you start booking. But trying to get in to Chicago or Los Angeles or even Phoenix, there’s several big promoters in every one of these markets that are looking at those same bands you’re looking at every day. The difference is, they know these groups and their managers and their agents and have done business with them for years and likely have had them over to their house for dinner. So, you breaking in isn’t impossible because, let’s go back to that evolution thing. Things are going to evolve. Promoters are going to get older. They’re going to get tired. They’re going to get sick of doing it. They’re going to make mistakes. They’re going to get knocked out or they’re just going to get sick of it and move on to greener pastures or no pastures, leaving it wide open for someone else to come in and start all over again. So, it’s not impossible. It’s different than when I started, but it’s not impossible. Nothing is.

Q – And now there is Live Nation. I can see why groups and their management want to deal with Live Nation. There’s a consistency with how the show is presented, what’s in the contract rider, and how the backstage is set up.

A – Well, you’re probably right about the thing with the dressing room, but the overriding issue, the thing that’s the biggest deal for these bands or their managers in dealing with a Live Nation or an AEG, is they do have qualified, good people working for them and one guy can call you up as the manager of a group and say, “Okay, we’re going to do fifty cities including all of our amphitheaters and our deal is this.” You’re talking about Britney Spears or whoever they’re doing a tour with. They can buy the entire country and here’s your guarantee of $30 million up front. Here you go. I can’t do that. Other people can’t do that. That’s why they go with Live Nation. Now, behind that, Live Nation can also offer the tactical strategy support of moving the show, helping move the show from one city to another. They have people there that can book the entire country and they know where all the halls are to go to for that show. They can route the entire tour and put it on sale and advertise it, sell the tickets and have the people to put on the show. It’s one stop shopping. But because they’ve got promoters like me from all over the country, I used do be one of ’em, so when they moved those groups into my particular cites, then we would take over from there and do the local logistical stuff. So there is a cause to have them around. There’s a need to have them around, but there’s also I think the old fashion way that still works just as well, which we prove every day because no one promoter does every show. We do our own shows and we get who we can get and I’m very happy and proud of who I work with, the various acts I continue to work with or will work with for the first time, and meanwhile these guys do whatever they’re thing is. There’s a lot of bands out there. You better have an imagination of how you fit in or else you get run over.

Q – You booked Nirvana at Dooley’s. What do you remember about Nirvana?

A – I remember first hearing about them. I loved the name and the guy that booked them is a guy named Don Muller, who, I can’t remember what agency he was with. It was a long time ago. Thirty years ago. Anyway, Don was responsible for having booked and broken Pearl Jam and a bunch of other bands that came out in the late ’80s, early ’90s. Great agent. He called me up one day and he was all giddy and he goes, “I want you to book my new band. They’re called Nirvana.” I said, “What do they sound like?”, ’cause I hadn’t heard them yet. “They sound like crunchy Beatles.” I said, “I like crunchy Beatles.” So, we booked it. $750. This was when Nirvana was a new band. Now, the funny thing that hasn’t changed with band’s fan structures is when you’re on the road and you’re just supporting a new record like they were and maybe had previous local records out, you get ’em for those kind of guarantees and by the time they get here they’re either as hot as can be or the show is empty. In their case it was as hot as could be. The place was jammed, completely full. These guys were just in that great sense of time where things were happening for them. You could tell that they were changing. Everything around them was changing. It went from being a crummy, Grunge band, playing crummy, little clubs, and they’re moving up the food chain. Now they’re headlining in a place in a strange city as they’re going from place to place to place. They’d been here in other smaller dives, but Dooley’s was no dive. It was a real theater club, but the others they played in were just tiny, little joints. I don’t even know how they sold. I remember the band being very cool, but I remember a certain tension about the show before they went on ’cause they were still new. They were just breaking out of the Northwest for real now. The show was amazing. The reaction was out of this world. Afterwards, a very relieved group of guys came off and they were happy as hell. I remember that show very clearly.

Q – What year was that?

A – I want to say it was ’92, but I could be wrong.

Q – I see you met Anthony Bourdain in 2017. What was he like?

A – Great guy. I had him once before. He did a tour where he actually went out onstage and talked with people and answered questions. Talked about cooking and his shows and running around the world and his books. Did a great business, 1,500 to 1,800 people came. A guy I know booked him everywhere, from Chicago. He was a very nice guy.

Q – I see there are some White Castle coupons in your book. What is your connection with that company?

A – It was kind of like a fun thing. I was looking for a place to get boxes to ship the books out in. It’s such a big book. I asked White Castle if they would like to make me some boxes because we could promote White Castle while we’re doing it. It turned out they had that exact box. They used that to house twenty burgers. So that’s what we used to send out the book and thy gave us some coupons. We’re both very proud of our association. I love promoting White Castle. They’ve been right there for me. We like them a lot. They’re very civic minded folks.

Q – As you look back on the concerts you’ve promoted and the people you’ve met along the way, what degree of importance do you attach to that?

A – I mean, it’s like a continuum of my life that got set into order so many years ago when I first heard music and reacted to music. I would take it that far back. To bring it to the present, these people have become my family. They’re my friends, a lot of them. Not every one of them. A lot of them are just the acquaintances and the people you meet along the way. You do some business with them. Hopefully everything works out great. You don’t make that much of an impression on each other to the point where you’re calling each other up after the show or the next day or the next week. But every now and then, suddenly something will happen that’s extraordinary and now you’re talking to these people and they’re in your life as your friends. They’re asking you for your phone number. They’re asking for your e-mail, and you’re doing the same and you want to keep in touch. You’re drawn to each other and hopefully the business continues to exist so that you can continue to have these visits. Because, what happens is if you’re in this business, from the band’s standpoint you’re busy with whatever your life is busy with that day, whether or not that guy is your friend, whether he’s involved with you or not currently. So while you’re busy doing this, that, and the other, suddenly your friend comes up and you want to make special arrangements with your calendar to clear out the way to make sure you can spend as much time as possible. When you get to do one hundred, two hundred or even more, five hundred shows a year, which I was up to for awhile, you have to somehow pick from a day to day business who you’re gonna be with. It’s like a Who’s Who in the music world and that’s really fun. Once you get over all that, then it’s the reality of those people really expect to see you at shows and it’s nice to be expected. It’s nice to have that kind of relationship where people are looking forward to seeing you when they’re coming to your town. So there’s some good slight of hand things that I have to do sometimes, which is fun.

Official Website: Danny Zelisko Presents.

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