BRUSHES WITH THE GREATS AND NEAR GREATS
GETTING MY FEET WET: THE TOLEDO YEARS
For a large portion of my life, I have been blessed with the opportunity to meet and sometimes
get to know some of the brightest stars of the recording business. I‟ve had the same opportunity
to meet the also-rans, the-never-quite-got-theres, and the got-there-but-left-then-came-backs.
Most were nice, some were squirrelly, none were mean, and a few were out of this world.
I got to meet these people as an offshoot of my 13-
year career in music retail. When I started out at
Peaches Records, we were still selling 8-tracks, with
vinyl records dominating, and cassettes just gaining
acceptance. When I left, CDs were the dominant format,
with Digital Audio Tape and MiniDisks trying to
emerge. In the span, I went from part-time clerk, to
assistant manager, to store manager, to home office
Peaches Records, Toledo Oh clerk, to product buyer, back to store manager, and out.
I guess I ran along the same cycle as many of the stars
I admired. I got into the business for the sheer love of the music. With the same experiences in
any other field, I‟d have quit the business long before I actually did. But it was constant
exposure to the music, and learning to like music styles I‟d never heard before that kept me
around. And meeting the people that make the music was the highlight of it all.
I suppose my first clues into the electricity of showbiz, came
with my first encounters with in-store appearances. My first was an
R&B group called Zapp. I was definitely not a fan, as I found their
album extremely annoying. Why they were doing this in-store in
Toledo was beyond me, as our soul section (as it was called then)
business was not high. The crowd was sparse when they rolled in, but
boy, did that band make an entrance. Every one of them (about 7 or 8 in
all) was dressed to the nines, wearing snappy suits, full-length coats,
and fedoras. Had all the smooth moves too. The group leader, Roger
Troutman, would accept a kiss on the cheek, and then wipe it with his
finger and pop it in his mouth. I found them all a little arrogant, what
with their intermittent bellowing for their favorite album tracks to be
played. But you couldn‟t miss the star power.
The next in-store proved to be chaos. A Vee-Jay from this fledgling network called
MTV, packed in at least 500 screaming, greedy little kids. The VJ was Alan Hunter, one of the
original 5 MTV stars that ushered in the era of music video. We had no idea what to expect, as
we set up a little banquet table near the back of the store, but as his arrival approached, the store
was mobbed. We kept him in the back room, wondering what to do. Eventually, someone had
the brilliant idea to have him go outside and around to the front, and scoot behind the tape
counter that ran the length of the store. There, we could post two sturdy men at either end, (I
was one) and Allan could go up and down the counter to sign and schmooze, with a 2 foot deep
counter between him and his admiring crush of pre and post-pubescents.
He had just a handful of MTV buttons to give out, (after having already greased the store
personnel) but all they did was drive the youngsters into an undeniable “gimme frenzy.” My
friend Kenny “The Viking” Duty helped somewhat, as he dug out a bag of Peaches staff buttons
to give out.
This Hunter guy seemed tireless, and endlessly cheerful, and
accommodated all that came. When he finally retreated to the back room at the
end of the event, he seemed to burst with manic joy.
“Now I can say „shit‟, now I can say „fuck‟!” he exclaimed. I guess the
pressures of constant perkiness can get to anyone.
My first actual rock concert backstage experience was with the Scorpions.
I got the tickets and passes through Peaches, and took my buddy Mark Brillhart.
There, we met a friend of mine from Bowling Green radio, named Janet. Since
she was working for WIOT, the FM rock station in town, we figured we‟d stay
close to her, and she‟s know her way around these events. In truth, none of us
Kenny "The knew what the hell we were doing. We just sort of wandered around, looking for
rock stars. We knew nothing of set times to meet and greet, or the customs of
Not much happened while we were backstage during the opening act. It was like,
“Where‟s the Scorpions, when are they coming, is that one?” No one knew anything.
Then the opening act that had finished walked through, some group called Bon Jovi
They were touring on their first album. I had actually known and liked one of their songs, but
we were like, ”who‟s the guy with the hair?”
When we saw that we weren‟t going to going to see the Scorps any time soon, we went
back to our seats to watch the show. They were touring on Love At First Sting, and their show
was rockin‟, highlighted by their one of their guitarists falling off a speaker bank, and getting
dragged off the stage by roadies. I don‟t think that it was part of the act, but the rest of the band
never missed a beat. They just re-spaced themselves across the stage, and continued jamming.
But I do believe they skipped one of their encore songs, “No One Like You,” (their biggest hit to
Backstage after the show was a much livelier event. It was
like the United Nations of Rock and Roll. With the Scorpions
being German, many of their personnel had German accents. But
we also heard English, Scottish, and various Eastern European
accents rattling through the halls. After a time, two band members
came out to meet a delegation of radio contest winners. It was
explained that more were scheduled to come out, but it was a
rough show. (What with the plummeting guitarist and all.)
Anyway, I had their singer, Klaus Meine, and bassist Francis
Bucholtz, sign my album. My pen, (a blue Bic, as I was not yet
hip to the Sharpie…if they had even been invented yet) was not Scorpions Backstage pass
writing easily, and poor Francis could barely articulate his problem
to me. His accent was so heavy I could barely understand him.
But the important part was that we went backstage and met some famous people. Brill
summed it all up best, as he surveyed the post show atmosphere. He said with some derision,
“Look at all these sluts with the spandex, and leather, and make-up.” Then he added, “I wish I
was a rock star.”
My next experience backstage includes my only real gaffe, the one my friend Kenny the
Viking never let me live down.
We got tickets and passes to see Black Sabbath with Quiet Riot opening, at the Joe Louis
Arena in Detroit. I was mainly interested in seeing Quiet Riot, who was just breaking big with
Metal Health, and that “Bang Your Head” thing. Sabbath was touring on Born Again, the album
with the one-time lineup of Ian Gillan of Deep Purple on vocals, and Bev Bevan from ELO on
drums. It was the latter that got me into trouble.
Black Sabbath‟s was the first real show I‟d seen. They opened out to a smoky
Stonehenge-like set, with this creepy little devil-baby laughing and capering around in the mist,
before each band member stepped out from their own doors in the stone. It was something.
Later, as we wandered backstage, (still with no direction) we saw both the Styrofoam stone
mockups, and the dwarf that dressed in the devil-baby outfit. (A red devil-baby graced the cover
of Sabbath‟s most recent album.)
Anyway, we met QR‟s drummer, and I found a pre-autographed QR album flat, before
we met Black Sabbath. I got Ian Gillan‟s autograph without incident, and stepped up to meet
Bev, former drummer for a long time favorite band. As he signed, I told him I had looked
forward to meeting him because I really admired his work with ELO. He favored me with a look
of disgust wrapped in a blanket of horror, as if I‟d just asked him if he‟d mind if I stuck my
finger in his nose, just up to the third knuckle. He turned away without a word. I was horrified
at myself, but it wouldn‟t have been so bad, had I not known that Kenny was right there
watching. He busted my balls all the way back to Toledo. How was I to know there was bad
blood? The concert program said Bev was on loan from ELO. But Ken never let me forget about
The Time I Insulted Bev Bevan.
The most memorable night of my Toledo schmoozing happened completely by accident.
I had gotten a pair of freebies to see Blackfoot and Molly Hatchet at the Toledo Sports Arena. I
had already bought a single ticket for that show, because I was desperate to see Blackfoot, so I
sold it at the venue. I just picked a guy in line and offered it to him for fifty cents less than face.
This was back when the Sports Arena and many other places still had festival seating, meaning
no assigned seats. Just show up early and stake your claim. Blackfoot was opening, but short set
or not, I couldn‟t wait to see‟em. I‟d acquired their album, Siogo, some time before, and it was
(and is) one of my all time favorites. It never really caught on or sold well, but it rocked like
hell. I liked Hatchet too, but to me, they were just a bonus.
Susan, a girl that I worked with at the store was the only one I knew that wanted to go, so
we decided to go together. That fact that she was a stunningly beautiful blonde was a nice extra,
and little did I know how that would pay off. So we managed to get right up to the stage, with
her at the fence, and myself right behind her.
This was my first time at stagefront for a concert, and it totally changed my standard and
expectations. Blackfoot totally kicked, and I was completely jazzed by what I could see from up
close. The facial expressions, the fretwork on the guitars, the sound of their feet pounding on the
stage, and the interaction with the crowd were all things I‟d never experienced from my
customary bleacher seats. Hell, I could even see when Ricky Medlocke broke a string on
Highway Song. And they were loud. My ears were still ringing the next day. My arms and
hands were also sore from all the clapping and waving. I guess I went pretty berserk.
Unbeknownst to me, during the end of their encore, bassist Greg T. Walker was giving
Susan a head nod signal to come around to the side of the stage. When the set was over, she
said, “I‟ll be back,” and took off. I figured she was hitting the bathroom. I didn‟t see her again
until the end of Hatchet‟s set. Not that I was terribly concerned. Girls like Susan could take care
of herself, or get someone else to do it for her, if need be. Meanwhile, I was hanging with
another young girl, who got me to agree to hold her on my shoulders for one song. She offered
me $10. I considered making a counter offer of letting me face the other way while I held her,
but chivalry won out, and I, of course held her up for nothing. She also managed to work her
way up to a spot on the fence. She was trying to get spotted by singer, Danny Joe Brown, whose
teeth she had cleaned a few months earlier. None of this really has anything to do with the actual
story, it‟s just one of those rock concert things.
So when Susan finally does reappear near the end of the show, she put an empty Wild
Turkey box in my hand. The box was signed to me, from Greg Walker. I shit. She said they‟d
be at the Holiday in bar after the show, if I wanted to meet them. I really shit! We cut out early
to the Riverside Holiday Inn, down town, where she filled me in on “getting the nod.” We
arrived to find a prom going on, in the ballroom and lobby. Felt kind of funny, in my t-shirt and
jeans, surrounded by kids in tuxes and gowns, but hey, I was on a mission.
We checked the bar, and found no one relevant. Susan went to call Greg‟s room, but the
line was busy. She decided to go up to his room. I decided to wait in the bar, not wanting any of
About ten minutes later, Jakson “Thunderfoot” Spires, Blackfoot‟s drummer, walked in.
We caught eyes, and I nervously introduced myself, told him how much I enjoyed the show, and
had him sign my box. We stood around and talked for a bit, and I asked him why they didn‟t
play “Teenage Idol.” (My then favorite song of theirs.) He explained about a lack of time as an
opening act, keyboardist Ken Hensley quitting, and not having room for the necessary
equipment. He got a beer and sat down at the bar with me, and I was in heaven.
This was the first time I ever really got to talk to a Rock Star, and I was determined to
make the most of it. I learned that Hensley was just not working out. (He had joined the band
for Siogo, and played on Vertical Smiles, on which they were now touring.) He‟d get drunk and
become a complete asshole to the band, and their fans, Jakson said. He booked over
I asked about where rhythm guitarist Charlie Hargrett was, as Bobby Barth, from the
band Axe, was playing with the band. He said that Charlie came for the Vertical Smiles
sessions, but just couldn‟t play, and was a victim of road stress and burnout, and is now selling
guitars in a shop in Ann Arbor.
We talked about their first two albums, No Reservations
(out of print), and Flying High, (then still in print, on CBS).
Apparently, original copies of No Reservations are worth a lot of
money. Susan then reappeared, and said that the others would be
We continued talking, and I asked about touring in
England, in regards to my live import album sounding like it was a
lot of fun. He said that it was a great experience, that the
audiences were intense, and that they have high popularity in
England and Scandinavia. This led me to say something about
Meat Loaf also maintaining a high profile in Europe, and how Bat
Out Of Hell and Siogo were two of my all time favorite albums.
Then I asked what Siogo meant. Boy, did I get an earful.
Jakson explained that Siogo was actually S.I.O.G.O., an acronym
From left, Greg Walker, that was posted on the tour bus, that stood for “Suck It Or Get
Charlie Hargrett, Ricky
Medlocke, Jakson Spires,
Off.” He said that during the Marauder tour, they were tired of the
and Ken Hensley girl‟s band bus hemming and hawing, and just wanted them to get
on with it. He said, “if you got on the bus, you knew that you were
a slut, and should just get down to business.”
They insisted on this name after submitting numerous names to their label, and having
them all either turned down, or given to other groups, such as Crosby, Stills, and Nash‟s Allies.
They told them it was the Indian word for „brotherhood‟, or some such thing, and wouldn‟t take
no for an answer. Eventually, the label found out when Ricky opened his mouth to Creem, or
some such fanzine, but by then, over 200,000 copies were printed.
He began talking about what assholes the members of Molly Hatchet were, Danny Joe
Brown, in particular. On this tour, they were alternating who was to headline, depending on each
band‟s strength in that market. He said that Hatchet kicked everyone from Blackfoot out of the
backstage area, so their entourage could go in. He said they were dicks to them, and their fans,
Brown and Duane Hlubek especially. Hlubek used to be a roadie for Ricky Medlocke, and has
never gotten over it. Back when both bands were starting, Hatchet would play songs from No
Reservations, and sometimes Danny Joe would lose his voice, and Ricky would do the 2nd set for
him. But now they‟re Big Stars. I wonder how my young friend from the concert would have
received these revelations.
Greg and Willie, (their road manager, or some such person of importance) joined us for a
while. I thanked Greg for signing my box, and complimented the show. Greg went off to talk
with the two other girls that he had there, which left the four of us. Willie, despite appearing to
be a real slob, was actually quite funny and intelligent. Jakson mentioned something about his
belief that rock groups should be nice to their fans, because, “we‟re all just people, and besides,
the fans keep us in business.”
Willie said “Jakson, you‟re a gentleman and a scholar.”
Jakson looked at me and said “I may be a gentleman, but I ain‟t no scholar. Not that I‟m
dumb- I went through 9 years of school, but I ain‟t no scholar.”
At one point in our conversation, I noticed Jakson gingerly rubbing a bony protrusion on
his elbow. He said that every night he told himself that he‟d take it easy, and just play calmly,
but that would last for about one song before he‟d be pounding away like crazy.
Eventually, Blackfoot had to go to this party for one of WIOT‟s DJs, who was leaving to
work in Europe. As they were stewing around about leaving, Jakson said to me, “You got a pen?
He took me through the prom-crowded lobby, over to where Ricky Medlocke was
standing with Bobby Barth, and introduced me to them. So I got to tell them how much I liked
the show, etc. I told Bobby that I saw Axe open for ZZ Top, and thought they were real good
too. We posed for a picture, (taken by who, I don‟t know, I certainly never saw it) and I just
hung out, my arm around Ricky, and bullshitted for a while. Everyone was real loose, and I was
Greg was still in the bar, so Susan and I were dispatched to tell him to get his ass out
here. I dutifully told him to get his ass out there, keeping in mind that I had just ordered around
a rock star. We three went back through the lobby and they all got ready to leave. Jakson told
me that if I was ever in Ann Arbor, to look him up, then added, “just look in a few bars, and
you‟ll find me.” They all piled into a van, Susan too, and as I‟m, walking down the street,
they‟re pulling out and down the street, yelling, “Bye, Tony, see ya,” etc. I floated all the way
down the empty downtown street, and back to my car.
I‟d been invited to go along, but this was April of 1985, and I was living in Bowling
Green, with my then fiancée, Ellen. I had told her I‟d be home by 11:30, and it was already 1:30.
I figured I‟d already pushed it, and she‟d probably be calling the hospitals by now, so I played
the good boy, and dutifully went home.
It turned out she never believed the 11:30 E.T.A. in the first place, and figuring I‟d be
late, went to bed. When I got home and found her asleep (and all my shit not out in the yard), I
went and sat on the edge of the bed, and she stirred.
I said, “Ellen, I just had one of the greatest nights of my life.”
She rolled over and said, “Who‟d you fuck?”
I was disgusted with her, and went out into the dining room, and wrote down everything I
could remember about that night. Good thing I didn‟t do that after every star encounter I‟ve had,
or I may never finish this story.
Seriously though, this experience was enormously beneficial to me. It let me know that
these big stars are really just people trying to get through life just like anyone else, and if you
treat them with courtesy and respect, and with a minimum of reverence, you‟ll get the same
courtesy and respect in return. If I was going to make a decision on what to say to one of my
heroes, it might not be perfect, but I was going to err on the side of not gibbering like an idiot
about how great I thought they were.
But to this day, I still have regrets about not getting in that van. That formed the basis of
a credo that I still hold to today, “If a famous rock band invites you along to a party, get in the
van and explain later.”
GETTING IT DOWN: THE CLEVELAND YEARS
Taking my own store and moving to Cleveland was like going to a whole other world, as
far as perks go. In Toledo, I had to make do with the generosity or connections of others.
Usually if there was a show I needed to see, I‟d ask Mike Shelton, then the store manager, to see
if he could get them from some of his old time record biz connections out of Detroit. More
often, a label or radio guy would just bring some by, and Mike would give a “Who wants them?”
All the labels had offices in Cleveland, and they treated the
local store managers well... very well, if you reported to a radio
station. And if you reported to Billboard, you were a god. These
were the days before Soundscan, when the album charts were
derived from collating list of what store managers said they sold,
rather than taking the actual sales numbers directly from the cash
registers, the way they do it now. If the manager didn‟t like it, it
“didn‟t sell”. If it was his favorite, gee it was always Top 10. But
if the manager, or label people wanted something, sales reporting
Mike Shelton was highly negotiable.
The label guy might say, “I need you to report the new Bon Jovi at Number One,” or
Vanessa Williams at Top 5.” To which one replies, “I could do that. By the way, I‟d really like
tickets and passes for the Moody Blues,” or some other act that belongs to their label group. Or
maybe you said nothing, and called it in later. But it was clear, you help me and I‟ll help you.
Now I was never a Billboard reporter. That honor, (or curse- it was always an extra thing
to do, on limited payroll hours) belonged to the Peaches in Parma. In my store in Maple Heights,
I merely reported to the local FM Top 40 station. But there were other ways. Our big Peaches
(soon to be Coconuts) stores had loads of display room. And the big display window was always
in demand. I found that if I always go out of my way to accommodate them, they did the same
for me. So I developed outstanding relationships with all the label folk, and was treated to
listening parties, promotional records and CDs, posters, parties, and about 40 pairs of concert
tickets. In my four years in Cleveland, I paid to see exactly 2 shows. (Meat Loaf, because he
was without a label at the time, and Joan Jett in Akron, because she‟d already been through
Cleveland on that tour.) And one of the best benefits was being able to get stuff for others, or
include friends in what I was doing. In Cleveland, I became, in some way, The Man. I was able
to do for my staff and others, what Mike had always done for me.
The best thing about Cleveland, as a music place, was the diversity of venues it offered,
attracting a large assortment of acts. Anyone who toured came through Cleveland. There were
small clubs like Peabody‟s Down Under, who booked new acts on the way up, to old acts
playing out the string, to blues acts that stayed on the circuit forever. Barney Googles was a
Holiday Inn ballroom that booked blues acts from Alligator Records on a regular basis. (I‟ll get
to them shortly) The Hanna Theater booked comics and classic rock, reggae and R&B. Most
metal or arena bands played the 16000 seat Richfield Coliseum. And for the superstars, there
was the Old Hellhole, Cleveland Stadium. It held 80000 for football games, who knows how
many with field seats. If you liked a group that was touring, they were coming to Cleveland.
And if you played your cards right, you could see them all, and meet some too.
As I was leaving Toledo, I was just getting into the blues, but it was in Cleveland that it
became my dominant choice. As a fan, I learned of Alligator records by reading album jackets.
When I moved to Cleveland, Kenny the Viking who was running Maple Heights before me, was
already in tight with them, and gave me some names and numbers to call. Alligator is an
independent blues label out of Chicago, that went gangbusters for in-store promotion. In me
they found a walking, talking commercial for their product. They provided me with posters, tee
shirts, and promos of everything they released, as well as guest list passage to any of their shows
that came to town. My contact there, Chris Young was a real gem, and we had many long phone
conversations about the blues.
I caught Albert Collins twice, once at Peabody‟s, but the first time was with my brother
Ed, at Barney Googles. As we rolled in, we immediately saw a considerable line. I left Ed there,
and went up to investigate. After securing that we were guest-listed, and would be waved
through, I went back to get Ed. I was in a hurry, because I didn‟t want the harried ticket takers to
forget that I was a guest-lister. I said quietly, “Let‟s go.” He balked, not knowing what I was
doing. “C‟mon, let‟s go,” I repeated, somewhat louder, but not wanting to attract attention. I
start walking up and I hear Ed ask, in full voice, “You mean we‟re going up there in front of all
these people?” I‟d liked to have brained him. Yes, we‟re going in front of all these people, I just
didn‟t care to let them know about it.
So we got right in without incident, and had our
pick of spots. (More festival seating) so we‟re settling in
when I hear some guitar. I look over behind a big Marshall
stack, and there‟s Albert, in dress pants and a T-shirt,
Great, I think. I‟d long been carrying album jackets
to shows like these, just for situations like these. I also had
my camera. I asked Ed to come up with me and take my
picture with Albert. “No.”
“C‟mon, it‟s no big deal, I‟ll go up and ask him, and
you just snap the picture.”
“No. You bring him back here.” Too shy, I guess.
I‟d still liked to have brained him.
So I went up and introduced myself, complimented
him on his last couple albums, and had him sign my
Albert Collins at Barney Googles,
working the crowd. favorite, Showdown, with Johnny Copeland and Robert
Cray. He was very gracious, we shook hands, and I made
my way back to my seat.
Collins, at Barney Googles
Albert I got some great pictures at that show, especially at the encore, when I joined a crowd
forming right up at the stage. He was quite a showman, with all the faces, and guitar tricks and
duels. Would have been great to have that picture of us together. Albert died from cancer, in
My brother was forgiven, eventually.
Another dynamite Alligator show was Lonnie Mack, at
Peabody‟s. I went to this one with two guys from the store, Brian
and Joe, and another friend of Brian‟s. Lonnie is another guy
who‟s been around since dirt, and was famous for pioneering the
use of the Flying V guitar. He was enjoying resurgence, of sorts,
after cutting an album for Alligator that was played on and
produced by Stevie Ray Vaughan. Lonnie was kind of a wooly
looking guy, with a snaggle tooth smile, and a thick scruffy white
beard that made him look kind of like Kenny Rogers‟ evil twin.
We got backstage after the show, and Lonnie was sitting
there, still sweating, in front of a big tray of cold cuts and leftover
pizza. He had us sit down with him and told us to help ourselves.
Brian asked him a number of questions that mostly served to get
Me & Lonnie: Two Cool Hats him telling stories about the days of old. I remember him talking
about an old album he cut and named Pismo. Why? “Because you
drink mo, you Pismo.”
At one point, Lonnie‟s keyboard player wandered in for a snack.
He was an older guy, who looked sort of like a gaunt, hung-over Willie
Nelson. Looked just like his name, I guess, which was Dumpy Rice.
Never said a word, until Brian mentioned that Dumpy looked like he was
Lonnie‟s brother, to which he replied in a low, low, gravelly voice,
“Fuuuuuck you,” and ambled along on his way. Dumpy Rice
The only full blown in-store appearance to happen while I was in Cleveland was
Megadeth at the Parma Peaches. Lots of people showed up, but the band was unremarkable.
Not being a fan, I had nothing much to venture with them, but not so little that I didn‟t get a
signed album. And I did volunteer for crowd control. Got to be where the action is, you know.
There was also a smaller in-store with a new metal band called the Bulletboys, and they
had a minor hit with their debut album, but they quickly faded into obscurity.
The in-store that really mattered was the one that
wasn‟t publicized at all. Sam Kinison had released his
debut album, and was gaining much notoriety from his
HBO specials. He was coming to town for a show at the
Hanna, and the label folks wanted to bring him by the store
to schmooze. I caught wind of it and left my store in a
heartbeat. If Bad Sam was coming around, I was going to
When he rolled in with his posse of label guardians,
there was hardly anyone in the store. (Bad for publicity,
good for me.) I had plenty of time to have him sign my
album, and a flat for my dad, and generally just hang
Sam with Store and Label people. around and soak up the ambiance. Sam must not of been
I'm beside Kenny The Viking who is on cocaine that day. He was pleasant, happy, jovial, funny,
behind Blue Loo Spinelli.
and inquisitive. He happily signed for everyone, and posed
for pictures. I got a good one of him standing beside me
doing the famous yell.
A bunch of us went to the show that night, where he unveiled
material that would form the basis of his 2nd album, and first full length
HBO special. I can‟t ever recall laughing as hard as I did that night. I was
kicking the back of the seat in front of me, with tears running down my
face. I think I even fell out of my chair once.
But when Sam died, five or so years back, I didn‟t think of Sam-
feeling-blue, it was the quiet, gracious guy I hung out with amid the CD
racks. For all the press Sam got about his tortures or addictions, I felt
honored to have been there to see for myself his human side. For all his
excesses, you could see that his heart was as big as he was.
Me with Bad Sam
Listening parties were another great way to meet and greet.
Usually these involved new bands or artists, promoting their first
albums. Other times it would be for someone who had been out of
sight for a while, and need a little extra push. The band would play
at a club or bar, to a crowd of retailers and others from the
recording community, and there would be free food and drinks for
I saw a very promising group at a listening party at
Peabody‟s, called Texas. They were a Scottish group with a
female lead singer. I thought their first album was terrific. They
L-R:Mike Shelton, Sharleen played well live, too. They also were very nice, and everyone in
Spiteri of Texas, me, Cindy
McWilliams the band signed my album. Sharleen Spiteri, their singer, posed for
I also went to listening parties for metals bands called
D.A.D., (Disney After Dark) and Crazyhead. But one of my
favorites was seeing Shawn Colvin at a club called Shooters. She
was playing in a little corner of the restaurant section of the place,
and I remember that her mic or amp or something wouldn‟t work.
She was just a little bit of a thing, but I could see the street singer
in her come out, when she said the heck with it, and hopped down
onto the floor with us and just played and sang unplugged. During
her set, she mentioned that she was from Carbondale Illinois, so as
a frequent visitor there during my childhood, I had something to Shawn's autographed CD
talk to her about.
She won two Grammys this year, and has always been a critical, if not popular favorite,
but to me, she‟s the tiny woman amidst all us retailers, nakedly playing her big acoustic guitar.
I saw quite a few shows at Richfield Coliseum, but those shows were always the hardest
for which to get passes. I made a special effort to get passes for a Cinderella/Winger/Bulletboys
show, because my then fiancée (#2) was a huge Cinderella fan. We met with Cinderella, I
believe, while the Bulletboys were playing. They sat with us and others around a big table, where
we had the opportunity to talk to them. I thought this arrangement was ideal for her.
Unfortunately, she was struck dumb by their overwhelming star power. I had to do all the
talking for her, which was really just asking them to sign her stuff, and telling them that she was
a huge fan. All she could do was grin and nod. I found it to be a wasted opportunity. Of course,
it was easy for me to be blasé, I didn‟t really think they were all that great.
I had an unbelievable opportunity to go backstage with Boston, while they were touring
on Third Stage. I was there with my friend Kelly Shedlock, my former protégé, and then
TapeWorld manager. The show had finished, and the MCA rep found me and asked if I wanted
to go backstage.
Of course I wanted to go backstage, but she only had one pass left. Kelly said she‟d wait.
What else could I do?
I turned it down, apparently not yet having learned my lesson from the Blackfoot
experience. But I couldn‟t just leave a friend out there waiting for me while I went off on a
backstage schmooze. But I did get a full-page concert announcement from the newspaper to my
friend Marjorie, (who had come up through the Toledo system just ahead of me) who went
backstage and had it signed for me. I had brought it with me, just in case, as I learned to do from
the experience that follows.
Far and away the best Richfield experience I had was seeing Lynyrd Skynyrd on their 1987
Tribute Tour. I called back to Toledo and had my one of my best buds, Rik Brady, come out for
the show. It was, of course, fantastic. I‟d long since given up hope of ever seeing Skynyrd play,
and this reconstituted effort, with Johnny Van Zandt filling his brother‟s shoes on vocals was an
unexpected opportunity. These were legends, playing their legendary songs.
After their set, the MCA rep asked me if we wanted to join a small party with the band in
their hotel room at the Hilton. I told her that I thought we could fit that into our night‟s agenda.
I don‟t know if I said that exactly, but I wanted to be nonchalant, as if to show to my friend that
this sort of thing happened to me all the time. But inside, I knew this was big. This wasn‟t some
rising star or some blues relic, this was Lynyrd Fucking Skynyrd! This was Freebird, Gimme
Three Steps, Sweet Home Alabama, and going down in a plane crash. These people were
legends, and I was taking my friend to meet them.
It didn‟t take many people to make the room crowded. Most of the band was there, so
Rik and I found some beers, and mingled. Mostly I remember holing up with Billy Powell, their
pianist extrordinaire, as he told the story of the plane crash, as no one else ever could, from the
inside. He told us of drummer Artimus Pyle‟s heroism as he made his way several miles through
the swamp, with broken ribs, to find help at the closest house. Seems that they all found God,
that day, one way or the other.
That fact came to light when Billy asked if Rik and I were brothers.
“No, just friends,” I answered.
“Well then, brothers of God?”
Rik, non-plussed, surprised me by answering, “Aren‟t we all?”
Later, I told him how I was really into his piano solo on
“Call Me The Breeze,” and how my brother used it as a softball
psyche-up song. Billy got talking about playing it that night, and
how his fingers kept slipping all over the place, because of the
calluses on his thumbs, which he then proceeded to show me.
The only thing I had with me that night that I could get
signed, was the little notepad I used to chart their set list. After
getting Billy to sign, he would flag down every passing band
member to sign for me as well. I got just about the whole band this
way, including their backup singers.
Speaking of, there was one that I was really looking for. Dale Krantz Rossington was the
lead singer in the Rossington-Collins Band, in which Gary Rossington, one of Skynyrd‟s
guitarists, also played guitar. The band opened the show, and then Dale sang backup, and Gary
played guitar for Skynyrd. My interest in Dale came from knowing that she sang a duet with
Meat Loaf, on his third album, and wanting to ask her about it. I had already clued Rik in to it,
so he was watching out too.
Eventually, she came in with her husband, Gary, who really looked like hell. I heard her
say they weren‟t staying, I think she just had to get something or see someone. A minute later,
as she was walking out, I tried to catch her eye, but wasn‟t looking my way. She looked like she
wanted so much not to be there, so I decided to let her go. Then I hear Rik flag her down, from
another direction, saying something like “here, this guy wants to meet you.” I said that I didn‟t
want to keep her, as I offered her my pad, but I wanted to tell her how much I enjoyed her all but
unknown duet with Meat Loaf.
She got kind of a dreamy look in her eyes, and gave me a big
“I hadn‟t thought about that in years,” she said. She told me how
they were looking for someone to sing with him, and almost got Bonnie
“I think they passed on her,” she whispered to me, “because they
heard she was a bitch.” A year or two from then, I could have disputed
that with her, but that‟s a story to follow.
She went on to tell me how they got Gary to play on the song, and
how when she was singing with Meat, he was just like he is on stage,
turning all red, waving his hanky around and pointing at her and getting
right in her face at the climax. She thanked me for reminding her of a Dale's autograph
good time, and I thanked her for the story.
As Rik and I left later, our tremendous good fortune began to sink in. Rik just kept
repeating, “I can‟t believe I met Lynyrd Skynyrd, I can‟t believe I met Skynyrd.” I believe he
carried those autographs with him for years. He told me he showed them to everyone he met. A
few didn‟t believe him. He gave them my number, and told me “If anyone ever calls you and
asks you about me and Lynyrd Skynyrd, you tell‟em I met‟em. Those bastards!” Of course I
will, buddy. But you must have sold the story, because no one ever called.
A lot of towns have venues like Blossom Music Center, outside Cleveland. Baltimore
has Merriwether Post Pavilion, and Albany has Saratoga Performing Arts Center.(SPAC) These
“sheds,” as they‟re known in the biz, usually hold a couple thousand under a pavilion, and up to
30,000 on the lawn. Big name summer tours and festivals often book in these places, along with
orchestras and the ballet.
These places were terrific for a show on a nice summer night, but could be hell if the
weather turned bad. It was somewhere in between, very damp and foggy, on the night I saw
John Fogarty with Bonnie Raitt. He was touring on the follow-up album to his big comeback hit,
Centerfield, called Eye Of the Zombie. He was only playing his solo material back then,
meaning no Creedence. Bonnie Raitt was touring on Nine Lives, which was the album she made
right before her big multiple Grammy winning breakthrough album, Nick Of Time, so I wasn‟t
too up on her music. I only knew that she‟d cut a whole slew of albums in the past. Meeting her
turned out to be the high point of the evening.
She played a set of raucous blues numbers, and played some blistering slide guitar,
leaving me suitably impressed. After her set, Kenny the Viking and I were taken to what looked
like a big basement den, but was set up with a number of round tables, and a drink table. I‟d say
there were about 50 of us to be met. I don‟t know whose organization decided how to run it, but
it was one of the best backstage situations I‟d ever seen.
Everyone sat at the round tables, and Bonnie came around and sat at each table for 5
minutes or so, giving everyone ample face-time. Bonnie was quite charming, and very friendly.
She was like “one of the guys”, which I suppose is a byproduct of touring year after year being
the only female.
She was fussing a bit about a People magazine review that raked her for using a song that
had already come out on a Bonnie Tyler record, when in fact, she‟d recorded it first, but her
album was delayed in release. For what it‟s worth, I encouraged her to write in and set them
straight, and People would no doubt print it. She went on to tell of the trouble she was having
playing her slide with the heavy moisture in the air, which made her fingers slip around. She
signed Kenny‟s album for him, and I really regret not bringing one to sign. I wasn‟t sure I was
going to meet her, and I certainly didn‟t know I would like her so much.
When Fogarty started playing, everyone began moving out of the room and back to our
seats. I happened to be going through the door at the same time as Bonnie, and I used the
opportunity to compliment her performance.
I told her, “I really enjoyed your guitar playing despite the wetness.”
She just let out a cackle, and responded, “The wetter, the better!”
John Fogarty put on a great show as well, despite his not playing his classic hits. His
„new classics‟ went over well, and he played several classic R&B covers. His backstage meet
and greet took place in the same area as with Bonnie, but there were two major differences.
Most importantly, „his people‟ instructed us that we were not to mention Creedence.
“Don‟t ask him about it, don‟t talk about it, and don‟t even think about it.” Further, instead of
the tableside schmoozing, it was going to be more of a wedding reception line. He stood at the
front of the room, and we lined up and filed by.
When I got my turn, I just complimented him on the show, and said that I‟d been a fan,
“for a long time,” (getting immense pleasure by breaking one of the rules, albeit indirectly.) I
shook his hand, and after getting him to sign the back of Centerfield, had him sign a backstage
pass “Happy Birthday, T.E” for my Dad. He was a small guy, and very soft-spoken, but you
could feel the „legend‟ radiating off of him. But you could tell that this wasn‟t the kind of thing
he liked to do, unlike Bonnie, who seemed to revel in the schmoozing. It was funny, though,
anyone looking on might think the guy was a baseball star, for all the balls, bats, and gloves he
CORPORATE SCHMOOZING: THE ALBANY YEARS
Leaving Cleveland also meant leaving behind my being a reasonably big fish. I was just
a minnow in Albany, not because it was some kind of big music town, but that as the home of
my company‟s corporate office, all the perks went to the buyers and executives. We store level
folk were pretty much irrelevant, next to those with the power to buy and distribute tens of
thousands of pieces of a given title.
My only chance to continue to rub up against the rich and famous was to break into
corporate, and become a big wheel myself. (Or at least a training wheel.)
I accomplished this in October of 1991, joining the merchandising staff under music
buyer, Dave Roy. I was given, for tutelage, to schmoozemeister par excellence, Vinnie
Birbiglia, who was not only the singles buyer, but he was The Man when it came to connections.
Vinnie used to be a concert promoter, and owned a notable Albany nightclub, JB Scott‟s.
(Which had since burned down.) He not only knew all the artists, but more importantly, he knew
their managers. In other words, he handled the ones that handled the stars. And he got to know
them way back when, before the stars were stars. Bryan Adams, U2, The Police, The Pretenders,
and bands like that, all played JB Scott‟s on their first tours.
Every so often, Vinnie would get a bee in his bonnet about something, and go to see the
C.E.O., Bob Higgins, with fire in his eyes, and a resignation on his lips. Bob always managed to
put out the fire, though. He‟d get him some more money, or autonomy, or whatever Vinnie
needed, and things would be fine. I think he realized that Vinnie was the one guy that absolutely
not be replaced. Vinnie had his fingers in so many parts of the company pie, it‟d have deflated if
they were all removed. I also think that Vinnie had been around so long, he knew where all of
Bob‟s bodies were buried, and wouldn‟t be squeamish about digging them up. Vinnie used to
take a lot of shit from people, for being a short, loud guy from Brooklyn. Until someone wanted
tickets, that is. But no one ever said he didn‟t have a big heart, and what ever happened, it was
always “just business.” I‟d hear him curse some salesman up one side and down the other, and
then arrange to meet for drinks.
Of course, Vinnie wasn‟t the only guy that knew
people. My boss, Dave Roy, had many connections in the
country music field, and this brought a great many up and
coming country singers, as wall as established stars, into
the office. We had boardroom lunches with John Stewart,
Lee Roy Parnell, Lisa Stewart, The Remingtons, and Pam
Tillis. As a member of the merchandising staff, I was
always invited to go. And it doesn‟t matter if you know of
the person or group. You never knew who was going to
make it big. Secondly, and most importantly, in the field as
L-R: Lisa Stewart, Vinnie B, Dave well as in the office, you never turned down a free lunch.
R, Lisa Pensiero
Reba McEntire stopped by with her husband/manager, late one Friday night, just to say hi
to Dave. She looked terrific in her buckskin jacket with the fringe, and matching pants, and was
very friendly, shaking hands with everyone who was still around. I found that star for star, the
country music people are the nicest to be around. They really know how to treat their fans, and
always seem to go above and beyond what‟s necessary. And that‟s not just the newcomers. The
superstars are the same way.
This was visibly demonstrated to me by the office appearance of Garth Brooks. At this time, he
was just reaching the height of his popularity, and releasing, I believe, his 4th album, when he
came to visit.
They had him sit in the boardroom, and everyone lined up
out the door the meet him. You‟d walk up and he‟d stand up and
shake your hand, then sit back down and sign whatever you
wanted. When you were done, the next would come up, and he‟d
stand up again and so on. God only knows how many times he
was up and down that day. Then he was taken on a tour around to
all the office departments, and shook hands and signed for all
comers. Eventually, his people wanted him to get a move on,
before he was done meeting everyone. Garth asked that we get
him the names of everyone that didn‟t get an autograph, two weeks
later, I‟ll be damned if, a whole stack of personalized autographs
weren‟t delivered. This was off the chart, for a person of his
stature, and it made me into a genuine Garth Brooks fan. I guess
that‟s how it was meant to work.
Party on, Garth
One day, we merchants were to go to a local
restaurant for a lunch with the pop-dance group Expose‟.
Unfortunately, everyone was too busy to go. Except me, of
course. Remember, free lunch, and special added bonus,
the girls of Expose‟ are hot. I‟d seen them at Peabody‟s
years before and they put on a fine show. I was especially
fond of the blonde, Ann Curless, and I somehow managed
to grab a seat beside her, at lunch. Had a charming
conversation with her, but all I really remember is that she
was also from Ohio. I had a ball posing for pictures, arm in
You can see, I'm hating this...
arm with three beautiful ladies. Tough job.
As it turned out, they were coming back to the office anyway, so I got to function as an
unofficial ambassador and guide. It was fun though, and at one point, Jeanette Jurado held out
my camera and tried to take a picture of the both of us together. Too bad that she only succeeded
take one of my enormous head, beside a little sliver of hers. Just the shot I want to blow up and
We had an office listening for a dance group called The Party. Their promotional kit
showed them looking like some very hip, stylish young adults, but the kids that showed up
looked like they just got off the school bus. They were babies! They looked like sophomores or
juniors in high school. And this was before the field trip really started, when we showed them
around the warehouse. They were pretty interested in how it all works, and I couldn‟t blame
them. I was pretty tripped by it all when I first started.
The office parties were certainly convenient, but the high level schmoozing was usually
at the concerts. Vinnie could get anyone who was there into backstage. Usually, he would
secure passes. If not, he‟d get the group‟s manager. If not, he‟d get someone from the venue.
That he would get in was always a given, but sometimes he‟d have to hustle to get the rest of us
He outdid himself on the occasion of a big five-act Alligator blues show at The Egg. The
show featured Lil‟ Ed, Elvin Bishop, Katie Webster, Lonnie Brooks, and Koko Taylor, in a
rollicking four hour show. I had my parents fly out for this one, and I knew tickets would be no
problem. Hell, my contacts with Alligator were still good, but Vinnie did even better. He was a
pal with the promoter, who he got to rope off the first couple of rows for us and whoever else
from the office came with us.
The show was great, and my folks had a terrific
time. We went backstage afterwards, and met with each
act. Katie was about 4 ½ feet tall and just about that far
around. In the overcoat she was wearing, I thought the
Swamp Boogie Queen looked like a bag lady. Not that Lil‟
Ed didn‟t deserve his name either. Lonnie Brooks seemed
to kind of scoff at us, as I got his autograph. As I was
doing that, Elvin almost snuck by to make a clean getaway,
but I hollered for him and he turned around and signed.
But I really enjoyed meeting Koko. Her set was the last, so
you could see that she was still tired from the show. It
L-R: Katie, Elvin; Lil Ed, Koko,
& Lonnie showed in her demeanor, as well as in the little ball of
sweat, still on the end of her nose.
Best of all, my folks were really knocked out by the experience, definitely not used to the
star treatment. It was a joy to be able to deliver, and lucky for me, it wasn‟t their first concert
experience. If it was, they might have thought that this was how it always worked.
One afternoon, one of our buyers announced, “We‟re going to Springfield Mass., to see
the Moody Blues, who wants to go?”
Besides me, only my friend Catherine, and about 3 others that wanted to go. Our buyer
had Andy, the label salesman, rent a van, and off we went into the December night, and a wicked
snowstorm. We got there late, after nearly wiping out a few times, and missed the first couple
songs. But the show was good, and the seats were very good, and eventually we got warmed up.
After the show, the two main singers and songwriters, Justin Haywood and John Lodge,
came out front for the meet and greet. Unfortunately, I had nothing to sign, due to our hasty and
unexpected departure, so I just made nice, and exchanged pleasantries. The storm had somewhat
abated for the trip home, but I‟m sure this was one night that Andy was glad to see come to an
The last show I saw as a single guy was Melissa Etheridge, at the Palace Theatre. She
was touring on her third album, Never Enough. It was definitely not the night to try to meet
women. Although this was before she came out as a lesbian, it must have been common
knowledge through the gay underground, because the place was crawling with lesbians. I was
there with Vinnie, and his girlfriend Patty, and her two kids. I‟m sure she had a lot of explaining
to do when they got home.
I‟d known Patty for some time, mostly seeing her at listening parties and such. I got to
know her pretty well, because Vinnie, being Vinnie, was usually flitting around and working the
room, leaving Patty to fend for herself. It was shortly after this concert that Patty, through
Vinnie, set me up with a friend of hers. I married her.
But anyway, I was pretty nervous about meeting Melissa
Etheridge. I‟d been a fan of her previous albums, especially her
2nd, which was not exactly a big hit. But I loved her big voice, and
the passion with which she used it. For a week, I tried to come up
with a succinct way of telling her this, without sounding like a
fawning idiot. I settled on telling her that I admired anyone who
could sell a song with such passion. At least that‟s what I told
myself I‟d say. When the time came to meet her, I just couldn‟t do
it, I felt too hokey. I settled for some vagaries, and posed for a
picture with her, and called it a night. Damn! I don‟t usually
choke like that. I had a perfect opportunity too, because there
weren‟t that many people backstage.
When I met her the next time, there was a whole flock of us
from the office, so I was lucky to get some CDs signed. At least I
was able to bring my wife, Sandy. We all posed for a group Left Speechless
Sandy came on a lot of adventures with me. The first show I ever took her to was George
Thorogood, with Little Feat. That was a hell of a show. As George took the stage and began
carrying on, she looked over at me and said, “this guy‟s wrapped pretty tight, isn‟t he?”
I had passes in hand for this show, and was very anxious to meet George. We dashed right
back after the show, but were told that George was in his car leaving within 30 seconds of
leaving the stage. But the rest of the band was still there, and we pressed on, wandering around
the backstage corridors and looking for some sense of order. George‟s sax player passed us in
the hall. We didn‟t stop him though; he was just out of the shower and wearing only a robe with
a towel on his head. Eventually, we encountered the bass player, Billy Blough. I introduced us
and made some smalltalk, but Sandy was stupefied. She was completely bowled over by the star
power of a sideman. She couldn‟t say a word, just the old familiar nod and smile.
Scratching your way toward a shot at rock and roll stardom is a rough trip. Working at
your craft in cramped bars in front of a bunch of ill-mannered drunks can harden anyone. A
person that can excel at this for 20 years is truly a remarkable individual. Norman Nardini is one
such person. He‟s a guitarist out of Pittsburgh, who‟s played the club circuit for years. He
almost broke big in the 70‟s, with a band called Diamond Rio, which opened for several big
name bands on arena tours, but fame stayed just out of reach. His remarkable talent and
showmanship has earned him a very small but loyal following in the Midwest, and along the East
Coast. I am fortunate to be able to call him my friend.
I first saw Norman at a company District Manager‟s Meeting. He was scheduled to be
one evening‟s entertainment. I‟d heard of him, when I was back in Toledo, having seen a tape or
two in the racks, but I‟d never heard him and really didn‟t know what to expect.
So there we are in the Sheraton ballroom, in a room full of uptight DMs and RMs., and
assorted company big shots, and he‟s this little guy that looks like Paul Simon on amphetamines,
playing guitar like Stevie Ray Vaughan, and ranting like Dennis Leary. Then he‟s out in the
crowd with his guitar, standing on people‟s tables and playing in their faces, and making these
incredible “guitar faces,” like some kind of mutant. I was hooked.
Norman going through his paces At Kenny's Castaways 10/31/93
It wasn‟t just the showmanship, either. The songs were good too. No frills, just honest to
God power trio rock and roll, usually with a good deal of wit. His drummer, Whitey Cooper, in
addition to providing some wicked fills and solos, sang great harmony, plus a featured vocal on
Norman‟s signature song, “Smoke Two Joints.” I found this song particularly enjoyable, as it
was being sung to this group of buttoned down corporate types. I said to myself, “I gotta check
this guy out.”
I contacted Larry Germack, who was a salesman for Relativity Records, and the founder
of Circumstantial Records, the label for which Norman recorded. I shared my thoughts on my
first experience with Norman, and Larry came across with some albums for me. He said he‟d set
me up, the next time Norman came to town.
The next time turned out to be late in the summer of 1992, when Norman played the
Metro, in Saratoga Springs. Sandy and I went to the show, and sat with Dave Roy and Larry.
Before the show and then during the set breaks, Norman sat with us, and there, we got to know
The show was killer, of course, and though the crowd was not large, was won over. He
always knows who to play to. He told us earlier, “I know my people, I know who‟s gonna dig
me. See that guy over there?” he said, pointing out a longhaired biker dude in a raggedy denim
coat. “He‟s gonna dig me, he‟s my people.”
Norman worked through the crowd with his customary energy, playing on tables and
what not. He actually bonked Cathy, a friend of Sandy‟s, on the head with his guitar while
playing atop her table. (Based on my enthusiasm for this guy, Sandy got some friends of hers
from work to come to the show, after they saw Joe Walsh and Glen Frey at SPAC.) The great
time we had this night set the stage for an even better one.
On Halloween of 1993, Sandy, her aforementioned friend Cathy, and myself took the
train down to New York City to see Joe Satriani play an invite-only show at the Hard Rock Café,
followed by seeing Norman play Kenny‟s Castaways in Greenwich Village. This excursion was
courtesy of Relativity Records, in other words my buddy Larry, who was also putting us up for
the night at his place in Brooklyn.
But first there was dinner at the Russian Tea Room, with some other big shots from
Relativity, as well as Vinnie, and my friend Brian Hanck, a fellow Bowling Green alumnus, who
was our company‟s Independent Buyer. I shudder to think of the dinner bill picked up by
Relativity. In an elaborate show of „because I can’, Vinnie made them get him a cab to go the
two blocks between the Tea Room and the Hard Rock.
I felt kind of weird at Satriani‟s show, probably because most of the crowd was wearing
Halloween costumes, and our little group was not. But the place was hot, and so was Satch. We
got to meet him later, in a real elbow-to-elbow crowd, and somehow managed to get in a picture,
with him between Brian and I.
We all hopped cabs to Greenwich, in time to see the beginning of Norman‟s 2nd set.
Same old act though, just a larger, more “with it” crowd. I believe the people there knew who
they were going to see, as opposed to his gig in Saratoga. As before, he hung out with us in
between sets. He told us he was holding out the good songs until we got there. We got to hang
with him and Whitey the next day, too, as they were also staying at Larry‟s.
L-R: Me, Whitey, Norman, Brian, Cathy, &
Introducing Vinnie Larry
Norman came back to Albany in the spring, to open a show for Pat Travers at The
Scoreboard. We showed up with Sandy‟s secretary, Maria, and her boyfriend, Gary. I brought
my camcorder. This was the time that I got to know Norman best.
I caught him early, as he was tuning up, and got permission to videotape his show. We
talked for a while longer, then he went back to setting up his gear.
The show was a good one, though different. He was polishing the material that would
become his next album, a live-in-studio project. The crowd began with its usual “who‟s he?”
ambivalence, but as the show went on, Norman‟s manic energy and wild raps visibly won them
over. You could see by watching the tape, that by the time he wound through the crowd during
“Smoke Two Joints,” the looks on the people‟s faces said that they were his. On his way back to
the stage, he gave me a little lean-in to the camera, for one last guitar-face.
After the show, I hung out with Norm, Larry, and the other label and band guys. It was a
real kick, too, to bring Gary over and get him a signed picture. (Gary, who was a longhaired
biker dude, was definitely, “his people.”) I never even saw Pat Travers that night, I was having
too much fun hanging out with the guys.
The following July, Sandy and I were in Pittsburgh for a
family reunion. I turned out that this was the same weekend that
Norman was recording his live album. I had the invites to attend,
with all the kin I could bring, but the timing just wasn‟t there. We did
settle on going to his usual Sunday night gig in Swissvale, at a bar
called Frankie‟s. This time I got to take Mom and Dad, along with
Sandy and my cousin Susan. We got our seats, and then I went back
out to the car to retrieve my videotape of Norman, and come to find
him walking down the block to the bar. We went in together and I
introduced him all around and he sat down and made nice with the
folks. It was a very proud moment for me.
The set was a typical bar band set, with lots of oldie covers,
Fooling with rubber and a changing roster of players joining in. The last time I saw him,
gator he was announcing for us that someone blocked our car in.
When the live album came out, it was the crowning achievement of my music biz career.
I was listed, with Sandy, in the “thank you” section of the liner notes. For someone who has
spent his life poring over such minutiae, being included there meant the world. If there were any
justice in the world, Norman Nardini would get the break that would make him a household
name. But regardless of fame or fortune, I‟ll always be proud to call him my friend.
The ongoing experience with Norman proved to be good
conditioning for Sandy. People she met with me backstage no
longer cowed her.
When Dan Baird, formerly of the Georgia Satellites played
Saratoga Winners, I made quite sure I was going to be able to get
to meet him. I‟d been a Satellites fan since their first album came
out in ‟86, and was really high on Dan‟s solo album. Sandy really
liked it too. Dan had that country vibe going for him, and was a
true southern gentleman. What killed me was how Sandy took to
him. One minute she‟s all quiet and shy, then he mentions how
he has to take it easy now that he‟s 40, and she was all over it.
“Oh, I just turned 40, too, so I know what you‟re talking
about,” and away she they went, gabbing like old friends about
Dan Baird the trials and tribulations of getting old.
So we all talked for a while, (when I could get a word in edgewise) about some of his
songs, and stuff like that. He said he was embarrassed when a girl in the crowd took off her top
after he dared her.
“I felt bad for her,” he said, “I didn‟t think she‟d do it.”
We talked some more, then he actually asked if we wanted to
sit down for awhile. We said no. He‟d been more than generous
with his time, and looked pretty tired. We definitely left happy. I
left with their first album autographed, (by Dan and Mauro
Magellan, the Satellites drummer) and a couple of pictures of us
all. Sandy left having just had a rock star coming out party.
As a wedding gift, we were given two tickets to see Meat
Loaf in Boston, in a warm-up show at the Orpheum Theatre, prior
to his three-year world tour for Bat Out of Hell II. As this gift was
from my friends from work and the label salesmen, backstage
Tony, Sandy, and Dan
passes were included. I was thrilled. I was gonna get to meet The
We got a hotel room there, and decided to make an event out of it, and had a ball hanging
out in Boston. Our place was within walking distance of the Orpheum.
The theatre was a grand old place, with the high ornately carved ceilings, and big plush
curtains in front of the stage. As we took our seats, there was a string quartet playing. I thought
that it was quite out of place, until I realized that they were playing Meat Loaf songs. Then, as
the quartet played, the house lights dimmed and a voice came over the loudspeakers that said
“The Neverland Express is about to disembark. Captain Loaf has turned off the seatbelt signs,
and you are free to dance.” Just then the guitarist came out from around the curtain and started
blasting power chords into the faces of the startled string players, chasing them offstage amid
their flying sheet music. This turned into the opening of “I’d Do Anything For Love.”
The show was terrific, nothing but hits, running about three
hours. We waited in a crowd of record people out front for The Loaf
to come out. I had so much that I wanted to tell him, like about how
Bat Out Of Hell was my bad weather driving good luck charm, and
how I had all his albums, even the ones between the Bats, and how I
talked to Dale Krantz Rossington about their duet. But the crowd of
people was considerable, and he had a lot of them to meet, so I kept
it to compliments and pleasantries, and settled for a nice picture of
him between Sandy and myself, and a couple of autographed
albums. But he seemed genuinely glad to meet every single person.
You never got a sense that he was thinking, “I can‟t believe I have to
do this.” He was a complete professional, and a consummate
Me and The Loaf
The band I was most let down by was ZZ Top. This was a surprise. I thought for sure
that these guys would be a blast.
They were touring on Antenna, their first album for RCA Records. They probably
weren‟t even doing backstages with Warner Bros., but they needed a kick-start with their new
label, and I‟m sure RCA wanted to milk them for all they were worth.
The show went fine, with all the requisite pyrotechnics, and killer hooks. As we waited
backstage, we were given the ground rules by their people. “No pictures are allowed to be
taken.” If anyone snapped a picture, the band would leave. I put my camera back in my pocket.
“No autographs may be signed.” Maybe if there was time at the end, they might be talked into
signing a thing or two. I put away my Eliminator picture disk, and my three-foot ZZ logo that I
was going to have signed for my dad. “Do not take up their time with a lot of questions, as they
have a lot of people to see.” Gee, should I avert my eyes, or may I actually look at them
Well, I at least got to shake Billy Gibbon‟s hand. I think I missed Dusty Hill, and Frank
Beard never showed up. At the end, we all took a group picture with the band, but who know
just who was that for? The only copy is probably sitting in some label flunky‟s desk drawer.
Near the end, I tried to maneuver in to Billy‟s way to get him to sign some of my stuff, but they
made tracks pretty hastily. All in all, it put a bad taste in my mouth, for what used to be one of
my favorite bands.
After I got out of the business, I managed to get in one last schmooze, when fiddler Mark
O‟Conner did this workshop thing at the local Barnes and Noble. He gave a little story and
demonstrated various techniques, and held some Q & A.. When it was over, I brought up one of
his albums to sign, and told him that, “whenever I here his version of “Orange Blossom Special”
I have a religious experience. I always end up going „Jesus Christ!‟”
He laughed and told me how he set out to make the wildest, most over-the-top version
ever recorded. He told me about how his drummer had to practice for weeks, just to keep up the
incredible tempo, then increase it further as the song came to a climax. He told me the exact
amount of beats per minute, but I‟ve since forgotten. I left there feeling like I‟d just been given
some kind of family secret.
I only have one more story, but it spans many years. It could have really been included
any one of these chapters, because it crosses through them all. Call it my rock and roll love
story. Call it the story of a Boy and his Queen. Since 1981, I‟ve been a tireless supporter, and
devoted fan of Joan Jett. Our paths have crossed many times, each one leaving me more jazzed
than the last.
I learned about Joan when I was in college radio. I was doing my show one afternoon,
when the program director came in and slapped this album down in front of me and said, “Check
this out, you‟ll like it.”
I looked to see this tough leather-chick on the cover. “Hmmm.”
I flipped a turntable into „cue‟ mode, (meaning only I would hear it) and dropped the
needle onto a track that I thought would be interesting, one called “Do Ya Want To Touch Me.”
I was greeted by a fat rush of power chords, and thought, “I think we‟ve got something here.”
Thus began what would become many years of playing and promoting Joan Jett. I played
her on my show each week, played her in the car, at parties, for friends, etc. It was kind of cool
when she broke out later with the big hit “I Love Rock and Roll,” because I could say, “Hey, I
was hip to her before.” But in another way, it seemed like a bummer that “my personal find”
was now a star for the masses.
A couple of years later, I took a trip out to Baltimore to see friends and family. As part of
the festivities, we got the use of my Dad‟s Company seats for an Orioles game. I rode out with
my friend Billy Gardner. Along the way, he‟d asked me if I was still sweet on Joan Jett. I, of
course, was, and asked if he was still sweet on his old fave, Stevie Nicks.
When we got to our seats, about 3 rows behind the O‟s dugout, Billy says, “Hey, there‟s
I‟m thinking, “Yeah, right Bill, we talk about Joan in the car, and now there she is.”
There she was. She was right down in front of the dugout, talking with someone on
camera for Home Team Sports. Then she began signing autographs for the kids down on the
rail. I went down too, but didn‟t press forward. I was content just to be within 5 feet of her.
Later, during the 3rd inning break, they began playing Joan‟s “Crimson and Clover” over
the PA. I noticed that they were showing her on the DiamondVision scoreboard, sitting in her
seats. Then I noticed the camera with the red light on it, pointing up at us. I looked down our
row, and there was Joan, sitting about 10 seats down. Holy shit!
At the next inning break, I went around and asked for her autograph, on an old check stub
that I had in my wallet. I told her how I‟d been a fan for a long time, and that I certainly never
expected to meet her at an O‟s game. She told me that she‟s always been an O‟s fan, and went to
a lot of games. I went back to my seat a thoroughly happy individual. I noticed that a lot more
people started coming down for autographs. Eventually, the ushers began keeping people away,
during the game. But at every break, she signed for all comers. This was when I began to
suspect that she was quite a lady.
I was living in Cleveland and managing the Coconuts in Maple Heights, when this was
I was sitting in my office, one day, talking on the phone to Kenny the Viking, and
opening mail. As I opened an embossed envelope from CBS Records, what I saw so completely
shocked me that I dropped the phone. It was an invitation to a listening party for Joan Jett‟s new
album, Up Your Alley, featuring an appearance by Joan herself. I‟m pretty sure Kenny thought
I‟d gone berserk, and I guess he‟d have been right.
This was a big deal for me. This was my first listening party where the artist was
showing up, and not just some unknown, but a big name on a major label. I guess CBS was
looking for something big. Joan‟s follow-up to I Love Rock and Roll was called Album, cut for
MCA. It was only a moderate success, but spawned several videos for the emerging MTV. The
next was Glorious Results of a Misspent Youth, which completely disappeared from the map.
This next one for CBS was supposed to be the big comeback.
I went to the party loaded for bear. I brought my
camera, three of her albums, and a Spin Magazine, on which
she was pictured on the cover. I was taking no more chances
with piddly little check stubs this time.
Joan came in looking resplendent in her leather coat and
pants. I waited for the initial push of schmoozers to subside,
before jumping in. They were playing the album now, and it
sounded hot, with some real crunch. When I got my chance
for face-time, I told her that I couldn‟t wait to get this album
in the car and turn it up. She signed my magazine, and an
The Queen of Rock & Roll album, Bad Reputation, I think, and I had a picture taken with
her. I was in heaven.
A while later, I noticed that she wasn‟t too busy, so I went up and got another album
signed. Even later, I saw her up at the bar by herself, getting a drink, not a soul around. I
approached again, apologizing for being a pest, and asked her to sign one more.
She fixed me with those enormous brown eyes and said,
“It‟s no trouble at all. Without fans like you, who am I?”
We talked a little bit longer, and then that was it. I‟d
concluded the audience with my queen, and found that my
admiration had been well placed. She was an honest,
gracious, genuine human being, that just happened to get on
a stage and pump out simple, glorious, three chord rock and
roll. I felt that I could now die happy, I‟d just met, chatted
up, and posed with the Queen of Rock and Roll. Little did I
know that I was just getting started.
A boy and his Queen
In the course of managing my store, I had occasions to deal with marketing companies.
These were places that promoted and tracked sales activity for their clients. They would call
managers like myself, ask how their albums were selling, how I was reporting them, fill us in on
touring schedules, and they could set us up with promos, posters, and tickets. I had a terrific
relationship with one company in particular. Dori, from Image Marketing called about once a
week, and we grew to become good phone friends. One thing you always do with these
marketing companies is that if they represent someone you particularly like, you make damn
sure that they know all about it. Much to my delight, Image had been representing Joan for
quite some time, so we always discussed my affinity for Joan at great length.
One afternoon, Dori called and right out of the blue, asked if I‟d like to talk to Joan. No,
but maybe if you had Yassar Arafat there you could put him on. Of course I wanted to talk to
Joan! Whaddya crazy?
Apparently, Joan was in the office, making phone calls to preferred accounts, and Dori had me in
mind immediately. She would call back in about a half hour. This gave me time to run around
the store and leave orders to absolutely not be disturbed once that phone rings. If the building
catches fire, call the fire department, slip a note under my door, and get out. I also had time to
come up with a list of stuff to talk about. If I was going to have her undivided attention, I
wanted to have something worthwhile to say.
So finally, I got my call, “Dori on line one.” Damn, what I really wanted to hear over the
intercom was, “Tony, you have Joan Jett on line one.” Oh well, you take what you get. Dori
asked if I was ready. I was, and then there was Joan.
We talked mostly about record biz things…when‟s the next album, when will the old stuff come
out on CD, that kind of thing. We talked a little about songwriting, and how so many of her
songs seem just right for what I may be feeling. She mentioned how she always makes songs
neutral, as in “you,” rather that “he” or “she,” so that anybody can relate to them.
In the end, I told her how nice it was to talk to someone you admire and find them to be a
regular person and have them treat you with decency and respect. She told me how nice it was to
be talked to like a regular person. She said she‟d be in town soon, and she‟d look forward to
seeing me backstage. Dori would be sure to hook me up. And that was it. Our talk lasted about
20 minutes. Dori was shocked. She didn‟t talk to anyone else for anywhere near that long, she
said. I was thrilled.
Joan‟s next trip to town was in October, opening for Robert Plant at Richfield Coliseum. It so
happened that it was the same night as our district Halloween party. Choices had to be made.
Not that mine wasn‟t obvious, but I opted to do both. I started out at the party, then changed into
regular clothes and went (by myself) to the show. I met Joan in the locker room before her set,
and had her sign the Up Your Alley album. We also posed for what has become my favorite shot
of the two of us. We took one, but she decided that she wasn‟t looking right, so she wondered if
we could take another?
“What, and stay here with my arm around you? I don’t think I
can stand for that?” We took another. I gave her a birthday card
too, belated I knew, but I was hoping the thought would count. I
don‟t think she knew what to do with it.
I talked briefly with Ricky Byrd, her guitarist, and had him sign
the album. I told him how much I was into “I Hate Myself For
Loving You.” He told me that the next single was going to be
“Little Liar,” and it would be huge. Well, it wasn‟t, but not because
of any shortcoming in the song. After this conversation, I gave it
some more attention, and couldn‟t get over how Joanie totally kicks
its ass at the end. She‟s got this wail of rage and disgust when she
Pre-show, in Cleveland
cries, “I believed in you!” before turning it into one of hurt and
disbelief, repeating “I believed in you!” It always gives me shivers.
Anyway, I watched their 45-minute opening act bit, then I left to return to the party. How could
some nobody like Robert Plant come close to what I‟d just experienced?
Joan‟s next trip through the area brought her to the Palace Theatre in Akron. Dori was able to
hook me up with passes, but I had to buy the tickets, as the label had already done the freebie
thing when she opened for Plant. But this time, she was headlining, so it would be money well
spent. I decided to take Kelly Shedlock, so we hit the road together.
We waited with about 20 other people in a very small backstage area, for the band to come down
before their set. When they did, Joan saw me right away and came directly over to me.
“I know you,” she said, “I don‟t remember your name, but you look familiar.”
I was thrilled. I re-introduced myself, telling her where she remembered me from, and then
introduced her to Kelly. That was cool, being able to introduce Joan Jett to a friend of mine. I
got some more stuff signed, but never got around to getting some more pictures taken, much to
my eternal chagrin. It just didn‟t seem like the right atmosphere, with too many people in too
small of an area.
The show was killer, and gave her much more of a chance to stretch out. She really puts
on a show, expending a lot of energy. At one point, I heard a familiar drum beat, but not from
any Joan Jett song. I leaned over to Kelly and said, “I think that‟s Dirty Deeds!” Indeed it was,
and was quite an unexpected pleasure. It all made sense later that year, when Joan released The
Hit List, an album of classic covers, including AC/DC‟s Deeds.
I was in Albany the next time I saw her. I had just started at the home office when she
came to play Saratoga Winners. I came to learn that Vinnie had a long and colorful past with
Joan, and at one point supposedly threatened to have her manager‟s legs broken. But in the long
schmoozing tradition, all was forgotten when new business beckoned. They were on the phone
several times, prior to their arrival in town. That Vinnie would get us in to see Joan was a given.
I took my friend Tina Braemer, another protégé that I‟d just spun off into her own store.
We saw ourselves a great show, and then we waited around for the house to empty. Shortly,
Kenny Laguna, Joan‟s manager, appeared, saying that Joan wasn‟t going to do a meet and greet.
Her voice was gone, and she wasn‟t supposed to talk. Vinnie told us not to worry, and to stay
put, and he disappeared into the dark corridor. He emerged in a few minutes, saying all was
There was only Tina and myself, and one other pair of girls when Joan came out. She
was wearing a black leather jacket and ball cap, with a towel around her neck. The poor dear
could barely speak above a whisper. As this was at least two years from when I‟d last met her,
and in a city hundreds of miles away, I didn‟t expect that she‟d remember me. Actually, I didn‟t
even mention our past meetings, not seeing any positives that could come out of it. I didn‟t say
much, as I didn‟t want her to hurt her voice. That she was out there at all in her condition spoke
Tina and Joan Together again
I never got the chance to introduce Sandy to her, though we saw two of her shows. The
first was when she played an outdoor FLY 92 Summer Jam, headlining with Debbie Harry. I
was no longer with the Company, and I was hoping to spot Vinnie lurking somewhere in the
wings, but I never saw him.
Later that winter, Joan came to Saratoga Winners again, and Vinnie told me he‟d be
there, but during the show, I got accosted by a couple of no-neck bouncers for taking pictures.
They made me tear the film out of my camera, and almost threw me out. Bastards! By the time
the show was over, I was in no mood to schmooze, I just wanted out, vowing never to set foot in
that dump again. We left without even looking for Vinnie, or trying to see Joan.
These last two failures were a disappointment, but I really can‟t complain. I‟ve had a
remarkable chance to get to know someone who will, when all is said and done, go down as a
pioneer in women‟s rock. Joan was 16, and on the road with The Runaways, at least 5 years
before female bands like the Go-Go‟s had even met. In the mid 70‟s, there just weren‟t girls
with guitars, aside from Nancy Wilson of Heart. Many of the current female rock groups point
to Joan, as an inspiration and example of how one could be a woman and play rock and roll.
I‟m out of the business now, and if I‟m going to hang with any more celebrities, I will
just have to do it like everyone else…by chance. Or maybe fate…
I think it was a mix of the two that landed Carl Reiner and Mel Brooks at a book signing,
about 3 miles from my apartment. They were there to sign their 2000 Year Old Man book.
Well, if Mel Brooks is coming to my back yard, then I have to be there.
So there I was, the only gentile in a line that snaked from the back of this enormous store,
straight out the door. I think every Jew in Pikesville was there to greet their hero. I had an
outstanding time in line, just schmoozing with the folks.
So when it was my turn to approach, I told Mel that way back when, my folks had taken
the whole family to see Blazing Saddles, which made us the coolest kids on the block. Our folks
had taken us to see an R rated movie, on purpose. Oooooooh! He seemed pleased.
But it was strange being on the other side of the velvet
ropes, being the one guided through the process, instead of
being on the inside. Coming full circle, I guess. I figure,
I‟ve had my turn, anything else from here out is just gravy.
A new generation of fan is meeting their heroes now. If their
experiences turn out anything like mine, then they should
have fond memories to last a lifetime. I just hope that they
always keep in mind the cardinal rule, which is to never pass
up the free meal. And by all means, when the band invites
Carl Reiner and Mel Brooks
you, get your ass in the van!