True-Life Rock Tales

Split Enz: True Colours, Part One

We drove our three rental cars up to the lobby entrance of the Sunset Marquis at 1200 North Alta Loma and started to unload our luggage and stuff. A few guys were standing there with hands on their hips and said, “you cannot unload there; the ‘Boss’ is going to be here any second and we need the area clear. Go to the parking lot and unload there.”

“Really? Surely you jest,” I answer. They moved toward us in a threatening way and one of them said, “Bruce Springsteen is coming and the front area has to be open with no people or cars.” At that moment Roy Bittan (who by the way was the keyboard player with my Peace Parade show; see the articles in Issue 117 and Issue 118) walked out of the hotel’s front door and stopped when he saw me. “Hey Kenny!” he said. I turned and smiled at him, “Roy!” and we hugged. Sizing up what was going on, he turned to his road crew and said, “it’s cool, leave it be guys.”

It is the fall of 1980 when Randy Hoffman from Champion Entertainment (Tommy Mottola’s management company at the time) called to tell me that Split Enz is coming in for a tour for the US and Canada. Led by brothers Tim and Neil Finn, the Split Enz tour is in support of their new album True Colours, which yielded the hit “I Got You.” “Are you available?” “Shoot yeah,” I said. “Great,” he replied. “Come up to the office and we will go over the tour and all the details. It’s quiet here at the office now. Tommy is not around; he is with Hall and Oates on the road.”

Split Enz promo photo. Courtesy of A&M Records.

Later that week at Champion’s office Randy tells me, “there is going to be a heavy dose of press throughout the tour, but the good news is you won’t have to deal with it. There will be someone from A&M Records’ publicity department meeting you guys in all the major markets. A&M will be coordinating all print and radio interviews and for the most part they will work these appointments.

At this time True Colours and the single “I Got You” were monster number one hits in Australia for over two months, holding Pink Floyd’s The Wall to the number two spot. With that kind of success, it made sense for both A&M Records and Champion to pull out all the stops in terms of press support.

The first gig was at none other than the Fast Lane, the club in Asbury Park, New Jersey that helped launch Bruce Springsteen’s career. Things started well; the Finn brothers are easygoing which is a plus because the Fast Lane was unimpressive and run down even then, having seen better days. (It’s now gone.) Then we played up and down the Northeast corridor with dates in Cherry Hill, NJ, Philadelphia, and in Washington DC at The Cellar Door. We were at Irving Plaza in New York on October 4 and at New York’s The Ritz on October 8.

What a tour schedule! Courtesy of Ken Sander.

In New York we were joined by a brand-new large RV with a driver, because with amount of people in the band and crew we really had too many of us even for three rental cars, and too few of us for a bus. The recreational vehicle was big and comfortable and this became our ground transportation on the East Coast in the States and in eastern Canada. After New York CIty we went to My Father’s Place in Roslyn, Long Island and then drove north to Albany to play J.B. Scott’s and from there on to Canada..

The first Canadian gig was in Ottawa and I was still dealing with paperwork from a difficult border crossing. The Canadian customs officials were terribly concerned that we would sell our musical equipment, since musical instruments cost about 40 percent more in Canada than in the US at the time.] The Canadian government had a legitimate concern because their tax system raised costs on everything imported, but they lacked common sense in suspecting that an international touring group would sell the equipment they needed for performing and which could not be easily replaced, especially while in Canada. These officials would spend too much time and energy in enforcing their bureaucratic regulations. Bonds were posted and other hoops had to be jumped through to get everyone and everything into Canada.

In Montreal, the Enz, as they were sometimes called, played a club in McGill University called Le Club, (what an ingenious name). This was a fun night with a lot of back and forth between the audience and the Finns. After the show some of us went out with the school’s concert committee for drinks and a bite to eat. They took us to a large pub, and while hanging out a young French Canadian gal joined us and sat next to me. The attraction was instant for both of us. She spoke little English and I little French. After a couple of brandies each we decided that I needed to learn French and she would be the one to teach me. Brilliant decision. That night I learned French, man did I learn French. It broke my heart to wave goodbye to my French teacher the next morning.

 

Next night was Toronto and the drive southwest from Montreal was across barren and bleak country. Montreal had a French Canadian Catholic culture and influence, while Toronto had a Protestant Anglo British vibe. Both cities feel familiar because they are on the North American continent and the brands of cars and appliances are the same as we use in the States, but these cities are also distinctively unique. The eastern part of the Canadian tour was over, and we drove back across the border to Ann Arbor, Michigan, easy peasy.

Iggy Pop, who was going to be co-headlining with us on some West Coast dates, was supposed to come to that night’s show at the Second Chance to meet the band, but he did not show up. However, after the show one of his people said he would take the Finns and me to where he was staying. We got to the house and went in. The lights were dim. The three of us stood there in the living room and Iggy staggered in. Man, he was ripped, slurring his words, he could barely talk. The meeting was very short, and his people put Iggy to bed and then drove us back to our hotel. That was not our cup of tea but, no judgements either.

Next night we were in Chicago at the Park West, playing for my old friends, Jerry and Arnie’s JAM productions (see my articles on Nektar’s first tour in Issue 115 and Issue 116). Backstage I ran into Cynthia Plaster Caster of the Plaster Casters. Cynthia practices a unique type of groupie art that was initially made famous by my sister Ellen in an article for The Realist and followed shortly by another story in Rolling Stone. The Plaster Casters specialized in making casts of male rock stars’…The Casters’ notoriety was further enhanced by Frank Zappa, who as a married family man did not want to get casted but supported the concept. The Plaster Casters were common knowledge and well-known on the scene and they had quite a collection. They had been accepted in the rock and roll community.

Cynthia wanted to cast one of the Finns, but I told her these New Zealand boys would not even consider it. Then, she said, “why don’t you do it?” I declined and tried to rationalize that I was not a famous musician. She replied, “you fit in, it will work.” Again I said no, and she said, “I cannot believe that Ellen’s brother is too chicken to be cast.” She must have asked me ten times. One of her selling points was that I would “reside” in Cynthia’s museum alongside casts of Jimi Hendrix, Eric Clapton, Steve Miller, and other famous people. Not for me; that is not the kind of notoriety I want. I told her no again and again. I am not going to even mention how she prepped her subjects.

Some following dates that were originally booked in Kansas City, Austin, Tampa, Atlanta, and Miami were canceled. Now we went west instead of south. We were also finished with the RV, and our driver drove it back east and returned it to New York.

Split Enz taking a break from the road in 1980. Courtesy of Wikimedia Commons/Archives New Zealand.

We flew Northwest Airlines into San Francisco. The next gig was at Bill Graham’s Old Waldorf at 444 Battery Street between the financial district and Central Embarcadero Piers Historic District. This neighborhood was on the safer side of San Francisco. Bill was not at the club that night, but he ran a tight ship, from the box office to the backstage catering. The house staff were professional and everything went smoothly. There were a ton of press interviews yet again, and two shows that night, 45 minutes each at 9:00 and 12:15. Bill Graham Presents was a professional organization.

Next, Elmer Valentine’s Whisky a Go Go beckoned to Split Enz. They did two nights, two sets a night at 45 minutes each at 10:15 and 12:15 with A&M Records again holding court to lots of press. Tommy Mottola, and Randy, Jeb, and Al from Champion Entertainment flew out from New York for the show and to spend time with The Enz. This left me with some free time, and I got to see my dear and longtime friends Gayle Galli and Bambi Byrens, the late Barry Byrens’ sister (see Issue 123]. I drove up to her house at 1000 Loma Vista Drive in Beverly Hills and we had lunch by the pool. Most of my other Los Angeles friends were in the music business and they were out of town on the road.

I took one of the rental cars and drove up to my old address in Laurel Canyon to see what changes had taken place over the years since I had lived there. And changes there were – dirt roads were paved and new houses, ones with the potential for views, had been built close together, making use of every inch of land. Because of the rough and steep terrain, many of these houses were built partially on stilts to keep them level and at different angles, giving each house an unobstructed view of the L A basin or the Pacific Ocean and a feeling of separation, even though the houses might only be three feet apart, belly to butt so to speak.

It seemed to me that Laurel Canyon had even then become upscale and no longer a place of hippies and musicians. The relaxed atmosphere of spontaneous hanging out was now replaced with houses with security systems. The life I knew while living on Ridpath Drive seemed to be a thing of the past. Still, it always great to be in LA. The next day was another off day, meaning, no show, but the Finns had some radio and television interviews and other stuff to do and then dinner with the Champion people. Gayle and I went for dinner at Barney’s Beanery and celebrated my birthday.

To be continued…