I am sitting in Trax, a music biz hangout club that is a few steps below street level. Trax was a pretty good-sized space located in a pre-War building on West 72nd Street just west of Columbus Avenue. At the table is Jonny Podell, Mick Jagger, Jessica (my then-wife) and me. We are drinking and partying, It is a weekday night but the big basement club is packed with famous and near-famous folks.
At the time my wife worked for Jonny, and I think they are still long-standing friends. Jonny is an independent rock and roll booking agent. He has represented Alice Cooper, George Harrison, David Blaine, The Beastie Boys, Blondie and quite a few other big-name acts. The thing is, he works alone, and in fact is the most successful solo agent or might I say solo agency in the rock business. Oh, there are bigger agencies, but they have numerous agents on staff, and they use the leverage of their big acts to help break new and up-and-coming artists. Jonny does it all alone. He is a good guy but a wild man. Charming and smart, he does well by his acts.
Blondie was changing managers and Jonny was their booking agent. With a new manager they would also need a new road manager, so Jonny arranged an interview for me with the band. At the time they lived in a prewar Art Deco building on the southeast corner of Seventh Avenue and 58th Street. I was to show up at 2 pm. The elevator opened right into their apartment. I think it was the penthouse. The band was there and one of them went into a room and Debbie Harry and Chris Stein came out. Debbie had some serious bed head, and both were looking like they just woke up. Of course, they were a little grumpy, rubbing their sleepy eyes. The interview, if one could call it that, was short. Just Hi, hello and Debbie said, “I need to make some coffee,” and walked out of the large living room to her kitchen. I never heard anything about it again and when I met Debbie years later, she had no memory of our meeting. She remembered Jonny of course.
A few years later I was in England for the UK Stranglers tour (see “Pond Hopping With the Stranglers,” Issue 111).When that tour ended there were a few days I spent in London winding up the tour details. Expense reports, rental returns and other odds ’n ends. I stayed at the Portobello Hotel near the Marble Arch. The rooms were incredibly small, and the television hung over the bed like those in a hospital. Still, it was a cool hotel with 24-hour kitchen service.
The day I flew home from England. I was informed by my wife that she had to attend a show at the Bottom Line. Kid Creole and the Coconuts, a client of the agency she worked for, were performing at the club that night and it was a must-go for all agency employees. The Bottom Line was a prominent New York music venue run by Allan Pepper and Stanley Snadowsky, located at 15 West Fourth Street between Mercer and Green Streets. Just a few short blocks east of Washington Square Park in the West Village (Greenwich Village). The Bottom Line was a must-play stop on many tours and a serious showcase spot for rock acts. (It was open from 1974 to 2004.)
Jessica was working for Norby Walters Associates. Walters was rumored to have mob ties. In the beginning he owned clubs in New York. The last one he owned lost its liquor license for what a New York State Liquor Authority report described as ''a highly adverse police and license history due to assaults and prostitution.'' Despite that, the club stayed open for three more months, appealing the allegations in the report, but during that period, two mobsters were shot to death at the bar by a third man, and the club closed in 1968.
As a booking agent Walters was representing entertainers Luther Vandross, Patti LaBelle, Kool and the Gang, Ben Vereen and Miles Davis. Like most of these agencies, they worked with any talent that was bookable. Later in the mid-1980s Walters and a partner formed World Sports & Entertainment Inc., a sports agency whose business caught the attention of law enforcement. A grand jury was convened and an FBI investigation was launched to look into tampering with college athletes.
Kid Creole (August Darnell) a Zoot-suited performer, and the Coconuts had a lot of stuff happening on stage, combining a mixture of disco and Latin American, Caribbean, and Cab Calloway styles inspired by the big band era. An amalgam of bygone outsized personas, the musicians and the music moved between disco, calypso, show tunes, soul, big band, pop, funk, and New Wave. They were the kind of act that might have played the Copacabana along with Desi Arnaz (Ricky Ricardo on I Love Lucy). A real throwback with a lot of people on stage. They had dancing background singers, musicians and you name it. They were a fun, enjoyable act but due to the large amount of people they had on stage I must assume that their nut (overhead) was large. This is an economic reality that kills or at least limits many a new musical innovation.
They went on at 11 o’clock which was almost dawn in the UK, and I was tired. We were sitting at the agency’s table that seated 12 or so. Kid Creole and the Coconuts killed it. They put on a great show, but me? I was barely hanging in there. The hours and the flight had caught up with me. At a quiet moment I said to the table, “I woke up in London this morning.” Everyone turned and looked at me with “I am not impressed, so what” looks.
This was one of the many times when there were a few weeks or even a month or two between various touring gigs. It was unusual for me to have tours that went back-to-back. If we were not going out to concerts and events, then people dropped by. One afternoon Leslie West and a few folks stopped over to party. Leslie, in his raspy voice, told me he was supposed to be in the recording studio but did not want to go. I advised him to go. I said studio time was expensive, and it seemed to me that he should show up. He did not and was mum on his reasoning. He just said, “f*ck em,” and went to the can. Apparently, Leslie was no shrinking violet.
The Allman Brothers Band were in town and there was an impromptu party, hanging out at a suite in their hotel. We came with Jonny, and it was a nice easy atmosphere. Everyone knew and liked Jonny Podell and he was welcomed everywhere. He was kinda a star in his own right, fun and charismatic.
We all were just drinking, partying, and talking. Geraldo Rivera was there, and I went over to talk with him. He was into the early stages of his career, though already a rising star. When I went back to Jonny, my wife Jessica and Greg Allman, I could see that Greg was hitting on Jessica. In the nicest way possible I let him know she was my wife and whatever he might have had in mind was not gonna happen. He was a little surprised, but acquiesced. The mood lightened up quickly and the four of us were all back to having a good time, when in a quiet moment from across the room we hear a loud voice. “I am Dickie Betts; what the hell do you mean you won’t take my check!” “The whole room roared with laughter.
One of the “Two Jims” (Kellem) at CMA (Creative Management Associates), knew my birthday was coming up so he invited me, Jessica, and my sister Ellen (the famous rock writer) to a performance of Saturday Night Live. It was October 30, 1976, and this was SNL’s second season. Their normal studio at 30 Rock was being used for presidential election coverage so the show was moved to NBC’s studio complex in Brooklyn. The Band was the musical guest. The audience was platformed, slightly raised so we were a few feet above where the Band was set up. It seemed like we were maybe 20 feet away and looking downward toward them. Immediately after the Band was introduced, they started with a bang. Up and running in an instant, Ellen said to me, that is when you know a group is really good. They went from zero to 100 MPH in less than a second; they were rocking.
Buck Henry was the host that week and in one of the early skits, he was cut on his forehead by John Belushi’s out of control sword during the “Samurai Stockbroker” sketch. Henry continued the show with a bandaged head. As the show went on, more and more cast members appeared with bandaged heads. A sign of solidarity, I assume. The cast that week was Dan Aykroyd, John Belushi, Chevy Chase (his final episode due to injury, though he returned in a wheelchair for “Weekend Update” for three segments], Jane Curtin, Garrett Morris, Laraine Newman and Gilda Radner. It was a good show.
We went to the after party at One Fifth Avenue, an upscale restaurant in the building of said address. Of course, the restaurant was closed to the public and most people arrived between 1:30 and 2 am. There were about 60 of us, cast, NBC executives and certain guests, seated at a long cast table and a few satellite tables. We were sitting at one of the smaller ones near the cast table. The food was great.
John Belushi stands up and says a couple of words and kinda apologizes to Buck Henry for gashing his forehead with the sword. Buck was all, “no problem, no problem.” At this time the only one wearing a bandage was Buck Henry. Belushi is wearing a big puffer jacket, and, not being the skinniest dude, looked like the Michelin Man dressed in a reddish-orange coat. As he is moving around the table talking with various cast members, he backs up into my chair. He almost knocked me over but didn’t seem to notice.
It has been pointed out to me that I have gotten to mingle with extraordinary people while they were doing un-extraordinary things. That certainly is one point of view.
Header image: Kid Creole and the Coconuts' debut album, Off the Coast of Me.