True-Life Rock Tales

Superstar: The Long Tour

Issue 137

Beginning in 1972, I was involved in the production of Superstar, The Original American Touring Company (OATC). It was a touring version of the hit album Jesus Christ Superstar (see my article in Issue 118). Superstar was for the most part a PG-rated production, and there were a variety of experiences that were totally unique. This was a bus and truck tour with an occasional airplane ride. We traveled all over the North American continent.

Bruce Sachs and I got Superstar going as the show’s agents, finding the cast and band and setting the whole thing up. Once it was under way, we took the show over and ran the day-to-day. I was the road manager and Bruce took care of things in the office. Around that time, Bruce left CMA (Creative Management Associates) and joined another management agency. A couple months into the job, Bruce said to me that he wanted to bring in his employer, a music biz manager with connections. He probably was pressured by his employer, and there were also some legal concerns about the show that we were troubled by. We knew we needed someone with more experience than what the two of us had.

 

Program for Superstar, the Original American Touring Company.

Program for Superstar, the Original American Touring Company.

 

On the road there was a continuing and vexing problem. On numerous occasions, we would receive the wrong lighting and sound equipment than what was required and specified in the signed contract rider. The concert promoter had to provide specific lights and sound and certain musical equipment, but it was not happening. About half the shows were college dates that were run by student college committees that tended to have scant experience. The other half were handled by independent promoters. The cast and crew were getting rightfully upset with these frequent oversights.

An advance man was thought to be the answer. Now that the new manager was involved and handling the business, Bruce had less work at the office. It was decided that Bruce would become Superstar’s road manager. He was the more experienced of the two of us, and for more than that one reason the decision was made and I would become the advance man. In hindsight we both took a step down.

I thought being an advance man was going to be a drag but immediately, it worked! My initial feelings turned out to be wrong. I took to the work and I enjoyed being on my own. I would call the promoters a few days before the concert to review our rider requirements and then book an appointment to meet at the facility the day before the show. Now the promoters knew I was coming in early and that we were serious about our rider. That put them on notice and gave them a few days to get their act together.

The office supplied me with an American Express authorized rep card, and that eliminated the need for expense reports. I would always rent a full-size Hertz car and since I did not have passengers, I could get some cool rides. Mustangs, GTOs; even the Plymouth Duster (based on the lowly budget Plymouth Valiant) had a sports model. Many times, these cars had less than one thousand miles on them, so they were effectively new cars.

There were times in the quiet early morning hours before the sun came up that I would be racing through the small towns of America. It seemed as if I was the only one awake. It was a unique experience for me.

Early in the tour we had a date in Lewiston, Maine. I drove into town and there was a river alongside the road. The river had massive amounts of yellowish foam floating down; it seemed like a giant washing machine had exploded. It was all over the shoreline and gobs of it were moving down the river. I had witnessed air pollution with its brown haze hanging over most every city in America, but this? I have never seen anything like it. When I checked into my hotel, I asked the front desk people, “what was that?” They told me it was pollution from a printing plant and a massive lumber yard upstream. “How can that be allowed to exist?” I asked. The front desk guy said, “If you find out, clue me in because no one around here knows why. We just know where it comes from.”

 

Sludge from a paper mill going into the Androscoggin River, Maine, in the 1970s. From the National Archives, photo by Charles Steinhacker.

Sludge from a paper mill going into the Androscoggin River, Maine, in the 1970s. From the National Archives, photo by Charles Steinhacker.

A few gigs later I was in Portland, Maine. I was due to drive to Boston to advance the upcoming show there. It was snowing and there was already over a foot on the ground. I could have postponed the drive a day because my appointment was the next day, but I said to myself, what the hell, go for it. I checked out of my hotel and not long after was driving on I-95 South. It was snowing hard and every so often I would see a car lose control and run off the turnpike. It was a treacherous drive and I loved it. I got safely into Boston about six hours later.

Then, on to Hyannis Port in Massachusetts. Jose Feliciano had played the same concert hall a day earlier. It was around the time he had a hit with “Light My Fire.” This was one of those times when the company (the cast and crew) caught up with me in advance of the show. A few of us went to the hotel coffee shop for breakfast. And there is Jose sitting at a table with someone from his organization. We walked over and they invite us to sit down. We are chatting and he wants to meet “Mary Magdalene,” but Susan Morse, the actress who played her, was not at breakfast. He starts joking around about that and we were surprised. He was not rude, but he had a fresh mouth. We were genuinely surprised. It seemed so out of character from the person we expected.

 

Actress Susan Morse.

Actress Susan Morse.

 

At a good hotel in San Antonio, we stumbled into comedian Mort Sahl having breakfast and we joined him. He was genuinely nice, asking the cast members questions; he smiled often and was quite charming. We spent at least a month zigzagging around Texas. We did about 24 dates and there were protesters at a few of them. At the time some Christian groups were upset by Jesus Christ Superstar. Later they embraced it. When we were in Dallas (the last Texas date) we were all in the hotel lobby and a bunch of Dallas Cowboys were also there, waiting to board their bus to practice. Bruce got ahold of one of the big football players and set up a prank, without my knowledge. This tremendous lineman, probably 350 pounds and about six foot eight comes over to me and starts asking me questions. “Who are you? Why the long hair and hippie looks?” I start to tell him, and he seems to get annoyed. I am like, what the? Then he laughs and Bruce steps over and this football player tells me it was Bruce’s idea. “Ha ha,” I said, while glaring at Bruce – and then we all laughed.

 

A protester at a performance in Texas.

A protester at a performance in Texas.

 

Next day the Texas tour is over. John Wesley, our sound man and truck driver, needs a relief driver on the long overnight haul from Dallas to Columbus, Ohio. That is a little over 1,100 miles and the truck must be at the Ohio State Fair the next evening. Superstar is opening for Tom Jones. Everyone is flying but the equipment is not; it is being trucked in on our rented Hertz 26-foot box truck. Bruce volunteered me to accompany John Wesley for yet another adventure.

John Wesley and I start out after that night’s show with me driving. Just outside of Dallas, John Wesley says, “here, take this,” and gives me a pill. I do not know what it was but soon I was feeling really good, then really really good, and now l was totally into the drive. John Wesley wants to stop in Norman, Oklahoma to see some old friends and who could blame him. On tour your’e on an itinerary. We would never know if we would pass this way again. It is a little out of the way, but I do not know that. I am driving all night, both hands on the wheel and we get to his old house at sunrise, just after 6 am. He wakes his friends; they are groggy, grumpy. It’s incredibly early in the morning, who could blame them? We hang out for an hour and I say we should hit the road.

Now John Wesley drives. I have come down and I am completely tuckered out. I sleep on and off (waking for a few moments here and there) for the rest of the trip. We arrive at the Ohio State Fair on time while the sun is still up. I want to meet Tom Jones, but he is not that interested in meeting me. I check in to the hotel and fall fast asleep.

 

Ken Sander and cast member Billy Barnes, who played Jesus in Superstar.

Ken Sander and cast member Billy Barnes, who played Jesus in Superstar.

 

Christmas is coming up and we have 18 days off for the holidays. I decide to go to London for five days and four nights. I ask Susan to come with, but she is not interested. John Grant, our outrageous and flamboyant six foot five, 280-pound travel agent books me a hotel near the Kensington Market (as requested). He gets me a ticket on Pan American, round-trip JFK to Heathrow and back for a fare of 200 bucks.

The London weather is good. I settle in and head out for a walk. I am trying to stay awake till nighttime to minimize jet lag; it kinda worked. Next morning, I call Marty Kristian of the folk-rock band the New Seekers and arrange to have dinner the next night. I had previously toured with them for Elektra Records in the States. We had dinner and it was nice to see him.

In London at lunchtime, if the restaurant takes orders at the counter (without having waitresses), it is customary to take any open seat, even if other diners are already at that table. I figure this as a way for me to meet new people. I go into a lunch spot that is made from a couple of old converted train cars, and with my food on my tray I survey the place, looking for an open seat, preferably at a table with cool people. As luck would have it, I see three people who fit the description. They are two long-haired guys with a gal, all in their early twenties. I ask to sit in the open seat, and they say sure, have a seat. I join ’em and as soon as I open my mouth, they know I am a Yank. We are chatting and one of the guys tells me there is a party the next night and I was welcome to come.

It was walkable from my hotel. It was on the ground floor of a big townhouse and I was welcomed in. There was plenty of beer and the music was loud. The girls kept on yelling, “play Rod!” (meaning, Rod Stewart), and they did. We danced till 1:00 in the morning. Then I took a couple of days shopping for hip clothing and boots. My four nights were up and it was time to get back on the pond hopper and fly home.

Bruce and I were the founders of Superstar (and before that, involved with the Peace Parade show which itself evolved from the Broadway cast of Hair), But, gone were the days of Bruce and me paying ourselves handsomely out of the profits. The situation settled down, and with the new management, it came down to Bruce and me being on salary. Superstar toured for over a year until the Broadway show Jesus Christ Superstar opened.

We had a good run. Bruce and I are still tight. We frequently talk of those good times.

Header image: the cast of Superstar, The Original American Touring Company.

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