True-Life Rock Tales

Wrestling With Rock and Roll

Issue 129

In 1984 Ian Lloyd of the band Stories calls me and says, “I have an offer to do a concert in San Juan. Do you want to handle it?” (I did a previous article on Stories in Issue 120. The band had a smash hit with “Brother Louie” in 1973.) “They called me directly,” Ian said. Oh, that can be a problem if this guy who called Ian has no experience. People who just turn up out of nowhere and want to be a concert promoter are frequently someone who just had a windfall; maybe they’re a trust fund recipient, a gambler or a drug dealer. There is no due diligence on their part; they think it would be fun, even easy, and they will parlay their money and rub elbows with rock stars. What could go wrong?

Ian Lloyd promo photo, courtesy of Kama Sutra Records.

Ian Lloyd promo photo, courtesy of Kama Sutra Records.

In my experience I have seen this more than a few times, with disastrous results. “These people have no relationship with booking agencies, no history or track record!” I said. “No,” Ian replied, “look, they’ll pay up front before we go. Everything – performance fee, airfare, hotel and local transportation. The concert will be at the Roberto Clemente Coliseum (legit venue) and Rush is the headliner and Blue Angel is the middle act.” I was familiar with Blue Angel. They were kind a cross between New Wave and rockabilly and had been the opening act on some of The Stranglers dates (see Issue 128 and Issue 111). Ian Lloyd and Stories would be the opening act. Ian made a good point, I thought to myself –  no matter what happens we were covered and all expenses were prepaid, so even if things fell apart we should be fine.

Then Ian and I worked out my pay and he added a perk. They would buy my wife Jessica an airplane ticket. Even though I knew this gig had potential for trouble (we had no relationships with anyone involved and would be dealing with an unknown and inexperienced new promoter), and I thought most of the potential pitfalls were taken care of, so sure, why not spend a couple of days in San Juan with my wife. And besides, Rush would be headlining and Blue Angel would also be on the bill, so that took the pressure off us. We were part of the show, not the headliner. We had about four weeks before the date so there was time enough for all arrangements to be made.

Blue Angel, Stories and I met at JFK and flew out on Pan Am on a direct flight to San Juan. The promoter and his girlfriend met us in San Juan airport in the baggage claim area. He briefly said hello to me but began to cuddle up to Ian and Cyndi while pretty much ignoring both bands and everyone else. Cyndi being Cyndi Lauper – she was in Blue Angel before going on to a solo career. He definitely had the look and the mannerisms of someone who just recently came into money.

Cyndi Lauper, 1985. Courtesy of Wikimedia Commons/Toglenn.

Cyndi Lauper, 1985. Courtesy of Wikimedia Commons/Toglenn.

He had a couple of vans waiting and we were driven to the hotel. It was a really nice luxury hotel that was in a state of decline, but still nice enough not to be creepy. A casino and a couple of restaurants were in the lobby. It was Friday afternoon and we were free till Saturday, the day of the show. Jessica and I went down to the bar and met Ian there. We were not in the booth more than a minute when Cyndi waltzed over and sat down next to Ian. They were acting like old friends but in fact, today was the first time they had met. After a minute they stood up and said they were going to look at the pool. We did not see either of them till the next day. That night Jessica and I dined in one of the hotel’s Latin restaurants and then checked out the casino. It looked a bit sleazy, so we passed on that and decided to have a drink in the bar and take a walk. After a while we went up to our room.

Next morning a bunch of us went down to the pool. After lunch everyone took the vans to the Coliseum. The load in was not bad because of the help we received from the stagehands. The set up for all three of the acts was Rush in the back of the stage, Blue Angel in the middle and Ian Lloyd and Stories towards the front of the stage. Each group was going to set up, do a sound check and then the next band would set up. As we were going to be the last to do a setup and sound check, it became obvious we were going to be there all day and we would not leave till after the show.

It was an extremely uncomfortable hot and humid afternoon and even worse inside the Coliseum. Everyone was sweating their butts off. I asked some of the Coliseum staff if they could turn on the air conditioning and they said no. Some of them said there was no air conditioning and others answered me with, “no comprende!” After about five requests I took it to mean that there really was no air conditioning. How could that be? Then again, we were on the Caribbean Island of Puerto Rico and maybe that was the way they rolled.  After finally accepting our fate we soldiered on with the sound check and with getting prepared for the concert.

A little after 6:30 pm they opened the doors and the audience started filing in. The big Coliseum was filling up. Around 6:50 I noticed it was more comfortable. I assumed I was just adapting to the heat, but it kept on feeling less humid and cooler. Just after 7:00 I had an “aha” moment. There was no denying it – there was air conditioning and it was working and working well. Son of a B, they lied to me. Why did they not turn on the AC beforehand? Did the venue really save that much money by keeping the AC off? Could you imagine working there and wearing that wet blanket of humidity every day?

The show started on time at 8:00 and things went relatively smoothly for all involved. The Stories set was good, and the audience went wild when the band played “Brother Louie.” Blue Angel was tight, and Cyndi’s four-octave vocals were outstanding. Then Rush came on and like a true headliner they closed the show, doing their older hits for encores. The evening went better than I had anticipated and that was a good thing. Back at the hotel most of the musicians and crew met at the bar and had a nightcap. Everyone was in good spirits and a few of us, those in the know, were relieved.

 

Next morning, we all load into the vans and are off to the airport to catch the 10 am flight back to New York. It’s just a beautiful sunny Sunday morning in San Juan, before the heat and humidity get uncomfortable. We check in and walk to the gate. The flight is already boarding. We get in line and board the plane.

As I am walking down the aisle looking for Jessica, I spot “Capt.” Lou Albano, the famous wrestler, sitting with his Hawaiian shirt unbuttoned in an aisle seat in coach. He has a bandage on his head. “Captain Lou Albano!” I exclaim, and he smiles and sticks out his hand. “What are you doing here in San Juan?” He says, “I had a wrestling match last night.” “You’re heading to New York?” I ask, and he replies, “yeah, I live in Westchester.” Then I mention that we did a show at the Roberto Clemente Coliseum the previous night. The aisles are empty, so I kneel in the aisle and continue talking to Lou. I asked him what had happened that necessitated the need of a bandage on his forehead. He smiled and told me that the wrestlers had little razor blades they kept on them and which they used to cut their own foreheads. The wrestling promoters paid bonus money for blood, and a cut on the forehead bleeds a lot but heals pretty quickly.

“So wrestling is fake!” I say, and he shakes his head and says “no, it is not fake. It is fixed.” I look at him and smile. He seems to be in his 40s. I ask Lou, “have you been doing this a long time?” He answers, “yes, over 25 years. I wanted to be a boxer, but I was told I was too short, so wrestling turned out to be a good alternative. I started in 1953 and later that decade I became part of a tag team called ‘The Sicilians,’ and the gimmick was that we were a tag team of mafia mobsters. This was good for years, until some real mobsters showed up one night and asked us to please change the name and our personas. You do not make those people ask twice. The wrestling scene has been good to me and I enjoy it.”

A bandaged "Capt." Lou Albano (middle) and Ken Sander (right) on that fateful plane ride in 1984.

Ian Lloyd, a bandaged “Capt.” Lou Albano (middle) and Ken Sander (right) on that history-making plane ride in 1984.

After a few minutes, the stewardess comes over and asks me to go to my seat. I walk back and everyone, Ian, Cindy and various band members want to know who the hell I was talking to. I tell them it was “Capt.” Lou Albano, and it doesn’t really register with them. I say he is a famous wrestler, and they all go “oohh!” and now they get it. Now everyone wants to meet the Captain.

Once we are airborne and the seat belt light is off, I take Ian and Cyndi over to Lou and introduce them. There is a good bit of socializing and picture-taking between Lou and all of us.

A few months later I am watching MTV and Cyndi has a new video, “Girls Just Want to Have Fun,” To my surprise, Lou Albano is in the video. This was the beginning of “Rock ‘n’ Wrestling” for the WWF.

 

Cyndi’s then-boyfriend was a WWF fan since he was a young kid, so I am assuming that he had been lobbying Cyndi to get involved in that scene after he’d heard about our flight. She went on to appear on a number of wrestling shows with Lou. There was always drama (pro wrestling is all about drama). Sometimes she would play his manager or even the manager of other wrestlers, and Albano appeared in some more Cyndi Lauper music videos.

While this helped Lou and Cyndi’s careers, it probably helped the WWF the most. I am not aware of any other rockers that got involved in the wrestling scene but even so, this was a tremendous boost in popularity for professional wrestling and apparently Cyndi had fun with it. This association seemed to last a few years and then it looked like Cyndi moved on. Without fresh meat the “bit” could only go so far. Lou retired later in the 1980s, but still did promotional fights and played the the part of a wrestling manager on television and at venues for the WWF.

We all know Cyndi went on to have a terrific career in music.  “Capt.” Lou Albano knew how to parlay his status. He began appearing in television series and movies such as Miami Vice, Hey Dude, Regis and Kathie Lee, Brian De Palma’s Wise Guys, and the wrestling movie Body Slam.. Albano even managed and performed with rockers NRBQ, who released an album in 1989 named Lou and the Q.

A few months later I heard that the promoter of the San Juan concert was shot dead in a drug deal gone wrong. That was proof enough for me. He was not a trust fund recipient.

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