First, thanks to AJ in Nashville for REMINDING ME to finish this story!! I guess this is as good a time as any with “We Take Care Of Our Own” lighting up the radio airwaves and the Wrecking Ball album and tour announced.
So, where was I? Oh yeah, three days of prep and I show up at the Roxy on July 7th at 3PM—but no KMET, no truck, no phone company people, and don’t forget this—no cell phones yet!! So pretty much all you can do is wait. And, pace!
Little by little people start to show, KMET’s engineer, and their very cool production guy, Gus, then the truck, and FINALLY Ma Bell–the phone guy. When you did a local live broadcast back in the day you had to have special high quality phone lines put in at the venue to send the signal back to the radio station. Usually took 2 weeks to order—we jammed the phone company into 2 days!!
So now we were behind schedule, but besides that, the most unbelievable stuff began to happen.
Before you read on I must say that I have been reticent to write about this as sometimes certain things are better left a mystery. But so much time has passed, and I did wind up telling this story to Dave Marsh recently, on his live SiriusXM radio show. So, for any true fans out there, this is how it went down, and it’s one wild story.
First, one of the radio station’s high ranking, General Managers’secretaries shows up, AND, with a clipboard!! I can’t remember her name at the moment, but she was a nice woman as I recall. Problem is, at a live broadcast like this, an assistant and a clipboard are two totally superfluous items. And the way she was walking around taking “notes” made her look very cartoon like! The Roxy is a very small club and we were supposed to be buttoned up with only so many working people allowed. So, I ask her what she’s doing here and she says she was sent to “monitor” everything. ??? Never heard of that a live broadcast. I’m like, OK fine, but I see her wearing one of the ‘all access’ passes and like I said, we were only given so many for people actually working on the show. Then, two family members of a general manager show up! And they’re given a pass apiece!! So I ask the assistant, what are THEY doing here?? She says, they have been sent to “guard” the equipment. HUH??? Guard WHAT equipment?? At this point I’m looking for the real people who are gonna make this show happen like the engineer, the Music Director, the jock who’s gonna be the host the show, etc., etc.. I finally figure out that with tickets so limited, this is the way some extra folks are being snuck into the show!
The real troops finally arrive and it turns out I need to ask for two more passes because three have already been taken by people who shouldn’t even be there! Then things begin to get wild. The GM in charge shows up at 5PM and he’s been out partying and is verrrrry out of control! (I don’t want to write mean things here because this particular fellow has since passed away and I feel we should all have kinder hearts in general). So suffice it to say it was the alcohol talking and not him. Anyway, he was wearing a suit with all kinds of Metromedia badges on the lapel and looking very cartoon like himself.
He starts yelling at me, demanding an‘all access’ pass and why the hell was one not waiting for him!!! Wellllllllllll, your Highness, you sent three other folks here ahead of you who took them!! And it’s not like there’s a candy store full of back stage passes! So now I have to go beg for yet another pass!! Ouch, very unprofessional.
And it only got worse from there! At a live broadcast a general manager of a station would never be actively working the show–just not needed. They usually come, sit in the audience and bask in the glory of the event. But not this guy—he wanted to be in charge! And he brought walkie-talkies with him!!! I’m like, hey with all due respect, have you ever done a live broadcast before??! You don’t need those—it’s a tiny club. In fact, the way we use to work it, the sound truck parked in the parking lot by the building and we ran cables up through the second floor window. If we needed to communicate we just yelled out the window down to the truck and vice versa—easy peasy.
But NO, this guy insists we use the walkies! Since no one wanted to lose their job all the jocks and personnel bore under his wishes and all carried them throughout the evening. It was hysterical! We were literally talking to one another down the hall by walkie-talkie!! And, all laughing our way through it because it was like being in a Monty Python movie!
Just then, I hear a commotion down on the balcony where our host for the show, Mary Turner (the “Burner”–one of the greatest disc jockeys of all time) is now yelling at the General Manager. “I’m not going to read this sh*t!!!” She’s wailing. I go down to find out what’s wrong. Apparently the GM had written a “script” for her to read while he’d been partying and it was, well…very lame, I’m sorry to say. It had stuff in it like “He rocked them in New Jersey, He rocked them at the Forum…” (you get the idea). Mary was one of the early supporters of Bruce and a true friend and she would have done an outstanding organic job hosting this show with a lot of heart and love for Bruce and for KMET listeners if she was just left alone to practice her natural on-air magic. And, she was having none of reading this script! And, I quote, “Nowhere in my Metromedia contract does it say that I have to read this sh*t!! And I’m not going to!” So then, the GM says, “Oh yeah? OK, Bob (Coburn) and Jim Ladd will take over!” I’m standing there watching this meltdown of epic proportions in total disbelief! Hey, it’s Bruce Springsteen—live at the Roxy—it’s rock and roll history! What are we, like 10 years old???!!
Then, I run back up stairs and I’m greeted buy Jack, A.K.A. Jackson B. Snyderfish (great guy, by the way) the Music Director telling me that one of the phone lines is down! So ask him, well does that mean we’re missing one channel–that people will only hear it out of one speaker?! And he says no, it will just be in mono for a little while. Then I say, “Well, that’s not totally a catastrophe, ever hear Bruce’s records? The sound is all smooshed up and it all sounds a bit mono anyway! Ha, ha! As I’m now sweating bullets! It’s Bruce Springsteen and it HAS TO BE PERFECT GOD DAMN IT!
I go back to the balcony where Mary is now crying. One thing you have to know–this girl does not cry—she is one tough chick. In fact, I used to call her the Lauren Bacall of Rock and Roll. She is now apologizing for this mess and I am telling her it’s all going to be OK (except I was bummed because she really should have been the host for this historic event, and I’m having trouble with the fact that on what is supposed to be one of the most magical nights ever in LA, and in rock and roll, that everything is going sideways!!!).
But the insanity won’t stop. Now the GM tells Bob Coburn that he doesn’t trust the phone lines and that Bob has to host the event from back at the KMET studios!! Coburn flips out because one, he wants to stay and see the show, and two the club is the place to really be if you’re in charge of bringing this excitement to the listeners! So, now those two get into it!! The GM tells Coburn to go back to the KMET studios or he’ll be fired, and on top of that he wants Bob to talk in between songs and read pieces from that awful script! Yikes!!
It’s all getting verrrrrrrry heated and crazy and I’m looking up and thanking God that Bruce and Jon are in the dressing room totally oblivious to all that’s going on.
I console Mary a bit more as I’ve never seen her this upset (I’m beginning to figure out that she was really looking forward to this being a big night for her personally as well). Then I go back upstairs and I am greeted by the GM who has just learned the bit about one of the phone lines being down! He totally loses it (more alcohol I am assuming) and thinks everything is my fault (In fact, I had made such a point of having an early emergency meeting with him and his Program Director the minute I knew we were a go, and had outlined everything that had to be done step by step, and the crucial timing of it all as well. We were in this crunch position because the real personnel we needed from the station had showed up very late, and all the craziness was brought on by people who didn’t need to be there, these stupid cumbersome walkie-talkies, and all the insanity about the script, etc., etc. that HE had created!). In the meantime, he’s getting madder and madder and his face is getting redder and redder! Finally, he’s worked himself up to such a frenzy that he grabs my collar tight with his right hand and starts physically banging my head against the wood paneling, yelling at me, “THIS IS THE LAST LIVE BROADCAST KMET WILL EVER DO WITH CBS RECORDS!!” My head is now hitting the wall becoming the accent to every word. “THIS…bang!…IS…bang!…THE…bang! …LAST…bang! etc.,(you get the idea). And, I’m thinking, Dude, you have NO idea how right you are! But outwardly I’m trying to remain calm and professional (as my head is being smooshed).
Just then, one of Hollywood’s coolest cats, who’s always hanging out at the local clubs bounds up the stairs and sees this scene. He rescues me from the clutches of the GM and shoves me into the Men’s bathroom. He gives my head a once over for damages and then says, “Here, take this, it will help calm you down,” and proceeds to administer the record business’s most famous recreational drug at the time (Note to mother: if you are reading this, please remember this took place well over 30 years ago and is NOT happening now!).
I come out of the Men’s room and I am totally buzzzzzzzzzzzed!! The adrenalin from the night’s excitement had me jacked to max as it was–now I was approaching Warp Speed (did he say “calm me down?”)! Actually seemed like a good idea at the time since I’d been up for three days with hardly any sleep as it was.
I see Coburn leave in a huff. The GM yells something unintelligible, slams his headset to the floor, and literally storms out of the building!! It’s total bedlam, but then all of a sudden Ladd appears as if from some magical haze, comes up to me and says, “Don’t worry bro, we will make this happen!” Then, gives me a reassuring smile. And, it was then that the whole staff from the station banded together as one and showed just how professional they were. Of course, they had been totally embarrassed and feeling bad because we were all so tight, really friends beyond the business, and they knew how much I loved KMET and felt like such a part of the family there. So, with the insanity having disappeared, we looked at each other all knowing, we were gonna rock this thing out!
With the phone line still down, I take a deep breath and calmly walk into Bruce’s dressing room and enquire, “Hey Boss, do you care if you go on exactly at 8PM?” He says, “No, not really. Just tell me when it’s time to go.”
I rush back down the hall to Jackson B. and say, “I just bought you 15 minutes, now get that damn phone line up!!” “No worries Rap!” He says. “We are finally on our way!”
Believe it or not, this is only half the story! More soon.
PS. And, you guys thought it was just all fun and games!!
UPDATE: Continue to Part 3 >