It was coming on close to midnight on West 52nd Street in Manhattan and the rain was getting worse. There would be no vacant cabs passing by the San Marco where the three men stood under the restaurant's awning. Two of them were brothers, Clyde and Frank Carson, visiting from New Orleans. Finally Clyde caught the attention of the driver of an empty Cadillac limousine. As the three men pushed into the Caddy, Clyde noticed the belt buckle of the third man, a reporter. The belt buckle, not fancy by any standards, was inscribed: Rolling Thunder Revue.
"Goddamn!" said Clyde. "Those motherfuckers — after all I did, they wouldn't even give me a fucking belt buckle."
Who is Clyde Carson and why is he bitching about Bob Dylan not giving him a belt buckle? For one shining day, Carson was the promoter of one of the biggest rock benefits ever. He brought together on one stage, at the Astrodome in Houston, Dylan, Stevie Wonder, Stephen Stills, Ringo Starr, Carlos Santana, Richie Havens, Isaac Hayes, Dr. John, Kinky Friedman and even Dyan Cannon. And he doesn't even have a fucking belt buckle to show for it.
All he had, as he had painfully explained over and over at the restaurant, was a stack of debts totaling in the vicinity of $50,000.
Clyde Carson was a curious person to have decided to stage a massive show for the benefit of imprisoned boxer Rubin "Hurricane" Carter. He had never promoted a rock concert before. And his motives are still questioned.
Clyde Carson sat and shoveled in clams with his right hand while using the left to jab at the reporter as he insisted, with just the hint of a catch in his voice, that it had all been done for Hurricane.
"I've got three little girls — six, seven and eight," he said, with three punches to the reporter's arm, "and I think about Rubin's little daughter who grew up while he was in prison, and I think it could happen to me. Or to you," jab.
On the other hand, if that benefit had sold out and brought in the 66,000 people Clyde expected, instead of the 30,383 he got, he (along with a secret group of backers) stood to rake off a percentage of the gross of $825,000 — ten percent of the first $100,000 of profit and thereafter a sliding-scale percentage that had been worked out with Avron Brog, attorney for Carter's defense committee. Whether the percentage slid up or down depends on whom you talked to. Clyde Carson remembered it "declining." But Brog said that if profits had hit $200,000, the promoters would "make . . . that's a 20% sliding scale." Had the show been in Louisiana's 80,000-seat Superdome, as Clyde and his coterie originally planned, a sellout would have grossed $1 million. Assuming realistic expenses of under $200,000, the Carson people would have had $800,000 or so to play with. A rake-off of only ten percent would have given them $80,000 for their trouble. Clyde and Brog don't like to talk about that; Carter would not talk about it, and performers in the benefit were never told about it.
Hurricane probably would have received a very substantial contribution, but Bob Dylan, Stevie Wonder and the others would never have known that they had just performed free to line the pockets of a group of strangers in New Orleans as well. (When Clyde was later confronted with that fact, he refused to be specific about the sliding-scale deal he had made or to tell whether he had struck that deal with Carter himself. He was defensive: "We would not have made that much," he said. But one of his backers admitted they would have done all right for themselves if they'd had a sellout.)
Now that the matter of profit is a moot question, Clyde maintains that the benefit achieved its stated purpose — that of springing Hurricane from the slammer and getting him a retrial — solely by virtue of all the publicity. He is disturbed that Carter is broke, and he himself slipped him $500 on this trip to New York. "I just did the benefit," he said, in conclusion, "because I had a friend in prison I thought I could help. I don't care what you say about me. Just remember Hurricane," jab.
Hurricane Carter is not an easy man to forget, and the tale of how Clyde Carson, who had just moved from Las Vegas to New Orleans, decided to book Dylan, Wonder, et al. into a show in Houston to help out a man who was in prison in New Jersey is not an easy one to unravel.
Benefits themselves are curious creatures. Rock promoters hate them; they turn into nothing but trouble. As one example, five years after the "Concert for Bangladesh" there's been no clear, final accounting of what became of the monies. The Hurricane benefit is also without a clear ending.
It begins, of course, with Rubin "Hurricane" Carter, a man with an odd and compelling story. He's been embroiled in more controversy than any 12 convicted axmurderers.
First, there is the lingering matter of those long-ago murders in Paterson, New Jersey, for which Hurricane has served nine years in prison and for which he was recently retried. Then there was the ugly accusation that he beat and choked a woman — the leader of his defense committee — into unconsciousness. That only served to further entangle the mass of contentions that comprised his supporters — well-meaning whites who have long maintained that Hurricane, a black man, was railroaded by New Jersey authorities.
Among his strongest and most vocal supporters has been Bob Dylan, who wrote and recorded the biting ballad, "The Hurricane," declaring Carter's innocence. The song was what finally drew enough attention to make him a genuine cause célèbre.
Rubin Carter has been called everything from a "prison Buddha" to a "mad dog." He tells his own story in his book, The Sixteenth Round. He was born May 6th, 1937, in Clifton, New Jersey. As a child, he was "war counselor" of a neighborhood "club" called the Apaches and was arrested for stealing clothes. He was placed on two years probation. At about age 11, he was arrested for stabbing a white homosexual who accosted him. For that he was sent to a boys' home, where he began to learn to box. He escaped the home and joined the Army. In Germany he was transferred to Special Services as a boxer and took up the study of Islam. After his discharge, he was picked up on a warrant outstanding from his escape and was sent to a reformatory. On release he was arrested for purse snatching and assault and got a three-to-nine-year sentence at Trenton State Prison. He served four years and, after his release in 1961, began boxing professionally as a middleweight. In his five-year career, he claimed 29 wins, including 21 knockouts, and suffered 11 losses. He was a real contender — he once knocked out Emile Griffith in the first round — but the one time he boxed for the middleweight title, he lost to Joey Giardello in 15 rounds.
Then, at about 2:30 a.m., June 17th, 1966, two black men stormed into the Lafayette Bar and Grill in Paterson, New Jersey, opened fire with a shotgun and a .32 and hit the bartender and three patrons. Three of the four victims died. Half an hour later, Carter and a friend named John Artis were stopped by police who were looking for two black men in a white car. They were questioned and released.
Four months later, two alleged witnesses to the shootings, who had been in the neighborhood to burgle a sheet-metal company, signed statements identifying Carter and Artis as the murderers. The witnesses, Arthur Bradley and Alfred Bello, have since recanted (and rerecanted) on their testimony; Bello admitted to having rifled the bar's cash register as the victims lay dying.
Carter and Artis were sentenced to triple life sentences in Rahway State Prison. Like many convicts, Carter became a prison lawyer and hammered away at appeals. He wrote his autobiography and started picking up outside support.
The first was a writer, Richard Solomon, who wrote to Carter with the idea of a TV movie on his life. Solomon later introduced Carter to a man who became his most ardent supporter: George Lois, a partner in a Madison Avenue advertising firm. Lois eventually spent about $60,000 out of his own pocket, even though ad accounts had pressured him to quit helping the "mad dog." Later, he was eased out of Freedom for All Forever, the Carter defense committee he'd help run. But he doesn't regret his involvement:
"I am convinced of his innocence," he said. "He got framed left and right. And I just made up my mind. I looked him in the eye and made up my mind that I would help him get out of jail and get a new trial."
Lois raised money and arranged for the first Carter benefit, called "Night of the Hurricane," December 8th, 1975, in Madison Square Garden.
"I convinced Bobby [Dylan] to have that in New York because he had made statements about not going into a big amphitheater with his tour, and I went up to New Haven and got down on my knees and asked him to help Rubin. He bit his tongue and said, 'Goddamn it,' he'll do it. And we thought we could get a lot of black talent. We had people like Marvin Gaye, a whole bunch saying, yes, they'll do it. At the last minute they couldn't, and finally Bobby said, 'The hell with it, I'll come in with my whole revue."'
That benefit was the watershed in Carter's publicity campaign. It raised about $100,000 for the defense fund. And there was an undeniable euphoria engendered by the presence of Dylan, Joan Baez, Muhammad Ali and Coretta King on one stage, united in a common cause. There was no reason to think that further benefits across the country would not raise a groundswell of popular support that would, in Baez' words at Madison Square, "tear down the prison walls and free Rubin." Indeed, in the wake of the Garden show. Hurricane himself entertained the thought, there in his prison cell, of a series of benefits with Dylan, the Who, Marvin Gaye, Stevie Wonder and who knows who else? The notion of big bucks fueling liberal altruism was heady. Freedom for All Forever might not only serve to pay Carter's retinue of heavy-duty lawyers, but also fulfill the original premise of helping prisoners other than Rubin Carter.
Oddly, although "Night of the Hurricane" was Carter's big coming-out, the "Night of the Hurricane II" was already well under way. The first public clue of that was provided at Madison Square when Muhammad Ali trotted out onto the stage with a young-looking, 38-year-old, long-haired, flamboyantly dressed man named Eddie Sapir. He is a municipal judge and former city councilman in New Orleans and is talked about there as a future mayor (he did not object when a reporter called him the second most powerful man in New Orleans, after Mayor Moon Landrieu). Sapir invited the crowd to come to the Louisiana Superdome in New Orleans for more Hurricane doings.
"We in the deep South are interested in justice," he said. "We'll go to New Orleans and continue the job."
Sapir had already met with Hurricane to plan a second benefit. His connection with Carter was purely accidental, he has since said. Besides being a judge, he is a practicing attorney in New Orleans and one of his clients had earlier talked with George Lois about Hurricane's case.
That client was Clyde Carson, 35. Carson and Sapir first met in December 1972, when Carson was a salesman for a sign company in Las Vegas, Ad Art by name. The Louisiana Superdome — a publicly financed facility in New Orleans — was beginning to let construction bids and Ad Art wanted the scoreboard contract.
Ad Art flew a group of Superdome Commission members out to Las Vegas to view its products. Included on this junket was then city councilman Eddie Sapir, though he was not a commission member (nor was he formally invited). He and Carson became friends and Carson retained Sapir as Ad Art's New Orleans attorney. On Sapir's recommendation, another city councilman, Phil Ciaccio, was retained by Ad Art as attorney. Finally, Sapir's law partner Joe Bishop was added to the legal team. Ad Art, with its heavy legal representation, was able to gel the $4.5 million scoreboard contract even though it was high bidder. That deal kicked up a lot of dust in New Orleans, what with publicly elected officials making money off of a public facility, and Carson, Sapir, et al. were investigated by a legislative committee which concluded, at great length, that the proceedings were unethical but not illegal.
At any rate, Carson became friends with Beauregard Redmond, executive vice-president of the Bank of New Orleans, where he did his Ad Art banking. On March 18th, 1974, over a year before he moved to New Orleans from Las Vogas, Carson incorporated a company of his own in New Orleans.
Clyde Carson had a foot in New Orleans' door. And he had a powerful friend in Eddie Sapir. Talk to anybody who is anybody in New Orleans and you get the message: Eddie Sapir is a man to be reckoned with. They still talk about the time when the Allman Brothers opened the Superdome with a big show August 31st, 1975. When Phil Walden hit town he didn't like the looks of the advance sales and the funny two-drinks-in-a-local-restaurant offer included with your Allman tickets, and he thought about pulling the Allmans out. People in New Orleans say that Sapir threatened to have state policemen surround the Allmans' hotel, the Marie Antoinette, that he also threatened to have state cops sitting on the band's equipment and was ready to look the whole entourage up if they screwed up the Superdome's opening. Sapir says it's "totally false and erroneous." Phil Walden says he can't say much about it since he still has a lawsuit pending about that show, a $1.3 million suit against Pace Management of Houston, which promoted the show. Walden contends the gate was much larger than the 55,000 he was paid for. Walden recalls that Pace hired Sapir to get an injunction to impound the Allmans' equipment. Eddie says it was all friendly but that, as Pace's attorney, he was prepared to take action if the Allmans performed concertus interruptus.
Eddie Sapir is not a man to be trifled with. He has survived repeated investigations by the Metropolitan Crime Commission (a citizens' watchdog agency in New Orleans), the New Orleans Police Department and other law enforcement agencies for alleged narcotics smuggling and loans made through a bankrupt credit union. He's been more than once linked in print with the Carlos Marcello family, the underworld lords of New Orleans. The president of Sapir's Super City Boxing — which stages matches — is one Salvadore Segreto, who is also manager of Broussard's, a Marcello-owned restaurant. The Metropolitan Crime Commission did prove that Sapir helped Broussard's get its liquor license.
Clyde Carson first talked with George Lois about Hurricane Carter on November 6th, 1975. Carson then called up Eddie Sapir, eager to tell him the tale of injustice in New Jersey, Sapir was not familiar with the case but expressed interest. He is not unfamiliar with the boxing world; besides being vice-president of Super City Boxing in New Orleans, he has as a legal client Willie Pastrano, the former light-heavyweight champion. George Lois gave them copies of Hurricane's autobiography. Sapir got copies of the transcripts of Hurricane's trial and became convinced that Hurricane had been framed. (Sapir later told Rolling Stone that one of the plusses of the benefit was that Hurricane "started more of his clubs like the fan-club-type thing, you know, 'Free Rubin Carter,' they had a name for it, I forget what it was.")
On a visit to New York, they went out to see Hurricane in prison, taking Pastrano along. Sapir: "I brought Willie Pastrano there to, you know, kinda talk with Rubin about who we were, and they could communicate with each other much better, than so to speak with our side. They'd been in the ring and they could understand each other. A guy like Rubin Carter would be very reluctant, hesitant, you know, didn't want to get involved with some strangers. The normal feeling [might be] well, hey, this might not all be the truth, you know, not moneywise, but it might be some kind of sabotage move and he certainly didn't need any more wounds. The best way that Rubin could really understand that we were some people that were really trying to help Rubin's cause was to bring a guy like Willie there to communicate."
Sapir was detained and roughly questioned by prison guards who found liquor in his briefcase, but otherwise the trio had a pleasant visit with Carter. They decided that support from outside the New Jersey-New York area could help Carter, especially a benefit in the 80,000-seat Superdome in New Orleans. They decided to do it in late December.
A New Orleans show would be a coup for all concerned. Hurricane would attract national attention and a foundation would be laid for further benefits across the country. A star-studded cast would focus attention on the recently completed Superdome. Carson, who had only recently moved to New Orleans from Las Vegas, could make his mark there as a concert promoter. Sapir, who claims a large black constituency (his judgeship is elective), would be aligned with a popular cause.
It all sounded easy. Carson would put on the concert, even though his show-business experience was limited to working briefly for Sonny and Cher and, he said, to being assistant entertainment director for Caesars Palace in Las Vegas. (Caesars Palace's personnel department says he worked there for less than a year as an assistant stage manager.)
On November 25th he put down a $3000 deposit to hold the Superdome for December 30th and he started calling around to try to book talent. Hurricane said he could persuade Bob Dylan to play and Clyde was trying for Isaac Hayes, Stevie Wonder, Elton John, the Band and Chicago — for starters. Eddie Sapir phoned Phil Walden to see if he could talk his friend Richard Pryor into appearing. He didn't ask for the Allmans.
Officially, Carson Associates — the name of Carson's company in New Orleans — was listed as promoter. Lawyers Joe Bishop and Sonny Garcia were, he said, "minority partners." Sapir and Ciaccio furnished legal advice.
To finance the show, Clyde said, he borrowed "about $200,000" from the Bank of New Orleans, with his friend Beauregard Redmond officiating. He did take out a first loan, for $60,000, which he signed for himself. The second, for $130,000, was cosigned by unidentified sponsors. It is still unclear how a man with no apparent collateral, with a fledgling business (that he insisted engages in offshore-drilling equipment leasing), a man who had lived in town only a few months, could walk into a bank and walkout with $190,000 to put on a rock benefit — a benefit for which he had no artist contracts whatsoever.
"Clyde never had a dollar," says one New Orleans man who worked on the show. "He had absolutely no line of credit locally. He had to have somebody heavy to cosign for him. What he got was an open line of credit."
"I had," said Carson, "a very creative-thinking banker."
That banker, Beauregard Redmond, said he did not know how much Clyde borrowed.
Phil Ciaccio, one of Carson's lawyers, said of the Bank of New Orleans: "It's an adventuresome bank."
(Even though Carson now claims a $50,000 loss on the Hurricane show — he has not done an audit and says he "will not do one for Rolling Stone" — he says he was able to touch his "creative-thinking banker" for another $200,000 loan since the show, to finance a children's show for television that he hoped to interest Mattel Toys in sponsoring.)
At any rate, Clyde had $190,000 — or unlimited credit — to play with. That's when things started to get complicated.
Dates at the Superdome were still being juggled, primarily because of a possible conflict with the Pro Bowl. In the meantime, Carson hired National Concert Attractions (NCA), a now-defunct New Orleans concern, to work the show for him. John Diaz of NCA had been, Carson said, "hanging around the office," so he hired him. Diaz calls that "bullshit." Diaz had already worked local shows; the biggest being that Pace-promoted Allman Brothers date in the Superdome.
Pace, meantime, held an option on January 25th at the Astrodome in Houston, since they were running motorcycle races there the day before. Since there was trouble with the Superdome over dates, and Carson would likely lose Dylan and Stevie Wonder if he dallied, he agreed with Diaz' suggestion that they move the show to Houston on the 25th. January 9th, after getting Hurricane's OK, he wired $12,500 to the Astrodome to hold that date. Neither of them knew that the Astrodome has a bad reputation locally as a rock venue, mainly because of its vastness and difficult acoustics.
Carson Associates agreed to pay the Astrodome a flat rental fee of $100,000, even though that facility's usual rate is $12,500 or 17.5% of the gate — whichever is greater, Clyde says the Astrodome demanded $100,000; the Dome says otherwise. Clyde says Joe Bishop, one of his attorneys, negotiated the deal. The Astrodome claims Clyde himself signed the contract. He admitted it.
Obviously, Carson Associates hoped for a sellout since $100,000 is less than 17.5% of the maximum gate of $825,000 or so.
On January 10th, Hurricane told Carson that Dylan had given him his personal commitment to do the show. Dylan eventually worked through Larry Samuels, manager of the Band. (Clyde had approached the Band about performing, but they declined, due to an injury to Richard Manuel.)
"I'll tell you how it happened, how me and Bob got hoodwinked into it, and then how we hoodwinked all of our friends," said Samuels. "It was basically a Bob Dylan syndrome that we got in there. Bob had come off the Rolling Thunder tour and we were just laying back here in Malibu and Clyde Carson starts calling out of the blue, and he starts saying Dylan said this and that. Apparently Hurricane had asked Bob and Bob said sure, you know, just line it up and I'll show up. Then Clyde gave Hurricane my number and Hurricane starts getting me on the phone and I don't know nothin' from Hurricane Carter, you know what I mean, shit. You know, he killed somebody and he got caught. But I believed him and I dug what he had to say and I figured if Bob was into it, how bad could it be? So I spoke to Bob about it and Hurricane got on the phone with me and Bob and this thing was supposed to be all set up and all we had to do was show up with the musicians and it was cool. Then all of a sudden the phone calls start happening . . . nobody knows nothing: Stevie Wonder isn't committed; yes, Stevie'll do it if Bob Dylan does it, that trip."
Anyway, Dylan was semicommitted, and two weeks before the event, the money began to roll. Carson wired $10,000 to Samuels to cover rehearsals by Rolling Thunder, Some 30 persons — the Revue plus entourage — flew from New York to L.A., where they stayed at the Sunset Marquis Hotel. Expenses ran to $23,270. (The revue got outfitted in country-glitter suits at Nudie's; Dylan picked up that $15,000 bill.)
Carson, meantime, contracted Jack Calmes' Showco of Dallas to do the sound for $25,000, the majority to be reverted back to Carter's defense committee. But then, Carson claimed, Samuels and Bill Graham pressured him into dumping Showco and hiring Graham's production firm to handle the sound, for $40,000. Samuels and Graham don't see it that way.
Samuels: "The reason Bill Graham did it is we knew he would be the guy to get the best sound out of the place."
Graham used stronger words: "My books are open. We did not say don't go with Showco. We went because Dylan's people said, 'Bill, we want you to do this.' I had to take my crew down there on short notice. In 24 hours we set up, ran a show and then took it down. He's lucky. The man had no seeming experience. To guarantee $100,000 rent on a take of [less than] $400,000 is ludicrous.
"When we got down there and we got a certain feeling about Mr. Carson and his entourage, I insisted on getting a certain amount [of money] at one time and a certain amount at another time and they got very upset. When I saw the way the hotel was being run and the way refreshments were being poured and served, I began to worry about covering my expenses. What you should take a very good look at is all the other quote miscellaneous unquote expenses. Take a good look at the hotel."
That hotel — the fairly posh Whitehall (with rates of $42 for a single; $200 for the best suite) — would quickly fill as "Night of the Hurricane II" participants and hangers-on later assembled in Houston. Clyde settled down in a suite — by his accounting, his own hotel bill came to $3,917.23 — and spent most of his time on the phones. He had many calls to make: he needed to stay in touch with Hurricane; he had to try to book more talent for the show; there were far-flung interests he had to try to be on top of. His younger brother Frank was in Los Angeles January 16th with a poster he had designed for the show. They wanted to hand out some 50,000 copies, but Clyde had to get Dylan's permission.
To hear the brothers tell it, Frank damned near got pneumonia while cooling his heels waiting for Dylan's OK. After Lou Kemp (who had been working the Rolling Thunder tour for his childhood friend Dylan) rejected the poster, Frank followed Kemp out to Dylan's house in Malibu. As Clyde tells it: "Frank waited two or three hours out in the car, and he almost got pneumonia. He had to hang around outside in the fog. Lou finally came out and said that Dylan said no." Exit the poster; enter a $1500 bill for Frank, plus his air fare and limo.
Clyde also had to keep a line open to his talent man in L.A., a man named Mitch Kanner, who was then working for World Wide Artists and doing things like getting Shawn Phillips to appear and dealing with Isaac Hayes' management and lining up plane tickets. Clyde had two travel agencies working for him: Moran's of New Orleans and Journeys Far and Near of Los Angeles.
He engaged Moran's because it was a local concern and he expanded to Journeys to have an L.A. outlet working, because the airplane travel became so heavy. The Rolling Thunder Revue members had had to fly out to L.A. to rehearse and that seemed to get so confused that both travel agencies were asked to issue tickets on the same day — on different airlines — to one member of the revue and her traveling companion. Scarlett Rivera and Jennie Yaffe both seemed to have flown first-class from New York to L.A. twice on the same day — January 20th, on both TWA (charged to Moran's) and on Delta (charged to Journeys).
Air traffic was heavy everywhere. Steve Stills and his guitar were both flying in from Miami to Houston. Shawn Phillips and his band were flying in first-class from the Midwest. The mayor of East Orange, New Jersey, was winging his way to Houston. Larry Sloman, who passes out business cards billing himself as Bob Dylan's favorite reporter, was zooming around as "liaison" from New York to L.A. to Houston and back again at a total of $703.20. The revue's accountant, Marty Feldman, charged $669.26 for his first-class travel between New York and Houston. Plane tickets for Bill Graham and his crew, who all flew coach, ran well over $3000. Hurricane's lawyers — past, present and future — were flying down. A New Jersey band that Hurricane favored, the 1619 Bad Ass Band, was on its way. Jacques Levy, who cowrote "Hurricane" with Dylan, rang up $530.73 first-classing his way to L.A. Total air travel was $45,609.24.
Then there was the matter of the charter plane. No one person will take the credit for it, but there evolved the idea of a special "Night of the Hurricane" jet flying everyone in from L.A. to Houston, complete with freshly painted Hurricane logo on the side. Mitch Kanner was the one who finally authorized Toby Roberts Tours (an L.A. firm that specializes in rock travel) to lease a Hughes Airwest DC-9 with open bar. The only problem there was that Toby Roberts Tours used the agency number of Journeys Far and Near to charter the plane and Sara Ripley, who runs Journeys, is still fairly hot about the whole deal. Especially when she claims that Toby Roberts Tours told her that her $500 commission out of the deal would be donated to the defense fund. The reason she was perturbed was that she thought $500 was a low commission for such a charter. She found out that Clyde Carson had had to transfer $17,171.57 to Roberts' trust account in the Hong Kong Bank of L.A. — in advance — to pay for the charter. But then she saw a copy of the charter agreement with Hughes Airwest and the charge on that bill was for only $13,669.28. She said she called Toby Roberts and couldn't get a straight answer. Lewis J. Weinstock, who is Roberts' partner and who negotiated the deal with Hughes Airwest, said the discrepancy was due to various kinds of land transportation and things and that, no, the final accounting for those things had not been done. And that the agreement with Journeys was that "rather than reduce our price, our fee, instead we would take the profits and the commissions from the work and donate them directly to the [Hurricane] fund." And was that done? "No, they weren't." Weinstock said that it appeared to him that his commissions went to defray production losses on the show, rather than as a donation to the defense fund, and until that was resolved his company would withhold other commissions.
Besides arranging for the DC-9, Mitch Kanner was also trying to set up a big press conference in L.A. He wanted to have it in the Lincoln Heights jail and was already trying to invite such personalities as Jane Fonda, Marvin Gaye and Bill Cosby when "Dylan's people" intervened and told him to cancel it.
Meanwhile, a press conference in Houston would not have been a bad idea, had the idea ever occurred to anyone. Hurricane Carter was not exactly a household word there and nobody had ever heard of Clyde Carson. In fact, there are people in Houston who still think the show was a benefit for storm victims. The local media were openly skeptical that the extravaganza would happen. Scott Holtzman of KILT called the show a "rip-off"every day. Holtzman said he couldn't get any answers to any questions about the show and that Clyde's first publicrelations representative in Houston didn't even know who Hurricane was. Holtzman said all he did get were phoned-in threats from unnamed lawyers telling him to lay off. Bob Claypool, the pop columnist for the Houston Post, regarded the whole affair with a jaundiced eye, especially when he got daily pleadings to plug the show from whoever happened to be doing PR that day. Clyde claimed he spent $41,877.76 in advertising, but Lou Messina, who was handling Pace's ad buying for the show, said it was rough going, especially since he wasn't allowed to advertise Dylan. Anita Martini of Pace said that when she announced that Ringo Starr would be appearing, she got an angry phone call from "someone" in New Orleans ordering her to withdraw Ringo's name. Starr appeared anyway, and he, Clyde is still proud to boast, paid his own hotel bill.
Moment by moment, control of the show began to slip away from Clyde. Publicity had become a total wreck, he did not know from one day to the next just which superstar would appear and which one would not, and the bills just kept rolling in. He said he tried to complain to Hurricane about the expenses and that he was told to approve whatever was necessary, which turned out to be everything. Advance ticket sales remained low, at $12.50 a pop. One of his backers went around repeating, "Well, don't worry. The blacks will be last-minute walk-ups."
His last vestige of control disappeared when Bill Graham and his people flew in and in effect ran the show. Sara Ripley: "Graham was the first element of credibility down there." Graham's assistant Zohn Artman literally walked off the plane and onto local TV in an effort to boost credibility.
Meantime, money was being spent everywhere one looked. Chris O'Dell, who had been the East Coast road manager for Rolling Thunder, flew in to help Larry Samuels and recalled that "the financial state was already in a very desperate position. Clyde Carson was telling us that we could fly everybody first-class and don't worry about money, it was no problem, that the people in New Orleans who were backing him would cover everything, and so we were given the impression that money was not the problem, that they were just putting out their own money to cover it all."
And that brings up an interesting point, since Carson was claiming that there were no backers.
Then, three nights before the show, Sara Ripley happened to be in Clyde's suite at the Whitehall when three men came in and tried to persuade Clyde to cancel the show. Ripley: "The money people behind Clyde were very upset at the box office, extremely so, and they had flown in from Louisiana. And wanted to pull out, take their money back and just pull out. Clyde and I spent three or four hours into the wee hours of the morning explaining to them why they couldn't do that. And the same thing happened the next night. Eventually they were just holding on to that thin thread that some great blinding miracle would happen and they would at least break even. Or at least make a reputation for themselves. It was, from what I could gather, private money out of New Orleans, but it was not promoter money at all. I got the feeling that these were kind of high rollers, the wheeler-dealer type, and I think they had been convinced of the glamour of this and the money to be made and with pulling off this coup. In having this pulled off, they would have a very good shot at continuing to promote, and that was where the money was to be made. They were gambling on the future."
So who were these backers? Was it Judge Eddie Sapir?
"I don't think," Ripley said, "that Eddie had any money in it, not that I could gather. I think that he may have represented some of the monies." There may have been a "big backer, an elderly gentleman with white hair," she said. Ripley said the two other men in the room appeared to be representing "the white-haired man, although they had some money in it themselves."
Would those two be Joe Bishop and Sonny Garcia (Clyde's lawyers and Sapir's partners)?
"Yeah, yeah. And they looked like they could be straight out of Las Vegas — not working in Las Vegas, but it looked like they had just come from the tables. I mean, those types. But having nothing to do with the entertainment industry at all from what I could gather. They were as ignorant of the entertainment industry as was the attorney in New York for the defense fund, what was his name?"
"Well, Avron came down and tried, he was keeping track of the money. Well, he didn't know enough. You know, I mean, if you can imagine a bunch of people trying to keep a zoo, who had never seen animals before, that's as close an analogy as I can make of the whole situation."
But the backers, were they pressuring Clyde to kill the show just to keep from losing money?
"Oh, Thursday and Friday they were and then they stopped, then they just figured it was too late. And they knew that Dylan was coming and they were hoping that this would pull it all out of the bag. So they just sat and quietly drank."
The next day, Saturday, January 24th, the big DC-9 flew in from L.A. and deposited all manner of celebrities: Dylan, of course, with the 30-plus Rolling Thunder entourage. And many hangers-on.
Room service was soon run ragged. Sara Ripley, for one, was appalled: "If you could have seen the food, the booze, the flowers and fruit that went into everyone's room. . ." The final hotel bill would be $36,100. Mudi of that was Clyde's entourage, by his own accounting: his room was $3917.23, Eddie Sapir's was $2031.10, attorney Joe Bishop's was $305.50, Sonny Garcia's was $540.50, New Orleans city councilman Phil Ciaccio was charged with two rooms, one for $547,19 and the other for $464,34, and there was one "miscellaneous" room at $1750. "We must have drunk a lot," Clyde said about that room. John Diaz' production-suite bill was $1869.50. Then there were the performers: $252.24 for Dylan, $286.73 for Isaac Hayes, $173.01 for Dyan Cannon, Rick Danko for $422.38, etc.
Still, as Sapir would point out later, performers who donate their time shouldn't be begrudged a few morsels.
George Lois, who had been ousted from FFAF, sent an observer to Houston anyway. Rich Kahn went and his report was not favorable. "It was like a fantasy land," Kahn said. "I said, this is gonna be the biggest waste of money ever, don't you understand, nobody in Houston gives a damn about Rubin Carter."
One potential source of revenue had already been thrown to the winds: over 2100 comp — that's free — tickets had been handed out. Had those been sold, that would have brought in nearly $27,000. It is not common at benefits to hand out comps like popcorn, but Clyde didn't know that.
He also didn't know about an obscure Houston law that requires filing an application with the city for a benefit. He found that out the day before the show when a local TV station pointed it out on the air, so he had to hustle down to city hall.
He had trouble from all quarters. Chris Jones of Stevie Wonder's management told Clyde it was a disgrace that Stevie's dressing room was a bare room in a trailer. Clyde sent Stevie a case of wine. That did not mollify Jones.
But Clyde had been reduced to the role of an onlooker and could only wince at the backstage catering bill of $8244.59, which included a tip of $1030.57, a charge of $50 for one quiche Lorraine, J&B Scotch at $30 a bottle, 15 cases of Lone Star Beer at $15 the case and 395 dinners at $8 each. Furthermore, of the 158 towels supplied to dressing rooms, 102 were stolen (another $153 gone).
Clyde didn't yet know the full extent of his expenses but as he looked out through the vastness of the Astrodome and saw that it was less than half full, he began to suspect that trouble lay ahead. Still, he and Eddie Sapir could get up onstage and savor the wonder that they had wrought. All those stars together on one stage, and the mayor had declared "Night of the Hurricane Day" in Houston. The Texas state flag was taken down from its pole at the state capitol in Austin and presented to Hurricane's wife.
The show itself was a mixed success, musically. Most persons directly involved thought it was an epic production. Not everyone agreed. Bob Claypool of the Houston Post recalled that "it was the first look we had at Rolling Thunder and they stunk. A lot of people left even before Dylan came out. It was boring. People were leaving in floods. A gross event. Weird bullshit."
A party after the show drained another $3366.44 from the money that could have gone to Hurricane. The whole affair had been one big party. Now it was time for Clyde to be held accountable for what he had wrought.
In accordance with that local charity law, Clyde had to file a financial statement with the City of Houston. The statement he filed was termed "incomplete" and he has yet to submit an audit.
His incomplete statement claims expenses of $428,564.46 and revenue from ticket sales of $379,787.50. Net loss claimed: $48,776.24. The Astrodome, out of beneficence, donated $10,000 to FFAF.
Out of all those expenses, the most curious is the "miscellaneous" of $38,781.13. Clyde is vague about that: it was for legal fees, insurance, accounting, telephone, mobile office, interest on the bank loans and so on. He would say, sitting there in the San Marco, that he had to shell out $7000 in one lump for a legal fee. But since his friends and associates — Sapir, Ciaccio, Bishop, Garcia — were acting as his attorneys, surely they didn't turn a profit on this benefit?
"No," Clyde said. "It was somebody else, attorneys from New Jersey, I can't tell you who they are. You'll have to ask Rubin that." Mystery piles upon mystery. Nobody will reveal who these attorneys are.
"You're trying to tie up the loose ends? You'll never tie up the loose ends." — Clyde Carson
"Just imagine what a mess there would have been if that show had grossed $800,000 or so. You would really have seen some action then." — Several persons
"Just keep my name out of it." — Several persons
City councilman phil ciaccio was the first to admit that he had cosigned Clyde Carson's line of credit at the bank. "I was an endorser to a limited amount in connection with it, in addition to being Clyde's attorney. Although I am not normally involved in the promotion of theatrical events."
Why then did he back what was basically a high-risk venture?
"Let's say Clyde is a very persuasive client . . . I'm a philanthropist. Let's say I believe in Hurricane Carter."
Rolling Stone: Clyde, why did you tell us that Ciaccio was only your lawyer and not a backer?
Carson: Did it ever occur to any of you that in his position he would not want to be known as getting conned into being that involved?
Ciaccio said he was not the elderly white-haired man Sara Ripley saw in Clyde Carson's suite.
Eddie Sapir said he certainly wasn't either, since he has "long black hair."
Clyde Carson said there was no white-haired man. "I really get upset with comments about little white-haired men and things like that."
Why then did it take him almost a year to admit he had not gone the bank note alone, and that Sapir, Ciaccio, Bishop and Garcia had sponsored his line of credit at the bank? And that the show wasn't mere philanthropy, that they would have made a hell of a lot of money if they had sold 80,000 tickets in the Superdome or even 66,000 tickets in the Astrodome? And that the show could have made his name as a promoter?
Clyde: "You know, you keep digging for shit and you're digging for bad motives on the part of people, then you start hurting people. All they did in the beginning was to help. It does not look like the most stable thing in the world for a politician to be talked into, helping back a show where they only have one thing to do, and that's lose. [It was] not a great moneymaking deal." Garcia and Bishop decline to return phone calls.
Judge Eddie Sapir cheerfully acknowledges that, instead of the five of them absorbing a loss of $50,000 or so, they could have made a lot.
"Absolutely! We would also have made a substantial contribution to Rubin. It was a nominal loss, just a small amount. Money is just money. I look at it as a contribution to Rubin Carter. I felt he deserved it and I would do it again tomorrow. If we could have done it in the Superdome in New Orleans, it would have been a complete sellout, people would have been fighting to get in."
Clyde Carson isn't so sure. "I wish I'd never heard the word "benefit." What am I gonna do now? I've got a chemical distributorship with another partner for the marine industry and supplies to the oil industry. Fuck the entertainment business."
That night in the San Marco in New York, Clyde had said he would "find out tomorrow if I'm bankrupt or not." That would be when he and brother Frank took their TV pilot to Mattel, the TV project that he had taken out another $200,000 line of credit on. Several weeks later, Clyde said he was out of that deal altogether. Rolling Stone called Mattel to see what they had thought of Clyde Carson's TV pilot. Mattel said they had never heard of Clyde Carson.
Still later, Carson called again and vented his frustration. "The whole thing is dying away," he said. "Rubin's just another nigger in a goddamn jail, and that's how he got convicted, when the racial shit started coming into the trial. . . .
"If he got out of jail, I'd give him the money to get out of the fuckin' country. In fact," Carson continued, "I had dinner with him six or eight weeks ago. I said, 'Why don't you hit the road? I'll lend you the money.' He said, 'No, I really think it's going to work." You know, he really believed in the fucking system."
Beauregard redmond of the Bank of New Orleans said he didn't know what the amount of the loan was. "The file is closed. The loan was repaid. My risk was not all that great because several good customers of ours backed it up. I don't need to tell you who they were. The loan was repaid."
Two days later, Clyde was on the phone, highly indignant that Rolling Stone was "harassing" his banker. "I don't feel it's anybody's business what my personal financial situation is . . . I wasn't born with money but I can sure as hell find it when I need to."
The Nature of Dylan's commitment to Hurricane remains unclear. He didn't offer any royalties from the song. Dylan was asked about the Houston show. His answer: a tense silence. (But Sara Ripley of Journeys Far and Near said she talked to Dylan after the show and is convinced that he did not know the promoters were cut in for a share of profits. Dylan's attorney, David Braun, confirmed this. "Obviously, had I known," said Braun, "Bob would never have played the show.") Hurricane says he hasn't heard from Dylan in a couple of months.
Joan Baez, whose only involvement was with the New York benefit, commented: "I've always felt a little guilty about that. I wasn't really involved. I had to assume some things. Bob wrote the song and he [Carter] seemed innocent. Besides, I'm opposed to prisons."
Roger McGuinn was "just hanging out" with Dylan, he said, but he did meet Carter once in New Jersey. And while Hurricane was "a flake," McGuinn said, "he seemed like a nice enough fellow. I got the impression he was innocent. He's a victim of a political structure that's just too big for anybody, including Bob Dylan, to budge. Bob had compassion for him. Being a big winner, he hates to see anyone lose."
Hurricane Carter has been a healthy carcass of a cause, picked over by a lot of people. Out of those two benefits and aside from them the following deals were at one time in the works: a live telecast of the Houston show, a live broadcast of that show on national public radio, a TV special, a movie, a live album and several books.
Hurricane Carter himself bristles when the subject of money comes up. It's "capitalistic" to talk of money, he says, as he sits in the remains of FFAF's office on Fifth Avenue in New York City. A friend of his had had to jimmy the door with a credit card to admit the reporter. Hurricane came in an hour later, more than happy to talk, to talk about everything but money. He opens with a Sunday punch that comes out of nowhere:
"The Rolling Stone magazine did something that was very unethical to me. You assumed a position that you didn't know a damn thing about. You were saying that it [the Houston show] was a financial crash and then talking about Bob Dylan selling out, copping out, and the many other people that performed at the thing, you know. That has always been a thorn that stuck in my paw. I'm in prison at the time, mind you, money is nothing, money don't mean a doggone thing with the exception of paying the attorneys, see, because freedom ain't cheap and justice ain't free either, you believe that. But I figured that if we had the news coverage, after Bob made the record international, that if we could somehow gather 80,000 people in one place — black people, white people, rich people — in one place about the very same thing, then we doin' something, we movie' on people. So I said okay, let's do a concert in New Orleans at the Superdome — 80,000 people. Let's go south to do it.
"They came to see me in prison, Ed Sapir, Clyde Carson, Willie Pastrano, Clyde's brother. They wanted to do something to help. They weren't there to rip off, they weren't there to get rich off of other people's suffering . . . Bob Dylan, as I met him, he came to prison to see me and I met a man that was for life and livin' and not for death and dyin'. Therefore he was gonna write and help — I didn't know he was gonna write no song, see, write and help a person who was still alive who he can help. This is the type of man Bob Dylan was and so he went down to Texas to do what he did for me. Same with Stevie Wonder, with Isaac Hayes . . . all these cats, man, you got all of this conglomerate of talent, of thinking and of thought right on this same stage. Wow, man, that's something, but because it did not put $20 million in the trust fund or something like that, people say it was a financial washout. Bullshit! Only because of that am I here. If you'd have given me $1000, $200,000, well, I'm in prison, it wouldn't have done no good to me. I didn't need money, I needed freedom, and because of that I got my freedom, so they served their purpose very well, and if anybody thinks otherwise, then they're capitalistic."
Carter may or may not have valued money, but from all the evidence, some of his supporters did. And leaving the money issue aside, there remains the question: did Hurricane Carter allow or even help Carson to hustle Dylan and other well-meaning musicians into participating in a shoddy concert? Didn't his supporters, with their rake-off deal, stand to make a sizable profit for themselves? No matter what Carter says, the questions remain.
On December 21St, 1976, Rubin "Hurricane" Carter and John Artis were reconvicted of the murders of James Oliver, Fred Nauyaks and Hazel Tanis.
Carter and Artis were to be resentenced on January 26th, 1977. New Jersey governor Brendan Byrne said there was no possibility of a pardon. He said: "What Carter wanted was a new trial, and he got what he was after."
The day after Hurricane was reconvicted, the management of the Louisiana Superdome announced that bids would soon be let to replace the chronically malfunctioning Superdome scoreboard. Clyde Carson's Ad Art scoreboard.
This story is from the February 24th, 1977 issue of Rolling Stone.