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.
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