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Night of the Hurricane (Or Was it Just an Idiot Wind?)

Page 5 of 7

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?"

Avron Brog.

"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.

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