“City of Unhidden Loot”

final-sger-system

CHAPTER FIFTEEN

CITY OF UNHIDDEN LOOT

My resignation at WTLB was received with a mixture of sincere sadness and warm congratulations. Bill Quinn was also starting to think about life outside Utica. The only exciting thing happening was that his friend Larry Santos was again writing for The Four Seasons. Larry’s first collaboration had done quite well and residuals were still coming in from “Candy Girl”.

I left for Flint the day after Christmas ’66, leaving Eileen and the girls with the Cavanaughs of Syracuse. Uncle Paul was most pleased having his two little nieces to spoil for a few days during the Holiday Season. Eileen was relieved to avoid the five hundred mile trip by car. She would fly with the daughters into Detroit Metro after the Holidays.

I stopped at Bob’s mother-in-law’s house in the northern suburbs of Syracuse to pick up some Christmas gifts which had been wrapped for the Del Giorno clan in Flint and headed west again on the Thruway.

As expected, the weather took a wintery turn just past Rochester and became even nastier near Buffalo. Then came Niagara Falls with more snow. It was on to Saint Catherine’s with it still snowing. By Hamilton, I was down to forty miles-an-hour. Past Galt, make that thirty. At Kitchener, it wasn’t as bad. Visibility got rough again near Ingersoll. At London, the roads were plowed. Mt. Brydges offered good traction toward Sarnia. It was clear sailing over The Blue Water Bridge, through U.S. Customs to Port Huron. Lapeer and Davison shot by. I could see the lights.

Flint!!!

Where the Cavanaugh family would remain for the next seventeen years.

Bob and Joannie, with sons Victor, Michael and Bobby, had moved into a much larger house in a brand new subdivison. They greeted me with affection and I helped unload the presents from Syracuse. Then we had dinner, after which Bob and I sat down in the family room before a roaring fireplace to reminisce, plot and scheme.

“I’m the only fuckin’ disc-jockey in the whole neighborhood”, said Bob.

“There are doctors, dentists, stockbrokers and lawyers all over the goddamn place and I’m the only fuckin’ disc-jockey in the neighborhood.”

As we continued talking, it became clear that Bob was also the only fuckin’ disc-jockey in the whole world running dances at Mt. Holly.

Mt. Holly was a popular ski area just south of Flint on the Dixie Highway. It featured a fairly large lodge, which had remained unused during the non-skiing season. It had just been sitting there from April through October ’til Bob Dell tracked the owner down and suggested the empty building might be perfect for “record hops”. Bob was an exceptional promoter and the essence of entrepreneurial hustle, always trying out different ideas and new venues all over WTAC Country. All he had to lose was his time.

WTAC provided free broadcast announcements for all jock-related functions on the “WTAC D-J Datebook”. A few “live plugs” for a given event were absolutely no sweat.

In addition to shipment after shipment of “promotional records” piling up in the music library, “promo guys” lined up outside Bob’s door each day with hats and “hits” in hand. They were glad to arrange live appearances by various artists for “exposure purposes”, regardless of whether or not air-play was given. The “consideration factor” was enough.

WTAC’s listing of a song was enormous leverage which could be used in obtaining potential Detroit chart action. The facility enjoyed unusual prestige as a consequence. The position of Program Director at WTAC offered a level of industry power far beyond the already valuable significance of station listenership. Mrs. Del Giorno did not raise a stupid son. It was merely a matter of seizing the moment.

On a Friday night in late March of 1966, the first Mt. Holly experiment featuring Bob with recorded music and several local Flint bands of marginal consequence drew four hundred. Admission was one dollar. This was regarded as promising. Bob signed a contract for the remainder of the year until the snow flew and the slopes reopened. He would rent the facility for one hundred dollars a night. Concession profits from hot dog, candy and soft drink sales would be split evenly between him and the lodge owner.

The next Friday night drew seven-hundred and fifty attendees. By the end of the first month, as Dell added a few minor recording acts and talent from the University of Michigan scene in Ann Arbor to the mix, average turn-out increased to one thousand.

It was more convergence. In our lives infrequently come amazing times and circumstances when everything comes together as though divinely preordained and even human folly can impact not on the achievement of triumph.

Nothing begets success like success. Bob’s phone at WTAC and at home started ringing off the wall with calls from musicians, managers, bookers, promoters and other kindred spirits, all interested in become part of the action. In addition to the enviable distinction Bob enjoyed as WTAC Program Director and arbiter of music broadcast over the most important radio station in Michigan outside Detroit, he now also personally controlled the hottest live-rock showplace in the state including Detroit.

Mt. Holly was ten minutes south of Flint, thirty-five minutes north-east of Ann Arbor and only fifty minutes north of the Motor City. It was accessible to over a quarter-million emerging “baby-boomers” in Southeast Michigan by foot, car or thumb.

As the summer months arrived, Bob added Saturday nights and then Wednesdays to the Mt. Holly schedule as the beat went on. Record-playing was reduced to only a few minutes fill between live acts. The only challenge became selecting three or four groups a night from dozens available, simultaneously maintaining strong relationships with the more important labels and agents.

It was to the Mt. Holly stage that sixteen-year-old Bob Seger brought his “Last Herd” from Ann Arbor. Seventeen-year-old Detroiter Ted Nugent grew long-hair and named his players “The Amboy Dukes” for his first appearance. Local Flint guitar player Mark Farner and drummer Donnie Brewer came together many a night at Mt. Holly in various temporary units, having recently left “The Pack” when lead-singer (and former WTAC jock) Terry Knight of Lapeer headed-off to New York to seek stardom. An Ann Arbor booking agent named Jeep Holland saw his “Rationals” and “Scott Richard Case” (later shortened to the initials “SRC”) make their Mt. Holly debut. Dick Wagner and “The Frost” drove down from Saginaw and “The Woolies” pulled in from East Lansing for Mt. Holly sets.

Another assist in purchasing Bob’s new house came from several Mexican-American musicians from Saginaw who had played Mt. Holly a few times and had recorded, under extremely limited technical conditions, a simple song using an organ as lead instrument. The “recording session”, if such an expression can even apply, was given to Bob on tape. He found the organ piece curious enough to air it occasionally in conjunction with another appearance by the band at Mt. Holly. They weren’t even playing the main stage, just setting-up on the outside patio. The goddamned lead singer was this weird little ugly dude with sunglasses who couldn’t so much carry a tune as whine in the right key. Why take a chance?

“Too many teardrops–“

Well, son-of-a-bitch.

“For one heart–“

The request calls started pouring into WTAC for the damn thing. Bob first suspected band members and assorted friends and neighbors of the boys were jamming the lines. But, experience gives one a feel for such contrivances. It soon became certain that the dumb little ditty had that ever elusive “who-knows-what-the-fuck-it-takes-but-this-one’s-got-it” quality.

To be cryin’–“

What to do?

“You’re gonna cry-cry-cry-cry.”

Bob got in touch with a friend at Cameo-Parkway records. “Sugar” Schwarz picked up the ball, bounced that baby down the court and took a shot from the center line. It went swiiiiiiiiish to win the title.

By summer’s end, “96 Tears” by Question-Mark and The Mysterians was #1 almost everywhere in the world. It had sold two and a half-million copies. Bob and “Sugar” had the group signed, sealed and secured. There was never any indication given as to just who had what piece of which, Bob being wisely discrete in such matters of sensitive specificity. Still, there was no question that Bob himself had hit the mark in a whole new way.

He enthusiastically regaled me with the narrative. As cold December winds howled and moaned across his expensive and extensive newly- purchased backyard, now hidden beneath several feet of freshly-fallen snow; perhaps it was the Scotch, but I felt a measure of displacement.

It was, what? Envy or some other deadly sin taking hold?

Not really, unless it was the Sin of Pride.

There I was, sitting in this wonderful new home with a very dear friend drinking excellent whiskey, chosen to once again become part of a very select and special universe. My decision to return to WTAC was evidently even more fortunate than I had originally imagined. WTAC had gone beyond merely playing and promoting the music. It was now selecting the music. Shaping the music. Creating the music.

Bob was speaking with a new measure of confidence and assurance. His comments were statements. His questions were answers. His speculations rang prophetic.

It was late that night or in the early morning hours of the following day that Bob sharply changed our focus from radio talk to things of more importance, shifting from idle conversation to serious contemplation.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s


%d bloggers like this: