“Dead and Alive”

final-george-clinton
CHAPTER THIRTY-ONE

DEAD AND ALIVE

New Year’s Night saw a return to Sherwood Forest by Alice Cooper, who added a special “Baby New Year” segment to the act in honor of the occasion.

Chief Ed Boyce told Alice later over a few beers that “you could almost see balls” under the “Baby New Year” costume. He asked Alice to possibly be a little more careful the next time he donned a diaper. Although not specifically included under the “No Saying Fuck” guideline, there was a gentleman’s understanding that the rock stars refrain from any public display of genitalia. The issue had been broached in a discussion over Ted Nugent’s “Polar Bear Suit”.

Ted made a number of clothing changes during each performance and his last outfit of late had been what I called the “Polar Bear Suit”. The “Polar Bear Suit” was more or less a wide breechcloth made of white animal fur which more than adequately covered the Nugent nuggets, not counting approximately one second. This tiny exception helped explained why the first five or six rows of fans crowding the stage when Ted played were often primarily female.

Ted was unusually strong and extraordinarily athletic. He could jump a Volkswagen from a standing position. With a two-step start, he could also leap four or five feet into the air while playing guitar and land directly on top of his amplifier speakers. After a few moments, he would jump back down to the stage. It was during such descents that a momentary updraft would lift both flaps on his “Polar Bear Suit” for the barest instant. Nugent offered dramatic testimony that he was not being sponsored by Fruit-Of-The-Loom. Ted was extremely casual about the entire thing and one had to be exactly in front to appreciate the full effect. The police were never precisely in the right spot, but from where they were, it looked like something might be visible at a proper angle. Several of them had mentioned it to Ed and he had mentioned it to me. It had become a non-issue due to lack of evidence, but it was something else to keep in mind. No flashin’ cocks, balls, asses, cunts or tits. Well, maybe tits. But no nips.

January ’70 also brought Mitch Ryder and his new group “Detroit” to Sherwood Forest. They played all the old stuff like “Devil with the Blue Dress On” and some new material including “Rock ‘n Roll”, a hit single bringing Mitch back to fame and fortune. Mitch had recorded a special version of the song for us and where he sang the part about a “home town station”, he inserted WTAC’s call-letters. He did this for several dozen other facilities as well and it didn’t hurt national airplay a bit. All promotion is good promotion; some things are just better than others.

John and I were due back at the Giant Ballroom again on January 17th for a co-promotion with Larry White. Black promoters paid premium prices for all artists, white or black. White promoters had an edge, especially those booking a high volume of acts. Irons and I contracted “The Parliaments and Funkadelic” featuring the ubiquitous, inimitable George Clinton. We extended to Larry the same split percentages we used in working with Don Sherwood.

Saturday nights started late and extended far into Sunday morning hours for many members of Flint’s Black community. The Giant Ballroom had gained regional prominence as being the black “After Hours” club north of Detroit. The Parliament and Funkadelic were therefore booked as an “After Hours WTAC Cabaret Showcase Performance” with a ten dollar admission price. “Cabaret” in Flint also meant you could bring your own adult beverages inside. Free mixers and ice cubes would be provided at table settings for up to six. Larry felt comfortable that we could safely expect at least five or six hundred in attendance and, with any luck, could comfortably seat a thousand.

A week before our scheduled promotion, another Cabaret being held at the Giant drew five hundred offering only local groups as a draw. At two-thirty, a young lady and her date were accosted by an irate gentleman who spoke harshly to both. He was the young lady’s husband, understandably upset over the circumstances with which he found himself presented. He was quite belligerent and very, very drunk. He was asked to take his leave. He refused. He was forcibly ejected, literally kicking and screaming.

His car was parked outside. Inside the glove compartment was a fully loaded :38 caliber Magnum pistol. Very, very drunk and very, very mad can lead to very, very mean and very, very bad. It was fast.

Six shots were fired in blind fury at the Giant Ballroom entrance. No specific targets were selected. It was an undifferentiated gesture of raging hostility.
One shot sailed fifty-feet through the entrance door and across the ballroom floor, grazing the right thigh of a woman sipping her cocktail. She was later treated for superficial wounds and released. Four other shots sailed above and between party-goers with no real harm done. A sixth shot blasted through a box office window and took off half the attendant’s head. Police arrived almost instantly and arrested the assailant. The crowd was thoroughly spooked. Who wouldn’t be? And I expected them back the following week?

I called Larry White and asked his opinion. Larry agreed we were looking at the genuine possibility of a self-inflicted fucking. Larry was in a far more serious situation. John and I were focused on just one promotion. Our friend Larry owned the scene of the crime.

“Parliament and Funkadelic” had cut us a fair deal by offering a valuable Saturday night in the midst of a very busy schedule. Larry White could now use the extra bounce a big name act would bring to the club in a very important, although unintended way. Who’s afraid of a few stray bullets? What the hell! We had only three grand on the line! Rock ‘n Roll!!

The morning of the 17th it started snowing around ten-thirty. It continued snowing all day. It was snowing at Midnight when I pulled into the nearly empty parking lot at the Giant Ballroom. It was still snowing at one-o-clock when the Parliament and Funkadelic equipment truck arrived for set-up. They’d left Detroit four and a half hours earlier. Flint was only fifty miles to the north. It was snowing harder ten minutes later when a Cadillac Limousine careened down the driveway and slid to a stop. Out jumped George Clinton and his group. They were troopers!

“Don’t blame this snow shit on us Africans, Peter C.!”

Fifteen inches of snow had fallen in less than eighteen hours. Most roads were only marginally passable. The temperature was five below zero with a heavy northerly breeze dropping the wind-chill index to minus thirty.
A total of one hundred and eighteen tickets were sold that night at the Giant Ballroom.

I sat alone in the box office, shivering as an icy wind whistled through a three-inch bullet hole just above my head. Larry was busy policing the crowd. According to Mr. White, although sparse, the turn-out included “the baddest niggers in town”. Who the fuck else would come out on a night like that? Everyone seemed to be armed. I was the only White boy in the world, but had grown up with Blacks on the wrong side of the tracks in Syracuse. I was much more unnerved by the dark stains still covering much of the box office walls and floor than I was by dark faces in the night.

Parliament and Funkadelic played a full two-hour set. I sat down with Larry as we killed the better part of a fifth of scotch. We’d lost about a grand each. The show was superb. All the “baddest niggers” left at 5 a.m., having been highly entertained.

Dan was a long-haired “freak” who had started coming out to WTAC when I had first kicked-off the “Underground” show. He liked to sit on the floor in the studio with his head inches away from the rumbling monitor speakers. His older brother Dave was in the audio manufacturing business and had designed all of Grand Funk Railroad’s equipment. They used nothing but “West” amplifiers, speaker cabinets and sound systems. So did a lot of other Michigan bands. Dan was to be our “Five Alive Sports Director”. When he was fourteen, he had vigorously campaigned for Barry Goldwater. He was convinced that Bob Dylan had been brought to earth on a flying saucer to change his life.

Dan West had a piece of paper from Selective Service which officially described him as a “manic depressive with paranoid delusions and schizophrenic tendencies”. Dan attributed such designation to a “dozen hits of acid” and a “handful of speed” ingested before and during his Army physical. Dan was an excellent drummer. Dave West felt his brother’s basic problems could be traced to the absence of a “real job” in his life or any serious interest in seeking same. A brief liason in the dark on the lawn next to our Sherwood Forest lake after one concert had given Dan both temporary pleasure and a more lasting case of the “crabs”. He selected a few dozen, placed them in a glass jar, and mailed them to his paramour. “I believe these were left behind!”, said the note. You just had to love Dan.

Dan would appear on our TV show wearing nothing more than swimming trunks and a coach’s whistle around his neck. He was incredibly skinny. He would read area High School basketball scores and make predictions on future competition based on astrological charts and tarot cards.

The main ingredient of “Five Alive” would be appearances by all of our prominent Michigan bands. For the “demo program”, we used Bob Seger, Dick Wagner and the Frost, The Rationals, Ted Nugent and Frijid Pink.

The taping was completed February 5th. We were ecstatic. Everything had clicked just right. It was awesome. It was a state-of-the-art “Bandstand”, but completely localized and utterly contemporary. We waited for a decision by Pepsi-Cola. Detroit loved it. It went to New York. We were looking for a thirteen week commitment and possible syndication into Lansing, Grand Rapids and Detroit itself. We were ready!!!

Word came back. New York hated it! What???? They HATED IT!! Why?????? Because disc-jockeys and all the musicians WEREN’T WEARING PROPER ATTIRE!!! I saw the notes from the agency boardroom meeting. Big, bold marker print. “NOT ONE PERFORMER WORE A TIE!!” One last phrase ended the notations: “PROTECT PEPSI IMAGE !” We should have gone black-tie??

Channel Five attempted to sell the concept to Coca-Cola, but we had liberally laced the pilot with Pepsi references which didn’t help. Coke also thought the program was way too “hippy” in nature. After a month of effort, Channel Five backed off. We were so busily engaged in our concerts and dances and regular radio work, we just didn’t have the time to pursue the project and enlighten sixty year-old mind-sets along the way. Piss on it. Right into a can of Pepsi. I still have portions of the pilot preserved on film. It was ahead of the mass culture curve, but only by seconds and centimeters. I learned an important lesson. Other than in retrospect, a “cutting edge” is invisible to all save those involved. I’d always thought that some things were universally obvious.

John Irons and I had successfully cornered a large share of the Michigan “Rock ‘n Roll” scene and had become, by far, the most highly visible and continually active promoters in the Flint and Tri-City area. There was one target which remained.

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