Veteran concert promoter Danny Zelisko is pulling the curtain back on nearly 50 years of transcendent highs and devastating lows in his new book, All Exce$$ Occupation: Concert Promoter.
Zelisko has produced more than 10,000 live music events throughout the U.S. over the course of his illustrious career, from sweaty club gigs to stadium extravaganzas. He’s collected plenty of wild stories working with the biggest names in rock. There’s the evening he spent with Pink Floyd in a castle full of naked champagne girls. And the time he hobnobbed backstage with Alice Cooper manager Shep Gordon, who got into a fistfight with fellow rock impresario Bill Graham later that evening.
Concert promotion also taught Zelisko to think on his feet. Take, for example, the fateful night in 1980 when Bob Seger was set to play at the Arizona Veterans Memorial Coliseum. It was Zelisko’s first arena production, and spirits were high — until Seger canceled the sold-out show hours before he was due to hit the stage.
In the following exclusive excerpt from All Exce$$ Occupation: Concert Promoter, Zelisko details the moment Seger pulled the plug on the gig and how, together, they managed to salvage the evening from catastrophe.
Bob arrived at the building around five o’clock, all the catering was done, the band had sound checked and everything seemed to be well taken care of. This was my first big show by myself, my first arena show. I was moving around the place on roller skates, having a great time.
I could hear Bob singing through his door, practicing on the little guitar amp I’d gotten for him.
A little while later I skated past Bob’s dressing room again, but this time, I found him standing out in the hallway, smoking a cigarette, talking on the pay phone outside the dressing room door.
He looked up at me and asked, “Are you the promoter?”
“Come here. My manager wants to talk to you.”
Bob handed me the pay phone (no cellphones yet), so I could talk to his manager, Punch Andrews.
“Hey, Danny, it’s Punch. Bob’s not singing tonight.” Just like that.
“Yeah, he burned his throat out.”
“Then why is he smoking?”
Seger said, “I’ll make it up to you. I’ll come and play another show for you.”
I said, “You don’t understand, Bob, the lobster’s cooked. Everybody’s eating, the show is set up, the audience is on their way down, the staff is here. I’ve got to pay everybody.”
“Don’t worry. Just put it in as an expense for the next show, and I’ll take care of it. I will come back and play this show!”
“Well, how am I going to take care of these costs now on top of the cost of doing it all over again?”
“How fast did we sell out?”
“All right, let’s add a second show. That way, we can pay for all the expenses, I can make it more worth my while to come out here and you’ll make your money. I’ll write you a check right now to cover your costs. How’s that sound?”
I said, “That sounds great!”
And that’s what we did. Bob Seger, right there on the spot, had his tour accountant write me a check for 30 big ones. Bob showed me that you can be both a mensch and a big star at the same time. You better believe I pointed that out to other acts who had different thoughts about who should pay when they had to cancel.
It was a great moment for me, because I went from the highest of highs to the lowest of lows and then he brought me back to even, which was fine. We rescheduled the show for two months later; he wanted to make good on his word and that was the soonest he could do it. His tour was over, but he sucked it up and came out to play those two shows for me, just to make sure nobody felt screwed by him getting sick. I wish more people would behave like that in these kinds of situations. Some groups think it’s their right to cancel a show and have you pay the tab for all of the costs you have fronted. No kidding! Can you believe that?
I carried on doing business with Bob right up until a couple years ago, and now he’s retired. Here’s a guy who worked his ass off for years, and, folks, it paid off. The lifeblood of concert promoting is to work with people you present over and over again, from the beginning of their career. Although I didn’t get involved with Bob till 1980, we broke a lot of ground together over the ensuing years. I always believed in him, as a human and one of the finest performers I have ever seen. Seger is one of my all-time top guys, as well as consummate performer. I bask in the personal glow of knowing he and I always did right by each other, that’s all that matters.