Leas on Life

Leas Campbell, the man who ruled Miami's rock scene throughout the Seventies, is bringing it all back home in the Nineties

This is a nice place. A workman shines up the oversize glass doors that open into the 27-story Capital Bank Building, located in a sweet pocket of the Brickell business district. Here, the carpet caresses. The elevators speak to you. Fine wood and spotless mirrors, marble and chrome. Shine. The people who work here A lawyers, corporate honchos, CPAs A stroll through the lobby with their Armani suits and endangered-species loafers, silk hosiery and $500 briefcases, egos and agendas. So when the president of Legendary Concerts walks by on his way to his ninth-floor office, heads pivot. He clearly does not belong in such a nice place.

"I can walk down Ocean Drive," Leas Campbell says, "and nobody notices me. I walk in here and they stare." Campbell's graying hair is pulled back in a long ponytail and capped by a cool hat; he wears boots and jeans, a T-shirt and shades, the rock and roll uniform that's never gone out of fashion. (In fact, a magazine article written in 1974 described him as having "a brown ponytail" and being "lay-back.")

Survivors of Seventies Miami will recall the phrase "Leas Campbell Presents." More than 2000 concerts from 1968 to 1982 A 100-plus major shows at the Miami Jai Alai Fronton alone A were his promotions, and most were so heavily advertised on radio that his name became ingrained. "SHE needed me," Campbell says, referring to WSHE-FM, at the time a struggling station pioneering the format known as album-oriented rock. "I signed a three-year package at five dollars per spot, one per hour, 24 hours a day." Not a bad deal considering SHE's rates would soon skyrocket as AOR caught on. "It got to be too much," Campbell says, chuckling at the recollection of his moniker's electronically enhanced familiarity.

The overkill did emphasize an important point. "All these other promoters A like Concerts West, the biggest A used initials or generic names," notes Campbell. "Rock was personal music. We were protesting dehumanization, so it was hypocritical to call your company National Shows or whatever. That's why I used my name and made sure the customers always had some way to speak to a human. To make it personal. Bill Graham changed the name of his company to Bill Graham Presents, doing what I did about six years after I did."

Today, after having spent a decade producing films, TV shows, and videos, and managing Cajun rockers Mamou and slide-guitar prodigy Derek Trucks, Campbell is back in the business of concert promotion. Months of planning resulted in the opening of Legendary Concerts this past March. (If that name sounds impersonal, note that Campbell will still advertise as Leas Campbell Presents, the official name being, he says, simply the corporate entity for doing business.) Unlike the early days, when he concentrated exclusively on Florida, Campbell will be working outside the state this time around. He's already booked the Moody Blues, with full orchestra, in the Midwest, and has landed commitments for a Dylan and Santana bill up there, as well as the shows with Outlaws Willie Nelson and Waylon Jennings up north and at the James L. Knight Center in downtown Miami sometime in September.

He chain-smokes Kool cigarettes and his face is rutted and grooved from the occasional slashing or beating that is part of any veteran Southern rock-concert promoter's annuity plan. He is, Campbell will explain, "a white nigger," and proud of it. He feels no compulsion to shout out to the swells sharing the Brickell skyscraper, the ones eyeballing him as if he were carrying a shotgun, that he's pissed away more money on parties than they'll make in a year. His interest in publicity leans almost entirely to the musicians he anoints as worthy of his promotional interaction. He loves the Artists -- he capitalizes the A whenever he writes the word -- and he loves the music. "I wasn't the story," he says. "The bands and the talents were the story. I have a sense of priorities."

Campbell is no fan of the late Bill Graham, the best-known rock promoter ever. "He was all mouth and no substance," Campbell says, adding that the primary difference between the two men is that he lived the rock life while Graham simply exploited it. When Graham brought Bob Dylan and the Band to Florida in 1974, he asked Campbell to produce the shows. Backstage, Campbell set up Ping-Pong and volleyball and hosted a barbecue. The talent reportedly loved this thoughtful diversion. And being in the graces of the talent A especially contractually A pays off with future shows. "I was terrified," Campbell recalls. "Dylan! What if he doesn't like me?"

Graham's posthumously published "autobiography" A about 550 pages of interview excerpts and random commentary A never mentions Leas Campbell. Then again, it also fails to mention Graham's former partner, Barry Imhoff. The tome, Bill Graham Presents, is rife with the sort of personal detail that a writer's own mother would find grueling reading. Campbell's autobiography, due to be published early next year by Carol Publishing, will be, on the evidence of several completed chapters, a compelling and shocking backstage pass, a spellbinding bit of voyeurism for anyone curious about the unspotlighted goings-on behind those distinctive public gatherings called rock concerts.

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