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

Portions of the book read like the script for an R-rated comedy/thriller. The author has plenty of scenes to choose from: Working as production manager at Dinner Key, Campbell looks on from stage left as Jim Morrison either whips it out or doesn't and gets busted for obscenity. Alice Cooper, his manager, and Campbell are nearly ripped off by a corrupt sheriff in Orlando. Instead, they abscond with the door receipts A taken at gunpoint A leaping into a Lear jet as the villainous police cruisers screech onto the tarmac. Aboard the plane, Cooper opens two briefcases full of cash and, overjoyed, begins tossing the bills everywhere. Campbell comes within a gunshot of orchestrating the ballyhooed Beatles reunion A John, George, and Ringo are ready and Paul, Campbell claims, is leaning toward a positive response. Campbell would be risking $50 million to stage the megaconcert and simulcast it worldwide, with an expected return of at least $400 million. The prospect, of course, is shot down outside the Dakota the day John Lennon is assassinated. Mobsters suspect Campbell of torching one of their facilities, and he stands up to them, calling in a few kneecappers of his own and drawing a line in the proverbial sand. In the final draft of his manuscript, Campbell will solve the murders A he swears they were all murders A of Huey Long (with whom his dad worked closely and who was assassinated, he's sure, at the behest of Big Oil), Duane Allman, and Berry Oakley. (No, Campbell asserts, the motorcycle deaths of the two musicians three blocks and one year apart were not accidents.) He will expose major Mafia operations in New York and Miami.

But not until the final draft.
Always tell the truth. Campbell lives by this motto, and fully realizes that his life's story will infuriate many people. "But the innocent need no protection," Campbell says. "And the guilty? Fuck 'em. They're guilty." Such an approach made matters difficult for his agent. Fourteen or fifteen major publishers refused to touch the manuscript, Campbell says; many complained that any profits would end up going to libel lawyers. But the concert promoter insists these stories must be told for "the kids," the people who bought tickets to his shows, the people who rock and roll. "Even if they're 50 years old, to me they're 'the kids.'" The book will be dedicated to Neil Young, Campbell adds, "for not selling out. He's never made a beer commercial, never compromised his music. Neil Young is not Eric Clapton."

The truth, the refusal to compromise, the kids A Campbell not only sees clear through to the essence of the rock and roll mentality, he lives it. It is surprising, then, to hear him concede, after some prodding, that his favorite style of music is "silence. I love to think."

His mother's Cajun blood and his father's entrepreneurial expertise fostered in Leas Campbell a radical iconoclasm that somehow doesn't diminish or contradict his capitalistic prowess. His father made his name as a hotelier and racehorse owner mostly based in Lafayette and New Orleans. He was also, according to his son, a high roller, a compulsive gambler who, after losing big, would never get angry or sad. "He'd just move on to the next thing," Campbell says. "There is no such thing as failure in life. Only setbacks. With a dad like mine, I never had a fear of risk."

Leas Campbell began taking risks early. One that he still savors dates back to 1960, his first year at Penn's Wharton School of Finance and Commerce in Philadelphia. He emptied his room in the freshman dorm and paid off a few fellow students to do the same to theirs and double up with friends instead. Campbell needed the space. For the beer. About 500 cases per week.

"The nearest bar was five blocks away, and the campus was fenced," Campbell recalls. The semi trucks would pull up next to the dorm and connect an elevated runway over the iron fence to unload case after case of quart bottles of Schmidt's beer. This was accomplished while the school's deans met for lunch under the watchful eyes of a busboy hired by Campbell to be his lookout. The beer was later retailed to the student body. The profits went into Campbell's pocket.

One day, as he was overseeing a shipment, a big black limo pulled up. The teenager was wise enough to know that such a car in Philly at that time might be driven by the college president or, more likely, by a different sort of leader.

The driver stepped out, and when Campbell saw the muscled hulk, he knew it wasn't the president of the University of Pennsylvania. The man indicated that the young beer dealer should get in the car. Mr. Angelo Bruno would like to have a word with him. Now.

Less than a second later the Wharton freshman found himself cozied up with Bruno and a guy called the Chicken Man. Apparently they wanted to talk, but nothing was being said. "Bruno just kept staring out the window," Campbell recalls. The silence was terrifying.

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