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

In 1971 a wildly successful concert headlined by Spirit A with an underbill of Ted Nugent and the Amboy Dukes, Bob Seger, and Crabby Appleton A at the Hollywood Sportatorium (tickets priced at three and four dollars) put the young entrepreneur in the black, allowing him to pay off all his debts, including the hospital bills for the birth of his son, Leas Hope Campbell. "I made $20,000 on that show alone," Campbell says. In 1973 he grossed three million dollars. By the time he celebrated his 31st birthday in May of 1974, Leas Campbell was driving a leased Buick, conducting business from an office on Oak Avenue instead of his house, and worrying aloud to a Tropic magazine reporter about whether he'd still be doing this in ten years.

That Campbell survived (and greatly enjoyed) the late Sixties and the Seventies is a tangible example of serendipity. The extras, to be sure, were bountiful, but the danger was equally abundant. "I carried a gun, right here," Campbell says, patting his lower leg. "I never had to use it. I pulled it a few times, but...." The violent subtext of being a big-money rock promoter in the South was anathema to the hippie dream being played out all around him at his Coconut Grove base. But it was also a reality.

The biggest demand on any promoter is money A up-front cash for guarantees needed in order to book performers, who generally get half pay before the show. Some of Campbell's early backing, as he explains at length in the draft of his autobiography, came from a trio of major-league marijuana smugglers. Their half-million bucks allowed the upstart to do battle with the dominant forces, primarily Concerts West.

The second biggest demand of any promoter was finding the facility in which to book and stage the concert. In South Florida the pickings were slim A the Hollywood Sportatorium (which has since been shut down) provided a miserable environment and room for 12,500; Pirates World was so rickety the City of Dania shut it down in the summer of 1973; and Miami Beach, Miami, and other cities did much to deter evil rock concerts on their turf by heaping on as many restrictions as possible. Campbell was able to turn the problem into a boon. In the summer of 1972 he struck a handshake agreement with Buddy Berenson, who at the time owned the Miami Jai Alai Fronton, a private building with no city restrictions or curfew, a comfortable environment, and decent acoustics, available during the jai alai off-season. The deal: Campbell would book at least one concert every week during the seven-month off-season and pay $2000 per week whether he booked a show or not.

Before the agreement was consummated, however, three novices had booked the fronton for a Ten Years After concert. Berenson demanded the Woodstock-famed band hire Campbell as stage producer. Advance ticket sales exceeded 12,000, Campbell recalls, and the virgin promoters weren't done yet. On the day of the show, they moved another 4000 seats, setting up what Campbell calls "riot conditions." Indeed, on the night of the show, chaos was the watchword. Berenson had, of course, ordered the promoters to stop selling tickets, but as showtime approached he was informed that the box office was still open.

From Campbell's manuscript: "Buddy quickly unlocked the box office door, startling the ticket sellers and surprising the promoters. [Berenson's security chief] was ordered to pull the blinds on the ticket windows and pull his .45 automatic pistol...." Berenson, Campbell says, punched one of the offending promoters as the security man pistol-whipped another. Berenson then loaded up all the cash and headed back to his office. Campbell was immediately promised a huge sum and given the job of running the show from that moment on.

The money was sweet, the assignment not. Ten Years After frontman Alvin Lee refused to perform, noting that there were a number of seats on the stage, an unacceptable maneuver by the three promoters who had oversold the show. Besides, Lee explained, the place was bedlam. Not only was the fronton packed, but the show was late in beginning. Too dangerous.

Campbell quickly came up with a solution: Go out and play, he says he told Lee, or I'll pull all security right now. You'll belong to that mob, no one will stand between them and you, and the kids aren't in a good mood right now. As the threat seeped in, Campbell also promised a financial bonus if Ten Years After performed. And he massaged the musician's ego by pointing out that doing a show under these conditions would make him a hero in the eyes of his fans. Campbell himself went out and introduced the group, who went on to play an exhausting three-hour set. Then, Campbell writes in his book, "We shared an evening of food, fun, females, and a secret between us that provided an incredible bond. The kind of respect warriors have after a battle."

It was Kierkegaard who first suggested that organized religion and God don't mix. The philosopher believed that any relationship with God must be personal and individual, that orthodoxy did nothing but interfere with faith. Campbell himself remains "anti-Christian" while simultaneously embracing the Christian ethos. "I'm a recovering Catholic," he says. "As a child I had my hands whacked by rulers plenty. These people are all peace and love on Sunday, Jesus is okay. But if you practice peace and love during the week, they consider you a commie, fag, pinko. Why not do this seven days a week? They'd say, 'It's not done that way A shut up.'"

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