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

He met Jack Kerouac, whom he had always admired ("It was just before he died," Campbell says, "and he was bloated, he looked awful. But I met him, and it was important to me") and he snubbed Barry Manilow, whom he hadn't ("That one cost me millions. He was a nice guy, but taking him on would've meant watching him play every night, of keeping an eye on him. And I just couldn't devote myself in that way to Barry Manilow"). And he absolutely devoted himself to the Allman Brothers Band. "I saw them when they were a bar band in 1969, playing a 'battle of the bands' in Gainesville. They lost. But they knocked me on my ass. And that began a long relationship. That's the difference between me and the businessmen in this game. They're businessmen A they don't get knocked on their ass. If a band knocked me on my ass, I knew they had a future. I'm proud of my talent judgment."

The Allman Brothers struggled for years and years before achieving anything resembling success, which might be why Campbell bonded so closely with them. (After the 1971 death of Duane Allman, Campbell took Berry Oakley out on a boat in an effort to help the bassist get through the tragedy.) "There's no such thing as a great artist who's undiscovered," Campbell asserts. "People who say they're the victims of bad breaks or the system A that's bullshit. If you stick it out, you will make it. This is ten percent talent and ninety percent perseverance. Staying power is what it's all about. We were taking the message to the rednecks and crackers. We were right on. Sometimes we got beat up, threatened, arrested. That's why I felt like a 'white nigger.'"

He stuck it out through a number of arrests, including the time early on when he presented Janis Joplin in Tampa. "This cop was hassling the kids," he recalls. "Pushing them around. So she cracked him with her Southern Comfort bottle. After the show ended, they busted her, and when I tried to help her out, they got me, too. I was charged with inciting to riot."

Campbell relates these stories almost boastfully, clearly relishing the memories, which makes it all the more unfortunate that the bulk of his vast collection of memorabilia A tickets, backstage passes, photos, and posters A was lost in a fire. He readily admits to having consumed elephant doses of all the in-drugs, of indulging in the orgiastic free love of the good old days, of living a rock and roll life. "There were a lot of us outlaws, rogues, defying authority," he says. "There has to be that spirit. You must make arrangements with yourself."

And there must have been plenty of spirit at the Grove's Mutiny Hotel circa 1978, when the place was the most notorious cokin' cowboy spot in town. (The hotel closed four years ago.) Campbell was keeping a room there. Neil Young was camped out in the unit directly above Campbell's. Jimmy Buffett stayed down the hall. Campbell had known Buffett since his days booking a club in Coral Gables, staging Jerry Jeff Walker, who brought in his friend Buffett. "I paid them $150 and all the beer they could drink for two shows a night, five days a week," Campbell says. "Sounds like a great deal, but I got killed on the beer."

By '78 Buffett had calmed down, and, Campbell says, couldn't keep up with their partying ways. "He got all righteous, the little pissant," the promoter scoffs. "Found a woman, you know?" Meanwhile, Young was pounding on Campbell's ceiling every time he ran out of reefer at three in the morning. "We were the only two people who ever got thrown out of the Mutiny," Campbell claims.

Concert promoters had to work closely with both cops and security guards. Campbell recalls his personal favorite, a guard nicknamed Tiny, who wasn't. "He'd find the smallest female in the crowd," Campbell says, smiling. "And he'd put her up on his shoulders so she could see the show. With security, it all comes from the top down."

A promoter also must work with building owners and managers. If the fronton was being used for jai alai at a time when a big act was available to play the area, Campbell was forced to turn to the Hollywood Sportatorium. "I was doing Rod Stewart in 1972," he remembers, "and I went over the day before to see Norman Johnson, the co-owner. The place was empty A no seats, no stage. I say, 'But Norman, I have to do a show tomorrow. We have load-in at noon. It's sold out!' He says, 'Well, maybe the audience could sit on the floor and the band could stand up.' We got some temporary stands and scaffolding and got it done, but it was close. About six months later, I'm doing the Beach Boys. This time I go up two days early. I'm learning. They'd had a rodeo out there, and the floor was eighteen inches deep in sand, cow and horse turds everywhere. Norman says, 'Make it a beach party with the Beach Boys. That's why I left the sand in there for you.' I said, 'And what, Norman, you're gonna charge me extra for the turds?'"

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