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

David Laurenzo, who runs his family's well-known Italian grocery in North Miami Beach, remembers the Sportatorium well, and had more than a passing familiarity with Campbell's security forces. "I was born here and I grew up going to his shows," Laurenzo says. "I met him as a young person going to the Sportatorium and Pirates World and the fronton. I used to sneak in A run and jump the fence and other young teenager things A and we played a cat-and-mouse game. Besides that, our paths crossed later, and he was always nice to me, I saw him help people out and it made an impression on me."

Campbell left the business for several reasons. The 1980 murder of John Lennon was devastating. The death of hard-partying Led Zeppelin drummer John Bonham hurt, as well A Campbell had Zep booked for three shows; he says he lost the potential to make about $2.5 million. And there was the consuming popularity of disco. "During those years, three good acts broke: Aerosmith, AC/DC, and Tom Petty. In the seven years before, from '70 to '76, hundreds of bands made it." Further, he notes, fans grew tired of the "same people making the same music." Industry consolidation stole all the fun. The glory days were over, and Campbell realized it.

He returned for two reasons. The first was a Who concert four years ago. He'd first seen the band live at a local club called Thee Image in the late Sixties, and he had admired the way "they'd bleed A die, nearly die, to get the audience off." But when he caught them again in the mid-Eighties, he was disappointed. Pete Townshend's famous lyric about dying before they got old took on new relevance as the band halfheartedly played its set. This did not deter Campbell from checking out the '89 show. "And they destroyed me, knocked me on my ass," he says. "They were showing the puppies how it's done. It was July 29, 1989 A I even remember the date, because it moved me so much. The old farts tearing it up in heat that must've been 120 degrees on the stage. They kept on their leather jackets and worked their asses off. Jack [Boyle, president of Cellar Door, which promoted the show] had given me great tickets. I said, 'My God, if they think it's that important, maybe I should reconsider.'" His faith was restored, his interest provoked anew.

His companion at that show was Deborah Soodhalter, now a vice president of Legendary Concerts, and Campbell's romantic partner, as well. "She does everything around here," Campbell says, sweeping his arm in a gesture around his office. "Besides, I love her. She loves rock as much as I do, and she loves all my stories and anecdotes A she's been listening to them for four years. And that's important."

The second motivation to return came from his son Hope, so named because, in Campbell's words, "He was the hippie baby for the future." He married the boy's mother, Jeannie, a week before Hope was born. "I never believed in government interference," he explains, "but I got married to protect him, you know, in case something happened to me." (He and Jeannie divorced in early 1975. "A match made in hell," Campbell says now, "for both of us.")

Like his father, Hope became enamored of rock and roll. "A Mensa kid, really bright," Campbell says. "And the music. I remember when we went to see Van Halen. Hope was fourteen and a big fan. We sat down front, and when they came on-stage, David Lee [Roth] walked over and shook my hand and shook his hand. Hope loved that." Recalling this, Campbell's rugged face is virtually emotionless, though his steady voice drops half a notch. "One day he was on a surfboard, and the next day he was dead. Leukemia. He was eighteen." Campbell pauses. "But I thank God for the time with him, not the time without him. It wasn't my call, it was not in my control. Cajuns believe you do as much as you can today, because you have eternity to rest. I don't know about any afterlife, but I know this life is one time around. And the Cajuns have a word, it comes from a baker's dozen A lagniappe. It's the little extras. I guess the closest word to it would be serendipity. Every day is the little extra."

In the Nineties, Campbell plans to use more intimate halls and price tickets on a sliding scale. He hopes this might thwart the evilness of ticket brokering, and he says his market research indicates that today's audiences are willing to pay extra for intimacy and comfort. "That's why Prince at Sunrise [Musical Theatre] sold out in eight minutes," he says. He's eyeing the Knight Center, the Gusman Center for the Performing Arts, and the Broward Center for the Performing Arts as potential venues.

The business has, of course, changed, grown in scale and consolidated. Today Campbell will compete with the firmly entrenched Cellar Door and Fantasma, which dominate Florida concert promotion. "Cellar Door has been booking all the Neil Young shows while I've been away," he observes. "So the big thing will be, who gets Neil the next time he comes down? Promoting is a big chess game. I remember keeping [Cellar Door chief] Jack Boyle out of Florida when I controlled the state. And now I'm the upstart underdog trying to break their grip. I have good relations with many of his acts. The artists like Jack. They love me. I was at their weddings, I was there when their kids were born. Which way will they go? It's a hard call to make."

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