Leas on Life
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.
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.
Mr. Bruno explained to the kid that he knew his father, the hotel man, and that the senior Campbell was respected for his straightness, for not tarnishing Thoroughbred racing with fixes or setups, an attribute in Bruno's eyes because, he explained, one of his gigs was booking horse bets. He was keeping an eye on Mr. Campbell's boy, Bruno went on, and he was also tending to business. It was his beer-distributing company. "And you know what?" Bruno told the nervous young purveyor. "You're moving 500 cases a week. That makes you my third biggest customer, right behind the Philadelphia Phillies and the Navy base." Bruno offered some advice about increasing profits, and also handed over a pack of football-betting slips. "Your customers will love these."
By 1962 Campbell had been booted out of Wharton and had joined the Marines. Two years and three months of service in the armed forces was enough for school officials to allow him to return and complete his education; he graduated in 1965 with a B.A. in economics. After school he did what any Wharton grad might do A he took a job at Colonial Penn, the insurance giant. "I tried the corporate world, but they had these ridiculous rules, like you had to be there at nine in the morning. Every day. Within a year I made it to assistant vice president of marketing. It wasn't fulfilling, but I had a new 'vette, a townhouse, the trappings of success. So I took a leave of absence. This really nice cat was my boss, and he understood that I was lost and aimless. I went out to Haight-Ashbury and never looked back."
In the exotic Bay Area scene of the Sixties, Campbell was exposed to the same sort of thing he'd seen at age nineteen in a Philly club when he caught Lenny Bruce's act. "I was a preppie at Wharton," he says, "and I go down and see Lenny Bruce. I was drunk and I couldn't believe what he was saying. I went back the next night, sober, just to make sure." In San Fran, it was more iconoclasm, more evidence that the revolution was at hand. "I saw Quicksilver Messenger Service, Steve Miller, and Santana, it was the first time I was exposed to psychedelic rock. I loved the message. I mean, peace and love and understanding A it seems so obvious. I had studied the philosophers, the religions. Like Kierkegaard. I'm paraphrasing, but it was basically,'Life is not a problem for solving, it's a mystery for living.' These fucking analytical people waste their lives. It's like you got a big-ass tiger, a 600-pounder, and you're holding its tail, and it's pulling you through things. Or a surfer on a tidal wave. You fall forward and get swamped or you fall back and you're lost. If you don't take your stand now, you might as well be dead. That's why I consider myself a rock and roll warrior."
After ten or twelve weeks of full-bloom flower power, Campbell hit the road with his thumb out, heading back east. From Greenwich Village he caught the pipeline to Coconut Grove, which he'd visited during college. This time he landed in Miami to stay. "It was all cracker atmosphere, except the Grove. I guess the rednecks all live up in Ocala now. I worked as a bellhop in the Beach and saved up $400. A regular Horatio Alger."
He met a singer called Dion, who had just moved here and kicked heroin and was on the way to becoming the hot ticket he'd been in the late Fifties. "Abraham, Martin and John" was shooting up the charts. It was 1968, and Leas Campbell was ready to test his business acumen and his personal ambition. "Dion had, like, ten gold records from the early days," the promoter recalls. "He had major offers from William Morris and the other big agencies. But he didn't want the road scene. I knew him for a year, we had gone to a lot of concerts together, and we had a relationship of trust."
Dion decided to let the neophyte book a Florida tour for him, cold-shouldering the half-dozen area promoters Campbell would compete against for access to the box-office attractions during the next few years. The arrangement gave Campbell an opportunity to try his hand at a new venture, and allowed Dion to downscale, performing without committing to an all-out national tour. "I figured out that colleges and universities have entertainment budgets," says Campbell. "I got a list of all the colleges in Florida and Georgia. Because it was the end of the year, they'd spent their budgets, but this one, Manatee College, the guy says he'll give me a PC deal, an 80-20. I acted interested. 'I'll take it to the artist' A I'd already learned that catch phrase. Actually, I didn't know what a PC deal was. I found out it meant percentage, and I went back and told the guy we needed 90-10, that we never did a show for less. He said okay. We sold out two shows, made a killing. Then I learned about guarantees against percentages. This is all right! I went to all these schools personally, and I came back with twelve bookings. Dion shit. He couldn't believe it."
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.'"
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?'"
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."
"The opportunity of him coming back is like a dream come true," says David Laurenzo; the kid who used to sneak into concerts is now a financial partner and vice president in Campbell's new venture. "To be in the business with an old friend A we're partners, but he is the business. He has the twenty years' experience. And he's going to do some exciting things. We expect to put on some great nights of entertainment."
Loyalty is important to Campbell, not the act of it so much as the raw concept. "This 'everything goes to the highest bidder' philosophy will kill the golden goose of rock and roll." That carries over to the bigger picture, too. "This is a crossroads in our society," he says of the early Nineties, "just like the Sixties. The country declines from being the number-one economic power to number six. People have to work 50 hours to make what they used to make in 35. Will it take a depression, or will it take a revolution? Yeah. I'm renting cars because I can't, can't, make a five-year commitment to an American car? That's bad. Now, in '93, more than in '73, people need the escape of a great rock concert, to get out of the race for three hours. All this apathy, the ostrich approach to life. Ted Turner talks about new values, and I find that appealing. Will it really work? No, but we have to try. You have to try."
As he surveys the future and his ninth-floor vista, Campbell remains proud of his earlier work in show biz. "Many of my shows were memorable," he says. "A concert should be memorable. I'm the luckiest human in the world, because I got to sit in Duane Allman's room and hear him and Berry jam for six or seven hours. This isn't about money. It's enough to be around the greatest artists in the world."
That, of course, is not enough. Campbell must turn profits as he re-enters the promotion wars. He has the tools A telephones and contacts being the primary resources of his trade A and the reputation. He doesn't have the overbearing sense of self-importance common among those he must work with. "Some of these people come in here," he says, meaning agents and managers and label people, "and they act like royalty. They need a phone, and a fax is coming.... Pretentious ego people acting like they're big time. If you're really big time, you don't have to act like it."
If you're Leas Campbell, you can just be yourself. You can wear jeans and a T-shirt to work. "This office is a prop," he admits. "But it's close to home and it works. The marble and glass and suits A if you take this seriously, you flip out. Sometimes you have to look at yourself and laugh. I did some brave and innovative things. A lot of it was hilarious." He smiles broadly and pokes out a cigarette. It's late in the evening and he'll have to clean up the coffee cups and the overflowing ashtray himself. He wants to keep the place nice.
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