This week In the Hot Seat with Larry LeBlanc: John Jeter, author/co-owner of The Handlebar.
John Jeter can not only talk the talk, he can write about it.
The irascible Jeter oversees bookings for The Handlebar, a 520-capacity concert facility that he, his wife, Kathy Laughlin, and his brother Stephen launched in Greenville, South Carolina in 1994.
His experiences as a club owner are joyfully told in the splashy, starry memoir “Rockin’ A Hard Place” being issued Nov. 1, 2012 by Hub City Press. It will be available on Amazon.com, as well as an e-book on Kindle and Nook.
When The Handlebar was evicted from its original funky location at the treasured Mills Mill, it re-opened in a former Oldsmobile dealership on East Stone Avenue in 2001.
The Handlebar re-opened with a separate, expanded bar and restaurant, along with a larger concert hall, and more refined atmosphere.
It was a dicey $1 million investment amidst a neighborhood where gas stations and empty lots outnumbered established retail businesses and where unfriendly neighbors declined to roll out the welcome mat.
Over the years The Handlebar has presented over 2,500 shows including performances by John Mayer, Joan Baez, John Hiatt, Janis Ian, David Sanborn, Dr. John, Bela Fleck, and the Zac Brown Band.
Jeter worked for over a decade for such American newspapers as the Chicago Sun-Times, the St. Petersburg Times and the San Antonio Express-News. He had earlier also earned a master's degree from Columbia University's Graduate School of Journalism in New York.
In 2009, after six attempts, Jeter sold his first novel “The Plunder Room” to Thomas Dunne Books (St. Martin's Press) without a literary agent.
He still doesn't have one. He doesn’t need one.
“Rockin’ A Hard Place” is your eighth book.
Yeah, but the other ones (all but one unpublished) sucked.
Your 2009 novel “The Plunder Room” did well.
And I’m really proud of that. The thing is that this one I like it better. It’s also the hardest thing that I have ever done. I don’t know if I am ever going to write again. It was just that hard. It was brutal (completing).
When did you begin writing “Rockin’ A Hard Place?”
That’s a really funny story. Hub City Press is an amazing little publishing house just up the road in Spartanburg. The editor Betsy Teter came to me a year ago October and said, “I want this book.” Her and her husband would come in for shows, and she had overheard me saying that I wanted to do a Handlebar book. So she said that she wanted the book. “I’m going to have you submit a chapter at a time.” “Yeah, okay. I will do that.”
So every now and then, I am submitting a chapter. It’s really hard, and it’s getting to be a little tedious. And it’s not that much fun because I am sort of opening my veins and I have to do a lot of research. Meanwhile—and Betsy doesn’t know this—I am collaborating on a thriller with Glen Craney, a friend of mine out in California. We are just having fun with this thriller. It’s an international political thriller that we haven’t been able to sell. So I am kinda dicking around with that, just really trying to put this thing off.
Finally, it occurs to me that the deadline for this (book) is January 1st of this year (2012). I have six weeks to finish this dumb ass thing. So Kathy goes to St. Louis for Christmas and leaves me here. I sit around in my boxer shorts, and T-shirt and I’m working 12 hours a day on this thing.
When you began going through your memories for the book, did you have any moments of self-discovery? Often, at the time, you aren’t aware of some things.
Man, that’s an amazing question. I think honestly Larry that the reason I wrote the book was to force myself to ask the question of why I did it (opened a club) and to drill down to what did it mean to me to create a (deeper) relationship with my brother, Stephen (who gave John a kidney in 1984). My brother and I have always been close, almost like twins. So my initial thinking about going into business with him was sort of my way of saying, “Y’know, you saved my life, and now I want to create a dream with you. I want to take a dream, our dream, and make it a reality for you and for us.”
Well, okay, so it really didn’t work out that way, because of the vagaries of the music business and lots of personal issues, some of which are in the book. Really, the way it has turned out that my wife, Kathy, runs the place, day-in-day-out and everything else, and I’m just the talent buyer.
What does Kathy think of the book?
She hasn’t read it.
She didn’t read any of the chapters?
No. She’s one of the best editors I have ever met, ever. When St. Martin's Press bought “The Plunder Room” Kathy said, “The manuscript is not leaving the house until I read it.” “Well, they have already bought it.” “I don’t care, I’m going to fix it because there’s a lot wrong with it. I know that there is.” I said, “Okay, not a problem.” But this time around, she said, “I just don’t have time.” She also said, “It (the book) makes me a little nervous. What if you made shit up?” I said, “I didn’t make up anything?” She said, “But you have this habit of embellishing and being hyperbolic, and a little emotional, and a little melodramatic."
And you said?
“Well, you can’t let the facts get in the way of a good story.”
My wife hates it when I describe people in a story with a coarse or profane noun.
My editor said the same thing. “You can’t use that word.” We actually ran the book by two lawyers. The second lawyer said, “Nah, nah, no. You can’t call that guy that. You can’t go into moral turpitude.” I’m like, “C’mon, where’s the fun in that?”
The section in “Rockin’ A Hard Place” on booking agents alone…
Don’t get me started. How could it not be an antagonistic relationship? How could it not be? I have the brick-and-mortar (club); they want my money. Period.
In any other business, you’d be in a service relationship with them. But you aren’t.
You were once told to get out of the entertainment business by an agent you were negotiating with.
That just tore me up.
In no other business would that happen.
No. It’s like I said in one little passage (of the book) that it’s like going into a store and you don’t see something that you want to buy, and the clerk at the store says, “You’re a douche bag.” Like whoa, “I don’t want to shop here.” And being told, “You don’t have enough money to shop here.”
I spend a half a million dollars a year on artists, right? So I get “The Plunder Room” published and I go to this huge (weekend-long) Southern Festival of Books in Nashville. Not one artist or agent showed up. Not one.
You also asked several managers and agents for an artist quote for the jacket of “Rockin’ A Hard Place.” Other than Dar Williams, nobody stepped forward.
No. At the same time, they (agents and managers) will all say that this whole business is all about relationships. It’s all about favors.
“The Plunder Room” was also literary fiction. That’s so far outside of everybody’s wheelhouse. People were like, “Yeah, forget about it.” This agent I had done business with for 15 years was crowing about how great the book was. He loved it. He said, “Yeah, I went to the library, and got it.” I was like, “You went to the library? I spent how many thousands of dollars on your acts, and you went to the freaking library?”
[“The Plunder Room” chronicles the lives of four generations of a quirky family.]
At the same time, agents can be helpful to talent buyers.
Oh God, yes. I find it interesting that it doesn’t have to do with the agency. It has to do with the agent.
In your opinion who are some of the good guys?
Scott Clayton (at Creative Artists Agency). I love the guy. And Brad Madison at Mongrel Music. Brad’s parents live in Charlotte so he sort of feels like a homeboy. That’s the other thing that gets me too. Okay, we are a tertiary market. These guys (agents) are in San Francisco, L.A., Nashville, New York, Chicago and what not. They don’t have a clue (about us). They don’t have any idea what our venue looks like. We have had three or four of them come through in the last 12 years since we’ve been here. They see the room, and they go, “Wow. This is really cool.”
We have had bands come here and say, “This is bullshit.” We ask, “What do you mean?” “We have never played this room before.” “Well, you are going to have to ask your agent and your manager because we have tried for 12 years, and we just can’t get a hold of them.”
A college intern Charlie Jennings taught you about spreadsheets and dealing with major talent agents.
I love Charlie. Back in The Mill days, I was doing really dopey stuff. My offers were like, “We will pay you $500 plus 70% after $750 with a $10 ticket.” (Agents) were going, “Sure, we will take that.” Now, it’s a totally different ball game. These guys are coming in and they are saying “minimum bid”—“bid” what’s that about?—minimum offer is five grand. Not here. Not now. Not anymore.
Both clubs have had a separate bar or pub area.
We wanted the same vibe that we had at the Mill here. The Mill had two separate rooms. We had our café bar or pub in one room; and then the listening room in the other. We had to have that separation. Our revenues more than doubled (in the new location) and, of course, our expenses tripled because it’s a bigger place. That's another thing that is funny. The pie doubles, and the agents say, “Well, the (artist’s) pie now doubles.” I’ve had guys tell me that they want 105% (of the door). I have had guys say, “Your offer has to come in a lot bigger than this because I know your bar is going to crush it.” I’m like, “Keep your hands out of my bar. How am I supposed to make money?”
While there are concert facilities available at Furman University, and Bob Jones University, and Charter Amphitheatre nearby, what other venues for music are available locally?
There’s the Peace Center for the Performing Arts and the Bi-Lo Center. The Bi-Lo Center is a mile and a half from here.
Greenville is not a major play market.
Oh, God no. Hell, Springsteen couldn’t sell out here. It’s two sides of the same coin for me here, really. One is that I really see myself as kind of an artist/educator. I really like the challenge of being able to educate people. For instance, it always amuses me (about people discovering acts). The other night I went to see Jackson Browne at the Peace Center. If it wasn’t sold out, it sure looked like it was. And opening for him was Sara Watkins. People were saying, “Wow. She’s really good.” And I’m like, “Yeah.” We’ve had Nickel Creek here a bunch of times, and we’ve had (singer/fiddler) Sara Watkins here a couple of times at least.
You have kept ticket prices low at The Handlebar.
We try to. One of our partners said, “How come you don’t get what The Birchmere (in Old Town Alexandria, Virginia) does? They are getting $45, $50, $60, $70 for a ticket?” “That’s because they have three million well-heeled lawyers; I’ve got 60,000 freaking car mechanics. C’mon. It’s a totally different market.”
Metropolitan Greenville has nearly 700,000 people.
There’s that but I spent a couple of days putting together U.S. Census Bureau reports that basically show comparative differences in income and disposable income in this market as compared to other markets. There’s no money here.
Also people know what they like, and what they don’t like.
Yes they do and in a market this size it’s kind of hard to reach out to people and say, “Listen, if you like so and so, then you will really like this act.” Some guy was giving us a hard time recently saying, “Where are the big names?” Well look, we’ve got John Hiatt coming back in September. You can spend your $30-35 but what about so and so? It’s sort of similar, and they may blow up to be pretty big one day. And the ticket is $8. It’s, “No. We don’t care.”
Name artists that you personally like.
There are just so many of them. Really. So many of them that I can’t keep track. What’s really sad is that you do shows with the ones that you really love, and you get your ass kicked and all of a sudden you just aren’t into it anymore.
You must have favorites?
Shinedown. Those guys are just awesome. A couple of years ago, those guys called us up and said that “We’ve got a date. We want to come back to your room. We know we are too big for your room.” I asked, “When is it? The answer was that it was in seven days. “We want a lot of money but you can do it.” We sold the show out in three days. That was the only time that has happened where it (the act) was way too huge for us already. But it was, “We are going to dance with the one that brung us” type of thing. I’m a huge John Hiatt fan. The fact that he’s coming back here (Sept. 20, 2012), that is just so cool. I tell people that the four greatest rock shows are Springsteen, Hiatt, Fred Eaglesmith, and Dave Alvin. Dave Alvin’s a stud.
What do you like about Fred Eaglesmith?
Everything. I really like his wit. He’s funny. His music is great. I like the way he writes. And he’s a nice guy. One of my favorites too is Josh Ritter. I think that kid is a freaking genius. I love Will Hoge. For the longest time, Will wanted to be Springsteen but then he sort of grew into himself. It was like, “Wow.” In 2008, Will was coming home from the studio in Nashville at 2 A.M. He was on a moped (scooter), and a van plowed into him and nearly killed him. He came out of that. Last year, he released an album called “Number 7.” It’s a really great record.
The Zac Brown Band played The Handlebar so many times that it seemed like they were almost the house band.
Yeah, it felt like it. It is just amazing for me to watch these guys. You are sitting there one day giving (Sugarland’s) Jennifer Nettles a hug and everybody (in the club) going completely crazy, and the next day you are seeing her on the Grammy Awards or with Jon Bon Jovi. It’s just incredible. Some artists skyrocket, and some of them don’t. Some I wish I had gotten (to book), and with some it’s never going to happen.
Thirty years ago, music fans were aware of most artists. Today, it’s hard to keep track of them all.
A big part of our problem is that we have been pigeon-holed as folk. I just sent an email to CAA because we have a new territorial guy there. I said, “Look, we really want to focus the next several months on metal, hardcore, stoner, and some really hard rock. That’s what I want to see because some of the shows have been huge."
Are fans of certain music genres more loyal?
Oh my God, metal. The harder—but not too hard—like melodic metal will do well. Let’s say Shinedown, for instance. They are radio friendly hard/alternative rock. Screamo hardcore punk can get a little bit dicey in terms of booking. We have a station here WTPT, The Planet (licensed to Forest City, North Carolina). If they play it, we are good.
What was your first job?
My first job was in 1981 working for Rupert Murdoch (News Corporation) at the San Antonio Express-News, the afternoon paper which was really “screamer” (a racy tabloid-style newspaper). So I’m overnight on the copy desk, right? I am sitting next to this guy name Peter. He had a handlebar mustache, and rode his bike to work. This guy was hysterical. I’m watching him. I’m 21-years-old, and he’s typing a story about oil or something like that. He’s writing, “Analyst said; analyst said; analyst said.” I asked, “Peter, who are these analysts?” He said, “Beats the hell out of me.” I was like, “Okay. I love this. Let’s keep doing this.”
You worked there also as a features reporter.
I worked in features but toward the end it got a little ridiculous because they had me covering the beauty pageant beat. It was all Page Three girls.
Afterwards, you were at the Chicago Sun-Times.
I was a rewrite guy and a reporter and an assistant city editor.
On the rim?
Yeah, I was on the rim (copy desk) of the city desk. I loved Chicago but the problem was that I had really serious hip problems. I was 26-years-old and one of the youngest people ever as assistant city editor at the Sun-Times. I was in heaven. That was back when newspapers were thriving, and newspapering was a sport. I had just graduated from Columbia J School (Columbia University School of Journalism) in New York.
Why did you leave Chicago to go to St. Petersburg, Florida?
I was in so much pain because of my hips. I had to take these drugs for my kidney transplant. Three years after the transplant, I had to take these drugs, and there’s an unfortunate side effect in that they eat your hip bones. When you are 26-years-old—especially in the ‘80s—no doctor would touch you. They said, “If we put a prosthetic hip in you, you are going to wear it out in a couple of years.” One doctor told me, “If I give you a hip replacement you will wear it out in a few years, and you will be crippled for the rest of your life.”
That’s what he told me. I was like, “Holy shit. So I guess not.”
So (Florida) was kind of let's do the geographic cure thing. Maybe, if I move I will leave my hip pain here. That didn’t work out so well. But what did work is that I am in Florida, and guess what’s in Florida? A whole bunch of old people. And what are they doing with old people there? Replacing their hips. In Orlando, I found a guy who said, “We have this new technology. We replace hips every day. They are mostly old people, but we will do you.” It turned out that I could only have one hip replaced.
You were a copy editor at the St. Petersburg Times.
I was. I started as a police reporter, and that was just hell. I was in the Tampa bureau, and I was running around. It was insane. I was still in a lot of pain (from hip problems) and that was miserable. They had the biggest race riots ever when I was there. They had some guy who slaughtered his whole family when I was there. I was only there a couple of years. I just couldn’t take it anymore.
Is that where you met Kathy?
Exactly. Ralph Ingersoll had opened the first daily (newspaper) in years in St. Louis which is her hometown. It was the old St. Louis Sun, the tabloid. Well, it lasted nine months. She was really a star there. When the paper folded, they went out of their way to find jobs for those people. Kathy had interviews all over the country. Just everywhere. She wound up at the St. Pete Times.
[Estimated to have lost nearly $30 million, the Sun’s collapse was followed by the destruction of the newspaper kingdom that Ralph Ingersoll II had built on a foundation laid by his legendary father, editor of FORTUNE, and former publisher of both Time and Life. Ingersoll was allowed to keep newspapers he had acquired in Ireland and England during his buying spree financed with $500 million in junk bonds marketed by his close friend, Michael Milken, but had to surrender all his newspaper properties in the U.S.]
It’s funny but our first date was really ridiculous. I took her to my favorite barbeque joint—where we wound up having the rehearsal dinner (for our wedding) and then I took her to see “Henry and June” which was like soft porn. Then I think I was like, “I gotta go because I have to go get shit-faced with a friend of mine” or something. I was wildly off the chain in those days.
[“Henry & June” (1990), directed by Philip Kaufman, is loosely based on the book of the same name by the French author Anaïs Nin, and tells the story of Nin's relationship with Henry Miller and his wife, June. “Henry & June” was the first film to receive the Motion Picture Association of America’s rating of NC-17 which had been devised as a replacement for the X rating.]
So love at first sight?
More or less. It was weird because I then moved in with her. I quit the Times. “I can’t put up with this. I should be doing all kinds of things but I have just been relegated to the copy desk and I have just had enough of this.” I didn’t dress the part. I didn’t look the part. I didn’t play the part. I didn’t do any of that stuff. I was an alcoholic journalist. “Let’s go party.”
Like most newspapers was there a star system at the St. Petersburg Times back then?
Oh yeah. Unless you were one of these really well-dress white guys from Indiana, you weren’t going to go anywhere. Shoot, I was a sporting alcoholic with city desk experience from the (Chicago) Sun-Times. And they were like, “Hey listen. The only thing that you are capable of doing here is reading 2,000 inches of obituaries, and school lunch menus.” The hell with that.
How did you convince Kathy to marry you, quit her job, and move to Greenville to operate a club?
That’s still a mystery to me. I was totally out of my mind. I think about it, and it’s still, “What the hell? What the hell?”
You both quit your jobs, got married, and took off on a six week honeymoon.
Yeah, and we had our biggest fight ever in Kamloops (British Columbia). We had a hell of a knock-down, drag out fight. Not literally. Our six week honeymoon took us from St. Petes along the Gulf Coast, down through Texas down into Baja, California up Highway One through the north-west into British Columbia, and back down through Montana. We did Banff, and Lake Louise and all that. Unbelievable.
You knew you were coming back to run a club in Greenville with your brother Stephen?
Yeah. I had gone to see The Mill before we had left. Then we left. Within days, my brother is calling every rest stop, pay phone, anything that he can find, “You have to get back. You have got to get back.” Kathy is saying, “Well, we have this itinerary. We have this trip. We aren’t going back.” We finally did abbreviate our trip by a week.
In the book, you describe seeing folksinger Tish Hinojosa perform in a small club in Santa Fe, New Mexico, while on your honeymoon.
That was hysterical.
You talked to her tour manager.
Or whoever he was. He was at the merch booth, which was a coat check room.
At the time, however, you didn’t know about agents or managers.
“Don’t I get to meet the star? There are only six people in the building, c’mon.” I didn’t meet Tish until later when she is standing in our venue, and in our kitchen. She was with William Morris at the time. Oh la-di-da. I thought, “This snottiness is kind of cool.”
Your first artist at The Handlebar at the Mill was Livingston Taylor.
Well, that was because my brother and I had gone to see Liv at McDibbs (in Black Mountain in North Carolina). We just loved McDibbs. We just thought, “This is so cool.” A little brick box. That’s really what we wanted. We came to find out that—regardless of what you do—it’s still the music business. You can have a brick box or you can have this or that other thing. It’s still a bitch (to operate)
At The Mill, The Handlebar was very much a boutique club.
Yes, it was a boutique club. It was the funkiest coolest space. You walked down this long dark hallway that was so creepy. The first people who came into The Mill to buy tickets for Livingston Taylor we looked at them like, “Are you out of your minds?”
We squeezed in as close to 300 chairs as we could get, and the thing could only physically hold 220. Physically. So there were chairs on top of chairs. People were eating their knees.
The venue was shaped like an E?
Yeah, it was shaped like an E. The front entrance, which was in the rear of the building, was in the very middle of that E. So you walked in, and the lobby area was really cheesy and weird. You walked through the lobby and turned left down this long hallway about half the length of a football field. You don’t know where you are going. All of a sudden, you are surrounded by all of these sparkly, twinkly lights and really cool chairs and all of these beautiful old rafters. Really cool. And then you walked into another room down a ramp, and you walked into this listening room and you’d think, “that is just so cool.”
Did the city hassle you in the early days or did anyone care you were there?
The only people who cared was the South Carolina Department of Revenue. A guy wandered in with knuckles dragging the ground and said, “We read about you in the paper. We charge you 5% tax on every ticket you sell.”
The first thing that I learned, the first thing that I learned, when I opened up this business is you open your doors and freaking everybody has their hands out. Everybody. Your vendors. Your bank. Your parents. It’s not just the music business either; it’s any small business. When Obama talks about that you didn’t build this (business) on your own; no you sure didn’t. You either asked somebody for help or someone came after your ass for money. Anybody who thinks otherwise has never done this before.
You had the legendary Chicago blues singer Junior Wells at the club 16 months before he passed away in 1998. He continued performing until he was diagnosed with cancer in the summer of 1997.
That show was amazing. There were 150 people in the room, maybe. The same with Nils Lofgren. Those were like the highlights for me. I’m looking around and there’s probably 150 people in The Mill in this cool-ass room. And there’s nobody there. C’mon.
A few years later, the legendary singer/songwriter Mickey Newbury played two shows before he passed away in 2002 following a prolonged battle with pulmonary fibrosis.
He’s on his way to dying. He’s telling how he’s in so much pain. He sits down, picks up this guitar, and he starts singing. I’m like, “Gawd dang.” It is almost like the angels took over and took his voice into the clouds. Then he starts to whistle.
Are those the type of shows where you lose money and think, “Heck, I’ll make it back another night? The hell with it.” Is that what you learn over time?
The real tragedy is that I still do that. But my wife has said, “Enough. We are not doing that anymore.” I’m a slow learner. We have retooled the entire booking procedure. Instead of turning around an offer in the space of an hour, if someone gets an offer in the space of a week it’s a miracle. We are looking (at artists) with a fine tooth comb. I really wish that there was some sort of organization or union or something for promoters where we are all talking to each other. Where we are all sharing spreadsheets. Pollstar and CelebrityAccess are nice but we need to get real time stuff instantly.
In 2001, the club moved from the Mill Centre location to East Stone Avenue in the North End of Greenville.
Well, we got kicked out.
The building you took over had been an Oldsmobile dealership?
Yeah, an old car dealership. It’s very cool and it’s a big space. It has the barrel ceiling with the steel trusses. Our capacity is based on parking which really sucks. We hold 520 (people) because our capacity is based on parking, which is a city zoning thing. We could get 600 or 800 people in here, but we can’t.
Why didn’t you go to the West End?
Oh because the rents were just out of control. We had no money. The partners we got into bed with told us from the front end, “We’re not going to outfit a building that doesn’t belong to us.” They had to own the building.
When Kathy and I first moved to town, the West End was a place you didn’t go. It was Crack Town. It was broken sidewalks, and broken windows. You just didn’t go. Pendleton Street was “oooooh.” It didn’t take but a couple of months for people to start sniffing around. All of a sudden, the rental rates tripled.
[The Handlebar has been credited for giving the North End of Greenville a shot in the arm. The businesses that followed—boutiques, music stores, restaurants and art galleries—replaced crumbled buildings, and sidewalks. Recently, with some prodding from North End merchants, the municipality has drawn up a Stone Ave. master plan for road diets, pocket parks, and mixed-use projects on vacant land. As well, a $200,000 streetscape project has been green-lighted.]
When you moved the club to the North End, it was quite a seedy neighborhood. Do you now feel vindicated by the recent redevelopment of the neighborhood by the city.
This will tell you a lot about my character. Do I feel vindicated? Sure. Twelve years after I got here? Hello. C’mon guys.
Your fights with a neighbor over sound emanating from the club were fierce.
That wasn’t funny. The guy managed to change the city’s whole noise ordinance. The entire city.
Were city officials sympathetic with you after repeated calls from this one neighbor?
No. They have never been (sympathetic). Not one city council member has ever stepped foot in here. It’s a real conservative town. Kathy would save my ass. While I’m mouthing off to the cops, she’d be saying to me, “Dude, you just have to be such a jackass. You are your worst enemy. Go inside, I’ve got this.”
Where are you from originally?
Dad was in the military. He graduated class of ’55 from West Point. We lived everywhere. My first rock concert was Alice Cooper at a velodrome in Germany. By the grace of God, I was born in (Columbus) Georgia at Fort Benning. Dad was at Ranger School. He has said he showed up at bedside with Ranger paint all over his face as soon as I was born.
Did the constant moving contribute to your character? Give you a natural ability to deal with new people?
Oh God yes. Absolutely.
Such a mobile life tends to give people an insecurity but also a superiority complex.
Oh, I’m an elitist arrogant snob. No question. But at the same time, I can find almost anything to talk about, or have something in common with just about anybody. I have either been there, done that or I’ve heard about it from somebody who has.
Has it helped you with your dealings with managers and agents?
No. Artists, yeah. It’s really funny. Earlier, I talked about being an educator and trying to educate the market here, but I do see myself as an artist. I have this book coming out, and the novel came out. So I have been on that side too. It sucks when you get rejected. It sucks. But we are getting 3,000 queries (for bookings) a year. I know what it’s like to get rejected. The guy who calls me up, and says, “I want to play your room.” And I say “No” and he says, “Well, you’re an asshole.” I get it. I get that.
You have traveled widely, from Europe, Hong Kong, China, Vietnam, and southern Africa throughout the Caribbean, Central America, and to Cuba, and more. Was this early in your life?
No. All of the time. I really miss that. My first dream was to be in the State Department and then I looked at the State Department Test and I thought, “I’m just not that smart. That’s not going to happen.” After realizing that I wasn’t going into the State Department, my real dream was to be a foreign correspondent. I wanted that more than anything. Of course, with my hips and everything else, it’s not going to happen pal. You just aren't built for those jobs. Not a regret because there’s nothing you can do about it.
You were the first son of a U.S. Army helicopter pilot to retrace his father’s footsteps in Vietnam in 1988.
The twentieth anniversary of Tet (Tet Offensive) in 1988. We flew into Bangkok (Thailand) because it was then illegal (for Americans) to travel (to Vietnam) them. You had to fly to Bangkok to see if you could get a visa. Well if you pay enough money you are going to get a visa. We did. And then we flew from Bangkok to Hanoi. Gosh, what a beautiful town. I still picture all of the gold everywhere. The villas that are painted gold. The dusk, and the golden buildings. We had no idea (what to expect). We got off the bus (from the airport) and it was like, “Where the hell are we?” I was really there as a reporter. I had taken a vacation to go. I was at the Sun-Times but I was on my way out the door. We flew from Hanoi to Da Nang and then drove with a guide down Highway 1 (National Highway 1) all the way down to Saigon (since renamed Ho Chi Minh City). We stopped everywhere. We stopped in Hue, which was gorgeous. We stopped in Dalat in the Central Highlands, which was unbelievable. I would live there. And then Saigon which was a trip. We wandered into the Rex Hotel and I took pictures of it and Dad just went nuts. He said, “Do you see that rooftop balcony? We used to grill steaks up there.” He never talked about being there.
In 1988, it was rare for Americans to be in Vietnam.
Oh yeah. They (Vietnamese) pointed at us and said, “America number one.” See the Russians were still there. The Cold War. The Vietnamese hated them. We came in and it was, “Americans, what are you doing here? You are aliens. You are strange.” This was really cool. But it was intense. We were in Hue. It’s deathly quiet and we were in the Citadel. It’s misty and it’s beautiful and it’s quiet. All of a sudden we hear bam, bam, bam. We ducked. It was like the ghost of the Marines. One of the guides then told us that it was a wedding celebration. It was the creepiest weirdest thing.
Larry LeBlanc is widely recognized as one of the leading music industry journalists in the world. Before joining CelebrityAccess in 2008 as senior editor, he was the Canadian bureau chief of Billboard from 1991-2007 and Canadian editor of Record World from 1970-89. He was also a co-founder of the late Canadian music trade, The Record. He has been quoted on music industry issues in hundreds of publications including Time, Forbes, and the London Times. He is co-author of the book “Music From Far And Wide.”
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