Richard Nader is one of the most famous promoters in the United States. He pioneered the Rock And Roll Revival, working for 4 years to put his first show together. He is recognized as the man responsible for the recurring revival of the 1950s and early 1960s Rock 'n' Roll and the continuing popularity of Doo Wop and A capella. This is Richard Nader's story.
Q - Mr. Nader, you base yourself out of Clearwater, Florida. Shouldn't you be in New York or Los Angeles, or doesn't it matter any more?
A - Actually, I lived in the New York City area from 1966 through 2000. So, I'm really a New Yorker at heart. But, Clearwater because I married and moved to Clearwater to be with a very special person in my life, my wife Debbie. Also, it's warmer and it takes it easier on my body, which is getting old and frail.
Q - What were you doing before 1969, when you produced the first Rock And Roll Revival Spectacular?
A - In the years between 1966 and 1969, I was a talent agent for Premier Talent Association in New York City. This was the up and coming, actually the premier agency for primarily the British artists, the '60s British Invasion. We represented people like Herman's Hermits, The Beau Brummels, The Crazy World Of Arthur Brown, those kinds of artists. We specialized in the Top 40 acts of the day. I learned the national picture on how artists were built and what markets influence other markets as far as radio play is concerned at Premier Talent.
Q - Frank Barsalona started that business.
A - I was actually trained by Frank. I was in his office and the way his training program worked was, he had an extension on his phone that was an ear piece only. I monitored all of his phone calls to all of the promoters and all of the artists to learn how to size up potential buyers and promoters.
Q - So you worked for Mr. Barsalona and Premier Talent for 3 years.
A - I did.
Q - But when you left, you didn't leave to join another agency, you left to become a promoter.
A - That's right. As a matter of fact, when I told Frank I was leaving, he was surprised that I wasn't going to William Morris or one of the other agencies. I left to follow my dream of presenting the Rock And Roll Re-visited idea. That's what I called it. I was going to re-visit original Rock 'n' Roll. I had the tour name or the show name of Rock 'n' Roll Re-visited as a dream idea. I told Frank I was leaving to form a company that would produce and present the Rock 'n' Roll acts from the pioneer days of Rock 'n' Roll.
Q - What did you like about early rockers?
A - I don't know. I'll tell you, I was shaken as most others were by the movie Blackboard Jungle and the theme song being "Rock Around The Clock". When I saw that movie in a movie theatre in Masontown, Pennsylvania, I knew that something important was going on. It so impacted me that I actually saw the movie over and over, probably seven times in two days. That inspired me to become a disc jockey in my local high school. So I started spinning recordings and playing disc jockey at my high school gym. Spinning 78 RPM records and being the host. From that point on, that music from that period, which was the mid to late 50s, had so much of an impression on me that it has been my theme song throughout my entire life. I came home from school one day. I didn't come, I went to my father's drugstore with the hand-dipped ice-cream, the fountains and all that and the newspaper franchise. This one afternoon when I got to the store, I had to work there after school. My father had taken out one section of the Hallmark card display and put in a record department. It was filled with 45 RPM records, the Top 20 hits. That was so amazing to me. I was so taken by that, that he made me the manager of the record department. So it was my job to buy or select the records that we filled the inventory. We replenished inventory every week. It was up to me to pick the songs and records that we were to buy from the distributor and eventually sell. And to promote this even further, we put a P.A. system mounted to a turn-table in the "record department" and played the music as we were playing it for potential customers inside the drugstore. The music could be heard on the speakers outside the store. So the storefront became a gathering spot for teenagers all around town. They used to hang out in front of the drug store and listen to the latest tunes. They were being spun or played by yours truly. Now this is when I was a Junior in high school. I parlayed that reaction by going to he local radio station in Uniontown, Pennsylvania. I negotiated a deal where I would buy an hour of time on Saturday night, every Saturday night and became a local personality. I felt very comfortable doing that. I felt like I was in the right place and I was supposed to do that. I turned that hour into a money maker by selling ten radio spots for $6 each and that would bring me a grand total of $60 a week. The cost of the hour was $30 a week. I was playing the records that belonged to my father's store and I was making a net of $30 a week. In 1957, that was very good money. Some people worked a whole week to make that kind of money in those days. There again, Rock 'n' Roll continued in my life to satisfy my entrepreneurial needs, social needs and all the other needs I had at that formative age. I parlayed that even more because it got a little boring spinning records up in a radio studio, a dark radio studio on the second floor of a bank building in Uniontown, Pennsylvania on Saturday nights in the '50s. So, I put on my best jacket and tie and went down to the local VFW Hall. I think the capacity was about 700 or 800. It was the largest assembly hall in the entire county. I walked in there with a proposal. I said "I'm with the radio station. We are looking for a place to broadcast 'live' every Saturday night and hold a dance every Saturday night and broadcast 'live'. This is the largest hall in the country." The response from them was quite frankly negative because they said "Oh, we book the Saturday nights for weddings. We're booked a year in advance. Every Saturday night is taken, and we get $100 a night for a wedding. And the Ladies Auxiliary gets to provide the food and they make $40 to $45 a night." I just politely took a piece of paper and said "I will provide the costs of doing a radio remote from your building. I will pay for the telephone line so the signal will be what it should be for a remote pick-up. I'll provide all my disc jockey turn-table equipment and P.A. equipment for the venue. We'll share the costs of advertising and security and maintenance. We'll pay all those expenses off the top. If we charge $1 per patron, you and I could both realize as much as $300 each, every Saturday night." They just sat there in complete amazement. They were never given a proposal like that before. They said "We're all booked up anyway. Come back and see us next year." Well, I wasn't about to come back next year. In about a month or so, they called me up and said...I was still doing my radio show every Saturday night, they called me and said "A wedding fell out." It was about two weeks away. A wedding was cancelled. Can I come do the broadcast record dance? I immediately said yes because I was waiting for this break. I told the station to order the phone line down to the VFW. I took an ad out in the local paper. They used to give classified ads on the front page in those days. So, I put "Big Broadcast Hop" in double line lettering at the top of the ad, "Saturday Night, 8-11 PM. VFW Post 47, Uniontown. Rich Richards, D.J." That was the name I selected. I was a Junior in high school, becoming a disc jockey. I couldn't use my family name because disc jockeys were considered the low lifes of the world. My father wouldn't let me use my family name as a disc jockey. So I became Rich Richards. I go to my first record hop, broadcast record hop, not in the studio and I look around and there's no telephone line installed. The station made a mistake and thought I was talking about some time in the future and never ordered the line. So there I was, facing about 150 - 200 kids maybe. I had my stage set up and my turn table and records. I had to fake it because I wasn't going to be on the air. So, I got all the kids around the bandstand and said "We're about ready to go on the air. I want you guys to scream and stuff like that." I introduced myself and I played my theme song. They're all screaming. I said "Our first record hop on WMBS Radio." I got into my first song and everybody got up to dance and they're all screaming and having a wonderful time because it's the closest thing they have to American Bandstand. That euphoria lasted for about two records. And in came 4 or 5 guys, teenagers, but they all seemed to be bigger than me. They came over to me while the music was playing and said "You're not on the fucking air!" I said "What are you talking about?" They said "We were listening in the car. You're not on the radio." I said "What's on?" They said "The network. CBS Radio network." Oh, must be a problem. I'd go back and look behind the curtain, pretend like I was jiggling around with some wires. "That's a shame," I said. I went to the mic and interrupted the record and said "I'm terribly sorry. We're not on the air. Technical difficulties. But we'll have some fun anyway. Stick around. We'll have an oldies hour in 20 minutes. We're playing all the way up to 11 o'clock." Half of the kids left. Just like that. I was left there with about 40 or 50 kids and played records 'til about 11 o'clock and had a good time. I felt pretty bad. I tried to con 'em, but I didn't get away with it. Anyway, it became available 3 or 4 weeks later and I went in and got the line in time, advertised it properly and started the first broadcast record hop in that part of the country. It lasted from 1958, the summer after graduating from high school, until 1964. I think I was drafted to go into the Army. So I was there in Uniontown, Pennsylvania, spinning all the records for kids to dance to every Saturday night.
Q - I'm surprised you didn't try to get your show on local TV.
A - I didn't try for a TV show. I was a radio guy.
Q - Did it take a lot of money to get into the concert promotion business?
A - Actually, it didn't. I got in without a nickel. After I quit Frank Barsalona, Premier Talent, I was broke in a matter of 2 months. I relied on my girlfriend to keep me alive for 5 or 10 months until I was able to get a backer for my Rock 'n' Roll Revisited idea. So, I had accumulated $5,000 in debt to my girlfriend for keeping me alive, paying for the laundry, food, rent and all the rest of it. All the time, I took my proposal to do this show to everybody that would listen to get backing for this first Rock 'n' Roll Revisited Show. In the Spring of '69, I went down to Madison Square Garden and I tell you I had not a nickel to my name. I put a hold on a date at the Garden. They knew me as an agent from Premier Talent. So it wasn't unusual for an agent to call down and put holds on dates at the Garden and the artists availability or routing tours. So I got a hold on the Garden without putting down a dollar, just my name and reputation.
Q - How about the artists? Didn't they demand money up front?
A - They do. I got all of them because I was an agent. While at Premier I was booking Jimmy Clanton, The Shirelles. I found one day in the company rolodex the home telephone numbers for Gary Bonds, Jimmy Clanton and Chuck Berry. Those were my heroes.
Q - How were you treated by the artists you promoted? Did they make outrageous demands?
A - Actually, some of them were so skeptical. They didn't believe there was such a thing as a Rock 'n' Roll Revival. They didn't think the public wanted to see them anymore. As a result, Gary Bonds for example, came out and didn't sing his hits. He sang current hits at that time, which were by The Temptations and The Four Tops...people like that. The Coasters' manager didn't believe I was gonna pull the show off, so he booked The Coasters elsewhere. He kept telling me "They're gonna be there." All the while he didn't believe I was gonna pull the show off. So he booked them in Long Island and as a result, when my show sold out, not one but two shows in one night at Madison Garden Felt Forum, which was a 4,500 seat theatre inside the Garden, he had to have The Coasters play my show, get in the line to do a small club in Long Island and back to do my second show and go back out to the club in Long Island. They didn't have outrageous demands. As a matter of fact, the were skeptical that this thing was going to happen. The one demand that I thought was unusual was Bill Haley And His Comets. Bill was living in Mexico at the time. I spent 8 hours, not all at one time, over a period of months trying to convince him to come up and do the show in New York called The Rock And Roll Revival. He hemmed and hawed. So I begged him, did whatever I had to do to get him. I said I wouldn't do the show unless he was on the show because to me, he was the first Rock 'n' Roll star I knew. He finally agreed to come up and do the show from Mexico only if I would guarantee him three dates for the week instead of one date at The Garden. So I agree to pay him for three dates and I used him for only one. I made up two other fictious bookings that didn't exist. One was for a club in Pennsylvania and the other was for...I don't remember where. I paid him the three night price to get him to come up to New York for the one date. That was his first performance in the United States since 1958, and that show was 1969. And so it was well worth it.
Q - Are you the guy who put on the show at Madison Square Garden that had Rick Nelson on the bill when the audience booed Rick?
A - Yeah. Rick became famous and popular because he was a good looking kid. His idol was Fats Domino. He used to tag songs on the syndicated television show Ozzie And Harriet. At the end of the show they would do a credit roll over Ricky singing "I'm Walkin'" and a whole bunch of other Fats Domino songs. That made him an instant hit. But he was always filming his television show. He never had an opportunity to go out on those cross-country Rock 'n' Roll tours. He would play an occasional fair, State Fair by himself. So it was a very uncomfortable setting for Rick to come to New York. It was his first time ever playing in New York. Secondly, he had never performed with other Rock 'n' Roll acts on a show. Thirdly, he was very nervous because he had just gone through this major divorce with his wife and pretty much lost everything he had. He was uncomfortable because to him, music had changed from Rock-a-billy and Rock 'n' Roll to Psychedelic and Underground music. Rick arrived at the show with long hair, which was fashionable at the time and a western shirt. It had to a $1,500 to $2,000 shirt. I mean this was a gorgeous shirt. He looked great. He came in and he was just a special guest star on the show. I paid him less that I paid Chuck Berry. Berry was headlining the show. So Rick was received by a polite round of applause. Everybody's anticipating this west coast white guy in a New York Rhythm 'n' Blues, Oldies, Doo Wop show and what's he gonna do? When he sang his hits, everybody loved him. I tell you, there were standing ovations, one after another. Towards the end of the set, he put his guitar down. To show his versatility he went over to the piano and sang "Honky Tonk Woman". Now this was 1971. "Honky Tonk Woman" I think was probably one of the top tunes of the day. So the 20,000 people that were in Madison Square Garden were not there to hear contemporary music. They were there to escape it, the Vietnam War and the '70s. They were seeking to slip back to the euphoria and comfort of oldies Rock 'n' Roll. So they loved Rick Nelson when he did his hits 'cause it brought back all the memories. But when he started to sing "Honky Tonk Woman", that disrupted the ambiance of the evening. The euphoric sort of cloud that was in the Garden became disrupted because here was a current song that jarred people from the '50s to the '70s and back to reality. The booed him because of that. To him, this New York crowd, they didn't go there to see Rick Nelson do contemporary material. So Rick didn't understand it. I really didn't get it either. It started first as a sort of a quiet boo, a ripple of booing effect and then got louder and louder to the point where Rick was just bewildered. He's in the center stage of 20,000 people, sold-out, and he's being booed. So he went back, put his guitar on and sang his signature song and left the stage. So we continued on with the show. I didn't really hear that he was really upset with the show until a year and a half later. His manager called me and said "Did you hear the song?" I said "What?" He told me about "Garden Party". It took me twelve years to get Rick Nelson to come back and do my shows.
Q - Is there anyone out there promoting the type of shows you do?
A - Currently?
Q - Yes.
A - Oh, there's a lot of oldies shows. Not many national promoters. But there are people who followed my format, I will tell you and cranked out oldies shows virtually across the country.
Q - There was a time in the late '80s when groups such as The Eagles promoted their own concerts in select market places, thereby cutting out the promoter. Did that kind of even ever concern you?
A - No. I wasn't really in competition with The Eagles or any other contemporary act. Nothing worried me. What worried me is I didn't have any media. I didn't have oldies radio stations support. Oldies radio didn't happen 'til the mid '80s on a good scale. When it did hit, it hit very big, where Oldies format became one of the top three formats, money-making formats in the Top 60 markets in the country. The oldies station was grossing more money that most other stations in the format market. So I didn't have oldies stations to promote Jackie Wilson. There was no airplay out there. That was my biggest problem.