Cooper’s show had been postponed from a few week earlier when the remnants of Hurricane Agnes had sent rain up and across the country and flooded out some other scheduled outdoor shows that June weekend in Ohio as well.
Now in his 80’s, promoter Pat DiCesare, from a working class Italian immigrant family that arrived in the 1920’s, in his elder years finally recounted his greatest rock n roll memories in his autobiography “Hard Days, Hard Nights, From the Beatles to the Doors to the Stones… Insider Stories from a Legendary Concert Promoter“.Pat’s memoir is where where he tells of being told in 1964 to drop off $5,000 bucks in a brown paper bag to a bartender in Brooklyn to secure the Beatles only ever show in Pittsburgh. DiCesare was a pioneer of the rock n roll industry, going from street corner Doo-Wop singer to promoting a 1962 Four Freshman show in Youngstown Ohio and eventually helping define the early days of what we now blithely call “stadium rock”. In the 50’s, Pat was a singer himself, wrote a couple tunes for the Del Vikings, worked at Coral Records label, and and by 1958, DiCesare had formed Bobby Records, named after Bobby Vinton, his label’s first recording artist.
Circa 1963, Pat was a college student helping out at a jukebox and LP distribution one-stop outlet in Pittsburgh called Regal Records (affiliated with Nick Cenci’s Fenway Recordings) and noticed the Beatles were a hot act. DiCesare saw stores clamoring to get their discs before the competition and sensed opportunity if the band were to tour. “Back then if an artist sold a million records countrywide, we could sell about 50,000 of that release in the Pittsburgh trading area. If they followed up with an LP, we could sell about 5000 of the 12″ vinyl in Pittsburgh. The Beatles had three hit singles out at the same time, which was unprecedented. There was also a fourth song that was only available on an LP that Capitol Records had released. That meant that if a Beatles’ fan wanted that particular song, they had to buy the entire LP. I had never seen this before, but the LP was selling like a hot single.” So Pat DiCesare knew the Beatles were a sure thing, the only problem was convincing some business partners who could pony up the cash to secure the band’s Pittsburgh debut. They got a tip through someone who worked at William Morris agency that if a $5k cash deposit was left with a certain bartender in Brooklyn at Club Elegant, they would be given first dibs on the show.
With DiCesare basically broke & despondent that no one in the music biz he knew was willing to put up a $5,000 deposit to secure the Beatles concert, he turned to his father who had a lowly shipping department gig at Westinghouse. Seeing his son’s desperation, Pat’s dad, with 9 kids, put a lien on their family house to secure a $5000 loan and sent his son off with only a mysterious bartender in Brooklyn as a lead. Eventually, a few phone calls were made and Pat just wired the funds via Western Union, and got a date held. Then the agents in NYC said the $5000 was just a deposit, and they’d need to guarantee the band $35,000 total, about 10x what a normal teen dance headlining act was getting at the time. Pat and his partner figured they’d need to sell the tickets at 2x to 3x normal concert prices to make The Beatles guarantee, as the band’s agents were shrewd and put in a term that they’d take a guarantee vs 60% of the gross, whichever was higher. This was the first time a rock act demanded and received a percentage of the gate as well as a guarantee. Then there was negotiating with Pitsburgh’s Chief of Police, who said that 100 cops would be needed at the show, and he wanted $5000 in cash up front to pay each man $50 (truth was everyone swears there were way less than 100 cops and those asked said they got $20 or a free ticket or not the $50 Chief Slusser had pocketed on their behalf).
While they needed no opening acts to sell the 17,500 tickets at the then unheard of price of nearly $6 each, the September 14h, 1964 gig also had Clarence “Frogman” Henry, Jackie DeShannon, The Exciters, and the Bill Black Combo as special guests, mostly to stall for time.
“While the show is going on, unfortunately, the promoter is in the box office doing the accounting work with the arena who gets their take, the city who gets their taxes, other vendors and most importantly the artists representative” said DiCesare “We call this “settling a show.” The Beatles team took in $37,000 from the box-office receipts, DiCesare and his partner Tim Tormey, (who was initially reluctant to help put up the initial deposit) split $8,800.00. DiCesare was drafted into the Army at the time, where he had his partner send him $100 a week from his $4,400 proceeds at Fort Sill where he claims “he was the richest soldier in the Army” there.
When DiCesare got out of the Army, he began promoting full time, giving up a $300 a month “stable” career as a school teacher to join a risky business where the nightly payouts could be in the thousands. In addition to the Beatles, he presented all the early Rolling Stones concerts, and had to work backstage magic to broker peace with Mick Jagger who threatened to walk out if influential local AM radio station DJ’s Pat had invited were allowed to introduce the band.
Pat was also involved with the infamous “breaking” of the then unknown Tommy James as a hit act in Pittsburgh, and provided him up with new Shondells when it was discovered his old band no longer existed. (Tommy goes into great detail how this happened in his book: Me, The Mob and The Music One Helluva Ride with Tommy James & The Shondells)
In his book Pat recounts flying out, buying a ticket and awkwardly sitting through a Sly Stone concert in another city just to insure Sly Stone made it to the plane for the next concert that DiCesare’s life savings was riding on should Sly not show up for in Pittsburgh the next day. “If there was anything I hated it was sitting in the audience watching a concert. I never did that at any of my shows. This was business, not pleasure. To me a concert was work, not entertainment.”
During the 1960s’ and early 1970’s DiCesare promoted most of the big name concerts at the Pittsburgh Civic Arena and Three Rivers including shows with Led Zeppelin, Pink Floyd, the Who, Three Dog Night etc. However, with the music business changing in the 70’s, DiCesare who was not as fond of the changing music biz as he was with his new found real estate investments, and knowing he needed more help tapping into the youth market, as well as mitigate risk, made an offer to a younger local rock drummer who’d become a viable competitor with a campus concert promotion company called Go Attractions, later known as Command Performance Agency. That fella was Rich Engler, who played drums on The Vogues 1965 hit “5′ O’clock World”, but by 1973 had quit his band to focus on the concert business after getting chewed out by Yes’ manager for playing drums in the opening act and not focusing on the overall event production. The ambitious Engler needed access to venues Pat had a lock on, and took the offer to team up with one of his main competitors to co-found the 50/50 split DiCesare-Engler Productions. Over the next two decades Pat & Rich then promoted pretty much every major entertainment act that came to Western Pennsylvania during the last half of the 20th century from Bob Marley to Bob Seger, New Kids On The Block to Kid Rock.
In 1977, the thriving DiCesare-Engler Productions purchased an old movie palace called the Stanley Theater and would pack over 3500 people in it, making it one of the nation’s top mid size concert halls. (That venue is now a focal point of Pittsburgh cultural scene, has under gone $43 million in further renovations and is operated by a community trusts that has renamed it the Benedum Center and hosts The Symphony and touring Broadway shows for a more civilized ADA accessible 2500 ticket holders). Other venues the men used to put on shows included The Syria Mosque, Club Metropol, the AJ Palumbo Center, the I.C. Light Amphitheater, the Civic Arena with retractable roof, and in the 1990’s the Star Lake Amphitheater, The Bud Light Amphitheatre in Scranton/Wilkes-Barre and even The Aladdin Theater in Las Vegas.
Long considered one of the top grossing concert promoters in the country, with Engler now doing most of the artist relations, their company packed theaters, arenas and stadiums, and were ranked in revenues right behind Bill Graham by 1978, doing many promotions using popular local radio stations like WDVE and even TV spots like this one from 1994 to get the word out.
Up until 21st century industry consolidation creep by the corporations that would become Live Nation, DiCesare-Engler Productions was the main regional concert promoter in the Pittsburgh area. Pat & Rich’s homegrown based company facilitated shows and help break acts of nearly every conceivable genre: Rush, Queen, Pavorotti, Kiss, Kansas, Dolly Parton, Willie Nelson, Devo, The Pretenders, AC/DC, Van Halen, Ozzy, Bruce Springsteen, Steely Dan, George Duke , Bob Marley, Atlantic Starr, Judas Priest, The Tubes, Elvis Costello, The Police, Talking Heads, Prince, The Replacements, and The Clash.
Engler is proud of his many “firsts”, one such artist he first introduced to central PA was David Bowie (whom he eventually sued when he was a no show to a 1974 stadium gig in Cleveland). The band Genesis, is another fave find of Engler, who he reluctantly booked as an opener in 1972 on their first US tour. He told Ron Conroy of the Penn State Journal in 2014 “Back in 1972, I was promoting a Lou Reed show at the Alpine Ice Arena at the Forest City exit…and the agent told me that I had to take this other act from England and they were called Genesis.”
The risk was low to Engler, so he shlled out the guarantee—“either $500 or $750” and his concerns went away once the act took the stage. “So the show starts, Peter Gabriel walks onstage and he has the flower outfit with the big head and the big yellow petals,” he says. “And people—back then, this was the drug era, man—they were, like, totally freaked out and the band just went over like gangbusters.” He laughs at the memory, but at that point he knew he was onto something. “I knew this band was destined to superstardom and I jumped on their bandwagon. I couldn’t wait to call the next day and say, ‘Hey, when can I get Genesis back?’ And [the agent said], “How was Lou?” And I said, “Lou was Lou and it was great, but I want Genesis again.”– 2015 PSU journal article by Rob Conroy
That early Genesis gig formed a fortuitous relationship and Engler adds “we did multiples at Mellon Arena, had them at the Syria Mosque and I had them at the Stanley Theatre, then the big one at Three Rivers Stadium did 55,000 people.”
Rich Engler was also proud to have seized early upon the 70’s TV success of Sha Na Na’s syndicated variety show and saw the opportunity to take the retro oldies act from 3 sold out Pittsburgh Stanley Theater shows held on the the same day, onto the rest of the country via a 30 market tour that went as far south as Louisiana where the band played to 15,000 fans in Baton Rouge, not quite Woodstock but still a sweet gig for a cover band.
Both promoters having sold out for big bucks have mostly retired from the business they helped create. Pat’s DiCesare’s book, “Hard Days Hard Nights” , recountsactde experiences in the early days of rock n roll concert business via his memoir that was named the 2014 Independent Book of the Year, as well as Grand Prize Winner at the 2014 Great Midwest Book Festival. Rich Engler wrote one as well called “Behind The Stage Door” that recounts his decades spent concert promoting before he went on to work for a coal mining company.
Rich Engler, who ended up producing over 5000 shows before stepping away, used his his book called “Behind The Stage Door” to tell of his days as a hippie musician that turned into a major industry figure, yet one who kept personal relationships at the fore of his business dealings. Rich’s book contains stories galore of the heady 70’s era when fake Fleetwood Mac’s were competing with the real one, and when intoxicated difficult rock stars were the norm, not the exception. There’s red wine chugging Joe Cocker projectile vomiting on the crowd in Allentown, Clapton unable to walk but playing beautifully from muscle memory. Fans who tried to sneak in through the rafters at a 1975 Nazareth show and had to be rescued as they dangled through the ceiling, or fans whose foot stompin’ caused the floor to collapse and ladders were needed again to bring them out of the orchestra pit at a packed Pat Travers show.
Beyond sorting the brown M&M’s, the stories of outrageous demands from artists only get worse as the years go on, when Madonna’s contract insists no one amongst hundreds working at a 17,500 capacity arena ever look at her. There was irascible Chuck Berry, who took his money upfront and jumped a curb in his Cadillac to escape a stadium gig without playing. There was debauched Aerosmith trashing trailers because their opening band font size on the ZZ Top poster was too small, and Axl Rose who demanded $15,000 be set aside to recreate a “Greek orgy” in the Steelers’ locker room. A Kiss’ reunion contract rider demanded the promoter dress as a Kiss member or be fined $2,500 or that night Sebastian Bach got arrested before performing after he picked a fight with the wrong cop in Johnstown PA.
The DiCesare-Engler partners were generally making money despite the moronic mischief of both bands and fans, but as time wore on artists demanded up to 90 to 95 % of the gross, leaving the promoters to eek out a margin on the parking or concessions. Occasionally, despite winning looking bills, they were coming up short, like the time they lost almost half a million presenting Van Halen & Metallica’s “Monsters of Rock” tour in Pittsburgh.
Here’s a 1980’s era 20 minute video production feature on what a Day In the Life of concert promoter Rich Engler and his staff was like that originally aired in North & Central PA cable TV
Shot in late 1988 it aired 1/20/89
It also features interviews with Winger & Bad Company filmed by Clarion University
Here’s an interview Rich Engler, Pat DiCesare and their partner Ed Travesari did with a local Pittsburgh TV station talking about some memories they had producing shows at the the old Pittsburgh Civic Arena