Joseph O'Brien 3 p.m., June 28
Rock Operas Leaving Town, plus Playing with Michael Jackson’s Head [Guitarist], Whales Wanna Be Beatles, 4 Rockin’ Painters, Vanishing Deadheads
Insect Jesus, Dead Head Deadhead, & more
1 – Rock Operas Born in San Diego (But Moving to L.A.)
2 – Hometown Gig for Michael Jackson Guitarist
3 – Whales Wanna Be Beatles
4 – [Paint]Brushes with Fame: Four Artists Who Rock
Mike Clift (Psychotic Waltz album cover artist, Tipper Gore’s Comics & Stories)
Geo (Attack of the Killer Tomatoes cartoon, local metal concert flyers & album covers)
Ken Meyer, Jr. (painter for Magic: The Gathering, Alternative Comics)
Alton Kelley: Unpublished June 1999 interview with one of the all-time great album cover and poster artists, who sadly passed away on June 1st ----
5 - Where Have All the Deadheads Gone? Deadheads After the Head Deadhead was Dead
6 - One Night At Black's Beach
7 – Battle of the Bouncers: Local firms fight for their right to bounce
ROCK OPERAS MAY HAVE BEEN BORN IN SAN DIEGO, BUT THEY’RE MOVING TO L.A. – Bart Mendoza & JAS
A private-pressing rock opera LP from 1973, “An Eye In Each Head” by Anthony Adams (Harlequin Records), captured the music of a decidedly offbeat and counterculture stage production, launched right here in San Diego. The show earned a measure of local fame and notoriety, not only for its (perfectly legit) nudity and (witty) drug references, but for its offbeat storyline subject matter.
The show concerned a fly who eventually becomes king of the world, due to man’s evil and self destructive nature. Then the fly reveals that he’s really Jesus…
Show creator Anthony Adams – who was in a local sixties teen garage band, the Norsemen – is credited by many as having launched the first true recording of a rock opera. The Who’s Tommy is often regarded as a song cycle, Jesus Christ Superstar is most accurately classified an oratorio, and SF Sorrow was never truly staged, leaving An Eye In Each head a clear contender for the title, having been staged as well as recorded. Pictured here is the mind-blowing cover Art By Conchita Vesco.
“I saw this performed at UCSD with my parents,” says Gravedigger 5 vet Ted Friedman. “I think my cousin was in it. For real, I was real young. It was weird. I was maybe 10, if that, there may have been some nudity in it. A fly takes over the world. I remember my parents saying maybe it wasn't a good idea to take us there. I just remember it being really trippy and kind of long. I think it kind of scared us.”
Among his original plays and musicals that he’s directed in San Diego and London are the Adventures of Olig and Obster, A Song For Gar, the Living Cell, and the Great Relativity Bomb Plot. He also composed music for the national touring production of the Grapes Of Wrath, starring Ed Harris and John Carradine.
Adams’ Los Angeles-based Adams Entertainment has filmed DVDs of two musical stage productions produced at the Birch North Park Theatre; 2006’s “Primal Twang: The Legacy of Guitar” and “Love-In,” a celebration of 1967’s “Summer of Love,” scheduled for release on DVD this fall.
Both episodes are part of a proposed ten-part DVD series on the history of musical styles, featuring a mix of storytelling and performances from guest musicians including Eric Johnson, Jesse Colin Young, and San Diego’s own Rockola and Strawberry Alarm Clock (“Incense & Peppermints”).
While the filming was by all accounts a success, further productions will not be take place in San Diego. “We love the North Park Theatre,” said Adams. “It has great acoustics and is physically beautiful, but there is simply better access to musicians up north and it’s also much easier to get attention from the national press.”
The San Diego native has run his production company in Los Angeles for the past 18 years. He partially relocated to San Diego in 2005 to care for his ill father. Now all operations are moving back to Los Angeles.
While the move back to Los Angeles was inevitable, Adams also considers that the production is also a victim of its own success. “When managers and others began to see how well Primal Twang turned out, we began to get calls from all sorts of big name performers who wanted to be involved. It’s just so much easier to connect with them in a city that’s geared towards the industry already.” Upcoming episodes include Country, Jazz and The British Invasion.
The two productions so far have used numerous local musicians to back the star acts including Peter Sprague, Dennis Caplinger and Rockola. According to Rockola guitarist Mark DeCerbo, rehearsals for “Love-In” took six weeks. “It was a lot of work and we didn’t even get much screen time,” he joked. “But it was worth it to play with people like (sixties duo) Peter & Gordon.”
Adams Entertainment’s return to Los Angeles will not exclude these musicians from continuing to be involved in productions, though Adams makes no guarantees. “These guys were great and I really hope to work again with Caplinger in particular, but it’s a matter of best fit. I don’t care if you’re from San Diego or Nashville, as long as you’re right for the part.”
PLAYING WITH MICHAEL JACKSON’S HEAD[GUITARIST]
Hard rock guitar goddess Jennifer Batten will be performing next Wednesday, September 3, at Dizzy's downtown. Batten lived in San Diego between 1969 to 1984, and from there she went on to see the world, touring (or as she refers to it, “my paid vacation”) and playing onstage with Michael Jackson, Jeff Beck, and Slash. Um, not all at the same show, tho, holy fuggit, I’d buy those tix --
Batten – aka Ax Mama Guitarist - is back in San Diego as part of her 28 USA city tour promoting her solo album CD/DVD, WhatEver, coming out next week. The lady can not only play an electronica version of Rimskij-Korsokov's The Flight of the Bumble Bee, but she can also shred up strings as fast as furious as any Blackmore, Iommi, or Nugent you've ever banged your head to.
After doing three world tours with Michael Jackson, she holds the distinction of having performed for around 1.5 billion TV viewers in 80 countries, when she appeared with Jackson in a Super Bowl performance.
Her solo show at Dizzy’s on September 3 will be a one-woman performance, described as "a multimedia-to-the-music event." Tickets are $15. Batten’s WhatEver CD/DVD is available at www.batten.com, and copies will be sold at the show.
WHALES ARE CHANGING THEIR TUNES
Professor John Hildebrand, a blue whale expert at Scripps Institution of Oceanography at UCSD, has studied recordings of whales “singing” since the 1960s. He says the whales’ rhythmic underwater moaning, which often sounds musical, is becoming lower and deeper. “This is giving us an insight into the culture of blue whales, as they are clearly listening to each other’s songs and changing them,” he told the UK’s Sunday Telegraph. “It takes a conscious decision to make the calls deeper, so it is a reflection of what is going on in the population.”
According to Hildebrand, whale calls used to average 22Hz, whereas today the frequency is around 15Hz. “These animals have a finite lung capacity, so their songs are a trade off between frequency and volume. They can either make the song really loud, or really deep.” Most researchers think whale songs are intended to attract mates, or to communicate to others during the mating season.
The world’s largest animals, whales are enjoying a population growth, thanks to protections put in place after many species were nearly wiped out. It’s estimated that there are currently around 4,500 blue whales. “As their numbers have slowly increased after the devastation caused by whaling,” says Hildebrand, “they are having to communicate over smaller distances. So their songs don't need to be as loud, and they can make them deeper."
Those interested in hearing songs of the blue whale can find hundreds of recordings at the UCSD Sound Library.
Professor David Rothernberg, of the New Jersey Institute of Technology, says he communicates with whales through musical instruments mic’d to hydrophones. His book Thousand Mile Song describes underwater “jam sessions” he’s enjoyed with humpback whales.
“For me,” he told telegraph.co.uk, “I felt like they could recognise the music I was making and were responding to that. There was a very special interaction with a humpback, and he seemed to change his song so that, by the end, it was hard to tell which was the clarinet and which was the whale.”
The whales apparently respect and respond to musical innovation, being enraptured by and then mimicking any Beatles-like whales among them who come up with a new tune AND a new way of “singing” and performing it. “These are incredibly social animals, and they seem to change their songs regularly. When one of them innovates, this gets picked up by the rest of the population, and then they all start singing in the same way.”
MIKE CLIFT: LOCAL ALBUM COVER ARTIST (Psychotic Waltz, etc.)
Artist Mike Clift has drawn gory, zombie-heavy record covers for bands like GutRot, Nocturnus, DiamondHead, and Skinlab. He’s probably best known for his sleeve artwork for long-gone locals Psychotic Waltz, whose drummer Norm Leggio now runs Blue Meannie Records. “I used to put my phone number on my flyers, and I got a call about doing [Psychotic Waltz] artwork. They also contacted the infamous artist Pushead, but luckily my design beat his out.”
Clift’s artwork for the cover of PW’s 1990 album A Social Grace paid $250. “They made a bunch of T-shirts, stickers, even a billboard…I charged $500 for the cover of [1992’s] Into the Everflow, and that became my standard price for several years.”
Clift toured Europe with Psychotic Waltz in 1993, receiving equal billing (and equal pay, $100 weekly plus per diem). “I was introduced as a sixth member and doing a lightshow backdrop of cued film clips that I synched up to the songs with a 16mm projector, two slide projectors with four carousels, and a 26-inch ten-speed wheel with colored gels and blockers, so I could do dissolves with the slides. Buddy would introduce me as part of the band…I signed autographs with them, and I even spotted a Psychotic Sun or Red Jester cover tattoo every now and then. Amazing, the power that band had over there. People would follow us from gig to gig, give us HUGE Dutch buds, they’d wave banners; very supportive.”
“I was able to live in Germany for a year, milking it for all it was worth, and thereby got turned on to tattooing from selling my paintings at tattoo conventions. I was literally traveling with a roll of canvas on my back, with a pack full of paints and brushes. I did quite a bit of work over there, 275 paintings and hundreds of little touristy postcards that I would sell wherever I went, little drawings of the place I was in, stuff like that. I was earning my daily bread, and setting up shows and viewings through my contacts as I merrily gallivanting around Northern Europe.”
His work for Psychotic Waltz led to wearing many different career caps. “I worked on the PW stage show and new shirt and merchandise designs, plus I had my own silkscreening business, I was doing covers for Diamondhead and Disbelief, plus I was selling art to a record company in Germany that would use it for their bands. It was a sort of kick for me to find my art in foreign record stores, though some of the bands were stinkers. For the most part, I was earning a living from my art, and that’s all that really mattered to me.”
He says his declining profile after Psychotic Waltz split in the late ‘90s resulted in some imaginative rumors. “Please tell people I didn’t die trapped beneath a German castle, nor have I OD'd on heroin. The sh-t you hear after being gone awhile.”
He describes how he went from Psychotic Waltz covers to drawing the comic book Tipper Gore’s Comics and Stories for Todd Loren’s Hillcrest-based Revolutionary Comics. “I met Todd in 1989 through a guy named Vinnie, who worked in Todd's rock merchandise mail order business, and Todd and I hit it off. His sexual orientation may've played a part in this, as I was young and cute at the time, but he showed a real enthusiasm for my art and told me about his upcoming horror comics that he planned to do, specifically to piss off Tipper Gore.”
“I was all for it, man. I was stoked, because all this was hitting at the same time as Psychotic Waltz for me. He offered me 80 dollars per page, and we wrote the stories together and met quite a bit at his place, or he'd take me out to eat and stuff. He was living in the UTC area back then, and he got kinda weird at home, showing me his safe. He was paying me cash as I turned in each page of artwork, and one time he tricked me into watching a porno tape - yikes! - but please do not think I’m trying to disparage Todd. He was one of the sweetest guys, and very polite and apologetic when he noticed my discomfort. I am so grateful to Providence that he and I connected and had that time. He had a huge hand in launching my career; He licensed a line of t-shirts of my work, he let me do the horror comics, and he brokered a couple painting sales for me. He was awesome. I was bummed when his death occurred.” Loren’s June 1992 murder in Hillcrest remains unsolved.
“These days, I charge $100 an hour for tattoos. I’ve tattooed some Psychotic Waltz imagery on my cousin, but most band tats I do are usually Cannibal Corpse, Deicide, AFI, [and] bands with distinctive artwork and logos.”
“After nearly 20 years of being a metal artist,” says Clift, “I have quite a few stories. One is about Alice in Chains at the Bacchanal...lets just say it involved the late Layne Staley, dope, and a coat hanger.”
GEO - LOCAL CONCERT POSTER ARTIST
Fairfield Fats Band guitarist George Davis is probably best known by his artistic AKA, Geo, longtime local concert poster artist whose style has become synonymous with hard rock shows. “I began by doing a banner many years ago for a high school friend,” he says, “Stephen Pearcy, for his band Mickey Ratt, which later became Ratt. I dabbled a bit with art, but didn't get real serious until the Fairfield Fats Band…that's where I first started doing flyers for parties and shows, and then friends started asking me to design logos and posters for their bands too. ”
Davis is also known for Fox’s TV cartoon Attack of the Killer Tomatoes (1990 – 1992), for which he produced animation at Sorrento Valley-based American Film Technologies, alongside Earthworm Jim creator Doug Tennapel, Image cartoonist Jeromy Cox (whose Vampyrates comic features Shambles guitarist Kevin Donaker Ring), and others. “It was the first ‘paperless’ animation studio,” says Davis. “All the storyboards, music and sound stuff was done in L.A., but the animation was done down here.” The original Tomato movies were filmed locally and featured early film appearances of George Clooney and TV “millionaire” Rick Rockwell.
Davis cites Fillmore concert posters and the underground comics of Rick Griffin as early inspirations (“Okay, and maybe my first Playboy magazine"). “When I started doing posters and flyers,” he says, “it was mostly metal shows, which is stuff that I totally get. Drawing hot chicks, demons, skulls, barbarians, wizards, and dragons? It doesn't get any better than that!”
“When a show is coming up,” he says, “I think about the theme, style or vibe of the band I'm doing. I want to create something that kind of tells a story, or leaves an impression of what kind of show you can expect.” A gallery of Geo’s poster art can be seen at myspace.com/tikigeo.
[PAINT]BRUSHES WITH FAME: KEN MEYER JR. PAINTS ROCK STARS
Illustrator Ken Meyer Jr. illustrates trading cards for role-playing games like Magic: The Gathering and Vampire, the Masquerade. "I don't even play those games," he says. "I don't know if I lack the brainpower or just don't have the time it takes to get into it."
Meyer's work often utilizes collage overlays, paste-on photos, and digital enhancement, resulting in a pop art style that Midnight Marquee magazine described as "LSD Realism."
“I've been reading comics since I was a kid, and that is where I first started to learn how to draw, by first tracing from them in my grandmother's kitchen. I still read many comics, but they have drifted in subject matter from the superheroes of my youth to more alternative fare such as Cerebus, Strangers in Paradise, Kabuki, Preacher and others.”
Somewhat surprisingly, in light of his accomplished technique, Meyer wasn't classically trained in art. “I went to a college that happened to be close to home, and my major was art, but I was a crappy student. I didn't pay attention."
After college, he ended up in Las Vegas, working for a government contractor doing training materials like slides, diagrams, and cartoons. "It was out in the middle of nowhere, supposedly right across from Area 51. You had to have a secret clearance for the job." After a year in the desert, his job brought him to San Diego where he freelanced after hours, drawing for independent comic books like Adolescent Radioactive Black Belt Hamsters and mass-market Marvel comics such as Ghost Rider and the sci-fi anthology Open Space.
Around 1992 Meyer started creating illustrations for local-based Axcess magazine, "even though they didn't pay anything...I just did it for the exposure and to paint neat subjects like Tori Amos and guys like Burt Ward from the old Batman show."
He next did a long run of fully painted comic book covers for Hillcrest-based Revolutionary Comics, most notably for the flagship title Rock ‘N’ Roll Comics (which I wrote and edited at the time).
This job led to his not-for-profit portraits of musicians. "When I started bringing the paintings to get backstage [it was because] I don't want to be just another faceless guy who meets someone and says, 'Gee, I really like your music.' I want to be remembered for giving them something unique, and maybe they sign something in return for me. It's also a way to make professional connections, in case anything will come out of it that gets me work.”
"Don Mclean was coming to town, and I did [drawings of] him. I was the club early and just by chance he walked out the door and almost ran into me. I said, 'I have these paintings I want to give to you,' and he looked at them and liked them a lot. I had some song lyrics as part of one painting, Masters of War, which is actually a Dylan song, but I didn't know it then. He didn't act offended, though."
His portrait of Sting, however, did not get him anywhere near the star's dressing room. "He was too big at the time, but a roadie took a print of the painting back to him and brought it back to me, autographed."
Meyer also failed to connect with U2 or Springsteen but did meet Tori Amos.
"Tori Amos was touring for her second album...She played I think at Sound FX, where the Bacchanal used to be. I hung around, talked to the tour manager, and he let me go backstage after the show to give her the painting. I remember she was very nice to me. She said she liked the piece an awful lot, and I had a print copy of the painting that she signed for me. There were other people waiting to see her, so we only talked for a few minutes."
Amos welcomed Meyer backstage again about two years later. "I ended up meeting the art director who was doing her tour programs, and that resulted in me getting my art into her next tour book. I did a piece [which was] part digital and part what I call analog. It started as a big painting that I scanned into the computer and added a bunch of effects to - Polaroids stuck over it, answering machine tape and stuff, kind of collaged on there." Meyer was paid for this piece.
"I used paintings to get backstage for Elvis Costello twice. He was really gracious. The first time, back in about 1983, it was after the show and he was pretty quiet, he wasn't talking that much. He said he liked [the painting] but acted a little standoffish.”
“The second time we met…I got a picture with him, something I never used to do because it seemed like such a fawning, geeky, fan kind of thing to do. Now I look back and [I] wish I'd been taking them all along."
Other successful backstage forays have allowed Meyer to meet performers like Bruce Cockburn…
…Loudon Wainwright III, and Todd Rundgren. "Rundgren was a little cold. He was touring for the A Cappella album with about 15 singers behind him, with no instruments. After the show, they were all heading for a bowling alley, they were all into it big-time, and I could tell he was a lot more anxious to bowl than talk to me.”
"The painting I gave to Loudon Wainwright [III] was kind of personal because I [based it] on a photo of him, from one of his albums, with his sister when were just kids. He really seemed appreciative and said he wanted to give it to her as a present. I've since met with the ol' Loudo again after a show, and he said she loved it. That's what I mean creating and giving away something special, especially when it ends up moving someone like that whose music has moved me so much."
Getting paid for his art became more of a priority once Meyer married. "I took a chance and quit my job to do freelance artwork at home for an eight-month period after our first baby was born. We didn't want to put her in day care right away...It went okay, she wasn't too mobile that first year, so I could handle her. It was an effort to line up work though. I did a lot of art for game companies like White Wolf and Wizards of the Coast.
After 2000, Meyer's workload included many front covers and interior drawings for locally-published Computer Edge magazine. In addition, several recording artists have commissioned paying work for him. But he says, "I'm not getting so much work on the side that I'm ready to quit my day job," he says.
His work for various goth-style role-playing games and online games like Everquest have earned him a following among the darkly dressed. "The ones into vampire stuff are surprised when they see me. They expect me to be dark and gothic'] because of the artwork, But I'm such a regular-looking guy. And they usually say I'm a lot older than they expected."
Meyer's next day job involved designing "texture maps, which are, in this case, sets of clothing for characters - leather outfits, chain mail outfits, and plate armor outfits for each character," for Internet role-playing games for a division of Sony called Verant, based in the Miramar area and best known for their popular Everquest game.
"I've never been into games, but they do amazing work, whole detailed worlds and characters that are thought our right down to the ecology and the science. It's very precise - you have no idea how hard it is, just getting a suit of chain mail to fully wrap around a 3-D moving figure.”
He recently relocated with his family to Georgia, on the east coast. “At the moment, I'm working on my MFA in Sequential Art at the Savannah College of Art and Design, having already gotten my BFA in Illustration…Summa Cum Laude, for those that are counting. I hope to teach at the college level when I am done, unless an incredible job drops in my lap.”
“However, my lap is ready, so don't hesitate, big time CEOs out there!”
(Photos & art courtesy www.kenmeyerjr.com)
RIP ALTON KELLEY: The King of Collage, the Prince of Prints
On the day my high school finally vomited me onto the unsuspecting world-at-large, under my cap and gown I was wearing a shirt that had once gotten me suspended for three days – an Alton Kelley Home Grown tee extolling the wonders of pot smoking ----
I’ve spent so many hours thumbing through and studying my Mouse & Kelley art books that the binder glue has disintegrated and the pages now fall out. At least one Kelley litho or portfolio art print has adorned every office I’ve ever, uh, officiated in.
Here's a brief bio from the Wolfgang's Vault website: "As one of the founding members of the Family Dog, Alton Kelley started throwing the dances that launched the San Francisco scene, handling promotion for the events by designing posters and handbills. A student of industrial design and hot rod culture, he soon met up with like-minded Stanley Mouse and embarked on a collaboration that would lead the psychedelic rock poster revolution. Kelley described his work as emerging 'out of the rock and roll world and not World War II,' with inspiration coming from artists like Chuck Berry and Little Richard. With the free rein to just go graphically crazy, their images became iconic masterpieces -- sophisticated, yet irreverent. A master of collage, for 40 years Alton rendered his art by hand, mixing modern cultural themes with historic motifs to create a visual landscape both stunning and peculiar to a particular time and space. As a visual stylist, he helped define what psychedelic rock looked like through the weekly posters made for the Avalon, Fillmore, and Carousel Ballrooms of San Francisco’s ’60s scene."
Alton Kelley has been sick over the past few months. Recently, he was moved from Petaluma Valley General Hospital to California-Pacific Hospital in San Francisco, for more intensive care. He passed away June 1st. It’s sad to be saying goodbye to another of the Great Ones.
(1971, outside the Grateful Dead office on Lincoln Ave: left to right - David Nelson, Spencer Dryden, Alton Kelley, Dave Torbert, Bob Weir, Jerry Garcia, John 'Marmaduke' Dawson - photo by Ken Cohen)
Here are excerpts from an interview I did with Kelley 6-30-99, while working with Grateful Dead cover artist Phil Garris (“Blues for Allah”) on a book of unpublished and rejected Dead art. For some reason, I only have part two on tape, and for some other reason (perhaps the same reason), I’ve never transcribed the interview. As such, I’m skipping around the tape to transcribe bits ‘n’ slivers --- we’ll pick up where I ask him about Mouse and Kelley’s famed “Blue Rose” poster for the final concert at San Francisco’s legendary Winterland in 1968, with the Dead and the Blues Brothers.
AK: Yeah, I think so. It was intended to be a poster from the start, but now it’s pretty common as a t-shirt.
JAS: How long did the piece take?
AK: Four or five days, with both of us working at separate times on it.
JAS: In the early ‘80s, after you and Mouse began doing more individual commissions, were you looking forward to moving on from mostly show posters?
AK: Well, I was still doing a lot of posters. I did a whole series for the Dinosaurs that really came out good. They wanted an old style, which was really fun, so I was able to go back in time and do classic style posters for them. There was never a specific moment when you’d say the poster era had passed. One of the hard things as time went by, though, was getting ahold of the old paper that we used for posters. You couldn’t get soft paper any more, everything had a finish on it. So I ended upon a lot of them turning them over and printing the art on the back of the paper. So the back of the Dinosaur posters is really shiny paper, but that’s how we printed them all.
JAS: That must have kept the printers on their toes! That’s something we haven’t mentioned, how a lot of printing innovations came about because the San Francisco artists were pushing the boundaries and experimenting with thinks like silk screening and custom die-cutting. Do you have a printing background?
AK: Mainly I just watched what the really good printers were doing, and took ideas from that. Especially at first, the printers were actual collaborators on this kind of thing. It couldn’t have been pulled off without their creativity too, and they [printers] loved that. They got to do something different, using their own skills, instead of just printing up Macy’s sale flyers.
JAS: Did the printers ever balk at something you asked them to do?
AK: Yes! We did one way back for the Avalon with a naked girl on it. When the poster was designed, the nude picture was a big part of it. But when the poster came out, the picture was very small, because a women who worked at the printers refused to blow it up the picture of this girl to the size that we wanted!
JAS: Would you say your art style evolved along with the reproduction technology?
AK: Oh yeah, we took advantage of every nuance of the printing aspect. There is no one classical style that works all the time, for everything. I’m still working with printers who teach me to do things I wouldn’t have known were possible to do.
JAS: Are there any pieces I have here for the book that would fit that description?
AK: I don’t think so. Maybe a couple of controversial Grateful Dead pieces.
JAS: Controversial? In what way?
JAS: Did that one get rejected?
AK: No, I didn’t show them that one.
JAS: What else?
AK: Another had a heart in it, and a big bar running through it that read “No Heart.”
[*READERS – SORRY I CAN’T PROVIDE SCANS OF THESE --- FUZZY TRADEMARK ISSUES, DONTCHA KNOW, AND I’VE ALREADY FACED OFF WITH DEAD LAWYERS OVER MY DEAD COMIC BOOK BIOS]
JAS: Oh yeah, I see it. Wow! These were because of problems you had with Dead management?
AK: Uh huh. And I did a version of “Egypt” that’s better than the ORIGINAL version of Egypt, exactly like it, except I hopped up the colors and changed the letters to read “Dreadful Greed Wall Street Tour.”
JAS: [laughs] So, uh, there’s still some animosity there?
AK: Yes. Definitely. It’s still the same. Phil [Garris] sent them a mockup of the book, and they [Dead management] said they’d print it up, and we’d get ten percent, and they’d get fifty percent and half of the copyright.
AKA: Yeah. When the problems first started to happen, Stanley [Mouse] and I went to their office several times. We went over there and did talk directly to Phil [Lesh] and Billy [Graham], Bobby [Weir] and Jerry. With no management, just us. And we told them we haven’t been getting out royalties. And they said ‘Oh my God, how can this be, we’ll straighten this out.’ And we felt very good about that, And then it didn’t happen.
So we went back another time and presented them with some new ideas that we had, that were very good ones, with a sculpture I did. And they said ‘Oh, don’t worry, we’ll get it straightened out this time.’ And we waited two or three months and nothing happened.
So my wife and I went over to Jerry’s house and Jerry said ‘You’ve come to the right guy, I’ll straighten this out.’ And that was a couple years ago. I don’t want to deal with them.
JAS: So what was the last Dead show you went to?
AK: [laughs] I used to tour with them sometimes, and we had a pretty good relationship for years and years. It’s really sad that, starting with their first album and the first posters, it’s turned out to be more and more alienating. The last piece I did for them was absolutely awful, and then they tried to claim I double billed them, because of an earlier piece they commissioned and paid for that they ended up deciding not to use. And Jerry was very clear that I expected to be paid for both pieces, just like he expects to get paid for both days if he plays on a Saturday and a Sunday. And they flipped out.
JAS: How much was it?
AK: They were making a big deal out of $5,000 bucks. They make thirty million a year.
JAS: So did they eventually pay you?
AK: Yep. But that was the last job I did for them
JAS: Were you ever recognized at Dead concerts?
AK: Yeah, sometimes, but it was always kind of a dark time. The adoration, saying ‘yeah, man, you’re so cool,’ and a lot of time they’re not even, uh, in the realm of reality, you know? People on Quaaludes and acid would really inhibit my enjoyment of the show, so I generally stayed backstage or onstage. Fans would always say to me “Oh yeah, man, you must have been so stoned when you did this or that.” But, I mean, think about it. How the hell am I supposed to produce all this stuff and get it in on a deadline if I’m blasted out of my gourd? I used to smoke a little pot now and then, but that was about it.
JAS: Do you like Grateful Dead music.
AK: Uh uh, no. I like ZZ Top, the Neville Brothers, Elton John, I like Pink Floyd. It’s hard for me to understand the Dead. They used to be a really kick ass boogie band. They’ve created their own thing, and I guess it’s okay, but it’s a little hard for me to understand. I don’t whistle their music.
1 - Hi, this is kelley's son, yossarian...I loved the interview...actually, so much that I am hoping to hear more of it. any chance you might be able to pass that on to me? I am collecting as much as I can in terms of creating a folder of family stuff for his siter, mom daughters and myself...please let me know if there is anything I can do to make this happen, thanks...yossarian kelley
By yossarian 11:51 a.m., Jun 5, 2008 > Report it
2 - Hello this is his daughter China... I also loved it as my brother did and was wondering the same. I too am collecting as much info as I can. Mostly for my kids one of whom is only nine and might someday be interested in getting to know more about his pappa kelley. Please letme know if theres anything you can do. China Kelley- Bacosa
By china58 2:01 p.m., Jun 5, 2008 > Report it
3 - Amazing that I found these posts!! I was friend of Kelly in the earliest of days in San Francisco. He was my mentor and encouraged me to become a photographer. In fact I colorborated with him on the American Beauty Album AKA American Reality album where Kelly writes a word in double. This album,rated #256 all time favorite album cover art in R-Stone Mag survey. The majisty of that album was never caputured by the people doing the printing. The advertising world was not ready for the psychidelic movement that happend back then. Kelly called me late the evening before the cover art was due or due to be sent to L.A. The back cover was to be the photo fullsize and in color of a montage of items on Kellys bedroom bureau. I have those color shots and have not published them yet...Amazed to see Yossarian "piggy" we used to call him as he crawled around the floor of the Avalon. All due respect to you Yossarian and to your father who was like an older brother back when you were born. And China! I have a photo of your mother and Luria and some other "Earth Mothers" of the Family Dog.
Somehow please contact me George Conger ([email protected]) I will try to contact the author of this article. The last time I talked with Kelley was a couple of years ago I told him I was moving to San Diego and he said "hey my daughter has a tatoo studio down there" but he never told me the name and when I was In S.D. I was too depressed to look for any one.
Last comment... I graduated from Helix High in '63 and summer of '64 I hitchhiked outta 'Dago. I met Mouse in Detroit a few weeks later and then I met Kelley on Pine St. S.F. a few months later Mouse showed up in 'Frisco with John Sinclair and I watched them park the moment they arrived. I went down to the car and said hi to them. Then we went into the House where we were living and I took them up to the second floor room of Kelley and Ellen Harmon. I introduced them. The rest is history. Big Brother was about to happen and the Avalon etc. I wish I could have seen Kelley once more because he loved life and laughed often. Kelley was unique enough to be compaired to Dylan. In a way he was the Godfather of the Family Dog. The family that wasn't a family. The Family Dog preceded the Haight Ashbury and if it wasn't for Kelley and Mouse's art the Dead would have just been another bar band that couldn't play but one long song. The Family Dog preceded Hippies or was the "seed" The Family Dog was an IDEA! It still is...G.H.Conger Cannon Beach Or 97110
By georgeconger 7:29 p.m., Jun 5, 2008 > Report it
4 - Hi Yossarian, China and George, pleased to hear from you - feel free to send mailing addys to me at jas2669 @ aol . com, and I'll be glad to send copies of the interview tape. I'm still baffled about why I can't find part one - perhaps I gave someone to transcribe and never got it back. I'll go thru my tapes one more time to seek out the first tape - it was wonderful to play back part 2 last night while I went through my long-cherished art archives.
Best in all endeavors, JAS - SD Reader
By jayallen 8:13 p.m., Jun 5, 2008 > Report it
WHERE HAVE ALL THE DEADHEADS GONE?
Once upon a time, the icons of their religion descended on arenas and stadiums like rainbow draped godlings, accepting the ritual sacrifice of dollars before making their divine appearance on backlit altars. Sacraments and effigies were snapped up, to be smoked, worn, folded, pasted to the car, taken internally, or boldly displayed throughout the ensuing bacchanalia.
As the band emerged, hordes of long tressed day-glo devotees would form a sea of worship before the stage, rippling in waves of ecstasy and swaying to and fro, some staring in open mouthed awe as others screamed their fervent adoration. The music would start, and the tribe would begin its communal dance, sometimes continuing their rhythmic twirl nonstop over the next several hours.
Then, all at once, the music stopped.
It was August 9th, 1995, when Head Deadhead Jerry Garcia, guitarist and guiding light of the Grateful Dead, died from a heart attack, caused by clogged arteries and years of physical neglect and chemical abuse. Some mourned and others shrugged, while comedians, columnists and TV show hosts spent the week making Gigantic Jerry jokes, poking fun at both Garcia and that tie-dyed and red-eyed subculture known as Deadheads.
Of course, not all Dead fans fit that hippie stereotype, but the ones who do are so easy to find that they’re as irresistible as Trekkies, postal workers, and Paris Hilton when it comes to comedy fodder.
“There’s always The Other Ones,” says longtime Deadhead Chance Dixon, referring to the touring conglomerate comprised of surviving Dead bandmembers (a dwindling pool of potential players - deceased members besides Garcia include Ron “Pigpen” McKernan, Keith Godchaux and Brent Mydland).
Dixon is also a fan of local psychedelic jamsters The Travel Agents, a group which attracts a fair share of Dead followers. “I think [The Travel Agents] are even better than The Other Ones. They move around a lot more, they have more of the groove thing going in their act. I don’t know, I have a lot of friends who are into Phish and bands like that, but Phish plays all kinds of way out stuff that has nothing to do with where the Dead were coming from.”
Most Phish fans would beg to differ, as that band routinely sold out arena sized venues, bringing in many who used to travel all over the country, following the Dead’s trail of breadcrumbs and microdots.
“The same people who swap Dead tapes trade Phish shows too,” says J.J. Joyce, a part time carpenter and full time Deadicated audiophile with over four hundred Dead and Garcia concert tapes (he says he recorded more than half of the performances himself).
“I have all the H.O.R.D.E. shows plus tons of bands like the Black Crowes, Leftover Salmon, Widespread Panic, Blues Traveler, The Aquarium Rescue Unit and a few others with what I like to call Cosmic Awareness. They know that the music belongs to the cosmos and they let anyone bring in their decks to catch a little bit of the magic. You look at the taper section of a Phish show, there’s like hundreds of thousands of dollars worth of equipment, probably more than what they’re using up on stage!”
If the supply of live Dead (or Dead live) tapes is so plentiful, where’s the demand? “There’s always someone looking for a certain show that maybe they went to and want to re-live. Or the people like me who want all the shows some day. Now that there’s no more Dead, there’s a finite number of concert tapes. A complete set. The holy grail, man.”
Tape traders hook up with each other at concerts, online and through fanzines such as Relix and the Golden Road. “My thing is soundboard dubs,” says Joyce. “They’re taped right from the mixer, from the mikes. You can tell ‘cause the audience sounds are way in the background.”
When I ask how one can get such a tape, he smiles coyly. “You know, man, you schmooze, you put up a little ganja. There’s usually a guy on the crew you can deal with, or you can find someone who found someone who has the master tape. Maybe the band lets it out themselves sometimes. There’s a ton of soundboard versions out there. Not just Dead shows but lots of ‘Dead Family’ stuff like JGB [Jerry Garcia Band].”
The Dead’s former audience is also prevalent at shows by the New Riders of the Purple Sage, another group once fronted by Garcia. Garcia’s hand-picked replacement in the New Riders, Buddy Cage, was both a friend and a fan of the late guitarist. Cage and I were both columnists for Soundwaves Magazine in New England when I interviewed him about Garcia.
“In concerts where NRPS had opened for the Dead, I would be constantly amazed by his playing. Dig, I would invariably be standing behind his speaker stack, my head stuck inside the open cabinets. Suffice to say I was privy to a direct earful of his playing in megadynes and was astonished, transported, with every note I heard.”
Cage says that the Dead’s growing audience, many of them just coming of age during the band’s third decade of existence, eventually caused the Dead to become more business-like and conservative and much less musical and adventurous. “[They were] turned into a colossal box office attraction, for the good of all I’m reminded. This has lead to a great deal of confusion on my part. Of course, they’ve earned every dime they’ve made, many times over. But I speak of a loss, once again on my part, that lies in the fact that they [became] less approachable. Heaven knows what insidious side-effects this great success has wrought upon their spirits as artists.”
Bob Lampert, a landscaper at a local resort, misses the band’s free-form concerts and says that currently he’s “Just another Deadhead gone Phish-ing! What I’m involved in now is getting together all my old Dead show ticket stubs and trying to match all those concert dates with a tape of the show.”
He’s ambivalent about surviving members of the Grateful Dead playing as simply the Dead, without Garcia at the helm. “I still go see Little Feat and Lowell George [has] been dead a long time. No, I figure that any Jerry we got after the diabetic coma he survived is just more Jerry that we were lucky to get...the years after that are just extra, as far as I’m concerned.”
T Lavitz, one-time keyboardist for progressive rock/jazz unit The Dixie Dregs, occasionally plays with Jazz Is Dead, an all-star group comprised of bassist Alfonso Johnson, drummer Rod Morgenstein and others, playing totally funked up jazz versions of Grateful Dead tunes. I interviewed him when the band played the Belly Up awhile back.
Though he’d seen the Dead several times and once even auditioned as a replacement for the deceased Brent Mydland, Lavitz says he’s not actually considered a “fan” of the group. “I was once quoted as saying ‘I was a Deadhead but don’t get me wrong, I didn’t drop my life for them and I still took baths.’ I’m sure that quote will always come back to haunt me. But I really did enjoy seeing them play live, even though a real Deadhead would say, ‘Aha, you’ve only seen them a few times so you’re not a fan.’ ”
Do jazz aficionados and musicians look down their noses with disdain at Jazz Is Dead for pandering to the hippie audience? “Some people raise their eyebrows and say it’s a sellout or a cop-out or a cover band. But if you give me good chords and a good melody, what do I care who wrote it?”
I ask about how Deadheads, who may not be familiar with his jazz roots, interact with him. “They say ‘You guys jam, dude!’ I’ve never come across anyone who doesn’t like it. It may take them awhile to recognize the tune we’re playing, because our arrangements are so weird, but sometimes that would happen with the Dead themselves when they were all spaced out and playing! You don’t have to be stoned to dig it, but it doesn’t hurt.”
Drugs come up constantly as I talk to other Deadheads who find themselves cast adrift, searching for a way to fill the void they feel now that Garcia and The Dead are no more. “I used to be able to stay on the road for six months at a time by selling acid at shows,” says “Peace,” a local biker and self described “future millionaire.” He says “At first, I did a lot of [acid] myself, and I’d end up giving away everything and coming out with no money and sometimes no underwear and shoes, man.”
“Then, I learned to approach it like a business. Sell all my stock in the parking lot, stash the profits somewhere safe and then go in and check out the last hour or two of the show. It was cool. I never did anyone else’s drugs though, only my own. You don’t wanna come across any of that brown acid sh-t, you know? I’ve seen a lot of freakouts at Dead shows.”
Peace claims he had his last psychedelic experience on the day that Garcia died. “I did some ‘shrooms and a bunch of us were out at Winstons [in Ocean Beach], where they used to have Dead nights once a week. Then a bunch of us went to the Rainbow Family Gathering and it was like a wake and a party all at the same time. I got so high...I don’t think I’d want to be tripping at a H.O.R.D.E. concert anyway. Too many kids with nose rings and combat boots. That’d be a bummer of a trip.”
“Skinheads look extra scary when you’re frying.”
For a few years in the late ‘90s, I worked as a security guard at the annual concert series Live on the Bay. The two-day jam-band festival was originally called Dead on the Bay, until organizers moved to head off potential legal problems with the Grateful Dead
The event’s final “Dead On The Bay” incarnation featured several performers connected to the Grateful Dead and their various side projects. Launched as a benefit for the Ecological Life Systems Institute, show promoter Brian Ross told me at the time “It [the concert series] came about because of an interest in not only keeping the festival spirit alive but also to make a difference in the environment…it’s about making a contribution, making an impact.”
Returning for a second year at PB’s Campland on the Bay in 1998, ads and flyers touted that year’s model as “Live on the Bay,” rather than “Dead on the Bay.”
There were still obvious Deadhead connections, including performances by Dead “family” associates like Merle Saunders, David Nelson and JGB (featuring members of the Jerry Garcia Band), not to mention all the oh-so-crunchy patrons.
So why the name change?
Brian Ross told me at the time “The Dead management feels real concerned about people not being confused in terms of who’s putting on a production or who’s associated with a production. They just basically want to put a clear message out.”
Thus, after hearing of other promoters who’ve faced legal problems over supposedly using the Grateful Dead trademark without proper permission, Dead on the Bay organizers opted for a new name. The visuals in their ads and flyers, however, with “Steal Your Face” lightning bolts and dancing skeletons, make it clear that the event was still geared for the psychedelically inclined, among whom Deadheads are a sizable demographic.
“The interesting thing is, the community knows what’s going on,” said Ross. “[The word] ‘Dead’ doesn’t just represent the Grateful Dead band. It represents the community, it represents a Deadhead. As a word in the dictionary which defines a person as into psychedelic experiences. It’s a dead body, it’s Day of the Dead, the Mexican festival. There’s a lot associated with it.”
So why not keep calling it Dead on the Bay? “Because we want to make sure that they understand that we’re not trying to confuse the message like perhaps others have, in terms of the use of the name Dead.”
How has Brian Ross been filling his Deadtime since the death of the head deadhead? “[I’m] Taking advantage of the grass roots resurgence of interest in smaller acts and smaller gatherings. I’m seeing that, with the loss of the Dead and their Big Show, a lot of people are getting the chance to experience through new bands what they missed out on in the early days of The Dead. A more personal relationship with bands like Pure Noodle, Bela Fleck, Leftover Salmon...as [those bands] grow and emulate the spiritual growth of The Dead. I’ve also been taking the time to read Dead books, such as Captain Trips.”
Another Campland Live on the Bay event promoter, Michael Gelfand of Terre Vista Management, still counts himself as a huge supporter of both the Dead and what they originally represented. “There was a whole peace instilling movement going,” he says. “[But] of course as The Dead got bigger, they ended up with an entourage that they were responsible for and they ended up being a corporation.”
He’s excited about the new generation of post-Dead players. “I’m hunting down music that transcends. Not necessarily Phish and that type of sound...there’s a lot of good bands like Mo and Zero. String Cheese Incident is a band out of Colorado that really gets it!”
An estimated 1,500 people attended the 1998 edition of Live on the Bay, the first one where I worked security. “Advance ticket sales this were way better than last year, both in the market and through Ticketmaster,” Ross reported at the time, adding that Campland’s sites were more than eighty-five percent full for the event.
The only complaints I overheard were about fatigue from having “too much fun” (“I was shrooming all night and I’m burnt!”). The music from the two performance stages flowed nearly continuously, and there were only a few technical glitches - guitar sound problems for the Steely Damned and a dead amp which delayed the appearance of the David Nelson Band.
The open air grounds had plenty of toilets, lots of vegetarian food kiosks and trailers (Wok And Roll, The Burrito People), and eclectic merchandise vendors (tie-dye, sarongs, crystals, artwork).
(Above are some pics from my first gig as hired muscle at the Campland jam-band festivals – note the Grateful Dead comic book in my back pocket. All part o’ the disguise….)
I kept a journal over the weekend, for a planned article about bouncing for Deadheads. Here are some excerpts:
The air is tinted with an aromatic potpourri which is equal parts incense, cooked food and pot smoke. Two concrete dance floors are constantly filled with smiling, colorfully clad dancers and “spinners,” jugglers and hackey-sack players.
Many are pleased with the Travel Agents’ set on day one, though not necessarily because of the group’s performance. To the cheers of pretty much everyone, including the band, a woman from the audience tosses off her clothes and dances alongside the band. She remains the focal point of the rest of the set, but afterwards the security guards try to gently talk her into putting her clothes back on if she wants to stay on the grounds.
By day two, sunburn is prevalent. I come across only a couple of black guys. I eventually asked one if he’d noticed his pigmental singularity. “Yeah,” he said, “but I loved this music in the sixties and always will.”
“By the way, I appreciate you calling me black,” he says. This made me feel as confused as I’m sure I looked, and he quickly elaborated. “I mean, I’ve had like fifty people walk up and talk to me about ‘African-American’ music or ‘African American’ art or whatever - I never want to hear ‘African-American’ again as long as I live, man!”
ONE NIGHT AT BLACK'S BEACH
"Black's Beach, everyone knows, you don't need no buttons and bows. Black's Beach, everyone goes - there's a bunch of crazy people there without any clothes." (From one of KGB's old Homegrown vinyl albums - can't recall the band, only the lyrics)
It's after midnight, and around me there are something like four hundred people ostensibly celebrating the full moon. Most of them are naked, some not. A few have children in tow, all but the toddlers at least partially clothed.
None of the kids seem shocked at the sight of so many nude adult bodies. "It's good to teach them that the body is nothing to be ashamed of, as long as we're not degrading it" says a muscular guy (whose name I can't write down due to, er, no pockets). He looks to be in his fifties and has been coming to these informal monthly gatherings for "too many years. Bringing down the moon, we call it. We're, like, Druids and this is our Stonehenge ."
Only a couple of dozen drummers form the drum circle, a small crew compared to past "organic raves" held here. Everyone I talk to first discovered the unsponsored event through word-of-mouth recommendation.
"This kind of thing used to be just for old school Deadheads, hippies," says Serena, a buxom blonde drummer who's wearing pieces of a spangled Wonder Woman outfit. "Tonight, there's an awful lot of newcomers. Look how the guys keep their clothes on, or just strip down to their bottoms. The girls, they can't wait. There's not a girl here who isn't naked! Guys have more to hide."
At sunup, around sixty people remain, some bleary eyed but many still on their feet and partying. A middle aged couple is performing - she plays guitar while the guy sings. They play one Beatles song after another, on and on.
It appears they know practically every song in the Beatles lexicon, and they're going through the repertoire, an impressive feat that makes them stand out in a crowd of inebriates, most of whom I suspect would be hard pressed to count their toes.
The startling thing is that the couple plays the Beatles songs in alphabetical order. Insisting upon it, even.
"Play 'Rocky Raccoon,' " a girl calls out to them.
"We can't," the guy says, "we're only on the Gs." And the duo launches into "Good Day, Sunshine"……
"Black's Beach Shuffle updates the classic Southern California gumshoe world of Raymond Chandler and Ross McDonald with contemporary technology riffs, new millennium anxieties and sun-blotted humor. It pumps out a page-turning mix of plot twists, colorful characters and laugh-out-loud humor as Rolly's investigation ricochets him from the high-tech industrial parks of Torrey Pines Mesa to downtown blues clubs, from street taco shops to the penthouse of the La Jolla Hyatt, from the hallowed halls of academia to the sands of Black's Beach, San Diego's official clothing-optional playground."
Now here’s something from the archive – a Deadhead-themed comic book story I did awhile back with original Twilight Zone and Star Trek writer George Clayton Johnson, perhaps now best known as the author of the original Ocean’s 11. The art is by Zap Comix co-founder and occasional Reader cover artist Spain Rodriguez.
INSECURITY: - Local Firms Fight for Rights to Bounce You
Your average concertgoer rarely pays much attention to event security. Most of what they do goes on out of our view, at least if they’re doing their job right. Sure, it’s nice to know they’re around, just in case someone falls down, something blows up or all hell breaks loose. If you ask them nicely, they can even help wrest your seat back from surly trespassers.
However, unless you’re trying to do something you’re not supposed to do, such as take pictures, smoke dope, sneak in, stage dive, expose your naughty bits, or fight with fellow patrons, you’ve not likely worried much about the (usually) big guys (and sometimes gals) standing (or prowling) around (or behind, or overhead, or sometimes beneath the stage risers…) .
Two newer firms, Omni and Elite Show Services, were initially run by former Staffpro employees who chose to go head to head with their previous bosses, vying for their own slices of the San Diego event pie. The competition and rivalry has been, at times, as messy and bruising as any mosh pit encounter, especially between Staffpro and Elite.
“I was locked out of my office. When I showed up for work, I was not allowed into my office by security guards.” Kontopuls would go on to purchase, along with his brother, a small existing security company called Elite. Within a short time, he transformed Elite into Staffpro’s main competitor in the local security game.
I asked Kontopuls what prompted his initial departure/ousting from Staffpro. “I had huge philosophical differences with my partner [Cory Meredith] about how the company should be run, from an operational and ethical standpoint. I also felt that having the majority ownership in Los Angeles wasn’t serving my San Diego clients properly. The San Diego branch was in total disarray.”
At that time, Kontopuls’ office was at the Convention Center. “I was kind of exiled there, put out to pasture for the most part. He [Meredith] just wanted me out of the way, and once they did that, the company started falling apart. The concert, hotel and the entertainment divisions.”
Subsequent to his departure, Kontopuls fired the first legal salvo. “The advice from my attorney was to initiate a lawsuit for breach of my employment contract. I was a stockholder in the company, so there was also a breach of fiduciary duty lawsuit. I didn’t have any income, they cut off my paycheck, and I was pretty much left sitting with what I had in my savings account.”
“I filed for unemployment, and Staffpro basically lied to the unemployment people as to what the circumstances were. They said I quit to start my own company, and I said I was locked out. At that point, my future was uncertain because I didn’t know what I was going to do.”
Kontopuls’ contribution to Staffpro’s growth and success is a major point in the suit he filed against Staffpro at El Cajon Superior Court. “I acquired 90% of the San Diego business for the company, like the Convention Center and Bill Silva Presents.”
Kontopuls’ relationship with Silva, in fact, predated his employment with Staffpro. “I brought Bill Silva along when I went to work for Cory at Event. I’m the one who negotiated everything, went to all the meetings.”
When asked about that lucrative Silva contract, Staffpro General Manager Hugh Kollar told me “I don’t know if he [Kontopuls] was the guy or if it was Cory Meredith. As I understand it, Cory was the one who started the company, and Gus just happened to be the guy who worked for Cory down there.”
After Kontopuls left Staffpro, Kollar moved from Orange County to San Diego, to bring the branch “solid, stable management.”
Kollar did acknowledge to me that Kontopuls had “a great deal of savvy and knowledge about our operations” and that Staffpro was “concerned with the prospect of him [Kontopuls] using those trade secrets in a rival operation.”
Kontopuls is emphatic in his claim that Staffpro made it impossible for him to get work from other security firms. “I went to talk to a couple of companies about working for them, and they treated me like I was radioactive. Cory was telling people that anybody who hired me was going to get sued, because he pretty much had an exclusive on my life.”
“It’s all in the contacts,” said Kollar at Staffpro, “and when someone has the contacts, they’ve got the inside track on getting the job. If someone else is signing your paycheck while you get those contacts, how fair is it to try and take that business with you when you start up a competing company?”
Kontopuls said that going into business for himself became his only option, and several Staffpro employees came over to his new company along with him, including Director Of Operations Brian Mulder. Many of the guards at Staffpro were initially willing to work for Elite as well, some quitting Staffpro to do so, but Kontopuls said this caused Staffpro to throw another roadblock in his way.
“They did file a lawsuit against me, to try and shut me down but they were unsuccessful,” said Kontopuls. Court papers show that Staffpro attempted to place a temporary emergency injunction against Elite, forbidding them from conducting unfairly competitive business. The injunction was filed just days before the start of the baseball season.
“The judge just looked at them and laughed,” said Kontopuls. “He said their case had no merit, ‘take it to court and fight like adults instead of trying to shut this guy down on the eve of his first big event’.”
“Absolutely. They actually sent supervisors out to the Pacific Beach Block Party, which was one of the first events I did. They had their supervisors tell people ‘If you don’t quit and walk off the post right now, you’re fired from Staffpro.’ Then they’d allow their employees to work for other companies, just not mine. If they called and said they wanted to work for Omni at Street Scene, or something like that, they were allowed to do it, but if they asked to work for Elite, they’d get a no.”
Kollar did indeed back up Kontopuls assertion, but only somewhat. “Sure, Omni and I are friendly competitors. We communicate and we talk, we help each other.”
In fact, Staffpro and Omni were subcontracting work back and forth at the time. When Staffpro manned a local U2 concert, several Omni employees were hired for the evening. Omni put several Staffpro employees on the payroll to help with at least one San Diego Street Scene.
About the exclusivity agreement Staffpro employees were required to sign, Kollar admitted to me “Yes, that did happen. Because of the situation that existed at that time, Staffpro was forced to do that. There was a lot of company information being taken.”
Though Kollar could not be more specific about the information he was referring to (“I don’t think that’s important now”), he did say that he didn’t support the decision.
“The management didn’t feel that it was healthy to let people work for other companies. But, the day I went down there, that changed.”
Kollar said he instituted a policy making it clear that Staffpro employees were welcome to also work for other security companies, if they wish. “In fact, I encourage it. We don’t have a problem. A lot of these guys are part timers trying to make some extra money, and we’re not going to stop them from making ends meet.”
Kontopuls laughed off Kollar’s statement, and said this hasn’t been the case. “Not at all. I’ve never heard of a letter being circulated saying that the policy has been dismissed. I still talk to people who say they’d love to do some work for me, but they know they’ll get fired from Staffpro if they do.”
When asked about his own relationship with Omni, the other Staffpro spin-off, Kontopuls didn’t exactly scramble for superlatives.
“They have their little niche. They do small club shows and they do Street Scene. Omni did refer some work [to us] during the Republican Convention and, I don’t want to get into details but I’ll never conduct business with those guys again. They’re just a competitor, as far as I’m concerned.”
Much of Elite’s eventual ascendance was attributable, said Kontopuls, to the operational differences between his company and Staffpro.
“We really stress the customer service aspect of the industry, and we treat the fans as guests of the event instead of going in there with a Nazi stormtrooper attitude. We’re not attracting your basic, I don’t want to say thug, but you know the kind of guy who can lift a ton but can’t spell it? We only hire about one in eight people who walk in our door.”
He added that Elite employees take a four hour customer service class, several hours of first aid and CPR certification, and particular attention is paid to training in alcohol awareness. “I tried to do this [at Staffpro] but was unsuccessful at it.”
What, in his opinion, most set Elite apart from his main competitor? “I’d say the honesty and integrity of senior management. And the fact that we’re locally owned and operated.”
When I relayed those quotes to Kollar, he wanted it known that Staffpro’s people receive much the same orientation. “They’re trained in techniques of alcohol management. They’re supervised, they know what to look for. One of my competitors once said that if you pay your people peanuts, you get monkeys. I don’t believe that. I believe if you supervise your people, treat them good, they’ll provide a good service for you.”
Kollar confirmed that. “There’s plenty of work in San Diego for everyone,” he said, with a thoroughly convinced (if not entirely convincing) tone of finality. “As long as supervisors are loyal and do what they’re supposed to do, it’s not that big a deal.”
Another competitor entered the local Bouncer Wars in 2000. XL Staffing And Security has around 220 staffers dressed to the nines and working around town at about two dozen venues, including On Broadway (the company’s first client), Aubergine, Stingaree, Ole Madrid, and 94th Aero Squadron.
Last year, XL became involved in a proposed reality TV show about the firm. Footage was shot at Mardi Gras and several clubs downtown from February 19th through the 21st of ’07. XL Staffing And Security owner Joe Mackey told the Reader “[The show will] mostly focus on our staff, and how they command in suits and ties instead of windbreakers and tattoos. As far as patrons go, we’re still working out how the releases [to appear] will go…people being confronted or asked to leave will probably end up in the show, provided they sign the release.”
Mackey says his family-owned company owns a portion of the program, along with MTV/VH1 producer Rob Cohen. “I wanted to make sure I get something close to final say over what airs. I don’t want them to shoot three months’ of tape and then they accidentally catch someone doing some little thing wrong and that’s the whole show.”
Before the reality show deal was signed, Mackey says several other TV programmers expressed interest in working with XL.
“Court TV contacted us about doing a show. ‘Wife Swap’ wanted to have one of our female guards do a show for them…around ten percent of our staff is female. Fremantle Media, who do American Idol, they wanted us to do a show called ‘Bounced,’ where every episode ends with someone getting physically booted from someplace. We told them that’s not what we’re about.”
“I didn’t want to handle a bunch of thugs…our staffers specialize in communication, not intimidation. They go through forty hours of training covering everything from powers to arrest, club drug awareness, verbal Jujitsu, handcuff training, CPR and first aid, and there are monthly classes that are mandatory to attend. We do background checks going back ten years with the Department Of Justice and the FBI and, before they’re hired, we do a psychological profile to ensure they’re not prone to violence.”
XL Staffing and Security reported earning over four million dollars in 2005. More recent figures were, at this writing, unavailable.