Sunday, June 21, 2009

Trip to New York Paid For by Paul McCartney

I was one of three winners of a contest put on by Paul McCartney. Paul, as you might know, purchased the ownership of the publishing rights to most of the songs written by Buddy Holly. This was in 1976 just two years before the very successful release of the motion picture "The Buddy Holly Story" starring Gary Busey. This movie had so much to do with restoring Buddy Holly's fame, thus a constant source of income for Paul McCartney. For decades Paul would put on some kind of annual event in the United Kingdom to promote Buddy Holly, usually near Buddy's birthday in September.

In 1990, Paul decided to hold his annual Buddy Holly event in New York City to promote the Fall debut of the musical production "BUDDY: the Buddy Holly Story" starring Paul Hipp on Broadway. The event would include two nights of live music at the popular Lone Star Roadhouse, a nightclub more like what you would see in Texas than right around the corner from the Ed Sullivan Theater. The first night was an invitation-only event on September 4, 1990, the second night open to the public.

Members of the Buddy Holly Memorial Society and subscribers to Rockin' 50s magazine, both enterprises of Bill Griggs, received entry forms for a contest to win an all-expenses paid trip to New York to attend the invitation-only show at the Lone Star and guided tours of places where Buddy Holly and the Crickets performed in the 1950s. The entry form was a questionnaire enclosed in the June issue of Rockin' 50s. The questionnaire had twenty pretty tough questions about the music and life of Buddy Holly. I have all of the books about Buddy Holly and every magazine Bill Griggs has published, so I was sure I could find or confirm every answer if I just studied hard enough. There is another Buddy Holly fan here in town nicknamed Rory Borealis (you should hear his Sunday evening radio shows at who was also interested in entering the contest. So the two of us spent hours on two weekends looking up the answers and calling back and forth on the phone. We finally had nineteen questions nailed down for sure including things like the name of Buddy Holly's cat and how much Buddy Holly weighed in 1953. It turns out everyone had a tough time answering #16: "Which song did the Crickets perform during their audition for the Arthur Godfrey talent show?" Not until I was actually in New York could I ask the members of the Crickets in person. The best I could come up with was a Little Richard song, but which one? The Crickets couldn't remember but they were sure it was a Little Richard tune. So we were as right as we could be. I mailed my form in with a few days to spare. Only later I learned Rory did not mail his entry. He worked hard coming up with answers, too. He indeed deserved a chance to win, also. The Crickets manager seemed to have a hard time reaching me by phone to tell me I was one of three winners, so he sent me letter by overnight FedEx.

I flew to New York and met up with winners Alvis West from California and Bruce Christiansen from Florida at the Lone Star and Bill Griggs arrived shortly thereafter. Quite a group of hardcore rockabilly fans here! Our hotel was right next door. When we returned to the club later that day, the block was closed to traffic. Barricades kept the throng of Beatle fans at a distance. The head of club security saw us and motioned for us to come in. You should have seen the looks on everyone elses' faces! "Who the hell are these guys and how to they rate the red carpet treatment?" I counted twelve camera crews there in the balcony. Local TV stations, "Entertainment Tonight" and CNN. We met Maria Elena Holley: Buddy's widow, as well as performers Paul Hipp: star of "BUDDY: the Buddy Holly Story", the Crickets themselves: Gordon Payne, Joe Mauldin, J. I. Allison, Tommy Alsup: sometime guitarist with Buddy, and country singer Ricky Van Shelton. Paul and Linda McCartney took a secluded seat that immediately became to focal point of the building. I tried my best to squeeze in close enough for an autograph or a chance to thank Paul for this trip but no luck. It was time for me to go onstage with the other contest winners and receive a beautiful plaque (pictured above) presented by famed radio personality Scott Muni, who was tickled to know I am from Kansas. He told me he was from Wichita! Everyone is supposedly entitled to fifteen minutes of fame and I used up five minutes worth that night onstage! Back at our table I saw a man at the table behind us. I thought to myself "That guy looks like what Ahmet Ertegun would have looked like as a young man". I wished I had said something as we later learned that it really was Ahmet Ertegun, founder and President of Atlantic Records. What a missed opportunity! I would loved to have met him! Mayor David Dinkins issued a proclamation acknowledging Paul McCarney's presence in the city. During all this I missed out on the catered dinner, not a bite left of Linda McCartney's all-vegetarian menu.

All of these musicians mentioned performed onstage that evening along with rock singers Henry Gross (remember the Beach Boys-like "Shannon" in the 1970s?), Steve Forbert, Pat Denizio of the Smithereens, Joe Ely, and Max Weinberg. For the finale, Paul and Linda with Dave Edmunds belted out rockers with all the others returning for a jam on Buddy's "Oh Boy". We removed posters from the walls on our way out. I glimpsed Ben E. King, Little Steven Van Zandt, and MTV sweetheart Martha Quinn, (from whom I would have gladly accepted any invitation but alas, none!)

Next day, Christiansen, West, Griggs, and I had a guided tour of the Apollo Theatre in Harlem. The cab driver pointed out the Dakota apartment building on the way, where John Lennon was killed--a chilling site. The Apollo was an amazing place. Generations of African-American entertainers have performed there. We saw the stage, the theater, the lobby, the backstage areas, the television and editing studios there. Everywhere are these beautiful framed photographs of entertainers who have performed there with their names deliberately not displayed. Turns out our guide told us their names are displayed on the backs so we had to peek at a few we couldn't guess. These framed pictures would be worth a fortune. A talk show originated on stage at the Apollo each weekday morning and broadcast locally on cable TV. There was a small audience in attendance while we walked around on the tour. That was an incredible rare opportunity for four white guys from the hinterlands. (If I had known about it at the time, a few minutes at Bobby Robinson's record shop next door would have been nice. He was a famed record producer and a great story teller.)

We were scheduled to take a tour of the Ed Sullivan Theater, too, but we took too much time at the Apollo, which didn't bother us. It would have been nice to see where the Beatles, Buddy Holly, and the Crickets, Elvis Presley, Gene Vincent, Bo Diddley, and countless others (Louis Prima, Jimmy Durante, George Carlin, etc.) performed live on TV on Sunday nights for decades. The theater was not being used at the time. It would be two years before David Letterman would move here for his new show.

We then had lunch at P. J. Clark's restaurant, where Buddy Holly reportedly proposed marriage to Maria Elena decades before. It was a nice old restaurant. Joining us was Paul McCartney's manager at the time Alan Crowder and his wife (who explained to me how British television and radio networks work, at my urging), Will Byrd, The Crickets manager, who was responsible for this entire tribute show, and the manager of the Lone Star, whom I quote here: "Look at this guy. He comes here all the way from Kansas to eat corn on the cob." Doncha just love those New Yawkers. Alan Crowder had one of the very early cell phones, almost as big as a WWII walkie-talkie. He took a call from, I am sure, Paul himself. We hinted that a chance to thank Paul in person would be nice.

The taxi rides were all death-defying but none so rough as the landing in Atlanta where we changed planes. Bruce Christensen rode with me on this flight, a packed 747. The wings see-sawed up and down as we landed almost touching the runway. Bruce turned every color imaginable. When he could breathe again he said he has flown dozens of times on business and that this was the worst landing he ever had.

Sometime later I sent a thank you card and a picture of my wife, kids, and I to Paul McCartney at the address of his MPL Productions London office. This was a trip of a lifetime. Thank you again, Sir Paul.

Video has surfaced of the Paul's performance at the Lone Star.  Not everyone gets to see Paul McCartney perform in a nightclub that seats 500 people.