November 9, 10, 11 1969……What’s worse than a nightmare.
West Coast Promotions never looked back after that first successful 3 Dog Night concert. Agents and managers alike took notice of this new young trio on the concert scene. They quickly carved a niche in key markets across the Western United States. The problems of Jim Morrison and the Doors virtually eliminated them from the national concert market. The band that West Coast Promotions was formed to promote was persona non grata in arenas. No Doors concerts were happening so the young trio had to establish themselves the hard way, promote and produce successful concerts whenever and wherever possible to build a strong reputation within the industry as quickly as possible. Within the next few months they did shows with diverse acts like Blood Sweat and Tears, Credence Clearwater Revival, Iron Butterfly, Ten Years After, Joe Cocker, Grand Funk Railroad, Poco, Nitty Gritty Dirt Band and even a Motown Revue starring Smokey Robinson and the Miracles. Acts enjoyed and appreciated working with Rich, Mike and Don, their managers reported back to the agents and booking agencies. They were new, young, fresh promoters who took their shows very seriously, taking nothing for granted. They excelled in marketing and pioneered grass root promotions. Their concerts were always produced with a unique smoothness and a very cool atmosphere of total professionalism. Arena managers always were apprehensive because of their long hair, jeans with holes appearance but after watching them pull off major arena concerts with such ease and coolness they became ardent fans of the West Coast promoters. They were honest, straight forward, and extremely competent and would take every necessary step to ensure that both the audience and the artist were satisfied. They really cared, to a fault.
They knew if they did everything possible right, they stood in line to pick up some dates on the 1969 Rolling Stones tour. Behind the scenes, Bill Siddons, the silent but very important partner, worked his magic and secured for them the Phoenix Stones date and split the San Diego date with Bill Graham. At the same time they picked up one of the first concert dates with the new Super Group fresh from Woodstock, Crosby, Stills, Nash and Young, and outdoor concert at the University of Santa Barbara football field.
After extensive contract negotiations, partnership agreements and a lot of hard work, the weekend line up like this: Saturday, November 8, they were invited by the Stones to come to the 2nd show at the forum in Inglewood, Sunday the 9th was the CSNY show, Monday the 10th was the Stones in San Diego and Tuesday the 11th was the Stones in Phoenix.
To Don this was a dream come true. He was going to get to produce his one and only idol, Mick Jagger and the Rolling Stones. On top of that produce a new act that had the founding members of three other bands that were a very heavy influence in his singing days, the Buffalo Springfield, the Byrds and the Hollies. And if that wasn’t enough, the special guest stars on the Stones show was his old friends from the Carolina Pines Lounge in Inglewood, Ike and Tina Turner. And to take it one step further the opening act for the Stones was also one of Dons favorites, Terry Reid., who had a hit record with Donavan’s , “Season of the Witch”, a song he had listened to 100’s of times on hallucinogens. He was on cloud nine.
Even his body guard friend that Don had brought into the business, Tony Funchess, was hired as Mick’s personal bodyguard for the whole tour. All of his early influences and everything he had done in his 4 year entertainment career was culminating in one long weekend. The one and only negative was Brian Jones had died right before the tour started and was replaced with guitarist Mick Taylor. Everything else was “made to order”. What could possibly go wrong? The answer to that simple question, would prove to be a simple word, “EVERYTHING”
It all started with Saturday night. The Stones had sold out 2 shows at the Forum. An 8 and 11 o’ clock show that, with terrible problems that caused the first show to begin after 10 pm. The second show started between 1 and 2 am. Luckily Tony called Don to make him aware of the predicament, so Rich, Bill, Don and their wives, stayed at Don’s Playa del Rey house and continued getting stoned. Everyone else attending the shows had to wait for hours.
The Forum was 5miles straight down Manchester Ave from Dons house; they took their seats just as Terry Reid took the stage and got to enjoy three great acts. The show ended around 5 am. Don just dropped his wife, Jill off and headed straight to Santa Barbara. He had to build the stage and set up all show requirements for his first outdoor concert. He was genuinely excited as he drove the 75 miles up the coast to Santa Barbara. The shows line up was CSN&Y, Steve Miller, a great new act from LA called Sweetwater and an opener by the name of Dayspring, an act Mike Dillbeck was sort of working with. He arrived as the sun was rising to an empty football field with stacks of wood that had to be built into a stage and sound wings, set up the sound system and get all the technical and dressing room requirements together. The show was scheduled to start at 1 pm and had to be done before dark. There was no stage lighting or stage roof. There wasn’t any extra production money for these because the ticket prices were $3.75 in advance and $4.25 at the door. Don wasn’t worried about the lights but was about the roof because a storm was approaching from the north and rain was possible. That would be a real bummer. Because it was on campus and there wasn’t enough campus police so Don hired big athletes to act as peer group security. A novel and innovated concept that would later be the standard for all concerts. Everything got built and put up and the show started on time.
Don learned a few things that day which would change the way he approached concerts. Lessons of Rock and Roll.
1. Outdoor shows presented many new problems that indoor controlled elements arena shows didn’t. Everything had to be built from scratch or brought in. But just as important everything depended on the WEATHER! Rain could stop the show and all monies would need to be refunded. That would be a real bummer.
2. Rock and Roll was and is controlled by, governed by, driven by and destroyed by one word EGO.As it turned out the first two acts played on schedule but the Special Guest Star, Steve Miller, was nowhere to be found. His equipment was there but he had not arrived down from the bay area. He finally arrived an half hour after he was suppose to go on promptly went to CSNY dressing room and told them to go on and he would close the show. Don and Rich watched as “THE SHIT HIT THE FAN” The number one rule in rock and roll is that the headliner, in this case CSNY, was the star attraction. They dictate the rules, they close the show, and they
don’t take shit from smaller acts or anybody for that matter. Don and Rich watched and anticipated all four grabbing one of Steve Miller’s extremities and making a wish. Leaving him a one man four part solo act. The end result was Steve Stills turned out to be the most aggressive of the four and it turned out Steve Miller did not play that afternoon and CSNY went on early and not only put on an absolutely incredible show with perfect four part harmony, David Crosby had the crowd wish away the rain. If you look at the pictures on their Déjà vu album you will see the clouds, dark and looming, from that show right above the stage. But it did not rain until the show was over. Call it lucky or the positive will of the masses. Either way NO Rain!
3. Lesson #3 Don learned that day about crowd control, or lack thereof. Not the crowd on the inside but the crowd on the outside. Being a college football field, it was surrounded by a 6 foot chain length fence. Inside there were around 15,000 people enjoying the show, on the outside there was about 1,000 kids who either didn’t have the $4 to buy a ticket or chose not to in the hopes they could sneak in. Mixed in with the outside crowd, probably 99% good kids, were a few radical anti-establishment trouble makers. After Don sent out a good number of big athlete peer group security to disperse the crowd away from the fence and to move along, they complied and disappeared from the fence line and Don thought he had averted a potential problem. He had about 60 men stationed on the inside of the fence to discourage jumpers from jumping the fence. He knew it would not be fair to allow them to get in for free when the rest of the crowd paid their $4 to see the concert, also it would set precedent for future shows. Just about then a few dozen kids came up the grass hill from the west and attempted to jump the fence. Don and his security team saw this action and they all deployed to stop it. As they shifted to concentrate their force to handle these trouble makers, from the east came the 900 others led by radical leaders who organized these diversion tactics and they just pushed over the unguarded east fence like it was cardboard and ran into the crowd to hide among the masses. Don was very embarrassed by this occurrence and made it his life’s mission to study and perfect crowd control. A year later these same radicals led the riots that ended up burning down the Bank of America in Goleta.
All in all the show was a success. A few kids beat the system. Steve Miller got his ego stuffed up his ass, Don learned a lot about doing an outdoor show, CSNY probably never sounded that great again, as Young would soon go solo and the drive back to LA seemed a little longer than the ride up. Don was tired but wiser. He had to get back to home, grab a few hours sleep and get to San Diego to start on the Stones concert.
When he got home that night he received a call from his 3 Dog Night friend, Chuck Negron, they had become friends after the first Phoenix show and Chuck wanted to know if he could come to San Diego and see and meet the Stones. Don said no problem; he even booked a room for him at the hotel they were all staying at. Don and Mike were on the first flight out Monday morning for San Diego. A short 30 minute flight that culminated in the most radical and dangerous landing pattern in the US. Rich flew off to Phoenix to get ready for the Stones show there tomorrow night.
Not long after they arrived at the San Diego Sports Arena, their show partner, Bill Graham arrived. Bill had the Fillmore East in San Francisco but really didn’t have a team to do shows outside the Bay area. He would do many co-promotions with West Coast Promotions over the next year. Bill Graham was already an icon on both coasts. He had Fillmore’s East and West, a very successful poster company, he was starting a booking agency and managing some bay area bands. Don was looking forward to working with Bill Graham, hoping to pick up some pointers from The Pro. Don and Bill both got into entertainment from the stage side; Bill was actor in a troupe, Don a singer. They discussed this fact that afternoon. Bill said he thought it gave us an advantage over other promoters, because they understood the stage, the show, the audience and what an artist is experiencing while performing. The myriad of different emotions that an entertainer goes through before walking on the stage in front of a live audience to perform. Don had just taken these facts for granted, but Bill was right. Bill went on to explain that almost all promoters come from the business side of entertainment and relate more to the audience than the entertainers.
The staging setup for the Stones concert was by far the most elaborate of any concert Don, Rich and Mike had ever worked with. The size of the stage, sound system and lighting was enormous for the time. The Stones travelled with a whole team of expert technicians, the team leader was the best in the business, a man called Chip Monk. He had put together the staging for Woodstock and also did the stage announcing. “Stay away from the brown acid”. Don and Chip became fast friends. Don had done all the West Coast announcing since the first concert, it just seemed natural to him. He always forbids any radio DJ to talk on the mic because they always became instant jerks as soon as they got in front of an audience.
That whole day Don split his time between Bill Graham and Chip Monk, soaking up a lifetime of expertise in one day. This was later on going to prove to be one of the most important days in his life. When don started in rock in 65 staging was quite primitive, it evolved into basic with variables, but this was the future in staging. It was big, intricate, complicated for all but those who worked on it, technical to a fault and everything was state of the art up to that minute. The Rolling Stones insisted on the biggest, the baddest and the best. After all they ARE the Greatest Rock and Roll Band in the World.
Around 4pm Ike and Tina showed up followed by Terry Reid; they did short sound check, microphone checks. They had been on the whole tour and everything was the same every night, barring unforeseen problems. Ike, Tina and their manager/everything Rhonda were surprised and happy to see Don. They remembered him from the old days in the early 60’s when they were playing nightly in a lounge in a bowling alley next to LAX. They talked about how this tour was the biggest break in their career. Don expressed his surprise and disappointment on the public’s reaction to one of his favorite songs, the Phil Specter produced “River deep and mountains high” in 1966. Tina said they were rereleasing it that year because of the tour. The song, in Dons mind was one of the best produced, best performed songs of all time. Tina expressed her disappointment also, she said it had gone to #3 in England and was one of Mick’s favorites and that’s how they got on the tour. The 69 rerelease was not successful either. They all agreed the buying public has weird taste and separated to get ready for the show. Late that afternoon, Bill Siddons arrived with our wives and Chuck Negron and Pam. By that time 3 Dog Night was on their 3rd #1 hit off their first great album and was a star in his own right. But that day he was like a little boy, excited about the opportunity to meet the Stones.
The Stones arrived by limo that pulled right into the back door of the arena and went directly into their dressing room, Don was busy and didn’t even see them arrive. A bit later Bill Graham came over to Don and said” didn’t you say when you were a singer you were Mick Jagger?” Don said “Well a very poor imitation of him, but yes” Bill said “Did you ever meet him?” “No, well come on with me”
Bill just marched him right to the dressing room door, entered the room, scanned for Mick and walked up to him. Mick had his back to them and Bill said “Mick I want you to meet my partner on this show. He used to be a singer, a Rolling Stones band. This is Don Branker”
Mick slowly turned around to meet Don and said” Glad to make your acquaintance, Don Branker” “What was your best Stones song”
Don was quite embarrassed by the situation Bill put him in, he was looking down and replied” I’m Free” and “Play with fire” as he looked up he was only 3 inches from Mick’s face and got the shock of his life. His singing idol, the street fighting rocker, the rocking man amongst boys, was wearing more makeup than a circus clown. He, nevertheless, extended his hand to shake Mick’s but was not surprised that the hand was soft, limp and weak.
The very uncomfortable moment was broken up instantly when two giant black arms grabbed Don from behind and lifted him up in the air. Don was still in shock from Mick’s appearance and did not even sense a black giant sneaking up from behind.
Mick seemed amused with the circumstance and asked” Do you know Don Branker, Mr. Tony Funchess”
Tony replied in his deep voice” Know him? He brought me in the business. I owe it all to him”
Just then Keith Richards approached Mick put his arm around him and they walked together into the bathroom. The meeting was over.
Tony put Don down and gave him a great big hug. “How you doing brother?” “First you put me with the Doors, and then you get Bill Siddons to get me with the Stones. Man you changed my whole life. How do I thank you?”
Don started walking to the dressing room door, Tony followed. When they got out the door, Don turned to Tony and said “I just want you to do two things and we’re even.”
“Name it”, said Tony.
Don smiled and said “Just do a good job, which you always do and most of all Enjoy it All”
“I love you brother” Tony said as he hugged Don.
“I love you too brother and I’m real proud of you. The show is about to start, I’ll talk to you later”
Don walked to the stage curtain to look at the crowd, the doors had been open for about 20 minutes and the arena was already half full, he turned away and started for his office, which was right off the stage when he heard an incredibly loud pop come from the stage right speaker bank, he immediately
turned around and headed toward the speakers. The sound engineer, a sound tech and Chip were also running toward the speakers. He stood back and watched the pros deal with the problem.
Chip looked out over the crowd to the sound tech at the mixing board which was about 100 feet from the stage and, he motioned with his hand to his throat and the tech immediately turned off the sound system. Don heard Chip say something to the effect of “This is what happen at the Forum and you said you fixed it and it would never happen again” He looked at the engineer and with a stern but firm voice said” The show is scheduled to start in ½ hour, have it fixed by then” A third tech arrived with a big tool kit, it was filled with testers, tubes, breakers, wires and soldering guns. Don walked away as they started to pull wires and test cables. In his office were all the wives Bill, Mike, Chuck and Pam.
Bill Graham walked into the office and Don introduced him to all our wives and said’ this is Chuck Negron from 3 Dog Night and his wife Pam”. Bill was a gentlemen and very cordial, He then turned to Rich and Don and asked” What’s going on with the sound system? This show must run on time, The union over time will kill us” Don replied, “ It was just playing walk in music and let out a God awful pop and they are working on it”
Bill said “Nice to meet you all” “Don, let’s go fix the problem” They left the office and walked behind the speaker bank. The engineer and tech were soldering wires. Don and the whole entertainment industry were aware of the stories of Bill Graham and his temper. He was subject to go off on anybody at anytime for whatever reason he felt. He asked the soundmen rather loudly “What’s the problem?”
The sound tech got very nervous and started to stutter, he was trying to solder but his hands started to shake. “I I I dddon don’t know for sssure”
Bill’s face started turning bright red; he turned to the engineer and loudly said “Here’s how it is! The show is scheduled to start in 10 minutes. If it doesn’t we will go into overtime, YOU will pay for all overtime staffing. The union, security, staffing whoever. I will take it out of your hide.” He then bent down to the trembling tech and yelled at the absolute top of his lungs. “I SAID FIX IT. NOW!!” Just then Chip walked up and Don motioned behind Bill l’s back to Chip to get Bill out of here. Chip put his arm around Bill and started walking him away. “Bill, relax, I’ll take care of it”. Don swears Bill yelled so loud that the techs hair blew to the side like a cartoon. Don knelt to the tech and said “Just relax, take some deep breaths, pull yourself together and figure out the problem, please”
The show did start five minutes late, but life went on. Just when Don heard the show start, he took a deep breath and thought, boy glad those problems over. He saw Big Tony and motioned for him.” Tony, I need a favor. My friend Chuck Negron, the lead singer for 3 dog night is here as my guest. I promised him I would set up a meeting with Mick and the Stones. He’s here with his wife Pam, can you handle that for me, please?”
“No problem Don, where is he now, this is the best time.”
Don walked Tony into his office and introduced Chuck. “This is Chuck and his wife Pam” “Chuck, this my twin brother Tony, he’ll escort you over to the Stones dressing room now.”
Chuck and Pam got to meet all the Stones, it turned out they were fans of 3 Dog, and Mick told him what a great voice Chuck had and he particularly liked their rendition of “Try a Little Tenderness”, the Otis Redding version.
All wives, friends and non-essential personnel were sent out to their seats out front, except he had 2 chairs set up side stage for Chuck and Pam, so Chuck didn’t have to be out in the audience. His band was the hottest American band of the moment and Chuck Negron was a STAR, and would only get bigger in future years.
Don was in his stage office going over the show costs with their pre-show estimates, if the show ended on time they were well within the budget. He was interrupted by an arena rent-a-cop security guard who said” We have a major problem out back. There is a herd of long hair, wild eyed trouble makers trying to break down the back stage doors to get in the concert” Don instantly headed for the back of the arena. As he got closer he could hear loud pounding like something was being bashed against the doors and walls. He saw two out of shape rent-a- guards trying to hold the door shut. He turned around and ran down the hall to the Stones dressing room and found Tony, “Could you give me a hand? We have a situation,” not wanting to alarm everyone.
Don started running back towards the back of the arena with Tony right behind him. “We have some assholes causing big trouble in the back. We’ll give them a warning and if they don’t respond, let’s just start kicking ass and we’ll take names later” Don and Tony reached the back doors, moved the rent-a-cops to the side, threw open the doors and faced a few dozen drug crazed hoodlums hell bent to get into the show for free. Crashing the doors to break in was bad enough, but if these jerks got in these doors, they would be back stage, where the artist and stage was. It could stop the show! It could also start a full scale riot on the inside if they got in and instigated the crowd from the stage. It must be stopped right here. Right now!
Don and Tony barreled the doors open, it startled the crashers and they all took a couple of steps back down the stairs. Don yelled “Back the fuck up, punks” “this is my show and you’re not going to fuck it up”
Don at 5 10”, 155, was not fearful at first appearance. But he was a battle tested, extraordinary street fighter. He saved his violence for only those that deserved it. But once in battle his only question was how much damage he wanted to inflict on his opponents and how he wanted to deliver it. He had a full array of offensive tactics and blinding speed to deliver the goods. Now Tony is a whole different story, at 6 5”, 275 lbs of solid muscle, he was walkin talkin intimidation. The two of them stood shoulder to shoulder facing 30-40 potential opponents. In his deepest giant bear voice he bellowed out “WHAT THE FUCK ARE YOU INSECT PUNKS DOING? Are you looking for trouble? My name is Tony; my middle name is trouble, which one of you little girls are looking for trouble? How about you? Maybe you. How about you?” He pointed out the leaders in front of the pack. No one answered. The back of the pack slowly started backing up.
The three in front were extra grungy with long filthy ratted out hair. They seemed to be the leaders, they seemed to be together. The one in front was tall, skinny, pock faced and looked like he slept under
bridges. He had been looking down the whole time, he finally raised his head up and snarled” Concerts ought to be free, music ought to be free.” He avoided Tony and looked at Don and said” your nothing but a money grubber capitalist” Don stepped up to the creep and jabbed his finger into his chest repeatedly as he replied “Ok games over, you all have two choices. Leave now or the only thing that will beat you to the hospital will be the headlights of the ambulance that takes you there. Your choice!”
The dirt bag leader did not like being jabbed with Dons finger, he took a step back and retorted at Don” your nothing but a long hair capitalist pig FAG! You don’t look tough enough to take us all, in fact your just talking tough because you got that Big Nigger protecting you”
At that moment Tony reached over Don’s shoulder grabbed the dirt bag by the hair and pulled him out of the flock by lifting him off the ground by his filthy mane. Don stepped in between “Tony put him down. There will no violence here, unless I get to dish it out. “With that Don spun around and with the speed of a bullet and the thrust of cannon, he embedded his right fist into the throat of the instigator, aiming specifically for his protruding Adams Apple. The stunned jerk waivered backward, than forward and then collapsed on his face unable to breath. His two sidekicks moved forward to help their leader, Tony squared off with the two of them hitting one with his left hand simultaneously the other with his right hand right in the middle of their face. Both noses exploded in a pool of blood before they even hit the ground. The gang of 30 plus crashers stood in total disbelief at what they just witnessed.
Tony pointed to all the remaining former trouble makers and said” You heard what the man said. He gave you two choices; get the hell out of here right now before he takes away the first choice”. They seemed to scatter in 30 plus different directions very quickly.
Tony’s two friends just clutched their faces and rolled around in their own pool of blood. Don leaned over to the leader rolled him on his back, placed his knee on his chest as he gasped for air. He took two fingers and started pinching the creeps trachea and said” You called my friend a nigger and me a fag. Here’s the penalty. I never want to see you at a concert again, or the beach or anywhere in San Diego. The next time I see you I won’t be so nice. Don promoted almost a 100 concerts in San Diego over the next few years, he never saw them again.
Don and Tony left their friends to ponder the errors of their ways and went back into the arena. Just in time to watch Tina Turner perform her magic. Don and Tony said nothing to anybody about the incident. But there is no secrets back stage; the rent-a-cops told everyone they could. Tony went back into Rolling Stone security mode, protecting the Greatest Rock and Roll Band in the World as they took the stage. Don went to his office and shut the door, he wanted to be alone. At the end of the concert all the wives and friends returned back stage enthusiastically blown out by the superb performance of Mick and the Boys. He told them to go to the hotel he had to wait and settle with Bill Graham and would meet them later.
All the sound, lights, staging, props and wardrobe had to be taken apart. Packed up, loaded up on the trucks and be transported to Phoenix for tomorrow night’s show. Bill finished settling with the box office and met Don in the office, they went over the settlement sheets and Bill wrote West Coast a check for their share of the profits. A profitable night for all concerned. The way it should be.