Becoming a promoter - By Les Vogt
Tickets for most events in the early days were all cash sales at the door... the bigger venues would sell advance tickets at Kelly's Records (downtown Vancouver) and Treacher's Records on Fraser Street in South Vancouver. The Queen Elizabeth Theatre (2800 seats) sold reserved seat tickets in advance from their box office at the theatre... which would later become known as the Vancouver Ticket Centre selling tickets for the QE and other venues as well. TicketMaster ultimately took over and offered credit card sales plus charge by phone, etc. with sales outlets all over town.
As things progressed, I started promoting events out of town. i.e. Port Alberni, Penticton, Kelowna and Prince George, etc. I would call the local radio station to arrange for some advertising and quiz them on the local venues and ticket sales locations... which were mostly record stores centrally located in town. These would all be general seating or dance events since it was impossible to sell reserved seats in this manner. The record stores would usually sell the tickets for little or nothing in return for the additional traffic the advertising would bring to them. As performing Arts Theatres came to the smaller towns, they all had a complete, fully serviced box office outlet attached.
|Although I had been promoting dances on my own, it would be a
stretch to say I was a promoter. However, the skills of learning where
to place advertising monies (which were shoestring amounts) was
invaluable stuff. I learned that collecting a mailing list at the dances
by having the kids fill out a coupon for door prizes was an inexpensive
way to develop a direct mailing list... I didn't have to rely on the
expensive radio and newspaper ads. My mailing list and well placed
posters were all I needed to fill up the community halls around the
city. As the radio stations played more an more rock'n'roll music, the
opportunities grew. A teen-age disk jockey, Red Robinson, had captured
the kid's attention and was the main
reason why Vancouver was bubbling with teen activities in those days. In 1958
Red had an "Elvis Contest" at the
Orpheum Theatre to discover Vancouver's own Elvis which he would promote via his
radio station promotions, etc. I, of course, entered the contest... I
lost... or at least I didn't win. Jimmy Morrison (of the Stripes) was
the winner. I always thought I was the better singer and it became a
spirited competition for a couple of years.
When Red Robinson left Vancouver to work in the US, Jimmy Morrison became the forgotten man. And, then my recording of "The Blamers" was released and became a #1 hit in 1960... Jimmy Morrison & the Stripes were buried forever. However, the record was released under the name of Les Vogt because the band was no longer together. I was being offered a lot of performing jobs... So, one of the weekend bands I was working with (Gordie Cowan & the Originals) quickly learned the song and we became known as Les Vogt and the Blamers. The band learned and played all the other hits of the day as well. The popularity of "The Blamers" gave me instant recognition and a positive credit that would open a lot of doors for me in down the line. It was the beginning of what would be my future in the music business... concert promotion.
Vancouver became a regular stop for the rock'n'roll recording artists of the day. All the US bands that played the Seattle area were always excited about coming to Canada and Vancouver was just a 2 hr drive away. I befriended some of the agents & promoters in the Seattle area and asked them if I could buy an extra date on the acts that were ending their tours in Seattle. One guy, Pat Mason, an agent and promoter (Far West Amusements) in Seaside, Oregon became a long-time associate and supplier of US touring attractions. I think the very first booking we did together was Eddie Cochran at the old Edmonds Rollerway in Burnaby. Pat Mason was the manager for Gene Vincent, and later he also managed Paul Revere & the Raiders. Pat and I would co-operatively promote both these shows plus many others in the Vancouver area. Pat would later promote Roy Orbison dates for me throughout his territories (Washington & Oregon) in the mid seventies.
I also began promoting country music artists... The Jack Roberts Agency in Seattle booked country artists into Bill's Tavern in Blaine, WA just across the border. So, I arranged to buy an additional date (from Jack) as an extension of their US tours ending in Blaine. I promoted these concerts at the Vincent Massey School Auditorium in New Westminster. My first bookings (from Jack) were Kitty Wells and Loretta Lynn. There was no box office attached to the Vincent Massey Auditorium (1200 seats) and the existing ticket outlets in Vancouver were not appropriate. I attempted to get the Woodward's Store (record department) to sell the tickets, but I couldn't get it done. So, they let me set up a table with a large, noticeable banner... and I was personally there selling Kitty Wells tickets 11am to 4pm Monday thru Friday. The show sold about 500 tickets and it was a success.
The Woodward's Store was very close to the Vincent Massey School and some of the students would often come into the record department at lunch time to look around. One day, there was a group of four young girls wandering around. They had just come around a corner and hadn't seen me yet, as one of the girls lifted up her skirt and made a crotch adjustment in plain view. Then, one of the other girls noticed me and exclaimed "Hey, that OLD GUY saw you!" They were about 16 or 17 and I was probably in my mid twenties... and I remember thinking why wouldn't she have just said "that guy" as opposed to that weird "OLD guy?" It was a bit of a reality check at the time.
Anyway, I had established the advance ticket sales process and hired others to sell the tickets at the Woodward's outlet for the next Loretta Lynn show... which sold much better. Jack Roberts was very surprised that I was able to produce theatre concert shows while he was only booking his shows into the smaller taverns across the border. I gave some thought to developing a permanent ticket outlet at Woodward's that would sell tickets for all kinds of other events... but, it was complicated and I had other plans in the entertainment business.
After these initial two shows, I booked Freddy Fender direct from his US agent into the much larger Queen Elizabeth Theatre in Vancouver... because he had a big hit "Wasted Days and Wasted Nights" at the time... and the show sold out quickly. After this success, I talked Jack Roberts into a partnership that would see us co-presenting future country shows into the Queen Elizabeth Theatre. We had great success with Hank Snow, Johnny & Jack, Faron Young, Sonny James and Johnny Cash. We continued a successful relationship until Roberts, who had begun building a concert circuit in Washington and Oregon, suddenly sent me a letter saying that “My advertising services were no longer required” and terminated our partnership. I was very disappointed, and it was a lesson well learned. However, by that time, I was getting more involved in rock’n’roll concert promotions that I didn’t have time to worry about it. I just thought… “What an asshole he was” and left it at that.
In 1961, when Red Robinson returned to the airwaves in Vancouver, I was established as the local boy promoter and doing quite well on a part-time basis. I was still delivering milk (the singing milkman) to make sure my family's needs were met. It was inevitable that Red and I would team up and form an entertainment promotion company (Jaguar Enterprises Ltd.) that would prove very successful for a number of years. Red would advertise the events on his radio program (as well as MC the shows) and I would take care of all the organizational work. It was a mutually beneficial partnership that allowed us both to purchase our first homes. In fact, the profits from a series of 3 Roy Orbison shows in 1962 gave us both the down payment amounts required. See The Story for the interesting details.
Some of the acts Red and I brought to the Vancouver area during the sixties were Roy Orbison, Jerry Lee Lewis, Buddy Knox, Bobby Curtola, Glen Campbell, Bob Luman, Bobby Bare, Johnny & Dorsey Burnette, Donny Brooks and more.
Red Robinson would go on to establish a full-time advertising business and I continued on my own in many different areas. Jaguar Enterprises became the primary booking agency for most Vancouver Rock'n'Roll bands... I opened a teen dance club "The Grooveyard" in New Westminster. It became a super popular teen hang-out where the likes of The Nocturnals, Night Train Revue, Epics, Kentish Steel and the Shantelles would regularly appear. At times, name attractions such as Ike & Tina Turner, Paul Revere and the Raiders, The Sonics, The Kingsmen, Bo Diddley and The Frantics would be featured. I also opened "The Purple Steer" country music night club (with partner Gary Taylor & record star Buddy Knox) which featured a house band (Irene Butler and the Country Spirit) and many imported recording stars such as Charlie Rich, Bob Luman, Dorsey Burnett, Jerry Wallace, Gene Vincent and, of course, Buddy Knox.
A San Fransisco promoter (Ike & Tina's Mgr Charles Sullivan) offered to partner with me on Vancouver shows. He suggested I find a larger venue for the big recording acts and use the Grooveyard as the presenting sponsor. So, I took the big shows such as Ike & Tina Turner, James Brown, Little Richard, Wilson Pickett and others to the PNE Garden (2000 capacity) Auditorium. Since there was a city ordinance that didn't allow patrons under 18 to attend a public dance within the Vancouver city limits, the shows were not advertised as a dance (festival style) hoping that the dance police would let me get away with it. At the very first show (Ike and Tina Turner) Sgt. Ralph Bellamy (head of the youth squad with the Vancouver Police Dept) raided the venue with 6 or 8 uniformed police. We knew each other from an on-going cat and mouse chase going back to my direct mail dance notices advertising different halls from week to week. He used to chase me around like Elliot Ness... never actually catching up to me. So, here we were face to face "Hey Vogt" he shouts "I want to talk to you in the office." I thought I was going to be led out in hand-cuffs. However, I took him in the back to talk and he said in a matter-of- fact like manner "Look... I can see there are a lot of people under 18 in here... and they're all dancing!" Then, his voice quiets down and he says "Don't take this as a license to do whatever you want... but, I like being able to watch all the possible trouble makers in one place... just keep your nose clean." Wow... what a relief. I never had another problem with the dance police.
Another recollection from that Ike & Tina Turner show... Tina was the boss and looked after all the business. So, as I was counting up their cash performance payment at the counter in the box office, Tina came in to collect same. This in itself was not unexpected. However, I was very surprised when she came up behind me and very affectionately pinched my bum. All sorts of thoughts went thru my mind... not the least of which was the fact that her husband (Ike Turner) carried a gun and was generally not a very pleasant person. At any rate, it was this reason alone that suppressed any thoughts of a possible romantic encounter. It has always remained just a fun story to bring up among friends during those "remember when" sessions that come up from time to time.
By this time, I had elevated from the dance format into concert mode staging many of the bigger acts at the Queen Elizabeth Theatre (2800 seats) with both country and rock'n'roll recording stars such as Roy Orbison, James Brown, Sonny & Cher, Johnny Cash, Sonny James, Jim Reeves and others.
In 1976, while browsing thru an entertainment magazine, I discovered an item that advertised Roy Orbison and his band performing at a bar in Thunder Bay, Ontario. This was unbelievable to me... I knew that Roy Orbison belonged in the concert theatres. He was travelling around from gig to gig in a station wagon with the band and a U-Haul trailer. So, I set out to find out what was going on and possibly to arrange some concert dates for him.
I tracked Roy down and offered him a cross-Canada concert tour. A deal was made to pay Roy 80% of the box office proceeds after expenses and I would retain 20%. To make a long story short... we filled up the concert halls right across Canada and Roy asked me to move to Nashville and manage his US tour schedule on the same partnership basis... a similar 80/20 basis. We made a ton of money in Canada and both Roy and I thought he would fill up the concert halls all over the U.S. once we reintroduced him to the American audiences again.
On tour, Roy would fly between dates when the travel distance was excessive. The band would drive while Roy and a chosen companion would fly. I was fortunate to be his companion on several occasions. On one such occasion Roy asked me about an "Orbison's Greatest Hits" album that we were selling at the merchandise table in Canada. Apparently, he wasn't aware of the deal and was concerned about his royalties. He explained to me that artist's recording contracts have a clause that allows the record company to bonus or give-away 10%-15% of the produced albums for promotion purposes. This, he said, opens the door for the record company to offer record stores a box (250) of Orbison records for every box of (a new artist) that was purchased. There is no way for popular artists to know how many pressings are made and/or avoid the scam. It takes the risk away from a record store purchasing a quantity of a new artist's records because they know they can sell the (free) Orbison records. I would learn many lessons of the music business from my association with Roy Orbison.
I created Roy Orbison souvenir sales i.e. photos... t-shirts... picture books and his Greatest Hits record album. This was before the term merchandising and before anyone was doing it. I got the idea from Bobby Curtola's Manager selling photos at his shows. Roy seemed fascinated with the souvenir sales...even more than the gate attendances. I think the unreported cash (which we shared 50/50) that went directly into his pocket appealed to him.
One night we had an especially good sales night and Roy's souvenir share was in the $1,200.00 range. And, as usual, I settled with Sam Orbison (Roy's brother) who was hired as Roy's valet of sorts. Anyway, I had the money in a tightly wrapped brown paper bag and gave it to Sam. Later before going to my room at the hotel, I stopped at the coke machine to pick up a drink and to my surprise... sitting right on top of the coke machine was the bag of money I had given to Sammy. Apparently, he had taken it out of his pocket in order to get some change for the coke machine and forgot to put it back. What a lucky break! I grabbed the money and went to Sammy's room to return it. When I knocked on his door, Roy answered (apparently they had adjoining rooms) which presented me with an awkward situation. I had intended to return it to Sammy without Roy knowing about it. Anyway, I had to explain the whole story to Roy and the next day he fired Sammy... and I dealt directly with Roy after that. He would hire Sammy again shortly afterward.
Surprisingly, Roy's success wasn't so great in the US. We discovered that the American audiences had a tendency to place their former hit makers in the "has been" category fairly soon after the hits stopped coming. Roy had strong hot beds of popularity... but only one in three events would make money... one in three would break even and one in three would be a failure. However, Roy's LA performance attracted many of the current hit makers living in the area. They loved Roy and wanted to work with him. I convinced Roy to get an LA manager… move tto LA and start co-writing songs with some of these top recording acts in the business. See The Story for more interesting details.
Roy's networking with the then current music business stars in LA would lead to the formation of the Traveling Wilburys - which would put Roy Orbison right back on top once again. This was, obviously, the best piecet of advice I could have ever given to my friend and famous associate.
In 1979 I created the Elvis Elvis Elvis tribute concert featuring three different Elvis performers... each performing a separate era i.e. the 50's, 60's & 70's. Roy Orbison played an important role in the formation of this show. See The Story for the interesting details.
The Elvis Elvis Elvis show was probably the main reason why I was able to establish myself as a full-fledged promoter. It was the beginning of the impersonator show phenomena (the term "tribute show" wasn't used yet)... and Elvis had just died in 1977. It truly was a recipe for success. And, a success it was... during the early 80's I had three different casts touring somewhere in the world. I had created a strong marketing plan during this endeavor... motivating posters... newspaper ads... radio & TV ads plus I learned the important value of networking with promoters world-wide. I offered my partners a turn-key operation plus a strong reputation for success. I had applied all the knowledge learned from my Roy Orbison experience right down to offering a line of merchandising items.
Elvis Elvis Elvis lasted until 1986 when it ran at the World Fair (Expo '86) in Vancouver. At this point, all the copy-cat productions had watered down the business considerably. Although we changed up the cast continually, it was time to reinvent the concept. A modest demand for Elvis Elvis Elvis shows has continued right up until today... mostly for casino and seniors events nowadays.
Eventually, I began promoting package shows featuring a variety of tribute Legends as well as different genres from 50's & 60's oldies to the present expanding on the triple Elvis concept. See beginnings of same below...
In 1989 I created the Roy Orbison tribute show “This Lonely Heart” starring Larry Branson which would not get rolling at that point due to Branson being cast as Roy Orbison in the award winning U.K. musical “Only The Lonely: The Roy Orbison Story" which ran 1993 thru 1995.
Larry would also release a recording called "This Lonely Heart" (which he co-wrote) and it became a hit in Vancouver. See The Story for the reason I promised Roy that I would produce a Roy Orbison tribute show after his death.
In 1991 I became a partner in the Hedley Blast Country Music festival which was transformed into The Merritt Mountain Music Festival in 1993. I invested over $100k in Merritt... which I would come to regret since it eventually went bankrupt. Long story there... read all the details in The Story
I was quite active with the Merritt Festival during the early days and drifted away as time went on due to partnership problems. And, since Larry Branson's UK contract was earning me $4000 USD every month, I took off in my motorhome and toured around the US for the next 12 months. After this period, Larry’s UK contract was about to expire and I would soon have to get back to the reality of making a regular income once again.
Shortly after returning to BC, I had an opportunity to partner with John Stuart’s Legends In Concert… a popular Las Vegas entity which we cooperatively intro-duced to the Toronto area. It sounded like a great career opportunity at the time. Since, I had been away for so long and most of my touring contacts had drifted away, I moved to Toronto for the better part of two years. I abruptly quit when John (thru investors) had purchased a downtown theatre in Toronto where he was planning to move into. I could have stayed on in a management role, but decided against it because parking was a big problem... people would have to pay much more for parking than our modest income patrons could afford. John was pissed at me for leaving. However, a few years afterward he pulled me aside at a Las Vegas convention and admitted that I had made the right decision... and that he had lost the theatre as well as a ton of money on the deal.
I would eventually resign completely from the Merritt Festival in 2008 due to a serious indifference with my partner's vision for the future direction of the festival... read more details in The Story
At this point I entered into a partnership with a business associate (Wayne Webb) and we seriously expanded the Legends of Rock'n'Roll tribute show promotions with great success... read more details in The Story
Click on poster image to see larger view
In March, 2019 the Covid-19 Pandemic body-slammed the music industry...we were forced to cancel all scheduled shows for the year. It is uncertain if we will restart promotions in the future. If not... it has been one hell of a ride!
Click Here For time-line of activities 1958 thru 2019