Rant ‘N’ Roll: Off His Rocker

I was interviewing Richie Furay (Buffalo Springfield/Poco/Souther Hillman Furay) in his dressing room at the Sellersville (PA) Theater and upon me asking him why he returned to the rock ‘n’ roll wars now after years of preaching gospel, he told me of a guy named Kenny Weissberg who kicked him in the nuts to get him going again. The article came out and lo and behold Weissberg reached out to me, told me how much he loved the piece, and offered to send me his book.

Everybody’s got a book.

Off My Rocker: One Man’s Tasty, Twisted, Star-Studded Quest For Everlasting Music (hardcover, $26.95, Sandra Jonas Publishing House, Boulder Colorado) could’ve been the title for my own stalled memoir. The revelation came in the very first chapter. He’s a Jewish kid from Newark who’s been in bands, went to Woodstock, loved Otis Redding, became a rock critic, and a radio DJ. Wait a minute! Is he writing about me? Truth be told, my DJ career was in the radio booth of Essex County Community College downtown Newark and could be heard all the way into the lunchroom of Essex County Community College where angry eaters would pound on the door separating the two rooms to scream for Mountain and Joe Cocker when I was playing Beatles and Stones. My show was called “The Devil’s Ass.” His show was called “Music Without Boundaries” and it was one of the more successful post-free form FM radio shows where the DJ would choose his own music. Weissberg has eclectic tastes, is multi-genre and knows his stuff. He’d go from Bessie Smith to The Ramones to Solomon Burke with side trips of Patti Smith, Spirit, Southside Johnny, Afro-Pop, samba, salsa, Tex-Mex and electronica. His show was heard by millions of people over 17 years.

But that’s not what he’s mostly known for.

As booker for a beautiful outdoor San Diego venue called Humphrey’s Concerts by the Bay, he lived his dream of presenting music and got to mingle, hang out with, talk to, and do business with, the likes of Aretha Franklin, James Brown, Fats Domino, Ray Charles, Roy Orbison, Chuck Berry and more. There’s great stories about all of the aforementioned. Yet it’s his two back-to-back chapters—“Diva Demands” and “Angels”—that had me up nights not being able to put it down. Can you guess who the divas are and who the angels are out of the following artists: Natalie Cole, Patti LaBelle, Dionne Warwick, Anita Baker, comedian Gallagher (a real jerk who proves not all divas are women), B.B. King, Bonnie Raitt, Joan Baez, Leonard Cohen and Lyle Lovett?

It’s well-known that Chuck Berry has always been too cheap to have his own band, travels alone, and expects some local pick-up band procured by the promoter to back him up. But he was much worse than that. His chapter is called “Extortion Chuck Berry Style.” James Brown was a handful too. Fats Domino was sweet but you could hardly understand a word he says in his thick Creole gumbo patois. Aretha was a total trip, demanding he bring her $50,000 in hundreds which she counted in bed in the middle of a trash-strewn hotel room right in front of him. Then there’s Roy Orbison, ever the gentleman.

Weissberg writes with the kind of warts-and-all blunt honesty that reeks of righteousness. He’s all about the music. He learned how to play the game even when the game forced him to grease the wheels of business in ways totally distasteful to him…but he did it anyway. It’s a quick read, totally fun, and I’m glad he read my Richie Furay story. (Furay even has a quote on the book’s jacket.) For the record, Cole, LaBelle, Warwick, Baker and, of course, that nincompoop Gallagher were total divas.