Dean's Journey Part Deaux
Updated: Sep 27
11/21 Milwaukee, WI Garibaldi’s11/21 Milwaukee, WI Garibaldi’
Two weeks after graduating high school I purchased my first car, or should I say, my parents were kind enough to buy me my first car which was a used red GTO. I then found myself living in a studio apartment in Kimberly, WI
It was an entirely new experience, as prior to this I had only been away from home for a week each year at summer camp. I did not know how to cook, how to pay bills, let alone what a check book was, so the fledgling had left the nest. I started what I thought was supposed to be a summer job as my parents had registered me to attend college at their alma mater, the University of Wisconsin Stevens Point. They put down a $75 deposit to hold me a spot, they reminded me of this until the day they died.
So here I am living in my furnished studio apartment with a trundle bed, a living room with a couch and chair, a small dining room table for my kitchen area, and a bathroom which I paid $125 per month for, and I would spend the first week crying myself to sleep because I was lonely and missed my parents and my girlfriend. That soon passed but it took a while to adjust to being totally on your own in a new town and not knowing anyone.
It was a great learning experience and Gary Van Zeeland was a great place to learn the business. The company created several generations of agents who eventually left for new ventures but it was known as a breeding ground for great agents.
I was one of the first 4-5 agents and at the time we were in Gary’s basement. So you had 4-5 people spread out across a room in a basement, so it was a very up close and personal environment and you learned from the other agents and developed your own style.
A year later we moved into a beautiful brand new office building that Gary had built and added another generation of agents to the team.
GVZ was the biggest agency in WI at the time and we did middle agent work for all of the major attractions coming into the Midwest. Middle agents book other people’s bands in our local territory. Which meant we booked other agencies’ national artists in our territory many times dealing directly with the managers.
We had two departments, a 6 night lounge department and a single night department and I was in the single night department. The single night department consisted primarily of rock and country cover bands.
We had 60-75 bands in the lounge department at one time and 120+ single night bands. I would often have 50-60 dates booked to perform each week.
I was 18 working with a bunch of people who had to be in their late 20’s or early 30’s, most were former musicians, so they had been on the road. All very good agents but all with their own styles, and I learned so much from all of them.
We had a softball league but it was an older men’s league with a large oversized ball, which was both a pain in the ass to hit or catch, but you didn’t need a glove.
In 1973, at 18 I was booking national acts from the late 60’s and early 70’s, people like Bobby Vee, Tommy James and the Shondells, Gary Puckett and the Union Gap, Herman’s Hermits, New Colony Six, The Buckinghams, the Crying Shames, Ides of March, and on and on, along with my roster of regional artists, which included AXIS, Carnaby Street, Clicker, Jules Blattner and the Warren Groovy All Stars, and VIXEN who I would work with on and off for the next 40 years till the leader of the band and dear friend of mine, Jan Kuhnemund passed away in 2011 from ovarian cancer while I was on tour with Diamond Head. I first saw her when I was 17 and she was in a band called Genesis and a year later I was representing her and Genesis had changed their name to VIXEN, and we worked together on and off as either an agent or manager or both for the next 40+years.
I had several mentors in my early career. Prior to starting with GVZ I worked with Mike Kappus and Eddie Sandas.
Mike Kappus worked at Contemporary Talent in Milwaukee which was more of an original music agency. Mike was the first who taught me about what it was like to be an artist’s agent and to be an ethical agent and I’ve always had an immense respect for him.. Mike would later go on to start the Rosebud Agency which is a well respected national agency that specializes in Blues and Roots music.
Eddie Sandas was the man responsible for helping me to get my start at GVZ.
Besides Mike and Eddie, my most influential mentors were Larry Schumann, who I worked with at GVZ and later at McMillian and Clary Talent and Cubby and Steve Tracy who were in the band Clicker, my biggest drawing and highest grossing artist at the time.
After moving to Madison to work with McMillan and Clary Talent, Larry would introduce me to a band called Rory Slick and the Roadsters who would evolve into Slick and then to YIPES and later as a solo artist as Pat McCurdy, who I’d go on to represent in various capacities for 30-35 years.
McMillian and Clary Talent, like Contemporary Talent, was an agency which specialized in original music. Larry was the first to start me down that path by giving me an AXIS tape which was my introduction to Danny Johnson, who I have represented on and off ever since. Larry, along with the Tracy brothers taught me how to be an artist’s agent. Larry’s introduction to Danny Johnson would be the beginning of a lifelong friendship and Danny would go on to make rock and roll history and become known as one of the greatest guitarists of all time. Larry had given me a cassette tape of a young power trio from Shreveport, LA saying “I think you will like this” he was right and the rest is now history.
I learned that you represent the artist and it is the artist who is paying you, and that an artist is worth what they draw.
It is a fine line we walk as an agent, we represent the artists, and our offers have to be based in reality, as do the artist’s expectations. It is a symbiotic relationship. My buyers are my friends and fans of the artists they are buying. I prefer to have them around for a while and book my entire roster, I don’t want to put them out of business by over-pricing the talent I’m bringing them. It is about nurturing relationships on both ends of the spectrum. We are not selling cars, we are building long term, committed relationships.
Learning how to be an artist’s agent almost got me fired.
At the time Clicker was drawing 1,000-3,000 people at a $3 cover. Their guarantee was $500 vs 80% of the door and they were making $2,000-$2,500 per show.
Over the course of time, with the guidance from Steve and Cubby Tracy, we raised the price to $1,000 vs 80%, then to $1,500 and on to $2,000, and we still walked out with our $2,000-$3,000 per night.
When I started raising the price to $1,000 I was called into Gary Van Zeeland’s office and he wanted to fire me because he was afraid we were going to put the venues out of business.
After explaining that even with our increased guarantees we were still making $1,000-$2,000 in percentages and the bar was raking it in, he acquiesced.
Suddenly all of Jon St. John’s (head of the single night department) highest drawing artists', like Jules Blattner, guarantees were increased to $1,000. I was not fired.
I also found that there were some other advantages to being an agent by discovering that I became popular at the shows because everyone wanted to be your friend because you knew the band.
It was also the first time I was out from under the rule of my parents and I got to discover more of who I was. I grew my hair long, which as a jock in school you could not do, and you could not do it in my father’s house. Oh no, you could not have a juvenile delinquent living in the truant officer’s home!
I lived through the rise of David Bowie in his Ziggy Stardust days and followed suit. I could be found at shows wearing makeup, lipstick, eyeshadow, or glitter, scarves, and earrings. I had a blast!
I had a wonderful time for two years but started to have some conflicts with Gary’s philosophy which would not be the only time I had a conflict with my boss’s philosophy.
Gary was also a mentor, he helped to develop my work ethic, my passion, and my tenacity, and I’ll be forever grateful for him giving me the chance.
In short, Gary’s loyalty was to the clubs that kept all of his acts working and made him a millionaire, and my loyalty was to the artists and the careers I was helping them to try to build and it grew into a conflict.
So, after two years I decided I wanted a change and decided I was going to be a Rockstar….. Boy was I wrong.
I put together a superstar band centered around myself, but in the end they were way over my head and my stint in the band lasted about 3 rehearsals when they said I was probably best suited managing the band.
My first major mistake.
I wanted to play songs like “Honky Tonk Women”, and “All Right Now”, and they wanted to play “My Old School”, and “Razor Boy” by Steely Dan, along with FLASH, Yes and other progressive rock.
I am the world’s greatest/worst rhythm guitarist. I can not figure out things by listening to the record, you have to show me what you want me to play, and if you are trying to teach me a lead riff, I’m going to ask you to slow it down so I can see what the hell you are doing.
The bass player in the band played bass, guitar, and drums and had perfect pitch. He could listen to a record once and tell us the first guitar part, the second guitar part, and a third guitar part that you probably can’t hear, along with knowing the bass and drum parts.
No, I could not keep up, I was not in their league. I did a great job of putting together the perfect band, alas, was not destined to be in it.
The Allman Bros Band, “Statesboro Blues” did me in, a simple blues progression, but it had a turn around that I could not just get, especially not on the spot, and that turn around was the demise of my rockstar dream.
Then it was off to Madison, Wisconsin to work with Larry Schumann at McMillian and Clary Talent.
At the time I had no idea what I had achieved and how well I had done.
I found out later that I made more money than my parents who were teachers with BA degrees but had no appreciation of it at the time. I had never had more than a part time job, so I had nothing to compare it to.
It was the first time that my father thought that this could actually be some kind of career.
They would catch me later but they would have to get their MS degrees to do so.
Apparently I did very well because I was audited by the IRS at 18-19.years old,.. fortunately Gary had a good accountant.
The one and only time I’ve ever been audited by the IRS and at the time I barely knew who the hell they were, other than that they took money out of each paycheck.
Clicker - Clicker (1973) Full Album
Clicker - Harde Har Har Har (1975) Full Album
Documentary Then, The Jules Blattner Story
Jules Blattner and the Cisco Kid Live
This is a skit Jules was known for and is hilarious
The original drummer in AXIS passed away and was replaced by Vinny Appice and shortly thereafter Vinny and Danny were both recruited by Rick Derringer to join his band DERRINGER and this record came out after they reformed after leaving DERRINGER. Vinny had just done some recording with John Lennon and was getting called everyday and everyday he would turn them down. When he turned down Rick Derringer his big brother Carmine called and said are you fucking nuts, Rick is great. So Rick flew down to Shreveport, LA and saw the band and came away with two out of the three. He had already recruited Kenny Aaronson from Stories for his bass player. It world later cause problems for Danny because the bass player in AXIS was Danny’s brother-in-law but they would reunite AXIS after Danny and Vinny’s time in DERRINGER and would play together with big brother Carmine Appice later in Rod Stewart.
Axis - “It’s A Circus World”
This is almost 10 years later and the earliest videos of Danny, and one of his signatures tunes, “Nothing To Lose” which I have heard since I was 18
Danny Johnson and The Bandits
I also started another relationship at GVZ that would last over 40 years and that was with Bobby Vee. I would book dates with him on and off for those 40 years. I would also go on to shop and license his music, represent his sons The Vees, and now manage his son Robby who is a two time Rockabilly Hall of Fame inductee.. He would go on to to have over 20 Top 40 hits and became a voice of a generation. Ironically he got his start having to replace Buddy Holly the day he died at a date in Fargo, and 6 months later he was a star and the rest was history. He was one of the most wonderful people I have ever met.
Bobby Vee ~ Rubber Ball (1960)
More like the man I represented.
Bobby Vee - Take Good Care of My Baby / The Night Has a Thousand Eyes
I believe this is me banging on the drums which I think was at a rehearsal for a potential line up for the American Tea Co, the most successful band from my hometown. I was hoping to be one of the guitarists but it never evolved and folded after a few rehearsals. The keyboard player is
in the next picture.
The second picture is me with a band from Sweden called Rocket, which was my first international tour. The guy in the yellow shirt is my high school friend Jeff Eisenberner. After graduating high school he moved to Sweden and got into a studio where he got to play on a lot of the albums coming out of Sweden. He had the same gear Keith Emerson had, so was way advanced for the time with a Hammond B3, and triple keyboard Hammond Theater organ, the newest biggest Moog Synthesizer, that few people had, and a Mellotron, which no one had.
He later went on to write “You Got The Look” for Roxette. There is also another more personal story that I’ll keep to myself but it involves two beautiful older Swedish women and a blown opportunity because I could not pick my jaw up off the floor, or wipe the red off of my face, but appreciated the offer.
This photo is from the Gary Van Zeeland reunion a few years back. Surprisingly, all of us guys who started in that basement are still around!