Aerosmith: Die or Go to Jail (3/16/10)

band photoThrough the years, I was only involved with Aerosmith for a very short period over the course of late 1976 through the end of 1977, when I was VP for Leber-Krebs, Inc. management.  Primarily, my role with them was to organize the music publishing companies, which had taken a backseat due to the extraordinary success that David Krebs had orchestrated on the touring front.  David did ask me to get involved on some occasional business for the band.  One of those small projects was to coordinate a reception that CBS Records Canada wanted to host after the band’s concert in Montreal on December 15, 1976.  The Canadian record company had achieved tremendous sales success on the first four Aerosmith albums, Aerosmith, Get You’re Wings, Toys In The Attic, and Rocks, and they had a plan to present Steven, Joe, Joey, Tom and Brad with several gold and platinum plaques.    

Since Laura Kaufman handled virtually all aspects of the bands press relations in house, my job was very simple in making sure the CBS International brass and Canadian execs were happy with the results and that we have the major retail and radio people attending receive some brief face time with the band. 

 I took an uneventful commercial flight to Montreal that day in time to get to the show.  I wanted to see Rush perform, who were the opener on the bill.   As it turned out, that was the only Rush performance I’ve ever had the opportunity to see.  A great band! 

Dan-Beck-Elisa-Perry-JoeThe evening went well, and the Canadian company hosted a small, but very elegant party in the penthouse of a Montreal hotel.  I’ve posted a photo of me, Joe Perry, and his ex-wife Elisa, at the bar that night.  The band picked up a lot of gold and platinum hardware and seemed to enjoy the event.  Rather than stay in Montreal, the band was eager to get home to Boston.   

During that tour, the band had leased a corporate plane from Getty Manufacturing.  As I recall, it was a 404 Martin; a two engine prop plane that was commonly used as a 40-passenger commercial airliner for Eastern and TWA mostly in the ‘50’s and ‘60’s.  It was an older plane, re-configured with captain’s chairs, tables, and a lounge type of set up.   

I had a round-trip commercial ticket; however David Krebs suggested that I fly back with him on the band’s plane.  The plan was to fly to Boston, drop off the band, wives/girls friends, and the couple of road crew who flew with them.  Then, we would fly home from Boston to LaGuardia.  The band’s agent, Shelly Shultz, was also making the flight with us. 

As we left the hotel for the Montreal airport in the wee hours of December 16, we realized that it was snowing pretty hard.  We had a couple of limos taking us all to what I believe was Butler Aviation, a small outpost for private flights on the far end of the Montreal airport.  We made the drive safely enough, but it was clear to everyone that this was a significant snowstorm, not something unusual for Montreal at that time of year.   

Everyone was still enjoying the glow of the party, the awards received, the alcohol consumed, and any other stimulant that might have been possessed by band and crew.    At that point in time, my only weakness was alcohol, and I’m sure, despite a working night, I probably had a comfortable buzz on. I specifically remember that everyone was in a good mood, but during that year plus, there always seemed to be an edge, a tension, around the band.  Joe usually seemed moody, Steven was either pleasant or extremely cranky and distant, but Tom, Brad, and Joey, all were generally pleasant to work with. live

Maybe it was me, but when I worked with Steven that year, I generally did a quick reminder of my name to him.  I just never felt comfortable that he particularly knew who I was or that maybe he was a little out of it, although a couple of times he said, “Dan, I know who you are, you don’t have to remind me.”  I know that may sound strange, given that I was VP of the management company, but there are a million people in superstar artists’ faces, and I’m sure they often would prefer not to remember any of us.   

My best moment with Steven was later that year when I handed him a check for $60,000 from BMI.  It was the first money he had ever seen from his songwriting, and he told me so.  I could tell it meant a lot to him.  To actually get a check for something you wrote is a pretty strong moment for any writer.  

RichardSanders-StevenTyler-DanBeckYears later, at a Nordoff-Robins charity dinner, my old friend Richard Sanders, now President of CBS International, brought Steven over to our table and the three of us took a picture (posted here).  Steven said he remembered me, but again, I just never assumed he did.  

Whenever I was around a major artist, I always felt some level of pressure because there was always something that had to get done, and almost always on some exaggerated deadline.  However, this night in Montreal in a snowstorm, we had done our work, and now there was nothing to do but get home.   

It was probably 2 or 2:30 AM, and we were all gathered in the small Butler Aviation waiting room.  There was some discussion between the band and the flight crew about whether or not we should fly in this snowstorm, which had continued to get worse as we waited.  The band really wanted to get home, and if there was some arm-twisting, I don’t remember, but after a 30 – 45 minute wait, it was determined that we were flying to Boston.  Not everyone was comfortable about flying, but everyone boarded the old twin prop.  

Once on the plane, everyone settled down quickly into silence when the interior lights were turned down.  I couldn’t sleep, and as I stared out the window, the lights on the wing cast just enough of a gray halo to indicate this was becoming a brutal, driving snowstorm.  The plane creaked and the wings actually slowly flapped up and down.  The plane felt like it was almost stalling into the gusting wind.  Then, it would surge forward and groan.  I’ve never been a concerned flier, but that night I prayed all the way to Boston in that dark cabin. 

The flight was probably an hour and a half or two, and actually I didn’t pray all the way there.  About half the time I kept thinking that this was the night I was going to die, as those wings swayed up and down.  I kept thinking who was flying this plane; maybe the band’s coke dealer!  I foresaw the headlines from the next day’s papers – “Aerosmith Plane Crashes!” – Band, Manager, Agent, and Flight Crew,( plus one) Lost.  I was the plus one.  I was the nameless person on this flight.  I was the plus one.  They might not even find my body.  They might not even look for it.  …I should be in a hotel room in Montreal, on a nice, safe commercial flight tomorrow. What was I doing on this deathtrap prop plane in a blizzard?  

posed shotHowever, as we all know now, the plane actually did make it to Boston.  The band lived… and I lived through probably the most harrowing flight I ever remember.  Given that I’ve probably flown a couple of million miles over the years, this was truly one of the absolute scariest.  That 90 minutes was one of the longest and loneliest I can remember.   

Once on the ground in Boston, and stopped on the tarmac outside the remote Butler Aviations office in some distant corner of Logan Airport, the groggy fliers started waking in the dim winter dawn.  The alcohol and other recreational supplements from a few hours earlier were wearing thin and there was a sense that everyone on the plane was exhausted and absolutely miserable.  Everyone was caught in that horrible state somewhere between still ripped, but the hangover is hitting.  That’s when the pilot stepped out from behind the cockpit door to gently advise us that Montreal to Boston was an international flight, and that they had contacted U.S. Customs to advise them that we had landed.  We now had to sit and wait for the Customs Agents to come out in this blizzard that was still piling on the snow. 

After a few minutes of waiting in silence, someone, who I believe was Steven, began demanding to know how long we had to wait.  The pilot again opened the cockpit door and told us that they had to get the Customs people out of bed.  Therefore, we had to wait on the tarmac until additional crew got to the airport to check us out.  They had not been anticipating our flight. 

Amidst the moans and cursing that cut through the dead morning air, my brain started slowly piecing together the situation that lay ahead.  We just got the Customs people out of bed.  The airport was basically shut down.  These federal agents were driving to the airport in a snow storm, and I’m sitting on a private plane with a band that had a significant notoriety as drug users.  I didn’t die in a plane crash, but this was starting to look like another problem.  I began thinking again about that hotel room in Montreal, and that I could be sleeping late and taking a commercial flight that afternoon directly to New York. 

Over the next half hour or hour, an occasional curse cut the air from the band.  Otherwise, we all just sat there in a painful, half-sleep state of resignation.  Finally, the Customs Agents arrived, and for a moment I forgot about any potential problems, this was progress, we were at least getting somewhere.  That was until, they stepped on the plane and I believe it was Steven, who screamed some extreme expletive about the Customs people getting their job done quickly and letting the band off the plane!  At that point, the Customs people announced, very matter-of-factly, but with emphasis, that they intended to take the plane completely apart.  They were now going to check everything.  They were not happy! live 2  

At that point, I was feeling restrained panic.  Who knew what contraband was on this plane?  Who knew what the Feds were going to find?  And for the next few hours, we sat on the plane, no heat, no food, no one talking beyond a mutter, awaiting some discovery that is going to lead to handcuffs, TV cameras, and a perp walk into a police station.   

It was late morning when the Customs Agents let the flight crew know that the band was cleared to de-plane.  I couldn’t believe they didn’t find anything… and they seemed pretty intent on finding something.  The band and entourage bolted off that plane to waiting cars with a pile of gold and platinum records.  The snowing had stopped and the flight crew had already re-fueled and done whatever maintenance that was required.  With just three passengers, David Krebs, Shelly Shultz, and me, we lifted off and flew to NYC.  

I was still alive!  I wasn’t looking at 5 to 10 in Federal prison for possession!  And we were landing at LaGuardia around midday.  I was a 26 year-old kid still high on the fumes of the music business.  So instead of going home, I took a cab to the office. 

(Join the conversation by emailing Dan@musicbizzfizz.com.  I will summarize the input in a future Music Bizz Fizz blog.)

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