Who needs a college degree when they get to sit next to live music icon Larry Vallon?
“When I started I didn’t have an office, I just sat on Larry’s couch and we booked bands together,” recalled AEG Presents chief executive officer Jay Marciano who was first hired by Vallon in 1984 to help book the Universal Amphitheater in Hollywood.
On Monday night, Marciano toasted the retiring 72-year-old concert promoter and said that Vallon booked more than 100 shows a year at Universal utilizing a vast, pre-smart phone network of contacts. Music label bosses, legendary agents like Frank Barsalona and “every rock DJ in Los Angeles” would frequently call into Vallon’s office for counsel on the hottest acts and biggest shows while Marciano listened in on speaker phone.
“Larry Vallon was my sponsor into one of the most exclusive clubs you could ever be admitted to — this club,” Marciano said to the group gathered at the Roxy on Monday night to toast Vallon’s retirement from AEG Presents, where he’s worked since 2004, capping off five decades in music. Longtime friends like Carole Kinzel from CAA, Dan Weiner from Paradigm and Amy Morrison and John Meglen from AEG joined speakers like former CAA music boss Tom Ross, AEG’s Debra Rathwell and filmmaker Cameron Crowe to share stories of the “nicest guy in music,” going back to his time at Universal Concerts and Wolf & Rissmiller Presents.Bob Eubanks and Larry Vallon
The evening was led by TV host Bob Eubanks, famous for his longtime hosting gig on the Newlywed Game and his role in promoting the “Beatlemania” era Beatles concerts at the Hollywood Bowl and Dodgers Stadium in the 1960s, noting “they only let me charge $7.50 for tickets and now (Paul) McCartney is getting $250 a ticket.” In a funny (if not slightly awkward) skit, Eubanks called Vallon’s wife Claudia to the stage, and using his signature euphemism, asked her to identify the strangest place the couple had ever “made a whoopee.”
Not missing a beat, Claudia quickly responded “here, upstairs at The Roxy” to which Vallon affirmatively nodded in deadpan agreement. Eubanks then asked Claudia to compare Vallon’s “romantic parlance” to a McDonalds hamburger — she chose the Quarter Pounder with Cheese.
The Larry Vallon 50th Anniversary Farewell Tour was both a roast and celebration of Vallon, and the room was decorated in black and white prints of the California impresario as the hundreds of artists he’s worked with. Vallon spent 23 years booking the Universal Amphitheater, competing against Forum in Inglewood for shows and setting the soundtrack for the changing tastes of Hollywood from the 1970s to today.
“While we loved the business, we really loved the music and the guitar players, especially rock’s Holy Trinity — Clapton, Page and Beck,” said Marciano, who recalled promoting a concert for Jeff Beck with Vallon and being so blown away by the show that two hopped on a plane to Vegas to catch Beck’s concert the next night.
“He was that good and that’s how much we loved the music,” said Marciano, who said he was honored to spend the evening with friends “bearing witness to Saint Vallon.”
Marciano said Vallon was responsible for establishing the contemporary Latin music scene in Southern California and pioneered the first multi-night engagements at Universal Amphitheater with artists like James Taylor, Linda Ronstadt, Frank Sinatra, Luther Vandross and Paul Simon, noting that Vallon was often able to beat his much larger competitor, the Forum in Inglewood, for hot shows.
“It’s ok to laugh, Irving’s not here,” Marciano told the room that included new hire Nick Spampanato, a former GM at the Forum turned AEG executive. “Let’s face it. Even back then the Forum was an inferior venue.”
Marciano and Vallon won awards together including the Pollstar Talent Buyer of the Year award (“that was back before I was boycotting them,” Marciano joked), built venues like Fiddler’s Green in Inglewood, Colorado and today work with some of the biggest bands in music.
“I wouldn’t be here tonight were I not given the opportunity 35 years ago,” Marciano explained. “He’s my mentor, my longtime partner and my friend.”
Rathwell recalled opening the first AEG Live offices with Vallon in 2004, covering New York while Vallon set up shop for the fledgling concert promotion company in Los Angeles. The pair worked with The Who for nearly a decade, producing three tours including the band’s 50th anniversary tour and their appearance at Desert Trip.
“Larry had a special one-on-one relationship with Pete Townsend and Roger Daltrey and was able to share ideas with them about reaching out to their fans and expanding the audience,” Rathwell said. “We were very proud of having The Who perform at Desert Trip in 2016 and in Hyde Park in 2015 and there is something fine and satisfying knowing that you had a great run with the band.”
Rathwell encouraged friends and colleagues to schedule lunches and dinners with the Vallon family so they wouldn’t have to have spend time around “boring people.”
“He is making this scary transition towards civilian life,” Rathwell joked, suggesting friends volunteer to take Larry’s “really fat dog named Jack” for walks along the beach, helping Vallon “avoid crossing that red line” when the music gets too loud.
Bruce Resnikoff, president of Universal Music Enterprises told Vallon “you are the best at what you do, whether that is being a runner for Bob Eubanks, booking acts for the amphitheater or booking a superstar tour through AEG,” adding “you have mentored generations of industry newcomers and future executives in the live business” and have “raised money and worked on behalf of some of the most important cancer charities like City of Hope and the Teen Cancer Trust.”
Tom Ross said he had promised himself years ago that he was “never coming back to the Roxy,” but said “for Larry, I’m coming back now.” The former head of music at CAA said he started at the same time as Vallon and ran in the same social circles “both living at the beach, hanging out with the same friends and working shows” across Southern California.
“If Larry was doing the show, you knew it would be done right,” Ross said. “Of course he’d be there for load-in and load-out, but he also knew every sound engineer, tour manager and lighting rigger. Larry knew everyone. He’s one of the most gregarious nice people I’ve ever met in my life. He never got upset, and he took care of everybody.”
More than a dozen speakers took to the microphone to honor the concert promoter and Vietnam veteran, who will stay on one year at AEG in a consulting role. Crowe said it was Vallon who helped him secure a backstage pass in 1982 to interview the band Wild Turkey, who were opening for Black Sabbath at the San Diego Sports Arena. After initially being denied access to the backstage area by a crotchety security guard who told him to “go to the top of the ramp and wait with the other girls,” Cameron was escorted backstage by Vallon who gave him a pass and a little advice — “look like you were supposed to be there.”
It was that interaction that inspired a scene from Crowe’s film Almost Famous — when young journalist William meets Penny Lane (played by Kate Hutson) and gets taken backstage to meet the fictional band Sweetwater.
Crowe said Vallon helped him land an interview with Ozzy Osbourne, while music manager Missy Werth thanked Vallon for giving her a chance to jump into the concert business.
“We wanted to make an adventure out of being a promoter,” she said. “Larry, you led me and mentored me and allowed me to learn how to be a grownup in this world. I will always appreciate and love you and your family so much for that.”