By Jim Schutze
By Rachel Watts
By Lauren Drewes Daniels
By Anna Merlan
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"Plus, things have changed since I was doing rap tours back in the mid-'80s," Taite continues. "Kids are afraid to go out now. Especially in a city like Detroit, they're afraid to come. It didn't used to be like that. It's the nature of the show. The last rap tour I did was Ice Cube in 1991, and we had someone get shot in the head in the parking lot. People got stabbed in every city. Ice Cube's guys went in the balcony and beat someone up with a baseball bat because he was spitting on him [Ice Cube]. It's the nature of the animal."
Seven years ago, Public Enemy, Run-DMC, DJ Jazzy Jeff, and a host of then-lesser-known rap acts filled Reunion Arena with an amazing show that went off perfectly. Since then, hip-hop concerts have been stigmatized by crowd and backstage violence and numerous cancelations. According to Gary Bongiovanni, editor of the concert-industry trade magazine Pollstar, hip-hop concerts make up a small percentage of the concert business; there is not one rap act listed among Pollstar's 50 highest-grossing tours of 1995, which includes such washouts as the Tragically Hip, REO Speedwagon, and Pat Benatar.
"One of the problems with shows that appeal predominantly to black audiences is that audience buys its tickets late, which scares promoters," Bongiovanni says, "and there is difficulty in getting insurance. Sometimes, the promoters aren't the best in the world, so they get cold feet and cancel."
But from the get-go, everything about the Dre-Tupac show--the unknown out-of-town promoter, the lack of obvious promotion, the choice of venue--seemed suspicious. After all, with half-decent advertising, there's no reason Dr. Dre, Tupac, and Snoop Dogg couldn't fill Reunion Arena. Billing the show as a "Tribute to Eazy-E" was also a joke: Dre and Eazy-E were at each other's throats since the demise of N.W.A., insulting each other on their records and in interviews.
Hip-hop shows are prone to self-destruction, done in not only by high insurance costs but by the artists themselves. If Dre wanted this show to happen, it would have happened, but he's a guy happy to make his money in the studio, content to keep toying with audiences who are becoming smart enough to pay cash on delivery.
Something old, something new
It only took him 40 years, but 1996 could be Ronnie Dawson's year with the release of three albums within only the next few months. In February, the locally based Crystal Clear Sound will reissue the 1989 album Rockinitis, which was issued on vinyl only in England by Barney Koumis' No Hit Records label (from whom Crystal Clear licensed the 1994 record Monkey Beat!). The disc--which includes such concert favorites as "Shim Sham Shimmy," "You Tore Your Playhouse Down," "Yum Yum," "The Worryin' Kind," "Cats Were Jumpin'," "Knock Down Drag Out," and the title track--will be remastered and issued with new artwork, says CCS' David Dennard. (The album, like many of Dawson's current releases, features former Polecat and current Morrissey guitarist Boz Boorer.)
If Dennard gets his wish, Crystal Clear will follow Rockinitis with two more Dawson records--one of which chronicles his career as a teenage rockabilly star, the other consisting of brand-new material recorded during the past year in England. The first record, Rockin' Bones (also originally released in England only), features material Dawson recorded in the 1950s and '60s and includes the legendary "Action Packed" (which was credited to Ronnie Dee, the wunderkind "Blond Bomber") and "Rockin' Bones" (which was covered in the early '80s by the Cramps). As a bonus, the U.S. version of Rockin' Bones will likely include a long-lost Dawson track called "Green-Eyed Cat," which Dennard found in the MCA Records Los Angeles vaults when he began licensing the material for release. Dawson had originally intended to release the song--recorded in 1957 at Sellers Studio on Commerce Street--instead of "Action Packed," but it was never issued at all.
"That's just great," Dawson says of the discovery. "It's one of the first songs I listened to when I went to the Big D Jamboree, but no one ever put it out, and I don't know why. It should be really clean because there were no copies made from the master. I can't wait. I haven't heard it since we recorded it."
Dawson says his new record, which features guitarist Eddie Angel of Los Straitjackets, will likely be released on No Hit in March--first in England, then in the States. (Crystal Clear is one of the labels in contention for licensing rights over here, but there are others interested.) The disc, which is still untitled, will feature 15 original songs plus one cover, the old blues song "You're Humbugin' Me," once recorded by Lefty Frizzell with horns.
"There's horns on four tracks on the new record," Dawson says. "It's got a little more variety than the other records, and if anybody has a complaint about anything on the record, I'll take the criticism because it was all mine. It was my idea to mix it this way, to record it this way, and the songs are all my arrangements."
On January 5, the newly revamped and refurbished Bronco Bowl arena will make its long-awaited debut with a local bill featuring Tripping Daisy, Funland, UFOFU, Dooms U.K., and Comet (who were just signed to England's Dedicated label, home to The Cranes). Those who remember the old Bronco Bowl--the site of some of the best shows of the past 20 years from the likes of R.E.M., Peter Tosh, U2, and The Clash--as a decrepit old building will be amazed at the renovations: more toilets, more concessions, and more standing room in front of the shortened stage. On January 31--shortly after the Bronco Bowl entertainment facility opens at the end of the month--the Bronco Bowl arena will host its first touring show in several years: Cypress Hill, The Pharcyde, and 311...