By Jeremy Hallock
By James Khubiar
By Observer Staff
By Kelly Dearmore
By Jim Schutze
By Rachel Watts
By Lauren Drewes Daniels
It doesn't matter if a hip-hop act is booked and advertised in this city, there's no guarantee the show will go on until the act's on stage--anyone who went to see the disastrously aborted 2 Live Crew at the Longhorn Ballroom five years ago would tell you it's a tenuous guarantee at best--so the cancelation of Dr. Dre, Tupac Shakur, Scarface, and surprise special guest Snoop Doggy Dogg, scheduled to perform January 5 at the Fair Park Coliseum, doesn't come as a surprise. It doesn't even come as a surprise that five days after the show had been canceled by promoters, no one in the media or at Ticketmaster even knew of the change of plan.
Laughingly advertised as a "Tribute to Eazy-E"--who died of AIDS in 1995 after years of feuding with ex-N.W.A. partners Dr. Dre and Ice Cube--this looked on paper like the hip-hop summit of the decade. Dre is rap's best producer, a man who graduated from the old school with honors; with Snoop Dogg (who's still standing trial in Los Angeles on murder charges) and now Tha Dogg Pound, Dre owns hip-hop, for better or worse: His tense and dense techniques define the so-called gangsta sound.
Tupac's got street credibility (he was sentenced this year to four and a half years for raping a female fan, pending an appeal, and was shot five times outside the courthouse), and former Geto Boy Scarface has the home-state attraction.
Between them, Dr. Dre, Snoop, and Tupac have sold more than 20 million records--a powerful combination that should have surely attracted about 8,000 people to the Fair Park Coliseum. (Lollapalooza would kill for half those record sales.) But promoter Jimmy Taite of the Las Vegas-based Premier Production Company says that as of the Friday before Christmas, only 250 tickets had been sold for the concert, forcing him to cancel it on December 22. It now marks the third time in three years Dre has been scheduled to come to Dallas and then bowed out.
Taite blames the poor sales on one thing: "Nobody believed they were really coming." Taite says even though he bought airtime on KKDA-FM 104.5--he paid cash, a station policy for concert promoters--the station refused to "get behind the show" because its promotions department was skeptical that Dre and Tupac were going to show up. (Snoop Dogg wasn't advertised, Taite insists, because Snoop apparently didn't ask the judge presiding over his ongoing murder trial if he could leave town. Executives at Snoop's label, Death Row Records, were out of town for the holidays and couldn't be reached for confirmation.)
"We gave KKDA 200 tickets to give away, and they didn't give them away," Taite says. "I asked if they wanted...Dr. Dre and Tupac to call the station and tell them the show was happening, and they didn't get back to me. We had no choice [but] to pull it. KKDA never got behind us at all. Even though we bought the airtime, they didn't get behind the show, and if they don't believe it's coming, they can't convince the audience it's happening."
Greg Duval, an account executive at KKDA, says the promotions department at the station wasn't skeptical about Taite and Premier--KKDA had never dealt with the promoter before--but they wanted some kind of concrete guarantee the show was going to happen. Their fears weren't alleviated when the original concert date, December 15, was pushed back to January 5.
"We don't want to make our listeners get hyped up and give away tickets," Duval says, "only to find out we have to pull the rug out from under them days before the show." As Omar Thompson, director of sales promotions at the station, says, "Any time you have a bunch of big names like that, if it can go wrong, it will go wrong."
According to Taite, the tour was originally scheduled to begin December 27 in Cleveland, followed by some dates in the Midwest. But Dre and Tupac said they needed more rehearsal time and pushed the start day to New Year's Eve in Atlanta, with shows in Miami, Dallas, Houston, and New Orleans to follow this week. Taite says the Houston show is also suffering from poor sales, though the numbers aren't as embarrassing as Dallas'--1,700 Houston tickets had sold though December 27. If he can't sell 4,300 more by January 4, the night of the show, Taite says he won't even break even.
Fair Park officials say they were notified of the cancelation December 27 in a letter faxed by Taite. But on January 2, Ticketmaster was still selling tickets for the show, unaware of its cancelation. (One source at Ticketmaster said the Houston, not the Dallas, show had been canceled.)
"I think the cancelation in Dallas was due to a combination of things," Taite shrugs. "The ticket buyers didn't believe it was happening, and they were waiting till the last minute to buy their tickets. Not only that, but we were going up against Christmas, and a lot of people aren't thinking about Dr. Dre tickets. They're thinking about Christmas presents.
"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...
Also on January 5, at the Argo in Denton, Bedhead will make one of its rare local appearances. The band--which is now complete again since guitarist Tench Coxe has returned from Russia--is currently mixing its second full-length album, the 11-song Beheaded, which is due on King Coffee's Trance Syndicate label May 20. But there has been a slight hitch: Several already-mixed songs were stolen from songwriter-guitarist Bubba Kadane's car a couple of weeks ago in Austin, forcing Kadane to work overtime on the technical end. The breathtaking three-song The Dark Ages EP--which includes the title track, the instrumental "Inhume," and "Any Life"--is finished and is scheduled for release February 20...
Trance Syndicate is also releasing a single from another local band, the American Analog Set. Titled "Diana Slowburner, Part II/High Fidelity vs. Guy Fidelity," the single is due March 26 on Emperor Jones, the Trance Syndicate imprint run by Craig Stewart, who says a full-length album from American Analog Set will likely follow in June...
Last Beat Records has a busy first-quarter release schedule: In the next few weeks, the Deep Ellum-based label plans to release full-length albums from the longtime punk band Riot Squad (The Undying Breed, reviewed this issue), Stink!#bug (Dynamic Domination, end of January), and rubberbullet (end of February). The label has also struck a deal with Mercury Records to co-release a single from Tablet, featuring two songs from the band's upcoming major-label debut Pinned (due in March): "Methadone" and a newly recorded version of "Stop Freaking Out."
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