Namedropper: The Time I Met Queen Before the Band Ate at Campisi's
Bucks Burnett presents Queen guitarist Brian May with the shirt off his back.
Bucks Burnett Archives
Bucks Burnett has met most of his music idols. In this column he shares tales from the front lines and backstage.
On July 13, 1973, I discovered my new favorite band, Queen, when I purchased its first album at Hit Records in Oak Cliff. For three months, Creem magazine had been reporting on the best new band from England, and I was willing to risk my $4 on its debut, especially when I saw the beautiful gold ink logo on the cover. It was converted to white ink only weeks later.
By November 1974, Queen had added two more great albums, Queen II and Sheer Heart Attack, each of which I purchased on the day of its release. With each album, my love of the band grew, and thankfully, it finally toured America as a headliner and hit Dallas for the first time March 22, 1975.
By then, I had already experienced the ups and downs of trying to meet my favorite rock stars. On April 28, 1973, I met Neal Smith and Dennis Dunaway of the original Alice Cooper group, right before the band’s legendary manager, Shep Gordon, blocked me as I approached Alice’s dressing room door and evicted me from the backstage area.
Three weeks later, I attempted to meet Led Zeppelin members at their sound check at Memorial Auditorium, later renamed Dallas Convention Center. I was laughed at by a sneering roadie, the legendary Magnet, who stomped out his cigarette and said with great authority, “Look, mate, they’re bloody Zeppelin — they don’t do sound checks!”
In retrospect, the venue Queen was booked to play in 1975 seems astounding: McFarlin Auditorium on the Southern Methodist University campus. It had fewer than 2,400 seats. Although the group had released its first hit single, "Killer Queen," and added Bloodrock from Fort Worth as opener, the show did not sell out. My friend Doug Wuerch and I bought tickets, and I decided that we would try to meet the band.
At 16, nothing was more thrilling or challenging than the idea of meeting my heroes. Doug and I went straight from high school to McFarlin, where I had decided that the best time to find Queen would be during sound check. As we walked up to the auditorium, I could hear a drum being tested.
“They’re in there; follow me,” I said.
We walked in through the front door of the venue, and with all the house lights up, there they were, the four members of Queen, laughing, talking and playing fragments of songs as the sound check concluded. We sat in the middle of the empty auditorium, unchallenged, and drank in a very exclusive performance by our heroes.
Keep in mind that in the 1970s very few rock fans knew what a sound check was, and there were no paid VIP meet-and-greet packages. The only way to meet a rock star was to be daring, clever and lucky. What happened next was something that has never been for sale. And sometimes, not even your luck can buy it. It feels more like fate.
As the band began to exit stage left, we ran down the aisle and caught them as they were about to walk out. “Hey, Queen, wait!” I said. They turned and smiled, and I introduced us as their biggest fans in Dallas and told them I had bought their first album the day it went on sale. I told them that “Killer Queen" was getting played on the radio and that they were going to make it big if they kept at it. In my teenage brain, I believed they might need the encouragement.
“Shall we sign our autographs to you?” Freddie Mercury asked as our small talk concluded. That’s the level of fame they were at: offering up their signatures to two kids at sound check. “Sure!” I pulled our two tickets with the Queen logo on them from my pocket and said, “You can sign our tickets!”
“Brilliant. Do you have a pen?”
We didn’t have a pen because we hadn't quite believed our plan would work. The band started checking for pens, and John Deacon said, “We don’t have any pens.” Brian May, patting down his shirt and pants, said, “We don’t even have pockets!”
It was a true Spinal Tap moment; they were in their elegant stage clothing. Freddie, who was still sporting his long hair, looked at me and said, “We’re famished. Where shall we eat?” I gave the band directions to Campisi's Egyptian Lounge two miles away on Mockingbird Lane.
“Why do they call it Egyptian if they serve Italian?” Brian asked.
“Nobody knows,” I replied, “and nobody asks. The mafia runs it, we think.” They thanked us and left.
To put all this into perspective, at the show that night, as we all pressed up against the stage, nobody was yelling for “Bohemian Rhapsody” because the song didn’t exist yet. Nor did “We Will Rock You” or “We Are The Champions.” They were still becoming the champions. Freddie had long hair and no mustache. It was a brief and shining moment in rock history.
Thirty-two years later, I was on a small boat called the Mercia headed down the River Thames in London to the O2 Arena to see the Led Zeppelin reunion Dec. 10, 2007. Jimena Paratcha Page, Jimmy Page’s former spouse, had given me four tickets to the show and invited me to go to the gig on the boat with donors to her charity, ABC Brazilian Trust.
Onboard that night was Brian May. He waved me over to his table and asked how I’d been doing. As we chatted, he asked, “Where have I met you before?” I told him about the sound check in 1974, and he said, "No, I don’t think I remember that.”
In 2014 in Dallas, backstage at American Airlines Center, I asked May if the band ever made it to Campisi's. He repeated the name to himself and said, “Egyptian Lounge. I definitely remember that name, so we must’ve!” So I can at least say that in my life, I got Queen to eat at Campisi’s.
The year before in Bath, England, I got to see Brian present a showcase of his 3-D photography at an old cathedral. And on Aug. 4 of this year, my girlfriend, Barley, and I visited with Brian again backstage, shortly before Queen took to the stage with Adam Lambert. Guitarist Eric Johnson was also in the dressing room. As we all talked, I chirped up with something almost witty, and Brian exclaimed to Eric, “This one doesn’t let up, does he?”
No Brian, I would say not. From buying your first album in 1973 to meeting you in 1975 in Dallas to seeing a Led Zeppelin show with you — and confirming beyond any doubt that you did, indeed, go on to make it big — the one thing I’ve never done is let up. I am not in the letting up business. It doesn’t suit me. If you let up, a dream might pass you by.
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