The Magid touch
Famed promoter tells how Electric Factory Concerts put Philly on the music map
THEY SAY if you were really there, basking in the DayGlo colors and smoky haze of the hippie era, you probably don't remember it.
Yet veteran concert promoter Larry Magid is still around to prove them wrong, with an entertaining new book called "My Soul's Been Psychedelicized: Electric Factory Four Decades in Posters and Photographs." Published by Temple Press and landing in stores today ($39.50), this large-format, profusely illustrated trip down memory lane aims to set the record straight about the dawning of the countercultural revolution in our town, with a special focus on all the great talent that grew up in the period.
"I was there, I was young but I still remember it," said a now late-60s Magid recently. "When you're the guy booking the talent and sweeping the floor and putting up the posters, you had to keep your head on. And if somebody pulled out a joint in the club, I'd take it away and tell him he was going to get us shut down. Once I even slapped a kid. Hey, somebody had to act like the father."
Kick-starting the party
Written with Philadelphia magazine features editor Robert Huber, Magid's coffee table book posits the original Electric Factory rock club at 22nd and Arch streets as a major catalyst in the growth of Center City during the club's brief but momentous life span from February 1968 to the fall of 1970.
"Our location on 22nd Street, close to the expressway entrance, made us much more visible than the smaller clubs on Sansom or Arch Street" (the Second Fret and Trauma, respectively) "run by one of my idols, Manny Rubin," Magid recalled. "People would drive by the Factory and see the kids lined up waiting to get into a show. We kept them outside intentionally, to create a scene."
With low admission ($3-$4.50) and only nonalcoholic drinks served at its big mouth-shaped refreshment stand, plus a psychedelic light show, playground accoutrements and crazed characters (a gorilla, a crotch-grabbing nun) running amok, the Electric Factory quickly became a destination for suburban kids even if they didn't know the new bands that were playing. "It was like 'Alice in Wonderland,' a place where you never had to grow up," Magid rekindled.
Sure, there were some "headliners" who would only last a lunchtime (Peanut Butter Conspiracy, anyone?). But others would stick like PB&J - the Chambers Brothers, Janis Joplin with Big Brother & The Holding Company, Cream, the Grateful Dead, Pink Floyd (in quadraphonic!), Chicago and Jimi Hendrix - the latter playing in front of both real and some fake cardboard speaker towers "that had to be held up by stagehand Bobby Startup," recalled veteran musician and documentary filmmaker George Manney.
And how about that new piano player out of England named Elton John "who was the opening act for" (Philly's own) "American Dream on a Friday night, then elevated to the headliner the next," shared Manney. Yeah, the Factory was creating quite the buzz.
As Magid recalls "It was the best of times . . . and the best of times. We could book shows creatively, opening up listeners to new sounds. We could mix a Muddy Waters with a Hugh Masakela, a Moby Grape with an Albert King and a Woody's Truck Stop. We could bring in Stan Kenton, a David Rabe play, a Mahler symphony, even a performance by Buffalo Bob (of "Howdy Doody" kiddie show fame.) "Nowadays, most tours come prepackaged."
Singer/songwriter/guitarist Eric Bazilian (of The Hooters) remembered another night at the original Electric Factory when Ten Years After "blew away" the headlining Jeff Beck Group (then featuring Rod Stewart on vocals), causing a brouhaha backstage between the bands' respective managers. Bazilian was then a kid of 14, and "a pain in the ass," Magid shared with a laugh. "Those were the days of curfew, and Eric shouldn't really be there after 10 o'clock. Another guy who was way too young to be in there was Kevin Bacon."
Still, the "very ingratiating" (said Magid) Bazilian managed to attend "40-50 shows without ever getting thrown out," taking the train in from West Mount Airy and arriving early enough to sit on the first row of benches in front of the low-slung (3 1/2-foot-high) stage. There, he'd shoot black and white pictures (a bunch included in the new Factory book) and learn from watching guitar masters such as The Who's Pete Townshend and Ten Years After's Alvin Lee.
"I also lived to sneak into the dressing room" (which doubled during the daytime as the office) "grab a guitar, and play back their solos at double time," Bazilian noted with a laugh. "I had this fantasy that somebody would say, 'Quit school and join us on the road,' kinda like in that film 'Almost Famous.' Fortunately, no one did."
The missing links
In the acknowledgments section of the book, Magid pointed out that this tome "isn't my life story, but a story of moments we shared together." So you won't be reading about the dark side of his concert business - the government investigations and lawsuits that came after EFC grew into an industry giant; the disastrous Who concert in Cincinnati in December 1979 promoted by the Philadelphia company where 11 patrons were killed in a preshow rush at the narrow entranceways.
And while he privately admitted to having "mellowed" and "made mistakes," there's no hint in the saga of Magid's hard-nosed and mercurial nature, an asset in negotiating with talent agents but not so great in day-to-day relationships with, say, the local press.
After a while, at least for this writer, it became almost a mark of honor to have pissed Magid off, though it meant he'd give you the cold shoulder (and even try to bar your entrance from shows) for literally years on end.
But there is one early, and very public conflict that Magid is more than willing to discuss in the new tome, because it pitted EFC against "The Man."
The Big Bambino's
Unfortunately, two significant 22nd Street drive-bys, Mayor James Tate and Police Commissioner Frank Rizzo, didn't like the looks of all those freaks hanging out on their sidewalk. The Commish vowed to "turn this place back into a tire warehouse," Magid recalled, setting off a long legal skirmish between Electric Factory and the city. "If I didn't have the Spivak brothers - Herbie, Allen and Jerry - as partners, they would have chased us away," Magid now asserts. "But these guys stood their ground and fought to bring this tough blue-collar, blue-laws town kicking and screaming into the 20th century, 65 or 70 years late."
Besides helping open up Center City culturally, Magid believes Electric Factory Concerts also saved the then in-bankruptcy Spectrum. It's an observation he said is not repeated nearly often enough by the guys downtown, though this writer certainly underlined the point in an essay for the "God Bless the Spectrum" commemorative book marking the arena's closing.
"The sports teams weren't doing well. We were the prime tenant," Magid recalled.
"When the building went into receivership and Ed [Snider] rescued it, we came along, made a deal with the bankruptcy judge that allowed us to keep expenses down." (The Spectrum and EFC would be co-promoters of concerts, sharing profits or losses.)
"Other arenas would do 10 shows a year. We were quickly doing 30, 40, 50 shows a year. Other promoters were afraid of an Alice Cooper or Black Sabbath. Management here said, 'Go for it.' And look at all the acts that broke out of Philadelphia" (with the significant help of progressive rock radio DJs and the press) - "David Bowie, Genesis, Yes, Billy Joel, Bruce Springsteen . . . It got to be, if you can get played in Philadelphia, you can get played anywhere.
"We weren't just reflecting the cultural revolution, we were making the culture, making the policy, because we cared so much about this stuff, took this music so seriously."
There are fewer memories, but lots of glossy pictures and fancy posters in "My Soul's Been Psychedelicized" to mark the latter decades in Magid's professional life with Electric Factory Concerts, a business later subsumed by the concert conglomerate now called Live Nation.
Staging the international Live Aid and Live 8 mega-concerts here was the biggest coup he cites in this all-positive/no-negative scrapbook.
But the promoter has particularly fond and lasting memories of the Bijou Cafe, the intimate, two-level club at Broad and Lombard streets where acts (and now friends) such as Bette Midler and Billy Crystal would book in for multiple nights "so you could sit down and talk with them, get to know them, find out what their dreams were and help them get there."
Closing that club and selling the building "was the worst business mistake we ever made," Magid now believes.
And he's brainstormed "several times in recent years" with former concert promoting rival/restaurateur Stephen Starr about opening a new "upscale" nightspot, "where you could get up-close and personal with the big-name talent, and wouldn't mind paying $500 for it," Starr said the other night.
"But whenever I'd tell my wife Mickey [a/k/a Barbara] about that idea," Magid said, "she'd say 'That's how you started, hanging out every night in clubs. You want to go back to that NOW?' "
Home sweet (2nd) home
The best thing Magid did was hold onto the second rock club named the Electric Factory, at 7th and Willow streets, after he and the Spivaks sold off the rest of their business to Live Nation and he then split from the company last year. So he's still a player on the local music scene - and more: He's involved, for example, in bringing the 2011 Champions Series tennis tour here this fall. Just the other night, Magid got to hang with the hottest recording artist of 2011, British soul-pop singer Adele, at the Factory for a sold-out show in front of 2,500 exultant fans. "I don't have to be there every night. The club is very professionally run," he noted. "But I still like to check out two or three new albums every day, and come out to see how an Adele or a band like The Script goes over, how a Lady Gaga is taking whatever Madonna had and moving it to the next level."