The Godfather of Rock ‘n Roll

Posted: September 12, 2012 in Interviews, Print Articles
Tags: , , , , ,

By Chris Shapiro / September 2012
I’ve done interviews with rock stars before.  Air Supply, George Thorogood, Lita Ford and Curly Smith of Boston are just a few of the artists I’ve had the opportunity of interviewing.  While each interview was exhilarating for me, being a diehard fan of classic rock, they were conducted in a mutual meeting place.  They were done in a press room, side of the stage, or over the phone.  Yet, when I interviewed Eddie Money on Labor Day at Conneaut Lake, the interview experience expanded into a new realm of major importance.

Rock legend Eddie Money

The window of opportunity for my interview fell between 7:15pm and 7:30pm.  Money had a meet and greet at 7:30pm and would take the stage at 8:00pm.

At 7:00pm, I tried calling the promoter, Eddie Panuntti, to see if the interview was still a go.  His phone was off.  I tried again at 7:15pm.  Pannutti answered and told me he would call back in five minutes.  Sure enough in five minutes my phone rang and I was told to meet Pannutti backstage next to the tour bus.

“He’s getting ready,” Pannutti told me.  We talked a few moments about the summer and other concerts.  He then disappeared into the bus to check on the status of things.  He reappeared seconds later waving me toward the bus.

“This him?” Lee Beverly, Money’s bass player, asked as I approached. Pannutti nodded and Lee extended his hand.

“I’m Lee,” he introduced himself.

I shook his hand and introduced myself.  I didn’t look back as the bus door closed behind me but I could sense the feeling that I had just broken through a barrier. When my feet arrived at that top step, I knew I had left the fan world behind and entered into the world of Rock ‘n Roll.

I was on a Rock ‘n Roll tour bus.  It was like being invited into someone’s home.  This was the world were the musicians weren’t wearing their stage persona but expressed their true self.  I got to see how they lived.  I saw the Don Knotts poster hanging on the wall.  I could smell the cigarette smoke.  There was no rehearsed act here.  This was their life.  It was raw.  It was personal.  You could connect with them in this environment.  You got to know and understand them.

Here I was, a nobody, surrounded by rock stars and the vibe I felt was respect.  They didn’t look down upon me or ignore me.  I was a young kid trying to do an interview but I could tell they respected me.  And that’s the real key to success.  It’s not so much what you know, or who you know, but your ability to show respect universally.

Tommy Girvin, Money’s guitarist, sat on a seat to my left with Chris Grove, Money’s keyboardist, down from him.  Glenn Symmonds, Money’s drummer, was making something in the small kitchenette where I noticed a fresh pot of coffee had just been brewed.

Lee yelled to the back of the bus, where Eddie was sitting, asking where he wanted us.  Money yelled back for us to come to him.

As we journeyed to the back of the bus, down the narrow, dimly lit hallway, I could see Eddie Money come into focus.  He was sitting on a sofa scattered with pillows.  Behind him, a full-length mirror gave the cramped room a larger feel to it than there really was.  His left arm rested on the table cluttered with music magazines and an empty pack of cigarettes.

The charcoal color scheme and low light made it feel like I was sitting down at the corner table of one of those restaurants from Goodfellas or the Godfather.  Immediately, I thought of the film The Freshman with Marlin Brando.

Money was Brando and I was Matthew Broderick.  Money, like Brando, was the seasoned wise man that had experienced life.  There was nothing he didn’t know nor any problem he couldn’t resolve.  He could look at you and tell you five things you didn’t know about yourself before you even gave your name.  Money is a man who didn’t buy his way in life but rather paved it with his sweat and blood to arrive where he is today.

Like Broderick, I was a college kid only I wasn’t in search of a job, just an interview.  Well, a follow-up interview.  I first interviewed Money six months ago at Rivers Casino.  Since then, Money has seen tens of thousands of faces but he said he remembered me.

Lee turned and walked back to the front lounge of the bus leaving me with Money Man.  I sat down next to him and, knowing we were pressed for time, jumped right into the interview.

My first question was centered on the new GEICO commercial Money filmed.  In the commercial, Money runs a travel agency where he only sings “Two Tickets to Paradise” to his clients.

“We got so many fans from the 80’s and the 70’s and now all the kids know the Eddie Money material and stuff like that because of the computer and they just thought if I did a commercial it would be funny,” he explained in his distinct Brooklyn accent.

“Everybody really loved the commercial which is great, I’m very happy about that.  You know it’s nice to get the extra exposure.  Plus my wife needs the money you know,” Money joked.

I told Money that my first real concert was when he played a venue called McMenamy’s in Niles, Ohio.  I had a VIP ticket to the show and met him for the length of a handshake.  He remembered the concert and described it as, “great fun.”

So, I wanted to ask him about his first concert to get a sense of his musical interests.

“Well I’ll tell you the truth, I went to see the Cream, the original Cream, with Jack Bruce and you know Eric Clapton, Ginger Baker on drums that was important.  I saw a group called the Moby Grape which was great. I saw Jimmy Hendrix four times.  I saw Janis Joplin and Big Brother and the Holding Company before she died.  I mean, I’ve seen really a lot of great shows,” Money said.

Money reached for the pack of cigarettes.  It was empty.

I’ve always been interested in the perspective the musician has from the stage.  What does a crowd of thousands of people really look like?  How does it feel to know those people are gathered together to see you?  What’s it like to interact with them? I knew Money would have a response.

“You know I just see a lot of great fans.  I meet people who said to me they conceived their kids in their cars, [during his concerts] other ones tell me, ‘helped me through rehab,’ other kids tell me that, you know, I gave their girlfriend herpes, I said, ‘hey look, I never had it how can I give it to ya,’” Money joked.

“But no we got a lot of great fans out there.  I’ll tell ya one of the crazy things, I was kiddin’ around with the fans the other day.  I said, ‘I’m sorry I drank that quart of Vodka, trying to give you a good show,’ and I haven’t had a drink in over thirty-two months, and I was only kidding.  And it was all over the Youtube and my mother-in-law was in tears, ‘Oh you know your husband’s drinking again what’s the hell is he talking about,’” Money said.

Money broke away from the interview to yell up to the front of the bus, “Joe give me a cigarette.”

Having read about artists who get extremely nervous, some even claim to vomiting before shows, I wondered if the Money Man still gets nervous in front of a live audience.

“I don’t really get nervous too much unless one of my ex-girlfriend’s boyfriends is in the audience and he’s drunk and he wants to fight and I’ll have to kick his ass cause I don’t want to hurt my hands,” Money confessed.  My money would be on the Money Man.

Lee brought Money a cigarette, a Basic, and we continued.  I wanted to get serious and talk about the misconceptions about Rock ‘n Roll and rock stars.  What are they really like when they’re off that stage?

Money lit the cigarette and drifted back into the sofa, drawing on the cigarette.  Smoke curled into a cloud like a fire coming out of the mouth of a dragon.  It draped the room where the low light tried to illuminate its presence.  Money removed it and held it in his right hand about a foot away from his mouth.  I watched the tip glow and then begin to fade.

Photo by Cyndi Wofton

Money had his answer, “Well a lot of people think that rock stars are you know, I guess they really think they’re super jaded and f***ed up.  But I knew a lot of guys.  I met the guys in Led Zeppelin and even the Rolling Stones.  They were so normal, when I met Mick Jagger and Keith Richards it was like talking to a couple of the guys. Like, when I grew up with like Huey Lewis and the News, they used to be called Clover.  I knew those guys a long time. I use to work with Toots and the Maytals use to come up from Jamaica.  I worked with Patty Smith, I worked with everybody from Tower of Power, good buddies of mine, Sammy Hagar when he was working with Ronnie Montrose.  So I’ve seen a lot of things but I think rock stars,  a lot of people think we’re all, you know, either, too f***ed up or too conceded and it’s really not like that,” Money said setting the record straight.

I once saw in another interview Money did a few months back that he talked about meeting Court Basie, a famous jazz musician from the early 20th century.  I hoped to find out why meeting Count was so important to Money.

“What a sweetheart of a guy,” Money replied as soon as I mentioned Count’s name.

Money confessed that he wasn’t necessarily that interested in Count’s music but it was meeting him that influenced him.

“I said, ‘Count can I get a picture of you and me together?’ And we took our picture together which, I thought Count was really cool.  I wasn’t really into his music too much but he was a real sweetheart.  That’s why whenever somebody asks me for a picture I always, you know, take the time and spend it with fans and they want pictures, I give them pictures.  I don’t want them to walk away thinking I’m Eddie Asshole you know,” Money explained.

“Five minutes!” Someone yelled from the front lounge.  My moments were numbered.  I skipped down a few questions.  My next question for Money was if there were any concerts that stood out for him in his memory, one where everything came together perfectly.

“The US festival.  Six hundred and fifty thousand people, we played with the Police.  The US festival right here,” Money responded before I barely finished the question.  He held up the paperback booklet on the festival.  By looks of it, it was about thirty pages and was one of those magazines cluttering the small room.

Money continued while I tried to get a better look at the magazine, “It was the biggest concert in the world six-hundred and fifty thousand people and when Bill Graham, we did ‘Give Me Some Water,’ it had to be a hundred and five degrees out there, and he turned all the water, all the fire hoses up in the air and hit the crowd from the stage when I did, ‘Give Me Some Water.’ That was a real highlight of my career.  And of course opening up with the Stones was fun.  Playing with the Police, you know, Fleetwood Mac.”

I decided to skip the next question and keep with the US festival.  I asked a follow up.  I could see this was a topic he fondly remembered.

“That was in 1982.  Here’s all the groups that play on that, you can read that,” Money held the magazine so we both could read it, “Let me see, at the US festival we had on the first day, the Police, the Talking Heads, B-52s, Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers, Fleetwood Mac, Santana, The Cars then the next day was Eddie Money, Pat Benatar, The Grateful Dead, Jackson Browne, Jimmy Buffet, the Kinks.”

What I would give to have been born back then.

Next, I discussed his new single, “One More Soldier Coming Home.” A song I first heard at my first concert.

“Well, you know what, there a lot of great veterans out there.  You think it’s hot out there, it’s a hundred and fourteen over there in Afghanistan,” Money said.

Money explained, “All the money is going to the Intrepid Fallen Hero Fund, which is a fund for these kids coming back with these serious head trauma injuries from Afghanistan.  It’s a nonprofit organization; they got two facilities one in San Antonio and now their building another one with a hundred and fifty beds in Maryland.  And these kids are great and ‘One More Solider Coming Home’ is a great song. I think it’s going to do very well for me when I put it out as a single.  Do you like the song?”

Of course!  Anytime I see an artist combine their passion with a good cause, I support that artist.  I do so because I know they’re in it for more than the fame and fortune.  They’re in it to make a true difference, to support a cause for the sake of the cause, a trait that is scarce in today’s world.

I began to wrap up the interview by asking Money about one of my favorite albums, No Control.  I happened to have a vinyl copy, which I asked Money to sign while we talked.

“Right, look how skinny I was,” Money commented when he looked at the cover.

We talked about the album song of the same name.

“Ah that’s a great tune,” Money said as he wrote my name on the cover.

“Well it’s about me.  I had a major drug overdose,” Money confessed.  It led to several serious health problems for Money.

“I couldn’t walk for a year.  That’s when I wrote ‘Keep My Motor Running,’” Money said.

The cigarette bounced in his mouth as he talked.

“I made this record with a very famous producer who’s done everybody from Patty Page to the Allman Brothers to Rod Stewart.  I worked on this record with Tom Dowd and I had to use a walker to get from my bedroom to the music room to make this record.  And after this record the first big show we did was the YES festival.  So, it was my biggest record, it’s my favorite record,” Money said.

He signed his name on the lower corner just above the title.  I smiled at my luck of having this album and the connection of it to the YES festival story.  It was like we organized the interview.  Everything, from Money having the magazine on the festival to me bringing No Control, fell together like a rehearsed act.  But it was just life.  It was how things came together.

Money continued to discuss the back story on his song, “No Control,” “I wrote ‘No Control’ about kids, to let kids know that you don’t need to be rich and famous.  You can be drunk and drive your car off a bridge.  Or you can do something and you don’t know what you’re doing and it can kill ya.  Lot of these kids OD, don’t even know what they’re taking, next thing they know, blood’s coming out of their ears and their mount and there’s a funeral in the morning,” Money said.

One last question I had was about the dedication of the song “Passing By The Graveyard” to John B.  Who was John B?

“That’s John Belushi.  I use to hang out with John.  He use to call me Mahoney,” Money explained.

Money continued, “We got along great.  He came to L.A. and we hung out.  Matter of fact, I stayed in the same bungalow that he died in.”

I wanted to expand on this point further but I could tell the band wanted to get a move on.  Not to mention, VIPs were waiting to meet the one and only Money Man.

I thanked Money and asked for a picture with him.  He gave me three.

“We’re going to put on a good show for ya,” Money told me as I was stepping down the steps to leave the Rock world.

Photo by Cyndi Wofton

Naturally, I stayed for the show. Money rocked an audience of over two thousand for an hour and a half performing all his hits along with some deep cuts from his debut and No Control albums.

After his encore, “Shakin,” Money left the stage and made his way to the merchandise tent, with a cigarette in hand.  Once there, Money stayed signing autographs, taking pictures and talking with his fans.  The line wrapped out and around the exit of the venue.

As I saw the flash of cameras go off, I thought back to Money explaining how his encounter with Count Basie shaped his attitude towards fan interaction.  These were his people, those who shared a common love of music.  Money didn’t turn his back on them and return to his bus to relax.  He kept working to give his fans the best concert experience an entertainer could give.

For forty-five minutes, I know because I was there at the end of the line, Money interacted with his fans.

How many doctors will spend more than ten minutes with their patients? And they’re supposed to be concerned with your health.  Not to mention it takes three months in advance to get into see them.

Better yet, try calling a politician sometime.  After all, they work for you, right?  Last year I tried contacting a local Representative for an interview about his path to success.  I never even received an email back from his secretary.

The Godfather of Rock ‘n Roll: Eddie Money

We’ve failed to notice those leaders in society, the true leaders, who actually care about the people their interacting with; those who will sacrifice their time in order to spend it with you.  A leader is nothing without a people and so is the same for the musician.

In my experience, musicians are some of the most sincere people I’ve had the opportunity of meeting.  Many have lived life from the ground up and have not forgotten the roots of their past.  The importance of people hasn’t faded from their memory because each time they take the stage they’re reminded who helped them carve their success.  They are more concerned and interested in you as a person than many of those whom we hold in higher positions in society.

I can say that, within the past year and a half, I’ve meet Money three times.  Honestly, he’s taken more time to sit down with me, give me advice and take an interest in what I was doing in those three encounters than my own father has in the last 18 years combined.

Knowing that someone has taken an honest interest in you, even if it only lasts the duration of an interview, is more rewarding than having a hundred people giving you face with no real interest in what you’re doing.  When I sat down with Money, we didn’t interview, we talked.  He shared his life with me.  It was the wise sharing his wisdom with the inexperienced newcomer.  That’s why Money will always be, in my eyes, the Godfather of Rock ‘n Roll.

Some people really do care in this world.  The trick is to never give up the search for them and you will find them.

  1. Rich LaMonte says:

    Great article, thanks for doing Eddie justice! I have been friends with him for over 10 years, we have spent more then 100 Hours playing golf together. I know the Eddie your talking about, he knows my family, been to my home for thanksgiving. He is a really genuine person. I am proud to call him my friend. He loves his family and his fans. This is the case that the Rock and Roll hall of fame needs to hear! He is much more then a great talent, he is a great man. Long live the Money Man.
    Rich LaMonte

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