One of rock ’n’ roll’s most colourful figures in the 1970s was Sidney Drashin, whose company Jet Set Enterprises was a colossus of rock promotion in the southern United States.
Over his career Drashin promoted over 5000 shows, including Rolling Stones, Joe Cocker, Elvis Presley, Barbra Streisand, Frank Sinatra and, most famously of all, Lynyrd Skynyrd. His kingdom was Jacksonville, Orlando, Miami and Tampa but Jet Set put on shows in about 30 cities around the Southeast and Southwest, including cities outside Florida.
Drashin got arrested in 1979 on a cocaine possession rap, stemming out of a 1977 drug bust that resulted in the arrest of Exorcist actress Linda Blair, who was dating Skynyrd guitarist Gary Rossington. At the time of the arrest she was attending the funeral of Skynyrd lead singer Ronnie Van Zant. Says Drashin, who knew Blair: ‘She’d come down and get in trouble.’
Former AC/DC manager Michael Browning calls Drashin a ‘Jacksonville scoundrel’ in his autobiography, Dog Eat Dog, which greatly amuses the man himself. A more accurate description was made by Bob Greene in a piece for Audience magazine in 1972. Drashin was ‘a loud, frantic young man… who did not seem able to talk to another person without clutching that person’s arm’.
Not much has changed nearly 50 years later. Even retired, everything the man does is a million miles a minute. He types his name with a $ symbol for the ‘s’ in Drashin and lives in a condo at Ponte Vedra Beach outside Jacksonville.
‘Marketing is 90 per cent of anything,' he says. ‘The Rolling Stones are dog shit but they were well promoted.’
After making their state debut at the West Palm Beach Civic Auditorium (now the West Palm Beach Christian Convention Center), AC/DC made their second Florida appearance supporting REO Speedwagon at Jacksonville’s Veterans Memorial Coliseum on 6 August 1977.
REO Speedwagon was called the ‘world’s most boring band’ in Browning’s book, an ungenerous assessment for a band featuring an incredible lead guitarist (the late Gary Richrath) that would go on to record the outstanding single ‘Roll With The Changes’ a year later, one of the mainstays of American classic rock.
In August 1977, they were promoting the hit live album You Get What You Play For.
‘R.E.O. Speedwagon Is Gold And Exploding! CURRENTLY STORMING THE COUNTRY ON TOUR!’ screamed an Epic Records ad in Radio & Records of 5 August. Wrote Circus magazine: ‘For a band with no hype, little promotion and a big share of problems, REO has managed to maintain their pace through constant touring and perseverance doing the thing they love best – rock ’n’ roll.’
From Champaign, Illinois, they’d originally hit the road after buying a used limousine they had bought for $50. They played up to three towns a night. AC/DC had far more in common with REO Speedwagon than they liked to think.
Drashin is not sure, but thinks Lynyrd Skynyrd (with whom he ‘probably did a coupla hundred shows’) turned up to see the support act.
‘‘Skynyrd was our local band. I think Ronnie Van Zant came to the show and wanted to see AC/DC. The band showed up and I made ’em security guards, I think, I can’t remember that totally, I know I did it for the Stones one year, I made [Skynyrd] security. But I also think I did it with AC/DC.
‘They were kids. They liked to go to shows; they were pretty well known so I had to stick ’em behind security guards in the place between the risers.’
Members of Skynyrd have claimed to have jammed with AC/DC the following day, something I explore further in Bon: The Last Highway, as well as looking into Bon’s reputed friendship with late Skynyrd bass player Leon Wilkeson, the man Mark Evans once said Bon had in mind for his rumoured solo album.
Did Bon get his Confederate Battle Flag belt buckle from Van Zant? It's a tale that's been going around for years and I'll be examining that in another blog. Were members of AC/DC offered a ride on the plane that crashed in Mississippi? The short answer to that one is they wouldn't be needing to get from South Carolina to Louisiana if they were in the middle of playing shows in England. A lot of myths abound when it comes to AC/DC and Lynyrd Skynyrd.
‘Skynyrd were maybe the craziest band of all time,’ says Drashin. ‘No one came close. Let me give you a couple of stories on them and you’ll get the drift. Ronnie was the leader, the writer and the singer. He was short, maybe five feet, he wasn’t much higher than that, but he was knockin’ on the door when [the rest of the band] wouldn’t come down to go to the shows and when they’d come to the door, he’d bust them right in the mouth.
‘Skynyrd were maybe the craziest band of all time.'
– Sidney Drashin
‘I said, “Ronnie, you gotta stop it. It’s a terrible habit to have a beat-up band playin’ with blood drippin’ outta their nose.” He said, “The monkeys, if they don’t listen to me, I’m gonna beat the shit out of em.” That’s how crazy he was. Just because they were late to come down and get in like, not a limo even, a SUV or a van, in Memphis one time.
‘They would also knock on my window at two in the morning and beg me to give ’em some champagne and I’d go down to the kitchen, I wouldn’t let ’em in the house, and hand it to ’em out the window and off they went. They were great kids, though. They were a lot of fun; they were brilliant at what they did.
‘AC/DC took over Jacksonville almost as big as Skynyrd. It was really close. The Beatles were one thing, the Stones were something else, but AC/DC was from Australia. They weren’t part of the English invasion. They came from… it was almost like the moon. It was so far away, Australia, it added a cachet to it, an extra round of dynamite.
‘AC/DC came from... it was almost like the moon.'
– Sidney Drashin
‘AC/DC’s stage show was something no one had ever seen at a time that was perfect. [Booking agency American Talent International’s] Jeff Franklin was brilliant at recognising talent and when I called him and started telling him about ’em, he knew he had the right handbill. The [Jacksonville] kids hadn’t seen anything of that stature. I loved the band. The money was fine. I mean, let’s be realistic. Money’ll change the time of day in downtown New York. But it wasn’t the money. It was the thrill of it all.’
As for Wilkeson, who died in a Ponte Vedra Beach hotel room in 2001, Drashin says he was ‘easily’ as crazy as Van Zant but ‘he had a little old lady’s heart’ and was a ‘great guy’.
It could just as easily have been a description of Bon.
BON: THE LAST HIGHWAY: THE UNTOLD STORY OF BON SCOTT AND AC/DC'S BACK IN BLACK is available to preorder now through Amazon, Barnes & Noble and hundreds of other retailers. Just click the title above (in red) to preorder and save on the retail price. Sidney Drashin's book RINGLEADER OF ROCK SHOWS is available through Amazon.
Kenny Soule's band Nantucket, from Jacksonville, North Carolina, did a fantastic cover of 'It's a Long Way To The Top' in 1980 and supported AC/DC on their North American Back In Black tour.
‘In the early summer of 1978, Nantucket was enjoying our ‘local celebrity’ status in the Carolinas/Virginia area with the release of Nantucket, our first album. We had been earning our stripes there since 1972, playing full-time on the club circuit, gradually replacing the cover tunes with lead singer Tommy Redd’s originals.
‘The promoters in the area were beginning to plug us into opening slots with national acts like Kiss, Charlie Daniels, Mother’s Finest, et cetera. We found ourselves with two dates supporting two up and coming major label bands, Cheap Trick and AC/DC. They were back-to-back small arena gigs, one in Salem, Virginia, and then Fayetteville, North Carolina. In Salem, we played first, then we stuck around for label-mates Cheap Trick, who we later became a little chummy with down the line.'
Fayetteville was where he saw AC/DC for the first time.
‘[After the show] I remember awkwardly blurting out, “Great show guys!” The next day I bought Powerage and Let There Be Rock, went home, cranked it way up, and have been a changed man ever since. Nantucket opened for most of the big headliners of the late 1970s, and all paled in comparison to AC/DC. No balls!
‘The following summer, 1979, Nantucket was recording our second album in Orlando, Florida. One day our lead singer Larry Uzzell came to the studio, telling us about bumping into Bon Scott. Bon remembered Larry, and was very cordial. They shared a drink or two. According to Larry, Bon said, “You boys blew us off the stage in Fayetteville!” Yeah, right!
‘Nantucket opened for most of the big headliners of the late 1970s, and all paled in comparison to AC/DC. No balls!'
– Kenny Soule, drummer, Nantucket
‘Of course by the time we shared a bill again, in 1980, Bon was gone. Nantucket’s third album, Long Way To The Top was hovering around the bottom of the Top 100 album charts. To our amazement we found ourselves with approximately 12 dates on the Back In Black tour that summer. It began in Erie, Pennsylvania, with Humble Pie as the middle act on the tour. After two or three shows, they were gone, and it was just Nantucket and AC/DC headed down the US east coast, and across to Texas, and then two dates in California. We were loving life at that point; we were on the biggest tour of 1980.
‘Our summer of glory ended the next morning after our final Back In Black date in Oakland, California. We were duly informed by Epic Records that they had dropped us. At least they held off until our final show with AC/DC! Epic dropped us because each album sold progressively worse, and by the second album, our sound and looks became passé seemingly overnight. We weren’t interested in suddenly wearing skinny ties, shaving, and getting haircuts. “Going New Wave”, as everyone called it. One of the reasons we were able to do the third album, Long Way To The Top, at all was that our A&R person, Doreen Reilly, suggested we cover “Long Way". We were happy to oblige.'
BON: THE LAST HIGHWAY: THE UNTOLD STORY OF BON SCOTT AND AC/DC'S BACK IN BLACK is available now through Amazon, Barnes & Noble and hundreds of other retailers around the world.
Jesse Fink is the author of Bon: The Last Highway: The Untold Story of Bon Scott and AC/DC's Back In Black and The Youngs: The Brothers Who Built AC/DC. For more information about Bon, click HERE or click the book covers below to be directed to editions in your preferred territory and language.